|Vol. 6, No. 4, July - Aug. 1977
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
FROM time to time we are asked to remove a name from our list because
the reader has died. If we needed it, this gives us a reminder that death
is not an accident but a divine appointment (Hebrews 9:27). This is not a
popular subject but one that ought to be faced. The Bible beautifully describes
it as "falling asleep". We often use the expression: 'passing away'. For
my part I prefer to describe it as receiving the Homecall. It may be helpful
to give some consideration to what the Scriptures have to say about this matter
of going home.
It is a tremendous privilege to be able to 'listen in' to the prayer
which the Lord Jesus prayed on the eve of His crucifixion. Many books have
been written and countless sermons preached on John 17 and rightly so, for
this is the most remarkable prayer which has ever ascended up from earth
to heaven. May I point out one feature of the prayer which can easily be
overlooked? It is that in it Jesus announced to His Father that He was now
coming back home. "I come to thee ... but now I come to thee" (vv.11 and
13) were His actual words.
FOR Him that eternal home was familiar and satisfying. He shared its
glory "before the world was" (v.5). He refers to the love enjoyed there
"before the foundation of the world" (v.24). He had left that home when,
at the Father's behest, He came into the world to undertake the work of
redemption. Although the actual sacrifice was yet to come, Jesus spoke of
it as "accomplished" (v.4). When a man's work is done, there is nothing
that he Wishes more than to go back home. The Lord also found deep joy in
the prospect of doing just this, for the undertone of His prayer surely
is: "Father, now I am coming home".
He also made it clear that He was making the journey alone. Although
His disciples and friends would be very welcome to share in that heavenly
home, they still had a work to do (in fact they were only now about to begin
their real work), so they would be left behind (vv.11 and 15). The Lord
had already told them: "Whither I go, ye cannot come" and then repeated
to Peter: "Thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow afterwards"
(John 13:33 and 36). It was not that He wanted to be alone in the Father's
home. Far from it! His final request, if you like His last Will and Testament,
was: "Father, I will that where I am, they also may be with me" (v.24).
For them, however, it was not yet time to go home.
THIS could also be said about another disciple and friend, the apostle
Paul. Paul confessed to the Philippians that he could have wished to go
home too: "Having the desire to depart and be with Christ" (Philippians
1:23), but went on to explain that as his work was not yet completed, he
realised that his longings for home had to be restrained. In writing to
the Corinthians he had expressed this same yearning: "willing rather to
be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians
Does this sound morbid? Was it wrong for Paul to long for home? There
was this special feature in his case that he had been given the unique privilege
of a glimpse into the heavenly home which he calls Paradise. He writes about
this in 1 Corinthians 12:1-4, seemingly being unsure as to whether he had
been still alive at that moment or whether he had in fact died and been raised
back again to life. "God knows", was his comment and he was content to leave
it at that and to obey the injunction that he should never disclose what
he saw and heard on that occasion. May it not have been this glimpse, however,
which made him so eager to go home?
PAUL was no mere mystic. He was a worker, if ever there was one. He organised
famine relief, he gave much time and thought to marriage guidance, he was
a man full of that concern for the aged and needy which we now describe as
'Care'. He certainly did not spend all his time singing about the home 'Above
the bright blue sky'. Most of all, he was a tireless messenger of the gospel.
He knew of God's longing to fill His home with redeemed sons and daughters
and so he never tired of inviting people to come out of the cold of this
world's dark night into the warmth and light of the Father's love. "No more
strangers and sojourners," he wrote, "but fellow-citizens with the saints
and of the household of God." There is plenty of room for believers in the
Father's [61/62] house of many mansions. Paul had
not himself heard those comforting words of Jesus, but he knew how true and
how relevant they are to fearful hearts.
'Sunday School sentiment', say the scoffers. 'Pie in the sky when you
die', sneer the materialists. Let them mock and jeer. According to Christ,
God says that the real fools are those who are trying to find permanence and
security in earthly possessions (Luke 12:20-21). I would rather be called
a fool by men than by God. The truth is that we Christians are here on earth
to do a job for God and have no wish to give that up prematurely. When, though,
that job is finished, far from struggling and pleading to go on existing
here, we should look forward with pleasure to the joys of going home to God.
Have you ever appreciated that Christ's comforting words to the dying
thief implied His own complete confidence, even during the dread experience
of the cross? His words revealed that He anticipated being in Paradise Himself
first. "Verily", "in Paradise", "today" -- these were His words. He was going
home! The thrill to us is that He also assured the penitent thief that when
he reached the garden home of God he would be welcomed there by Someone he
knew, even by the Lord Himself.
THERE is so much that we do not know about the state of the blessed dead
as they await -- with us -- the Second Coming of Christ. The New Testament
gives us every reason, however, to think and talk in terms of arrival at
God's Home, to be welcomed there by the One whom we already know as the Son
over God's house. "I will receive you unto myself," were the consoling words
of Jesus to the disciples with troubled hearts. "With me in Paradise," He
assured the dying thief. "We are of good courage," wrote Paul, "and we would
rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord."
We live in a world where death is regarded as the ultimate calamity;
where every effort must be made and no expense spared to keep alive a little
longer, even if it is only for a few weeks. That is quite understandable
for those who will be eternally homeless, but for us it should be very different.
We want to live out our lives. We want to finish whatever job God has given
us to do. But when He sees that our task is accomplished, then we want Him
to take us home to Himself. If we keep our thoughts on the Father's house
of many mansions we shall be able to obey the command of the Lord Jesus: "Let
not your hearts be troubled". Not a few people have been won for Christ by
seeing how Christians face death.
BUILDING WITH GOD
(Studies in the book of Nehemiah)
J. Alec Motyer
4. THE ENEMY WITHIN (10:1 TO 13:31)
THIS last section of the book shows us that true repentance issues in
dedication, determination that the remainder of life must be ruled by God's
Word (10:1-39). The circumstances of the day suggested areas in which special
care must be taken to do God's will. But it is one thing to make decisions,
another to keep them. In spite of the ordered life (11:1 - 12:26), high festivals
(12:27-43) and early enthusiasms to obey the Word (12:44 - 13:5), Nehemiah
returned to find that his city, unbowed before the external foe, had fallen
to the internal enemy of spiritual forgetfulness of God (13:6-31).
REVELATION AND DEDICATION
When we come to chapter 9 we face this reality, that it is one thing
to have the Book, and it is another thing to heed it. In our last study
it became clear to us that God's people are typically or characteristically
defined as the people under the authority of the Book. The Book was at the
centre of their lives; It claimed their attention; it commanded their understanding;
the Book looked for obedience. It is one thing, however, to have it, but
it is another thing to heed it. This chapter gives a beautiful example of
paying heed to the Word of God. The main [62/63] theme
of chapters 8 and 9 is the authority of the Word over God's people, and in
chapter 9 we are given a sample of the way in which that authority was recognised,
just as in chapter 1 we were given a sample of the kind of prayer Nehemiah
prayed during his four months of intercession.
In this chapter 9 we have a review of the history of the people of God,
a review based entirely on God's Word. As they review this history of God's
people under His hand, a revelation is made to them through the Scriptures
which grasps their minds and holds their hearts, so leading them into the
place of dedication. "Because of all this, we make a sure covenant" (v.38).
It was because of what they had learned and grasped anew from God's Word
that they made their dedication. This is always the effect of true revelation,
it produces an inward response to the God who has made Himself known through
His Word. We will find it helpful, therefore, to follow through this review
and see what it was that the people gleaned from the consideration of their
past under God's hand.
The review starts: "Thou art the Lord, the God who didst choose Abram"
(v.7). This consideration is selective, it does not go back to Adam but
begins with Abram. All Bible history is selective. That does not make it
untrue and nor does it make it different from other histories, since all
history is necessarily selective. I have never yet read a history book which
records a fact which is quite important to me, namely that in 1924 my grandmother
moved from a little town called Mullingar in the very centre of Ireland
and went to live in Dublin. For my part I cannot believe that any history
is complete which does not record that fact! Clearly all history is selective.
In the Bible, history is selected in the form of facts which may make it
a prophecy to declare to us the wonderful works and the wonderful nature
of God. With this story beginning at Abram, we find that the central feature
is the righteousness of God. In all His dealings with Abram this is what
emerged: Election, Regeneration, Faith, Covenant and God's Fidelity, with
the closing conclusion: "For thou art righteous" (v.8).
The passage then goes on to treat of the story of Israel in Egypt (vv.9-12).
Notice again how selective it is. There is nothing here about the Passover,
not because they did not know about it, but because that was not the special
emphasis which they then needed. They began at the Red Sea, with their central
thought: "thou didst get thee a name, as it is this day" (v.10). That had
been a time of the Self-revelation of God. The narrative then moves on to
Sinai (vv.13-14) with the revelation of the law of God as the centre piece.
God led His people by a deliberately planned way from the land of Egypt to
the mountain of Sinai. This was their immediate destination, not a chance
calling place but the chosen target at which their journey was aimed. God
brought them to that place especially to meet with Him and there gave them
His law which is described as "right" and "true" and "good". Right -- because
there was no admixture of anything that was bent or warped or misleading;
they were straightforward and intended to provide a straight path in which
to walk. True -- because in them there was nothing that was false or erroneous.
Good -- because the whole administration of the law was beneficial to the
people of God. Unhappily we tend to look back into the Old Testament through
the eyes of the Pharisees, so imagining that the law of God was an enormous
burden. It certainly was to them, but we must remember that Jesus said that
the Pharisees were an heretical sect, a plant which His Father had not planted.
They were astray from the Old Testament, the true voice of which is found
in the exclamation: "O, how I love thy law". The true believer finds that
God's law is right and true and good. In the Bible the correct place for
the law is that it is a pattern of life for God's redeemed people. It is not
a ladder by which the unsaved seek vainly to climb to glory, but it is a
pattern of life for those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
The story goes on to tell of the wilderness period (vv.15-21), which
has as its central revelation the providential care of God: "they lacked
nothing (v.21). The section begins and ends with the recollection of how
God provided them with manna and with water out of the rock for their thirst.
Throughout their whole time in that great and terrible wilderness, they
were objects of the providential care of their God. And He gave them leadership
as well as food: "the pillar of cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night"
(v.19), and He went even one step further: "Thou gavest them also thy good
Spirit" to be their Teacher (v.20). [63/64]
Next we come to the land (vv.22-30). You will notice how the story is
taking us through familiar Bible pastures. The keynote in this section is
the bounty of God. By bringing them into a good and rich land, He showed
Himself to be a wealthy and bountiful God. There was His bounty of provision
(v.25); the bounty of His care (v.27). The verb here is continuous, a verb
of constant characteristic divine action -- "You kept hearing them from heaven
according to Your manifold mercies" -- You kept giving them saviours. And
even in their waywardness there was a bounty of truth: "Many years didst
thou bear with them and didst testify against them by thy Spirit through
thy prophets" (v.30).
The review has led up to the contemporary situation at the time of Nehemiah,
for we are confronted with the exile and subsequent events: "Therefore gavest
thou them into the hands of the people of the lands" (v.30). That brought
the story up to date, the situation of God's people being that of bondage
to others. As we have gone through this review I have ventured to underline
some aspects of the revelation which is enshrined in the story. I would like
now to extract what seem to me to be three main lines of revelation which
the people found in their consideration of God's Book, lines of revelation
which gripped their hearts and minds and led them to new dedication to God.
These are, Sovereignty, Compassion and Sin.
The whole exercise of this meditation on God's Word begins with the note
of the greatness of God. "Thou art the Lord alone ..." (v.6). What a marvellous
statement this verse gives us concerning God as the Sovereign Creator. Do
you look up to heaven? He made the heavens. Do you look around you on the
earth? He made the earth. Do you contemplate the seas, their extent and their
power? God made the seas. The verse will not allow us to escape the claim
to God's absolute sovereignty. You look up to heaven and object that there
are other powers there which are opposed to the will of God. There is more
to it than a glib assertion that God made the heavens. Yes, there is, for
look: "Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens"! The totality of the
heavenly scene is reviewed, with the reminder that he also made "all their
host". In the whole heavenly scene there is nothing that He has not made.
The same applies to the earth. Are there not other forces contrary to the
will of God in this earth of ours? The earth has got out of hand; sin has
run loose, Satan moves freely. Well, read again: "You made the earth, and
all things that are thereon". His sovereign hand is everywhere. And what
shall we say about the sea? There is more to that than the pleasantness at
the seaside on a summer afternoon; there is the violence of its waves and
the sad toll of lives in tragedies of shipwreck. Is the sea out of hand? The
answer is, No, God made the sea and all that is in it, even its violence.
There is nothing which has escaped His sovereign Creator Hand: "Thou preservest
them all". All things hold together while the Creator Himself holds them.
This theme of sovereignty runs through the whole review. The characteristic
verb which comes over and over again, as if it were a chiming bell, is the
verb "to give". Sometimes it is concealed in English translations, but it
occurs so frequently that we get the feeling of the whole of life being suspended
from the hand of a God who gives in such a way that life can only be lived
on earth because His giving is done in the shape or at the time which every
moment requires. God gave! God gave! The constant repetition of this idea
shows how complete is God's sovereign government in every realm.
We have some striking uses of this theme of compassion, beginning with
the statement: "Thou art a God ready to pardon" (v.17). The word used there
is the plural of "forgiveness". God is a God of forgiveness; He has a plenitude
of capacity to forgive. His forgivenesses are never exhausted, they are infinitely
many, and they are never puzzled as to what to do because there is always
some forgiveness which is appropriate to any particular need at any particular
time. Our sin today may very well take us by surprise, but it doesn't surprise
God, because from all eternity He has a little bit of forgiveness laid up
for it. That, however, is not the word which I wished to stress, for it
is in this same verse that we read that He is a God "full of compassion".
This same word appears again in verses 27, 28 and 31.
The easiest way to understand the word "compassion" is to think of the
story of Solomon and the two prostitutes given in 1 Kings 3. These two girls
brought their case before the king, the [64/65] story
being deliberately selected by the Biblical historians to show the wonder
of the wisdom which God had given to Solomon. One girl's baby had died and
in the night she stole the other girl's infant. The more you think about
Solomon's judgment, the more you are impressed by its amazing subtlety. His
reply was: "You can't make up your mind about it. Well, the matter is quite
simple. We will cut the living baby in two and you can have half each." The
girl who was not the mother said that this was fair enough, but about the
other girl the scriptures say: "Her compassions were in turmoil" (1 Kings
3:26). That is what the word "compassion" means -- her compassions were in
turmoil. You can imagine it: the whole internal compassion was involved in
the son of her womb. This, then, is the motherly love of God for His people;
it is a turmoil of passionate involvement in the welfare of His own. He is
like that. When He looks at His people He is in a turmoil of emotional involvement
in their good. He is a compassionate God.
It is a compassion which forbears. God was offered immense provocation.
The Israelites appointed a captain in order to return to Egypt, and they
made a golden calf in rejection of God; "they wrought great despite" (v.18).
But although they had offered such a great insult to God He was gracious,
full of emotional turmoil and forbearance. It is a compassion which persists
in the teeth of unresponsiveness. "Many times didst thou deliver them according
to thy compassions, and testifiest against them that thou mightest bring
them again unto thy law, yet they dealt proudly and hearkened not" (vv.28-29).
Faced over and over again with unwillingness and unreadiness, the compassion
of God still persevered. Finally, it is compassion which spares when all
reason for sparing is long past. "Thou gavest them into the hand of the people
of the lands. Nevertheless in thy manifold compassions thou didst not make
a full end nor forsake them, for thou art a gracious and compassionate God"
(vv.30-31). Many times the people of God merited the blow which would wipe
them out of existence, but that blow was always withheld, because of the
compassions of God.
The third line of revelation here is the revelation of sin, both general
and particular. In general, a sin which affects the people of God is that
they insist on being like the unconverted, as though the saving and regenerating
grace of God had never come their way. We read that it was characteristic
of the Egyptians that they were proud and arrogant: "for thou knewest that
they dealt proudly" (v.10). That was the characteristic of this worldly people;
it is indeed the mark of the unconverted, to deal proudly and arrogantly,
as you will recollect if you think back to the story of Pharaoh and his people.
But look now at Israel. "They and our fathers dealt proudly" (v.16). They
still behaved as the Egyptians had done, as though they had never been sheltered
by the blood of a lamb or been brought out of the land of Egypt. The people
of God sinned by insisting on behaving like the world, and failing to behave
like their God. When God speaks He keeps His word. But when He speaks to
His people they are not faithful to that Word. This is the cardinal sin of
God's people, the sin of disobedience. "They refused to listen, neither did
they pay attention to Your wonders that You did among them."
This theme is continued and finally brought up to date in these words:
"Howbeit thou art righteous in all that has come upon us. Thou hast dealt
truly but we have dealt wickedly. Neither have our kings, our princes, our
priests nor our fathers kept thy law nor hearkened to thy commandments"
(vv.33-34). That is a revelation of what sin is. It is disobeying what God
has said; it is turning aside from what God has required; it is revolting
against His commandments. These lines of revelation gripped the hearts of
the people who first heard them. They saw a sovereign God and they longed
to be right with Him. They saw a compassionate God and His love greatly moved
their hearts. They saw the sin of disobedience and they longed to be rid
of it. Therefore they came to God, saying: "Because of all this we make a
sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, our Levites and our priests
seal it" (v.38). The Word of God brought them to the place of dedication;
the sin of disobedience was revealed and they turned from it to obey the
law of God.
That must surely be the hall-mark of the city of God. That must be a
foundational principle of living in that city. The Word of God must be honoured,
not only in theory and in concept, but also in the practical obedience of
everyday life. There is no other definition of sin than that it contravenes
the will and the law of God; and [65/66] there is
no other definition of holiness except that it obeys and conforms to what
God requires. We must now turn to consider what happens after this crisis
of conviction and re-dedication. What is the remainder of the story?
THE WAY OF DEDICATION AND THE PROBLEM OF PERSEVERANCE
It is one thing to dedicate, it is another thing to keep at it. The nation
adopted a deliberate policy of putting right what was wrong, coming to God
in the bonds of a national covenant. In particular, they marked out certain
areas of obedience for their future behaviour. There were certain matters
of obedience which were particularly relevant to their life in the city of
1. The Purity of God's People
"... that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land,
nor take their daughters for our sons" (10:30). Their concern for the purity
of God's people made them exclude all possibility of marriage outside of
the community of God's people which, as you know, remains a Biblical commandment
to this day. Here it is vividly and emphatically made a feature of life in
Nehemiah's city: "We will not ... nor will we ...". This area of obedience
enshrines for us a principle of obedience, which is that the people of God
must live in the love of the fellowship of God's people, and must preserve
a distinctive separation between those who are and those who are not that
people. The doctrine of separation still stands in Scripture. Nehemiah's
men said that just as those freshly built walls around them showed the distinctiveness
of the city of God, the people who live in the city must be as distinct and
separate on the earth. Now I know that separation can be corrupted into isolation
and that the proper distinctiveness of God's people can be corrupted into
an improper exclusivism, but [I] still maintain that this theme in the Bible
of separation is part of the missionary message. If the people of God are
going to the heathen to declare the truth of God and invite acceptance of
that truth, they must have a distinct way of life into which to invite the
outsider. If they lose their distinctiveness, then there is nothing into
which they can invite their hearers.
In the day of Ezra and Nehemiah, the motivation was not an ungodly and
unbiblical exclusivism and isolationism; the motivation was to preserve
on the earth this distinct people whose way of life would in itself be a
distinctive testimony to the whole world. This is the truth which Jesus
referred to when He spoke of His people as "a city set upon a hill which
cannot be hid". We need to be careful, for separation just as a concept
is of no value whatsoever. There is no point in being different for difference
sake. Here we have what is typically biblical distinctiveness: "The rest
of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers and
all that separated themselves from the people of the lands unto
the law, of God" (10:28). The particular way in which they felt it necessary
in their day to safeguard distinctiveness in terms of biblical obedience
was at the point of marriage. God's people must avoid marriage with the
2. The Honouring of God's Pattern for Life
This is the second matter of specific dedication. "And if the people
of the land bring wares or victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we
would not buy them on the sabbath or on a holy day, and that we would let
the land lie fallow the seventh year and the exaction of every debt" (10:31).
This emphasises the pattern of one day in seven and one year in seven, as
requirements of the law of God for the good of God's people. Notice the way
in which they planned to safeguard the sabbath. They avoided seeming to
foist their rules of conduct on others. They did not say: "You must not come
here and offer to sell on the sabbath"; all they said was: "You can come
if you like, but we will not buy". It is important to adopt principles for
ourselves without seeking to impose them on the unconverted. They honoured
the day of God. It is important to find from the Scriptures how to keep this
day. Please do not allow yourselves to be in bondage to traditional ideas,
but go back to the Scriptures and discover the richness of this day. There
are possibilities of activity and refreshment on God's day; there is the
richness of duty and involvement on that day. The principle that stands is
that there should be one day in seven which is given to God. The broader
principle, of course, is that the one in seven accepts that it is right and
proper for God to impose His pattern on our lives. The men of this city say:
"All right. If that is what God wants, that is what we will do." It is the
hall-mark of the citizen of the city of God that [66/67]
he spreads out his time before God, to have the divine pattern imposed
3. The Maintenance of God's Work
The third matter in which they felt called to a particular dedicatory
obedience was the maintenance of God's work (10:32-39). "And also we imposed
ordinances upon ourselves to charge ourselves yearly with a third part of
a sheckel for the service of the house of our God", with particular mention
of a charge to maintain the sacrificial services of the house. In our terms
this means that we place a primary self-imposed charge for the maintenance
of the gospel, putting God first in the matter of our possessions. Notice
"the first-fruits" (v.35) and "the tithes" (v.37), speaking of priority in
giving to God and proportionate giving to His cause. In these matters, then,
they committed themselves to bear responsibility, recognising that the hand
that reaches up to God in prayer and dedication must next reach down into
the pocket in glad giving to Him.
Chapters 11 and 12 are virtually given over to lists of names of those
who were brought in to be the population of the city, until we come to the
dedication of the wall of Jerusalem and the wonderful service, doubtless
devised by Ezra and Nehemiah, in which the processions went right round the
walls. The first procession (12:31) was under the governance of Ezra and
the second (12:38) under the governance of Nehemiah. They made their way
right round the circle of the wall, as though claiming the wall for God and
offering all that was inside in dedication to Him. They then came back (12:40)
and the two companies stood and gave thanks in the courts of the house of
In the concluding section (13:4-31) we learn something of the history
of Nehemiah himself. It is hardly likely that when Artaxerxes said to Nehemiah:
"How long will you be away?" that Nehemiah replied: "Well, for about twelve
years"! In fact that was how long he stayed (5:14), though the wall itself
only took fifty-two days to build. It seems probable that Nehemiah was appointed
a more modest time, but when he made such a success of his work in Jerusalem,
he was subsequently appointed Governor. This leads on now to his statement:
"In all this time I was not at Jerusalem, for in the two and thirtieth year
of Artaxerxes the king, I went unto the king, and after certain days I asked
leave of the king and I came to Jerusalem" (13:6-7). Clearly he was called
back after the termination of his twelve years of governorship. How long
he stayed we are not told, as he just mentions "some days", but then he asked
and obtained permission to return to the city. And what did he find? Tobiah
occupying a great chamber "where previously they had laid the meal offering,
the frankincense, the vessels and the tithes" (13:5). So they didn't need
the room for tithes any more! Something had gone wrong. What is more, Nehemiah
found that the Levites and singers that did the work in the house of the
Lord had received no portions and "were fled everyone to his field" (v.10).
But they had promised to give to maintain God's work! They had promised to
give the annual contribution, the first fruits and the tithes! All these promises
were broken. The servants of God had received no first fruits and the room
for tithes was given over to that enemy of God, Tobiah.
This was not all. See what sad sights met Nehemiah's eyes. "In those
days saw I in Judah some treading the wine-presses on the sabbath and bringing
in sheaves and lading asses; also wine, grapes, figs and all manner of burden
which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day" (v.15). Had they not
promised that they would keep the day holy? Had they not vowed that even
if the heathen came selling, they would not buy? But this is not all. "In
those days saw I Judahites that had married women of Ashdod" (v.23). Where
were those solemn pledges to preserve the marital purity of the people of
God? So much they had promised, concerning their gifts, concerning the sabbath
and concerning purity of fellowship; but they had broken all their promises.
Beloved friends, it is one thing to make promises to God; it is another thing
to keep those promises. And what use is the strong wall round about if there
is an enemy within, a fifth column inside the city?
It would have been easy for Nehemiah to have made this a personal matter,
but he did not do that. Instead he says: "I contended with the rulers and
said, Why is the house of God forsaken?" (v.11). He pointed not to himself
as the guardian of their consciences; he pointed them to God and to their
responsibility to Him. This was no ordinary house. This was God's house,
and they had forsaken it. The trouble was that they had forgotten God, they
had lost their vision of Him. Similarly about the sabbath:
[67/68] "What evil thing is this that you do to profane the sabbath?
Did not our fathers thus and did not our God bring all this evil upon us and
upon this city, and yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel?" (v.17). Nehemiah
did not mention his own absence and their forgetfulness of him and his legislation,
but he pointed them to their forgetfulness of God and of His wrath.
It is true that God is wrathful against His disobedient people. And it
is easier and more dangerous, beloved friends, to fall out with God than
to fall out with Satan. If we keep in with God we will always be out with
Satan. They had forgotten both the house and the wrath of God. "I contended
with them" (v.25). This was on the point of their mixed marriages. He even
smote certain of them, demanding to know how they could so insult God. Once
again he did not complain that they had forgotten what he had told them but
rather forgotten that it was God whom they were offending. "Shall we then
hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to trespass against our God?"
(v.27). If God had dominated our thoughts, they could not have forgotten
His house, they would not have been careless about His wrath, they could
not have slipped into such sin against Him. What a vigorous saint Nehemiah
was! It is comforting to finish the book with fresh activities of cleansing
and then with his lovely appeal to his God. His book ends where it began,
with recognition and worship of the God of heaven, the gracious but awesome
God. There is a way of perseverance, my beloved. It is by allowing God's
Word to keep the vision of God ever before our eyes; daily and moment by
moment to remember Him who always remembers us.
PURPOSE AND PATTERN
(Studies in the Epistle to the Ephesians)
John H. Paterson
5. A WORTHY WALK
IN our previous studies in this Epistle to the Ephesians, we have concentrated
our attention on the way in which Paul created a context for his main, urgent
appeal to his readers: "I beseech you to walk worthily of the calling with
which you are called" (4:1). We have seen how, to lend emphasis to this appeal,
he reminded them of what was at stake; of how much depended on the way they
lived. He reminded them that God has a great, eternal purpose and that in
that purpose the Church has a very special role to play. This, and nothing
less than this, was at issue in their lives.
God's purpose is that His Church shall exhibit "to principalities and
powers in heavenly places ... the manifold wisdom of God" (3:10). But how
to go about doing so -- that is the question! Where does one begin -- by quitting
his job, and spending his days in church and his nights in prayer? By becoming
a preacher, or a hermit? Is it possible to exhibit God's wisdom in the ordinary
things of life -- by being a lawyer, or a bus driver, or a housewife? These
are fair questions and, now that he had raised them, Paul was going to spend
the rest of his letter in answering them.
The guidance which Paul offered the Ephesians on ways and means of exhibiting
God's wisdom divides quite readily into two parts. Performance of the task
before God's people depends, he said, (1) on the recognition of certain principles
(4:1-24), and (2) on a particular code of practice (4:25 - 6:9). In the
present study we shall concentrate on the first of these two topics.
There are five principles which Paul identified.
1. A right attitude to the task in hand (vv.1-6)
As we noted in our last study, the task before God's people is a joint
task. It is one which can only be performed by all Christians, everywhere,
together. This is the first principle to grasp: What we have to do,
whether we like it or not (and quite a lot of the time, if we are honest
about it, we do not like it!) depends not on us as individuals alone,
nor even on the work and witness of our own particular fellowship, but on
[68/69] the functioning of the whole Church
of Christ. We must begin by accepting this, although to do so may well be
the hardest part of the whole task. If only all those other Christians, with
their well-known quirks and idiosyncracies, could be kept quiet and out of
sight, then we could get on with the job and create a true impression
of God's wisdom! It is the rest of the Church that spoils the exhibition!
This reaction is probably familiar to us all. And certainly Paul anticipated
it, for the first qualities he enjoined upon the Ephesians -- in effect,
the first moral teaching in this particular epistle -- are precisely
those which are needed for a life and work together: long suffering,
selflessness, gentleness and patience. Without these, we cannot even begin.
But this leaves us, of course, with another problem: how far are we to
carry this principle of togetherness? Are we really tied, for better or
worse, to everybody who claims to be a Christian, however weird or heretical
their ideas? Are we not to discriminate? Paul answered this unspoken enquiry
by passing on immediately to the sevenfold basis of unity -- one body, one
Spirit, one calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. These are
the things that bind us together in "the bond of peace". They are on the
one hand necessary and on the other hand sufficient. Where they do not exist,
it is useless to pretend that we can accomplish anything together. Where they
do exist, the "unity of the spirit" is a reality, and we are to endeavour
to keep it (v.3). To presume that we can do without other Christians would
be pride: to try to fulfil the task without them would be disaster. It is
first and foremost a matter of attitude.
2. The use of our individual gifts (vv.7-12)
The second principle is, nevertheless, that each one of us has an individual
contribution to make to the completion of the task. Paul evidently realised
that this could be a daunting prospect -- that I, as an individual believer,
might have something personal to contribute to the eternal purpose of God.
In fact, Paul seems to have felt that this realisation might provoke one
or other of two different reactions on the part of the individual. The first
would be, 'But I have no gift; I am not an evangelist, or a
pastor, or any of the things you mention. I have nothing to contribute.'
The second might be, 'Maybe I do have a gift, but it is such a small, valueless
thing that it is not really worth bothering about.'
Paul was anxious to challenge these two attitudes. Firstly, he said,
every single Christian has received one gift, even if they are not
conscious of possessing any other: they have all received the gift of grace.
Grace is a gift, and a person does not have to be a pastor or preacher to
put on exhibition this gift -- to go around being a living example of a recipient
As it happens, grace is a very difficult gift to express. Have
you ever noticed how few people can receive a gift gracefully -- for that
matter, how even fewer can live comfortably in the knowledge that they have
received grace? Only the other day a girl said to us, 'But don't you understand
how difficult it was for me? You kept doing things for me and there was nothing
I could do in return.' It is far easier, actually, to show grace
to someone than to receive it from them: to be the recipient of grace, day
in and day out, can be exhausting! But this is the state in which the Christian
lives and this is his basic task, on which his other, more specialised, tasks
are built -- to exhibit the wisdom of God as it is seen in His grace. It
is a task which, in the Bible, is performed particularly gracefully by the
great women who appear in the narrative -- Ruth, Hannah, Mary. And it is
a rare and beautiful quality.
Paul's second concern was to counteract any impression that some gifts
are so slight, or so unimportant, that they are not worth bothering about.
To do this, he reminded his readers of (1) the giver and (2) the cost of
the gifts. Who had given them? None other than the returning hero and conqueror
(v.8), the Lord Jesus Himself. Crowned heads and rulers sometimes give their
friends quite simple articles, like signed photographs of themselves, but
these objects are nevertheless treasured by their recipients because the
humble quality of the material is transformed by the identity of the giver.
The gifts of the Church are given by her Lord Himself. Nor is this all. Using
a picture familiar to every citizen of the Roman Empire, Paul pointed out
that these gifts were the spoils of war and conquest, distributed by the
victor when He returned in triumph, bringing His defeated enemies trailing
after Him: "He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." Are such
gifts to be despised? [69/70]
And then there is the cost of the gifts. Most of us learn, as
we grow older, not to estimate the value of a gift simply in terms of its
price-tag alone, but also by the amount of thought and trouble that went
into procuring it. So, where did Christ obtain the gifts which He gives
to His Church, and at what cost? "Now that he ascended, what is it but that
he first descended into the lower parts of the earth?" (v.9). Who can ever
estimate the cost at which these gifts were obtained, or the 'trouble' to
which He went to secure them for us? It is beyond calculation; therefore,
said Paul, let nobody belittle their gifts -- they are beyond price.
3. The importance of spiritual growth (vv.13-16)
The manifold wisdom of God is attested, not only by the birth and existence
of the Church (which had been referred to by Paul in Chapter 2), but by her
growth and by her coming, in character and maturity, to resemble Christ Himself.
It is for this purpose, in fact, that the gifts are given to the individual
members. The logic of the situation is clear. If the purpose of God is that
His Church should reveal His many-sided wisdom, then growth towards maturity
is an essential part of the plan. The alternative is for God to be represented
by children -- who might, perhaps, be characterised by innocent charm
or naivety, but hardly by wisdom. Childhood may be charming but there is
no virtue in childishness, once a person has grown older: on the contrary,
to say 'Don't be childish' is a way of rebuking an adult for showing a lack
of wisdom. Wisdom is the hallmark of maturity, and the Church is to grow
into the maturity represented by "the measure of the stature of the fulness
How can we recognise maturity in the believer? Paul answered this question
by calling attention, rather, to two of the characteristics of immaturity
or childishness (v.14). Firstly, he said, children are characterised by the
variability of their interests. Anybody who has ever had to entertain a
child for an hour knows this; their attention span is very short! They move
from toy to toy, or from one game to another, very swiftly: to hold
their attention is a task requiring great skill. Spiritual children, Paul
suggested, are of the same kind; they are constantly distracted by novelty,
and their attention to the matter in hand can never be counted upon for long.
They have no conception of finding the truth and holding to it; anything that
sounds new and interesting will lure them away. And they have no long-term
commitment to the Christian life to help them over difficulties or through
periods of doubt; that is an attribute of the mature man of God -- of an Abraham,
or a David, or of Paul himself.
Secondly, as Paul pointed out, children are easily deceived. Because
of their limited background knowledge, they have no criteria by which to
judge the truth or falsehood of statements made to them. As a matter of
fact, adults often make use of this childish credulity to save themselves
from complicated explanations; they invoke a man in the moon, or a Santa
Claus, and 'get away with it' for a time because children have no mechanism
for verifying these statements. But what of those who deliberately
mislead children, for purposes of their own? Paul had seen this happen
to his own spiritual children, and he longed for them to grow to the point
where they would no longer fall victims of those who "lie in wait to deceive".
One of the qualities which come with maturity is the ability to distinguish
truth from falsehood -- to "discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14).
4. The need for spiritual education (vv.17-21)
Maturity comes with developing character and increasing wisdom, and wisdom
is the product of two things -- experience and knowledge. Wisdom and knowledge
are not identical; Paul distinguished between them, for example, in Colossians
2:3. In real life we know of simple folk who have had very little formal
education but who are wonderfully wise; we know, too, of young people who
are said to have old heads on young shoulders, and others of whom it can be
said -- critically -- that 'knowledge comes but wisdom tarries'. If the
wisdom of God is to be manifested in His people, then there must be
growth to maturity and also an increasing amount of knowledge.
What kind of knowledge is this? Paul is quite specific. He described
it as "the knowledge of the Son of God", and then went on to speak of "learning
Christ" (v.20). This knowledge is knowledge of a Person, rather than of philosophy
or theology. It is contrasted with the ignorance that darkens the minds
of the heathen (vv.17-18). That ignorance is the product of "the hardening
of their heart" -- their refusal to learn. And the result of ignorance is
seen in [70/71] their conduct (v.19); having no knowledge
on which to base their actions, they make up their own rules and set their
own standards. They simply do not know any better. "But ye did not
so learn Christ."
It is not, I think, unfair to suggest that many Christians simply have
no idea how much there is to learn of Christ, or how ignorant they are.
They do not grasp the fact that what is at stake is truth, and "truth
is in Jesus". Ignorance can only produce distortions of the truth but, as
we "learn Christ", we are learning truth. We are not dealing in personal
opinions, nor are we improvising rules off the top of our heads to fit particular
situations. That, said Paul, is the way the heathen operate. That is not
the way we were taught.
5. The replacement of the old man by the new (vv.22-24)
The fifth of these principles is couched in the form of a reminder by
Paul that becoming a Christian and a member of the Body of Christ involves
a changeover from one man to another -- from the old to the new. To each
of these men there is a form of conduct which is appropriate. The old man
is characterised by corruption, the new by "righteousness and holiness of
The manifold wisdom of God is exhibited, ultimately, by the truly remarkable
sight of very ordinary people, who look much like everybody else, behaving
like new men and women. Furthermore, while everybody can do this for
a short time or a special occasion (which we describe as 'being on their best
behaviour'), these men and women are to be so consciously new people that
they live constantly on this plane; they are to turn their backs on the old
way of life and "put on" the new man.
Paul had dealt with this theme elsewhere in his letters, and here in
Ephesians he was obviously concerned not with the doctrine (which he did
not pause to elaborate) but with its outworking. There is, he said, a conduct
that belongs to the old man and a conduct that belongs to the new. You
are new men; see that you live as such. With this, he moved on to the
last section of his letter. On the one hand, we can think of what follows
as a simple series of answers to the obvious question: what is the
conduct which suits the new man? On the other hand, we can see Paul using
this last section of the epistle (which we shall consider in our next study)
to bring his great starting theme firmly down to practical realities. His
argument ran like this: Your life matters in the great, eternal purpose of
God. If you ask me how or why, then it matters because you are called upon
to exhibit God's wisdom. And if you ask how you can possibly do that, then
you must attend to the life principles of Chapter 4. And if you are going
to complain that these principles are still too vague, and that you want
to know what you should actually go out and do, then the answer is
very precise and very practical, and is contained in the rest of this letter-
- tell the truth, watch your language, work hard and love your wife.
At least now they could not complain that they did not know what he was
(To be continued)
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
6. WARNING TO THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS (Chapter 2:1-29)
[The subtitle numbering skips from 4 to 6 at this point
in the series.]
AS already mentioned, the list of sins which Paul describes in the first
chapter does not seem to embrace everyone. Many do not think that they need
to fear the judgment of God, for they do not feel convicted by the apostle's
charges. Are they justified in their self-righteousness? What has Paul to
say to the moralist?
1. The Moralist (verses 1 to 10)
His words sound like a dogmatic assumption, for he says not only that
if you do that for which you judge others, you condemn yourself; that would
be obvious and he goes far beyond that. He says that when you judge others,
you practise the same things which you judge them for. Is that true? Yes,
this is the inescapable [71/72] truth: everyone who
judges another himself does what he condemns in them. This is the vicious
circle of self-righteousness. The man who judges others imagines himself to
be righteous, but by his very action he becomes involved in sin, for self-righteousness
and sin belong inseparably together.
He who is self-righteous is without the grace of God and consequently
is under the power of sin. The Sermon on the Mount proves this. So the road
away from the wrath of God is not to nod approvingly to Paul's condemnation
of man's gross sins, since self-righteousness rather condemns the man who
practises it and so places him under that wrath. This tendency to judge others
and regard oneself as immune lies deeply imbedded in fallen human nature.
Paul attacks it by asking: "Reckonest thou this, O man who judges them that
practise such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment
While you are judging others, you are very willing to claim the goodness
and long suffering of God for yourself. This was the case with the Jews:
they expected God to judge the sins of the Gentiles but to overlook their
sins because they were His chosen people. Something very similar often applies
among Christians, who roundly condemn the sins of the world but presume that
God will take no account of theirs because they are "under grace". They
want to judge others but to excuse themselves; according to their reasoning,
grace excludes judgment.
Whether such attitudes apply to Jews or Christians or any other self-righteous
people, they betray a complete misunderstanding of the grace of God, indeed
a despising of it. "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance
and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to
repentance?" The goodness and forbearance of God -- His grace -- do not lead
us to judging others and excusing ourselves, but rather to judging ourselves
and so repenting. Judgment and grace always go hand in hand. They know nothing
of acquittal without condemnation. He who does not judge himself shows that
in his own opinion he is more or less righteous, and so does not need free
This is more dangerous than perhaps we realise: "But after thy hardness
and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath ...". Here Paul reveals
that there is only one ground for removing the wrath of God and being freed
from His judgment, and that is to have a contrite heart or "a trembling
conscience" -- (Luther). He who judges others but not himself
has no contrite heart, no broken spirit, no trembling conscience; he has a
hard and impenitent heart which brings him under God's judgment and wrath.
Grace has nothing for him.
God "will render to every man according to his works: to them that by
patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and incorruption, eternal
life: but unto them that are factious and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness,
shall be wrath and indignation." At first glance it could look as though
the apostle were preaching justification on the basis of works, which of course
he would never do. The starting point of his reasoning is: "thy hardness and
impenitent heart", which is just another way of describing self-righteousness.
On the day of wrath it will be revealed that no self-righteous person has
ever sought for glory and incorruption by patience in well-doing, but all
the time has been factious ("sought his own" -- Danish) and
has, in fact, not obeyed the truth; regardless of the attempt he may have
made to be on God's side by condemning flagrant sinners. On the other hand,
it will be revealed in that day that everyone who, under the judgment and
grace of God has been led to repentance with a trembling conscience belongs
to those who by patience in well-doing seek honour and incorruption. The
hard and impenitent heart which judges others really condemns itself.
It could not ever do what is good, for there dwells no good thing in
self-righteousness. All its piety and would-be godliness is evil, as Paul
well knew from his own experience. No one had judged obvious sinners more
than he had. No one had lived a more "righteous" life than he; yet when he
was struck down by the truth outside Damascus, all this was revealed to be
evil. Thus it was that he received a contrite heart and was led to repentance.
Not until then did his disobedience to the truth and his obedience to unrighteousness
come to an end. Sin is something deeper that immorality; sin is a wrong relationship
to God. The converse is also true: righteousness is something deeper than
good morals; it is a right relationship to God. No man who is not in such
a right relationship works good, however upright he may seem to
[72/73] be, and conversely: no man who is in a right relationship
with God works evil.
It is a terribly serious fact that hard hearts can diligently try to
serve God and convince themselves that they are doing well at it. They can
point to the fact that they never sin like men of the world; they can point
to their efforts on behalf of God and His interests; but in spite of all
this He will not acknowledge them (compare Matthew 7:22-23). This is what
the apostle here explains. As I understand them, his words contain something
more radical than a judgment of hypocrites, that is, people who themselves
practise what they criticise others for doing. It is hardly necessary to have
an apostle to pronounce judgment on hypocrisy, for everyone agrees with that.
What Paul is judging is the hard heart of people like Saul of Tarsus, who
are not deliberate hypocrites but smugly self-righteous. Such people have
no idea that they do what they condemn in others, but this is in fact the
truth, as Paul writes from dearly-bought experience. Such people misunderstand
the goodness and forbearance of God, and in consequence they avoid His judgment
instead of submitting to it. In principle there is no difference between them
and the people they judge. Both are under the wrath.
2. No Respect of Persons (verses 11 to 16)
If my understanding of Paul is correct, this very much discussed section
also falls into place in a logical sequence. He has accused the self-righteous
hard and deluded hearts of doing that which they judge in others, and he
now charges them with considering themselves God's special favourites. They
imagine that He would never punish them, for had they not approved of His
law and done their best to keep it? They feel sure that He will be gracious
to them. Christians today can harbour the same delusion, expressing horror
at the way in which men of the world sin but falsely imagining that they are
all right. Now Paul proclaims to all such that there is no respect of persons
with God. He is not biased. No one can count on being treated more leniently
than others. There is no guarantee at all that those who approve of His law
will have more favourable treatment in the judgment. At first sight it might
appear that Paul was preaching justification on the basis of good works,
but this is not the case. The basis for judgment is: "the secrets of men",
that is, their heart relationship to God.
In the Danish Bible this phrase reads: "that which is hidden in men".
If what is hidden in a man is a hard and impenitent heart, a secret self-satisfaction,
a false security based on self-righteousness, then his relationship to God
is totally and absolutely wrong. Even though he knows the law (or the whole
Bible!), and even though he does his best to serve God, he is and remains
nothing more than a hearer of the law and not a doer of it, and will therefore
be finally judged by that very law. His is a false and corrupting security.
If, however, God finds hidden in man a contrite heart, a broken heart and
a tender conscience, then his relationship to God is what it should be. In
that sense he is a doer of the law, and will be declared righteous in that
Whom is Paul thinking of when he speaks of those who "shew the work of
the law written in their hearts" and who "do by nature the things of the
law"? Can they be other than those whom he [is] going to describe in verses
25-29? "He is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the
heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but
of God." The Gentiles who "by nature fulfil the law" are those who have had
their hearts circumcised. Outwardly they are uncircumcised, but inwardly
they are truly circumcised. God has given His law in their inwards parts
and written it in their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). He has given them a new
heart and a new spirit, He has taken the stony heart out of them and given
them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Only thus can it be that on the day
when God shall judge the secrets of men He will find the deeds and spirit
of the law written in them. In principle they are the doers of the law and
will therefore be justified in the judgment. If readers find it hard to accept
that Paul's words in this section refer to God's children when they speak
of "Gentiles", may I point out that later on he specifically addresses them
in this way: "I speak unto you that are Gentiles" (11:13).
3. Self Praise or God's Praise (verses 17 to 29)
For the first time Paul now addresses himself directly to the Jew (v.17),
though he has long had him in mind. The matter under discussion is still
the difference between the hard, self-righteous heart and the heart of the
man who is nothing in his own eyes. The Jew thinks that he -- unlike the Gentile
-- has something to boast about. He boasts of his name, but Paul has
[73/74] already said that a man may bear the name and lack the reality.
He rests on the law, but it is a false rest. He is confident that he can
guide others, which shows that he is not only self-righteous but also blind.
He likes to feel that he is a "corrector of the foolish" and a teacher but
he has not yet learned his own lessons.
We are again in the vicious circle of self-righteousness. Here is the
unbroken heart which does not tremble at the judgments of God but is full
of boasting, using his so-called knowledge of God for self-exaltation. The
basis of self-righteousness, that which binds it in darkness and keeps it
under the power of Satan, is pride. The apostle is uncovering spiritual pride,
the hidden conceit which operates under cover of fervour and piety. In attacking
this pride of the unbroken mind, he does not so much ask questions as make
categorical charges: "Thou that teachest others, thou dost not teach thyself!
Thou that preaches a man should not steal, thou stealest!" and so on. "Thou
committest adultery!", "Thou dishonourest God!" Is he making wild charges
for propaganda purposes? How does he know the fact about this Jew? Far from
being carried away by mere argument or oratory, Paul has no hesitation in
affirming that every unbroken man, in spite of all his claim to know God
and His law, is a slave to sin and must remain so. The more such a one works
at the law, the more entangled he becomes in sin. The apostle uses no exaggerated
language, for he knows what the dynamics of the flesh are. There is no emergence
from this vicious circle of the flesh and sin by boasting in God or His law.
It was indeed to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous
and despised others that the Lord Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee
and the publican (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee thanked God that he did not
come into the category of sinners listed in Romans 1:24-32. His thanksgiving
sounded humble and honest, as though he were grateful to God that he was not
like others; he was not a conscious hypocrite, for he really thought that
he had not sinned as others had. What is more, he practised various good
works like fasting and tithing. In this he spoke the truth. The publican,
however, had nothing of which to boast. He had nothing but a contrite heart
and a tender conscience. In his own eyes he stood condemned before God, but
such humility and faith meant that he went home justified. He received his
praise from God and not from men.
It is in the context of this radical exposure by the Lord Jesus that
this difficult passage before us must be seen. It is not just that Paul
is denouncing obvious hypocrites but explaining how the judgment of God
must also come to those who may sincerely be able to thank God that they
are not like the sinners described in the first chapter. Their hearts are
strong and upright: that is their trouble. The apostle brings all
flesh, sinful flesh (chapter 1) and self-righteous flesh (chapter 2), under
the judgment of God, under His wrath and sentence of death. He cuts the ground
from under the feet of everyone with a hard and judging heart, everyone who
does not tremble for himself.
(To be continued)
DELIGHT IN GOD'S WILL
Alan G. Nute
"Sacrifice and offering thou hast no delight in; mine ears hast thou
burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. Then said I,
Lo, I am come;
in the roll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do thy will,
O my God;
yea, thy law is within my heart." (Psalm 40:6-8).
THE fortieth psalm divides fairly simply into two parts. The latter section
describes a strange and acute period of need through which David passed,
whereas the earlier part tells of how he looks back to a past deliverance
when powerful relief was afforded to him by his God. The two parts fit together.
He finds confidence in his present need by recalling to mind God's faithfulness
in the past. These two sections provide a context for the three verses which
we now propose to consider.
There is no doubt about his present state of acute need. "For innumerable
evils have compassed me about" (v.12); "But I am poor and needy" (v.17).
David explains that his sufferings arise from two sources. There is the plague
of his own heart: "Mine iniquities have overtaken [74/75]
me, so that I am not able to look up". This is an experience which we
have all shared. Despite the fact that we are fully forgiven and accepted
in the Beloved, we are at times dismayed by a fresh awareness of our deep
sinfulness. This is particularly the case when we stand in the light of God's
holiness, with something more of His majestic glory dawning upon us. But
the psalmist's sense of need also arises from the opposition of the enemy.
He describes it in the phrase: "They seek after my soul to destroy it ...
they delight in my hurt" (v.14). Christians also are attacked in the same
way. "They say unto me, Aha, Aha!" All who mix with people of the world know
only too well what it is to be treated with this kind of cynical contempt.
Even if nothing specifically spiritual is in view, it is enough to stand for
what is good and right to be met with the hurtful sarcasm of those who jeer:
So it is that the psalmist ends his story with this description of his
plight: "I am poor and needy". Happily he knows how to face the situation,
and he does so in the wisest possible way, that is, by calling to remembrance
a past powerful and gracious deliverance given to him by the Lord. That
was a never-to-be-forgotten time of need, but David records the marvellous
faithfulness of the Lord to him. He was in "a horrible pit" full of "miry
clay"; at least that is the only way in which he could describe his plight,
even if it is figurative language. He remembered how he felt encompassed
on every side, hemmed in and restricted as though in some frightening pit,
only able to look up and, when he did that, finding that heaven itself seemed
very far away.
Deeply conscious of his unparalleled need, down in that miry mud, he
did two things. First he set himself to wait patiently for the Lord, and
then he cried earnestly to the Lord. This, then, was the thing to do then
and this is the right procedure now. "I will wait," he says, "as I did on
the previous occasion. But I will not be supine in resignation, sitting down
with folded arms, but will spend my waiting time calling on the Lord. My call
was heard. God inclined to listen to me. He stooped to where I was and with
His strong hands He lifted me out of the deep pit of my need and, what is
more, He placed my feet securely on a rock." The story does not end there.
The Lord did not leave him standing, but showed him a new and secure path
and, as he trod this path, he discovered that there was a song, a new song,
in his mouth. So we find the delivered psalmist declaring to all the wonderful
salvation which God had given him.
The central portion of this psalm consists of verses 6 to 8 and seems
to set out for us some of the deep spiritual lessons which he had learned
during his time of trial and waiting upon God. Why does the Lord allow us
to pass through this kind of distress? Not just to have the pleasure of displaying
His delivering power, but in order that in those depths we may learn how
to know Him better. These experiences teach us lessons that otherwise we
might never learn. If you encounter a person with a powerful living ministry,
you will always discover that somewhere in their lives there has been an occasion
of great distress, what we might even call tragedy. These are the people
who can look back at the spiritual secrets which they have learned in their
distresses. We realise that these experiences have made them the men of God
they now are. Through the horrible pit and the miry clay, through their patient
waiting and proving the faithfulness of God, they have learned these secrets
which have affected their whole after life. Into this context, then, we fit
these verses which reveal some of the powerful lessons which David learned.
They can perhaps be summarised in the one word: Obedience. In this inward
secret of heart obedience, David was far in advance of most of his contemporaries;
he was in fact an Old Covenant saint in the good of a New Covenant experience.
1. Obedience is the Secret of Blessing
There is no abracadabra to holiness, no magic key can be used
to unlock the door of life on to a new level; nor is there any once-for-all
experience which yields an access of power never again to leave one. The Christian
life has this as its secret, that if we are to know the blessing and power
of God day by day, we can only do so by constant obedience. So David discovered
that priority must be given to obedience; his words can surely have no other
meaning. Someone might well ask him: "How can you say that God has not required
nor desired sacrifice? Was it not He who commanded the offerings? Was it
not by His direction that Moses laid down regulations about them? What do
you mean, David, by saying that God has no delight in sacrifices and offerings?
Are you not audacious to make such statements?" [75/76]
One answer to such questions can be found in the argument of the Epistle
to the Hebrews that such sacrifices were only temporary and that of themselves
they could never put away sin. They were just timely expedients until the
time of fulfilment should come when Christ would put away sin by the sacrifice
of Himself. The full truth did not dawn until many centuries later, but David
discloses in another psalm that he had some understanding of it. He had
to confess that he himself had been guilty of two capital sins, adultery
and murder, for which no sacrifices were prescribed. He found forgiveness,
though, having been shown that there is a heavenly hyssop which can purge
away sin and there is a heavenly laver at which men may wash and be clean.
For this reason he was able to say: "Thou delightest not in sacrifice; else
would I give it; thou hast no pleasure in burnt offering" (Psalm 51:16).
This is one answer, but although it is true I do not think that this
is the point which David makes in our passage. Perhaps we can best understand
his meaning if we consider Samuel's words to Saul: "Behold, to obey is better
than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22). This
was before David's time, but he would know that the Amalekites were so desperately
wicked that spiritual surgery was needed to excise them from the political
body. It had to be done, and done thoroughly, so king Saul was ordered to
carry through the task. When, however, he saw the flocks and herds, he decided
that some of them were too good to be killed. The prophet came on the scene
and -- with an attempt at pious bluff -- the king said to him: "Blessed be
thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord". Samuel,
having a sensitive ear, called his bluff by asking the searching question:
"What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing
of the oxen which I hear?" Saul did his best to keep up the bluff by explaining
that the special animals were being reserved as a sacrifice to the Lord. Back
came God's reply: "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and
sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?" (1 Samuel 15:22).
David reading of this story, found the words penetrating to his soul.
He recognised that very often the people of God are in danger of substituting
sacrifices for obedience, offering this and that and the other as if to buy
God off. This attempt to avoid obedience by substituting offerings and sacrifices
is such a prevalent evil that the Lord's prophets throughout the Old Testament
are found reiterating the message given by Samuel. "Bring no more vain oblations;
incense is an abomination unto me" cried Isaiah (Isaiah 1:13), while Jeremiah
takes up the message: "For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded
them ... concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: but this thing I commanded
them, saying, Hearken unto my voice ... and walk ye in all the way that I
command you" (Jeremiah 7:22-23). Again God said to His people: "Yes, though
ye offer me your burnt offerings and meal offerings, I will not accept them.
Let judgment roll down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream" (Amos
5:22 & 24). Then there are Micah's memorable words: "Wherewith shall
I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come
before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord
be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for
the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth
the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk
humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:6-8). David had begun to learn that there
was a priority in the matter of obedience, that inward things matter far
more than externals, that spiritual and moral values are far more important
than ceremonial. The Lord Jesus strongly emphasised this same truth which
was greatly needed among the religious people of His day.
It is sadly possible for us to give priority in our thinking or preaching
to matters which are external, to pay great attention to Scriptural procedure
while failing in moral matters. We must realise that baptism and the Lord's
Table are of no value unless we are living out their true significance in
our daily life. Loyal attendance at meetings, regular reading of the Bible
and prayer can provide a subtle danger if the mask a disobedient spirit.
David may seem to overstate his case when he uses such emphatic language as
"Not desired" and "Not required", but it only shows us how strongly he felt
about this matter of heart obedience.
2. The Path of Obedience
The question arises as to how we shall tread this path of obedience.
How shall we know what God really does desire? Three things are mentioned
i. A Surrendered Will
"I delight to do thy will." Only of One was this absolutely true, even
the Lord Jesus, so it is right and proper that the Epistle to the Hebrews
should apply these words to Him. The writer tells us something that we might
not otherwise have known, that it was when Jesus came into the world that
He uttered these words. I like to think that they were upon the lips of
our Lord Jesus when He left the throne on high on His journey to the manger
in Bethlehem. "In the roll of the book it is written of me." This means more
than that the Old Testament taught that Christ would do the will of God,
but it is a legitimate interpretation that He affirmed that He was going to
do that will of God which was prescribed for Him in the Word of God. Over
and over again He was able to say: "That the Scriptures might be fulfilled".
He, above all others, was the Man of the surrendered will. He said that He
had come down from heaven to do the Father's will and at the end was able
to affirm: "I have finished the work which thou bast given me to do". In the
first place, then, these words pointed forward to Christ.
In writing the words, though, David spoke of his own experience. He first
trod the path which Christ was later to tread so perfectly, and he pointed
the way for us to follow. "Then said I ...". David remembered all
that God had done for him and taught him, and his response is: "Lo, I am come
... to do thy will". These are the words of the servant coming into the presence
of his master, and he accepts that there is a book in which the will of that
master is prescribed for him. How do we know the will of God? It is written
in the volume of the Book. There God's will is revealed to us. God's standards
have not changed. The commandments of God need no modification to conform
to modern conditions in this twentieth century. "In the volume of the book
it is written," and so our duty is prescribed.
Duty may not be the best word to use. Some Christians give the impression
that to do the will of God is a most irksome procedure and that the life
that is surrendered must necessarily be a life that is grey and gloomy. This
is far from the truth. The life that is dedicated to do the will of God is
a happy life, a life of liberty and joy in the Lord. His commandments are
not grievous. With David, we can find delight in doing God's will.
ii. Opened Ears
The psalmist claimed that God had opened his ears. Not infrequently folk
have detected in these words a reference to the slaves of old times and the
procedure described in Exodus 21:6. At the year of release a slave could
claim to be freed but there were some who were settled with a family, who
loved their master and were happy to go on in their life of service. If after
interrogation the man insisted: "I will not go out free", then his master
took him to the doorpost and bored the servant's ear through with an awl.
From then on the man with the pierced ear became known as a willing permanent
bondslave of his master. This is an interesting and delightful illustration
of the true dedication of a child of God, but it was not what David was referring
The slave only had one ear pieced, whereas David affirms that both his
ears had been opened. What is more, the word he used is not the one employed
to describe piercing but a totally different one which implies digging,
as in the excavation of a well or pit. What does he mean? "Mine ears hast
Thou excavated"? Well, is it not true that heart disobedience is often related
to ears that are deliberately closed? If we are to walk in the pathway of
obedience we need to ask the Lord to unstop our closed ears and make a way
through for communication and revelation. Isaiah's servant of the Lord tells
us: "The Lord God hath opened mine ear. He wakeneth mine ear to hear as they
that are taught" (Isaiah 50:4). The surrendered will must be accompanied
by opened ears.
iii. A Yielded Body
In the Epistle to the Hebrews there is an interesting alternative to
this phrase about the opened ears. The words are: "A body hast thou prepared
me". In keeping with some other Old Testament quotations in that letter this
is taken from the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. It might at
first sight appear to be playing fast and loose with the words of the Old
Testament. Actually there is not a great deal of difference, simply the
substitution of the whole body for the hearing members. It is as though the
Lord Jesus said: "If You have My ears, You have My whole body", and no doubt
that is what David also meant. The ears are regarded as a gateway to the
whole man, a channel by which comes the revelation which results in the
handing over of the whole body to the will of God. [77/78]
When Jesus spoke of the body prepared for Him He was referring to His
unique and sinless body, but by His grace we may hand over our faulty human
bodies to be the vehicle of the will of God. And especially we need to do
this with the mind, for it is as our minds are renewed that we learn the
perfect will of God. It is possible to be lost in a cloud of mysticism when
we talk about making sacrifices to God. We use such expressions as: "Bringing
a basket of first-fruits", or "Breaking our alabaster jar of ointment". It
is easy to use pious phrases and pictorial language. The Bible is more down
to earth; it talks of hands, feet, ears, mind -- the whole body, telling
us to glorify God in our bodies as well as in our spirits.
3. There is Power for Obedience
We might be wondering if these words of the psalmist are only calculated
to mock us. We ask: Is there power available for us to glorify God in this
way? Indeed there is, and it is here disclosed: "Yea, thy law is within my
heart". This confirms what has already been said, that David was an Old Covenant
saint with a New Covenant experience. In the old days if you had gone to
an Israelite and asked to inspect the law of God, he would have told you
that it was to be found on the two tables of stone. You would not be permitted
actually to see them, but you would be informed that that was where they
were to be found. Had you, however, gone to David and said: "Excuse me, but
where is God's law?" he would have replied: "It is here in my heart".
"Thy word have I laid up in my heart, that I might not sin against thee"
(Psalm 119:11); this was his testimony. Many years later Jeremiah told of
what would happen under the New Covenant: "I will put my law in their inward
parts, and in their heart will I write it" (Jeremiah 31:33) and his younger
contemporary prophesied of the new heart and the new spirit saying: "I will
put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall
keep my judgments and do them" (Ezekiel 36:27). We note that in these prophecies
of the New Covenant there is on the one hand an emphasis on the law of God
and on the other on the work of the Holy Spirit. These two are brought together
in the New Testament in such Scriptures as: "That the ordinance of the law
might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit"
Let us make no mistake about this: the law has not changed; the commandments
have not been abrogated. They are not even weakened but are more stringent
for a child of God than for the Old Testament saint. By His Sermon on the
Mount, Christ has permanently deepened the demands of the law. What has changed
is the relationship. By and large the law of old days was external; it made
requirements but did not lift a finger to aid men to keep them. Men then
knew the standards but lacked the power to obey. When we come to the New
Testament, however, our attitude to the law is entirely different. It is
no longer external, but internal; no longer graven on stone but "written in
our hearts" (2 Corinthians 3:3). And we note that this writing is done by
the Spirit of the living God. It is the Holy Spirit who is the dynamic force
for walking in the path of obedience and for bringing about that transformation
into the image of Christ with which the chapter ends. Christ is the personification
of God's law. He lives it out perfectly. He alone completely fits these verses
concerning David's delight in doing God's will. But the marvel is that because
He now lives in us, we may appropriate the psalmist's words and by the Spirit's
enabling present our bodies as living sacrifices to God.
THE SHINING FACE
THIS is not just a matter of a shining of our faces, but of something
shining through our faces, something which our faces indicate which is more
than merely human endurance, human bravery and courage; something of the deep
strength and grace of God. That is what I mean by the shining face as I take
four instances from the Scriptures. It is not always the things which we
say, but that which is expressed through us in times of stress and trial and
provocation. It is then that something should shine through our faces in
testimony to the Lord. When it is known that we are undergoing trial, when
it is known that we are suffering; instead of reacting in the
[78/79] flesh we should reveal something of Christ. That is a true
testimony. That is the proof of the thing; not just what we say or know, but
what is revealed under stress. Perhaps these four men can help us to understand
what are the secrets of the shining face.
Moses had been up in the mount with the Lord and the Lord had spoken
with him. Moses had come to see that upon which the eye of the Lord was
resting. He had stood by the side of the Lord and he had looked with the
Lord's eyes at the vision expressed in the type of the tabernacle. It all
passed before the eye of Moses in the most minute detail. From the ark,
out to the Holy Place, to the Court and all its contents; the priesthood
and the sacrifices; he saw what God's eye was resting upon. And by reason
of the Lord's speaking to him about that, he became alive with the very
glory of God.
It is a wonderful thing to recognise that the Lord's glory became imparted
to Moses by reason of that which became the common object of their gaze.
What the Lord was looking at, Moses was looking at too, and as they both looked
together they shared the same glory. When does the Lord's own face light
up with glory? When is the Father's face full of glory? When He looks upon
the Lord Jesus. The tabernacle was only the Lord Jesus in a representation;
the Lord Jesus in all His Mediatorial, Priestly Person and work gathered
together in a great system. It was, however, the person of the Lord Jesus
as related to man's fellowship with God -- the place, the sphere where God
and man come into oneness, where God can have fellowship with man without
sacrificing His holiness, and where man can have fellowship with God without
being consumed by that very holiness. From Him, the Lord Jesus, who is the
living expression of that central reality of the mercy seat, God will speak
to man face to face.
God has set forth His Son as a propitiation. He sees beyond the pattern
to the reality. When Christ in all His mediatorial work to bring God to man
and man to God is brought into view, then God's face is full of glory; and
when we see as He does in this matter we partake of the glory of the shining
face of God. Simply, it just means that when we are occupied with Christ,
then we have the shining face. Be occupied with anything else and you lose
it. Be occupied with yourself and your own spiritual life and condition,
and it will not be long before you have lost the shining face. Look around
on things as they are in the world and you will lose it.
The only hope for God of the ultimate realisation of His purpose is to
look at the Lord Jesus. He has all the guarantees in Him. And He seems to
say: "Because He is what He is, My end is secure. I have My Sabbath rest.
My eye is upon Him." And until we see that God has reached His end in Christ,
and our eyes are upon Him alone, we have not got the secret of hope and
confidence and satisfaction. It is the secret. It is a wonderful reality.
I cannot tell you what a blessing this brought to my own heart when the
Lord showed me what He had made the Lord Jesus to Himself on my behalf. I
was always craving to bring to the Lord something that would satisfy Him
in myself. If I could bring to the Lord a perfect life, that would please
Him and satisfy Him, I felt that this would be satisfaction indeed. But it
was impossible, and it seemed no good trying. The more I tried, the further
away I seemed to be, and the longer I lived the more I discovered the deceitfulness
of my own heart. Oh, to be able to come before the Lord with something that
would please Him! And now the Lord says: "I have made the provision for all
that. I have provided you with absolute moral and spiritual perfection. I
have found those in One, and I have put them into your hands. I accept you
in Him. I am satisfied with you in Him; you are accepted in the Beloved."
In Leviticus, God speaks about the offering: "If any man desires
to bring an offering". You do desire to bring an offering, and you know
quite well that there is no use your bringing to God anything that is not
absolutely perfect, so what can you do? That which is according to Christ
does satisfy the Father. When this breaks upon us it brings rest. It is
the shining countenance. When we get to the perfections of His Son, we have
found the good pleasure of God, and so we stand, not looking at God askance
but by His side. As you look with Him and share with Him the perfections
of His Son, you share the glory. Moses did not know that his face was shining,
but others did. Other people will take note of an outshining from us if
we are occupied inside with the Lord Jesus.
Daniel had learned the secret of the shining face, and he points us to
that which is deeper [79/80] and more testing. Daniel
was in Babylon. Babylon was in the ascendancy. Jerusalem was in ruins. We
know what these things mean spiritually. We know what it is when religious
systems made by man are in the ascendance and the Lord's people in captivity
when they should be fully governed by the Holy Spirit. Daniel saw that which
was according to God broken, ruined and that which was not according to
God holding sway over God's people. The wonder of it is that he did not
accept this state of affairs; that if Jerusalem was in ruins he still looked
for recovery. He did not accept the things seen as final, but knew that
God could not be defeated and that, through a remnant, He was sure to recover
His testimony. So he would not defile himself with the king's dainties,
but clung to God.
Daniel also saw beyond to the time when Babylon and all other kingdoms
will be shattered. He knew that God cannot be robbed of that upon which
He has set His heart. If you accept Babylon you will lose the shining face.
When we come to the book of Ezra we find that God did act sovereignly. He
stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to make his famous proclamation. That was
God's outside action. Daniel was the first of a company with whom God secretly
worked in Babylon. He stood for what was of God although it might not be
manifested at the moment. Daniel's secret of the shining face was that he
looked on to God's sure end and believed, even in the dark day, that the
ultimate purpose and thoughts of God were certain of realisation.
Of Stephen we are told that all that were in the council, looking upon
him, saw his face as it were the face of an angel. What was his secret?
I believe that it can be found in the words which follow: "And lifting up
his eyes he said, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man seated at
the right hand of God." Stephen was a man full of the Holy Spirit and faith,
and the Spirit had drawn his attention to the Lord Jesus in glory. Read
Acts 7. It is almost matchless in the New Testament. See the place which
Stephen gives to the Lord Jesus. He heads it right up to the Lord Jesus
in glory, and that is the thing which sustains him while he is under test.
When he comes to the last moment he sees literally with his eyes what he
had been seeing with his heart all the way through. This is the secret --
to see that God has got Him there, the Son of man, the all-inclusive Man.
If that is so, then it is all right for us. He can get us there. Christ had
all the sin of creation from Adam onwards heaped upon Him, and even so that
very same One came to glory. All the power and fury of the devil was heaped
upon Him, and yet He won through to glory, liberated from the power of death
and Hades by the glory of God.
We will never have to go through all that He went through. Stephen saw
that one Man in the glory, being such a One as He is, guarantees that Satan
is completely defeated. It was the secret of his shining face. By reason
of many things we may sometimes wonder if we shall ever get to glory, but
blessed be God, He is able to get us there. It is not our doing; it is the
Lord's doing. Why? Because He has already got our forerunner in His presence.
That bears you up in the time of opposition, and you will need bearing up
for men filled with the Holy Spirit are especially the object of the stones.
Finally we see what Paul said about himself and about us: "We all with
unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed
into the same image, from glory to glory" -- transformed. It is by the Lord,
the Spirit. And what is the secret of this shining face? "God hath shined
into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). The secret of the shining
face in this case is not Christ objectively but Christ subjectively. It is
a blessed thing to realise that the One who has gone to glory in His great
triumph is also within us. It does not depend on what is outside of us, for
the Lord is inside us, and He has already overcome.
We are familiar with the terms, but it is a great day when suddenly we
wake up to know that Christ is in us. Has it ever come to you by a flash
of light? Christ in you! "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by
faith." Get that, spiritually apprehended, and you will have the shining
face. All that which is around you is no match for Him. "Greater is he that
is in you than he that is in the world." To know this means a wonderful power
in the life. It will give us a powerful testimony. Our eye is upon what God's
eye rests upon; our heart is set upon what God's heart is set upon; our hope
is set upon God's hope: our assurance upon God's assurance. Christ is everything.
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (8)
"(which is the sect of the Sadducees)" (Acts 5:17)
WHAT made Luke insert this information that the ruling clique in Jerusalem
were Sadducees? In the Gospels the Sadducees are lumped together with the
Pharisees as opponents of Jesus, with the one discrimination that their incredulity
over the matter of resurrection made them invent a grotesque story about
a woman who had outlived seven husbands. The stratagem misfired; the Lord
soon put them right by clarifying the divine truth on this subject from the
very books of Moses which they professed to revere. From the Bible, therefore,
we have information concerning the Sadducees' denial of resurrection. Later
on Luke will amplify his information about them by commenting that: "the
Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit" (Acts
23:8). At this point, though, he simply inserts this brief parenthesis to
let us know that it was to this sect that the high priest and his confederates
We might be slightly interested to know this, but only slightly. It hardly
seems a matter of much concern, since we know that both Sadducees and Pharisees
were sworn enemies of the gospel. We do right, however, to give the matter
some consideration since Luke must have felt impelled to put this in the
divine record. He would not do so merely as a matter of passing interest,
for the Bible never sets out to interest or inform us but rather to give us
spiritual instruction. So I repeat: Why did Luke put in this bracketed phrase?
FIRST of all, perhaps, to assure us that Peter and his companions were
not prepared to compromise about their message: "They proclaimed in Jesus
the resurrection from the dead". Neither for self preservation nor in an
attempt to make their gospel more acceptable, would they lessen their stress
on this one point. They knew -- none better -- that the very mention of resurrection
would provoke Annas, Caiaphas and their group into a frenzy of hatred against
It might be thought that they could have been more tactful, contenting
themselves for the moment with references to the teachings of Jesus, or
His miracles, or the attractiveness of His life and the dignity of His behaviour
at death. This is the kind of approach often made by messengers of the gospel
who feel the importance of not antagonising one's hearers. The apostles
would have none of this. Whether Sadducees liked talk about resurrection
or not, they fearlessly announced it, not as a theory but a fact -- Jesus
had risen from the dead. So it may be that Luke inserted this reminder of
what the opposition stood for to throw further light on the courageous way
in which Peter and the others faced their adversaries.
Two things made the apostles very bold. One of these was the fullness
of the Holy Spirit within them. The Spirit always works on the basis of resurrection.
The other was the certainty that these top influential men, in spite of
all their powers, were completely unable to justify their position by producing
the dead body of Jesus. There was no dead body. Perhaps that very fact explains
the highly emotional state of the rulers.
THERE is another and perhaps rather amusing implication in the parenthetical
remark of Luke's. God released His servants by means of those very angels
whose existence the Sadducees so strenuously denied. It was as though God
resolved to expose their nonsense by making use of one of those very angelic
beings to mock the authority of the Sadducees. The high priestly party scoffed
at the idea of angels; yet it only needed one of these spirit-beings to open
the prison doors and set their victims free. If the disciples had a sense
of humour this must have appealed to it, and if angels have a sense of humour
too, then this one must have found peculiar pleasure in proving so dramatically
that after all he did exist.
One angel; and the prison doors were opened! Not that the prisoners were
set free for flight. No, they were sent back again to the temple to renew
their testimony to the risen Lord Jesus. And when they were once more apprehended
and brought face to face with the high priest himself, they pressed home
the truth: "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus", Resurrection always means
that God has the last word.
"THEY THAT SOW IN TEARS SHALL REAP IN JOY."
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