(As spoken at a conference in Twello, the Netherlands, 1993)
1 GOD’S PLEASURE IN CREATION AND IN HIS SON
“And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” Gen. 1:31
“While He yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” Matt. 17:5
When we study the Bible we will find quite a list of wonderful things that bring pleasure to the heart of God. Our conclusion cannot be otherwise: God’s pleasure is a very important matter. It covers the questions about our very existence: why do we live? Why are we here on this earth for seventy years or more? Is it not to please God? And if it is, how do we please God? How can we be sure we are not a nuisance to God but rather please Him? We have longings, and God Himself has longings, and we do want to know what it is that meets the longings of our God, our Maker and Redeemer.
We will start by meditating on two things that please God, but before we do that we need to remind ourselves that God is a God who does have pleasure. He is acquainted with grief, He has sorrow—we cause much of it—but God is not only capable of grief and sorrow. Let us be quite sure that the God we love, the God we worship, the God to whom we say “Abba”, is a God who has pleasure. He has joy; there is joy in the heart of God. I remember very well when once brother Austin-Sparks directed our attention to 1 Timothy 1:11 about “the gospel of the blessed God”. That is what it says in our King James Version. But our brother pointed out to us on that occasion that that could quite accurately and rightly have been translated “the happy God”, “the gospel of the happy God”. And I explored the original language and saw indeed that same original word is often translated joy or happiness, joyful or happy, and our God is a happy God. When the circumstances are right God knows how to rejoice; it is in His heart to rejoice over what is right. He grieves over what is wrong, of course. He is capable of both of these, grief and joy. He rejoices over that which warrants divine rejoicing and divine happiness. Some of us need perhaps to correct our impressions of God. We do get a wrong, a distorted picture of God. I was guilty of this for a long time in my own life. I thought He was a very powerful being far, far away from me. I even visualised Him as stern, very serious and austere. Well, in a sense yes, there are times when that would be an accurate portrait of God and of God’s heart. But let us not think solely of God in those terms. Let us be wide open to the truth that our God is capable of joy and when circumstances are right He rejoices, and His heart is made glad. In fact we even read that God can sing! Do you know there is a verse in the Bible, at least one, that tells us that God sings? If you doubt it, look at Zephaniah 3:17. It speaks of God joying over His people with singing. So that is a little introductory thought.
God’s pleasure in creation
Now with that in mind let me try and share with you some of the things that please God. We start right back in Genesis 1:31. The verse does not mention joy, rejoicing, singing, but the thought is there. It says: “And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” And of course I believe that that expression, “it was very good” does not only mean that it was good in itself, in its own essence, in its character, but I do not think we are changing the meaning of the sentence when we take it to at least include this—it was very good to God. Whatever God makes is good in its own character, its own nature, certainly. But I believe there is this extra thought here, that the original unspoiled universe was very good in His own estimation. Before sin came in it was something that stirred His own heart to joy, something that brought satisfaction to Him. “Behold, it was very good”… to God. Five times in Genesis 1 we read, in connection with the various parts of the creation, that God saw that it was good. But at the end of the chapter we find something significant: God looked and saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good. All the things together viewed as a composite whole, in its completeness, gave something extra: it was very good.
1. A manifestation of God’s glory
Now, for what reason or reasons was that original unspoiled creation a joy to God? For what reasons did it bring not only satisfaction, but positive pleasure to the heart of God? And two thoughts came to me in answering that question. The first was that even that original unspoiled creation was, to its own measure a manifestation of His own glory. It, we could say, was an initial, preparational manifestation of His glory. He had produced something that reflected to some degree His own character, His own nature. That is why He was pleased to look upon it and pronounce that it was very good. In itself it was very good, and to the Creator it was very good. When we look out on the creation in a garden we do not simply say, “What a lovely garden!” In our hearts there is something deeper than all that, that says, “What a glorious God! What beauty! What life! What abundance! What death-conquering power manifest even in created things.” Yes, it is a manifestation of its own glory. But what makes it even more glorious is that “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork”, as Psalm 19:1 puts it. I think that is one reason why God said, “Ah, that is good, I have got something that begins to express, to emanate truth concerning My character, My being.” And of course there is that very important verse in Romans 1:19 where Paul expressly says that the creation did make known truth about the character of God, the nature of the eternal “I am”: “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen.” The invisible things of God are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead. That is why it brought such a joy to Him. Just think about the very first elements in the creation: God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. That was certainly a manifestation of God Himself. We read in the first epistle of John that God is light. I do not know if any scientists can explain exactly what that particular light was and how it compares with the sun and the moon that were created later on. But when God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, that was the beginning of the manifestation of the invisible God, God who is light and in whom is no darkness at all. That is His heart, and that was beginning to be expressed in what He had made. Is it not true that everything we look at in the universe, in one way or another, expresses the glory of God? The rocks, do they not remind us of the power of God, the stability of God, the trustworthiness of God? We see these invisible things of God began to find physical expression. Well, we can go on and on—the flowers certainly show the beauty of God’s nature; the rivers: the abundance of life that is in Him. In Him is life as well as light. Those are reasons, suggestions, as to why God found pleasure in beholding His original unspoiled creation.
2. The scene of the drama of redemption
But then another reason why God was pleased in looking upon that unspoiled creation was this, that He could see the stage being set for the drama of redemption. It was here in this universe that God was going to enact, in the giving of His Son, the death of His Son, the resurrection of His Son, the extension of His Son into saved souls like yours and mine. God could see the hour coming, the time drawing near that His redeeming mercy would find its expression in the death of His own dear Son on that hill called Calvary outside the city wall of Jerusalem. This earth is just a minute speck in this universe. Nevertheless it was to be the scene where the drama of redemption was going to be carried through and that is why the earth was so dear to the Maker.
God’s delight in His Son
The second, and of course the all-inclusive, the all-transcending cause for divine pleasure and divine happiness is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself: God manifested in the flesh. If God was happy to behold an unspoiled universe, how happy was He when He looked down upon His perfect, beautiful, altogether lovely Son in human form. The silence of heaven was broken and God spoke from the heavens through the clouds: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” We can hear something of an echo from Genesis 1:31 here. God looked, behold it was very good. And now, God looks again, and He says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” There are two occasions when God said that. The first was at the time of His baptism (Matt. 3:17). The other occasion was at the mount of transfiguration when the same voice came with the same message. Remember on that second occasion the face of the Lord Jesus was shining like the sun and we are told even His garment was white as the light. And God looking down onto that mount of transfiguration again broke the silence of the heavens as though He could not hold back His appreciation, His adoration of His own Son incarnate, taking His place amongst men on this speck in the universe. I believe there were two occasions for a particular purpose. That first occasion was at the end of thirty years of obscurity during which the Lord was in the carpenter’s shop in the little town of Nazareth. There is not much written about Him during this period, just one small story of what happened when He had reached the age of twelve (Luke 2). But please notice that at the end of those thirty years of obscurity, of comparative hiddenness, about which we are told next to nothing, that one sentence tells the whole story. There is thirty years of history, unspoiled, immaculate, untarnished holiness in a carpenter’s shop and in the streets of Nazareth. It is all summed up: “I am well pleased.” The other occasion was when the Lord reached the pinnacle of His ministry, we may say, in Matthew 17. His face was shining like the sun and His raiment was as white as the light. Then it was that God said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It is as though in those two utterances we have two summaries. One is a summary of the hidden thirty years, and the second is a summary of the public years when He was moving from place to place, fulfilling His appointed ministry. Is it not wonderful that the Lord Jesus was as immaculate and holy, unstained, untarnished, God-satisfying, God-pleasing, during the thirty hidden years in the carpenter’s shop as He was in the three and a half years of His public ministry, preaching His great sermon on the mount for instance, and performing His marvelous miracles. God sums it up: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Does not that bring something of a challenge to us? Your life and my life are divided into two sections. There is the public life that everybody sees. Is God pleased with that? Or is there some self-importance or self-advertisement, self-display, that even gets into our ministry? Perhaps it needs some examination and some adjustment and some cleansing. That is more than possible. We all look such wonderful Christians when we are gathered and take part in the worship meeting. Everybody is watching us and we know only too well how to keep up a good image. But every one of us has a private area too, which the other brothers and sisters are not able to enter into. “But all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). Can God look down on our hidden lives, when the door is closed and no human eye is upon us and say, “I am pleased with that. Those thoughts in secret, those actions in secret—I am pleased with that.”?
1. Christ, God’s daily delight
I would like to take you back to a lovely verse with a thought along this same line: Proverbs 8:30. Now I do not think anyone will question me when I say that Proverbs 8 is a chapter all about Christ. On the surface this is a discussion of wisdom; in fact we get that word wisdom in verse 1: “Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice?” And the word wisdom occurs a few times. Verse 5: “O ye simple, understand wisdom.” Notice verse 11: “For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.” And we have wisdom also mentioned in verse 12. Yes, on the surface this is a chapter about wisdom, the wonders of it, the marvels of a God-given wisdom particularly, about what it can accomplish. But no doubt your mind does what my mind does: it runs to 1 Corinthians 1:24, where we read of Christ, the wisdom of God. And I believe you can only understand Proverbs 8 when you remember that the Lord Jesus Christ is the personification of all wisdom. Certainly you will agree that we can see Christ in verse 11: “Christ is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared with Him.” But we are working towards verse 30, and there wisdom itself is speaking. Christ Himself is speaking: “Then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him: and I was daily His delight.” That is it—“I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing always before Him.” Here we have a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ before the creation of the universe. Look at verses 22 onwards. “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old.” This is true in fulness only when you read it in the light of Christ. It reminds us of John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word”, in the beginning was Christ, and Christ was with God, and Christ was God. Then verse 23: “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.” That is true of Christ, certainly. In verses 24 to 29—this is pre-Genesis 1—in fact Christ Jesus is described as co-creator with His Father: “When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: while as yet He had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was there: when He set a compass upon the face of the depth: when He established the clouds above: when He strengthened the fountains of the deep: when He gave to the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment: when He appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him: and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.” We have been speaking of Christ as the object and the subject of the Father’s joy. We spoke of the thirty years in which the Lord Jesus rejoiced His Father’s heart; we have spoken of the three and a half years, again how in His public ministry the Lord rejoiced, satisfied, moved His Father’s heart: “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And even going back before creation it is the same Person bringing the same movement of joy and satisfaction to the heart of His partner in the Trinity. The Lord Jesus is the eternal satisfaction, the eternal joy and delight of His Father’s heart. This is something that goes beyond our ability to understand. When we think of what it is that pleases God we can say an unspoiled universe pleases God for reasons that we can perhaps list or name, but the real joy and satisfaction of the Father is the Son.
2. Christ, our delight
What God said at the baptism in the Jordan, what God said at the time of the transfiguration, this same thing He has been saying before ever time was. He has been perpetually reveling in His dear, perfect, immaculate Son. That can just be truth. But what God is doing I believe is mercifully bringing us into His own eternal delight in Christ Jesus. That is what is going on in your heart and mine. There was a time when this same Person, the Lord Jesus, meant little or nothing to us, but is He becoming daily your delight, the sum of your pleasure? That is what God is working for: so to deal with us, so to show us this Person from the Bible, so to show us His love and His grace and His power and His authority and His majesty and His mercy, so to unveil this One that He will become daily, hourly, moment by moment the One who delights us. That is the task that the Holy Spirit is engaged in with you and with me; that is the work He is doing in your heart and mine right now, to lift us from ignorance of Christ, darkness concerning His incomparable character. He is bringing us into the place where we begin to see in Christ what the Father has seen in Him from a past eternity and will see in Him all through a coming eternity. “I was daily His delight.” And it is wonderful when a Christian can re-echo those words, and say, “Yes, something is happening in my heart: every day He is my chiefest joy; He is the One that satisfies me; His glory is being unveiled, His character is being explained; the mystery is getting out what Christ is.” Yes, unspoiled creation delighted God’s heart, but what is that compared with the unspoiled Son Himself? The One without spot or blemish or any such thing, who eternally not only satisfies, pasts the tests, but also eternally moved God’s heart to singing and rejoicing, He is the One who pleases: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” That is God’s eternal language concerning our Saviour. God is well pleased with Him, and He is daily and eternally His Father’s delight.
3. Credited with the loveliness of Christ
When I was thinking of the Lord Jesus as the eternal satisfier of His Father’s heart, the One who perpetually ravishes the heart of God, a thought came to me that really silenced me: “We are accepted in that beloved one” (Eph. 1:6). That took my breath away. It means that all that loveliness, that ability to ravish His Father’s heart, that is credited to those who trust the Lord Jesus Christ. Those of us who will take the sinner’s place, repent of our sins, accept this dear Saviour as Lord and Saviour are credited with that loveliness and winsomeness in the eyes of the Father. It is not only that God is forgiving us, and giving us justification like a clean sheet. Salvation is more than getting a clean sheet. It is inheriting the virtues, the values, the incomparable lovelinesses of Christ; they are all credited to us when we hide in Christ. That is justification by faith. “… whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). He glorifies us by making us partakers of this God-satisfying, unique, incomparable beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is not one of us who has understood what it means to be “in Christ”, justified by faith. We have credited to us, in the mercy of God, that eternal loveliness, untarnished perfection, heart-ravishing nature of the Lord Jesus. It is a great salvation, is it not? And it is a great Saviour. But all these thoughts come crowding in when we begin to ask ourselves, “What is it that pleases God?” May the Lord move our hearts again, and as we see what it is that pleases God, may our hearts be set upon just that, in one word: our incomparable Christ.
2 GOD’S PLEASURE IN THE CROSS OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
“Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; He hath put him to grief: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied: by His knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities.” Isaiah 53:10,11
We have a further thought which we can look into profitably, here in Isaiah 53:10, a mystery verse, of which we shall not be able to plumb the depths. I need help to really understand some of the mysteries in Isaiah 53:10. There is a lot more to be seen than I am able to mention.
The mystery of Isaiah 53
What a mystery we find at the beginning of the verse! Of course we know that this is a chapter about the Calvary sufferings—we can call them that—of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a chapter about the cross where God’s dear Son was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. May I just mention the fact that Isaiah 53 was written seven hundred years before Christ came into this world, seven hundred years before that Beloved One was nailed to the cross on a hill called Calvary—unbelievable is it not? I well remember when a young Christian brother came to me when we were in Japan. He was recently converted but he had an appetite for the Word of God even in those early days of his Christian life. And I remember he came to me in that prison camp in Japan; he had been reading this chapter and he sat down in front of me and said, “Brother Golsworthy,” how many years after Christ was Isaiah 53 written? Or how many months after Christ?” He wanted to know the history of this chapter. And I told him then what I have just told you, “No brother, this was written before Christ.” And if eyes could talk, his eyes certainly said to me, “Brother Golsworthy you are not telling the truth. Surely that chapter must have been written after Christ, and after the death of Christ on the cross. It is so clear, details are so minute, satisfying. It must have been.” We did not have an argument, but I do not think that I did convince that young man, even to this day, that it was written before Christ, and before that great event of Calvary. We are in a marvelous chapter here; we all know it. God has spoken to all of us through this chapter, I am sure, again and again. But here is the mystery verse, “It pleased the LORD to bruise him”, written right after it speaks of Christ being wounded and bruised: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities” (verse 5). My, what wounds! What bruises! The lashings by the whip that He endured apart from the nails that fastened Him to that cross. Yes, “wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities”. “A man of sorrows”, it is said a little further up, “and acquainted with grief”. Well, this is what we want to think about. Remember our theme is “Things that please God”. Now of course we can understand how the unspoiled universe would please God, and we can certainly understand how Jesus Christ is the beloved Son in whom the Father was eternally well pleased, and will always be the delight of His Father’s heart. And may we add that He is gradually becoming the joy of our hearts also. But now, after this description of the sufferings of our Lord in Isaiah 53:5 we find this mystery verse: “It pleased the Father to bruise Him.” We have a problem, don’t we? Here is a mystery unfathomable, perhaps we shall never really understand the real depths of that simple statement. And lest we should find some secret way around that we will never be able to understand the next statement in the verse. That is even more direct, more mysterious, more abrupt: “He hath put Him to grief.” It pleased the Lord to bruise that beloved One who was eternally the delight of His heart. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him. And He put Him into those griefs and sorrows. We need help don’t we, from the Holy Spirit, and maybe from each other, young and old—sometimes more light comes through the younger ones. But anyway, I am not going to go into the depths of this mystery now. At present the deep problem of this verse is unsolved by me. I am just a seeker of light when it comes to these first two phrases in Isaiah 53:10: “It pleased the LORD to bruise Him.” He put Him on the cross, He put Him to grief. The results of the sufferings of Christ We are going to leave many of the thoughts that lay hidden in this mystery verse; we have to. There are depths unfathomable in the Bible. And some of its best-known phrases, we have to say, are still not understood. But there is something that we can take hold of, certainly as far as the first part of the first phrase in the verse is concerned, where it says, “It pleased the LORD to bruise Him.” I believe we will be fully justified in thinking and in accepting that that phrase refers to the results that issued from that bruising of the Lord. It was not so much the bruising of Christ itself that pleased God, but what issued from those bruisings, those sorrows, those wounds, that anguish. And we are going to content ourselves with just mentioning some of the glorious issues, the blessed results of the bruisings of the Saviour, which certainly pleased the Father. Can you think of some of the blessed results of that great act of Calvary, that laying down of the Saviour’s life, pouring out of the Saviour’s blood at Calvary that would have pleased the Father’s heart? And of course, that leads us into the whole Bible, because the whole Bible really has to do with Calvary and its glorious results. But let us confine our thoughts to what is unfolded in this chapter without looking at other parts of the Bible. What does this chapter indicate as being amongst the issues, the results, the fruits of the bruisings of the Son of God?
1. The great atonement for sin
The first thing we can see in Isaiah 53 of what was accomplished through the bruisings of the Saviour refers to a great atonement for sin. And that great atonement certainly would have, and does, ever shall, please the heart of God. This chapter mentions that great atonement, that way of forgiveness for sinners that was opened up through the wounds and the bruisings of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will look at some of those phrases in the chapter. We have this matter of the accomplishing of a great atonement right in verse 10 where it says, “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin …” It was an atoning death that the Saviour died. He was offering an offering for our sins. It was the Lamb of God bruised and broken on the tree, and His soul was being made an offering for our sins. I love an old hymn which covers this theme. It moves my heart every time I think about it or hear it. It says, “Christ has for sin atonement made, What a wonderful Saviour! We are redeemed! The price is paid! What a wonderful Saviour!” That was a result, a consequence, a fruit, of Calvary, a finished work of divine redemption. You remember what the Lord Jesus Himself said. Perhaps He gasped these words on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Someone has said the whole Bible can be summarised under two simple expressions: the whole of the Old Testament: “Where is the Lamb?” (Genesis 22:7) and the New Testament: “Behold the Lamb!” (John 1:29). The Old Testament is asking a question. The New Testament is answering the question. The prophets were saying: “Where is the Lamb? Is there someone who can pay the price of sin?” And the New Testament answers the question—in the words of John the Baptist—“Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.” Another hymn says in this connection, “There is a green hill far away, without the city wall, Where our dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all. There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, He only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in.” The death of Abraham, the death of David, the death of all the patriarchs and godly men of the Old Testament, all those deaths put together could not have atoned for our sin. If Abraham died that would be the just demand for Abraham’s sin, not for mine. Abraham was a sinner, and his death would only have been the result of his sins. But there is a sinless One, there has been a spotless Lamb, the only One without spot or blemish or any such thing, Who did no sin. We cannot say that of anyone else: “He did no sin, neither was any guile found in His mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22). “He did no sin”: He was sinless in actions. “Neither was guile found in His mouth”: not one word has come from His lips that was not immaculate and glorious. None other could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in. But the death of the Lord Jesus suffices to secure forgiveness for sinners. Verse 5 says: “He was wounded.” For what was He wounded? “For our transgressions.” The verse goes on using the same verb as we have in verse 10, to bruise: “He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” Then verse 6 says: “All we—Abraham, David, and all of them—like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him—the Lord hath caused to meet on Him, is the marginal reading—the iniquity of us all.” Oh, brothers and sisters, do you not tremble at that? The due recompense of a night’s sin in Amsterdam was borne by Christ. We can go on: Rotterdam, London, Sydney, Melbourne wherever it is; and not just one night, but ever since man was made the iniquity of all men—now try and imagine it—was made to meet on that Man of Calvary. It was necessary if ever you and I were to be able to be righteously forgiven. Someone must pay the price, someone must pay the debt, and Someone did. That is the Gospel. I love the Gospel. I love the Christ of the Gospel. Oh, don’t you? Of course we do! God made all the sins of all the world to meet on Christ at Calvary. “He who knew no sin,” says Paul, “was made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). When the Lord Jesus died on the cross the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; the way was opened for us to have fellowship with God. There would never have been any entrance for any one of us, but for those bruisings of Calvary. Well, a great atonement was accomplished. Isaiah 53 clearly shows it from verse 5 right on to the end. At the end of verse 8 we read: “For the transgression of my people was He stricken.” Verse 11 says at the end: “He shall bear their iniquities.” And verse 12 says: “He bare the sin of many.” How many sins did He bare? How many in China? How many in Africa? How many in India? God laid on Christ the iniquity of us all. If anyone should ask, “Why aren’t all people saved?” The answer is that God has a requirement, and that is that we recognise, we believe that it happened, and we take the benefits of the bruising. That is the simple thing that God requires. We go to all the world and tell the Gospel, and give people the opportunity of believing that their sins were borne at Calvary. Then every sin that they have committed can be forgiven, not only are their sins forgiven, but they are also justified. They obtain righteousness, this spotless, immaculate righteousness of this new Man from heaven. Christ Jesus is the new Man. Other men are from the earth. We are made from the dust, but He is from heaven and that is why His atoning blood is sufficient to cover the sins of all other men. It is one Man from heaven dying for one humanity, rebellious and under the curse. His death is sufficient, One for one. Humanity is really just one man. Humanity is only Adam in multiple expression; that is all. It is that one Man from heaven dying for rebellious, hell-deserving humanity. “He bare the sin of many.”
2. A great battle fought and a great victory won
Well, there is another issue, another fruit of the bruisings of the Saviour, and that is that a great victory was won. A great atonement was made, no questions about that. We rejoice in that, we hide in that, every time we come around the Lord’s Table and we take that bread into our hands and put that cup to our lips. But this chapter also points out a great victory won at the cross through those bruisings of the Saviour. I said that is lightly touched upon in Isaiah 53:12: “Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He hath poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors.” There is, we may say, the smoke of battle in verse 12, a victory, and spoils. That is what Calvary was—what a battle! And what a victory for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! Hebrews 2:14 sums it all up: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself 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.” By death He destroyed the one who had the power of death. Calvary was a battle which we cannot really comprehend. It goes right back to the mystery of a rebellion in the heavenly places, when Lucifer coveted the rights of God, and wanted worship. That is all in the Bible, in Isaiah 14, very clearly unfolded. We see that usurper, a fallen rebel angel. There were rebel angels before there were rebel men. Lucifer was the king of the rebel angels, set against the rights of God. We know how this adversary came and challenged Christ in the wilderness of temptation. (See Matt. 4:1-11.) And you know, if Christ had fallen, for a moment, in that wilderness of temptation, we would have been lost for ever. He would not have been the perfect Saviour, and a perfect Saviour was needed, one who would maintain spotless perfection under all pressures, from all sides, and be completely submissive to His Father’s will no matter what subtle temptations and promises were put in front of Him. That is what was in the wilderness of temptation: He was offered all the kingdoms of the world if He would bow for a moment to this vile Lucifer. Thank God, He did not bow. He said, “Get thee hence, Satan.” But here is the same adversary pursuing Him to the cross, and we are told in the Psalms that demons and devils were compassing Christ around like bees. “They compassed me about like bees” (Ps. 118:12). If the Lord Jesus would have said one rebellious word, or would have had one thought that was not utterly, absolutely pure there would have been no salvation for sinners. But He did no sin, neither was any guile found in His mouth. In 1 Peter 2:24 we read, “He bare our sins.” He did no sin Himself—He bare our sins. Oh, glory to His name! By His death the Lord Jesus destroyed Him that had the power of death; that is the devil. So we see in Isaiah 53 that a great victory was won at Calvary. That is why it pleased the Lord to bruise Him, because from those bruisings and from that burial after the bruisings, and from that resurrection there was a complete destruction of the enemy. In what senses, in what way did He destroy the enemy? Have you thought of that? All Satan’s plans to hold humanity in his control were undone when a Redeemer emerged, when an efficacious atonement was accomplished. Satan’s hopes were dashed to the ground. It was accomplished by the emerging of a Redeemer whose blood would set the captives free, and bring us out from Satan’s hold into the hold of the resurrected Saviour, out of Satan’s hands into the Saviour’s hands. That is why Calvary was victory. It took away all ground from under the feet of the enemy. He had us captured for ever if there was no redemption. We were his property for ever if there had not been a Redeemer. The presence and work of the Redeemer opened the gates and we can escape from the kingdom of darkness. And we entered into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love. Well, a great victory was won indeed.
3. A new creation brought to birth
Thank God, Isaiah 53 not only describes God’s dealing with past conditions, but it looks on into the future as well. It says, “When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed.” He is going to have a family. That is what it means in the simplest of words, a family of faith, a family of saved sinners. And it says there, “He shall prolong His days.” There is a clear prophesy of the resurrection. When His soul was made an offering for sin it was not the end, because He is the resurrection, and the life. He said that in John 11:25: “I am the resurrection, and the life.” He is a death-conqueror. And even though His soul was made an offering for sin, even though He was bruised, in fact bowed His head and gave up the ghost, that was not the end. Because there is a quality here, a divine quality—there is something invisible in this man. It is because of this divine quality of the life of the Lord Jesus that we sing: “Death cannot keep its prey— Jesus, my Saviour, He tore the bars away— Jesus, my Lord! Up from the grave He arose.” That phrase, “He shall prolong His days” is one of the Old Testament prophecies of the resurrection. Once His soul has been made an offering for sin, once He dies the death that we deserved to die, and dies that death for us, thank God, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days. There is a prophecy of the resurrection in Isaiah 25:8: “He will swallow up death in victory.” You know, death is a great swallower. I often say that. How many people have been swallowed by death today? How many? What a tyrant death is! What a great mouth death has! Young and old, healthy people, sick people, on the playing fields, in the hospitals, in the schools even; oh, what a swallower is death! But I love Isaiah 25:8, which says that Christ has swallowed up death; the swallower is itself swallowed up in victory. After Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead certain Greeks came to Philip and said, “Sir, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21). Philip told Andrew and together they went to inform Jesus about their visitors’ request. It was a legitimate request, but the Lord’s answer was so strange: “Except a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone: but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit” (John 12:24). They wanted to see this miracle worker. They wanted to get a glimpse of God’s Christ, the coming King and then they got that strange answer. What the Lord was saying was, in other words, this: “Philip and Andrew, if you bring those enquirers into this little room where I am now, they will not see God’s Christ. They will only see one grain of wheat and not the glorious fruit of the grain after it has fallen into the ground and died. God’s Christ glorified is immeasurable!” Isaiah 53:12 says, “I will appoint him a portion with the great.” They would only see a man, sitting maybe on a chair in a little room, but that Man was going to be glorified through His death on the cross. And that is why the Lord gave that example of the grain of wheat. When we walk around in a garden in spring we can see the little shoots coming up where seeds have died. And if a seed will not die it cannot bear fruit. It cannot multiply. You cannot turn one grain of wheat into two grains of wheat, to say nothing of two hundred, unless it goes this way: falls into the ground and dies. Christ glorified through death and resurrection is Christ multiplied. We are part of the multiplication of Christ. He has been multiplied into us because He emerged in the power of resurrection. It pleased the Lord Jehovah to bruise Him, because from those bruisings was going to emerge a resurrection life, a death-conquering life, which would get down into people like you and me and transform us. That is salvation: Christ in us, the hope of glory. Christ multiplied into us. In Revelation 7:9 we see that multiplication described as a great multitude which no man can number, out of every kindred and tribe and tongue and nation. It is the emerging of a new creation. A new creation has been brought to birth because the Man of sorrows was bruised. It is a matter of the personal Christ becoming the corporate Christ. Before Calvary, before the bruisings we see a personal Christ; after Calvary, because of the bruisings, the resurrection and the multiplication, a corporate Christ, a corporate Man, of whom, you and I, through matchless grace, have become a part.
4. An eternal purpose guaranteed
Then the last thought at the end of Isaiah 53:10, another fruit of the bruisings of the Man of sorrows: “The pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in His hand.” What God has planned in Christ, what God has purposed before the foundation of the world (see Eph. 1:4) was to have saved sinners alongside their Saviour in the administration of the universe for ever. That is the pleasure, the vision of Jehovah. That is what our God has had in mind before ever He made the universe. That was His scheme. It is going to prosper in His hands. It is not going to fail. An eternal purpose is now guaranteed; it is unquestionable. All that could oppose the eternal purpose of God has already come out to try to oppose it. “They compassed me about like bees”, we said. “Dogs have compassed Me: bulls of Bashan have beset Me round” (Ps. 22:16,12). All the vile enemies that hell could produce emerged and confronted Him, and sought to overwhelm Him, to trick Him into one sinful thought. They could not. He was altogether lovely, whatever the pressures, from any direction. Hell has done all it can against this Man. And hell has been put to shame. He is the unspoiled Christ. Colossians 2:14 and 15 tells us that He made a show of principalities and powers at the cross. Look at Colossians 2:14 and 15. At the cross the Lord Jesus made a show of principalities and powers. They have done all they can. And today Satan is a defeated enemy. That is why we dare to declare the prince of hell to be the one defeated—utterly, for ever, at the cross. The Lord is allowing him to do some things to enlarge us. Some pressures will drive us to Christ; satanic pressures, even, make us know our need of our Saviour, more than when we have a peaceful Christian life with no problems. We will not have a peaceful Christian life. But the sting has been taken out of the serpent’s mouth, the lion has no teeth. (See Ps. 58:6.) He is only employed in God’s employ, to perfect the Christians. But as for the eternal purpose of God, it is guaranteed. The pleasure of Jehovah, the plan of Jehovah, the scheme, what was thought out in the counsel chambers of eternity, is all going to be realized gloriously. We are on the winning side, brothers and sisters. Hell has done its worst; it can do no more. Christ has triumphed. “And the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in His hand.” Well that is an attempt to understand, and to share Isaiah 53:10. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him because of all that was going to come from it, and has come from it. It pleased the Lord to let His beloved take that pathway of indescribable anguish, in order that these fruits might emerge. Here is the great Victor; here is the greatest victory that was ever won. We are in the good of it—hallelujah! Make your response, brothers and sisters. Surely, we cannot be other than totally surrendered at the feet of this Saviour. Are you raising any questions in your life about the mastery of this Man of Calvary? Are you hesitating to go the Calvary way when so much can issue from it in His case, and also yours and mine? It is the only way of victory, it is the only way of glory, it is the only way of peace, it is the only way of joy. You rob yourself if you hold back from total allegiance to this Man of Sorrows, this great conquering King, this great Victor of Calvary. Let Him have all—no questions—let Him have all for ever. Say so in the quietness: “I want to be conformed to the image of that altogether lovely, that totally victorious Man of Calvary. Let God bruise me if He will, if these fruits can follow.”
3 GOD’S PLEASURE IN HAVING ALL HIS FULNESS DWELL IN CHRIST
“For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell.” Col. 1:19
“For in Him, Christ, dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power.” Col. 2:9, 10
“But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” 1 Cor. 1:30
“And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” John 1:16
We have certainly caused much grief to God’s heart when we were outside of Christ. Now we are in Christ we want to find out more and more about the things that have pleased, please and will please the heart of God. And we pray that those satisfactions, those joys might really come fully to the heart of our creating and redeeming God. We have been mentioning a few things that please God and in Colossians 1:19 we find a simple statement that leads us to another matter which concerns the satisfaction of God’s heart, “For it pleased the Father that in Him, (that is, in Christ) should all fulness dwell.” And that really needs to be read alongside those associated verses in Colossians chapter 2, where we are told that “in Christ dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and ye, ye Christians, are complete, filled full, in Him”.
God’s fulness deposited into Christ
What does it mean? It is a statement of course, from the apostle Paul, telling us really this: it pleases God that all that He is and all that He has, be deposited, have its residence, we may say, in the man Christ Jesus, thereby becoming available to those who are the members of the Body of Christ. God in all His fulness is happy to be reposed in, have His home in His dear Son, so that all that God is, now deposited into Christ, should become available, accessible to all who have been brought into union with Christ, who are associated with Christ, incorporated into Christ. That takes my breath away! I remember a dear young Christian friend of mine who must have been reading his Bible and enjoying his Bible, and enjoying this particular truth, perhaps from this very chapter. He sent me a postcard through the mail with just a few words on the postcard; my address at the front and these few words at the back: “All God’s fulness is in Christ, and all of Christ is for us.” I think that is putting into a shorter sentence what I have been trying to say. All God’s fulness is in Christ, and all of Christ is for us. Now that is a marvellous thing, a wonderful thing, when a Christian begins to see it. But that makes demands. That sets a particular course for Christians, if they are really going to make progress in the spiritual life. There is a discipline connected to that. And we are just noticing that it is that secret that has pleased God. It pleases God that everything of Himself is in Christ, and in Christ alone and that His fulness becomes available for us Christians only if we go to that particular repository, so that we will know where to find and to appropriate everything that we need: in Christ. God has ordained but one provision for His children for all their needs; it is this Person, Jesus Christ. We ourselves are need-personified, but God is supply-personified; and God has ordained that our needs shall be satisfied out from His fulness if we go to the place, to the Person where those fulnesses are to be found.
Christ our inheritance
In Deuteronomy 8:7 we find an illustration of what I have been saying. We have a lovely description here of the land of Israel to which God brought His people. It beautifully describes the wealth of that land, the supplies that were to be found in that lovely little land to which they finally arrived: “For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.” God rescued His people from Egypt and put them into a land, into a place, a lovely little land in their case, where they would find divine provision for their every need; a good land: brooks of water, fountains, depths, springs, valleys, hills, wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil, honey, and so on. In every area that little land had been packed with everything that they could need for their heart’s satisfaction. And they had to possess their possession. This was their inheritance. We read in Ephesians 1:11 the counterpart of all this: “In whom we have our inheritance.” Some translations say: “In whom, in Christ, we have been made a heritage.” Well, I do not think they are mutually contradictory; they are just supplementary one to another. They are two thoughts, both of them equally true. In Christ we are being made an inheritance for God, yes, but in Christ we have found an inheritance from God. Christ is our promised land, just as God packed everything that could be needed by those saved ones, those rescued ones, into that lovely little land, all in abundant supply. So I believe this is a right reading of Colossians 1:19: “It pleases God, God gets pleasure from this fact, that in Christ all His fulness should dwell.” And as chapter 2 puts it, “And we are filled full (in Him).” Once we are in that Christ we have to learn to live in that Christ.
The discipline of going to Christ
It is God’s plan that we learn as Christians to realise that everything for us is there in Christ, and nowhere else. And if we are going to live the Christian life, we must learn to go and go and go again and again and again to that glorified Person into whom the deposit has been made, where the fulness is. That is how I understand it. I have been seeking to learn through the years that the basic secret of the Christian life is going to Christ Himself for everything that we need. Now I said there is a discipline bound up with that. We are so inclined to go here, there and everywhere to get our needs supplied, but God will not have it that way. What has pleased God is to put our total supplies in one repository, His Son. And if we want to go on in the Christian life we have to learn the secret of going again and again to Christ. I hope you do not think I am emphasising that too strongly; I do not believe we can emphasise it too strongly. You see, Christians have to be those who are going continually to that reservoir to fill their cups, and to get their needs supplied. I said that that is demanding; in fact I would say it is revolutionary, even for the best of us, to learn a lot about this. We have to learn—I do, still—about having contact with Christ, really immersing myself into Christ, to get my needs satisfied, and to be enabled to take any further step onwards in my spiritual experience. Christ, and Christ alone. It pleased God that in Him all the fulness should dwell, not three quarters of the fulness, not 90 per cent of the fulness. But it pleased the Father that in Christ, as far as the Christian’s needs are concerned, should all the fulness dwell. And I say it is not automatic, it is not easy to learn to go to Christ for everything.
We are so inclined to try and find other alternatives. We try to find our supply from good books, for instance. And thank God for all the good books, but do not be trapped. Don’t begin even to think that your needs can be satisfied from books. At the best, books can only be introducers to conduct you to the real supply. The books, the best that have ever been printed are not the supply. And if we stop short and go to books, and consume books, books, books, we shall be trapped. Because it says that it pleased the Father that in Christ should all the fulness dwell. We have got to learn to go to Christ, brothers and sisters. Going to meetings is important for a Christian. But you will not get your needs met by going to meetings. Are you convinced of that? You may get your heart hardened by much learning of truth even from anointed preachers. It is not the meetings. Your needs are not met from having fellowship. This is the burden that has come on me as I have been pondering this, praying over it. If we are to make real spiritual progress, brothers and sisters, we have got to be those who are going, going, going all the time to Christ. Now, what contact have we had with Christ today? I asked myself the same question. We may have had a lot of happy contact with fellow believers, but we have got to learn to make our contact, our real contact, the contact that counts, with Christ Himself. A wellknown word from the lips of Christ in this connection is John 6:35: “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.” Oh, thank God for Christian friends; yes, thank God for Christian meetings and Christian books, but if that is where it ends, and if there is no reaching out of the hand to take the Bread— Himself—we shall not grow at all; certainly we shall not grow as God wants us to grow. God wants us, His children, to learn the art of going to Christ for everything. Thank God for all the agencies that He uses, but everything else, everyone else must be regarded as being at best something to introduce us, something that will take us by the hand, and leave us at the feet of Christ, to have our dealings with Him about everything that we need. And that pleased the Father: that was the Father’s plan. We are grateful for all the agencies that have introduced us, but beyond those agencies God loves to see us coming to Christ Himself.
Keep on coming to Christ
The Lord Jesus said, “He that cometh to Me shall never hunger.” That does not refer to an initial coming only. It does not mean going to Christ to get started and then going to other things to continue. John 6:35 virtually says, “He who keeps on coming to Christ shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Christ shall never thirst.” Are we making adequate, personal, day by day contact with Christ Himself? That is the question. He is intended to be our perpetual friend, our perpetual companion, our perpetual supply, in every realm of our need. That is what pleases God: to have put everything into His Son, so that Christians will be coming to His Son. He will be their daily delight, just as He has been the Father’s daily delight. We read that in Proverbs chapter 8: all through a past eternity before there was a creation Christ was the daily delight of His Father. And as the Father was revelling in His Son, all through those endless ages of a past eternity, perpetually, unceasingly, unendingly we ought to find our satisfaction in Christ and in Him only. That is the Christian life, I believe, and nothing less than that is the full Christian life. I just urge you, dear brothers and sisters—I am urging myself—keep contact, keep connected, keep in touch with Him. And do not be satisfied with Christian things, Christian helps—thank God for every one of them—but do not make your contacts with Christian things, even Christian truths, Christian doctrines. There is no doctrine that can meet your spiritual supply. It can lead you to a spiritual supply, but no doctrine is the reservoir. The electricity is not in the doctrine—that is a dead wire, comparatively, but you have to touch Christ for the power to get in and for the light to be there and for the life to be there and the warmth to be there. You have got to touch the power and the power is a Person. God has ordained that Christians be perpetually in need of Christ, perpetually in contact with Christ, and perpetually supplied out from that fulness that is in Christ. “It pleased the Father that in Christ should all the fulness dwell.” The Greek word that is translated with “dwell” implies a permanent residence. Somebody can stay at a certain place for a short or a longer time but not be living there actually. It is a dwelling-place, but the person is not living there permanently. That word in Colossians 1:19 means that in Christ God’s fulness dwells permanently, for ever. And our needs are all satisfied when we are immersed into, coming continually to that Person.
Being filled full in Christ
I will take you back again to Colossians 2:9 and 10: “In Him dwelleth all the fulness bodily, and ye are filled full in Christ.” I remember once trying to illustrate this to a large gathering of Indian brothers and sisters some years ago. And the Lord gave me a thought, and I carried it into action. I took a glass of pure water with me onto the platform. And I said, “Let’s imagine for a moment that this is Christ.” Then I took a few granules of potassium potash from my pocket and dropped them into the water. It became deep blue. I said, “Now imagine that is God’s fulness being deposited into Christ.” Then I said, “I’ve got something else in my pocket.” And I took a thimble and said, “Imagine this is me.” I dropped it into the water. Being a metal thimble it sank to the bottom—which is the right place to be in connection with Christ, by the way. And I said, “Yes, that glass is filled with the fulness of God; the potassium has coloured it. But if I am in Christ, the same fulness is in me! That thimble is just as full of the potassium as the water is!” That is the idea. God has put His fulness into His Son, and has put us into His Son, just like that thimble had been put into the glass of water. He has put us into Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “Of God are ye in Christ.” The fulness of God is in Christ, and you are in Christ. So am I, thank God. It is of God. God did it. God put us in Christ, who is made unto us, well, all we need: wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption, etcetera. Where do you go to when you want wisdom? Do you go to Austin-Sparks, or Watchman Nee, or Martin Luther or Dr. Lloyd-Jones? Thank God for every one of these gifts to the church. But you will not grow spiritually if you are just going to an agency. Those persons are only conductors, introducers. And if you do not get as far as the feet of Christ, virtually you have got nowhere. Because all the fulness is there. Do you see the point? It pleased the Father that in Him should all the fulness dwell. You cannot get ninety per cent from Christ and ten per cent from godly teachers. Hundred per cent, the deposit in totality, is in that glorious Person. What pleases the Father is to see us, you and me, going to Christ, Christ, Christ, touching Christ. I love that verse, “And as many as touched were made perfectly whole” (Matt. 14:36). We have got to keep on touching Him. There is no other way. If a man has a certain amount of credit in a bank, and he has a bank card, it is no good him going to all the banks in town, and putting his card in all those slots and trying to get some money out of it. Then he goes to his own bank where the deposit is, and he can use his card and get out what he wants. It does not work for other people’s credits. You can use your faith where your credit is; and your credit and mine is in that man Christ Jesus who carried our sins at Calvary, and who rose again from the dead, triumphed over Satan, showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs. He is a living great Christ. He has gone up to glory, not just to be a king on a throne, but also to be the deposit, the repository of everything that the Christians need. We have got to learn to go to Christ, not only for the beginnings of the Christian life, but also for every step of progress in the Christian life, all through drawing upon Christ. We have to learn that He is Saviour to us. We have to learn that He is ordained to be Lord over us. We have to learn that He is meant to be our life. There are Scriptures for all these things: Colossians 3:4: “Christ who is our life”. He is not only our Saviour, He is not only our Lord, but God tells us that He is our very life. In fact the Bible speaks of Christ being all, and in all; Christ our everything. Well, may the Lord show us the secret, and enable us to live by this secret.
Abundant supply in Christ
We find this basic spiritual truth of going to Christ for all our needs illustrated in the story of Joseph’s barns in Genesis 41:47 onwards: “And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls. And he (that is, Joseph) gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same.” Verse 49 “And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number.” Joseph could not keep account of it anymore; every silo filled and overflowing. Just get a glimpse of the fulness of supply. Another translation says: “Each stalk, a handful.” Everything that the world would need and what the Israelites would need, when the seven years of great famine would come, was all stored in Joseph’s barns. When the famine had come Joseph said to his brethren in Genesis 45:18 and 19: “And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land. Now thou art commanded, this do ye; take you wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come.” It is really an anticipation of what we have in Matthew 11:28, where the Lord Jesus says, “Come unto Me, I will give you rest.” Joseph is saying here, “Come to me; abundant supply is stored up for you. Now you come to me; bring your father, bring your brethren; come to me and have your needs supplied.” And that is what the Lord Jesus Christ is saying to us. Perhaps we have been missing out because we have not really been in constant close contact with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. We have enjoyed His benefits so much that we have been short-changed. We have not got through to where we have to get through; we have to get through to Christ. You remember the time when you came to Christ, and you found rest. But it is not only rest; it is every kind of resource and sufficiency that we shall need thereafter from the same source. “You came to Me for rest; I gave it to you. Now keep coming to Me for everything; you will find your resource for Christian living where you found your rest from the burden of sin.” That is the secret the Lord wants to teach us: “Come to Me all the time for everything.” I would like to quote Hebrews 12:1,2 in this connection: “Run the race that is set before you, looking unto Jesus, the author and the finisher of your faith.” Do not stop short—I am speaking of myself, brothers and sisters, I do not want to stop short of a constant contact with that living reigning Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. I made contact with Him; I do not want to lose contact; I do not want to be deceived into looking to Christian things to get me on. The Christ who got me in is the only way; He is the Christ who will get me on. He got me in; He will get me on. We have got to touch Him; we have got to have dealings with Him. We have got to live where the fulness lives. And that is Christ only; Christ has the monopoly as far as supplies for Christians are concerned. Investors tell us that it is not a wise thing to put all our eggs in one basket. But I believe we can say that God has put all His eggs—pardon the phrase—in one basket. It is all in Christ. You cannot get most things from Christ, but a few extra things from somewhere else; you cannot.
Christ, the true Vine
Think of a branch in a vine. If it wants to bring forth fruit it has not got a number of options from which it can derive its life. There may be a beautiful oak tree within ten yards, but it cannot get its supplies from the beautiful oak tree. It may even be a cedar of Lebanon—oh, what a majestic tree! Howsoever majestic it is no supply for a branch. There is only one source of supply for a branch in a vine, and that is the vine itself. “I am the true vine,” says the Lord Jesus in John 15:1 to 8, “ye are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” Don’t be tripped into looking at cedars of Lebanon and great oak trees. “Abide in Me. Stay in Me, keep contact with Me”, says the Lord. I love a word that comes four times in the book of Revelation, twice in chapter 1 and also in later chapters: a name for Christ, “the first and the last”. Christ is the first, and He is the last. In many respects that is true: time-wise it is true, but resource-wise, if I may use that phrase, it is true also. There is nothing for Christians outside of Christ. Even the most plausible alternatives are unsatisfactory; they fall short; they leave you stunted in your spiritual growth. You can have a head full of the best teaching, and have very little spirituality. This is my experience. You can learn the best authors off by heart; you can echo their teachings; you can parrot their message; you can be an expert in this line or that line, but be a contradiction to the cross. You are not a true image of Christ in your behaviour. There is no other reservoir; there is no other source of supply. Christ all and in all: that is the lesson we have to learn; that is the principle we have to live by day by day. Well, may the Lord make the remaining days of our lives days in which we will be going to Christ for everything, keeping contact with that living, loving Person, touching Him, and then we shall be made whole, saved fully, conformed to the image of that beloved One. As we have read in 1 Corinthians 1:30: it is God’s doing that you are in Christ, and He is now to be made unto you wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, all that you need. May the Lord hold us to this life-giving principle, and give us true testimony, not a high-sounding counterfeit, but the real thing: the cross of Christ in us, the life of Christ in us, the victory of Christ in us, the priesthood of Christ in us, the kingship of Christ in us, the strength of Christ, the wisdom of Christ, the patience of Christ, all that comprises Christ. May that get into us because we are drawing it from Him, and Him alone.
4 GOD’S PLEASURE IN REVEALING HIS SON
“And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’ And he said, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.’ And he, trembling and astonished said, ‘Lord, what will thou have me to do?’ And the Lord said unto him, ‘Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.’ And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.” Acts 9:1-9
“But the Lord said to him (Ananias), ‘Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel (instrument) unto me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, (the nations,) and kings, and the children of Israel’.” Acts 9:15
“But when it pleased God, who separated me (Paul) from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in (into) me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.” Gal. 1:15,16
There is a very distinct linkage between the story of Paul’s conversion and what we have been considering in our meditations about things that please God. We will see that linkage when we look at Galatians 1:15 and 16: “It pleased God … to reveal His Son in me.” But let us remember that when we shall be exploring those areas the Spirit wants us to come and sit at the feet of our precious living loving Lord Jesus Christ. That is what we began to do when we first surrendered our lives to our precious Lord Jesus Christ. And when I say that, I can testify that to me and to my wife certainly Christ is sweeter and dearer as the days go by. We are enraptured, more and more, with the Person of our blessed Lord Jesus. And that is where we are when we look into these verses, in that same place, at His feet, looking up into His lovely face, and wanting to know Him and the power of His resurrection, and as needs be, the fellowship of His sufferings. Our prayer is that those well-known truths might be taken by the Holy Spirit again and made fresh to us, old truths bringing new challenges, perhaps new light in some areas. Well, may the Lord help us, bless us as we are at His feet.
The importance of Paul’s conversion
In Acts 9 we find the story of the conversion of the enemy of the gospel, Saul of Tarsus, becoming the preacher of the gospel, the champion of the gospel, Paul the apostle. It is about the transition, and what a transition it was, from earth to heaven. He touched heaven; heaven touched him, and there was a controlling link with heaven from that day onwards. Paul writing to these Galatian believers, must have remembered how he had fallen to the earth and then heard the Lord Jesus say, “Arise!” and how he had arisen from the earth, in a physical sense and in a spiritual sense as well. Paul knew how much those Galatians needed the same light he had seen. They were in a strange situation spiritually; they needed rescuing; they needed elevating, to arise from the earth. That is why the letter to the Galatians is used by God to elevate those among us who are being dragged down to earth. Paul is testifying here to those needy, confused Galatians, and saying to them: “This pleased God, in my case, to reveal, to unveil His Son into me, to shine His Son into me—something inward. The purpose? That I might preach Him among the nations.” There is very little preaching of Christ among the nations unless there has been a divine miracle shining the glories of that Person into the hearts of His chosen messengers. This is plain history; this took place in our world along a road which some of us have ourselves travelled: Jerusalem to Damascus. It happened in our world: pleasure to the heart of God shining the magnificence of His Son into the heart and spirit of a man who had shown Himself to be nothing less than an enemy of God’s gospel. God knew how to deal with that tyrant—and revelation was His method, light from heaven. We will see more about that as we go into the story. It was a great pleasure to God to shine the glory of His Son into the heart of this dear needy man on the road to Damascus.
The story mentioned three times
This story of the conversion of the apostle Paul is something of outstanding importance. Why? The story is told three times in the Acts of the Apostles. That is a sufficient reason in itself. We have to get into this story and let this story, and its spiritual message get into us. We have to. The Holy Spirit gives us a record of what happened on that road three times in the Acts of the Apostles: the actual event itself, chapter 9; the event as described by Paul when he was under trial for his life at Jerusalem, Acts 22; and the story as again told when Paul was again under accusation, under trial for his very life before Agrippa in Acts 26. When we skim over the story we do not get a one sentence summary but a detailed report recounting of what had taken place on that road leading to Damascus. I do not think we are wrong when we say, Here is something to which all Christians must give special attention.
The preparation of an instrument
There is another reason why Paul’s conversion is so important, going perhaps a little deeper now. God speaking to Ananias in Damascus says, “Don’t be afraid to meet that man. You could naturally be terrified in view of what he has been doing; a tyrannical enemy of all Christians, anywhere he can find them, stopping at nothing to stamp this thing out. Yes Ananias, you could, naturally, be fearful about this man coming into your city, to your little group. But this man is a chosen instrument for Me to carry My Name, to bear My Name, to the nations.” Of course that is exactly what Paul was doing in the years that followed. He was carrying the Name of God to the nations, the nature of God, the character of God, certainly the work of God. Now as I said this gives us another clue as to the importance of this story. What is really happening here is that God is preparing a vessel; God is making an instrument for the presentation of the reality, of the glory, the Name of the living God to the nations. Now that is where we come in. I believe that is what God is doing with you and me, not using a sensational Damascus-road drama, but inwardly, just as vitally, dealing with us with the same objective, that we, individually and corporately be instruments for the presentation of the glory of the living God, to the nations. The great commission to the Christians is: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), “Make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19): “Go! Carry My Name, carry My nature, make an impress of what the Lord is, the reality of the Lord, make it on the consciences of men everywhere: north, south, east and west!” That is what you are here for, brothers and sisters. That is what I am in Australia for. That is why we went to India. Oh, I am so sorry and so ashamed that I failed Him so much. But that was God’s purpose in sending me there, and later to the Philippines. That is what God is doing in your lives, brothers and sisters. He is making you into a vessel to carry His Name to the nations. What a calling! What deep preparations are essential if that is to be fulfilled in any worthy measure! God works inwardly, deeply, mightily, with the same mightiness as with Saul, in our hearts to make us see what he was made to see. Perhaps some of us are “kicking against the pricks”, trying to resist His loving, patient preparation. God is preparing a vessel, an instrument for the furtherance of His work and the extension of His gospel and of His kingdom. Now I repeat, not all of us have this sensational experience that Saul of Tarsus had, but we have something closely corresponding with it inside our hearts. And while there is the difference, your preparation and my preparation in principle is identical with that which took place on the Damascus road.
A threefold confrontation
Now I have to try and break that open a little and bring you along with me to what has been occupying me as I have pondered over this matter. It seemed to me that God confronted Paul with three all-important, indispensable things. If ever this tyrant was to be or become an instrument for the living God, for the carrying of the Name to the nations, he needed to have this confrontation. And I confidentially affirm that God is working to further confront you and me with these three all-important things.
1. A confrontation with the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ
Saul of Tarsus was in the first place confronted with the unutterable, indescribable, incomparable, magnificent, glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had to be confronted with that fact: there is a Person, there is indeed a Man in heaven now Who is unutterably glorious, indescribably glorious, incomparably glorious, glorious beyond all telling. He is there now. And we have to be confronted with that magnificence, that glory. We have to be captured by it if we are at all worthily, adequately to carry God’s Name to the nations. We need to be seers before we can be sayers. We have to see something. Preparation to be an instrument and a vessel is not accumulated theological knowledge that belongs in our heads. We get to know a few things and we think we are not altogether ignorant. But once we see the King in His glory everything is correspondingly illuminated. The essence of this preparation is that the prospective vessel or messenger be confronted with the incomparable glory of the Man Christ Jesus, the Redeemer of mankind, the bearer of our sins in their totality on Calvary. We need to see the Lamb of God now in the glory; we need to be captured by Him. If we have not been captured by Him maybe there is not much value in our going across the seas anyway. The measure of our usefulness will be proportionate to the revelation that is in our hearts of the magnificent glory of the Lord Jesus. It certainly will determine our message once we have gone. If we have not seen we will be talking about Christian things and Christian organisation and Christian this and Christian that, even unchristian things may occupy a lot of our time. But if we are to carry the Name of the Lord we have to speak among the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ. In Ephesians 3:8, Paul again giving his testimony says, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Oh, for men who are obsessed with Christ; that is what this world needs. That is the true, necessary obsession if we are to be vessels of testimony. A church has got to be obsessed with Christ also, captured by Christ, if that church is going to be a witness and a testimony. I believe that with all my heart. This is what is going on in your life brother and sister, and certainly is still going on in mine: a day by day unveiling, clarifying, enhancing, of my concepts as to the nature and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. I tell you: my longing is that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and, God helping me, the fellowship of His sufferings. That got hold of me years ago; it has still got hold of me, and has a firmer grip than ever before. This is, by the grace of God, my continuing, increasing, multiplying passion, to know the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me, to have Him as my friend and confidant, who shares His secrets with me, and helps me, privileges me, to share all my secrets with Him. I long for a friendship with Christ. He started it by saying “I have called you friends” (John 15:15). I would not dare to start that—would you? A friendship with Christ? Well, He started it when He said, “Henceforth I call you not servants … I have called you friends; for all the things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.” Plumb the depths of that if you can. It has thrilled me for some years: a friendship that goes back before the creation of the universe between the Father and the Son now shared with His unworthy disciples. Christ’s longing is to share, even with wretched me, what His Father shared with Him in a past eternity. The Lord Jesus wants to give to you all things that He has heard of His Father. This is foundation number one in the preparation of an instrument. It is not the opening of our ears, it is the opening of our eyes. And not the natural eyes, but “the eyes of our understanding” (Eph. 1:18). That is what it is: the opening of the inward eye. Even Moses back in Exodus 33 prayed for that: “O Lord, show me thy glory.” And how willingly God cooperated with that request of Moses. After a few verses we find Moses safely hidden in a cleft of the rock while the glory passed by. It pleased God to reveal His glory to Moses; it pleased God, yes, that is the marvel of it, it pleases God to do it. Revelation is not something that we have to extract from an unwilling God. What needs to be extracted from us is a concern about this matter. We are so much taken up with things, lesser things, earthly things, programmes, etcetera. But God wants to capture us with an unveiling of the magnificence of His Son. I called it rightly, with warrant, justification, an incomparable glory that needed to be revealed, an all-surpassing glory. I have chapter and verse to substantiate that. Do you know what time of day it was when this happened? In Acts 22, when Paul is giving his testimony in Jerusalem, he says it happened “about noon”. Do you know what the noontide is like in the brilliant Middle East? When he testifies before Agrippa in chapter 26, he is more precise. He says, “At midday, O king”, not “about noon”, but “at midday”—the very meridian, when the sun was at its height in its maximum glory, that is when it happened. And when Paul testifies before Agrippa he not only affirms that it happened at midday, but he also says, “There shined round about us”—speaking of himself and probably his many companions, on his murderous mission, as though God put the glory of Christ around the whole company—“There shined roundabout us all a light above the brightness of the midday sun.” Are we being captured inwardly by the glory of Christ? You know, that glory blinded the apostle Paul for three days. And he needed a miracle of healing. And Ananias was the agent used for the miracle, to open the poor man’s eyes. This mighty man of Jerusalem blinded by the glory, could not see anything else. That is what happens to us, brothers and sisters. When we begin to see the glory we cannot see anything else; we are obsessed with Christ. This world needs men and women who are obsessed with the glory of Christ, and cannot go anywhere without seeking somehow, by the help of the Holy Spirit, to make that glory known. The glory blinded Paul for three days, requiring a miracle of divine healing to put it right. We often sing it; we sang it as children: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim In the light of His glory and grace. Have you seen something of this glorious light? Have you re-echoed Moses’ prayer, “Lord, show me thy glory”? I recommend that prayer of Moses to all my beloved brothers and sisters. It is the prayer I am praying for myself. I need it, and I am beginning to be captured. I have seen the face of Jesus, something of its loveliness. I would not be telling the truth if I did not say so. And it is not a brilliant light on a road. It is something inside my heart. I am captured already, captured by Christ for ever. And now I do not want to speak about any thing other than the magnificence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Well, it blinded Saul for three days, and a miracle was required to put it right. Consider who this man was! This tyrant with authority from the big men at Jerusalem, the religious leaders, their ambassador was Saul of Tarsus. He was their instrument then. He was an instrument of something earthly, an earthly association. But he saw something that he could never thereafter unsee. He was a captive for ever. I love that English poem, that song which says, “Show me Thy face, One transient gleam Of loveliness divine, And I shall never think or dream Of other glory, save Thine.” Well, that was what Paul had to see. He had to be confronted, and it brought him down to the dust. By the way, that is the test as to whether we are being confronted by this revelation. Are we in the dust? If I am not, at least metaphorically, low in the dust, it suggests that my eyes are not yet opened, have not yet seen the King in His beauty. That was the first of three confrontations that Paul experienced on the Damascus road.
2. A confrontation with a life-union between Christ and the Christians
There was something else Paul needed to be confronted with. It is the fact of a life-union between that Christ and His despised people on earth, an existing life-union—not just an association—between the Saviour and the Christians. There are two evidences of this in Acts 22:1-9. When the light shone, a question was heard coming down from that Person in the glory, and by the way, notice this: what Paul said at that moment of Revelation is: “Who art thou, Lord?” He did not say, “What is this light?” He did not use the word “what”. He knew he was in the presence of a glorious Person; he knew that this light was emanating from a Person. That is why he said, “Who?” “Who art thou, Lord?” And then what was the answer to that enquiry? The Lord said here, “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest.” Have you given due attention to the inference behind those few words from the Lord to the apostle Paul? “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest.” The question was: “Why are you persecuting Me?” Saul of Tarsus was not charged with the crime of persecuting a few human beings inside the walls of the city of Damascus. That would have been a violation of human rights in today’s terms; it would have been a crime, but that was not the issue. What this great Lord said to this poor man was: “You are persecuting Me.” In other words, quite obviously, to touch those human beings down there inside that little city was nothing less, nothing other than touching Christ Himself, because of that life-union to which we made reference. Now this was not a new revelation. The Lord Jesus says in John 15, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” It is a different figure, but the same basic glorious truth—life-union between the Saviour and His saints. Have you seen it, brothers and sisters? Have you been confronted, challenged with this mystery, that the church is the extension of Christ. That is all biblical. The church is not an organisation existing amongst people of certain persuasion in this world. The church is not an organisation; it is an organism. And I am more convinced of that today than ever before. Christians are members of the body of Christ. And if we are not joined to the Lord, one spirit with the Lord, if there is not a life contact, a life-union, we are not yet Christians. I make no apologies; that is in my Bible; it is in your Bible. We have got to see to it that the church is an organism; it is a renewed people in union with the glorified Saviour of the world. What happens when we are born again is that that glorified life seeps down into our repenting hearts; we are revitalised from heaven when we really repent; something gets into us that is heavenly. 1 Corinthians 6:16 and 17 says: “He that is joined to a harlot is one flesh”, we do not need to question that, do we, shame that it is. But the next verse: “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” I love the phrase in the Acts of the Apostles about people being converted in the nations, “Much people was added unto the Lord” (Acts 11:24). I like that: they were added to the Lord. They became part of the extension of Christ—that is a marvelous thing to me, and this becomes more marvellous when we go back to confrontation number one, the magnificent, the incomparable glory of the Lord Jesus, that Person whose brightness is above the brightness of the midday sun. I almost tremble to say it: Christians are joined to that magnificence; they partake of that life that shines out in those terms. It is a tremendous thing to be a Christian. We are one spirit with the Man in the glory, whose brightness is above the brightness of the sun. You cannot separate these two things. If we are members of the body of Christ we are the extension of the one whose personal glory excels the brilliance of the midday sunshine. That is it. So this is the second confrontation. He was confronted with the fact of a real life-union between that unspeakably glorious Saviour in the heavens and Christians anywhere in this world, if they are really Christians, be it the few inside Damascus or be it ourselves. I believe that once we see this it has a radical, revolutionary effect on our relationships with fellow believers. This is a revelation that ploughs us deep, and effects big issues that confront us day by day.
3. A confrontation with the Personal Rights of Christ
The last confrontation I could best sum up like this: Paul was confronted with this tremendous truth concerning the rights of Christ Himself in Person to be the director of his affairs. Why do I say that? Because the very next thing that Paul said once he was confronted with this revelation of life-union between Christ and the Christians was, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” He was handing over, for the first time, to heavenly management. And by asking that question he was confessing these rights of Christ to direct, to be the personal manager, director, of His own affairs in this world. Christianity must be handed over out of the hands of men into the hands of Christ, who mercifully and graciously sometimes deigns to manage His affairs through appointed men who stay under His headship, stay under His mastery. He deigns to entrust His own managements, His own control to those who are living in a true surrender to Him, and a vital union with Him. This was, very clearly, new management. I think Paul could easily have hung around his neck from that day onwards what we sometimes see in the shops, ‘under new management’ .It was true in Paul’s case. Now please notice a little more precisely the degree or the fact of this new management. In the opening verses of this chapter he is certainly being managed, managed by a religious hierarchy. That is not wrong. We read he went to the high priest, probably at the Sanhedrin itself, and he requested letters from them. He is under them. He wanted, with their authority, and at their word, to proceed with his murderous enterprise. So it is release, severance, from an earthly hierarchy of management, and it is entering into a new life under this Man whose glory shines more than the shining of the sun. From this moment he is to get his directions from above. Even Israel, in the Old Testament, going through the wilderness, did not find its own way through the wilderness: there was a cloud and a fire, two interesting figures of the Holy Spirit, which they had to consult before they could take a step. Have we been confronted with this third essential confrontation? Is this heavenly Man in control of our Christian work? Now, let us be honest. We have read that the disciples of the Lord were called people of “this way”. This is the way: being under heavenly authority. I remember a phrase that my beloved colleague, brother Bakht Singh, often used to use in connection with that ministry that he, by the grace of God, fulfilled in India. He used to say, “We do everything by prayer.” We know what he meant; it is touching this principle, this third confrontation. He said that as far as he and his co-workers in India were concerned, they were listeners to the Manager by prayer. What He told them to do, and only what He from heaven, told them to do, would be done. And it meant hours waiting and listening—hours. I know; I have knelt beside brother Bakht Singh for hours while he particularly has been the one listening: “What wilt Thou have me to do?” And you know, it is only a work, a ministry that is birthed in heaven that will count for heaven. This is revolutionary, but it is essential. This is how God began to prepare an instrument to carry His Name to the nations. And I believe, in one way or another, that is what the Holy Spirit is engaged in, as far as you and I are concerned. He wants us to be a worthy local church, a worthy instrument in the various parts of this world where He has given us responsibility, because this coming under heavenly authority has to a degree taken place, and is continually taking place. We are seeing the glory of the Man; we are seeing the life-oneness of that glorious Man with saved sinners. It reminds me of what we have been saying: “It pleased the Lord that in Him should all fulness dwell” (Col. 1:19). If we are one with Him, we lack nothing. All His wisdom, all His patience, all His love and all His grace is accessible to us if He is the head and we are the members. What He has we may have from Him, as we take it, humbly, day by day. This revolutionised the ministry of Hudson Taylor. He was already in China doing a work for the Lord. Then you read in his biography, in the chapter entitled ‘The exchanged life’ how Hudson Taylor came into a crisis. He had been working with good intentions and learning much. The Lord was graciously with him, undoubtedly. But after some time in that involvement he read John 15, and it was those words: “I am the vine and ye are the branches” that opened the eyes of Hudson Taylor in China to the mystery of a life-union with the Lord Jesus Christ: Hudson Taylor out, Christ all in all to Hudson Taylor. Writing to his sister he says, “Oh, my dear sister,”—he was awed at what had been shown him right there in China on the mission field itself—“Oh my dear sister, is it not a wonderful thing to be one life with the ascended Christ?” He goes on to argue, very logically, helpfully, to his sister, “Can Christ be rich and I poor, dear sister? If the head is rich, the body is rich.” And he explains it by the illustration of going to a cashier in a bank. And he says, “Can the cashier in my bank say, ‘I will not give that money to your hand, it belongs to your head? Keep your hand away. No cashier in a bank can do that. If the head is rich, the members are rich.” And once we see this mystery, brothers and sisters, we have no questions about whether we are able, whether we are equipped, whether we have sufficiency in any realm—He is responsible. And His riches become our riches. We can struggle along trying to make our tiny riches spin out, we say in English, but once you see life-union with Christ and are prepared to pay the price of the cross—and that is the price by the way—there is one whole realm that has to be progressively eliminated if we are to live in the splendours of this new realm. Well, if Christ is rich, we are rich. My hand is just as rich as my head, believe me. And all Christians, do they but see it, are as rich as Christ is. Can you take that in? It leaves us spellbound; it fills us with awe. Then these mysteries begin to reach us, and govern us. Well, may the Lord help us to see at least something of what Saul of Tarsus saw on the Damascus road, may He continue in my life this threefold confrontation. May God show me the magnificence of my Saviour, may God show me my union with my Saviour, and may God show me the essentiality of being governed by the Lord Jesus Christ and what He says to me, what He requires. “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” May the Lord continue graciously His work of making us instruments, vessels, to carry the Name to all the nations in this poor, poor, disrupted, wretched, agonising world. We have got to see something and then say it. Then light and life will come wherever we are sent. The Lord help us. Amen.
5 GOD’S PLEASURE IN GIVING HIS KINGDOM
“Fear not, little flock; for it is Your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32
One of the wonderful things about the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ was His ability to compress into a few words some mighty truths, as it says in John 7:46: “Never man spake like this man.” When the Lord speaks a number of precious truths can all be compacted into one simple sentence. And so it is with this sentence the Lord spoke to His disciples in Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock; for it is Your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
God’s people, His flock
In the first place the verse confronts us with the fact that God’s people are regarded by the Lord as His flock. Do you remember how Paul, speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus, told them that their responsibility was to shepherd the flock of God, which God purchased with His blood—words very carefully chosen there—God purchased this flock with God’s blood—Take hold of that if you can, understand that if you can: feeding, shepherding the church of God, which God purchased with His own blood. The Lord loved to speak of His people as His flock. He loved to speak of Himself as being the Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd,” He says in John 10:11. And you remember how He said in John 10:16, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring. They shall hear My voice; and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd.” A flock is one of the many figures used by the Holy Spirit in describing the church. We are not going to enlarge on that fact; I am just saying that there are quite a number of important spiritual truths brought out in this one sentence, the truth of the church being the flock of God under the Shepherd care of Jesus Christ. That truth is touched upon here.
The helplessness of God’s people
Another thing about the church brought out in this sentence is that God’s people are marked with a personal helplessness, great feebleness in themselves. And it is God’s purpose that we should always be marked by conscious, perhaps frightening, feebleness in ourselves, because the Lord says here, “little flock”. Think about a flock, a picture of helplessness, weakness and defenselessness. And it is not even a big flock. It is a little flock. And the opening words in the verse are, “Fear not”. The Lord has a good reason to say that. And I can say it is so right for His people to feel inadequate for their vocation in this wicked, Satan-controlled world. World forces are so many and so strong. And I repeat, I believe it is right to feel our own personal feebleness, as the Lord’s representation in this wicked, Satan-driven world. It is too much for us to stand in a world like this. I must keep on repeating this thought that in ourselves we are pitiably feeble, and intended to be. There is a lovely hymn written by A.W. Marston, in which he says: “I nothing have, and nothing am; That nothing, Lord, is Thine. Thou shalt be everything to me, In all things my sufficiency.” So there is emphasis here on the conscious weakness and helplessness of God’s people in themselves, while we are in this world. If we feel sufficient, we are getting astray. We are helpless sheep. I do not think there is a clearer picture of personal helplessness than a sheep, certainly a lamb. We can of our own selves do nothing. It is intended that we be perpetually and totally dependent upon an outside strength. We are not going to enlarge upon that truth either. But it is in this verse: “Fear not, little flock.”
Destined for the Throne
And then, may I mention a third truth, all incorporated into this one simple sentence, that the Lord’s people are destined for the throne. Howsoever helpless and feeble they might feel: it is your Father’s good pleasure to give to you the kingdom. So God’s people are destined for a throne, like brother Billheimer writes in his precious book, “Destined for the throne”. What a subject that is! God’s people are a royal people. The Lord Jesus loved to speak of this truth Himself to His disciples and of course beyond them, to the whole church: “Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me” (Luke 22:28,29). You need to read the whole chapter for the glory of that verse to reach you. In fact, just go back a few verses. Do you see what those disciples were doing at that time? Verse 24 says: “There was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.” Oh, they were just at the nearest beginnings. Oh, imagine that they had been with the Lord for those years and the truth had not dawned on them! They were in the presence of the light of the world, and still they were in such darkness. They thought that the Lord was going to set up a kingdom in Jerusalem, and He was going to bring the Jews to the prominence that they deserved. And we can almost guess their thought: “Jesus is going to bring us into an important place. Our nation is going to be delivered from the domination of the Romans.” They still had that thought, nothing beyond it. That was about the limit of their vision at that time. And yet, just a few verses afterwards the Lord says, “I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me.” He was going to do a great work; He was going to do an all-renewing work in those unworthy hearts. He was going to give them spiritual vision of an everlasting kingdom that is not of this world, sharing the throne of Christ Himself for ever and for ever. They were to share His mastery over all things. And the Lord was going to do what so evidently needed to be done to prepare them for that vocation. The Lord spoke the same truth when He was risen from the dead. After His ascension, His exaltation, when He was enthroned in the glory, He again speaks about it. The same Christ, the Christ of Luke 10, the Christ of Luke 22, is again speaking through John: “He that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am sat down with my Father in His throne” (Rev. 3:21). This truth of us being created to reign, and being redeemed to reign with Christ for ever and ever, runs like a golden thread all through the Bible. It is all in the sentence: “It is Your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” It is so wonderful when we catch a vision of that eternal intention, that eternal purpose of God, to create men, to redeem men, to remake men, by the indwelling and the control of the Holy Spirit, so that they shall be fit partners for Christ in the administration of His eternal kingdom—all in a sentence. Even in the Old Testament we find this again and again. My mind goes to Isaiah 32:1 where we have a prophesying of the coming kingdom: “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness.” But that is not the completion of the sentence. The whole verse renders: “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment.” Oh, praise God! Our great King of kings is going to have His princes, His co-administrators to administer a universal, immeasurable, eternal kingdom that shall have no end. That is also in other parts: Daniel 7:18: “But the saints of the most High shall possess the kingdom.” And Daniel 7:27: “And the kingdom shall be given to the saints of the most High.” Brothers and sisters, I do not believe there is any one among us who has yet fully grasped what our salvation is all about: “… Him, that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God” (Rev. 1:5,6). True, Christ loved us. True, He washed us from our sins in His own blood. Hallelujah to the Lamb, who was slain on mount Calvary. Yes, He loosed us from our sins in His own blood. But… He made us kings as well! Oh, it helps us so much when we get a fuller glimpse of what God had in view in redeeming us and in regenerating us, and what He has in view day by day in dealing with us as He does so faithfully, because we have got to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ, “predestinated to be conformed to the likeness, the image of God’s dear Son” (Rom. 8:29). Oh, a lot of work has got to be done in us. I found the Lord in 1925, but I feel I am only just beginning to enter into the greatness, the vastness, of the divine intention for saved sinners like myself. Oh, I have been so slow, but something is dawning upon me. It is my heavenly Father’s good pleasure to give me a share in administrating the Kingdom of His dear Son. That comforts me. It is worth going through a lot of trials and humiliations. Sometimes we have to stand up and say to the church: “I was wrong. I am sorry.” That kind of thing is necessary if the dross of self under Adam is to be burned out of us, and the gold of Christ, the character of the King of kings, is to be formed within us.
So far I have mentioned three important spiritual truths in Luke 12:32: we are the Lord’s flock; we are intended to feel totally helpless in ourselves; we are destined for a throne. But there is another truth. Something dawned on me from Luke 12:32 that had not dawned on me before, and I believe it is very important. Maybe it will touch you with freshness just as it has touched me with freshness. Notice the Lord says here: “It is Your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He does not say: “It is going to be your high honour to possess the kingdom.” That is true but that is not what the Lord is saying here. There is another emphasis in the words that the Lord deliberately chose in this sentence. The Lord is telling these disciples that His Father is going to find His own personal pleasure in setting people like you and me alongside His Son, the glorious King of kings. The bringing of us to the throne is not only honour for us—the emphasis here is happiness for the Father to have a partner to share the throne of glory with His Son for ever. That is what gripped me—I had not seen it, not enjoyed it before, but the Lord says: “It is Your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” I was much moved by the French version: “Votre père a trouvé bon de vous donner le royaume.” God finds good for Himself in giving you the kingdom. He finds happiness for His own heart in having a royal partner for His Son, and preparing us, dealing with us, placing us alongside His Son. It brings such pleasure to God that His Son should have a suitable partner, the church, overcomers, for the administration of this immeasurable, timeless kingdom, reigning and ruling with Him for ever and ever. That is the Father’s vision for His beloved Son. His beloved Son shall have a partner brought from the depths, transformed by infinite power and grace, and brought to these high heights sharing the throne. That is what moves the Father’s heart. How happy Abraham was when Eliezer his servant found a partner for Isaac his son. It was not only Isaac’s pleasure to welcome Rebekah; it was Abraham’s pleasure that his son Isaac had someone like Rebekah to welcome into his tent, and to be his partner for ever. So it is that God the Father has pleasure: in bringing us to the throne. That is what touched me: the pleasure of God in bringing us to the throne. That is why we have got to go on, brothers and sisters. The Father finds pleasure in handling material such as we are, transforming it, and making even us into a radiant people, worthy, prepared for partnership with the Saviour. A radiant people… Oh, a lot of work has got to be done in our hearts. Are you available to Him? So much of the dross of self has got to be burned out, maybe in the fires of affliction. So be it. But the work has got to go on, not just for our honour, but for God’s happiness, that He have a people suitable for His Son.
The work of the cross
I finish with a word from Psalm 45. You know this is a psalm about the king and his queen: an Old Testament picture of Christ and His partner on the throne of the Kingdom of heaven. The first part of the psalm is all about the king, and the second part of the psalm is all about his queen. Starting with verse 6 we read about the king: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” How true verse 8 is of Christ, the King: “All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.” But notice how it all heads up to verse 9, where the queen begins to be introduced: “Kings’ daughters were among thy honourable women: upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir.” The King is going to have a queen at His right hand. A King shall reign in righteousness, and a queen shall share His throne. And about the beauty of this queen we read in verse 11: “So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty.” As the King sees his queen alongside Him, He greatly desires and loves her beauty. He sees His loveliness in His bride, the queen. And then in verse 14 we find a picture of the way in which the queen got that beautiful garment the King was delighted to see: “She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework.” It was a raiment of needlework. A lot of piercing has to be done to make a garment of needlework. This is embroidery, and embroidery we could say is something that hurts. Those needles make us think about the nails that pierced the hands of our blessed Lord. They speak of the suffering of Christ that has to go in and dig deep into our beings to bring another beauty, and yet another beauty, into the garments of our eternal glory, “raiment of needlework”. Perhaps the needle is sharp in your life, but there is a golden thread, a royal thread attached to that needle. “If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom, to bring you and me to the throne. What matchless grace! What a glorious purpose! Hallelujah. Amen.
6 GOD’S PLEASURE IN SHARING SPIRITUAL DOMINION
“Then came to Him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping Him, and desiring a certain thing of Him. And He said unto her, ‘What wilt thou?’ She saith unto Him, ‘Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, ‘Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with? They say unto Him, ‘We are able.’ And He said unto them, ‘Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto Him, and said, ‘Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your bondslave: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’.” Matt. 20:20-28
We have been considering Luke 12:32 where the Lord speaking to His disciples said, “Fear not, little flock; it is Your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” What we have to say now is really returning to that and following it up with perhaps a necessary compliment, a truth that needs to be considered alongside this truth of sharing the throne, taking part in the kingdom. And to state that truth we will try to answer a question: What is spiritual dominion? What was the Lord offering to His disciples on that occasion? And what is He offering to us right up till today? It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. But what is the kingdom? What does that phrase ‘spiritual dominion’ entail? This is our question. What is it to share the throne with Christ? What does it require? What preparation, what training is necessary for those who would be princes with the King in His kingdom. What is the pathway to it? Those were lovely words that the Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples: “It is Your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The Lord in principle repeated that message in Revelation 3:21 when He said, “He that overcometh shall sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in His throne.” Beautiful words, a breathtaking revelation. But it is the heritage of the Christians; the Bible is full of it. That is where God is taking us, in His matchless grace. That is what He has had in view from the beginning.
The nature of spiritual dominion
Now I do recall that when I first heard this it did not appeal to me very much. It was not in keeping with my thought of happiness. It certainly was not my ambition to sit on a golden throne with countless servants around me watching for my welfare and ready to run at my word. Of course the reason why it did not appeal very much to me was because I did not at that point understand the nature of spiritual dominion. And it is spiritual dominion that is in view here. It is a spiritual kingdom. It is far, far greater than anything we can reduce to human terms or human measurements or human impressions. “Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for them that love Him.” This dominion, this sharing of the throne, is a spiritual matter. And our ideas of dominion are pitiably inadequate. But maybe by looking at this passage in Matthew 20, and a few other similar passages, we might get some necessary corrections or adjustments in our understanding of this all-important matter. We can sum up our answer to the question what is spiritual dominion in a short sentence by saying it is a total reversal of the merely human concept of dominion, not just slightly astray from it, but I emphasise the phrase, a total reversal of the human concept. The Lord says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8,9). As the heavens are higher than the earth, how much higher is that? Can you put a measurement to it—kilometers, miles? When the spirit begins to teach us concerning these things and show us true values, we are confronted with something that is infinitely higher than our natural minds could ever take us. And in fact it is what we said: it is a total reversal in this case of the human concept in this matter.
A mind to serve
The mother of Zebedee comes with her two children, James and John, desiring of the Lord Jesus Christ that her two sons may sit one at the right hand and the other at the left in His majestic kingdom. They believed that they were in the presence of the king for which the whole nation had been waiting for centuries. And they had this human picture of the king on the throne. The next word is “But”—we are going to get a shock, you see. Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you are asking for. The picture you have in your heart of your sons sitting at the right and left hand of the king on the throne is totally wrong. You are in a realm that you do not understand.” And then we find the key to the whole thing. The Lord presents it here in the middle of verse 22: “Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?” The key is that the Lord Jesus was going to be exalted to the throne through the baptism of Calvary. That is the great going down into death and burial, and the great emerging in the power of resurrection. The Lord did not explain it all at that point, but that surely, we know now, is what was in His heart when He asked this question, “Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?” That must have shaken them. But they pressed on; this ambition was beginning to really take hold of them and drive them. And even when the Lord said that to them they said, “We are able.” Then the Lord mentions about His Father’s will in this matter. And then the Lord explains how the princes among the nations, the high-born of this world, men of strength and power are the ones that wield authority, get people under their control and hold them under their control. “But it shall not be so among you”, says the Lord, “but whoever shall be great among you, let him be your servant. And whosoever will be chief—that means even greater—let him be your bondslave.” Then the Lord Jesus expresses His passion. Here we have the disposition, the nature, the mind of Messiah Himself, yea the great King of kings Himself: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” He did not come with the ambition that he would be ministered unto in this world, I think we can say, or in the world to come. His mind is a mind that ministers to the needs of others. That is the mind of the King of kings. He came to spend and be spent in serving. That is the mind of the Master, the real Master of all. He came to be servant of all to the extent that He, the Lord Jesus, gave His life a ransom for many. That is the disposition of our Master. I think we can say that is the very atmosphere of this throne that is being offered to us when the Lord says, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am sat down with my Father in his throne” (Rev. 3:21). Have you ever thought of that word: “The Lord came not to be ministered unto”? Well might He have been ministered unto—oh, did He not deserve that His whole creation be down at His feet as willing loving vassals to Him for ever, and finding their joy in delighting His heart, bringing to Him anything that can please Him; whatever He wants, He must have it. But that was not His thought. It does go up to Him when we give Him the praise that is due to His Name during worship meetings, but that was not His ambition. That is not what He had in mind primarily. The mind of our Master is to give, to serve utterly, continually and unlimitedly. His passion is to give away; that is His mind. His ambition is not to accumulate things, or even importance, I would say even honour. His heart was not set, personally, on that. His heart was set on being a slave to everyone in need.
The preparation for the Throne
Now we did raise the question at the beginning: What is the preparation? How can we prepare ourselves for partnership with Christ in His throne? Who are the overcomers? Well, the answer can be found in another passage that deals with this subject, Philippians 2:5: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” The overcomers are those who have this mind of the Master, this passion to get down, down, down, in service to others in need. The Lord Jesus came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, to the extent of giving His life for wretched, unworthy, hell-deserving sinners; to spend Himself, to pour out His blood, to pour out His life for those who were crucifying Him. And preparation for the throne will be along the line of learning that mind of Christ, receiving, manifesting that mind of Christ. How much has that passion to be a servant to everybody got into us? Are we those who are still climbing with personal ambitions? Or are we those who are stooping down, down, lower and lower to do something that will help anybody? This is revolutionary, brothers and sisters, and that is why the Lord said to those two disciples, James and John, and their mother: “You do not know what you are asking for. If you want affinity with Me, fellowship with Me, a place with Me in My kingdom, are you able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and are you able to be baptised with the Calvary baptism that I am baptised with?” So we do have that clear teaching in Matthew 20 from the lips of Christ Himself concerning this matter. Spiritual dominion involves utmost service, taking and remaining in the lowest place accessible. It means having a passion to serve others, not having a passion for people to come along from all directions and meet my need. It is the reverse as we said: it is a passion to supply the needs of others, a complete reversal. And I believe that explains a word that we have in Romans 12:2; we have that great call in Romans 12:1: “I beseech you therefore, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, your reasonable service.” Then verse 2 says: “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” That is it—the renewing of your mind. The Spirit has to renew everything: our thinking, our scales of values, our concepts of what is appropriate and so on. It all has to go through a baptism, a burial of the old ideas, and the implanting, the inburning of new concepts, new scales of values, new understandings of what is ultimately desirable.
The downward pathway to the Throne
So this answer to our question ‘What is spiritual dominion?’ is clearly given there in Matthew chapter 20. But we also have the supreme example of this in the case of Christ Himself. Look at the beautiful passage in Philippians 2 again. The beginning of the chapter leads to a glorious picture of Christ highly exalted, having a Name which is above every name, a Name at which every knee shall bow. It leads right through, we know very well, to this beautiful revelation of Christ in the throne. And what was the pathway? We are just refreshing our memories of the pathway, the essential preparation of the King for this throne. What had to go before? Verse 5 says: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Even by the order of the two words there: Christ-Jesus, the question is answered. He is Christ, the kingly name, followed by the human name, Jesus. Then we read, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped at.” So great was He that He did not have to aspire to equality with God. It was not necessary. He was already part of the eternal almighty Trinity; it was already His portion. And then it says in verse 7: “He made Himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant.” Do we realise that that first part of verse 7 refers to what took place before ever the Lord Jesus came into this world. His entrance into this world is not mentioned till the next verse. This is a position taken in heaven with His Father before He came into the world as man. He made himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant. And the word servant there is the word ‘doulos’, bondslave. “He took upon Himself the form of a bondslave.” He took the position of being a willing bondslave to His Father, even before He was made flesh and entered into this world. Then after that He was made in the likeness of man. And then He goes down, down again: “And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name that is above every name.” Because of this downward, downward, downward stooping of first becoming a bondslave to His Father, willing to go, willing to pay the price, then entering heaven, then leaving heaven and entering earth, and in earth becoming obedient every day that He lived to His Father’s will, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross, God highly exalted Him. You see the pathway to the throne in His case is a pathway of bondslavery, not only to His Father, but willing to serve us, to meet our deepest needs out from the abundance of His grace.
The lower, the greater
Did you notice back in Matthew twenty, by the way, where the Lord said: “He that will be great among you, let him be servant, but he that will be still greater, let him be bondslave.” You see the complete reversal here. It is lowliness to be a servant, but it is more lowliness to be a bondslave. That is brought out very clearly in the original Greek words that are employed there in our text: be great, be a servant; to be still greater, get still lower and be a bondslave. A bondslave is one who possesses nothing of his own; he possesses nothing for himself; he exists only for the happiness of others, the meeting of the need of others. A bondslave is penniless, and has nothing to seek for himself. Those are the great ones in the kingdom, brothers and sisters. This is the thought that we are trying to remind ourselves of; it is the thought that we are asking the Lord to put in our very lives again. The way to the throne, is the way of willing continual glad service to others. That is it. It is not a matter of climbing to the throne. In this matter we stoop to the throne. And those who stoop most will sway most authority, I believe, in spiritual things.
The Lamb on the Throne
In Revelation five the question is: who is worthy to open the book with seven seals. And the later chapters of Revelation show that that book really is the book of the destiny of humanity. And opening the book with the seven seals is the matter of introducing humanity to its final destiny. Who is worthy to open that book? What a majestic calling to unfold human destiny! It is the Lamb. We could say it is that Person with the perpetual Lamb disposition that shall unfold the book of human destiny. It is the Lamb who is in the throne of God. Let this mind be in you, that was also in Christ Jesus, brothers and sisters. “He that overcometh will sit with me in my throne, (notice) even as I overcame.” We overcome as He overcame; He overcame by the cross, by going down to indescribable nothingness and shame. That is why God highly exalted Him and gave Him a name which is above every name. May I draw your attention also to Isaiah 42 which brings the same truth before us. This is one of the prophet Isaiah’s clearest prophecies concerning the coming King: “Behold my servant.” The King is introduced right in the opening words of the chapter; He is introduced as servant—“whom I uphold.” And uphold means exactly what it says: someone who is held up. “My servant whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon Him.” Now it says here, “He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles”, or “justice to the nations”. He is going to be the righteous King, bringing benefits to all concerned. He shall bring forth justice unto the Gentiles. Now notice the description of Him: “He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.” That is strange. He prefers to be silent. He is not always wanting His voice to be heard. And then it goes on to say: “A bruised reed shall he not break.” That reed could have been a little musical instrument made from the reeds, the bulrushes that grow by the riverside. And sometimes it had a little bend in it, perhaps distorting the note somewhat. But a bruised reed He will not break and say, “Oh that is nothing.” That is not His disposition: to throw away something that does not function properly. Get hold of this brothers and sisters. We will come back to that. And it says: “A smoking flax He shall not quench.” The flax was the wick which produced the flame, from which the flame burned. And sometimes that wick became corroded and the flame was no longer clear. And some people’s tendency would be to quench the smoking flax—“We don’t want this smoke. Get rid of it.” Well, He would not be quick to do that: if there is a chance of cleansing it, improving it, that is His preference, rather than dismissing it. That is the King. And those are kingly Christians who have that kind of heart. There are some Christians who are always wanting their voices to be heard. But it says here, “The king Himself shall not cry, nor lift up His voice and cause it to be heard in the street.” I think the picture here is that of a personal preference for quietness rather than self-advertisement. It is easy for us to break broken reeds: to quickly discern and assess the failures, shortcomings and imperfections of others. And we love to talk about them and put them out of the way because they are imperfect. That is not the disposition of the King. And how easily we quench smoking flaxes: “Put it out, don’t waste time with it.” If the Lord had dealt with you and me in that way, where would we be? We have all been bruised reeds, giving an imperfect, perhaps an unworthy sound. But did the Lord cast us away when He found us to be like that? I do not think so. Every one of us has been a smoking wick; we have not given a clear light. But did the Lord dismiss us? He has infinite patience with bruised reeds, and infinite patience with smoking flaxes and a preference for hiddenness rather than self-display. Now these are characteristics of the king. These are characteristics of spiritual dominion. In a word, it is what we had in Matthew 20 and also in Philippians 2: getting down before others, not imposing ourselves upon others, but getting down before others in total service. God’s kings are of that kind, brothers and sisters. And that is what the Holy Spirit, I believe, is doing with you and me: to make us suitable for partnership with the great Bondslave Himself. He is putting that spirit of holy, humble bondslavery into us, burning it into us. It is necessary.
Serving unworthy people
In John 13 we have the beautiful story of the Lord Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, an amazing picture, absolutely in keeping with the things we are saying. But notice how it is introduced in verse 3: “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hand”; we could use alternative words there: “Jesus knowing that by divine decree He was destined to reign.” What did He do? He rose from supper, laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. That third verse took hold of my heart: Jesus knowing that He was destined for the throne did something. He did something that was the very disposition of the throne, that expressed the disposition that characterises the throne. He took a towel and girded Himself. He Himself put the water into the basin; He did not get servants to even do that for Him. He had to find the towel Himself, took it, girded himself, and He was the one who poured the water into the basin—total service, total bondslavery to people who were totally unworthy and who everyday in His presence were showing themselves to be totally unworthy. He was down at their feet, girded with the towel, and washing their feet. Now have you noticed that this action of washing the feet of His disciples took place just at the beginning of this precious section in John’s Gospel, chapter 14, 15 and 16 where the Lord is unfolding the deep things of His heart, the fulness of His purpose to His disciples. He had been ministering among the people of the world up till this point. But here He has gathered a few who begin to have an ear for what He is wanting to say, and He has them now for these three chapters: 14, 15 and 16. And He is going to show them their calling—what He has had in mind for them since He first met them and began to talk to them about His kingdom. He has got them now. But the point I am making is this: He introduced what He said with words by something that He did, by action. And in that action He epitomises, He condenses, His total plan for these chosen ones. He shows them through eye-gates, we say, what was the eternal purpose, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the human creature. We have answered to some extent the question what is spiritual dominion and what is the pathway to it. I am not frightened any more at the thought of sitting in resplendent lights and much pageantry. That was a childish thought I had— pageantry, pomp and show. I associated all that with dominion— how foolish I was, how much my mind needed to be renewed as in Romans 12:2. Well I have something in my heart now; I want to learn lowliness, more lowliness, more willing spontaneous servitude to totally unworthy people: I want to learn that. I want to learn the secret of taking the towel, washing anyone’s feet that will give me the honour of doing so. That is spiritual dominion. Yes, those sons of Zebedee, they had a totally wrong idea, but they did not know what they were asking for. But the Lord said, “He that is least among you shall be the greatest.” Do not aspire to climb, but ask for the honour of stooping; that will make you a king. I believe I have been able to discern overcomers as I have been in various countries. In most assemblies that I have visited I have been able to recognise some overcomers. And do you know who they are? They have been up early in the morning scrubbing the floors. And there is one place I can never go to without losing my shoes for half an hour. But they come back shining beautifully. There are some people who you cannot stop carrying the chairs, carrying the burdens; it is getting into their heart. These are overcomers. That is kingliness. Well, may the Lord enable us to let the mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus. We finish with that word, Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock; it is Your Father’s good pleasure to give you this kind of kingdom, not according to the kingdoms of this world, but the heavenly kingdom.” Little flock, don’t be afraid; little flock, it is Your Father’s good pleasure to bring you alongside the Lamb, the Lamb in the midst of the throne. May the Lord work out this inscrutable purpose in our hearts and in our lives.