Groanings Too Deep For Words

Please listen to this song; may it prepare your heart for the message that follows.

That is so moving, isn’t it. Here’s the chorus:

Give ear to my words, O Lord,
Give heed to my groaning heart,
Hearken unto the sound of my cry.
My king and my God,
To you will I pray,
O Lord hear me in the morning each day.
I prepare my sacrifice and wait for You.

Those words, “Give heed to my groaning heart…” I want to share with you something about groanings, God’s own groanings… our groanings… the groanings of creation… But first let me give some background to the words of the song. It’s an adaptation of Psalm 5, which I am familiar with in the King James Version:

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.
Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

Here is the English Standard Version for the same verses:

Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray.
O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.

And here is The Passion Translation for verse 3:

At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice as I prepare my sacrifice of prayer to you. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar and wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.

So the picture before our eyes is of the psalmist laying his sacrifice in order on the altar, at the same time asking God to hear his prayer, his meditation—his groaning, as the Hebrew word implies. He waits then for the fire of God to consume the sacrifice. This assures him that his sacrifice has been received and is a sweet fragrance to God, and therefore his prayer ascending with the smoke of the sacrifice has been heard, and he watches with anticipation for God’s answer.

Old Testament commentators Keil and Delitzsch in their Commentary on the Old Testament bear this up. (Please see endnote.)

So it looks like the English Standard Version has rendered correctly the original Hebrew of Psalm 5.

Now for the interpretation of this picture in the language of the New Covenant. As we lay in order the living sacrifice of our lives upon the altar of the cross, we lift up to God our prayer, our longing, our groaning, and look to Him with undoubting anticipation for His answer, which will come down to us as surely as the fragrance of the sacrifice and the incense of the prayer ascend up to Him.

Now back to our song. “Give heed to my groaning heart.” You mean, God hears the groaning heart? Yes. As assuredly as the sacrifice of Christ on the altar of the cross ascended to God an offering and a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling fragrance, and as our own living sacrifice is identified with His, He hears.

The groaning of creation

In Romans Chapter 8 Paul in three places writes of groanings. The first place is in verse 22. I’ll quote it from verse 18 to give the context. This is from the English Standard Version:

 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
8:19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope
8:21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
8:22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

It doesn’t take very good hearing these days to hear the groaning of creation; we hear it round about us every day. The whole creation is in the bondage of corruption groaning and labouring together in the pains of birth, waiting, waiting, waiting for deliverance. Paul wrote that in his day he could hear those groanings, and in our day we hear them as well—the only difference being that the labour pains are getting more intense and closer and closer together.

But if a creation is groaning in the pains of labour, what do you suppose will be born?

A new creation. And this is why Paul says that when God subjected the old creation to futility, He did so in hope.

The groaning of the saints

Just after this Paul continues:

8:23  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
8:24  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
8:25  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience [or, perseverance, as the NKJV has it].

There again we find groaning. And there again is that word hope. Not only is the creation groaning, but the saints themselves, who have received the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly, groan within themselves, waiting, waiting in hope for something—the adoption, the redemption of the body—the release of the body, the glorious liberty of the children of God which will result in the whole creation being liberated from the bondage of corruption. What a glorious hope, which, though we see it not yet, we patiently and confidently await it.

Paul says much the same thing in 2 Corinthians:

5:1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
5:2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,
5:3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.
5:4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
5:5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Cor 5:1-5 ESV)

What Paul calls here the guarantee (NKJV the earnest) he calls in Romans 8 the firstfruits. The Spirit Himself is the guarantee, the Spirit Himself is the firstfruits, the assurance of the harvest to come. In Corinthians Paul writes that “in this tent [our mortal body] we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,” which is what he calls in Romans 8 “the adoption, the redemption of the body,” for which those who have received the firstfruits (namely, the Spirit) groan. The confidence we have is that God has wrought us for this very thing, and has given us the Spirit as His guarantee while we wait. But not only does the completion of our redemption depend upon this, the whole creation waits for it. So God will not be remiss in fulfilling this hope. He is covenant bound to do so—as He was in redeeming Israel from Egyptian bondage:

And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.
And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. (Ex 2:23,24)

Just as surely as God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and began to fulfill it in the day when He heard their groaning cry and brought them out of Egypt, He has made a covenant which in its summation is His Son, and which therefore cannot be fulfilled short of the redemption of our body. For this, then, we groan… and wait expectantly.

The groaning of the Spirit

And during this waiting the Spirit likewise groans, making intercession on behalf of the groaning saints. This is the third place in Romans 8 where we find this word groaning.

8:26  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
8:27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Some of us are more familiar with the King James Version’s “groanings which cannot be uttered.” Groanings beyond the ability of words to express.

Do we understand what is happening here—“the Spirit himself intercedes for us”? This is not saying that the Spirit is making intercession for the saints alone and nobody else in the world, but rather, as the word means, “on behalf of” the saints who are praying. The saints are praying, yet do not know what they should pray for as they ought to. That is their weakness. And so the Spirit joins Himself to their weakness and makes intercession on their behalf. Their intercession becomes infused with the very groanings of the Spirit… and He who searches and knows the heart knows what is the mind of the Spirit—He understands what the groaning means—that the Spirit’s intercession is according to His own will and purpose. For the Spirit of God cannot pray anything other than the will of God.

And so… do you and I find ourselves in our prayer closet at times face to face with the awareness that we just don’t know what we should be praying for? What are we to do then? This. While we lay the pieces of the whole burnt offering of our lives on the altar, let us earnestly give ourselves to His Spirit. And please, brothers and sisters, don’t try to make a learned technique of groaning in the Spirit, as some are ignorantly teaching. We can no more learn this than a woman in travail can fabricate birth pangs in order to hasten the birth. No, let us give ourselves to the Spirit, let the Spirit of life have His way. As we give the Spirit free rein, He comes to our aid and makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.” Groanings too deep for words.

Even so, God understands this language of groaning.

He understands when we pray in tongues. This is something similar to the Spirit making intercession for us with groanings too deep for words. Paul said he prayed in tongues. He said, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also” (1 Cor 14:14,15). And so when we are praying with our spirit—it is our spirit that is praying—in an unknown tongue, we may not understand what we are praying. But God understands what we are praying. And we ourselves are edified (1 Cor 14:4). And as we wait before Him, He may give the interpretation of our prayer so that our understanding is fruitful.

Of course all our praying, whether with our spirit or our understanding, must be “in the Holy Spirit,” as Jude says in verses 20 and 21:

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”

And so whether we are praying with our understanding, or praying with our spirit (that is, praying in an unknown tongue), all our praying must be in the Holy Spirit. This way we are assured that our prayer returns to God from whence it came.

The groaning of the prisoner

 For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth;
To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death… (Ps 102:19,20 KJV)

 We live in a day when people are being taught that what gender they are is a matter of personal choice—whether male or female or a miscellany of other choices. Many, especially young people, are being swept along in the current of this darkness. I heard of some grandparents in anguish because a granddaughter had her breasts surgically removed and a male part added on, all the while taking the regimen of hormone treatments so she can be a male now. How long, Lord? We are told that men can have babies. Can breastfeed. How long, Lord, how long? Oh the groanings for this generation.

I hear from a First Nations friend that their graveyard is filling up with the graves of their young people. Murders. Suicides. Drug overdoses are epidemic. I heard of a young First Nations girl who was hooked on drugs and broke into a home. She was desperate for money, and had a knife. The wife in the home—her husband was out—somehow was able to get the knife from the girl, who collapsed in tears into the woman’s arms, who herself was overcome with compassion for her. This girl ended up in prison on other charges—she was a prisoner before she went to prison. And overdosed in prison. And died.

How long, Lord? Are You not He who sees the little sparrow fall? Are you not He who looked down from Heaven to hear the groaning of the prisoner, and came down to loose those appointed to death? Are You not He who in our Lord Jesus Christ abolished death, and brought life and incorruption to light by the Gospel? Oh… our loving Father, hear our prayers in this hour. Our groanings. We cry to You in this dark hour in our world. You aren’t looking for eloquent prayer. Just prayer from the heart.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
uttered or unexpressed;
the motion of a hidden fire
that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye
When none but God is near.

We thank you for this, dear Father, that You have this kind of hearing. You hear our heart. You heard Hanna when she prayed, yet only her lips moved. You heard Jeremiah when he cried, “Hide not Your ear at my breathing, at my cry.” You hear the heartcry of those who love You, Father. Sometimes we can only breathe out a prayer. A sigh. You hear our sighing. Sometimes we can only groan with the groanings of the Spirit. You hear our groanings. You understand. And You will answer. And so we continue to prepare ourselves a living sacrifice to You, and send up to You with that daily sacrifice our prayer… continually looking up to You, watching, waiting, anticipating Your Answer. For this is our confidence in such prayer, in Spirit-inspired prayer, dear Father. You will answer. You will answer. You will answer.

In Jesus’ Name… Amen.

___________

Endnote:
The verb aw-rak’ [translated direct in the KJV] is the word used of laying the wood in order for the sacrifice, Lev 1:7, and the pieces of the sacrifice, Lev 1:8, Lev 1:12; Lev 6:5… The laying of the wood in order for the morning offering of a lamb (Lev 6:5 [Lev 6:12], cf. Num 28:4) was one of the first duties of the priest, as soon as the day began to dawn; the lamb was slain before sun-rise and when the sun appeared above the horizon laid piece by piece upon the altar. The morning prayer is compared to this morning sacrifice. This is in its way also a sacrifice…. As the priests, with the early morning, lay the wood and pieces of the sacrifices… upon the altar, so he brings his prayer before God as a spiritual sacrifice and looks out for an answer… perhaps as the priest looks out for fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice….
Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Psalm 5

Here are two of the references mentioned by Keil and Delitzsch:

And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire:
And the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: (Lev 1:7,8 KJV)

And the fire upon the altar shall be burning in it; it shall not be put out: and the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order upon it… (Lev 6:12)

 

It’s All About You

Reading time: 24 minutes. Heeding time: 24/7.

I must start by relating an unhappy experience from years ago. My wife and I were attending a conference unto which many had come from far and wide in Canada and the United States, among them several church leaders whom those gathered were expecting to hear. The first session got under way with the local pastor’s opening greetings followed by further greetings from one of the elders, and then a time of singing and praising the Lord. Then the pastor called for one of the leaders to share. These were all seated at the front. It was summer, and hot weather. Very hot. The little church was packed. There was no air conditioning. Here and there people waved back and forth whatever might serve as a fan. The speaker delivered his message, which was quite long, then walked to the back. From where I was sitting I could no longer see him. After him another preached, also at length. When he finished he too went to the back, and a third went up to the pulpit and spoke for a long while also, and followed suit and went to the back. After him a fourth, who also began a message as though there had been none before him. It was stifling in the building and the preaching had become wearying—there was no real continuity from preacher to preacher, no flow from message to message—so I whispered to my wife that I was going outside for a breath of fresh air. I went to the back and walked out the door. And lo and behold, here were the speakers visiting together just outside the door in the cool of the shade.

Feeling almost intrusive I went back inside trying to suppress an uncomfortable question. Were these speakers there for the people in the church on that very hot summer day, or were the people there for the speakers? Just deliver your message and then you are done? No thought—as shepherds of the flock—of staying inside with the sheep in the stifling heat? How does it happen—that sheep who become shepherds sometimes no longer consider themselves sheep? At the same time I was aware that this circle of believers themselves held those in the ministry to be in a class above them. Is that something the shepherds fostered? It seems to me they “loved to have it so.”

It was with an emptiness in my heart that later in the day we returned home.

Now I ask the Lord’s grace to help me proceed with what’s on my heart, for it’s beyond my capacity to write of this. It has to do with the love of God for His people the sheep of His pasture, and I hope it will open the eyes of our heart, that we might see, at least a little, with the eyes of the heart of God.

I’ll start with the words of Isaiah the prophet leading into his great cry of intercession on behalf of God’s people 700 years before the birth of Christ. “Look down from Heaven, and behold…” Isaiah cries, but he is so heartbroken and the situation so grievous that God looking down is not enough and so he continues, “O that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down…” God answered that prayer of intercession 700 years later. Or at least began to answer it.

But what I want to share just now is what I feel has been opened to me in the words leading up to that cry. Here from the King James Version are those words:

I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, and the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses.
For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour.
In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.
But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them.
Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him?
That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name?
That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble?
As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD caused him to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name.
(Isa 63:7-14 KJV)

That’s quite something, isn’t it. Moses, who for 40 years had tended the flock of Jethro his father-in-law is here called “the shepherd of his flock.” God’s flock. It appears that Moses never did have a flock of his own.

Moses His people

As I dwelt on this passage, reading it over several times, I was arrested when I noticed that in verse 11, “and” is in italics, having been added by the translators to give what they felt was the sense. “Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people…” For, how could it be saying, “Moses his people”? That makes no sense. Other translations have also sought to bridge the problem by inserting “and,” or by completely changing the word order. But Young’s Literal Translation preserves the word order, simply adding a dash between “Moses” and “his people,” even though in the original Hebrew not even a dash is there:

And He remembereth the days of old, Moses–his people. Where is He who is bringing them up from the sea, The shepherd of his flock? Where is He who is putting in its midst His Holy Spirit?” (Isa 63:11 YLT).

I thank the Lord for dear Brother Young’s faithfulness to the original Hebrew word order. “Moses—his people.” We would be tempted to at least insert a comma there so that it is a list of two. “Moses, His people.” Yet, I venture, neither does a comma capture what is here for us to get hold of. No sooner is the great leader Moses named than “his people,” God’s people, are in view. Such was the identification of Moses with God’s people. They were one in God’s eyes.

Amen to that; the apostle Paul confirms it, telling us that the Israelites were “baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:2). The same preposition eis is translated into in Galatians 3:27. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” In fact the English Majority Text Version has “baptized into Moses…” Thus God’s people became one with Moses, and he with them. God had no purpose for His people apart from Moses—and no purpose for Moses apart from His people.

And so, God brought them up out of the sea with Moses the shepherd of His flock. For, there was more, much more, to come. A law. A covenant. A revelation that God desired to actually dwell in the very midst of this people:

And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. (Ex 25:8).

The first thing to be made was an ark wherein the terms of the covenant were to be placed, and upon it a mercy seat:

And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel. (Exo 25:22 KJV)

Do we see God’s heart here? The mercy seat, or propitiatory covering, was God’s throne with an attending cherub on each side. God, when communing with Moses from this throne, this blood-sprinkled mercy seat in the Holy of holies in His dwelling place… it was with His people in mind. What Moses received from God was for His people.

After reading that I got digging around further in Exodus and came across the following intriguing passage in which I have drawn attention to the singular and plural pronouns. I am quoting from the American Standard Version, which correctly translates the King James Version “tabernacle of the congregation” as “tent of meeting” (the appointed place of meeting between Jehovah and His people). This passage follows instructions concerning the two lambs of the morning and evening sacrifice:

It shall be a continual burnt-offering throughout your generations at the door of the tent of meeting before Jehovah, where I will meet with you [plural], to speak there unto thee [singular].
And there I will meet with the children of Israel; and the Tent shall be sanctified by my glory.
And I will sanctify the tent of meeting, and the altar: Aaron also and his sons will I sanctify, to minister to me in the priest’s office. (Exo 29:42-44 ASV)

In verse 42 God says He will meet with “you” (plural) by speaking to “thee” (singular). God, in speaking “unto thee”—that is, unto Moses—is meeting with “you,” that is, the children of Israel, as He confirms in verse 43. “And there I will meet with the children of Israel.” God speaks with Moses in the tent of the appointed meeting, and in doing so He is meeting with the children of Israel in the tent of the appointed meeting.

What a wonder. I must say it again. For God to meet with Moses (or subsequently the high priest or one of his sons) in the tent of meeting was to meet with the people.

And is not this but a shadow of the reality of Christ and God’s people? God, in meeting with Christ in the heavenly Holy of holies… this is to meet with His people, those who by means of the Spirit of God have been baptized into Christ, as Israel of old was baptized into Moses.

Christ His people

Now, just to make sure no one is stumbled by the heading Christ His people, this is not to say that God’s new covenant people are Christ any more than it can be said that God’s old covenant people were Moses. Nevertheless, the unity between Christ and God’s people… we are on holy ground here. When Christ said He and His Father were one, this did not mean He was the Father. He said that the Father dwelt in Him and He in the Father; they were (and are) one. “I and My Father are one” (Jn 10:30). Even so, those baptized into Christ become one with Him as He is one with the Father. “At that day [in the day of the sending of His Spirit from the right hand of God] ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in Me, and I in you” (Jn 14:20).

And so when God communes with the great high priest of His people who is seated at His right hand in the Heavens, it is His people He is communing with, those who by the Spirit are one with Christ. Oh, what kind of heart, what love, is this? This is what I meant earlier when I said I wanted to write something that I didn’t feel capable of writing. I scarcely grasp this—how deeply our dear Lord Jesus Christ, our great high priest and king seated in the heavenly Holy of holies upon the blood-sprinkled mercy seat—the throne of grace—how deeply He was, and is, identified with us, the beloved people of God, the sheep of His pasture for whom He laid down His life. He is not there for His own sake, for power and glory and greatness, all of which and more is given to Him for our sake. He is there on our behalf in the heavenly Holy of holies “whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb 6:10). He entered there—by the way of the cross—for us.

For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. (Heb 9:24).

He is there for us. The Word becoming flesh—this we call the incarnation, in which He identified with man by being born a man. But it was not until the cross that His identification with man was completed in taking upon Himself our sin and being baptized into our death. Such was His identification with you and me. Such was His love. But it didn’t end there. It didn’t end there. He had a joy set before Him, and a promise—that when He ascended to the Father in the Heavens He might send the Spirit, baptizing us into Himself, that we might be fully identified with Him in His death and resurrection. And ascension. This, ultimately, is why He came. To baptize in Holy Spirit, that we might be one with Him. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.”

He came from the Father for our sake. He returned to the Father for our sake, where “He ever liveth to make intercession for us” (Heb 7:25). That is why He is there. He is there for us, to the intent that, because He lives, we may live also (Jn 14:19). He died for us. He also lives for us. For He is our great high priest in the power of an endless (indissoluble) life, that we too may live. “Because I live ye shall live also.” Christ had the sending of the Spirit in mind when He proclaimed this; the Holy Spirit in you and in me is the witness of that life/union. Moment by moment. Forever. “For he testifieth, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb 7:17).

This union of Christ and His people… sometimes it causes me to tremble. What a wonder it all is, and there is so much more that could be shared, too much to share just now. But I’ll leave you with one such passage that always leaves me wide-eyed with wonder.

There was given Him a kingdom…

I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Dan 7:13,14)

And so, after His ascension the Son of man received the kingdom from the Ancient of days. Yet when I continue reading Daniel Chapter 7, what is this?

But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever. (Dan 7:18 ASV, see also vs 22)

And this:

And the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High: his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. (Dan 7:27 ASV)

This was the joy that was set before Him, for which He endured the Cross. His joy was that our joy might be full.

Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  (Lk 12:31)

To whom did the Father, the Ancient of days, give the kingdom?

Oh, the heart of that Great Shepherd of the sheep, our great high priest, our Lord Jesus Christ. He had a joy set before Him. You.

It’s all about you

Those men I wrote of at the start. That was a long time ago, and over the years since then, the dealings and heart searchings of the Lord revealed to me that I’m no different than those men. What they were doing has lurked in my own heart also. So I continue to make it my earnest prayer—not as one who is considered a shepherd as they were, but I do teach a few of my fellow sheep—Lord, purge from my heart that lust which, while seeming to feed God’s sheep… I am actually feeding myself.

The Great Shepherd of the flock asked Peter a question. Did he love Him more than the other apostles did? Then, said He, “Feed My sheep.” That is the word of the Great Shepherd to one of his shepherds. That is His heart of love for His sheep. It’s all about them, shepherd Peter.

Moses, even when God told him he was to die without entering the promised land, his only concern was that God raise up someone else to lead the people, so that they  “be not as sheep which have no shepherd” (Num 27:17). As far as Moses was concerned, it was all about them. That is the Shepherd’s heart. The same with the shepherd-king David, who like Moses never did have a flock of his own. “So David knew that the LORD had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted His kingdom for the sake of His people Israel” (2 Sam 5:12). As far as David was concerned, it was all about God’s people. That’s who it was all about for Joshua, the man God gave the people after Moses. To him God said, “Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them” (Josh 1:6). Indeed, the honour roll of all the great ones in our Bible—they are the names of those who knew that their greatness was all about God’s beloved people.

Surely then, by their example, we also know that when God gives us knowledge, authority, a gift, a ministry… it is not to make of us some great one. It is with His people in mind. It is for their sake. The great apostle Paul (who considered himself the least of the apostles) knew this. He was so distressed that the saints in Corinth were glorying in him and his fellow-workers, and sought to show them that their perspective was upside down. It wasn’t all about Paul and Apollos and Peter; did the Corinthians not know that these men were but “ministers by whom ye believed?” Did they not know that they themselves were what it was all about?

Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s. (1 Cor 3:21-23 KJV)

This is the heart of true ministry. The priestly heart. The shepherd’s heart. May it be our own heart also. It was because of His love for the least of the saints that God raised up the great apostle Paul… and who knows how many others since the days of Paul, giving these, we are told, as “gifts unto men” (Eph 4:8).

We love those whom God has given us as gifts, don’t we. Paul himself urges us to “…know those labouring among you, and leading you in the Lord, and admonishing you, and to esteem them very abundantly in love, because of their work… (1 Th 5:12,13 YLT). I lay that to heart and it’s easy for me to do this—most of those I know personally are lowly minded with the shepherd’s heart for the sheep.

But let us never lose sight of who this is all about, the purpose God has in mind. The ascended Christ has given certain ministries to the saints—apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastor/teachers—for a purpose, as we know from that all-too-familiar yet little heeded passage in Ephesians. They are “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:12,13 NKJV).

 It’s all about them, and may that little word till be underscored in our hearts, that it may serve as a continual reminder to those in the ministry, and also to those unto whom they minister, that ministry is not an end in itself. God’s purpose in ministry is only fulfilled in His people coming into their own allotted inheritance and ministries, by which they themselves become vital and effective—as they greatly long to be—in building up the body of Christ in love. When that purpose is neglected or lost sight of, the temptation is for the ministries to fill the place that God means His people are to fill, the result being that the inheritance of the people—and God’s inheritance in them—lies forever forlorn and desolate.

Paul’s heart pulsed with the love of God for His people; he spent his life that they might come into what was their own in Christ.  He neither desired nor pursued any glory of his own; they would be his glory, as he told the Thessalonians:

For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
For ye are our glory and joy. (1 Thes 2:19,20)

And so I pray that those in the ministry, the shepherds of the flock of God—and all of us who might be tempted to unduly look to or even idolize them, as the Corinthians had been doing—will earnestly and prayerfully consider the great heart of the apostle Paul.

Oh, how the love of God for His people constrained him; he had in right perspective the relationship between the ministries and those to whom they minister. Oh, what a heart-searching revelation is here. I tremble to think how God views His people—the eternal purpose and hope He has in Christ Jesus for us all from the least to the greatest. It is, in a sense, all about us. “All are yours…”

“…And ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

 

 

A Loving Warning

As is my wont, I was reading in my Bible recently and came across this verse in 2 John:

Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.

I read that and continued reading… till I was suddenly arrested with the awareness that God was speaking to me. I turned back and read it again.

Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.

I knew what this word of warning from the Lord my keeper was about. I’m 75 now. On the home stretch. Not much time left. It’s ironic, then, that being more or less a shut-in, I find myself with a lot of time on my hands.

I remember from years ago a man who used to come up from the U.S. to Canada from time to time and minister in our midst. He was an older man who had retired from his job and now had time to travel, and one time he told us that when he retired he knew he faced a temptation, and had earnestly prayed, “Lord, keep me from pottering around the house.” Translated into my own life and circumstances, and heeding the word of my Lord to me, my own earnest watchcare and prayer is, “Lord, keep me from pottering around the internet.” I must continue to be vigilant, alert, lest, so close to the finish line, I am stumbled, and lose out on the reward of the things I have wrought. So I am thankful for my Lord’s loving warning, which resulted in some earnest heart searching.

I’m thankful for the internet—the wealth of spiritual help it has opened up, the wealth of friends I’ve made but never met face to face apart from Zoom gatherings. But the internet has its deadly dangers. You may not even be looking for it when suddenly pornography is right in your face. One must ever be on the alert. It’s the second look that takes the bait and catches the foot in the snare. One of my friends has told the story not once or twice of something he saw years ago in a National Geographic presentation. It showed a large snake lying as still as a stick, and a little chipmunk scampering back and forth along it, each time getting closer and closer to its jaws… when suddenly the snake pounced and that was the end of the chipmunk. Let us beware, brethren, of the peril in seeing how close we can get to the jaws of a snake without being caught and consumed.

But, while not outright pornography, there are countless things seemingly harmless on the internet that invite viewing and serve no other purpose than to rob us of our precious time. It’s this that the Lord was speaking to me about. And I don’t want to forget that Jesus said, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy…” (Jn 10:10). I don’t want to forget the order there—the end that the Thief has in mind when he is robbing me of my time while I am contentedly frittering away the precious minutes of my mortal life on things that do not profit the Lord or His people, or myself. Especially when in my old age the grains of sand in the glass are about run out.

George Fox of the early Friends warned that the young people were “going into the world.” An ever-present peril in our day as well. He also warned that the old people were “going into the earth.” They weren’t going on with Christ, they were in idle. In their old age they were contenting themselves with earthly things, unaware they were gradually losing the bloom known only by those who are in continual communion with the living Christ.

As I was considering these things a passage from Hosea came to mind:

Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned.
Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not. (Hos 7:8,9)

Strangers have devoured his strength… Is not this what happened to the mighty Samson? What was his strength but his nazarite vow of holiness? Yet here he is intermingling himself with the unholy… and the next thing, he is in chains and his eyes are put out and he is grinding grain for the Philistines. We are told that he “wist not [was not aware] that the LORD had departed from him.” That took place suddenly. But how he got there didn’t happen in a moment. It was so gradual that he wasn’t aware he was in serious trouble.

That, apparently, is what happened to Ephraim. Something was gradually happening to him, and he wasn’t aware of it. He was mingling with the unholy, and they devoured his strength. And he didn’t know it. He was getting weak, and didn’t know it.

He was growing old… and didn’t know it. “Ephraim… gray hairs are here and there upon him, and he knoweth it not.” Gray hairs… oldness. But Hosea, how can anyone prevent aging? But this is the voice of prophecy speaking of those who would come to know the new birth in Christ, in whom we may have the ever-youthful raven-black hair of the beloved in the Song of Solomon. What’s that about? Surely it speaks of a new way of thinking, a mind in which there is nothing of the old man, but rather knows a continual renewing, the inner man being renewed day by day in spite of the outer man going the way of all the earth.

And so, Allan, there is no excuse for growing old when you grow old, as happened to Ephraim, unawares to himself. Where was his watchfulness? “Ephraim is a cake not turned.” Overdone on one side, underdone on the other. One side hard, the other side doughy. Hardly the fragrant bread of God’s table. How could this happen if the baker were attentive to the baking? The whole picture is one of a failure of daily watchfulness to maintain present-ness with God.

Words of assurance, words of warning

There is abundant provision in God at the throne of grace for us to maintain this present-ness and continue steadfast and faithful unto the end. God will always be faithfully speaking so as to keep us safe from all evil—if for my part I am hearing and heeding His leadings. If not, this is an indication of dullness on my part. If so I must be chastened. I must be stirred. I must be awakened. Hence, the many loving warnings of Scripture.

Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.

It is a serious error in doctrine when we “doctrinalize” statements like this as not pertaining to the truly regenerate. The promises of God are real. The warnings accompany the promises because the possibility of falling short is also real.

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor 10:12)

Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. (2 Pt 3:17)

The word beware… it means be aware of. Be mindful that it is possible for the righteous to be led away with the error of the wicked. Peter follows with words of comforting encouragement:

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. (2 Pt 3:18)

In his first epistle also Peter combines these two—the warning and the comfort:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are  accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Pt 5:8-11)

I lay these words of Peter to heart, coming as they do from one who missed it badly because he had failed to lay to heart His Lord’s exhortation to “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41).

About the same time I “happened upon” the warning in 2 John, I was reading by “coincidence” a book by A.B. Simpson called Joshua and The Land of Promise. (It’s actually a combination of two books by those titles.) In the chapters toward the end of the second he sets forth side by side words of assurance, and words of warning.

In closing, here are excerpts from those chapters. I found them convicting.

From a chapter called Inheriting:

Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the LORD said unto him, Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed. (Josh 13:1)

And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the LORD God of your fathers hath given you? (Josh 18:3)

The word slack implies they were indolent, and quite satisfied with their present condition. There was a lack of holy energy and aspiration after the inheritance promised. They were taking things easy. They were little concerned about failure and sin…. They were breathing the atmosphere of the enchanted ground. Have you never, perhaps even while on your knees, had such an influence thrown over you—the very anodyne of Satan, who would thus lull your spiritual senses to sleep? How it has made you shrink from the pain of holy inspiration, and made you willing to fall back into a passive contentment. God is calling you to press forward, to “lay aside every weight,” and  “be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Is this your spiritual state, beloved? If not, ask the Lord to awaken you out of your sleep. There may come a very terrible awakening some day if you do not.

*****

The day will soon come when you, too, will be old and stricken in years. Time is rushing by; God has not given you a day too many. They are going fast. Suppose they should stop tomorrow, and you never have another opportunity to gain a victory for Him. You would give all the world for a chance to resist temptation, or for another hard place in  which to glorify God as you had before dishonored Him. The days once gone can never come back. You will not pass this way again.

There will be no chance in heaven to learn holiness, to have patience with unholy people, or to love your enemies….

If you find difficulties in your homes, or enemies in your own heart, or trouble anywhere in your life, God has given them to you as opportunities for victory. There you will find the crown of glory and the land of promise. It is always the place where God plants His paradises. Eden is always in the midst of a wilderness….

When He wanted a capital, He sent David to take a hill so difficult to capture that its inhabitants laughed at him, and defended it with the blind and lame. Yet David conquered it, and it became the Zion of the Lord, the holiest, dearest place in all the world forever.

From a chapter called The Danger of Declension:

Therefore we find the New Testament epistles, where they speak of the highest possibilities of Christian experience, most urgently warning the believer against the danger of backsliding, calling us to ceaseless vigilance and constant obedience. Even where God’s eternal faithfulness is most securely pledged to keep us, we are called upon all the more to exercise a spirit of watchfulness and constant dependence on HIs all-sufficient grace.

Hence, we find John saying in one breath, “The anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you,” and yet in the next, “Now, little children, abide in Him.” We find Jude pointing us to Him that is able to keep us from falling, and yet enjoining us to “keep ourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”

We find Peter saying, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations,” but adding in the same epistle, “Beloved, beware lest ye also be led away with the error of the wicked and fall from your own steadfastness,” and again assuring us that “His divine power hath give us all things that pertain to life and godliness,” but also charging us to give diligence to make our calling and election sure, “for if we do these things we shall never fail.”

And while Paul can exclaim, in the language of the sublimest confidence, “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him against that day;” yet he also charges Timothy in the same epistle, “That good thing that was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost that dwelleth in thee.” “Watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”

And to the Corinthians:

“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” But lest this should be too strong it is followed by the word of assurance, “God is faithful and will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” And then the balance is made complete by the final word of gentle warning, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.” There is no discouragement, but there is no presumption; the danger is real, but the security is ample; not, however, for blind, presuming rashness, but for watchful, humble, holy, and persevering obedience.

The Bible is no system of cast-iron dogmas, but the wise, firm and gentle hand of a loving teacher and guide, adjusting its message to our situation and condition, whether of depression or false security. If in an attitude of wilful disobedience, it has no absolute promise of unconditional security, but words of stern and terrible awakening and warning; but for humble trust and watchful obedience it has nothing but encouragement and the assurance of God’s everlasting faithfulness and love.

There is, then, real danger of declension, even on the part of a consecrated Christian, should he for  one moment become separated from Christ, or relax His vigilance and constant dependence. Sanctification is not a state of infallible holiness, but a place of dependence upon Christ and abiding communion with Him. “He that abideth in Him sinneth not,” but “apart from Me ye can do nothing.” And the strongest saint will, like Simon Peter, make the most desperate failure whenever he trusts his own strength, or attempts to stand alone.

Indeed, we are never truly safe till, like Peter, we have learned our constant danger and our need of Jesus every moment. Nor let us forget that declension after consecration would be for us a fearful thing. The most terrific declensions of the world’s history have usually originated with those who have had much light before. And failure, after all that the Lord has brought us into, would be utterly sad and unutterably disastrous.

Beloved, let us abide in Him, let us put on the whole armour of God, that we may stand against the wiles of the Devil, let us adhere faithfully to His holy Word, and walk in obedience to all His commandments, and above all, let us depend implicitly upon His keeping, fearing to take one step alone. We fear not while He holds our hand and leads us safely in the most difficult paths, and makes us “walk upon our high places.”

Rejoicing Unto The End

There is a theme running through the book of Hebrews—the theme of God finishing His work. The Greek word teleos in various forms appears 21 times in Hebrews. In the English of the King James Version we have it as, full age, perfect, perfection, end, finisher.

We also find over and over again the words faith, and patience, and endurance.

We read of confidence and hope; we are urged to “hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Heb. 3:6). Hope, then, is a confident companion always rejoicing, whom Faith and Patience and Endurance are to hold fast to them all along the way.

The Greek word translated rejoicing here is found 11 times in the New Testament. Five times it’s translated rejoicing in the King James Version and six times boasting or glorying. The thought seems to be that the hope is so sure that one may rejoice  in having the hope as one would boast in having finally received it.

The writer likens himself and his readers to competitors in a race—it’s no hundred-yard dash, it’s a marathon—and he exhorts, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith [lit. the faith] who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Here again is that companionship of joy and endurance.

Personally I have always felt I lack this joy to a great extent in my own walk… at least when I compare myself with others. I wish I could be more ebullient the way some people are. Joy just bubbles out of them. But then I will get reading some passage of Scripture, or hear a certain Word in my heart, and… oh, the joy that wells up in me from some hidden spring within! So I must be careful to guard against comparing myself with others.

Another thing I must guard against is introspection, and looking on the dark side of things—looking ahead with foreboding instead of with hope. The book of Hebrews helps me here, too. The word promise appears in Hebrews 18 times (as a noun or verb), more than in any other book of the Bible. So I need to be more disciplined in this area, and do some spiritual gardening. I must not water the plantings of darkness; in fact if any have taken root I must root them out. I must seek to cultivate and water only the plantings of the Lord, the hope of the promise that is assured us. I must “hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”

The implication is that in our journey through the wilderness of life it can be lost. But it need not be lost—although to maintain it will require diligence. God has provision for us to rejoice in hope every step of our Christian walk as we bear His end in mind. This does not mean we are never burdened with sorrows. But even in sorrow there is always that certain joy in us that no man or circumstance can take from us. We may be sorrowful, but are always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10). Rejoicing in hope! (Rom. 12:12).

Jesus was faithful… as Moses was faithful

Moses was faithful to fulfill the old covenant and to build the tabernacle. He reared up the tabernacle and set all things in order, and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it. “So Moses finished the work” (Ex. 40:34). The writer of Hebrews assures us that Jesus also was faithful to Him that appointed Him.

Wherefore holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus,
Who was faithful to Him that appointed Him, as also Moses was faithful in all His house. (Heb. 3:1,2)

Note the past tense in that passage—it’s that certain. Christ Jesus was faithful to complete the work God gave Him to do. And so the writer continues:

And Moses verily was faithful in all His House as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; but Christ as a Son over His own House, whose House are we, if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Heb. 3:5,6)

In His high priestly prayer our Lord Jesus said, “I have glorified Thee on the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (Jn. 17:4). He confirmed this at the Cross, proclaiming, “It is finished.” Why then does the writer of Hebrews confirm that Christ was faithful, and yet speak of a work still in progress, and an end yet to come? But it’s the end of the Gospel he has in mind, the work that Christ is involved in now at the right hand of God, as He works to fulfill in us what He finished, what He accomplished, at the Cross.  Yes, it’s true—the work God gave Him to do while on earth He finished faithfully.  But now at the right hand of the Father He has a heavenly work that is not yet finished—which is to bring the new covenant people fully into the work He completed on Calvary’s cross. Thus this exhortation in Hebrews—that we are to hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.  Or as he says later in the epistle, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23 NKJV). If we do this, we have the assurance that our Lord Jesus Christ will be faithful to fulfill the new covenant in us, as Moses was faithful to fulfill the old.

This then is our question: how do we do this? How do we discover God’s provision so that we may hold the same joy we started out with all the way through our Christian journey?

First let’s note what happened to our fathers in the wilderness under Moses—and I’m thinking of that great intercessory prayer of Moses when he sees them one by one perishing in the wilderness. They had started out rejoicing.  But didn’t finish that way. At least, most of them didn’t finish that way. They died in the wilderness never seeing the promised land. This was the sentence God had passed on the faithless generation who refused to enter His rest. They would wander forty years in the wilderness till they all had died. Moses sees it happening before his eyes:

For we are consumed by Thine anger, and by Thy wrath are we troubled.
Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance.
For all our days are spent in Thy wrath; we spend our years as a tale that is told…
Who knoweth the power of Thine anger? Even according to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath. (Ps. 90:7-11)

It seems he is saying that the measure of God’s wrath upon His disobedient and unbelieving people was in proportion to the fear, the reverence, they had withheld from Him when they refused to believe Him and go into the land He had called them to enter. Yet Moses is interceding. How he loved the people.

Return, O LORD, how long?  And let it repent Thee concerning Thy servants.
O satisfy us early with Thy mercy…
Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants, and Thy glory unto their children.
And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us…”

“Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants…” Moses is burdened to see God finish what He started—that beautiful work of God that His hand alone can create, and in which His people had rejoiced that wonderful day when He brought them through the Red Sea on dry land. How they rejoiced and danced that day. And Moses sang and danced with them.

I will sing unto the LORD, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea. (Ex. 15:1)

What tremendous hope surged in their hearts that day! The days of bondage in the iron furnace were over! Wonderful things were before them!  Their God had brought them out of Egyptian bondage, and He was bringing them into their own inheritance. He would deal with the enemies in front of them as He had done to those behind them, who were sunk in the waters of the Red Sea never to be seen again.

“The people shall hear, and be afraid; sorrow shall take hold of the inhabitants of Palestina” (Ex. 15:14). The word is stronger in the Hebrew. Sorrow would seize the inhabitants of Canaan like a woman in travail. They would quake with fear at their pending doom.

Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold of them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away.
Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of Thy power they shall be as still as a stone, till Thy people pass over, O LORD, till Thy people pass over, which Thou hast purchased.
Thou shalt bring them in and plant them in the Mountain of Thine inheritance, in the place O LORD, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established.
The LORD shall reign for ever and ever. (Ex. 15:15-18)

It’s a tremendous prophecy, and they all rejoiced that day at the victory that was behind them and the glory that was before them. But it was not long before their rejoicing disappeared in the desert sand. The word of promise had not disappeared; it was their faith that had failed. This is how they lost their joy. The wilderness walk had discouraged them, as did the report their spies brought back after seeing the giants in the land before them. The prospect of giant enemies before them robbed them of their faith. They refused to go forward. They turned back in their hearts to Egypt. And lost their joy.

Paul tells us these things are written for our instruction. We too look back over our shoulder and remember the wonderful day when we first rejoiced in our salvation, and God began to unfold before our eyes what He had in mind to do. There was great joy in receiving the word. But now? These difficult times. This desolate wilderness. The word of promise seems to have fallen on hard times. And what’s ahead, though we cannot see, we guess and fear.

The rejoicing of the hope

That kind of thinking is so demeaning to us, and to our God. He wants us to find His provision—and that provision is there for us—to continue rejoicing, regardless what circumstances we are now in. He want us to “hold the beginning of our confidence… and the rejoicing of the hope firm (or, steadfast) unto the end” (Heb. 3.6,14). I am sure the writer of Hebrews has in mind here the crossing of the Red Sea I just referred to:

There did we rejoice in Him. (Ps. 66:6).

There…? What about here? What about now? God has provision for us to continue rejoicing every step of the way. Where are we to find His provision? Israel of old didn’t find it. In that waste and howling wilderness their rejoicing ceased. Their confidence withered. Instead of overcoming in the wilderness, they were overthrown in the wilderness.

I appreciate the Book of Hebrews very much.  Sometimes I’m intrigued as to who might have written it; they’re forever debating this. Does it matter? I marvel at the perception and insight the writer had by the Holy Spirit, and I am content to leave it at that. Hebrews is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—the Holy Spirit, whose one great commission is to lead us into all the truth. And because that is so, He is ready to provision and equip us to apprehend the full intent of God without giving up anywhere along the way—as that early generation of Hebrews did in the days of Moses—and as the Jews who had newly turned to Christ were tempted to do. It was these (in about 65 AD or thereabouts) that the writer of Hebrews was addressing. And so he exhorts them—and the words fall on our ears now—to fear falling short of the promise as those in the wilderness fell short.

Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. (Heb. 4:1).

Over and over again we are warned that this is the temptation—falling short. Yet how many times over the centuries has this happened? The problem is never the obstacle itself. The problem is never the trial itself. God is always greater than them all, is He not?  Where is the real problem, then?

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. (Heb 3:12).

…If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. (Heb. 10:38)

…Looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God. (Heb 12:15).

Those are the warnings. But with the warnings, God shows us the way to apprehend His provision so that we receive the full reward. He has a great and rich store of provision that will enable us to rejoice to the end. And where do we find this provision?

The throne of grace

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)

If we are to be sure that we—together with our brother, our sister—don’t fail the grace of God and arrive with exceeding joy at His end, we must persist in coming unto the throne of grace—yes, especially when that’s the hardest thing to do—in time of need. In the time of sore trial, in the time of desperate need, that’s precisely when we need to come to the throne of grace. And are invited to do so. We are exhorted to come boldly to the throne of grace. Let nothing hinder us. I know by experience there are times when it seems very difficult, nigh unto impossible, to “get through” to the throne of grace. But we are exhorted to persist in this. The throne of grace is the blood-sprinkled mercy seat of God, the place of the Atonement. On the basis of the Atonement we are assured of access to God, and thus of His provision—the grace that will enable us to overcome every trial, every enemy… every step of the way. Like the old song, “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater…” If the needs grow greater, if the trials and the enemies grow greater, we discover at the throne of grace the greater grace we need to continue rejoicing “unto the end.”

As we read the passage carefully we discover that the provision for this rejoicing is found in obedience. The writer says, “…Whose house are we if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” But then he says, “Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith) Today if ye will hear His Voice, harden not your hearts…” Notice the word wherefore. In other words, if instead of hardening our hearts we are responsive to His Voice, we will discover His provision for our trial, and will be able to rejoice in every step He calls us to take.

God never calls us to take a single step forward that is anything other than obedience to His will. He doesn’t set new territory before us and tell us to propel ourselves forward by our own ingenuity and resources and strength. He makes His will known to us that we may please Him by walking in it (Col. 1:9,10). Going forward then is a matter of obedience to His will, which is always accompanied by His enabling grace. And so as we follow through on His leading we know the true joy of the Lord—He Himself being with us—even in the midst of very difficult and even impossible things.

Finishing the course with joy

Hebrews is about God fulfilling His great eternal purposes. So He sets them before us so we don’t lose sight of them. Bringing many sons unto Glory.  The eternal inheritance. The Rest of God. The Heavenly calling of the royal priesthood. A City which hath foundations. Mount Zion. The new covenant…  Tremendous truths are laid out before our eyes. The best of all—the mediator of the new, the better covenant, Jesus Himself!

And, as we said at the outset, He speaks of a race that is set before us. We are in a race, and we must continue to look steadfastly to the finish line. “…Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher (teleoten) of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross…” (Heb. 12:2). He had joy even in the Cross, our Lord Jesus did, because of the hope that was set before Him.

Paul too had the same hope of finishing his course with joy.

…But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy… (Acts 20:24)

And he did just that.

We too can finish our course with joy.

Let us run with patience the race that is set before us… (Heb. 12:1)

That is our Lord’s provision for us to finish the race with joy: His patience, His endurance… His confidence.

Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.
For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.
For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.
Now the just shall live by faith… (Heb. 10:35-38).

God is saying, for My part, I am going to finish what I started. I give you My Word, My promise. And I give you My oath. I will be faithful. I will do what I have said. For your part, trust Me, believe Me.

Do we believe Him?  That’s our part.  For our part, for us to finish the race with joy, this is going to require patience, and endurance, and obedience.  And faith.

Israel of old fell short of their inheritance. They did not finish the race because they didn’t believe in their God. Seriously? They didn’t believe in God? That’s what Scripture discloses, regardless of what they said with their mouths. “They believed not in God…” (Ps. 78:22). The writer of Hebrews says the same thing.  “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb. 3.19). It was not because the wilderness trials or their enemies were too much for them. It was because of their own hardness of heart. They did not believe in their God, who had all the provision necessary to enable them to triumph in all things, and continue rejoicing… every step of the journey, regardless of the increasing magnitude of their trials in the wilderness or the size of their enemies before them.

And so He says to us, to you and to me:

TODAY, if ye will hear His Voice, harden not your hearts…

If for our part we will continue to believe Him, and obey His Voice in every step of obedience He bids us take, we can trustingly leave the rest up to Him. In every step of obedience a step at a time we will discover the well of joy springing up again right there in our wilderness.

 

Gog, Magog, And The Beloved City

“It’s the fulfillment of prophecy right before our eyes!”

That was the very excited comment of someone on social media regarding the news February 24 that Russian President Vladimir Putin had launched the invasion of Ukraine. She had in mind the popular interpretation of Ezekiel’s prophecy about Gog of the land of Magog in “the north parts”—that this is Russia and its leader, who spearheads a coalition of other nations and swoops down on Israel intent on its utter destruction, resulting in their own utter destruction by God.

I doubt that this will be the result of Russia’s present aggression, and I doubt that this is the right interpretation of Ezekiel Chapters 38 and 39. Here are verses 14 to 16 of Chapter 38 in the King James Version:

Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say unto Gog, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In that day when my people of Israel dwelleth safely, shalt thou not know it?
And thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts, thou, and many people with thee, all of them riding upon horses, a great company, and a mighty army:
And thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be in the latter days, and I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen may know me, when I shall be sanctified in thee, O Gog, before their eyes.

In verse 8 of that chapter we find that this prophecy is to take place in “the latter years.” This no doubt accounts for the expectation among those who have “end-time” things mapped out that the fulfillment of this prophecy is imminent. A quick search revealed dozens of internet sites proclaiming that Gog and Magog speak cryptically of Russia, giving various permutations and combinations as to who the other nations are.

What I did not find was a single site that included in the interpretation the New Testament reference to God and Magog—Revelation 20:7-10. I did find one site that mentioned this passage, but it did not include an interpretation. It’s possible there may be such sites; I didn’t do an exhaustive search.

But is it not very short sighted to explain Old Testament prophecy while ignoring further revelation in the New Testament?

Vision with greater light

Here is a rule that I’ve written into the flyleaf of my Bible:

All Old Testament Scripture must be viewed and interpreted in the light of the new covenant of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Surely we agree that this is so, we who have come to God and are joined to Him by Jesus Christ in new covenant relationship. This means the shining forth of the True Light, the reality who cast all the shadows of the law, revealing the intent of all Old Testament types and all its prophecies. If you stand in doubt of this, simply go through your New Testament and peruse every place where an Old Testament passage is quoted, and discover the kind of light the apostles of the new covenant were seeing by.

This rule accords with something theologian B.B. Warfield wrote:

The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted; the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or even not at all perceived before.

Amen. With this in mind along with the rule I mentioned above, let’s read the New Testament passage:

And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Rev 20: 7-10 KJV

It may be well to note right here the first six verses of Chapter 20. This does not take place till after the thousand year reign of Christ and His kingdom of priests. Personally I’m not convinced that the “thousand years” is to be interpreted literally; I think it is a symbolic number, as many if not all the numbers in Revelation are.

But let’s look further at verses 7 to 10. This was written by the Spirit-inspired new covenant apostle John. Now, what has he, or rather, the Holy Spirit, done? Has He overlooked a lot of detail included in the Ezekiel passage? Or has He distilled it to its essence? Let me put it this way. Is He not shining brighter light on something hitherto dimly lighted?

Two things are of note.

1. The forces involved in this aggression are “the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth.” John sums them up as “Gog and Magog.” That’s how it reads—“…the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog. In fact New Testament Greek scholar A.T. Robertson (Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament) points out that this is implicit in the inflection of the original Greek:

Gog and Magog (ton Gōg kai Magōg). Accusative in explanatory apposition with ta ethnē (the nations).

What Robertson means by the “accusative in explanatory apposition” is that “Gog and Magog” explains what is meant by “the nations.” That is new covenant light shining upon an Old Testament passage of Scripture. There is no thought here of Russia being the instigator or perpetrator of this rampage. Gog and Magog are “the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth… the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.” Note that. This means that if Russia were Gog (and I don’t accept that this is correct interpretation) then the nations in other quarters of the earth would include, well, you name it. The United States, for one. The United Kingdom. Germany. Aligned with Russia. All the nations are gathered together for this battle. (However, I don’t think that “nations” as we read of them in the Bible are geopolitical entities, but rather people groups. Goyim is the Hebrew word, meaning Gentiles, ethnos the Greek.)

2. And what is the objective of these deceived hosts? With whom are they intent upon doing battle?

And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city…

What is the “camp of the saints?” We can be sure that the new covenant apostle is speaking of new covenant saints—those, whether Jew or Gentile, who are set apart unto God in Christ Jesus. The Greek word for camp is used of a military force or fortress. The camp of the saints, then, is one with their beloved city; they are armed and ready to defend her to the death.

And what city is “the beloved city”? Of course this city is Jerusalem. But which Jerusalem? The only Jerusalem we read of in the Revelation is the new Jerusalem (3:12, 21:2), the holy Jerusalem (21:10). John calls her “the beloved city.” He is not waxing sentimental here; he is alluding to an Old Testament passage, as he does hundreds of times in the Revelation. This—the beloved city—is  surely one of them, bringing Psalm 87 to mind. Here it is from the English Standard Version, which I think in two or three places expresses the meaning more clearly than the King James:

On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.
Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God. Selah.
Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush— “This one was born there,” they say.
And of Zion it shall be said, “This one and that one were born in her”; for the Most High himself will establish her.
The LORD records as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.” Selah.
Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in you.”
Psalm 87 ESV

Is this psalm speaking of the earthly Jerusalem? But mention is made of Rahab (Egypt) and Babylon, Philistia and Tyre and Cush among them that say, “This one was born there.” As the Lord registers the peoples of the earth, He makes note of that. “This one was born there.” “This one and that one…” So surely this is prophetic of the city of God, the beloved city, that is home to redeemed Jews and Gentiles who are one in Christ Jesus regardless of where they reside on the earth. It is this Jerusalem, the “Jerusalem which is above,” that Paul proclaims “is the mother of us all,” that is, of all who are “born of the Spirit” (Gal 4:26,29).

So, according to new covenant revelation it’s not really earth-bound Israel that an unleashed Satan is out to destroy with the help of Gog and Magog, the deceived of “the nations in the four quarters of the earth.” It is “the camp of the saints, and the beloved city.” It is one last-ditch all-out onslaught aimed at annihilating the people of God—those who, whether Jew or Gentile, are in covenant relationship with Him by Jesus Christ.

And fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.

Such is the love of God for His beloved city the church in which all men and women are one in Christ, with birth certificates proving their new birth in her. Whether from Rahab or Babylon, or Russia or Ukraine, or China or Canada or Palestine or Israel or wherever… this one, and that one, are walking in love together, dancing and singing together, “All my springs are in you.”

 

 

 

Going To Heaven?

“Going to Heaven” is so common a phrase describing the Christian’s hope when days on earth are done that you’d think it would be found in the Bible more often than it is. How often is that? Brace yourself. None at all.

Here is what was on the mind of the apostle Paul when he wrote from prison to the saints in Philippi. He wrote that he was in a strait—hard pressed between two things.  The one was that the saints here on earth needed him, and on that account he was confident of his release through their prayers and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. This, Paul wrote, was “according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phi 1:20,21 NKJV).

And so Paul anticipated that if he lived, Christ would be magnified in his body. And—the other side of the strait—if he died? What gain did he have in mind?

For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. (Phi 1:23 NKJV)

There it is, the other thing that pressed hard upon him, which he called “far better”—the desire to “break camp” (for so the word depart implies) and… go to Heaven? But it wasn’t Heaven that was on his mind. It was to be with his beloved Lord Jesus Christ who loved him and had died for him, and whom he had come to know and love in sharing His sufferings here on earth.

And where is Christ? Yes, in Heaven, and of course the habitation of the saints who have gone on is in Heaven. But going to Heaven was not the yearning of the apostle, but rather to be with Christ Himself, as we discover also in the rapture passage:

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thes 4:17)

“With the Lord.” That’s what Heaven was all about for Paul… being with his beloved Lord Jesus.

This is just as, for Christ Himself, returning to Heaven was all about being with the Father.

But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? (Jn 16:5).

I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father. (Jn 16:28)

Christ desired to be with the Father. And where is the Father? “Our Father, who is in heaven…” (Mt 6:9)

And His great desire was and still is that His own be with Him there:

Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (Jn. 17:24 NKJV)

If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. (Jn 12:26).

Those two verses are joined together in an old hymn:

O Jesus, Thou hast promised
To all who follow Thee,
That where Thou art in glory
There shall Thy servant be.

Yes, but those who love Him desire to be with Him even though it mean sharing in His suffering and shame. Such was the love of Ittai the Gittite for David the king at the time of Absalom’s coup. It looked like David had lost the kingdom, so he gathered his few faithful followers and prepared to leave Jerusalem behind. When he saw his friend Ittai and his men among those following, David urged him to go back. Foreigner that he was, and already an exile (from Gath of the Philistines), he need not jeopardize his life like this. “Return and remain with the king,” David said. (Quite something, that David called Absalom king.) But it wasn’t securing his own life and interests that was in Ittai’s heart. It was David himself who was in his heart. And he continued to call him king.

And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the LORD liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be. (2 Sam 15:21)

What love. And such is the love of those who have come to know the King of kings in the days of His humiliation and rejection—in the days of our sojourning here in this present evil Christ-hating world. To follow Him, to serve Him, to be with Him wherever He is… this is all we desire.

It’s all He desires.

I am reminded of the repentant thief on the cross who asked the Lord beside him to remember him when He came in His kingdom. “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be… in paradise” (Lk 23:43). Paradise? It’s the same word that the Septuagint translators used for the Garden of Eden. “Today you will be… in the Garden.” How wonderful is that; who could want more? But did you notice that I left out two words? “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” What is Paradise without this One, who so loved a dying thief that He was laying down His own life for him at that very moment, desiring that he live with Him forever in the Paradise of God?

This reminds me of Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661). He was a Scottish pastor who was a Nonconformist—that is, one who refused to “conform” to the required procedures of the Church of England. For this he was deprived of his ministry in Anwoth in southwest Scotland, was exiled to Aberdeen in the north, and barred from preaching anywhere in Scotland “for the duration of the King’s pleasure.” It was during his two years in Aberdeen that Rutherford wrote many letters which were eventually compiled and published. In the earlier letters he often wrote with sorrow of his temptation to believe it was the Lord Himself who had been displeased with him and had therefore removed him from his duties as pastor. This caused him deep anguish; he felt defeated, and wrestled with doubt and discouragement and depression—along with the pain of being separated from the flock of God he loved so much, grieving that they were left to hands of hirelings and  the jaws of wolves. But then he made a discovery. Over and over he would write of Jesus coming to him in such times, coming to him and communing with him His love for him, a love the depth of which he had not known before, but had discovered in the fellowship of His sufferings. Oh how this love raptured his heart.

And Rutherford came to love Him as never before, to the extent that, although he wrote profusely of going to Heaven in his letters, he wrote also this:

“If heaven were at my disposing, I would give it for Christ, and would not be content to go to heaven, except I were persuaded that Christ were there.”

Selah.

 

Government And Peace

Let me sketch you a picture out of a children’s storybook as best I recall it from my childhood. Perhaps you’ve seen something like it yourself—a castle high on a hill, and below it the whole kingdom round about inhabited by happy and contented people. Throughout the land a stream wends its way; along its banks are fields and orchards, abundance for all. The people live without fear, safe and secure from all alarms and enemies because of the king who resides in the castle and protects them. He is a great king, and powerful. He watches over his kingdom night and day lest any attempt to invade it and disturb its peace.

What a lovely picture, eh? If only… Yes, if only it were real. If only we could live in that picture instead of in the real world with its troubles of the present and forebodings of the future. Peace and Confidence (transients from the world) have packed up and left the home of the heart; the unwelcome intruders Anxiety and Fear have moved in, and growing numbers can’t evict them. Neither, it seems, can their government. Thus, many these days have lost faith in their government; they are anxious and angry about the things their government is doing. Or not doing.

Oh that they might discover the reality of which my storybook picture is but a wistful imagination, and delight themselves in a peace that the world with all its governments cannot give. Here is that reality in the words of a prophecy 700 years before it began to be fulfilled, and which continues to this day, and shall forever:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (Isa 9:6,7 KJV)

Here then is the king, and here is His throne and His kingdom. Its government, its rule, is upon His shoulder—it is His responsibility—and He is more than up to the job; it only takes one of His shoulders, the other, as someone has said, He reserves for His lambs.

The promise is that “of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end…” Those two words government and peace are one. His government is peace.  Peace is His government. Dearly beloved, let this lay hold of us. In vain do we seek peace apart from His government in our lives. But when we have bowed the knee and the heart to this king, His government, that is to say His peace, rules over us and in us and nothing can disquiet it.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom…” There is the seat of His government—the throne of David. This reminds me of the prophecy of the priest Zacharias upon the birth of his son John the Baptist. The time of the fulfillment of prophecy and promise, of an oath and a covenant, had arrived. It’s a lengthy prophecy so I’ll compress it here (but I encourage you to read it in full; even if you’ve read it many times it’s well worth savouring again).

Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David…” (Lk 1:67-69 NKJV). This, then, is a prophecy of a coming king in the line of David. The horn in Scripture is symbolic of power, and the result of this power is “salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all that hate us…” Zacharias knew his Bible; he is almost quoting from it here: “for the LORD hath spoken of David, saying, By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies” (2 Sam 3:18). Zacharias continued: “…To grant that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” So this deliverance from, this salvation from, is also salvation to. Under this king’s rule his subjects are not only liberated from their enemies, they are also provisioned with the grace of holiness and righteousness so that they may to serve their God without fear, for their enemies cannot penetrate His domain, fear is banished, and sin can no longer molest.

And so it is from the throne of David that this king’s kingdom—His government and peace—is ruled. The king of this kingdom, the Son of David, reigns on the throne of David in the castle of His kingdom high on the hill Zion at the right hand of God. It is from this throne in the heavens that His kingdom is administered here in the earth—by the Holy Spirit sent from that throne. Oh that we might be awakened to the reality of this. To be led by the Spirit of God is to be governed by the throne of God. Beloved, when that Government is in our hearts, its peace is inviolable. For the very throne of God is in that peace, and His throne is inviolable.

Be careful for nothing

Here’s another New Testament passage that has this same government and peace in mind:

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6,7 KJV)

That’s from the old King James version of 1611. The word through here is a mistranslation of the Greek word en. Newer translations have “in Christ Jesus.”

And some of the words in the KJV have lost the meaning they had back then. For careful other translations now have anxious. That is, full of care. Be not full of care, but careless, or rather carefree, by bringing every care in prayer to God. That is the emphasis here. “…Let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God that passeth all understanding shall keep…” As in another much-loved verse in Isaiah: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isa 26:3). Note who it is that does the keeping. “Thou wilt keep..” The perfect peace is the evidence of a mind stayed on God, it is the evidence of trust in God. It’s quite something that the word trust here (Heb batach) is elsewhere translated careless. “Rise up, ye women that are at ease; hear my voice, ye careless daughters; give ear unto my speech. Many days and years shall ye be troubled, ye careless women…” (Isa 32:9,10). Careless is the same word translated trust. You mean when we trust God it’s okay to be careless? Apparently, yes. Not in our walk, this is not advocating a lax walk. But we can breathe a sigh of relief, can relax, be no longer on edge. We may be careless even in the midst of cares. We may not be “out of the woods,” but we may “sleep in the woods” (Ez 34:25). That’s pretty careless, wouldn’t you say? Better stay awake and worry. Not when we are in the care of the Shepherd King of David’s line who keeps His flock. Wild beasts may prowl round about roaring and howling in the darkness, cares and troubles may lurk in the shadows threatening to devour us, but we are kept in perfect peace, a peace that passes all understanding. Because we trust in Him.

Kept in the Keep

I love the word keep, this is another of the old KJV words that has lost its original force. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace…” “And the peace of God… shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…” Among the many definitions of keep the Merriam Webster online dictionary has this: “to preserve, maintain. To watch over and defend, to keep from harm.” That’s the verb. Where the KJV has “shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” newer translations have “shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…” Guard is the same word Paul used when he said that “In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me…” (2 Cor 11:32). So the peace of God that surpasses all understanding shall be a garrison keeping guard over our hearts and minds, permitting no escape, and keeping out any anxious thought attempting entry. For—let’s not miss this—how can they enter into Christ Jesus? Because…

…Keep is also a noun: “one that keeps or protects: such as aFORTESS, CASTLE specificallythe strongest and securest part of a medieval castle. bone whose job is to keep or tend. cPRISON, JAIL.”

 Here we find keep used two ways. The keep is “one whose job is to keep or tend.” And the keep is also a fortress, a castle, “specifically the strongest and securest part of a medieval castle.” I love that. To be guarded by the peace of God is to be kept in a keep—the strongest and securest part of a castle, the very purpose of which was to defend against the worst onslaught of the enemy. It is the keep’s (or keeper’s) job to do the keeping—not the one who is being kept. It’s not our responsibility to come up with peace in times of turmoil. Many these days are anxious for peace, longing for peace.  But once again, it’s a misguided and fruitless endeavour to pursue peace as an end in itself. I know that the Scriptures exhort us to seek peace (Ps 34:12). But we must know where to look for it. Peace will not be found apart from the government of the King of Righteousness. It is His righteousness that effects peace.

And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places; when it shall hail, coming down on the forest… (Isa 32:17-19 KJV)

Peace in the very midst of a devastating storm of evil? Yes. To pursue the God of righteousness inevitably means finding His peace. Regardless of our circumstances. The keeping peace is just there when we have come to God—our loving God—on bended knee with all our cares. That is our responsibility. When we do that, we find ourselves garrisoned in His peace, that is, in the keep of the castle Christ Jesus Himself.

Dear Lord Jesus Christ our king on the throne of David, we pray, keep us in there; keep us in Your keep. It has proven to be true according to Your words, that “in the world you will have tribulation.” To our sorrow we know that to be true. But, then, it must also be true according to your word—and we may prove this also—that since you have overcome the world we may be of good cheer, and in You have peace, the kind of peace the world cannot give. And cannot take away either. We will, then, according to Your words dear Jesus our king, put our trust in You and let not our heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. Amen. (Jn 14:27, 16:33).

 

 

Breathing Together With God

Let’s talk about conspiracies, the real and the fictitious. And then let me tell you about the greatest one of all, which is the ruin of them all, and how you and I may become involved in it. I’m not happy using the word conspiracy with its connotation of evil for this one, but more on this later.

Conspiracies are not new, there have been many throughout the ages; the Bible itself tells of many actual conspiracies, and there are no doubt many in the world today. Neither are conspiracy theories new, these also have abounded. It’s easy enough to see why. A theory may prove true or otherwise, and the fact that there are real conspiracies lends credence to the false. It’s like counterfeit money. The only reason people make counterfeit money is so they can pass it off as real.

But counterfeit conspiracies have something in common with real conspiracies. They are both the works of the Devil, the Prince of darkness. As long as there is darkness in which the workers of darkness can hide there will be conspiracies. Real conspiracies. There will also be conspiracy theories purporting to give us some light into what’s happening in the dark. They are the polar opposite of what the psalmist had in mind when he wrote that “light is sown for the righteous…” (Ps 97:11). They are sowings of darkness under the cover of darkness intent on deceiving those in the dark. They are phantasms of darkness meant to cause fear.

Many years ago I myself was quite attracted to a conspiracy theory. This was back in the 1970s in Calgary. I was a newborn Christian and my heart was full with so much that was new to me, and I began to hear also of something called The Illuminati. Even the very title—this is the main idea behind conspiracy theories, isn’t it. You are now “illumined,” you are in-the-know, no longer duped like the masses out there in the dark. That’s how it was with a few of us in the little fellowship I was involved in (Faith Tabernacle led by dear old Brother Graham) when we heard of an Illuminati seminar. We too wanted to be in-the-know. The Illuminati conspiracy theory has a long history but this one was some kind of “new improved” version. (Which makes me wonder if the conspiracy theories in our day are in the lineage of the Illuminati; they seem to have the same family likeness.) In any case, when those of us who were intrigued by the Illuminati heard about the seminar we decided to take it in. It was a Saturday evening. The speaker got under way, and as we were sitting listening I turned my head to look around and, lo and behold, there was Brother Graham seated toward the back across the room from us. What a surprise. From time to time, and ever so nonchalantly, I looked back. He was listening intently it seemed to me, quite often with his head bowed and eyes closed. After a time there was a break. We were invited to help ourselves to refreshments at the back and have a look at some literature on a table. I hoped to talk with Brother Graham among the people milling around. But I couldn’t find him. It seems he had used the opportunity to slip away. The next morning, Sunday morning, I headed for Faith Tabernacle. I could hardly wait to hear what he had to say about the Illuminati. I walked in and sat down. On the wall above the pulpit was a little notice board upon which he usually placed a weekly Bible verse. This morning it read, “Preach the word. 2 Tim. 4:2.” After a time of singing and prayer and prophecy he gave his message, saying not a single word about the seminar. I got the message.

And have given myself to the word of God from that day to this.

So it’s not my intention to debate the truth or falsehood of the many conspiracy theories out there these days. What I want to do is tell you of a true “conspiracy” that is the undoing of all others real or fabricated. Anyone who has a Bible can read about this one; it’s hidden in plain sight. It’s because of this one that I don’t trouble myself with the conspiracy theories that abound these days. I’m not fearful of the agenda of “a cabal of global elites” who have what they call the Great Reset in the works. And when I hear the cry of alarm being sounded by those who are intent on awakening us to this evil conspiracy… warning us  we need to get “woke” and become involved in what they are calling the Great Awakening… I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. If this is not a satanic counterfeit I don’t know what is. This is deception upon deception. I anticipate a Great Awakening—but not that one. And, yes, it’s high time to awaken out of sleep, for the Great Reset took place some two thousand years ago on a hill called Calvary outside Jerusalem.

Conspiring—breathing together

Our English word conspiracy comes from the Latin conspirare—to be in harmony, to conspire: from com, together, and spirare, to breathe. So a conspiracy is “a breathing together,” a very vivid word construction; in your mind’s eye you can see the conspirators huddled close together in the dark, secretly breathing out their wicked whisperings. But what happened at Calvary—I can’t bring myself to use the word conspiracy with its connotation of evil—this was the carrying out of the breathing together of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in their eternal plan of salvation for man and the utter destruction of the Devil and all his works. In this holy breathing together, this secret council in the Light, they determined that the Devil himself would be taken in the works of his own hands and destroy himself. For some reason, the Devil didn’t grasp his role in it all back then, and to this day never does:

However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Cor 2:6-8 NKJV)

That’s quite something when you think of it. The wisdom of God in a mystery, a secret. The hidden wisdom. Secret from whom? Hidden from whom? From the rulers of this age, both heavenly and earthly, who conspired together to crucify the Lord of glory. Their doing was their own downfall. There is more. Paul continues: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor 2:9).  We stand in awe of that, don’t we. But Paul adds something; may it startle us awake. This hidden wisdom, this secret wisdom that God has hidden from some is wisdom that has been prepared for them that love him. He has revealed, unveiled these things, yea, the very depths of God, to those He loves. How does He do this?

But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. (1 Cor 2:10).

Paul has been writing of the proclamation of the Gospel—“Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23-24). Then he adds, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:25). Here, then, is the hidden wisdom of God—Christ crucified—the wisdom of the cross, which, says Paul, he speaks “among those who are mature.” Such as these would comprehend what he was saying. So right here we have an insight into what it means to be a mature Christian. They are those who, even while they have grown in understanding, continue to have the childlike believing heart. Jesus on one occasion rejoiced and thanked His Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that “You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes” (Mt 11:25). Hidden them how? For He spoke them openly. But being wise in their own eyes they were blind to these things, as the prophet foretold. “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee” (Obad 3). Revealed them how? By His Spirit to the lowly of heart.

This must be why God’s “conspiracy,” although openly declared in Scripture, is apparently incomprehensible to the king of pride, the Devil, and the proud of heart who conspire with him against God.

Preach the Word

I think I’ll just string together now some scriptures of the Word of God—thank you Brother Graham for sowing that seed in my heart years ago—scriptures that speak of this hidden wisdom of God, who in His weakness and foolishness turns to foolishness the might and wisdom of men. It’s all over the Bible, really, this hidden wisdom; let’s breathe it in:

The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken.
The LORD is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. (Ps.9:15,16)

Notice the plural in verse 15 above—conspirators breathing together; and in verse 16 the singular—the Wicked One.

Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law;
That thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked. (Ps 94:12,13)

Who is digging, or should I say dug, this pit for the wicked? Here’s our answer:

Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood.
He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made.
His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate (Ps 7:14-16).

The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined. (Ps 10:2)

For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul.
Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall.
And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation. (Ps 35:7-9)

But mine eyes are unto thee, O GOD the Lord: in thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.
Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me, and the gins of the workers of iniquity.
Let the wicked fall into their own nets, whilst that I withal escape. (Ps. 141:8-10)

Now some actual instances of this:

So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified. (Est 7:10)

And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the LORD set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled… (Jdg 7:22)

And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten.
For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another. (2 Chr 20:22,23).

Those are all from the Old  Testament. Now consider this from the New:

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Col 2:13-15)

Triumphing over them in what? In His cross, the cross in which they were sure they were triumphing over Him.

As in the story of David and  Goliath. Who slew Goliath? Yes, David. But how did he slay him? No, not with a sling and a stone, but with Goliath’s own weapon.

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Heb 2:14,15)

Amen. True illumination from the scriptures of truth.

I promised at the beginning to tell you how we ourselves may become involved in God’s “conspiracy,” that is, in the weakness and foolishness of Christ crucified. Here is how, and it’s humbling to think that we ourselves are invited to breathe together with the holy God. He invites into His holy council chamber the humble, the meek, the lowly, and shares with them daily His counsels, His breathings. What is His counsel? That we take up our own cross daily, and, being led by the Spirit, follow Jesus, being always childlike of heart, simple of heart, trusting God. His way works, beloved, His secret counsel is effectual; it’s been demonstrated, and this will yet be manifested and shouted from the rooftops of all Heaven and earth.

Dear Father, thank you for inviting us to breathe together with you the breathings of God. Amen.

God Is My Witness

Just before His ascension Jesus promised His disciples that upon His sending the Holy Spirit, “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me” (Acts 1:8). But have you noticed in reading the epistles of Paul how often he mentions God being his witness? This is the “flip side” of receiving the Holy Spirit and thereby being made one of Jesus’ witnesses. Here are a few instances:

In his epistle to the Philippians: “For God is my record [witness], how greatly I long after you all in the bowels [tender mercies] of Jesus Christ” (Phi 1:9).

Also to the Thessalonians: “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness…” (1 Thes 2:5). And a few lines further on: “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe…” (1 Thes 2:10). You mean, Paul, you had a conscious awareness of God witnessing your activities, your behaviour, 24/7?

And to the Corinthians, where Paul as it were called God to the witness stand to vouch for his motive in delaying to come to Corinth: “Moreover I call God for a record [witness] upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth” (2 Cor 1:23).

And here, to the Romans: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost…” (Rom 9:1). Here Paul is speaking of the witness of the Spirit. This is one and the same as the witness of God.

Again to the Romans he writes of this witness of the Spirit: For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God…” (Rom 8:15,16).

Now this one, again to the Romans, in which we discover that God bore witness to Paul’s prayers; this is what we want to focus on just now:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. (Rom 1:8-10)

Here again, as Paul clarifies in verse 13, he wanted the Romans to know his motives—that he had not been unmindful of them, in fact had often wanted to come to them but had been hindered from coming. And who better to vouch for one’s motives than God Himself? And so he writes, “For God is my witness…” The question is, how did he know that God bore witness that he continually brought up the Roman saints in his prayers, asking that he might now “at last” have a prosperous journey in the will of God to come to them? As if God were saying, Yes, that’s right, Paul does that continually.

It was because Paul in all things—and especially as he prayed—was conscious of God. He knew God was hearing him.

It was two or three years from the writing of the epistle to the Romans before God answered Paul’s prayer, and it appears he had been praying about this even earlier. Nevertheless all that time he had the assurance that God would indeed answer his prayer in His time. He had the witness of God about it.

UK Bible teacher Ron Bailey says, “The first criterion of prayer is not need consciousness but God consciousness.” This accords with what Samuel Chadwick has written about prayer: “God is in secret. Let the first act [of prayer] be to affirm the fact of the Holy Presence” (The Path of Prayer, Samuel Chadwick). Later in that same book Chadwick again emphasizes, “Never leave without a conscious season of real communion.”

How vitally important. This is what Paul enjoyed and practiced, this is what enabled him to say that God was his witness to his prayers. He was conscious of God when he prayed; this—God consciousness—was the beachhead that with the help of the grace of God he established in prayer and maintained as he advanced throughout the day.

But know this. Paul, man of great stature that he was, had no other access to the Father than you and I. Let me say that a different way. You and I have the same access to the Father—faith in the blood of Jesus Christ—that Paul did. And so you and I may also enjoy the same witness of God not only in our prayers but in all we say and do.

You mean… God watching us with His eye continually upon us so that He is witness to all we say and do and think? Who could bear that, who could live under such scrutiny? I recall from years ago the testimony of an old man who said that when he was young he saw an Eye in the sky, and fled to hide from it. Well might he flee, and well might we all, and find no hiding place—that is, if we have not received the witness of God that He bore concerning His Son. This is what happened to the youth who saw the Eye in the sky. Somehow he knew it was a portent of a Day to come, and it led to his earnestly seeking God, and discovering the one and only Hiding Place that God Himself has provided—His Son Jesus Christ. For, when the eyes of God bear witness to what Jesus Christ the Son of God accomplished at Calvary on behalf of sinners, those who receive this witness enjoy that most happy and blessed state of a heart cleansed from all sin. Yes. All. No lesser purity than the very purity of God did the Son of God accomplish for sinful man, who washed us from our sins in His own blood. God Himself bears witness to this, as Peter confirmed regarding the Gentiles of Cornelius’ house who had come to faith in Jesus: “And the heart-knowing God did bare them testimony [witness], having given to them the Holy Spirit, even as also to us, and did put no difference also between us and them, by the faith having purified their hearts” (Acts 15:8,9 YLT).

And so since God bears witness to this, what is the result but a conscience that bears witness to this, a conscience that now has no awareness of sin. Far from it being unbearable, who wants to live without this?

And with it we have boldness and confidence in prayer.

“It is the Spirit that beareth witness…”

Here is a passage of Scripture about the Witness of God. Many of us have found it enigmatic (especially verse 8, for which please see the endnote: [i]) But let’s highlight at least some of it. John is strongly affirming and bearing witness that Jesus is the Son of God in whom alone is the victory:

6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.
7 And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth.
8 For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one. [ii] (A second endnote.)
9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for the witness of God is this, that he hath borne witness concerning his Son.
10 He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him [in himself]: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son.
11 And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
12 He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life. (1 Jn 5:6-12 ASV)

John is saying that the witness of God is that which He bore concerning His Son—that is, of what the Son of God, being fully man, accomplished by His death on the cross of Calvary on behalf of sinful man. God in Heaven bears witness to that. So does the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who believe Him. That’s why the heart is cleansed, and the conscience; the Holy Spirit bears witness to that. In fact God could not send the Holy Spirit to abide in us without the Son of God having first become the propitiation for our sins. And so the Holy Spirit is Himself the witness of God, just as Jesus is Himself “the faithful and true witness“ (Rev 3:14). “And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth” (1 Jn 5:6 ASV). The Holy Spirit in you and me who believe in Jesus is the witness of God, the testimony of God, the evidence, that Christ has put away your sin and mine. The Holy Spirit in our heart is God’s witness, the witness that He has borne concerning His Son.

That Witness within is one and the same as having eternal life. For Christ has vanquished sin and death.

It is this Witness of God that the apostle Paul as a believer in Jesus enjoyed. We who believe Him may enjoy this same Witness. He is the provision and cleansing for any known sin that is confessed. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Moreover He is the provision for any lingering sense of a sin conscience:

18 My Little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.
19 Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him:
20 because if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God;
22 and whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment.
(1 Jn 3:18-23 ASV)

John is saying that if our heart (our conscience) condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things—knoweth that His Son has put away all sin so that we may be free of sin and enjoy a heart (conscience) that does not condemn us. Further to that He has given us commandments to obey—believing in His Name, and loving one another in deed and in truth—so that we may maintain that clear conscience. And with that, since our heart does not condemn us, what do we have? “We have boldness toward God and whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.”

It is a boldness, an openness, a confidence, an assurance, brought about by the Witness of God in the conscience.

Here again is that same thought:

13 These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God.
14 And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us:
15 and if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him. (1 Jn 5:13-15 ASV)

This is just what Paul said about God being his witness. He believed the Witness of God. He knew that God heard his prayers. He confidently anticipated the answer.


[i] I am inclined to agree with F.F.Bruce’s comment on 1 John. 5:8.

“The sequence ‘water and blood’ is not accidental, but corresponds to the historical sequence of our Lord’ baptism and passion. Cerinthus, we recall, taught that ‘the Christ’ (a spiritual being) came down on the man Jesus when He was baptized but left Him before He died. The Christ, that is to say, came through water (baptism) but not through blood (death). To this misrepresentation of the truth John replies that the One whom believers acknowledge to be the Son of God (verse 5) came ‘not with the water only but with the water and with the blood’: the One who died on the cross was as truly the Christ, the Son of  God, as the One who was baptized in Jordan.” (The Epistles of John, F.F. Bruce, Eerdmans, 1970.)

Perhaps this false teaching of Cerinthus (AD circa 50-100) is also what John had in mind when he wrote his gospel in about AD 90 and reflected back on what he had witnessed 60 years earlier when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side, “and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe” (Jn. 19:34,35).

[ii]  “The sentence which appears in the AV as 1 Jn 5:7 (‘For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one’) is no part of the original text of the letter. It appears in a treatise written by Priscillian (a Spanish Christian executed on a charge of heresy in AD 385) or by one of his followers…” (F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John)

Bruce goes on to say that this statement was eventually incorporated into the text of the Vulgate in about AD 800, with the balancing words “in earth” added to the following sentence. Bruce explains further that Erasmus, upon whose 1516 Greek testament the King James Version is based, at the insistence of others included the spurious text against his own better judgement.

I Was Not Rebellious

This message is Part Two of The Great Rebellion. If you haven’t yet read that I encourage you to take it in first. It’s a long message, as is this one, but read together will mean greater profit.

“I was not rebellious…”

Now let’s consider the rebellion that God dealt with more severely than with any other—the great rebellion that He poured out His full wrath on—at Calvary. Jesus Christ put an end to all rebellion right there, beloved, the rebellion that is in the hearts of all those in Adam, and, reaching further back, the rebellion of Satan and the heavenly hosts that followed him. For we will yet see the judgment of Calvary fully carried out—the hosts of evil quake at the prospect of their destruction—and which those who bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ may apprehend by faith even now to their salvation.

Consider this passage from Isaiah:

The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.
The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.
I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. (Isa 50:4-7)

We are not told specifically what this one’s opened ear heard, but from what follows it’s apparent that he had heard God’s commandment to submit to suffering and shame. His response was that he was not rebellious, neither turned away back, but gave himself to being smitten, shamed, spat upon. As we read the passage, does it not bring Jesus before our eyes? Smitten. Shamed. Spat upon. That is Jesus. They tore out the hair of his beard (though the Gospels don’t record this).

But how can this be—Jesus saying, “I was not rebellious”? That’s hard to read. You mean He had the potential to be rebellious? If it were not so, He could not have become the Saviour of rebellious man.

It was in a garden that Adam rebelled against God. It was in a garden that Christ resisted a temptation to rebel, to turn back from His commitment to obey God whatever the cost. He had earlier proclaimed this, His life-long commitment:

Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince [ruler] of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me [no sin, no grounds for death].
But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence. (Jn 14:30,31)

“The prince of this world cometh…” What is this about? The adversary of God and man had tempted Him on other occasions already, but this was the game match in which Satan would spend his all to defeat the Son of man. The match took place on Calvary but it was engaged in Gethsemane when the prince of this world tempted Him to do His own will and not the Father’s will. Thus we overhear Him in an agony—a great conflict—crying, “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mk 14:36).

“Not what I will, but what Thou wilt.” Do you and I recognize that these words from our beloved Lord Jesus Christ spelled the doom of Satan the rebel, and of all rebellion?

Learning the obedience

 The Holy Spirit, who also overheard Him in Gethsemane, had this to say by the pen of the author of Hebrews:

…Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 5:7-10).

Young’s Literal Translation has, “though being a Son, did learn by the things which he suffered—the obedience…” This gives us the word order in the original Greek, placing for  emphasis the obedience at the end of the sentence. Note that it includes the article—the obedience, specifying a certain obedience. What obedience is this, then—the obedience?

It is a very costly obedience. Jesus, though He was Son of God, and therefore had a disposition to obey His Father, still needed to learn by the things that He suffered what it would cost Him to obey. That cost can only be estimated by the appalling cost that disobedience has brought upon our world—and what it cost the Son of God to deal with it. Apart from this, how could He the Son of man otherwise become the great high priest of fallen men in need of learning obedience, if not by inaugurating the very pathway that they must tread in? What obedience is this then?

It is the obedience of the fear of the Lord

 God by His messenger Malachi challenged His priests: “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear?” (Mal 1:6). He’s talking about obedience. To honour the father is to obey the father. To fear the master is to obey the master. To fear God is to obey God. Again from Isaiah 50:

Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant… (Isa 50:10).

Yet it’s an idea that some don’t like because it seems wrong to fear the Lord. But the fear of the Lord is not the fear that “hath torment” (1Jn. 4:18). David wrote, “Let them now that fear the LORD say that his mercy endureth forever” (Ps 118:4). In the same breath he continues, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?” He fears the Lord, and therefore will not fear anything else. For, “In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge” (Pr 14:29).

When we think upon this, dwell upon this, actually to fear the Lord is to love the Lord:

And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good. (Dt 10:12,13)

A while back I came up with a little homemade proverb that I tucked into my heart:

To fear the Lord is to obey the Lord is to love the Lord.

Try it the other way around:

To love the Lord is to obey the Lord is to fear the Lord.

I find that helpful; in any case let’s keep this in mind as we read the following passage. Are you familiar with it—Isaiah’s prophecy of the Branch in whom the Spirit of the Lord rests? Bear in mind that this same Spirit is the portion of those who abide in the Branch:

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. (Isa 11:1-4)

Various commentators from the days of the early church till the present have seen here the menorah (lampstand) with its centre stem and three couplets of branches. Note the perception of this powerful illumination penetrating beyond the shallow reach of eye and ear.

But we want to focus on the last couplet marrying together “the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” To have knowledge that is not joined to the fear of the Lord is a recipe for certain destruction. But note especially—this is quite the revelation—that the fear of the Lord is one of the branches, one of the lamps, of His very Spirit. And so this couplet together with the other two aligned along the centre stem make the Branch “of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord.” Let’s say that again. The light of this seven-fold Spirit means nothing less than the very eyes of the Lord in the Branch; there is no darkness, no haziness, no guesswork, no perplexity as to the will of God, but rather quick understanding.

Quick or quicken in the King James Version doesn’t have anything to do with speed; it means alive, or to impart life. However, Quick understanding is one word in the Hebrew: ruach. It means breath. One commentator has, “He shall draw his breath in the fear of the Lord.” The emphasis is on breath drawn through the nostrils and therefore having a fragrance. The same word in several other places is translated, “smell,” as when Noah offered his burnt offering, and the Lord “smelled a sweet savour [fragrance]” (Gen  8:21). But I think ruach in Isaiah’s prophecy is illuminated best in the story of Samson breaking the green withs [bowstrings] the Philistines had bound him with “as a thread of tow [a strand of flax] is broken when it toucheth the fire.” The word “toucheth” is ruach. That’s the King James Version. But get this. Young’s Literal Translation reads that Samson “breaketh the withs as a thread of tow is broken in its smelling fire (Jdg 16:9). What an image—the withs catch a mere whiff of fire and it’s enough to cause them to disintegrate on the spot. It’s this kind of response to the knowledge of God’s will that is the thought in Isaiah’s prophecy—the fear of the Lord being such that the very scent of His will genders a response of instant obedience. That is the fear of the Lord. Other translations have that the fear of the Lord is His delight. Young’s Literal Translation here says that the Spirit of the fear of the Lord shall “refresh him in the fear of Jehovah…” That nuance speaks to me. With the fresh quickening that only the Spirit can provide, our knowledge of God’s will is passing sensitive and our response of obedience instant. That, beloved, is what is meant by the fear of the Lord.

It is the obedience of Samuel…

Remember Amalek? Last time we wrote of Amalek viciously preying on the weak in the wilderness when Israel came out of Egypt. Some along the way had grown weary, and fell behind. Defenseless, they fell prey to the ruthless Amalekites. For this, God commanded that when Israel entered their inheritance they were to “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it” (Dt 25:19) Why had Amalek done this evil? Because, said the Lord, “he feared not God.” The day came when God commanded King Saul to carry out His judgment and destroy Amalek and all that he had. Saul compromised, sparing Agag king of Amalek and the best of the sheep and oxen. Saul didn’t fear God either, would not obey him, but “turned back from following” Him (1 Sam 15:11). God called it rebellion.

And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. (1 Sam 15:22,23)

And so God dealt severely with Saul for this; it cost him the kingdom. (And Samuel’s word to him was right on the mark—his rebellion led him to the door of the witch of Endor.)  After pronouncing this to Saul, Samuel had Agag brought before him. Agag breathed a quiet sigh of relief; surely now “the bitterness of death” was past. Until he saw Samuel drawing a sword. (Was it Samuel’s own sword or someone else’s? Saul’s?) “And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal” (1 Sam 15:33).

I still read this, and… Samuel did that? Samuel? Yes, beloved Samuel, an old man with the fear of God in Him, uncompromising in his obedience.

It is the obedience of Abraham…

…in offering up his “only son.”

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt [prove] Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. (Gen 22:1,2)

There are poignant details in this whole passage; just now we want to connect two words together. Abraham obeyed God—that is, he feared God:

And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. (Gen 22:11,12)

Now note the Lord’s concluding words a few verses later. To fear God is to obey God:

And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,
And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:
That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Gen 22:15-18)

That is the fear of God—uncompromising obedience.

It is the fear of Isaac…

…who voluntarily gave himself to be the sacrifice that God had commanded Abraham to offer. We may well ask if anyone, excepting one Man, ever feared God the way Isaac did.

A generation later Isaac’s son Jacob, disputing with his father-in-law Laban, told him that “the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac” was with him (Gen. 31:42). Arresting words. The fear of Isaac. That is to say, God Himself. Isaac feared God. When Abraham and Isaac reached their destination on Mount Moriah Isaac was already aware of his father’s earlier words that “God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” No doubt he helped his father build the altar, all the while aware that God had not yet provided the lamb. Did he start wondering if he himself were to be that lamb? Yet when the altar was ready, and his father now turned to him… we are not told that any words passed between them as they now stood face to face by the readied altar. But Isaac of his own free will let himself be bound and lain upon the wood he had carried on his own shoulders up the mountain. It was not death he feared, but God. He feared God and willingly became “obedient unto death.”

It is the obedience of the Son of God…

…to His Father’s will that led Him up Mount Calvary carrying His own cross, determined to be “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Php 2:8).

In the will of God, He endured the suffering and shame and death of the cross.

That is the obedience.

“Not what I will, but what Thou wilt.”

“He learned, from the things He suffered, the obedience…”

It is the obedience of all those who obey Him

…And being made perfect he became the author of eternal salvation unto all those who obey Him; called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

 The writer of Hebrews is enlarging here on his earlier words, that “it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb 2:10).

Thus the perfect Man was perfected—tried, proven—by sufferings, that He might lead others in that Way. The way of the cross. The way of the cross, mystery of mysteries, becomes the way of salvation. Being made perfect He became the author of eternal salvation unto all those who obey Him.

Walking in obedience, then, walking in obedience today, daily, with the same obedience of the Son of God, is the harbinger of our eternal salvation. Do we faint under the very thought of this, it’s just too much to bear? If so we’re not seeing the beauty of this. As our great high priest after the order of Melchizedek, Christ the Branch imparts to us step by step the needed grace, the help we need, to obey Him—His own Spirit.

And so, with that help, the help of His Spirit—the Spirit of the fear of the Lord—and since He who learned the obedience in the things He suffered is the author of eternal salvation to those who obey Him, let us arm ourselves with the same mind. Let us fear Him, obey Him, though to do so bring suffering upon us. As obedience surely shall in this world. For to cease from sin in this world will surely mean suffering:

Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;
That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. (1 Pt 4:1,2)

Let us so live, beloved, and see to its finish the horror story of rebellion. For, count on it, God with the judgment of Calvary will surely bring all rebellion in His universe to an end. Let us fear Him, then, and be wary of that alien voice, that thought, that suggestion, that to follow through on, would mean to rebel against the will of God. A very small thought, when fed gains strength, and will grow. And grow. And grow. As rebellions always do if not instantly quashed.

But what if I stumble, what if I sin? Is it all over for me?

But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared (Ps 130:4).

Forgiveness, that He may be feared? Yes, because to be left in sin is unimaginable horror; if I sin and continue in sin with no hope of forgiveness I am doomed to perdition along with all rebels. How then can I not fear Him, thankful beyond words to express, that with Him is forgiveness? Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Repentant of my sin, I swiftly repair myself to the throne of grace that I may receive the forgiveness, and the cleansing from sin, and continue in the pathway of obedience.

For, our obeying Him means the ultimate perdition of the rebellious.

And the salvation, eternal salvation, of the obedient.

And the gratification of delighting the heart of God.

And the fellowship of His everlasting Rest.

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