|Vol. 17, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1988
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THE DAY OF TROUBLE
"Call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver thee, and thou shalt
glorify me." Psalm 50:15
THE Psalms, like the rest of the Scriptures, do not paint a picture of
life as idyllic. They are, in fact, more realistic than many Christians,
for we are inclined to choose verses from Scripture which correspond with
our own desires and ideas. You can choose many words which suit life as you
would wish it to be, for example: "All that he does shall prosper". That
means progress and success in the ordinary human sense of the words, whereas
in the light of eternity they have a very different meaning.
Can there be a day of trouble for one who is blessed by the Lord? Can
there really be such a day for the one who belongs to the Lord and is blessed
by Him? Yes indeed, for the Psalms often speak of that kind of day. How realistic
the Bible is, and how important it is that we should not be governed by
Christian wishful thinking. Some will affirm that days of trial or weeping
are not for the true Christian, but both the Bible and experience say the
There can be days of trouble, as the Psalms show us, though it may be
hard for us to understand that they are necessary in the will of God. We
read of sickness that a doctor could almost diagnose. "There is no soundness
in my flesh" (38:3). Would God allow that? "An evil disease has gripped me"
(41:8). "My bones are burned as a firebrand" (102:3); "My soul abhors all
manner of meat" (107:18); "The cords of death compassed me" (116:3). Is it
possible that God can permit that? Yes, according to biblical realism, He
can. Since the Fall, the whole creation, including mankind, is subject to
vanity, so much so that at times even the faithful are tempted to take offence
with God. To a man who saw others being helped while there was no help for
him Jesus sent the message, "Blessed is he who is not offended in me".
There is no human situation which we cannot recognise in the Psalms.
There are evil men in the world, and God does not always shelter His saints
so that nothing can touch them. "How are my adversaries increased", complains
the psalmist (3:1). When he is most pressed, they seize every opportunity
of falling upon him or gloating over him. And this happens to God's elect!
The most difficult thing is when we cannot understand why the trouble
should be. There are three psalms which most of us cannot enter into by experience,
but can only read them and wonder. They are Psalms 44, 77 and 88. In each
of these, the psalmist complains and can only call upon God. He says: "All
this has come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, nether have we dealt
faithlessly in thy covenant" (44:17). He asks, "Will the Lord cast off for
ever?" (77:7). The strange thing about these psalms is that there is no
answer; they close with the psalmist calling upon God with no immediate
response. The day of trouble, looked at in the light of the short period
of this present time, can be without explanation. It can only become meaningful
when it is seen in the light of eternity. We cannot understand the depths
of God's wisdom, but must allow Him to be God -- a God who hides Himself,
a God who is not made in our image and cannot be comprehended with our way
One thing is even worse, and that is to have a day of trouble which is
the consequence of our own sin, This was the kind of trouble that David
experienced when God's wrath lay heavily upon him because he had murdered
and committed adultery. He only emerged from it by repentance and confession.
Although we sometimes regard our day of trouble as a matter of chance,
we do not find this [21/22] in the Psalms for they
declare that God has caused it. "Thou has removed my friends far from me.
Thou hast afflicted me ..." (Psalm 88:8). "The dead bodies of thy servants
have been given to the birds and beasts" (79:2). We might call these meaningless
calamities, destruction of human life, collapse of kingdoms, but the psalmist
describes these seemingly accidental happenings with the words. "Thou has
It is abundantly clear that life is not governed by idyllic harmony.
But it is also clear that a day is coming when the day of trouble will no
longer exist. The Bible calls it "The Day of the Lord". That will be the
day when Christ visibly appears and actively intervenes. But the very description
implies that the present days are not as He would wish, since other wills
operate. The future is bright before us but meanwhile the day of trouble may
be a most painful reality.
Call Upon Me
The Lord tells us what to do. He does not assure us that there will be
no day of trouble for us, but He says that we are to call upon Him when
and if that day occurs. A wonderful thing about the Psalms is that their
cries for help exactly correspond to the needs involved. There is nothing
artificial or merely formal about them. There are sighs, there are groans,
there are even tears. We might at times be alarmed at the expressions used
by men as they call upon God. Have they forgotten to whom they are speaking?
"Are You asleep?". "Please wake up!" "Stand up!" (as if He were lying in
bed). "Make haste!" The truth is that in the day of trouble liturgy breaks
down. All systems break down. Words are not enough.
There is a limit to mere piety, and that limit is passed when a person
is in the depths. The day of trouble leaves no room for the beauty of phraseology.
Thank God that He understands and heeds us, even in our desperation, though
I must confess that sometimes I feel that the psalmists go too far when they
ask God to crush their enemies and blot them out.
Well, if in their day of trouble they go very far in their cry, at least
they go to God. And we see in the Psalms that God Himself has entered into
the greatest troubles, for some of them can only speak of the crucified Saviour.
Christ entered into troubles that may seem meaningless to us, as though
He were offended with His Father. On the cross He used a psalm to cry out
in anguish, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" That for Him was
indeed a day of trouble, far beyond our understanding.
I Will Deliver You
God's promise to deliver includes various things. Sometimes we understand
His promise to mean that He will bring the troubles to an end, but this is
not always the case for there are times when He delivers by giving grace
enough to endure in a new way. I have always thought it very hard when a young
wife loses her husband and am inclined to think that God's deliverance would
have been better expressed if this had never been allowed. But then, He has
promised to uphold the widows (146:9), so the Lord of love will doubtless
show His grace to them by special help. It is a dreadful thing to see a person
whose inner spirit has broken down, but here we read that the Lord is especially
near to those whose heart is broken (34:18) and I realise that He may well
be much nearer in the day of trouble than in the day of prosperity.
The deliverance which we understand best is that which is described in
Psalm 91. This we appreciate and rejoice over, for it says: "He shall deliver
thee from the snare of the fowler and from the noisome pestilence. He shall
cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou take refuge
... a thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand,
but it shall not come nigh thee ... There shall no evil befall thee ..."
(3-10). This is all very wonderful, for God is like that too. But that is
not His only way of delivering.
The Psalms belong together in a great vital unity, and life is so varied
that God's ways cannot be condensed into a formula. Whenever Christians try
to do this they shut God out, for there is no systematic formula for the
fulfilment of God's promises. That is why we so often read that universal
question, "Why?" Why do You hide Yourself in the time of trouble? Let those
who at present are having an easy time not make sufferers' burdens even greater
by asserting that they could be free from their trials if only they had faith!
In Psalm 77 it is as though the psalmist cries out that he has taken the
Lord at His word and cried, but without an answer: "In the day of my trouble
I sought the Lord ... my soul refused [22/23] to be
comforted" (verse 2), as if the Lord had broken His promise, but he concludes
with the remembrance that the Lord's way is in the sea and His footsteps not
known (verse 19).
"How long" is another of the heartbroken exclamations of the Psalms,
and it implies that God's servant cannot wait much longer for Him to respond
to the call of distress. God's answer is, "Although I postpone the matter,
yet I judge with righteousness" (75:2 Danish) Another psalm voices
reassurance in this matter: "My times are in thy hand" (31:15), an affirmation
which seems partly to mean that when I think that my times should be different,
I may rest assured that in fact God has formed and determined events for
me and that He has the matter in hand.
The truth is that deliverance has to be considered not just in the perspective
of the present time but in the fuller perspective of eternity. When God's
ways are beyond our understanding, faith can give us the assurance that they
are perfect and so satisfy our heart and spirit. "In thy light we shall see
light" (36:9). In our own natural light we cannot always perceive God's purposes,
but we can be assured that afterwards God will receive us to glory (73:24).
This brings us to the end of our verse, for in it we find that His promise
of deliverance is followed by the prospect of His name being the more glorified
because of what we have passed through. The New Testament amply confirms
the assurance that the Lord will set a limit to all our troubles, enabling
us to endure them and then leading us out of them when His purposes in allowing
them have been fulfilled. Whatever our troubles may be, He is always within
call. Let us never forget that. His promise is sure: "I will deliver thee,
and thou shalt glorify me."
FOURSQUARE ON THE CROSS
(The Full Gospel Story)
J. Alec Motyer
THERE are, of course, four accounts of the crucifixion, given to us in
the four Gospels. We can do no more than try to pick out what seems to be
the central emphasis in each of the accounts. Under the inspiration of the
Holy Spirit each of the Gospel narratives of the cross seems to have a distinct
Four Aspects of the Cross
We begin with Matthew and with an incident which he alone records, namely
the confession by Judas that he had sinned: "Judas who betrayed him, when
he saw that he was condemned, changed his mind and brought back the thirty
pieces of silver to the Chief Priest saying, 'I have sinned'" (27:3). It
was human sinfulness that put Jesus on the cross. In Matthew's account of
the crucifixion the story comprises sixty-two verses and of these there are
twenty-three which make a reference to human sinfulness.
In Luke's Gospel there is a reference which only he makes, and it concerns
the centurion whose duty it was to see that the condemned person remained
on the cross until death: "When the centurion saw what was done, he began
to glorify God saying, 'Certainly this was a righteous man'" (23:47). This
is not what the other Gospels say, for they report that the centurion said,
"Surely this was the son of God". I have no doubt that the centurion made
both of these statements. Luke, however, picks out that which related to
his constant purpose which was to show the perfect humanity of the Lord Jesus
Christ. Jesus was the One who was all that God ever wanted a man to be. He
was dragged to death because He was the one righteous Man.
John tells us that when they came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
and He stepped out into the light of the torches they were carrying, He asked
them the question, "Whom do you seek?". When they replied, "Jesus of Nazareth"
Jesus said to them "I am he". John tells us, "Judas also which betrayed
him was standing with them. When therefore he said to them, I am he, they
went backward and fell to the ground" (18:6). This reveals the majesty of
the Lord Jesus, the One who had said, "No man takes my life from me. I lay
it down myself" (10:18). This is the line of thought which John follows through
in his Gospel. Christ only had to say "I am he" and His foes were prostrate
at His feet, so that if they subsequently arrested Him it was because He
gave Himself into their hands. The majestic Jesus went to the cross by His
Mark brings his account of the crucifixion to a climax by bringing two
things into close dramatic proximity: "Jesus uttered a loud voice and gave
up the ghost and the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to
the bottom" (15:37-38). At last there is a way back to God from the dark
paths of sin. The veil, which represented the barrier between God and sinners,
was torn apart by God Himself at the very moment when Jesus died. So the
cross of Christ is God's effective way of dealing with the problem of sin
and bringing sinners safely home to Himself.
We have already stated that Matthew displays the cross as the climax
of human sinfulness. "The high priest rent his garments saying, 'He has
spoken blasphemy'" (26:65). Here we come face to face with sin in its lawlessness,
its determination to flout the law and have its own way. There was no blasphemy
in the true Messiah claiming to be such. Had it been blasphemous to say,
or appear to say, "I am the Messiah", then the Messiah would never be able
to come. Pretending to honour the law, the Jewish leaders were so determined
on the destruction of Jesus that they made their own lawless decrees.
"They did spit in his face and buffet him and smote him with the palms
of their hands, saying to him, 'Prophesy unto us thou Christ. Who is it
that smote thee?'" (v.68). He had not been subjected to any legal trial
or legal condemnation, but that mattered nothing to them. Sin is a law breaker.
They wilfully flouted the law in their attacks upon Jesus.
"When Pilate saw that he prevailed in no way but rather that a tumult
was arising, he took water and washed his hands" (27:24). He would have said
that it was useless to do otherwise, but was that the way for the guardian
of the law to behave? It seemed that law no longer mattered. Sin in its self-interest
put Jesus on the cross. We are told that "all the disciples left him and
fled" (26:56) and that "Peter denied before them all saying, I do not know
what you are saying'" (26:70). Sin has a natural tendency to protect the sinner
and care only for his safety.
There is a further allusion to this recorded only by Matthew who says.
"While he (Pilate) was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him
saying, 'Have nothing to do with this righteous man ...'" (27:19). The next
word is "because". What would we expect? Because he is righteous? Because
there is no charge against him? That is what the Governor and the Governor's
wife should be interested in, the righteousness of the law. But in fact
she was only interested in herself, for she went on to say, "Because I have
suffered many things in a dream because of him". Can you imagine a greater
display of self-interest? He has been disturbing my sleep, so let him alone.
And then there is the case of Judas, "he that betrayed him gave them
a sign saying, the one whom I shall kiss, that is he'" (26:48). The very
sign of love, a kiss, was used as the means of identification and betrayal.
Deceitfulness and hypocrisy were the sins that put Jesus on the cross. Note
later the callousness of sin, for when poor Judas brought his blood money
back to the priests and confessed, "I have sinned", they retorted with "What
is that to us?" This is only marginally related to the cross, but it is
a further disclosure of the callous hardness of heart in those who accused
Jesus and brought Him to the cross. [24/25]
In one of His predictions of the cross Jesus stated that He would be
delivered into the hands of men (17:12). What awful suffering can men's
hands inflict on one another when they are energised by hardened hearts!
The Governor had Jesus flogged and then his soldiers took Him into the palace
to make sport of Him. So He was literally given into the hands of men. What
did they do? They always flogged and mocked condemned criminals, though
nobody knows why, but their cruel ingenuity invented special cruelty for
the Lord Jesus, for in His case they "stripped him and put a scarlet robe
on him, and they wove a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put
a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him ..." (27:2). They never
did that to anyone else. And then "they spat on him, and took the staff
and struck him on the head again and again" (v.30).
They parted His garments when they had crucified Him. Just look at the
grammar of verse 35. The cross is not even given the dignity of being the
main part of the sentence, but is a subordinate clause. Matthew's is the
only Gospel that puts it like that. The other Gospels single out the crucifixion
of the Lord as a main clause -- "They crucified him", but Matthew puts his
emphasis on the sinfulness of the whole proceedings by saying that they
crucified Him and then got on with the real business, as though rejecting
God's Son was a thing of no significance compared with the chance of sharing
out His clothes and making a penny or two out of the day's work. It certainly
was sin that brought Jesus to the cross.
We have already noted that in connection with the cross, a significant
verse in Luke's Gospel was "surely this was a righteous man" (23:47). Luke
seems to be intent on bringing out the human perfection of our Lord Jesus
Christ. He makes no reference to those marvels which Matthew emphasised,
the earthquake, the rent rocks and the saints rising from their graves but
passes by that supernatural touch, just mentioning the torn veil, and stresses
the testimony of the centurion. What is more, at this point he varies his
report from that which is recorded in Matthew and Mark, telling us of a matter
which he had ferreted out in his enquiries. It seems that he went around
among the eye-witnesses and doubtless in doing this he met that same centurion
and perhaps asked him, "Did you say that this was surely the Son of God?"
When this was confirmed, he asked if he had said anything else, to be told
by the centurion, "Oh yes, I remember saying 'Surely this was a righteous
man'". "Thank you", said Luke, "That is what I want." He put on one side
the other points, not to deny them but to pick out that which to him was
supremely important. In his account of the cross there are in fact five things
that he alone tells, and they all seem to bear on the human perfection of
our Lord Jesus.
The first thing is that when in the Garden one of the disciples drew
his sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest's servants, Luke
tells us that Jesus answered, "No more of that. And he touched the man's
ear and healed him" (22:51). All the other Gospels tell us about the ear
being cut off, but Dr. Luke went around among the eyewitnesses, enquiring
about the matter and learned that Jesus healed the man. Incidentally, John
tells us that the man's name was Malchus. To the medical man, however, the
important point was the healing and what is more, it is part of his presentation
of the Lord Jesus as perfect in His ministry of concern. He was perfect
Man right to the end.
Circumstances were against any such action, for men were clamouring to
tie the hands that would do the healing. Personal inconvenience was against
the healing. The Lord could so well have argued that at that moment He had
so much on His mind that He could not pay attention to that mutilated ear.
The character and behaviour of the person concerned was against the healing,
for he was one of those who was making the arrest. This man was helping to
nail those hands to the cross, and yet the hand reached out to heal him.
Here we see again the perfection of the Lord Jesus. He was perfect in His
human sympathies and compassions. [25/26]
Secondly we read how, on His way to the cross, Jesus met a group of women:
"There followed him a great multitude of people and of women who were bewailing
and lamenting, and Jesus turned to them and said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem,
weep not for me but for yourselves'" (23:28). Luke alone describes this incident
and I think that he does so to show the human perfection of the Lord Jesus.
It is typical of his Gospel to stress the part played by women, but in this
case we see Christ's perfection in His complete absence of self-concern.
Pilate was full of self-concern. His decision was final when it was put
to him that if he released Jesus he was not Caesar's friend. That settled
it. His first concern was to be on good terms with Caesar. The Jewish leaders
were so moved by self concern that they actually incited the mob to condemn
the Lord. But when He had a chance to incite at least some of the people
on His behalf, He only said. "Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves." Even
at that moment He was thinking not of Himself but of the tragedy in which
the women would be involved because they belonged to a society which condemned
Him. The heart of the Lord Jesus was quite free from self-concern in His
care for others.
Thirdly, Luke is the only Evangelist who records the words of Jesus,
"Father, forgive them ..." (23:34). At the very moment of the onset of the
agony of the cross, the Lord Jesus was perfect in His forgiving spirit.
In the fourth place, He was perfect in His longing to bless. Once more
Luke records words from the cross which are not mentioned in the other Gospels.
One of the thieves crucified with the Lord abused Him, but the other asked
Him for mercy. His words to his companion were, "Do you not fear God, seeing
that you are in the same condemnation? We indeed justly, for we receive the
due reward of our deeds, but this man has done nothing amiss" (23:41). A
further, if incidental, emphasis on the human perfection of Jesus. Then the
man turned to Jesus in appeal and received the marvellous reply, "Truly I
say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise". The man was maybe referring
to the remote future when he asked to be remembered, but Jesus said, "Today",
so opening up for us all the vista of the complete safety of even the simplest
Some time ago I was talking to a man in hospital who confided that he
wished that he had a stronger faith. The Lord prompted me, almost without
thinking, to tell him that it is not a matter of having a strong faith or
regretting a weak faith, but what we need is a simple faith. From time to
time we all pass through afflictions which reveal the weakness of our faith,
but the Scriptures assure us that what we need -- and all that we need --
is a simple faith.
How much did this man know about Jesus? Next to nothing! Did he know
the meaning of the cross? Did he know why Jesus was shedding His blood?
Did he ever hear of the matter of substitution? No, but he knew that the
thing to do was to trust himself to Jesus. "Lord, remember me". They were
beautiful words and it was beautiful of Jesus to respond to him. But much
more beautiful were the heart and mind that lay behind the Lord's promise.
Right in the midst of His own deepest agony, He spoke the words of reassurance
to the needy soul.
The final expression of Christ's perfection is found in His own human
trust in the Father, for it is Luke who records His last act, "When Jesus
had cried with a loud voice He said, 'Father, into thy hands I commend my
spirit'" (23:46). There were seven utterances from the cross and Luke records
the first and the last of them. His first word was "Father", and His last
word was "Father". In fact the first words which the Lord Jesus is reported
as using, recorded once again by Luke, were, "Did you not know that I must
be about my Father's business?". How perfectly Luke rounds off his inspired
portrait of the human perfection of the Lord Jesus in His total commitment
to the Father's will. [26/27]
The climax was reached as He embraced the Cross and He carried through
His implicit trust. The great cry which He made is not described by Luke.
It is from John that we know that it was "It is finished". Here we are informed
that when He had completed the work of redemption, He looked up to the Father
and said the words which, I think, Joseph would have taught Him when He was
a little boy. It was the evening prayer of the Jewish household: "Father,
into thy hands I commend my spirit", and with that He laid down His life.
"What more do you need now" says Luke, "than to listen to the words of that
on-looker? Surely, this was a righteous man."
John makes his testimony to the cross to be that it was a deliberate
act of God. All through his Gospel he displays Jesus as moving forward to
what He speaks of as His Day. This begins at the story of the feast at Cana
of Galilee. At the wedding breakfast Mary came to Him, as doubtless she
had often done when there was a crisis in the home, to share the need with
this remarkable son of hers. She said, "They have no more wine" (2:3). All
the neighbours were there, all the people who from the start had never believed
Mary's story that her Baby was conceived of the Holy Spirit but who had assumed
that Jesus had been born out of wedlock. That was part of Mary's particular
burden, given to her by God, that the true explanation of her pregnancy was
something which nobody would believe. What an opportunity, then, for these
people to see something spectacular which would make them accept that Jesus
was really born of Mary when she was virgin. No doubt the Lord Jesus read
her heart to perfection as He addressed her as always in the Gospels. He never
said "Mother" but always with a word of affectionate respect. "Woman", He
said, "You and I are not on the same wavelength just now. My hour has not
yet come. My hour will come, and with it will come your complete vindication."
We note that it is not only that Jesus reserved His greatest work for
that hour which was to come, but that he was protected until that hour. "They
sought therefore to take him; and no man laid his hand on him, because his
hour was not yet come" (7:30). He was a protected person. They could not
arrest Him for His hour had not yet arrived. He was moving forward to that
hour when protective covering would be taken away and the Son of Man delivered
into the hands of men -- but not yet. "These words he spoke in the treasury
as he was teaching in the temple; and no man took him; because his hour
was not yet come" (8:20). In his Gospel, John stressed this sense of divine
purpose. The Lord Jesus was committed to this purpose. That was why He spoke
to Mary as He did at the beginning, and that is why they could not arrest
So John moves on to the time when "Before the feast of the Passover,
Jesus acted because He knew that now His hour had come" (13:1) "Not yet!
Not yet come!" But now the hour has come! So the whole Gospel of John builds
up to a climax. When at last there comes the hour for which we have been
waiting, then we pause with bated breath for the hour set and determined
in the plan and purpose of God has arrived, and we read of Christ going
to His cross as part of the procedure of the divine will.
For this reason we find that in John's Gospel, more than in the other
three, the events of the cross are described as the fulfilment of Scripture.
It may not be that John calls attention to the fulfilment more than others
in the whole story, but in the narrative of the cross he certainly does. For
instance, in the description of the parting of Christ's garments he comments:
"Let us not tear it (the seamless robe), but cast lots for it. This happened
that the scripture might be fulfilled ..." (19:24). They knew nothing of what
the Scriptures foretold but John adds his comment, "So this is what the soldiers
Those men executed a preordained purpose without knowing it. Another
reference is different and John was quick to notice it. "After this, Jesus
knowing that all things were now finished, in order that the Scripture might
be accomplished said, 'I thirst'" (19:28). Thirst was one of the particular
agonies of the cross, but it would hardly be suitable to the portrayal of
Jesus as we know Him that He should ask for a drink of water just to meet
His needs. No, that was not the case. He did ask for a drink, but He asked
for it in order that the Scriptures might [27/28]
be fulfilled. So John who leads us to the cross by recurring references
to the hour that was coming in the determinate purpose of God, amplifies
the direct statement, "The hour has come" (12:23) with these explanations
of how the Scriptures were fulfilled.
There is another side in John's narrative which makes this same point;
he shows that Jesus is the real agent in the whole procedure of the cross.
When they came to arrest Jesus in the Garden they could not take Him until
He was ready to go. He said, "Who is it you want?" and they answered, "Jesus
of Nazareth". "I am he" Jesus replied "and they drew back and fell to the
ground" (18:6). It is very interesting to put together all the information
which we have about the arrest of Jesus, for it all serves to stress the
fact that it was really He who was in command. Nothing happened until He was
ready. Even when they came upon Him in strength with swords and clubs, He
alone decided the sequence of events. Not only did they fall to the ground,
but He did not move until He had rebuked Judas and had quite a conversation
with Peter. First He asked Judas, "Are you going to betray the Son of Man
with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48) and then He had a little talk with Peter, telling
him to put away his sword since those who resort to the use of the sword will
be killed by it, and then adding, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father,
and he will put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how
then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"
(Matthew 26:53-54). All this time they were waiting to arrest Him, and yet
He was carrying on a conversation with Peter about the Bible.
Then we have what He said to Pilate. The Roman ruler was on his dignity:
"Do you refuse to speak to me?", he asked Jesus, "Do you not know that I
have authority to release you and I have authority to crucify you? "You!"
answered Jesus, "You would have no power whatsoever against me except it were
given you from heaven" (19:11). In this way John keeps asserting that if
we watch the approach of the hour, we see that God is behind it all. The Lord
Jesus discloses by His actions and His words that He has no doubt about this.
Both the Scriptures and the behaviour of Jesus demonstrate that it was by
the will of God that the cross occurred.
So we come to the final moment. What the other Evangelists only mention
-- the great cry -- John verbalises: "... Jesus said, 'It is finished'. With
that he bowed his head and gave up his life" (19:30). He knew when His work
was done and nothing more was left to do, so with that same personal determination
by which He gave Himself into the hands of sinners, He handed over His spirit
to the Father. His head did not slump back as naturally it would have done,
but He bowed it. He did not die by crucifixion: He died by His own will
The last incident which John records concerns the soldier piercing His
side so that there was a sudden flow of blood and water. It is the testimony
of an eye-witness. John again draws our attention to the Word of God: "These
things happened to him so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, 'Not one
of his bones shall be broken'" (19:36). How marvellous is this further fulfilment!
Jesus is the Passover Lamb. That lamb was by the will of God consigned to
the knife and to the fire, but no bone of it was to be broken. And when the
soldiers came to Jesus and found that He was dead already one of them, by
a wanton and thoughtless act, prodded his spear into the body. All this happened
by divine prescription: "As another scripture says, 'They will look on the
one they have pierced'" (19:37).
In many ways Mark's is the simplest and the most beautiful account of
the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. It has the capacity to move the heart
just because it is so simple and to the point. He brings the account to this
climax: "Jesus uttered a loud cry" (15:37). "It is not my purpose" says
Mark, "to tell you what that loud cry was. To discover that you must read
my brother John's Gospel. What I want to say is that as He cried and gave
up the ghost the veil in the temple was rent in twain from the top to the
bottom. That is it! That is what the cross is all about."
So Mark moves his narrative quickly until he brings us right into the
secret place within the temple where a great curtain hung from ceiling to
floor. This was the last barrier between God and the sinner, put there by
God to exclude the sinner from His holy presence. Until then there was no
way in. When Jesus died, however, God Himself tore it apart. The tearing
began at the top, beyond the reach of man, and it represented a statement
from God. God rent the veil from the top to the bottom because there is
"A way back to God from the deep paths of sin;
A door that is open and you may go in;
At Calvary's cross is where you begin".
As we come to the place where Jesus died, we find that there is no further
barrier between us and God. For time and eternity we stand four-square on
THIS is not really a song. It is a series of cries from the heart. It
is so personal and sacred that we may wonder why David ever made it public.
We know of its context from the heading which reliably informs us that it
followed David's great moral breakdown over Bathsheba. The story is to be
found in 2 Samuel 11, and when we have finished reading it we might imagine
that it was a series of such gross offences that they could never be pardoned.
The chapter ends with the verdict that "God was displeased with what David
had done". Although it is the end of the chapter it is happily not the end
of the story, as the rest of the account will show. It is true that his sin
was great, but his penitence was also great, and God's grace was greater than
We can understand David's prayer but it is hard to appreciate why he
set to work to expose his anguished soul to the world by means of his psalm.
The Spirit of God inspired him to do so, even against his own inclinations,
for the psalm has a message for us all, even if we have not committed David's
specific sins. We will not waste our time with considerations as to just
what caused it all, except to remark that this is a case of what we call "falling"
into sin. David had never planned to take Bathsheba as another wife, still
less had he intended to order the death of one of his fine officers, but
one thing led to another, as is usually the case. What we must seek is the
message which the psalm has for us all.
1. The Seriousness of Sin
The world makes mockery even of the word sin. Christians can so misunderstand
the grace of God as to think or talk lightly of it. Apart from this psalm,
the account given in the book of Samuel may also appear to make it a simple
matter for, no sooner had David confessed to God's servant, "I have sinned
against the Lord", than Nathan replied, "The Lord also has put away your
sin. You will not die" (2 Samuel 12:13). Sin, however, is not a trivial matter.
The issue is of supreme importance. Doubtless God inspired this penitential
psalm of David's to be in Scripture in order to impress upon us what a tragedy
man's sinfulness is.
In His mercy the Lord saved David from the mortal penalty of his sin,
but He did not spare him from its consequences. So far as eternity is concerned,
that and every other sin was blotted out; it is not to be found in the book
of Chronicles and there is no mention of it in the New Testament.
[29/30] So far as this life is concerned, however, the rest of
his history had shadows over it, especially in his own family. An example
of this can be seen in the death of four of his sons. When Nathan told David
the story of the tyrant who was said to have robbed a poor man of his ewe
lamb, the king's angry decision was that the offender must pay four times
the loss (2 Samuel 12:6). That was in accordance with the law. Now it is notable
that after this, four of David's sons died -- three of them by violent deaths.
There was the first innocent son of Bathsheba, whom God would not spare in
spite of David's prayer and fasting. There was also the eldest son, Ammon,
who was murdered by his half-brother, Absalom (2 Samuel 13:29). Then there
was Absalom himself, who rebelled and was killed (2 Samuel 18:14). Finally,
the eldest surviving son, Adonijah, was executed by order of Solomon after
David's own death (1 Kings 2:25). Certainly God is not mocked, and His people
must not be deceived about this fact. It was to believers that Paul gave
the warning that a man reaps what he sows. David's later life bears witness
to this truth in solemn ways, as well as in what I have already mentioned.
Above all, sin is an offence to God: "Against thee, against thee only
have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight" (v.4). In fact David
had sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba. What is more, he had sinned against
himself. Sin is always like that; it harms us and it harms others too. Most
of all, though, it offends God. The chapter which tells the whole sorry story
ends with the laconic note, "But the thing that David had done displeased
the Lord" (2 Samuel 11:27). Had David not thought of that? When Joab sent
the news of Uriah's death to him he sent back word to General Joab, "Let
not this thing displease thee" (v.25). Joab was not to worry, but what about
God? What did Joab matter in comparison with the Lord? Even the offence against
Uriah, though it was so great, mattered less than the offence to God, for
by it He was robbed of the gratitude and love which might reasonably have
been expected from a man whom He had so favoured and whom He had anointed
to be the sweet singer of the praises of Israel. Now David's praises had
ceased: his lips were closed (v.15).
Worse than that, moreover, all God purposes for His people were put at
risk by it. After David was forgiven he disclosed that now mercy had opened
the way for the Lord to find His pleasure in Zion and to build up its walls,
the inference being that if there had been no effectual putting away of the
king's sin, all the divine plans for Jerusalem would have been frustrated.
"Then they shall offer bullocks upon thine altar" (v.19). The logical argument
seems to be that David's sin had put in jeopardy the Lord's pleasure and
could have robbed Him of the worship which He prizes. This is the significance
of sin. It brings displeasure to the Lord and threatens the out-working of
His purpose of love for His people. Sin must be dealt with; then -- and only
then -- will God be able to delight in the sacrifices of His people.
This is a principle, not only in relation to the outwardly ugly moral
issues but also to inward and hidden offences. Adultery and murder may be
remote possibilities for many of us, but pride in the heart is much more
likely, and can be much more serious even than them. Later on we are told
how King David offended in the matter of conceit and brought severe judgment
from an irate God. After he had forced Joab to number the people, he suddenly
realised that, in his own words, he had "sinned greatly and done very foolishly"
(2 Samuel 24:10). It is true that once again he found forgiveness, and God
overruled the whole matter for His own glory, but it was clearly not the small
thing that it might seem to be, for it brought much more severe judgment from
God than David's earlier crime, being a sort of defiance of God, a sin of
the spirit. Once more it brought trouble to others more than to himself.
2. The Greatness of God's Grace
Grace was David's only hope. How rightly he began his prayer with an
appeal on the basis of God's character, using the phrases, "According to
the multitude of thy tender mercies" and "according to thy loving kindness".
Any other ground of appeal would have left him guilty and
[30/31] in the utmost despair. Later on he confessed how vain it
would have been for him to offer any sacrifices (v.16) and in fact the law
did not provide sacrifices for the kinds of sin that he had committed. Blood-guiltiness
was not catered for in the Levitical sacrifices; for such a sin there could
only be total condemnation.
Yet David was forgiven. He was actually washed even whiter than snow.
As he asked, God did hide His face from his sin and blot out all his iniquities.
This is the marvel of divine grace. This is why Nathan could respond to David's
confession with the reassurance that the Lord had also put away his sin.
God dealt with the guilty king on the basis of free grace, as He is prepared
to do for all sinner, kings or commoners, the only condition being true repentance.
David met this requirement, not only asking for forgiveness but saying,
"I acknowledge my transgression and my sin is ever before me" (v.3). He
said more than this, but it was all part of his deep contrition of heart
which, as he said, is the sacrifice which God requires.
We may wonder how such vile sin could be completely washed away and blotted
out by the thrice-holy God, and we do well to wonder. A clue to the explanation
may perhaps be found in David's request, "Purge me with hyssop" (v.7) for
this relates directly to the doctrine of sacrificial blood. Hyssop was used
at the Passover for the sprinkling of the lamb's blood on the doorposts of
the believers' home (Exodus 12:22), and it was also used for sprinkling the
cleansed leper (Leviticus 14:6). On both of these counts, David needed a
personal application of shed blood. He needed deliverance, for he was a slave
to sin, needing to be redeemed. And as a moral leper he needed to be cleansed.
Both of these needs demanded being purged with hyssop, for the blood of sacrifice
was his only hope. And the blood which brought him forgiveness and cleansing
is the only blood which has ever brought salvation to man, namely, the precious
blood of Christ which He shed on the cross.
It is noteworthy that although the baby born to David and Bathsheba had
to die, God gave them another son, Solomon, who was greatly loved by his
God and destined to come to the throne. Solomon became the writer of many
songs and proverbs which have been preserved for us in the Scriptures. There
were many others which have not survived but we know that in his wisdom he
wrote about the meaning of trees "from the cedar that is in Lebanon even unto
the hyssop that springs out of the wall" (1 Kings 4:33). No doubt he drew
spiritual lessons from those cedars and also from the olive tree and the
vine, but we might question how it was that the insignificant plant hyssop
was included in the list. But there it was. What meaning could such a humble
little bush have had?
Did he perhaps point out that while hyssop was nothing in itself, it
had the supreme honour of being used for the sprinkling of precious blood
and if so, did he record that he owed his own life to its function? But
for the cleansing by means of hyssop both Solomon's father and mother might
have perished before he was born. The grace of God brought survival and acceptance
on the basis of Christ's sacrificial blood. In the end God blessed their union
and gave them another son. Solomon could rightly assert that he owed his
existence and his throne to the truth represented by the cleansing hyssop.
This is a further feature of God's marvellous grace; He not only pardons
sin but can turn our faults into occasions of new blessings for us which
seemingly could not come any other way and can use them to bring greater glory
to His own name. We cannot understand this, but Solomon became a living proof
of the fact. And Solomon's temple adds to the glorious mystery, for we know
that the very place where God had mercy on David after his proud sin of numbering
the people became the site of the great temple which Solomon built. Grace
does not only nulify abounding sin; it abounds above that sin in the bestowal
of even greater blessings. That is the principle of the cross.
3. The Importance of God's Word
In acknowledging his guilt, David pays tribute to God's speaking to him:
"That you may be proved right when you speak" (v.4). God's Word can be a
dead book to us, but when it comes to [31/32] us in
living power by His Spirit, it changes the whole situation. That was what
happened when God spoke to David. But for the divine initiative in sending
His messenger, and but for the courage and wisdom of that messenger, David
might have continued his downward course of a life of self-pleasing and disobedience.
The prophet's name was Nathan, which means a gift. When the king's lips had
been closed to God for nearly a year and when his heart had been led astray
from God's will, he was given a faithful friend who began by inventing a touching
story and so getting him to open his heart and then made the straight-forward
accusation which struck conviction into the sinner's conscience. Nathan was
God's gift to David. His gift to us, His Nathan, is the whole of Holy scripture.
It is through the Bible that we may hear His voice and find grace, like David,
to admit that we are wrong, very wrong, but the Lord is right and fully justified
in what He says to us.
It is a dreadful affliction to be deaf and dumb, but much more dreadful
to suffer from spiritual deafness and dumbness, yet this was what happened
to the Lord's hitherto faithful servant. Previously he had been careful to
listen to what God had to say. In his story we read again and again how he
"enquired of the Lord". This had ceased. We presume that throughout the whole
year of his estrangement from the Lord he continued to hear the Scriptures
read and possibly listened to the singing of some of those inspired psalms
which he himself had composed in his earlier years, but he remained completely
deaf to the speaking of God. When we are out of God's will we tend to avoid
reading the Bible, but it is quite possible to go on reading it and yet not
allow God to speak to us personally. We can apply a message to other people,
as David did, when it is we ourselves who need to be confronted by its challenge.
Reacting in indignation over the imaginary wrongdoer of Nathan's parable,
he exclaimed, "As the Lord liveth ..." in his condemnation of another, but
he needed to remember that it was the living Lord who had something to say
to his own base heart. That is what the Bible is for. It is God's "Nathan"
by which He singles us out personally, saying, "You are the offender".
4. The Need for Renewal
What David needed and what we all need is spiritual renewal. He had made
two discoveries. One was that God's requirements of holiness are inescapable:
"Behold, you desire truth in the inward being" (v.6) and the other was that
his natural condition made it impossible for him to provide that holiness:
"Behold, I have been a sinner from birth" (v.5). Both of these truths apply
to us. We are incapable of fulfilling God's demands and yet He will not lower
His standards for us or for anybody else. What is the answer? Who then can
please God? We need and we want to do so but we are constitutionally incapable
of measuring up to the divine requirements. Thank God we can add another
"Behold", for the gospel provides for the sinner's needs.
David seemingly realised the answer to his dilemma: "Create in me a clean
heart", he prayed, and "renew a right spirit within me" (v.10). He asked
for "a willing Spirit" to sustain him (v.12), and that can only turn our thoughts
to the Holy Spirit. David himself did not have the power to live a holy life,
for he was a faulty sinner by his very nature -- as are we all. He made no
promise for the future, since he had discovered the treachery of his own
heart, but appealed to God for a new nature, a different kind of nature,
imparted to him by the grace of God.
In his request for renewal David asked for a steadfast spirit and also
for a willing spirit. This surely refers to the Holy Spirit who is all too
willing to revolutionise our lives and make us what we could never be apart
from His transforming power. If a sinner is to have not only relief from
sin but actually the joy of salvation, and if his experience is to produce
a turning to God on the part of those to whom he witnesses, it is essential
that his life be governed by the steadfast and willing Spirit of God.
Now David had clearly known such blessings, for his prayer was "Take
not thy Holy Spirit from me". Was he perhaps thinking of the unhappy Saul
of whom Scriptures record that the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him
(1 Samuel 16:14)? Is this something which only belongs to the Old Testament?
When I was younger and rather brash, I was inclined to argue that no New
[32/33] Testament Christian should ever make that petition. If the
indwelling Spirit had come at all, He had come to stay. I realise now, however,
that this is not such an unacceptable prayer, for although the indwelling
Spirit will never leave the true believer, He can withdraw the consciousness
and the power of His presence if He is grieved and quenched by our sinfulness.
It may be theologically unsound to fear that the indwelling Spirit may be
taken away but it is undoubtedly possible that we may lose His anointing
power in daily experience. There can be no joy for us and no satisfaction
for the Lord without the ungrieved operations of God's willing Spirit within
us and through us.
The psalm ends with the prospect of costly sacrifices being made to God.
This has nothing to do with the sinner's attempts to turn away judgment.
There has only ever been one sacrifice which can put away sin, and that is
the offering of God's Son upon the cross. But the forgiven sinners, those
who have first brought to God His desired sacrifice of broken and contrite
hearts, are now privileged and enabled to offer themselves as living sacrifices
to bring pleasure to the heart of God. The Spirit's work of renewal not only
brings joy to us and is a blessing to others, but supremely it brings satisfaction
to our pardoning God.
5. The Larger Background
Although David's sin and forgiveness was an intensely personal matter,
the background to it all was an important national conflict. It has often
been remarked that the offence arose from David's idling at home at the
time when kings go out to battle (2 Samuel 11:1) but we do well to observe
that this was more than a merely general observation, for the particular
conflict under consideration was that which concerned the siege of the Ammonite
stronghold of Rabbah. At the opportune time for this conquest, David opted
out of the battle and left it to his general Joab. In the end Rabbah was
conquered but so long as David was under a cloud of guilt there was no progress
and no decisive outcome. It was there that Uriah was killed, but seemingly
David's sin involved a further delay of about a year when presumably the
struggle went on and the issue was undecided. When David was forgiven and
had submissively accepted God's judgment in not sparing the base-born baby,
Joab was able to send him news that the stronghold was about to be subdued
and only awaited the king's presence to complete the investiture, take the
credit for it and have the golden crown placed on his head (2 Samuel 12:26).
Joab did the work, but David got the credit; but the siege had reached no
final decisive outcome all the time that David was out of favour with God.
This has two striking lessons. The first is that we may be delaying spiritual
victory in a situation for which we have responsibility if there is any cloud
between us personally and our Lord. That is a solemn matter. The second is
quite different and arises from the amazing turn of events when the disgraced
stay-at-home is given credit for what he does not deserve and finds that
he is not only forgiven and restored but crowned with glory. That, indeed,
is grace abounding, and leaves us marvelling afresh at God's goodness to sinful
THE TRAGEDY OF THE TEMPLE
John H. Paterson
Then David gave to Solomon his son ... the pattern of all that he
had by the spirit ...
All this, said David, the Lord made me understand in writing by his hand
even all the works of this pattern. 1 Chronicles 28:11, 12, 19.
THE tragedy of Solomon's temple is simply stated. Imagine a king setting
out to erect for God the world's most beautiful building. Imagine him employing
thousands of labourers in the construction. Imagine him, too, drawing upon
all the resources of the known world for decorating and furnishing it, and
then surrounding this building with other palaces and houses so
[33/34] splendid that kings and queens came from far and near to
see it all. As foreigners, they could never see the inside of the temple,
but the splendour was such that they were astonished even by "the ascent
by which he went up into the house of the Lord" (1 Kings 10:5), let alone
by the buildings themselves.
Now, if you have imagined all that, you have a building more ornate than
the Taj Mahal, better constructed than St. Paul's Cathedral, and containing
more gold than the most richly-endowed medieval shrine! So, given all that
expense and care, how long would you hope that such a building would last?
Built to the glory of God and protected by the greatest king of his time,
you and I would foresee for it, would we not, a long and glorious history?
Actually, it lasted for just 34 years! It was finished in the eleventh
year of Solomon's reign. He had 29 more years to live and, in the fifth
year of his successor, Rehoboam, the king of Egypt arrived at Jerusalem
(1 Kings 14:25-6) and stripped the temple of as much of its gold and decorations
as he could carry away. All that trouble and expenses for a mere 34 years
Tragedy and Mystery
The tragedy, then, is clear. But it simply serves to raise a question
mark or, if you like, to introduce the mystery of the temple, which
is this: should it ever have been built in the first place? In attempting
to answer that question, the bible student must take account of some curiously
conflicting evidence. Here it is:
1. David had the idea of building God a house more permanent than the
tent or tabernacle in which He had so far lived among His people (2 Samuel
2. God responded to David's idea by asking what put such thoughts into
his head, and saying that He had never mentioned any desire for such a house
(vv.4-10). He added that, if it came to house-building, God would build David
3. God then told David that a son of his might build the house that David
had thought of (vv.12-13).
4. Much later on, David told Solomon that every detail of the house was
dictated to him, in writing, by God Himself (1 Chronicles 28:19).
5. When the finished temple was dedicated, God filled this "unwanted"
house with His glory.
At that point, I think that we are all entitled to feel a little confused!
If God really wanted a house built for Himself, why did He respond in the
way He did to David's idea? If He did not really want a house at all, why
did He design it in every detail? Why, when it was finally built, did it
so nearly reproduce the structure and shape of the tabernacle in the wilderness,
which was the product not only of God's pattern, but also of God's initiative
-- a house that He had asked for?
I fear that I am not in a position to answer any of these questions satisfactorily.
Indeed, my only comfort in my ignorance is that, to judge by such literature
as I know of, hardly anyone else has answers for them ether! We have books
in plenty about the tabernacle, but almost nothing about Solomon's temple.
Not, of course, that there is any lack of broad hints that the temple's
structure was significant, as also were the contrasts with the tabernacle.
The single laver in the earlier structure was replaced by ten lavers and
a "sea". The sanctuary in the temple was surrounded by a large number of lesser
rooms; yet the record makes it particularly clear that the rooms were built
in such a way that no part of these structures outside intruded into the
sanctuary. All this is evidently rich in spiritual meaning, but the Epistle
to the Hebrews, which throws so much light on the significance of the tabernacle,
is silent about the temple. The mystery remains: should the temple have been
there in the first place, or should it not?
Curiously enough, the same kind of mystery seems to surround Israel's
other great institution of the same period: the kingship. You will remember
[34/35] how unsatisfactory were its beginnings --
that Israel demanded a king for no better reason than that everybody else
had one, and that God said to Samuel, "they have not rejected thee, but they
have rejected me, that I should not reign over them" (1 Samuel 8:7). Thereupon
He chose for them Saul, who was a disaster and, after him, David, "a man
after my own heart", who has ever since been the epitome of kingship for
Jew and Christian alike. If the whole idea of kingship was wrong, why David?
A Permanent Dwelling
But let us return, for the present, to the temple. It is clear that,
when the idea of building a house for God first occurred to David, his motive
was to give it permanence. He had a house of cedar (2 Samuel 7:2),
and it seemed to him quite wrong that God should have a mere tent. He was
also determined that this house should be worthy of its Occupant: it "must
be exceeding magnifical, of fame and glory throughout all countries" (1 Chronicles
22:5). And the house eventually built at Jerusalem fulfilled both these conditions.
In fact, permanence takes on new dimensions when we realise that, even after
repeated destructions, some of the stones of this house survive to the present
This same thought of permanence seems to have underlain, also, God's
insistence that the temple should be built by Solomon and not by David.
The reason He gave was that David had been a man of war, but that his son
would be a man of peace. By the time Solomon came to the throne, the days
of fighting and conquest were over; the kingdom had reached its greatest
territorial extension. From this point of view, therefore, it should never
be necessary for the house to leave its permanent site. Never again
should there be anything to threaten its peace. Never again should the people
of God have to move on. They were subjects of a kingdom existing in triumph
and in peace, and their wandering days were over. Only under these conditions,
apparently, would God consider lending His name and His presence to the house
So now let us ask ourselves: what were the advantages which the
temple possessed over the tabernacle, and then what were the disadvantages
? Was this a good idea, or was it not?
The advantages, it seems to me, were twofold. One was that, in the temple,
it was possible to construct a setting of much greater splendour than in
the tabernacle. The tent in the wilderness was, after all, a relatively simple
affair, suited to the life of a nomadic people and made, largely, out of
materials which they had to hand on their travels. For the temple, David and
Solomon scoured the world for treasures: it was built to the same ground plan
as the tabernacle, but everything was grander, more impressive, more evocative
of the greatness of the God who dwelt there.
The second was that a permanent building meant that everyone would always
know where God was to be found. Even in the Promised Land, the tabernacle
had evidently been moved from time to time, and the ark of God even more
so. To find God it was therefore necessary first to ask where His home had
moved to! But once He had chosen Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 6:6) as the location
for what Solomon called "a settled place for thee to abide in for ever" (1
Kings 8:13), and once the house was built there, no further doubt was possible.
Jerusalem was where He was to be found, and the place "whither the tribes
go up" for the annual festivals.
To Israel, these were substantial advantages: to have a house worthy
of their God, and appropriate to a people no longer nomadic, but settled
in the land of promise. In what sense, then, can we possibly speak of the
disadvantage of this arrangement?
The answer is, I think, simple but clear. The whole point of both tabernacle
and temple was that they formed a point -- a unique point -- in space at
which God was present. Furthermore, He could be seen to be present,
because the cloud [35/36] of His glory hung over this
place. It hung over the tabernacle and, when Solomon dedicated the temple,
It came to pass, when the priests were
come out of the holy place,
that the cloud filled the house of the
Lord, so that the priests could not
stand to minister because of the cloud;
for the glory of the Lord had filled the
house of the Lord. (1 Kings 8:10-11)
So far so good! But now, what if the cloud lifted? What if God moved
this sign of His presence to somewhere else. Well, you will remember what
Israel did with the tabernacle in the wilderness: they simply packed up
and followed the cloud! In fact, the tabernacle was designed for this very
process; it was portable, and we even know from our Bibles which family
carried which piece. If the cloud moved elsewhere, cloud, tent and people
could all be quickly reunited in some new location.
But there was no question of moving the temple: it was there for good.
And once the house of God had been made permanent, it would soon become
embarrassingly obvious whether God was "at home" or not.
He warned Solomon of this, after the temple was finished and dedicated.
He warned that if king or people strayed from their allegiance to Him, He
would remove His presence:
This house, which is high, everyone that
passeth by it shall be astonished, and shall
hiss; and they shall say, Why hath the
Lord done thus unto this land, and to this
house? And they shall answer, Because
they forsook the Lord their God.
So, if the glory of God departed from His house -- and you will remember
that, many years later, Ezekiel had a vision of that happening (Ezekiel 11:23)
-- there was absolutely nothing that His people could do about it. They
were left with an empty house, and any of them with an understanding of
the spiritual realities must have yearned for the old days, when God moved
on -- and they could follow.
Purpose or Frustration?
It was 34 years before the temple building suffered the first of its
despoliations, but even less time passed before the glory of its dedication
day was tarnished. David had spent half a lifetime gathering materials,
and Solomon seven years on the construction, but it took hardly any time
at all before Solomon's heart was turned away from God by his own ambitions
and his foreign wives. Thereafter, there were only brief moments of glory
in the 400-odd years before the final destruction of this house -- brief
revivals like those under Hezekiah and Josiah. These men were kings after
the model of David, who had first thought of building a house for God and
it is, I think, significant that, in the reforms which they introduced, the
Scriptures constantly refer to their efforts at getting back to doing things
in David's way -- ceremonies, music and all (2 Chronicles 29:2, 25-27; 35:4).
But was it all worthwhile? Here, it seems to me, we have a question that
recurs throughout both Scripture and experience. Since it does not seem possible
that anything in which we humans are involved can ever retain its quality
unchanged, was the whole dreary story of the kingship in Israel and Judah
really justified by producing David as a model? Was the whole sad decline
of the temple and its glory worthwhile just to produce that one brief, shining
moment of its dedication; that single glorious hour when the Queen of Sheba
came to visit Solomon and could not believe her eyes or ears? Was it simply
God's way of showing what could be?
I do not know. I am using the author's privilege of asking questions,
and leaving readers to answer them! But let me take a step in the dark and
using such detail of the temple as we have, try to transpose all this into
New Testament terms. The tabernacle appears to have been designed as
[36/37] a parable of the way to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
If that is so, the temple seems to add to that an extra dimension; to present
Christ in fulness (remember that "sea", and the ten lavers that replaced the
single laver in the tabernacle!) The rooms that adjoined the temple sanctuary
hint, too, at a multiplier effect, perhaps the kind of multiplier that Paul
was referring to when he wrote in Ephesians 1:22-23 of "the church, which
is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." Evidently, Christ
in fulness requires the presence of His people; what else is the Epistle to
the Ephesians all about!
That is largely speculation, but let me now restate my earlier question
in another way. If the best we can hope for, in our frailty and faithlessness,
is an occasional glimpse of the temple glory of Christ in His people as God
intended it to be, is that better than nothing? Were a few -- a very few
-- occasions of evident blessing in Solomon's temple worth all those years
in between, when men and women who came to Jerusalem seeking God found the
cloud of glory missing and the house empty? For that matter, was David's reign
as king worth more than that of half his successors in Judah and all 19 of
the kings of breakaway Israel, every single one of them godless and evil?
I believe that God's answer to each of those versions of my original
question is, "Yes: it was worthwhile." I take it that His initial reluctance
to have His people enter upon the adventure of ether the kingdom or the
permanent house was caused by His perfect foreknowledge that they were quite
incapable of living up to the demands of either institution. I guess that
He wanted to save them from the embarrassment of failure but that, since
they were resolved on this course of action He said, in effect, "Very well:
I will show how ideally this should work and, after that, it is up
to you to keep it going!" The fact that it did work, once, briefly,
showed what might have been; showed that it was not all a great illusion.
Lessons from Failure
I think that there are at least two lessons here for us as God's people
today. One of them is the danger of setting up institutions (let alone buildings)
whose purpose is to make permanent a moment of spiritual blessing or breakthrough,
as if the institution can protect or enshrine the blessing. After that great
moment of Jesus' transfiguration on the mountain-top, Peter wanted to build
three tabernacles (Mark 9:5), to give permanence to what had been the most
transitory -- if also the most revealing -- of experiences. How embarrassing
it would have been for Peter to return there, weeks or months later, alone
with the emptiness after the Lord had moved on to other, and even greater
experiences! Alas: the Church has a long record of leaving behind markers
on empty mountain-tops.
The second lesson is one which emerges clearly from this Old Testament
history, but is not too easy to express. Let me put it like this: in the
spiritual life, the problems of attaining a position of principle are manifold,
but they are nothing to the problems of maintaining that position,
once it has been reached. Solomon's temple was long in preparation and planning,
but eventually it came into being as a glorious symbol -- for a handful of
years. The kingdom in Israel was born amid the multiple traumas of Saul's
reign but eventually, after defeat and civil war, came the reign of David
-- and after him, things went down-hill almost without interruption. Centuries
earlier, for that matter, these same Children of Israel had battled their
way into the Promised Land and, having arrived, deteriorated almost at once
Must we expect this, and should we accept it? In a world dominated, for
the time being, by evil I think that we must expect it. It is the object
of God's enemy to oppose all His ideals. In any case, that enemy has so much
history on his side. Think of the numberless ideal, "biblical", "New Testament"
groups, churches or causes that we have known in our own lifetime; those
that have deliberately set out to give expression to particular spiritual
truths (and that may, alas, have become a little proud of their purity), and
let us ask: how many of them have maintained themselves as true expressions
of God's glory or rule, once the first flush of zeal, or joy, or enthusiasm
This virtual certainty of failure has made some believers cynical: they
expect failure. But I asked earlier: should we accept it as inevitable?
And to that question the answer is surely: No! For neither in the
short term nor the long term did [37/38] God give up
His interest in these institutions of house and kingdom. There were
moments of recovery. Ezekiel, it is true, had a vision of God's glory
leaving the temple, but he also had a vision of it coming back (Ezekiel 43:2),
and of rivers of life subsequently issuing from the house. It was
possible to recapture some, at least, of God's thought for Jerusalem.
And in the long term the ideal will, of course, be realised. We now know
that the temple of Solomon was only one of a whole series of "houses" for
God, some of them -- Ezra's and Herod's temples -- real structures; others
taking on new dimensions. The Word was made flesh, said John, and tabernacled
among us (John 1:14). The house of God, said Paul, is the church of the living
God (1 Timothy 3:15). There remains for the future a tabernacle of God among
men in a new and heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2-3).
So, if it is clear that God has not given up, then neither must we His
people. In the days when I did physical training in the army, the instructors
used often to insist that, however badly we performed the exercises, we
must always end by "showing the position"; that is, by demonstrating what
we were supposed to have been doing all along! Never mind that we could
not hold this position; without that brief glimpse of the ideal
the exercise was not complete. I think that the same thing applies with
spiritual exercises: no matter how likely the failure, or how swift the
loss of the ideal, we must still strive to "show the position" which the
house and the kingdom called for. And to do so, however briefly, is to bear
witness to His intentions and ultimate goals.
However doubtful, however troubled, the beginnings of house and kingdom,
God has no intention of letting these ideas drop. He is committed to establishing
His eternal King, and to dwelling among men. And I have a joyful, if purely
imaginary, vision of an end to this story when He will say to all His people,
"Now stand back, and I'll show you how these things were supposed
to work from the beginning!"
BRINGING MANY SONS TO GLORY
(The Epistle to the Hebrews)
7. SONSHIP'S CLIMAX
THE urge to all sons is to run the race and to press on to perfected
faith. There must therefore be a definite goal to which we should always
move. In this Letter the element of future experience is frequently suggested
by the use of such time indications as: "Until" (1:13; 10:13); "Not yet"
(2:8); "unto the end" (3:6, 14; 6:11); "a second time" (9:28); "the Day approaching"
(10:25); "yet a very little while" (10:37); "afterwards" (12:11) and "yet
once more" (12:26). These all point forward to a definite climax. Present
history needs to be lived in the light of eternal destiny.
A further time indication is emphatically stated in the case of the great
men and women of faith of the former dispensation, when we are informed that
they are still awaiting the fulfilment of that which their faith had led
them to expect. They will have to go on waiting until the rest of us believers
enter, with them, into the joy of our Lord: "God having provided some better
thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect"
They were saved in hope -- and so are we! Indeed hope is one of the main
themes of this [38/39] Letter, and it is closely linked
with reference to our inheritance as heirs. I suggest, therefore, that what
the saints of old looked for, and what we ourselves, whether in heaven or
on earth, are still awaiting, is the restoration of all things by the coming
of Christ from heaven (Acts 3:20-21). This is what Phillips calls "the
denouement", the event which is rightly described as "the blessed hope
-- the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ" (Titus
2:13). For us it is to mark the climax of sonship.
The Revealing of the Sons of God
To appreciate the significance of this climax we need to consult other
Scriptures. Paul wrote about the subject of sonship in a way which makes
us look at the future when he said that "we wait eagerly for our adoption
as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23). He had already written
of the eager expectation of the whole creation as it awaits the very same
event, "the revealing of the sons of God" (v.19). It is the same apostle
who tells us that in His love, God predestined us for sonship (Ephesians
1:5) and that He chose us in this family context, namely, to be conformed
to the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:29). It seems to me that the electing
grace of God turns our thoughts of salvation beyond the matter of only being
delivered from perdition to the supreme goal of redemption which is the sharing
[of] the glory of His firstborn Son; we are told that we have come "to the
church of the of the first-born ones whose names are written in heaven" (Hebrews
This means that all Christians who are true children of God by being
born from above by our heavenly Father are offered the status of sons (Galatians
3:26). Yet a simple use of Young's Concordance will make it clear
that the Scriptures employ different words for believers; they are children
and they are sons (unhappily this distinction is confused in the K. J. Version),
not making distinctions or divisions as between Christians, but reminding
us that from the moment of our conversion, we who rightly address God as
our Father must face the challenge of likeness to His great Son.
We are reliably informed that the Aramaic word "Abba" which we are entitled
to use is just a familiar childlike address like that of "Daddy". Even so
I prefer whenever possible to get my explanation of Scriptural meanings from
the Scriptures themselves, and therefore read the repeated statement that
we may address God in this way by the only recorded occasion when Jesus is
said to have prayed in this way: "Abba, Father ... take this cup from me.
Yet not what I will, but what You will" (Mark 14:36). This was uttered in
the Garden of Gethsemane and it is more than likely that Mark's was the one
human ear which heard that cry, so in his Gospel he was able to vouch for
"Abba" was surely not a baby cry on that occasion. It was the appeal
of the devoted Son as He set aside His own pure will in favour of the higher
will of His holy Father in heaven. In accordance with this use of the term,
we find that Paul follows up his statement that the Holy Spirit enables us
to cry "Abba, Father", with the explanation that those who so pray, being
co-heirs with Christ, are called upon to share his sufferings in order also
to share in His glory (Romans 8:17). That is clearly God's goal for each
redeemed sinner. Will such maturity be attained by all? We do not know. The
Letter to the Hebrews warns us to be earnest and not presumptuous over the
matter, as we suggested in a previous article.
The issue at stake in this strenuous but glorious calling of sonship
is to bring pleasure to the heart of our Father in heaven. This is described
in various ways. It is called "entering into his rest", which means sharing
in His perfect satisfaction as Creator, being the kind of human beings that
-- if I may say so -- he has always dreamed of having. It is also called
"receiving a kingdom" (12:28), which suggests the prospect that Christ's co-heirs
are to occupy the throne. This Letter constantly refers to the fact that
the Lord Jesus has sat down at the Father's right hand. He has arrived!
In His Letter to the Laodiceans, the risen Lord refers to this enthronement
and adds that the destiny of overcoming saints is to sit there with Him (Revelation
3:21). He has arrived, though He is not yet publicly manifested. We have
not arrived, but we move towards the day when, by His grace, we will do so,
and then we will be manifested with Him. The whole creation is waiting
for that Day. We who also wait and hope are told that for us the public
recognition of sons(also called "the adoption") will coincide with the redemption
of our bodies. That is the climax of sonship. [39/40]
The Lord Jesus retains His own holy body, for it did not and could not
see corruption. Our blessed dead do not yet possess their resurrection bodies
but their day is coming. As for us, it is obvious that an astounding change
will have to take place so that we too may have a part in that great display
of sonship; this mortal body must be clothed with immortality. The Son of
God is unique, but by His grace we are destined to have bodies like His (Philippians
In this Letter there are various references to the fact that the Lord
Jesus has sat down at the Father's right hand. These seem to have a double
purpose. The first and obvious one is to give us absolute certainty that
the work of redemption is perfectly completed, so that nothing is required
of us in the matter of being right with God. Christ has done it all Believing
saints can no more be overcome by the penalty of sin than the Son of God can
be removed from His throne. This is our constant comfort. The further purpose,
however, is surely to encourage every believer to respond whole-heartedly
to His saving work and allow God to prepare us for the destiny of sharing
that sonship throne.
The carnal believer may argue that if he is saved there is no special
need for him to be concerned about the urge to be saved "to the uttermost"
(7:25). This is a grave error and is challenged by the reminder that Christ's
position in the throne is a goal which is of deep concern to the Father whose
purpose of grace is that His children should at last come to that maturity
of sonship which is described as a full-grown man in Christ. This, I believe,
is what the writer was thinking of when he spoke of the "so great salvation
The Crowning Day
In speaking of that second time when Christ will appear quite apart from
sin to welcome His own, the phrase is used "for those who are eagerly waiting
for Him" (9:28). The apostle Paul expressed his eye-of-death confidence that
his crown of life would be given to him "on that Day" and singled out the
basis for this crowning experience by stating that it will be "for all who
have longed for His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8). Earlier he had written that
this as yet unseen hope of ours provides the supreme test of our patience
Another of the great themes of the Letter to the Hebrews is this matter
of patience. We do not know, and it really does not matter much who will
be alive at the Coming. All through the dispensation, from Paul onwards, Christians
have hoped that they will still be alive when He comes. Many of my dearest
friends cherished that expectation, but they are now with Christ. This is
a natural hope (for who wants to die?), but in a sense it is also a Scriptural
hope, for we are constantly told that we should watch for our Lord. Those
who are already with Christ have passed into that timeless dimension which
we cannot possibly comprehend but, as Paul assured the Thessalonians, they
will be in the forefront of the glory of that Day. If they could speak to
us, it would be to encourage us to maintain that steady perseverance which
the Bible calls patience, for "in just a very little while he is coming who
will come, and will not be late" (10:37).
The recipients of this Letter were in danger of slacking off or drifting
back, and our peril may possibly be much greater than theirs was. Certainly
the promise is as valid for us since it must be true that the great Day of
the manifestation of the sons of God must be much nearer now than when the
Epistle was first written. I pray that the challenge and comfort of these
chapters may be more real to us personally by reason of these short studies
about the divine answer to the question: "What is man?". By eternal purpose
and by Christ's work of redemption, he is called to provide the Father with
a family of mature sons.
In the last chapter we are given a timely reminder that "Jesus Christ
is the same yesterday and today, yes, and for ever" (verse 8). He was the
One who constantly urged His disciples to watch for His return and did not
hesitate to promise rewards for those who would persevere right to the end.
He it was who said to His Church: "Behold I come soon. Hold on to what you
have, so that no-one will take your crown" (Revelation 3:11). In this
ever-changing world we need to keep a steadfast gaze on our unchanging Lord
who, from His place in the throne, is always working to bring us safely to
our glorious inheritance as sons of God.
[Inside back cover]
ON THE WAY UP (8)
Psalm 127 BUILDING UP
IT is among the paradoxes of the Christian life that the psalmist is
not only a traveller on a pilgrimage, but is also a builder and city dweller.
The end of his journey will find himself in the city which has foundations,
whose builder and maker is God; meanwhile, however, that city has many local
representations here on earth, and every Christian has his place in one of
IT seems that these are so important that no less a man than the wise
Solomon was commissioned to provide this song about them, and it finds itself
in the series devoted to the upward on-going of God's people.
ANOTHER paradox is that while the man of God must be actively involved
in the building and defending of God's home among His people, he must yet
be so inwardly at rest that he may appear quite inactive. "It is vain for
you to rise up early and stay up so late." The Lord's beloved is not to
eat the bread of toil, since God gives to him in sleep (verse 2). How can
this be? How can God's city be built and protected from its aggressive enemies
if we do not live busy lives?
FIRSTLY this means that carnal efforts and human tensions can nether
erect nor preserve anything for God. By all means let us get up early to
have fellowship with Him, but we must realise that unless and until we are
in harmony with the Lord and deeply dependant upon Him, our well-meaning
and strenuous efforts to build for eternity will be useless. If necessary
we must stay up late to keep ourselves available for what the Lord wants
to do through us, but never just for the excitement of being busy. We must
learn to commit matters to Him and then relax in the rest which the Lord
Jesus promised to those who bear His yoke.
THIS may sound negative, but the wise Solomon has a positive solution
to the whole matter of the building and preservation of a testimony for the
Lord in this world. He says that it is essentially a matter of new life. "Look",
he says, "what God gives to His beloved are children, the children of youth."
The work of God is built and defended not by bright ideas or interminable
committees but by His gift of fresh life. The bricks of His house are living
GROWTH and continuance depend upon newly-born children. No doubt this
principle applies in ordinary life, for civic values depend upon the rising
generation. It is certainly so spiritually, for God's work is built up and
safe-guarded by His gift of new life. Whether we apply this literally or
whether we apply it to spiritual new births in our fellowship, the truth
is the same.
A beloved Chinese brother, Watchman Nee, once suggested to me that ideally
the local church should be built up and sustained by equal additions from
both sources -- fifty per cent new babies born in believing families and
fifty per cent sinners coming to new birth by faith in Christ. This may sound
rather far-fetched, but the fact remains that God's city best resists the
attacks of its enemies by the positive factor of living growth.
THE image of the quiver suggests a united life together. We need not
jump to the conclusion suggested by the novelist Trollope that "Mr. Quiverful
" has a very large family, for I understand that a normal quiver contained
just five arrows. So the psalmist is not singing of large families, either
natural or spiritual, but of prepared and effective weapons.
SPIRITUAL barrenness or spiritual discord provide opportunities for the
enemies of the Lord to press their attacks at the gate and bring shame to
His name. The secret of triumphant continuance is not in human efforts or
natural reasoning but in freshness of spiritual life. Happy is the people
who enjoy this heritage of the Lord.
THE LAW OF THY MOUTH IS BETTER UNTO ME
THAN THOUSANDS OF GOLD AND SILVER.
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