|Vol. 13, No. 3, May - June 1984
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
FURTHER STUDIES FROM MARK'S GOSPEL
J. Alec Motyer
1. Mark 7:24 to 8:21
WE start with a great turning point in the ministry of the Lord Jesus
as Mark has set it before us for we reach a point where the Lord leaps over
the wall and brings His message and His ministry out among the Gentiles.
In his Gospel John truly says that if all the things that Jesus did and
said were to be written down, the world would not contain the books that
could be written. This makes it clear that the four Gospels which we are privileged
to have are very selective. Out of that world-filling mass of material about
the Lord Jesus which could have been set before us, each of the Gospel writers
said, "Now, I am going to take this and this and this, but not that and that
and that, because I want you to see the glory of Jesus in a particular way."
So they made a selection, a deliberate selection under the inspiration
of the Holy Spirit, and put it together in such a way that as we stand with
Matthew, we see the glory of Jesus in one aspect, and as we stand with Luke
we see Jesus from another side and as we stand with John, we see Jesus through
John's eyes. In our case we have chosen Mark, so we are privileged to see
Mark's carefully chosen portrait of the Lord.
The Spirit of God takes and possesses the special faculties He had given
to Mark and, through those special faculties, He creates this matchless portrait
of Jesus. We observe this example of selective writing if we compare Matthew's
account of an incident which Mark describes in ways calculated to sharpen
our awareness of the portrait of Jesus in his own colours. Matthew records
that "Jesus came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and he went up into the mountain,
and sat there. And there came unto him great multitudes ..." (Matthew 15:29-30).
What abundance of material could have been taken from the many in that great
multitude who were healed by the Lord but, out of that abundance, Mark takes
just one person: "He came unto the sea of Galilee ... and they bring unto
him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech" (Mark
7:32). Just one man! This is the lovely selection made by Mark. There were
many, many others whom Jesus healed but it is as if Mark says. "You will
see Jesus through my eyes if you consider this one man."
The Comprehensive Power of the Lord
Our present passage deals with three of these carefully selected stories,
and they come before us in the first place to stress the matter of the comprehensive
power of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God. There are twin thoughts which emerge
from them concerning this comprehensive power. They are that:
1. He is never at a loss. They never present Him with a situation which
He needs to stop and think about. To use John's words, He knows what He is
going to do.
2. His actions never fall short of full accomplishment. He never half
does or three-quarters does the work, then having to say, "Come back tomorrow
and I will finish what needs to be done." His was a complete and comprehensive
meeting of every need presented to Him.
In the first story, we see how He meets the need of a parent and a child.
"Straightway a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit ..." (v.25).
The power of the Lord Jesus covers the need of both parent and child. In
the second story, we see how His power covers the need of the individual:
"They bring unto him one that was deaf ..." (v.32). Alongside of this, and
in contrast with it, we have the third story which tells how His power covered
the need of a great multitude: "There was a great multitude, and they had
nothing to eat" (8:1). The power of the Lord was equally sufficient to meet
the crowd's need or the need of the individual. It was all the same to Him.
Consider the realms of the need. The first was in the spiritual realm:
"She besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter."
The New Testament and the Lord Jesus take this question of demon possession
very seriously and as a grim reality. Here the Lord was faced with the spiritual
powers of darkness and yet, as we would say, "without lifting a finger",
He showed [41/42] His competence to deal with such
spiritual need. The next story (from 7:31-37), the need is quite different;
it is in the physical realm in the matter of bodily healing. In the opening
of chapter 8 the need is in the realm of bodily hunger and sustenance. There
is, however, a contrast in these two. In the first, the bodily need is outstanding
and remarkable, for the man had a complete physical ailment, whereas in the
second case it is quite an ordinary matter and the common need of being hungry.
In this way we see how little by little there is being built up the justification
of the statement that these stories are about the comprehensive power of
the Lord Jesus, as He meets every situation and every person, never baffled
and never stopping short of accomplishment.
In the first story we are told of His power to overcome. The enemy of
souls will not give up his grip on any part of his empire, even if it be
just one small and otherwise unknown girl. Yet the Lord defeated him without
needing to make a sign or even go to see her; He did not say a word, but
just exercised His thoughts, and showed that He had power over all the power
of the enemy. In the second case He dealt with a man whose ordinary human
faculties had gone to rack and ruin, but the Lord Jesus had power to restore.
In the third of the stories, the Lord was faced with the quite ordinary matter
of daily food, and showed His power to create what had not been there before.
As we go back through these stories yet once more, we see that what is
underlined in each case is completeness. When the Lord sets His hand to
a thing, He finishes it: "She went away to her house and found the child
laid upon the bed, and the demon gone" (7:30); "His ears were opened and
the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak plainly" (7:35);
"And they did eat and were filled" (8:8). No-one could eat another piece.
I found a note, but have no means of checking it, which says that in an
early English translation by William Tyndale, he says: "They ate and they
were fulfilled." Isn't that lovely! When the Lord Jesus set His hand to
a work, He did it perfectly.
How the Power Operates
Having seen that the power of the Lord Jesus is so comprehensive that
it is never baffled and never stops short of perfect fulfilment, we can begin
to discover something about how His power operates.
1. It operates in response to believing prayer
This is found in the first story. In it there are one or two surprising
details of which we must take note. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician
by race and yet "she asked him". The word is not strong enough to justify
the "besought" which is in some translation, for it is a simple word which
just implies that she asked. Then He said to her, "Let the children first
be filled, for it is not fair to take the children's bread and cast it to
the dogs", only to receive her reply, "Yes, Lord. I agree. That is true,
but it is equally true that the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."
To this the Lord responded, "For this saying, go thy way; the demon is gone
out of thy daughter" and -- marvel of marvels -- she went away (v.30).
She required nothing more than that Jesus had said so. Surely the key
to this story is that the power of the Lord Jesus is given in answer to believing
prayer. The Jesus of the Gospels constantly takes us by surprise. Who would
have believed that the Lord Jesus could have been so seemingly rude and
abrupt to a needy mother? How could He so treat a person in need? Possibly
because He wanted to bring this needy soul to a better position than she
yet knew, so that she no longer came to Him as a mere wonder-worker but
rather cast herself upon Him in an exercise of personal faith and believing
prayer. So He tested her out to know how real she was.
In Matthew's Gospel this element is even plainer than Mark makes it,
for there she is described as appealing to the Lord Jesus as the Son of
David, a title which she, as a Syrophoenician, did not have a right then
to employ. The Lord Jesus wants to cut through what might have been loosely
used words and idly employed titles, so that as a needy soul she might come
face to face with Himself in a personal relationship. So He faces her with
this stark reality that, as things stood, He was the Messiah among the Jews,
and she was out among the dogs. But how graciously He left the door swinging.
His words were, "Let the children first be filled." First implies
a possible second. It was as though He asks if she is willing to take a proper
place before Him, in the light of "to the Jew first, also to the Gentile".
What is more, the word He used described the pet dogs. "It is not fair to
take the children's bread and cast it to the pets" -- not the wild dogs outside
the city, but the house dogs who are pets. Such dogs have a right to share
whatever is going in the family. [42/43]
With promptitude, the woman is willing to take a lowly place, but this
is still within the family that Jesus cares for: "the pets under the table
enjoy the crumbs which fall from the children." It was this saying which
decided the issue with the Lord Jesus. Now she knew that nobody but Jesus
could meet her need, and realised that there was a willingness to do so in
His heart if only she would come to Him on the terms which He proposed, she
had the true knowledge that lies at the heart of true faith. She thought,
"I cannot, but He can", with the confidence that lies at the heart of true
faith. What is more, she gave the obedience which is the mark of true faith
for, when the Lord told her to go her way, she did so and, as her faith in
the Lord Jesus expressed itself in this way, the power flowed out.
2. It operates through His gentleness
In this second story we come to a very different thing. All the abruptness
which was so surprising in the first story is quite absent from this one.
This is full of gentle sensitivity. The healing is unusually full of references
to the way in which Jesus went about His miracle. He was aware of the frightening
world in which the deaf live. For a totally deaf person the world is full
of circumstances which lack explanations. Where are they taking me? Can you
imagine his problem? "They bring to him one that was deaf." He must have
been wondering where they were taking him, who were all those crowds of people
and why were they so excited. What was going to happen to him? Notice what
Jesus did: "He took him aside" (v.33). It was all so gentle and understanding
to take him away from those baffling circumstances and from all those excited
but inexplicable faces and, above all, from that sudden crash of noise that
would be too much for the newly awakened ears.
But more than that; He took him away in order to establish a personal
relationship between the needy person and the great Saviour. There was nothing
remote about it but a "me and Him" relationship. And then, in the middle of
the healing, it says that "looking up to heaven, he groaned". In that I find
the gentleness and sensitivity of the Lord Jesus. You may remember that He
also groaned on the way to the tomb of Lazarus. The Gospels do not explain
this groaning to us and it is therefore perhaps venturesome to try to explain
it, but I think that He groaned because He entered so deeply into the afflictions
that afflict us. I find that marvellous. The groaning of Jesus at the tomb
of Lazarus is all of a piece with His tears there. Why should He weep at
the tomb when He is about to raise the dead? Why waste tears? The cause for
tears will soon be gone; why groan over a situation when you are about to
mend it? Surely the answer is that it shows that the heart of the Son of
God is right where we are. "In every pang that rends the heart, the Son of
Mary has a part." He groans because He knows what it is to be like us. Before
He lifts our burden He gets in under it with us, and He shares His groans
with our groans, feeling upon Himself the weight of our burdens.
Towards this deaf man He begins to act as one would towards one without
hearing, that is, with visual aids. The man cannot hear, but he can see.
"He took him aside from the multitude privately, and put his fingers in his
ears and spat and touched his tongue, and looking up to heaven ...". Can you
imagine a deaf man seeing all this and entering into it? His fingers went
out and touched his ears. Commentators say that in the medical thought of
the day, the saliva of particularly powerful people was thought to have power.
It is certainly true that as a matter of fact the Lord Jesus did use His
saliva in one or two of His healing miracles, not that He is entering into
the medical superstition of His day, but that He may have used it to put
it beyond doubt that He Himself is the source of healing power.
And so, having shown His fingers and touched the man's ears, He establishes
this further link of something proceeding out from Him to the deaf man. And
the man is all eyes! He has to be so for he has no other link as he watches
this marvellous Jesus. And so the Saviour and the needy one are bound together
-- they are as one. So the man's ears were opened, and the bond of his tongue
was loosed, and he began to speak plainly. So if we describe the power of
Jesus in the first story as being in response to believing prayer, we cannot
do better than say that in this case it was power working through gentleness.
I love that! Oh, the gentleness of Jesus. I know that people make a mock
of our children's hymn about "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild ...", but thank
God it is true. It is through that gentleness that the power of Jesus reaches
3. It operates as the outpouring of compassion
"In those days when there was again a great multitude, and they had nothing
to eat, he called [43/44] to him his disciples and
said to them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with
me now three days, and have nothing to eat" (8:1-2). This is different from
the story of the feeding of the five thousand (6:30-44). There the disciples
asked that a halt should be called to the proceedings since they felt that
time was getting on and something must be done for the great crowd. On this
occasion it was not the disciples intervening into the teaching and caring
ministry of Jesus, but the Lord Himself who takes the matter in hand. Note
that the key-note of the story is the outpouring of compassion. He said,
"I have compassion ...".
Jesus is fully aware of the circumstances of the people. There is a little
touch here and there to show that all the time they have been with Him, He
had been out and about amongst them. He had been saying to them, "And where
have you come from? Isn't that a long distance away?" and so on. He had
been looking at their lunch-packets and realised that now all was exhausted.
"If I send them away fasting to their homes, they will faint in the way."
He was thoughtful for them. It was not that they complained that they would
faint in the way, but rather that Jesus had spontaneously stored up in His
mind that they would have needs and for the only time in the Gospels expressed
the fact of His compassion. The compassion of Jesus is not of course unique
to this story, but on every other occasion when His compassion is mentioned,
it was something that was observed by others. This story, though, gives us
a self-opening of the heart of Jesus: He lets us see Himself on the inside.
The compassion which others saw is not just a flickering and passing emotion
but that which resides in His inner heart.
In both the feeding miracles, the five thousand in chapter 6 and the
four thousand here, the emphasis is on the abundance and sufficiency of
the supply. I think that it is worth pointing out that in both stories,
the pieces that were picked up are not the pieces dropped by the crowd.
It was not that the Lord was encouraging His disciples to have a saving
mentality and not waste good food, though doubtless He would have approved
of that. The broken pieces refer not to the rather revolting idea that the
disciples went round picking up odd pieces which the crowd has discarded,
but are the over-plus lying in front of the Son of God when no-one could
eat more. Christ is not niggardly in His provision: He breaks bread and
He breaks bread and they continue to come back and fill containers until
they have to report that nobody can eat another bite, only to find that
there is still broken bread lying in front of Jesus.
In the feeding of the five thousand, they took up twelve lunchboxes.
In other words, Jesus fed five thousand and twelve people; He fed the crowd
and then He fed His helpers. That is the message -- so little became enough
for all. In this case, though, the word used is "hampers". The same word is
used to describe how Paul was "let down over the wall in a basket" (Acts 9:25).
It was the size of a laundry basket in which a man could sit to be lowered
over a wall. Jesus here was among Gentiles; He uses what is apparently a
Gentile word and it brings a Gentile thought, "seven hampers". So this time
the message is, so little became such an abundance. It was a miracle of multiplication
to match the abundant compassion of the Lord Jesus.
Power of the Universal Lord
It is time now to step back and look where these three stories have their
setting in the Gospel of Mark. In the beginning of chapter 7, the Lord Jesus
has been talking to the Pharisees about the distinction of that which is
clean and that which is unclean: "They came to him and said, Your disciples
eat with unwashen hands", focusing attention, as they always did, upon that
which was outward. The Lord Jesus replied that this sort of outward consideration
is not the basis upon which you decide cleanness and uncleanness. In order,
then, that His actions may be as good as His words, when He has concluded
the discussion about cleanness and uncleanness, He steps outside the borders
of the Promised Land, in order to show that in that matter also, the outward
distinction made between the clean and the unclean is not a valid distinction.
The people there who would be considered pharisaically as being on the outside
and unclean, are equally the recipients of the ministry of the Lord. His
power was available to them in all its completeness and sufficiency, so He
leaps over the wall to where they are. His power is the power of the universal
Lord. He comes as the Messiah amongst His Gentile people, and there He spreads
His banquet. This corresponds to the marvellous vision of Isaiah and begins
to have its first realisation: "In this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make
unto all peoples a feast of fat things ..." (Isaiah 25:6).
We now look at the Scriptures which follow our passage: "The Pharisees
came forth and began to question him, seeking from him a sign from heaven,
putting him to the test" (8:11). Whatever more do they want? What a mysterious
thing unbelief is! After all that they had seen Jesus do and all that they
had heard of His doings, they still ask for a sign from heaven. But how
much more mysterious unbelief is when it is found among the Lord's own people:
"They forgot to take bread, and they had not in the boat with them more than
one loaf. And Jesus charged them, saying, Take heed: beware of the leaven
of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." Yet they started reasoning about
their lack of bread and they rightly came under a touch of divine exasperation.
"The Lord Jesus, perceiving it, said to them, Why reason ye because you
have no bread? Do you not perceive? Do you not understand? Have you your
heart hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? Do you not remember ...? When
I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of
broken pieces took ye up? ... When the seven among the four thousand, how
many basketfuls of broken pieces took ye up? Do ye not yet understand?" (8:19-21).
With Him there is always abundance. Unbelief is always mysterious, but it
is tragically so when it is found among the people of God.
This brings me to a point about the miracles of Jesus. I think that it
is right to put over every one of these miracles the little saying, "I will
do it this once so that you can see that I am able to do it, but after that
you must learn to trust Me. You must remember and then just trust." The Lord
loves to be trusted: He loves a believing people. With all the variety of
our needs there is a Lord of comprehensive power. What are we to do? Just
(To be continued)
MARK'S FAILURE AND FULFILMENT
"Paul thought it not good to take with them him who withdrew from
... and went not with them to the work." Acts 15:38
MARK'S position was a sad one, for it caused a sharp contention between
Paul and Barnabas so that "they parted asunder, one from another" (Acts 15:39).
Barnabas said that they should take Mark with them on their Second Missionary
Journey, while Paul said that they should not do so. There were two sides
to this contention, but it is generally agreed that probably both were right
and both were wrong. The positive value which we do well to note is that
the result of this quarrel was that two missionary expeditions set out instead
of only one. So it is that our wonderful Lord overrules human failures and
If the dissension and dispute were to end at this point, leaving history
to record that these two great men were never reconciled, it would be a sad
day for the Church. Happily we can know more about the matter by considering
the story of John Mark, a story of both failure and fulfilment.
WE begin at Acts 12 where we read of Peter's miraculous deliverance from
prison. He himself was amazed by it all, but when he considered what had
happened, he hurried at once to the house of Mary, who was John Mark's mother.
Evidently the home was a centre for the gathering of the early Jerusalem church,
and indeed may well have been the same house whose Upper Room was used by
the Lord Jesus on the eve of the crucifixion. It might have been Mark himself
who was the young man described in his Gospel (Mark 14:51-52). We have no
proof of this, but we do know that Mark grew up in a Christian home and may
even have been led to Christ by the apostle Peter.
What a night of excitement it must have been in that house, with such
earnest and concentrated prayer and then such an outstanding answer! This
is our first introduction to the name of John Mark and a very striking one
it is. He may possibly [45/46] have met Paul and Barnabas
when the latter first befriended Paul in Jerusalem, but at any rate he met
them now, for they were in Jerusalem at that time (Acts 11:30 and 12:25).
This was indeed a momentous period in the young man's life. Here he was, involved
in a miraculous answer to prayer and caught up in a wave of great thanksgiving
to God. No doubt he must have listened to the thrilling conversation of the
two great apostles. With what bated breath he must have heard their stories
and perhaps even discussions as to their future plans. Doubtless he was fired
with a desire to do that kind of thing himself and to be involved in that
kind of exciting activity, feeling restive at the idea of staying there at
home and longing to get out where it all seemed to be happening. What a joy,
then, to be able to pack his bags and go off to be a "full-time worker"!
And we can imagine with what envy his Christian friends saw him off and how
proud his mother must have been as her son set out to win people in the dark
places of the earth for Christ.
It is most important for modern Christians to be careful about impulsive
movements, made in moments of enthusiasm. The servant of the Lord must never
be governed by what sounds romantic, abandoning the humdrum of his ordinary
life for imagined fulfilment in distant lands. If such actions spring from
romantic enthusiasm they may find not fulfilment but failure, as John Mark
certainly did. By all means let me encourage you to venture out on the Lord
when He so calls, but do make sure that your movement is in response to the
Spirit's call and not to a romantic impulse. There in Antioch, the final
plans were made and the church had a wonderful Valedictory Service. Mark was
off. But alas, it did not last for long and soon enough, Mark was back again
with his mother in Jerusalem.
I MUST not stress the fact that there is no mention of the Spirit's leading
Mark, but it is a fact that in the church at Antioch the Holy Spirit said:
"Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them"
(Acts 13:2), whereas no mention was made of John Mark. What we are entitled
to do is to ask why the young man returned home before they had gone very
far on their journey.
Was he, perhaps, an only son of a widowed mother who had spoiled him
a bit, so that now he was homesick? Was it that although he had gone with
visions of himself as a preacher, he had to spend his time looking after
the two leaders? Or was it fundamentally because the operation resembled
what has been described as trying to put a square peg into a round hole?
Whatever it was, everything came to a head at Perga (Acts 13:13) with
the outcome that this young man who had gone forth from home and friends
with such high hopes, now returned a defeated failure. And what is more,
he is the prototype of so many others who have sincerely left their normal
life to go out to what may be called "the work", only to succumb to discouragement
and obvious failure.
But was it failure? At that period Paul was inclined so to regard it,
but later he was man of God enough to realise that the overruling power of
grace had turned that failure into fulfilment. How did it all happen?
FOR my part, I wonder whether Peter had a part in Mark's recovery. Who
better than he, who knew what it was to break down under testing, to extend
a loving hand to help the "failed missionary" and see the round peg put
into the round hole? I can imagine him putting a fatherly arm around the
crestfallen Mark and reminding him that it is not for us or any other person
to choose our spiritual gifts. Only the Holy Spirit Himself can do that.
Perhaps Mark was never meant to be a preacher. There are those who volunteer
and strive to be such when they have other gifts, and who therefore only
find frustration. Perhaps Peter was able to say to Mark: "My son, your real
gift is with your pen. Be content with that. Take it up and listen to me so
that you can have the great privilege of being the first to give an account
of the ministry of Jesus here on earth. Under the Holy Spirit's guidance,
you and I can record that story in a way that will glorify our lovely Saviour
and bring His love and life to multitudes. Together we will write 'The Gospel
according to Mark'." This is nowhere stated. It is in fact a bit of imagination
on my part. It is certain, though, that all can trace the influence of Peter
in Mark's Gospel. So the round peg now fitted perfectly into the round hole.
Mark had found God's niche for him but -- as is often the case -- he
found fulfilment by way of failure and frustration. We shall never know
how hard he had to work and to persevere to live down his past, but he did
so and ultimately triumphed, this triumph being generously recognised and
appreciated by Paul himself who valued his fellowship and asked for his help
(Colossians 4:10 and 2 Timothy 4:11). And it was to Mark's eternal credit
that he responded so readily to this new relationship with Paul. He could
easily have responded, "No way! You didn't want me before, so why should
I want you now?" Happily any old grievances were buried at the cross --
which is where all grievances should be buried.
This story of Mark may bring some comfort to a reader who is smarting
under a sense of failure or rejection. I would urge you to take courage,
for God has a way of taking up and using such experiences to lead us into
what He always had in mind for us in terms of fulfilment. If Mark had been
wholly taken up with work as a successful preacher, how much poorer the whole
world would have been if it had never had his Gospel.
THE DIVINE OBJECTIVE (3)
THE MINISTRY OF ZECHARIAH (Continued)
WE have been considering Zechariah's fifth vision as described in chapter
4 of his prophecies. In our last article we dealt with the balance between
communion and activity. The next point is:
2. The need not to be dishearted by seeming smallness and weakness
In the light of the vision of the lampstand the word of the Lord came
to the prophet, asking "Who hath despised the day of small things?" (v.10).
I don't know how Zechariah might have answered that question but I know that,
if we are honest, most of us will have to do so by admitting that this is
just what we tend to do. We are prone to measure spiritual work by its size;
to be happy about magnitude and despondent about littleness. These are the
world's standards. Had Zerubbabel been governed by them he might well have
given up in despair. "If only I had an army of powerful helpers", he might
have complained and reasoned, but God's answer was: "This is the word of
the Lord unto Zerubbabel saying, Not by an army, nor by power,
but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts ...".
It was important that God's servant should not lose heart. If the Holy
Spirit was in charge, then there could be no fear of failure. It was the
Spirit who had enabled Zerubbabel's hands to lay the foundation stone, and
it was He who now guaranteed that it would be by those very same hands that
the work would be completed (v.9). Despising the day of small things can
so easily make us fail to carry through to completion the work which we commenced
with great enthusiasm; hence the importance of this vision to us all.
Zechariah had to confess that he was ignorant of the meaning of this
amazing vision of a golden lampstand, fed and sustained by direct supply
from God's olive trees, and he received a partial answer to his question
with the reminder that once God's people are cleansed and clothed, they
need to know the constant flow of His Spirit as enablement for service in
His House. They were unfit in themselves, but they have been made suitable
by redeeming grace; they realise that they are feeble in themselves, but
that same grace makes full provision of the needed strength for testimony
and service. Zechariah still had a question to ask, as we shall see, but
for the moment this was God's reply, namely, that those who are wholly committed
to His service will find that from His side there will never be any diminishing
of the flow of the Spirit's fullness.
3. The significance of the work of intercession
The prominent feature of this chapter is the Holy Spirit. If the seven
eyes are the Spirit of God "sent forth into all the earth" (Revelation 5:6),
then the implication of this vision is that, [47/48]
amid all His worldwide concern and activities, the supreme purpose of
the Holy Spirit is the building of God's House (v.10). This explains why
these last books of the Old Testament concentrate on the events of this
period. The actual edifice was small, but its spiritual significance was
divinely great. The God who declared Himself jealous for Jerusalem (Zechariah
1:14) is supremely jealous for the Church of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2)
and it is His Spirit who is available in living fullness for this great
Zechariah, however, seems not to have felt that he had been given the
full explanation, for he reiterated his original question of verse 4 and
twice over asked the meaning of the olive trees (vv.11-12). Was he rather
slow of apprehension, for the angel queried, "Knowest thou not what these
things be?" Well, if he was, so are we. Whom did the olive trees represent?
Were they Haggai and himself? It is possible. Were they Joshua and Zerubbabel?
Perhaps in a sense they were for surely the phrase "that stand by the Lord
of the whole earth" (v.14) is complementary to a similar phrase "a place
of access among them that stand by" in 3:7. Without needing to identify the
two trees, may I suggest that they are explained by what the Lord Jesus indicated
when He spoke of two or three "gathered together" in His name (Matthew 18:20)?
In other words, they trace the explanation of the flow of oil for service
back to the intercessory work of men in touch with the throne. What better
example can we find of those whom the psalmist describes in the words: "They
that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of
our God. They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap
and green" (Psalm 92:13-14)? Those of us who are engaged in active service
for God in a public way, know something of how much we owe to interceding
saints -- some of them old in years but mighty in prayer. It is impossible
to exaggerate the importance of intercessory prayer: it releases the "golden
oil" for the lamp of testimony.
* * *
One wonders how Zerubbabel reacted when he compared this vision-message
of Zechariah with his own experience. How could he possibly equate his faulty
enterprise in the Jerusalem of his day with the pure gold ideal of this lamp?
What Zechariah passed on to him was the divine pattern of a testimony all
of gold; not only was the oil golden but so also were the lamps, the bowl
and the pipes. Could his humble Temple be so described?
Can our church be like that? Can the prophetic ideal be demonstrated
in modem terms? I must confess that in my earlier days I thought that my
church could be like that. Not that it was -- far from it -- but that it
ought to be and could be. I still dare not reject the ideal and do not regret
my idealism, but through the years I have suffered many disappointments as
I have failed to see such an ideal church in practical expression. Surely
it is right for us to cherish this vision of a local fellowship wholly of
God and maintained constantly by the uninterrupted flow of the Spirit's power.
Surely it is our business to keep this ideal ever in view, in our preaching
and in our praying -- especially in our praying. God knows that we come far
short of the ideal and that our local fellowship is by no means "all of God"
or a perfect expression of Christ corporate. As I pray, however, both for
the Church as a whole and for my own assembly, my requests tend to be that
there shall be a minimum of man's handling of affairs and a maximum of the
work of the Holy Spirit, so that there may be a constant move towards the
ideal, even though we have to wait for our greater Zerubbabel to complete
The promise that He will do so is implicit in this message, for Zechariah
was told that the one who laid the foundation stone would also bring forth
the headstone with shoutings of "Grace, grace, unto it" (v.7). But we must
keep on praying!
6th VISION. Zechariah 5:1-4
"I smote you with blasting" (Haggai 2:17)
The next two visions also form a pair and they show God at work in dealing
with impurity among His chosen people. Taken together they seem to be an
elaboration of God's former promise to remove the iniquity of the land (2:9).
This vision of the Flying Roll is not easy of interpretation, and yet its
main lesson seems clear enough. As we remarked in the previous chapter, God's
people in their actual state come far short of the divine ideal for them.
As a whole the people had responded wholeheartedly to Haggai's call to repentance,
so that the work was greatly prospering. Everybody would know, though, that
there were [48/49] exceptions and that there must be
hidden defilements in some of the hearts and homes of those involved. What
could be done about this? Did it matter so much?
As if to emphasise the importance with which God viewed this matter,
Zechariah was shown an enormous document of denunciation, flying through
the air and penetrating to the deepest recesses of hidden guilt in order
to execute the judgments of God. The word "roll" may be confusing, for the
document is described in two dimensions and they are great ones.
As to the defiling element, it has always been present among God's people.
Jesus had Judas among the Twelve, Jerusalem had Ananias and Sapphira among
its saints in that city, and there was Simon in Samaria. The penetrating
gaze of the risen Christ found unholiness frequent enough in most of the churches
of Asia (Revelation 2 and 3). This is always a menace to God's work and sometimes
only He can deal with it. If it had been open and obvious, then the leaders
would have responsibility to put it away, but since in this case it was hidden
in men's hearts and homes, what could Zerubbabel do?
The vision seems to declare that once the Lord was being honoured and
obeyed by His church, He Himself would undertake to deal with this matter.
The very size of the Roll showed that it involved superhuman intervention
and this was what would be provided: "I will cause it to go forth", the Lord
affirmed (v.4). He alone can seek out and deal with hidden defilement.
May I suggest that for us the lesson is that if we seek to dwell together
in true devotion to Christ, God Himself will seek out and deal with any hidden
and perhaps unsuspected defilement in us or among us. That seems to have
been what happened in New Testament days (1 Corinthians 11:30-32). If only
there is vitality and purity in our fellowship, the Spirit will convict of
any hidden defilement and judge it.
7th VISION. Zechariah 5:5-11
"The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts
" (Haggai 2:8)
In some ways this vision may seem even more mysterious than the previous
one, though it clearly relates to the same matter of defilement: "This is
A few points are clear. First, the issue is general rather than individual.
Secondly, that the ephah with its wicked occupant really belongs to Shinar,
which is Babylon, where it eventually finds its true home. Just as Egypt
was still in the hearts of the delivered Israelites in the wilderness, so
Babylon seems to have had a place among the restored remnant in Jerusalem.
The symbolism seems to refer to a commercial spirit. Although I am in
no position to prove it, I have been told that some such symbols here used,
such as weights and measures, a woman and storks have almost always been incorporated
into emblems used by institutions of trade or commerce. If this is what was
at issue, then we can compare this with Christ's action in cleansing the
Temple, which had become a "house of merchandise" (John 2:16). The vision
may perhaps give us some idea of God's purpose to remove from His own House
and people that false god of personal gain which is worshipped in the Babylon
of this world from which redemption has delivered us. This image can be "set
on its base" there, for that is where it rightly belongs, but it should have
no place in the House of God.
Was this what Haggai meant when he reported the Lord of hosts as saying,
"The silver is mine, and the gold is mine"? We have often taken this as a
kind of reminder that the Lord will provide for us and His work, but in the
context this hardly seems to be what the prophet was declaring. Was it not
rather that the Church is no place for self-interest or worldly standards
and values? Let them bear away the ephah to where it rightly belongs and
"she shall be set there in her own place", but let her have no place among
God's people. Whether in days of poverty and stringency which some of us have
known when we had to count every penny, or in times of relative affluence
when we grow older and what we call "more comfortably off", there is always
a danger that the things of this life, or the lack of them, will occupy our
attention more than they should. This should not be true of those who are
builders in the House of God.
In all of these visions there have been personal messages of help and
comfort. If we look for such in these two, may it be that when there are
impurities in my life or if -- all unintentionally -- worldly values still
affect me harmfully, then the Lord undertakes to cleanse and deliver me as
I press on loyally to serve and honour Him in His [49/50]
House. My business is to be true to Him: His promise is to proceed with
His work of sanctifying me as I do so.
8th VISION. Zechariah 6:1-15
"The desire of all nations shall come" (Haggai 2:7)
So often in Scripture, completeness is represented by the number seven.
At times, though, there is an eighth element which may begin again the sequence
of the seven. In this case the vision has features about it which are associated
with the first, as we might expect; although in this case there are chariots
rather than four horsemen. I do not propose to dwell on these emissaries
and frankly confess that I am unsure of their significance. I note, however,
that the vision was followed by a full presentation of the Man whose name
is the Branch, who had already been referred to in the fourth vision. We will
therefore find spiritual profit in passing straight on to the scene of the
Both of the two prophets reached the climax of their ministry by passing
beyond the house to its coming Ruler. Haggai concluded his prophecies by
singling out Zerubbabel as the type of this Ruler: "I will make thee as a
signet; for I have chosen thee" (Haggai 2:23), while Zechariah focused on
Joshua: "He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne;
and he shall be a priest upon his throne" (Zechariah 6:13). Sir George Adam
Smith tells us that "the original text assigned the crown to Zerubbabel, the
civil head of the community, and gave Joshua, the high priest, a place at
his right hand -- the two to act in perfect concord with each other". Whether
this is so or not, there can be no doubt that at this point the two types
converge and find their ultimate fulfilment in the One who is our divine Melchizedek.
It is Christ who is our crowned High Priest; we look forward to seeing Him
when the full outworking of this message is realised historically and the
Lord Jesus returns in glory, crowned with many crowns.
But we do not have to wait. Already He is so enthroned. From this throne
He exercises His priestly ministry and in this dispensation we witness the
fulfilment of Zechariah's prophecy: "They that are far off shall come and
build in the temple of the Lord" (6:15). It is not just that people will
come from afar to worship in the Temple. That would be most gratifying to
Zechariah but might not surprise him. What must have staggered his imagination
was the promise of strangers coming from afar actually to participate in the
work of building: "they that are far off shall come and build in the temple
of the Lord." With our New Testaments in our hands we can explain the phenomenon,
for in this gospel age men and women are coming from every nation, fully
involved in this supreme objective of God in Christ. All this is true today.
By all means let us look on to the great Day of Christ's Appearance in
glory, but let us not miss the thrill and the power of the fact that already
our ascended Lord is "a priest upon his throne". So much of the Letter to
the Hebrews is devoted to this great truth. Salvation to the uttermost,
the total fulfilment of God's redemptive plan for His Church, is guaranteed
by the unflagging intercessory work of our crowned High Priest. Every exhortation
in the Hebrew Letter -- to hold fast, to go on, to practise loving unity
in Christ -- is based on the fact that Jesus is not only our sufficient Sacrifice
but also our reigning Lord.
* * *
The prophecy that people would come from afar to share in the building
of the Temple may seem to be a direct contradiction of the exclusive actions
in Zechariah's day when every effort of the Samaritans to be allowed to participate
in the work was brusquely rejected (Ezra 4:3). If Zerubbabel's exclusiveness,
and that of Ezra and Nehemiah, was approved by God, then how could the same
God give Zechariah this message of a day when people from far distances
would have their part with God's people? Did the prophecy to Zechariah only
refer to further Jews coming back from Babylon?
I think not. To my mind the explanation is clear enough. In those Old
Testament days it was a matter of genealogy; none but the pure-born Israelites
were acceptable to Ezra or Nehemiah. And it is still a matter of genealogy,
though this time spiritual, for all members of the true Church have their
personal names written in the Lamb's book of life (Revelation 20:15). The
city to which we have come is that whose members are "the church of the firstborn
ones whose names are enrolled in heaven" and whose whole position is determined
by their relationship to the sprinkled blood of the new covenant (Hebrews
Through the preaching of the gospel, men and women are being gathered
from all the lands to take their part in God's spiritual House, upheld and
empowered by the ministry of the Lord Jesus who is the priest upon the throne.
Surely this is the unity of the Spirit which we are all commanded to keep
diligently. Any other exclusivism of spirit- - however logical it may seem
-- is inadmissible. If our activities truly centre on the Lord Jesus as our
King-Priest, then our hearts must be open to all who have the same objective.
Zechariah finished his ministry of the eight visions with the injunction:
"And this shall come to pass, if ye will diligently obey the voice of the
Lord your God" (6:15). So let us be strong, and work!
THE LIFE OF FAITH
(Some comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews -- 9)
John H. Paterson
Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove
existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for
that our ancestors were commended. Hebrews 11:1-2 Jerusalem Bible
THE first ten chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews are largely taken
up with a review of Old Testament worship of God. The emphasis of these
chapters is on the relationship of God and man, and the part played by the
Lord Jesus Christ in securing that relationship; indeed, in improving it
-- in making it much closer and fuller than it had previously been.
Hebrews 11 is, at the simplest level, the counter-part of those first
ten chapters since what it, in turn, deals with is the question: what is
it like to be at the manward end of such a relationship? In Hebrews 1 - 10
the emphasis is firmly on the Lord Jesus and His qualities. Now in the eleventh
and twelfth chapters the writer is concerned with the kind of qualities,
and the kind of life, which the man of God is likely to need, or to develop,
in sustaining a relationship with Him.
So, what does a man need to sustain a relationship with God? The
writer has one general answer: faith! The circumstances in which it is needed
may vary from person to person; that is what Hebrews 11 is about. But what
is quite certain is that nobody can have a relationship with God without
having faith. That is the one indispensable requirement!
You will recall from our previous study that the writer of this epistle
was dealing, at the end of chapter 10, with the implicit objections of the
Hebrew believers: "But we've become Christians and yet here we are, some
time afterwards, with no visible blessings and no relief from our troubles,
and we think the whole thing was a hoax. We're going back to the old religion."
"Don't do it!" argued the writer. "Faith and patience are what you need.
And lest you should feel that this need for faith and patience is putting
an unfair burden on you; lest you think that you have been singled out in
some way to be the only people so burdened, let me remind you that,
equally in that Old Testament religion that you profess to admire, faith
has always been a prerequisite for access to God's favour. Nobody has ever
pleased God without it!
But why faith? Faith and patience? The answer is
really very simple: "The man who approaches God must have faith in two things,
first that God exists and secondly that it is worth a man's while to try
to find God" (Hebrews 11:6, Phillips). The need for faith and patience stems
from two attributes of God: firstly, that He cannot be seen, and therefore
we have to take His existence on trust; secondly, that He is eternal -- that
is, outside our time concepts -- and therefore that we can never insist that
He should meet us, or be found by us, or answer us, between today and tomorrow.
How else could we expect to find an invisible, eternal God than by
the [51/52] exercise of faith and patience -- faith
to accept the existence of what we cannot see, and patience to go on looking
* * *
WHEN we turn to the nine or ten biographies which the writer has included
in Hebrews 11 (not to mention the 'extras' in his cast, some of them referred
to by name, and some described only by their achievements), we find that
all of them are commended for faith and patience in some form -- or, to be
exact, for overcoming by faith and patience the circumstances of life that
make them necessary, the circumstances of invisibility and delay
The writer's purpose in listing so many specific cases was, I think,
(1) He wanted to show that the very greatest of Old Testament characters,
without exception, had experienced the need for faith and the test of delay.
If Abraham, Joseph and Moses went through this, he seems to be saying, who
are you and I to be claiming exemption?
(2) He wanted to forestall a possible objection from his readers, who
might well argue, "Faith is all very well when you are encouraged by favourable
circumstances and God is obviously with you. But the problems we are
facing are much too big and too depressing for someone simply to come along
and say to us, 'Just have faith! Just wait a bit and everything will be
"You think you've got problems?" says the writer, "Problems as big as
Abraham's, when he had God's unfulfilled promise of a son and heir at the
age of ninety-nine? As big as Moses', when he was trying to get the Israelites
to go where God told them, and the years were ticking by -- a hundred, a
hundred and ten? You must be joking!"
NOTICE, then, if you will how, from the beginning of the chapter, Hebrews
11 stresses the sequence: belief first ... delay ... evidence afterwards.
The writer starts, quite literally, from the beginning -- from the creation.
We believe that God is the Creator of what we see -- that it did not come
into being by chance. But how do we "understand" this (11:3)? We understand
it by faith. We were not there, and we did not see it happen, but we do
not find this an insuperable obstacle. We simply believe that God did it,
and we feel that the evidence of our experience supports our belief, although
evidence that would prove us right may never come to us during our
lifetime. But all religions proceed on that basis, and in that confidence;
there is no other way of dealing with the situation. Even people who do
not believe in God have, if you like, to hold their position by
an equal and opposite act of "faith". There is nothing unusual or exceptional
about the need for faith here.
Then there was Abel, the first individual mentioned by the writer: "It
was because of his faith that Abel made a better sacrifice than Cain, and
he had evidence that God looked upon him as a righteous man, whose gift
He could accept" (11:4, Phillips). Here is our sequence again: faith first,
evidence afterwards. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, "What was it
about Abel that could be called faith?" Surely, he was simply fortunate:
both he and Cain brought gifts of what they worked with, the flocks and the
crops, and it was God's unpredictable choice -- His caprice, if you like
-- to approve Abel's gift and disapprove Cain's? In that case, no wonder
that Cain got angry!
There must have been more to it than that. And I suggest that what made
Abel's gift acceptable with God was this: that Abel, "by faith", had taken
note of God's dealings with his parents, Adam and Eve, and had deduced that,
when God made them coats of skins, He was setting a pattern. He was indicating
the basis on which, for the future, He would always accept men and women.
We, of course, with the benefits of hindsight, can read all sorts of symbolism
into God's acceptance of Abel's offering but, if we stick to what Abel
knew at the time, then he was deducing on the basis of the few facts
at his disposal, that the sacrifice of an animal would please God: indeed,
the sacrifice of a life was indispensable to any approach that man might make
to Him. And we now know that he was right, whereas all he could do was to
believe, and act, and get killed for his pains! But because he had hit
upon an abiding principle, "he being dead yet speaketh".
Then there was Enoch. He pleased God and, as a consequence or as a reward,
he was brought into God's presence directly, without passing through death.
But where was the faith in that? In his account of the beginnings of human
history all is shadowy, yet from the text it would seem that Enoch, like
Abel, had grasped a divine principle -- a principle for which there was, so
far as we know, no previous evidence. There is no mention of anyone having
taught it to Enoch. It was not something that a person could argue out for
himself. It was, in that sense, a step of faith, accounting for the realities
which we see by the greater realities which we do not.
Enoch asked himself, "Why am I here? What is the purpose of my existence?"
And he concluded that the correct answer was: to please God. It sounds from
the Genesis account as if Enoch was the first person actually to formulate
this idea. It certainly sounds from the account as if he was the only person
who was pleasing God! And so he set himself to do this, in faith that
it was what God would wish of him, and all his long life this was his goal.
But to find out that he was right, that his faith was not in vain, he had
to wait till the very end -- 365 years! Only when his time came to die did
God intervene with the proof that what he had been doing, walking with God,
was absolutely right.
And then there was Noah. While Enoch could please God quietly, without
any particular outward show, Noah was called to express his faith in the
most public way possible. How do you keep it a secret that you are building
a boat 300 cubits long? What do you say to the curious and enquiring to explain
What Noah was preparing for had never happened before. It was entirely
without precedent and had therefore to be anticipated in faith; for what
God had warned him of were "things not seen as yet" (11:7). That problem
of invisibility again! How do you prepare for something you have never seen,
and have no external reason to expect? The answer is that you do it by faith,
and then you wait -- for the rain to fall, or the sea to divide, or the baby
to be born. And up to the very moment before those things happen, you go
on exercising faith and patience, believing that, if God has said
a thing will happen, then it will, whether soon or late.
And this we shall see, in our further studies, as we examine the lives
of other heroes of the Old Testament story. Evidently, faith and patience
are very Old Testament qualities!
(To be continued)
GREAT IS THIS MYSTERY
"This is a profound mystery --
but I am talking about Christ and the church."
Ephesians 5:32 (NIV)
EACH time the word mystery appears in the New Testament, we ought
to prick up our ears, for we are faced by something which no man of himself
can understand or fathom. To rush on hastily is to risk missing some special
divine emphasis. Paul also speaks of Christ as "the mystery of God" (Colossians
2:2), and thereby stresses the fact that flesh and blood can never of itself
truly know Him. Unless God reveals to us who Christ is, we shall misunderstand
Him throughout our lives. In a similar way the Church is a mystery, indeed
a profound mystery; even Christians may have wrong ideas about her, wrong
ideas which can be so deeply rooted as only to be got rid of with great difficulty.
The Body of Christ
The most difficult Letter to understand in the New Testament is possibly
that written to the Ephesians. In this book the word mystery occurs
quite often (1:9, 3:3, 3:9, 5:32 and 6:19) and a great phrase used to describe
the Church is "The body of Christ". Already in his first Letter to the Corinthians
Paul had made the amazing statement: "For as the body is one and has many
[53/54] members, and all the members of the body,
being many, are one body, so also is the Christ." This may surprise and even
puzzle us, but of course we must take it spiritually. The apostle goes on
to explain his meaning when he writes: "For in one Spirit were we all baptised
into one body ..." (1 Corinthians 12:13).
By giving us His own Spirit, the Lord has united Himself to such an extent
with us and united us with one another, that we constitute a spiritual body.
This is not just a picture but a reality, so that each believer is one of
His members and a member of all others. This is easy to state, but maintaining
it in practice involves maintaining a mystery which remains a mystery even
when it has been revealed. In other words, we have to fight all our lives
against the very human tendency to treat the Church as an institution. It
is and it remains the body of Christ and any thought of making it into an
institution goes against its very nature. We must beware of trying to substitute
our own common sense for a divine mystery.
A Habitation of God in the Spirit
We know of course that God does not dwell in the building which we call
"churches", however sacred these may seem to be, but that the reason for
His presence is that there are those -- even if only two or three -- who are
gathered together in His name. If they were not there, the Lord would not
be there, for the building itself does not attract His presence. The real
Church is a spiritual building of living stones, that is, regenerated Christians.
Paul calls this "a holy temple in the Lord" and a "habitation of God in the
Spirit" (Ephesians 2:20-21).
Since the people of God constitute the Church of God, that Church may
be found in some Siberian prison camp where the two or three of God's saints
are able to pray and worship together and may yet be lacking in beautiful
Church buildings where unregenerate people meet in a merely formal way. We
are never exhorted to build church buildings, but we are exhorted to be
built up as living stones to a spiritual house. Our services are not thought
of in terms of "going to church" but of being assembled together in the
Lord's name with the risen Christ in the midst.
A Fellowship in the Lord
Denmark is supposed to be a country which excels in various societies;
Danes are said to be mad on societies. At least we know what a society is
-- it is a group of people who choose to unite, usually because they have
a common interest. The Church, however, is not a fellowship of people with
a human basis of uniting, but is in fact a fellowship of incompatibles!
Jews and Gentiles are incompatible: Jews despise Gentiles and these in turn
hate Jews. There is an insurmountable barrier between them. They would never
join together in any society nor form any collective, but would prefer to
keep as far apart from each other as possible. In India a high caste Hindu
and a pariah will have nothing to do with each other. The former despises
the outcast, would not give a thought to him nor help him in his need, but
keep him at a proud distance. A Hindu and a pariah could never form a collective.
But in Christ and around Christ, incompatibles are united, Jews with Gentiles,
high castes with low castes, in a miraculous way which the world can never
hope to emulate.
What is more, in Christ God is united with sinners. This is indeed a
case of the unifying of incompatibles. The Church is a divine masterpiece,
both vertically and horizontally, where redeemed sinners are united with
God and previous enemies are united in a fellowship which holds good in
time and eternity. In this fellowship, all differences of race, religion,
social standing and every other kind of consideration which separate man
from man are abolished, for Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11).
The Church is more than an activity of meetings and more than an instrument
by which God reaches the unsaved -- though of course it is that. In the New
Testament the Church is presented not primarily as a means in God's hand
but rather as His goal. For what is His final objective? Is it not the New
Jerusalem? And what is the New Jerusalem? Is it not the bride of Christ? And
this is precisely what the Church is -- the bride of Christ. This is indeed
God's great goal and it is to that goal that grace has brought us: "Ye are
come unto ... the church of the firstborn ones who are enrolled in heaven"
(Hebrews 12:22-23). We must remember that this still remains a mystery, but
if the reality of it dawns upon us we will get some spiritual realisation
of the importance of the Church of the living God and not dare to reduce it
to the low levels of our natural minds. [54/55]
Human ideas are so often an escape from the divine, and accommodating of the
divine to what is manageable to man; they involve the degrading of what is
as high as the heavens above our views to the level of petty human ideas of
forming associations or societies.
It is even more difficult for the natural mind to understand that the
New Jerusalem is not only the goal for God's whole plan of salvation, but
it is also said to be our mother (Galatians 4:26). We ask how can this be,
but we can agree that in itself the Church is just as barren as Sarah, but
by virtue of the promises of God it bears children after the Spirit, ourselves
among them. We readily confess that it was by virtue of the prayers and testimony
of members of the Church that we were led to believe in Christ and to receive
new life in Him. The Church is both our mother and our goal. Let us not try
to explain it, but rather rely on the revelation of the Holy Spirit so that
we may enter into the reality of this great mystery.
Its opposite, of course, is a society which flesh and blood can create
and maintain, one which can still carry on its activities without the Holy
Spirit's working. Such a church is not a mystery; it is quite easy for the
natural mind to understand. The Church is a miracle which cannot be explained,
a miracle only kept in existence by the wonder-working of God. Moreover
it is a foreign element which can never be made to fit into this
world, neither the secular nor the religious world, and for that reason
it will always be despised and persecuted.
Because it is the body of Christ there can be no members who do not have
a task and a responsibility. There is no member who can act as an intermediary
between the Head and other members. Each member has a direct relationship
with the Head and holds fast to Him. No member has an "office", but every
single member has a function. Not even the elders of any church have any
formal power over other members; they are not lords over the church, imposing
directions on others as to what they are to do, but they are just servants.
This, of course, is quite different from institutions and organisations in
which there is a management which makes decisions on behalf of all. There
is no room for what is formal in the body -- everything is Spirit and life.
Some think that we ought to make the Church safe and strong by organising
it. They point out that Paul appointed elders in the various churches and
told Titus to do the same in Crete (Titus 1:5). They similarly point out
that Paul describes how a deacon (servant of the church) should behave (1
Timothy 3:8-13). This is true and we ought not to neglect what the Scriptures
say, but it is important to understand them rightly. A man does not become
an elder by being given the office, nor does a deacon become one simply by
appointment; he is appointed an elder or a deacon because he has already shown
in practice that he is one, so that in the organic development of the church,
it is evident that some have been equipped as elders (overseers) and others
to be deacons or deaconesses. Thus it is not an organisational pattern which
is forced upon the assembly, but a spiritual organic development.
The elders have no right to demand obedience because of their claim to
their office, but they are instructed to be examples to the flock (1 Peter
5:1-4). In this way the Chief Shepherd worked when He watched over His flock
by laying down His life for it.
All the Letters in the New Testament speak of the dangers which threaten
the Church. They never give us the idea that Church life is idyllic but rather
that it involves conflict. The gates of Hades will always oppose the Church
of Christ, but the Lord has promised that they will never prevail, for it
is He Himself who is building it and He knows how to defend it. Both the
Scriptures and our own experience give the inescapable impression that the
Church is continuously threatened by dangers from within and from without.
Any real organisational strengthening of the Church, which puts it within
fixed limitations and changes it into an association with a management whose
leaders have formal or legal competence to make binding decisions for all
the others, may seem to provide a guarantee that things are more or less
under control, but this makes for a spiritual weakening of the body of Christ.
It ignores the miraculous nature of the Church and deprives the greater number
of its members of their rights, changing them from being living and responsible
members of the body into listeners, whose chief [55/56]
business is to be present at the meetings in order to listen and to contribute
financially to the upkeep of the activities.
Such an arrangement naturally provides a certain order and assurance
that nothing unpleasant will happen, but the Church is not to have any such
assurance, nor seek to procure it. Faith does not thrive within a safe framework
where there is no risk. The Church in its very nature is a miracle of God
and only remains a true church when it remains a miracle. Yet who is sufficient
for these things? We are wholly cast upon the government of the Holy Spirit
for the outworking of the true thoughts of God.
The Time of the End
The more we approach the end of this age, the more will God's adversary,
the Devil, concentrate on destroying His Church. Attacks from within will
come as false teachers increase in strength and subtlety. Seductions will
be widespread, as we see already. It is all too easy for groups who claim
to be Scriptural to attack or despise fellow members of the one body, so
failing to give diligence to keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of
peace. In addition there are, and will be, direct persecutions as at the first,
for the Church is a foreign element and if it does not accommodate itself
to the world, it will be made to feel that it will not be tolerated.
If the Church is to come through, it must live in ceaseless renewal,
without human guarantees and ready to be the off-scouring of all things.
In the great accounting day, we shall be judged after our work for the Church
of God. Let everyone take care how he builds, to what he gives priority and
how he thinks and acts in this connection. Let everyone take care not to damage,
pull down or undervalue the Church of God and beware of arranging his priorities
in such a way that in practice he ignores or scorns it. May the Lord Jesus,
who was eaten up with zeal for the house of God, give us something of His
zeal, so that we never grow tired and never give up the fight.
ABIDING SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLES
(Some lessons from the life of Solomon)
5. THE GREATNESS OF THE KING. 2 Chronicles 8 - 9
AS the chronicler writes it, the story of King Solomon ends with chapter
9. In that respect his book differs from the version in 1 Kings, for that
goes on to record a sad sequel which the chronicler here omits. 1 Kings 11
is all about the lapses in the life of the great king and how he went wrong
in all sorts of ways and came to a rather sad end. The chronicler and his
readers were well aware of all this, but the concern of the book here before
us is to present Solomon in a different light and for a different reason.
An example of this difference is found at the very beginning of our passage
in 2 Chronicles 8. Verse 2 may seem rather curious to us for it informs us
that Solomon built the cities which Hiram had given him "and caused the children
of Israel to dwell there". Now that tiny story appears quite differently
in Kings, for there we read that it was Solomon who gave some cities to Hiram
who, when he went to inspect them, didn't think much of them and christened
them "the land of rubbish" (1 Kings 9:13). What happened after that we do
not know, but if these were really the same cities as those described by
the chronicler or if the two stories are entirely different or even two halves
of the same story, they are certainly quite different. So far as the Chronicles
are concerned, however, the story fits into a great many other things about
what came to Solomon and his authority, namely, that everything was devoted
to the well-being of his people.
The King's Greatness
The story of the cities has at its heart the fact that the chronicler
wished to emphasise the greatness and the power of King Solomon. He is in
the limelight throughout these two chapters. Everything is pointing in his
direction, everything comes to Solomon -- he is at the centre of all attention
and he is the focus of the chronicler's [56/57] story.
There is in fact another focus alongside it. While the chronicler is concerned
to point us to Solomon, he is also concerned to point us to Solomon's people,
so that the two are like twin beams of light, Solomon the king, and the king's
people, the people of Solomon.
As we have said, this book represents a sermon preached from the historical
events, so that our first concern is to consider the text of this sermon.
It is found in these two chapters which speak of Solomon at the peak of all
his greatness. First there is his power (8:1-10) and we notice that when
his power is described by the fact that his kingdom is increased by a group
of cities given him by Hiram king of Tyre, his immediate response is to settle
Israelites there. So his power is used to provide homes for his people.
This is followed by one of the rare notes of Solomon's military might, "Solomon
went to Hamath-zobah, and prevailed against it" (v.3). This shows us that
his people were guarded. They are also provided for, as is made evident
by the list of store cities (v.6). What is more, reference is made to the
fact that these were fortified cities (v.5), so that the king's people are
well defended and military strength is described (v.6). His people are well
armed. Then, to defend them against the Fifth Column, which still dwelt
in their midst, the Hittites and the Amorites and the others which had not
been destroyed by Israel, Solomon makes sure that these will not cause any
trouble by putting them to forced labour (vv.7-8).
This is what the king's power does for his own people whom he proceeds
to exalt (v.9). They are not enslaved, but made chiefs and captains and
rulers. To us this represents a terribly racist policy, but the chronicler's
purpose is to show us the power of Solomon in terms of his people's security.
The two things are side by side -- Solomon's power and his people's security.
The next paragraph (vv.11-15) describes Solomon at worship, giving us
a little summary of that which has been set out in much greater length in
the previous chapters which dealt with the Temple and its ritual. In some
way verse 11 begins this section in a manner similar to that which we noticed
in verse 2, since the chronicler takes the material which is before him and
changes it a bit by adding the explanation of why he built his own house
where he did: "for he said, My wife shall not dwell in the house of David
king of Israel, because the places are holy whereunto the ark of the Lord
hath come." The chronicler adds this reason why his wife had a place of her
own, namely, that she should not be living in proximity to the people of God.
There may have been other reasons, but the chronicler is using this to introduce
his paragraph on worship to make the point that the worship of the king is
to be a holy thing.
The places are holy where the Ark of the Lord has entered; this thought
continues into the rest of the paragraph to make the point of the importance
of the holiness of the king's worship. We read on about the king's offerings,
as the duties of each day required, his festivals, the ministries of the
priests and Levites and the magnificent house in which it all took place.
All the way through, from the day of its preparation to the day of its
completion, everything was as the Lord wanted it to be and this was according
to "the commandment of the king" (v.15). This, then, was the king's gift
to his people and this the way by which they were led into the presence of
their God. So we see that Solomon's worship links on to his people's righteousness.
He prepared for them the way to God, and laid down the rules for them to
come into God's holy presence. In this he was one with his father. The worship
was ordered strictly in accordance with the commandments of David (v.14).
So David and Solomon together formed the ideal in the chronicler's mind,
and in this case it was the ideal of worship.
There is no clear sequence in the subsequent verses, but we can note
other features of the king's greatness in them and how it affected his people.
There are his riches. In verses 17 and 18 we read of his going down to the
sea shore at Eloth and with the help of the maritime know-how of Hiram sending
out a fleet to bring back a large quantity of gold. These two verses are
picked up in 9:10-11, which tell us what else happened when the fleet came
back. Nothing like it had ever been seen before in the land of Judah. 9:13-14
go on to tell us more about the imports which came to Solomon, not only from
the fleet which he himself sent out but by gifts from other countries. Further
mention is made of what the fleet brought back in verse 21: "gold and silver,
ivory, and apes and peacocks." It was all very grand. In between 9:14 and
verse 21 there is a little paragraph about the use that Solomon made of all
this gold. To us some of it may sound like [57/58]
useless ostentation, the shields and the throne etc., but the point seems
to be to stress what a great and wealthy king he was. The chronicler then
goes on to show that all this was not simply for the king himself for "the
king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones, and cedars made he to be as
the sycamore trees ... for abundance" (v.27). The city was wealthy. The riches
were not just in the king's palace: all Israel benefitted from his wealth.
We see then that:
1. His power provided security for his people;
2. His worship provided the way to righteousness for his people;
3. His riches provided wealth for his people.
A fourth point is then made, for it was also a fact that his wisdom brought
blessing to his people. This is shown in the section devoted to the queen
of Sheba (9:1-9). We go back to that. This unnamed queen was a foreigner,
a visitor who said that she came to Jerusalem because she had heard of the
fame of Solomon. She herself elaborated the fact with her words: "It was
a true report that I heard in mine own land of thine acts and of thy wisdom"
(v.5). No doubt reasons of trade, commerce and diplomacy were also involved
but supremely her visit was due to what she had heard of the wisdom of Solomon.
That is the reason which the Lord Jesus took up in the New Testament.
Her spontaneous reaction to this wholly successful visit was to comment
on the felicity of his people: "Happy are thy men, and happy are these thy
servants, which stand continually before thee, and hear thy wisdom ... Because
God loved Israel ... made he thee king over them" (vv.7-8). So that once
again the attributes of the king are seen to be designed for the blessing
of his people. Solomon's wisdom was not an end in itself: it was for his people's
welfare. The queen of Sheba made this point when she exclaimed on the blessedness
of those who were ruled over by King Solomon. So this is consistent with
the rest of what the chronicler had been making in the whole text of his
sermon about Solomon's greatness and the consequent blessedness of his people.
It would be very easy to spiritualise this sort of thing. Preachers frequently
do, and so shall I -- but not yet!
The Immediate Implications of the King's Greatness
First of all we must consider what were the immediate implications for
those who first read 2 Chronicles. If we are going to be honest exegetes
of this passage we will find ourselves confronted by a problem. It is not
sufficient for us simply to say that David and Solomon are a type of Christ
so that spiritually we may claim everything in these chapters as ours and
apply it to our own spiritual needs. Happily we must do that, but before
we immediately do so we have to ask ourselves why this sermon was given in
the first place. What were its original hearers or readers expected to understand
from it? For, since we have agreed that the whole book of the Chronicles
was offered as a sermon, we may ask what its original hearers were expected
to understand from it and what they would be expected to do as their response.
This is a very puzzling question for, if we put ourselves in the position
of the first audience and the first readership, we will immediately be confronted
by at least two difficulties.
1. Its application is difficult.
It is all very well to say that the chronicler here set up Solomon as
the ideal of his people, but we ask ourselves in what sense could Solomon
be an ideal to those who were the first readers of this book. They were living
in a totally different situation, so that it could well seem that for the
chronicler to preach to them a sermon about power and worship and riches and
wisdom was nothing more than a rather horrid mockery. They might well have
been forgiven for saying, "What has all this to say to us? What are we supposed
to do about it? It is all very well for you to point to Solomon and say how
marvellous his experience was and expect us to admire him, but admiration
won't get us very far. If the object of good preaching is to make us go out
and do something about it, what, oh what, are we expected to do?"
For them the circumstances were all so different. Let us think about
it and go through these four points in reverse. Wisdom? Well, yes, they
could do something about that and in their days wisdom had become quite
a respectable branch of literature. They had the "Wisdom" books and could
try their best to live up to them, so seeking to provide this kind of attitude
to God and using Solomon in this way. At least they could try to live up
to the Solomon ideal in the matter of [58/59] wisdom.
But his riches! What could they be expected to do about them? Could they
go out and burgle their neighbours? Could they festoon themselves with some
feeble imitation of Solomon's glories and claim to be true sons of his in
that respect? Here were they in what men would have called a God-forsaken
province of the Persian Empire, struggling with poverty and adversity. At
their best they could never be more than a feeble shadow of the Israel of
Solomon's day. What about worship? Well, they could do their best to measure
up to some extent to that ideal set before them in Solomon but really, that
Temple of theirs! It was the best that they could make it, but it was not
a patch on Solomon's. They could follow the ritual as best they might, but
compared with what the chronicler described, it was rather pathetic. "What
is the object of setting this ideal before us" they might have protested,
"Is it meant for our imitation?"
It must have been thrilling to hear of the power of Solomon, but what
on earth could that be supposed to mean in their case? This great king who
built his cities and fortified them, garrisoned them all over the place and
stretched his frontiers as far as the Euphrates and the Nile; it was all
very wonderful, but what could they be expected to do about it? So we see
that the application was very difficult and the more so as the chronicler
took up the facts stated in the "Kings" and preached them with even greater
conviction than the original author of those books did. He painted them with
even more vivid colours, underlining the greatness even more definitely and
setting up the ideal higher and more inaccessible than ever. The sermon was
good but how could they respond?
2. Its values are different
Those first readers of the Chronicles were having to learn inwardness
of spiritual values. They were beginning to understand what we who are Spirit-taught
well know, that blessing is linked with poverty. It is those who are poor
who are blessed; indeed to be poor is almost a synonym for being pious. Those
who are weak in themselves can find power only in God and those who learn
wisdom do so by confessing how much they lack it. What does the ideal mean
to the humble remnant?
Here is a suggestion. It is that the chronicler was saying to those who
had next to nothing in wisdom, riches or power that they should concentrate
on the abiding fact that where God's throne is occupied by Him whose it is,
His people have everything they need. It is God's throne (9:8). All through
the history of God's people, the throne has been His. It was left for the
people of the chronicler's age to work out what this meant for them, and
it must have been very difficult for them to do so, but this is the object
of the exercise and this is what the readers of this sermon have to work out
in every age.
The Abiding Implications of the King's Greatness
The chronicler speaks to us all. He speaks to those who have little and
he says, "Where God's throne is occupied by Him whose throne it is, then
His people find that they have all. Where His people feel themselves insecure
and subject to the assaults of their enemies, where they are conscious of
their own weakness, then in that throne they will find strength and defence,
power and authority."
It is all a matter of the throne. Where the people of God find that their
relations with Him are not what they should be and where spiritually they
are dry and dull, when they find that the promises of God to them do not
seem to be Yea and Amen, when worship is lifeless and the spiritual life a
drag, they need a new realisation of the enthroned glory of Christ. If they
come to His throne they will find there true worship and a free access to
So we see that this picture of the ideal Monarch is not only able to
be applied to us in all our need, but it is meant to be so applied. When
God's people are -- in whatever sense -- empty and poverty-stricken just
as the chronicler's readers were, then they may come to the Lord on the
throne and in Him they will find all their riches. When their mind goes
a blank and they cannot think any more, then they must come to the One on
the throne and find in Him all the wisdom of God.
It is in this sense that Solomon is depicted as the ideal king upon his
throne, and it speaks to men and women of the people of God in their profound
need that there is now a throne, with One seated upon it, and because of
this all their needs are fully provided for. It must have been hard for the
chronicler to work out how this could apply in his day in that province of
Judea with all its second-rate surroundings, but for us the application is
much easier to make. [59/60]
We have in fact the words of the Lord Jesus Himself which apply the story
to our needs: "The queen of the south ... came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold something greater than Solomon
is here" (Matthew 12:42). That is not a contrast between Jesus and Solomon
but a comparison. Jesus is saying that something happened in those far-off
days when the queen of Sheba came to see Solomon which is a pattern for every
subsequent situation in the life of the people of God. The greater thing for
us is that the same pattern is repeated in our days and the same principles
are brought into play as we come to the enthroned Christ. As the queen came
from afar, told him all that was in her heart and heard from him all that
she needed to know, so now the whole thing is lifted on to a higher plane.
Something infinitely greater, yet something in the same shape, is here for
Those who are wise in their ignorance, will come and seek Him and learn
His wisdom. Christ the King is enthroned among us by His Spirit so that we
may find in our emptiness, poverty, insecurity and ignorance, all that we
can ever need. Through Him we can find that though we have nothing, yet we
possess all things and, what is more, these riches will so overflow that
although we in ourselves are poor, we will yet make many rich. Our Kings'
greatness is all for our benefit as well as being for His own glory. This
seems to be the implication of the two chapters we have been considering.
JESUS OUR JOY
May we draw your attention to a new book on the Letter to the Philippians
by Alec Motyer. Here is a brief quotation concerning 1:6:
"The day of Jesus Christ is fixed in the Father's diary. It is
as if he is under contract to himself and to his Son. The day will come and
everything and everyone will be ready in time for it. There will be no last-minute
rush, no botching up, nothing that will 'do for now'; strikes will not delay
it nor carelessness mar it. The Father has weighed up the merits of his Son
and the proper response to his work at Calvary, and nothing will suffice
but that he should bring his Son out from the invisible glories of heaven
and show him publicly to a wondering and worshipping world. For his own glory,
the Father must one day see every knee bowed to Jesus and hear every tongue
acknowledge his Lordship. And our salvation is as assured as the coming
of that day! For it is we, the saints, the objects of the good work
, who must be made ready for his coming 'on that day to be glorified in his
saints and to be marvelled at in all who have believed'."
The title of this book is "THE MESSAGE OF PHILIPPIANS". It is published
by the Inter-Varsity Press and can be obtained from:
Norton St., Nottingham NG7 3HR, Great Britain
Downers Grove, Illinois, U.S.A. [60/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
OLD TESTAMENT PARENTHESES (9)
"(Now it was that at every year's end that he polled it;
because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it.)"
2 Samuel 14:26
IT is difficult to know why the inspiring Spirit not only gave us the
account of Absalom's luxuriant head of hair but saw fit to emphasise the
matter by inserting this parenthesis. It may seem strange that the writer
occupies us with this record of the prince's annual haircuts, with the massive
amounts of hair polled and weighed, but it fits in with so much more that
we know of the man. The evidence is clear that this much-loved but wayward
son of David was a most conceited man. Pride is an attribute which God detests,
so perhaps we may take it that this story may be given as a warning against
1. Pride is Foolish
This picture of the solemn weighing of Absalom's tresses seems to highlight
the stupid folly of his self conceit. It seems incredible that a man who
might have had true values of which he could boast, should set so much store
on the profusion of his hair. Every year, in solemn ceremonial, his tresses
were cut off and then weighed. No doubt his foolish admirers exclaimed, "How
wonderful!" and took pleasure in passing the information round. They did not
pause to reflect that he had done nothing to be proud of. He did not produce
the hair or make it grow. His pride was wholly unjustified and rather pathetic.
To us the whole affair seems trivial and rather foolish. Not more foolish,
though, than a Christian's pride concerning his spiritual gifts. To the puffed
up Corinthians Paul wrote: "What hast thou that thou didst not receive? ...
Why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it" (1 Corinthians 4:7).
This is a relevant challenge to us today.
2. Pride is Spiteful
We might have forgiven Absalom his attack on his depraved brother, but
we can never pardon his treachery and murderous intentions against his kindly
father. How could such a favoured son turn against his king in this way,
to say nothing of his rebellion against God? The answer is that once the satanic
power of pride takes hold of a person, anything can happen. When pride rules,
nothing matters and nobody else matters.
3. Pride is Disastrous
It brought Absalom to a miserable end. And I imagine that this was due
to that great head of hair of which he was so proud. It is true that the
Bible does not actually state this but we tend to assume it. The Word tells
us that "as his mule went under the thick boughs of a large oak, Absalom's
head got caught in the tree" (2 Samuel 18:9). I have ridden on a mule in
Brazilian forests, so I find it unlikely that any man, however tall, would
let his head get caught in the fork of a branch. It seems likely to me, then,
that it was his hair which brought about his downfall. He did not duck low
enough. It was a mortal error, for his enemies surrounded him and destroyed
That is what pride does for a man. "Pride goes before destruction, and
a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). Our only safety, then,
is to flee to the Lord Jesus and learn of Him, for He alone is "meek and
lowly in heart".
GIVING DILIGENCE TO KEEP THE UNITY
OF THE SPIRIT IN THE BOND OF PEACE.
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