“Thou Art Fairer” (Ps. 45:2)
“Fairest Lord Jesus,
Ruler of all nature!
Ο Thou of God and man the Son!
Thee would I worship,
Thee ever honor,
Thou my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.”
The personal appearance of the Saviour was well-known to His disciples. For three years they had looked into His very eyes, and eyes are ever the windows of the soul. They had listened reverently and continually to the cadences of the voice which spake “as never man spake;” had become happily familiar with the very intonation of the “gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.” They had ministered to His bodily needs, and brought Him “meat,” had “abode” with Him, and been “blessed” by Him. He had “showed them His hands and His feet,” and one had leaned “on Jesus’ bosom,” whom He loved.
Now it was all over. He was gone from their midst, gone to glory, and to His Father. No longer would He travel in their boats, or eat in their presence, or share with them “the way going up to Jerusalem.” There would be no more suppers at Simon’s in the best of gracious company, or wondrous meals at Emmaus, in the evening. No more “fires of coals” would be lit by the lake side, with “fish laid thereon and bread.” No longer would He bid them: “Come and dine,” in holy and happy bodily intimacy.
No; He was gone, as He foretold, and naturally “sorrow filled their hearts.” For what a blank His bodily absence left in their lives and outlook. No longer would that gracious form appear in the emergency and in the storm, with His, “Be of good cheer; it is I!” or in the upper room with His “Peace be unto you.” No more would He sleep by their side at night, or pray with them in dread Gethsemane.
No; in all this they were called to learn a new lesson. Though they had each had faith in the Son of God, they were now called to a life of faith, with no longer a sight of His blessed comforting Person. As Paul expressed it later: “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more,” as such. They were called to exchange His occasional bodily presence for His continual omnipresence. They had lost the Christ of Galilee, they were now to learn the Christ of Glory, in fact to walk by faith and not by sight, to depend not at all on the flesh, but entirely on the Spirit.
And yet the Scriptures give so many significant and loving details as to His Person, His features, His lips and eyes, His face and form, that surely we are to love not only His appearing in the future, but His appearance as He was in “the days of His flesh.”
(1) Think first of the face, later “marred more than any man,” for our redemption. It can be a face of sternness on occasion, for “the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” Yet it is a face of love and grace, that attracted little children, and disarmed their fears. It was a face of sternness to Himself when “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem,” and to death, and hid it not from “shame and spitting.” Yet it was a face of love and compassion for the humblest believer. Once, in the sight of the disciples, “His face did shine as the sun.” But mostly His glory was veiled. Yet this did not make impossible the Psalmist’s cry: “Make Thy face to shine upon Thy servant,” for our blessed Sun of Righteousness ever shines upon His own in benediction and blessing. Thank God for every further glimpse of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” which is revealed to us, as “seeing through a glass darkly,” we learn to know and love His very visage. Some glad day we shall see Him “face to face” in everlasting glory, and faith will give place to eternal sight.
(2) And then His ears. How they catch the softest whisper of confession or trembling love! How graciously willing He is to hear our cry. “Let Me hear thy voice,” says this Heavenly Bridegroom, “for sweet is thy voice;” sweet to His ears in spite of the worship of angels and the chorus of the cherubim; sweet to Him in spite of the imperfections He must often see in His own. Thank God this “Ancient of Days” has never in the course of the years, become “hard of hearing.” We are specially reassured: “The Lord’s ear is not heavy that He cannot hear.” Oh, let our song of praise rise to Him “evening and morning and at noon,” in response to His kindly desire, and may He waken our ear, morning by morning, to hear fresh revelations of Himself.
(3) Then those eyes, all-seeing eyes! His eyes we read in Revelation 1 are as a flame of fire, as they scrutinize the “churches” with a glance which should shrivel up all our self-complacency and confidence and pride; yet eyes so tender, so sorrowful over the sinning saint, that they sent Peter out to “weep bitterly.” Eyes that break the heart, yet heal it, and are so loving in their glance that they “suffer the children,” and draw them to His arms (And we are all children still!). We read, on the one hand, that “He lifted up His eyes on the disciples” in affection as He uttered the blessed Beatitudes (Luke 6:20), yet looked away with infinite compassion on the perishing multitude (John 6:1) as if to direct our gaze, and enlist our sympathy in seeking to give them of the Bread of Life. How “the eyes of our understanding” need to be attentive to His commands, as we gaze continually, by faith into “the eyes of Him with whom we have to do!”
(4) And His hands! What are we told about them? Well, they are mighty, creative hands. Psalm 102:25 reveals “the Heavens are the work of Thy hands” Yet Psalm 139 also reassures us: “If I…dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy Hand lead me and…hold me.” They are so mighty, yet so tender; so strong, yet so sympathetic. Yes, our eternal destinies are completely in those hands, and they are eternally safe. Indeed, all our hopes and prospects for time and for eternity centre in these hands of God.
“My yesterday was Christ upon the tree,
Who bore the condemnation due to me.
Today I journey on, and He must lead,
He knows my pathway, and He knows my need.
Tomorrow is not, yet His wisdom plans,
I leave my future in His loving hands.
Full well I know those hands all worlds upbear,
The hands that hold the stars shall hold my care.”
Let us turn in closing to the vivid verses which end Luke’s Gospel. Let me quote some of the sentences for your better remembrance. “And He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.”
Here we have a most delightful glimpse of coming glory, a foretaste of the redeemed in Heaven. Here we have a grouping of the accomplished purposes of God, for which the Saviour came to earth.
Man was created for God’s “pleasure” (Rev. 4:11), but sin in Eden destroyed any pleasure God could have in man, and any communion man could have with God. From then on, the purpose of God was to restore them both. The dying Saviour had cried, “It is finished,” at Calvary. At the time it was not evident what was “finished.” The Sun had seemed to set in eclipse and oblivion. Yet He had stooped but to conquer. And in the last three verses of Luke’s Gospel we have a summary of salvation, and the fruits of victory.
The Saviour had clearly announced: “I am the Way … no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” And in these closing happy verses we see that great highway of salvation established and in operation. At last traffic can be resumed between Earth and Heaven. And blessed be God, it is two-way traffic, as it were! On God’s part, “He lifted up His hands and blessed them.” And on man’s part, they lifted up their hearts and “worshipped Him.” Blessing ever pouring down from those pierced hands, worship ever ascending from men’s contrite hearts. God’s purpose towards man was accomplished. No wonder “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.”
As we have thus contemplated the Person of the Saviour, as revealed in His Word, surely the response of our hearts must be that of the Psalmist: “Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into Thy lips, therefore God hath blessed Thee for ever” (Ps. 45:2). May we too ever “rise up and call Him blessed!”
“Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight,
And all the twinkling starry host;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus shines purer,
Than all the stars that Heaven can boast.”
“John bare witness of Him”
Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11). Such were the words of the Saviour in A. D. 31. I suppose they form the greatest commendation ever spoken by God of a human being. This was the man so important, with so unique a ministry, that he shared with the Saviour in having his birth announced beforehand. His mother was kinswomen to Mary the mother of our Lord. But his birth was not announced merely a year before; it had been foretold by Isaiah 700 years before. For this forerunner and herald of the Saviour must be fully authenticated by the prophets, like his Divine Master, who was born a few months later than he.
(1) John is remarkable in this, too, that he was one of the few men really mistaken for Christ. Of course the events of the time gave color to the idea. The days had been dark indeed since Malachi wrote 400 years before. Since then there had been no word direct from God. And now surely the time was ripe, and many waited for the consolation of Israel. So, as this strangely-dressed prophet rose on the horizon of Israel, having spent his life “in the deserts till the day of his showing to Israel,” “the people were in expectation.” The result was that “all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ or not” (Luke 3:15).
Stories are not uncommon in the mission field of God’s messengers passing on their way with the gospel through some populous town or tiny village, with a message for the soul and perhaps with medicines for the body. Some were allowed of God to leave such an aroma of Christ behind them, that when, long after, the Saviour was described by some later messenger, previous hearers mistook the earlier missionary for his Master and said: “Oh, yes; we had the One you describe, your Christ, pass through our town years ago. He was just like you say!” Oh, may some Divine aroma distil from our unworthy lives, as we pass through the spiritual wilderness which surrounds us! May we so adorn the doctrine, and so commend the Master, that we may at least be clearly recognized as belonging to His family and being His children, with a strong family likeness to Him!
(2) And John was not only great in his birth. The Saviour said he was great in his life. For the Saviour made a tremendous pronouncement about that life, and into a few simple words imported tremendous truths “He (John) was a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35). True, there are many lights that seem to shine, but really are not burning at all. How they glitter in the sun! How dark they are in the dark! For it is only borrowed, reflected light that comes from them. And many lives are the same, outwardly upright, yet inwardly sinful and unregenerate. They have never been lit by the One who said, “I am the Light of the world;” shining but not burning, they are doomed to outer darkness. But John was a burning light, having been filled with the Spirit from birth. But he was also a shining light. Yet there are many lamps which are truly burning but yet which give no clear shining; the light is dim, or so obstructed and hidden that no light emerges. And just so with many believers. Yet shining should be the constant result of burning, and this was so true of John, the shining light, that men were “willing… to rejoice in his light.” God grant there may be a clear shining from each of our burning hearts, that we may ever be God’s beacons in the world’s darkness.
(3) John had been described long before in inspired language in Isaiah 40:2 and Malachi 4:5. He was to be the voice of him that crieth… “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” “He shall turn the hearts of the fathers.” These prophecies were repeated to his mother at birth (Luke 1:17), and the Gospels show that Isaiah’s prophecy was clearly attributed to him. Thus when John was officially asked by the rulers of the Jews: “Who art thou?” he makes a sublime response. He gives a description of himself and his mission that would to God were literally true of all of us, God’s messengers! “I am the voice,” he said, “the voice” of one crying in the wilderness. Where could we find a simpler, more selfless, and safer description of anyone called to be God’s messenger?
For how much the human personality often obtrudes into, and obstructs the message from God; so much of the messenger is seen that little of the message is heard. “The voice!” What an ambition to have that true in some small measure of us all! A voice from God with nothing of the human to detract or distract from the message. It is deeply impressive at times to be in an overflow meeting where the message is being relayed to the audience, but no human messenger is in sight. “I am the voice,” just that and no more, with no desire for some of the credit or applause, “content a little place to fill, if God be glorified.”
(4) And then the humility of the messenger (John 1:27). “His shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.” And the further statement in John 3:20, so often quoted, so inspiring, so little aspired after: “He must increase but I must decrease.” What a wonderful, what a concise, summary of growth and grace and life in Christ! “None of self, and all of Thee.” God make it true of us!
(5) Let us now turn to the first chapter of John’s Gospel, and join the multitudes from Jerusalem and all Judea” at the Jordan where John was baptizing. Now the great moment approaches of which Isaiah had written, and Malachi had prophesied, and the Saviour had waited thirty years of His earthly life, and for which John had been created and appointed. “The voice” was no longer to sinners to repent. It was raised now in that clear eastern air to announce officially the coming and the presence of the One who was to be God’s perfect sacrifice for sin. So John cries: “Behold the Lamb of God!” And in making that announcement John had completed his great destiny. He had pointed men away from himself as the preacher to “Another,” the Lamb of God, who alone could impart the righteousness he had heralded. And in so doing, as Paul pointed out in his sermon in Acts 13:25, in this declaration John “fulfilled (Gr., ended) his course.” He had accomplished that for which he had been sent into the world. From now on he must indeed “decrease,” and that result was soon apparent, for the next day, repeating his cry, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:36), two of his disciples detached themselves from their old leader, and “followed Jesus” to become two of His band of twelve. John had indeed passed his zenith. What need for the moon when the Sun of Righteousness had arisen?
But that cannot be our final estimate as to John. For at the end the Saviour speaks of him as of no other man. In the providence of God, Herod was allowed to shut up John in prison, and later to behead him. But John had kept the faith! For, languishing in prison, when he had proclaimed a Messiah who was to set the captive free, he still sends his last quavering question: “Art Thou He that should come?” Thereby he showed his perplexity at the strange lack of action of the One who was to “bind up the broken-hearted,” yet seemed to have no concern for his breaking heart. Yet his triumphant conviction that Messiah must and would come shines forth in the rest of his message: “Art Thou He that should come, or look we for another?” “For if Thou art not He, we shall go on looking for Him, we can never abandon the hope, the search, for God’s Anointed.” Here was faith perplexed yet persistent, which betokened the greatness of John. Here was a man so great that the Lord was able to leave His servant in prison, without an explanation but just a promise, “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” It is surely only His choicest saints with whom He can deal like that, and still He finds it good for us and pleasing to Himself, to sometimes ask for faith which does not ask for explanations. “Lord, increase our faith!”
The Solitary Saviour
“And Jesus was left alone” (John 8:9).
The word “alone” (monos), is used eight times in the Gospels in connection with the Saviour. It truly expresses one aspect of the cost to Him of being made sin for us, when He became incarnate, that He might accomplish our salvation. One hesitates to speak of His being “lonely,” the word hardly seems reverent applied to Him.
But eight times we are told that He was alone, and it will be profitable to consider what that implied and involved to Him. John 8:9 may be our initial passage, as it so stresses the moral isolation of the Sinless Son of God on His shining way to the cross. That day in Jerusalem, surrounded by a critical crowd of sinners, His searching words so convicted them of sin that they were literally driven, one by one, from His holy presence, until “Jesus was left alone” with the woman.
I think that scene gives the clue, and supplies the underlying reason why He so often was alone, isolated by His innate purity and holiness. From eternity He had dwelt “in the light no man can approach unto.” And in His earthly life this continually compelled that moral solitude, which must have been His experience through the years, and have cost Him so dear.
He had divested Himself of His glory, He had laid aside His riches, when He came to earth, but His purity He could not lay aside. But having “a body prepared for Him” His very humanity craved human sympathy and fellowship, and this was largely denied Him. “God setteth the solitary in families,” wrote the Psalmist, but the Saviour’s natural family had failed Him, as we shall see, and His adopted family did not really come into “the fellowship of His sufferings” till after He had gone back to Heaven, with the result that He was called to tread “the winepress alone” (Isa. 63:3).
As a Child, one glimpse only we have of Him, when in Jerusalem His mother discovered Him “in the midst of the doctors” (Luke 2:46). And then the curtain drops, and nothing is revealed of the eighteen hidden years that followed in Nazareth. What did He do and say those unrecorded years? How did He feel? At least we know how He lived! As ever it was, “I do always those things which please Him.” We know, too, how He toiled for a living. “Is not this the carpenter?” records Mark 6:3. How much that sentence reveals and implies! He did not preach during those silent years of preparation in Nazareth, or they would have remembered it, and not merely have referred to Him as the carpenter. No mighty works were done in those years either, for the “beginning of miracles” was at Cana. No; of public witness there was evidently none in Nazareth, for “His hour was not yet come.”
Did He find sympathy in Nazareth with His mission, or fellowship in His solitude? Evidently the common people never realized that in their midst lived One so “high and holy,” nor shared in His sorrow over sin. His very friends (Mark 3:21) deemed Him “beside Himself” when He began to preach later on. They evidently had no glimpse of His glory. His “brethren,” too, did not believe in Him (John 7:5) when His ministry began. We must suppose that in earlier years they, too, must have failed Him in real sympathy and understanding. Even then Psalm 69:8 was being fulfilled, “I am a stranger unto My brethren … an alien unto My mother’s children.”
There remains then Mary His mother. Could He make a real confidante of her? We know at His miraculous birth “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). And as to the doctors, Mary “kept all these sayings in her heart” (Luke 2:51). More we are not told. The scene at Cana does imply Mary’s perfect confidence in her Son and His power. But does it imply that she was His confidante? Had He been able to unburden His heart to her as to His Person and mission, and coming death as Sin-Bearer? Did He find in her that solace for His solitude, that human sympathy, which He sought later on? It hardly seems as if this could have been so even with Mary, for as Psalm 69:20 puts it: “I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.” So far “about thirty years” He lived in Nazareth, the solitary Saviour, cut off from human sympathy and understanding, unrecognized, unknown. Well has it been put:
“The come and go of busy feet,
With sound of hammer down the narrow street;
A little two-roomed house with scarce a breath
Of air; in busy, crowded Nazareth.
Yes, here for love of thee, through silent years—
Oh, pause and see, if thou art wise—
The King of kings dwelt in disguise.”
There indeed, day after day, the Lord had been living the Sermon on the Mount years before ever He preached a word of it. Yet, strange to say, that perfect sinless life lived as an example, changed no other lives. It was to take a cross to do that.
Later, when His ministry had begun, He paid a visit to Nazareth, where alone in all the world a perfect human life had been lived; and with what result? In His home town of Nazareth we read: “He could do no mighty work… because of their unbelief.” Pathetic verdict! Thank God He has changed His home town now, and dwells in the heart of every believer. Yet, alas, though His abode is different, only too often the home conditions are the same; unbelief in the heart, hence no mighty work, to His eternal sorrow and our eternal loss. “Lord, increase our faith!”
Then came His public ministry, and the time when, kindly and deliberately, He had to divest Himself of His earthly relations. For now these natural ties had to be superseded by supernatural ties, and brethren after the flesh had to be replaced by brethren in the Spirit. So, to the seeking mother and brethren (Matt. 12:50) He decreed: “Whosoever shall do the will of My Father… the same is My brother and sister and mother.” So He turned from His natural family to His adopted family. Twelve of them He called to be His disciples, and the function and purpose of these new adopted relations is carefully and for all time set forth in Mark 3:14. He ordained twelve that: (1) “They should be with Him, and that (2) He should send them forth to preach.” Those words set forth the order of importance of their purpose and call. Their office was to be twofold: They were to share His joys and sorrows with Himself and they were to share His salvation with the world.
(1) “That they should be with Him.” Earliest man “heard the Voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” Even then He was seeking fellowship with His creature man. He has been seeking it ever since. So the disciples were called “that they might be with Him.” We too are called (1 Cor. 1:9) “to the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,” for the highest function and possibility of man must ever be the fellowship of God. Service, however exalted, is after all but a by-product of Christian life. The main, the highest, function is fellowship.
Of course we need preparation for it, even as believers. When the prodigal came home, the Father did not invite him to sit at the feast in rags. It would not have been fitting, nor was it needful to do so. The loving father could and did fall on his neck and kiss him, in spite of all his rags. They did not prevent reconciliation. They did prevent communion. Even so, there is a fellowship with God which cannot be enjoyed by any believer without suitable preparation and apparel, the robe of Christ’s righteousness put on. As with the prodigal this is supplied free, on the terms that we do “put… on the Lord Jesus Christ,” day by day.
This preparation for fellowship is often long and costly. Many lessons had to be learned by the disciples in their school of prayer. Many must be learned by us, yet how well worth the learning! Many indeed are the “strange ways” and acts of God. Time, too is needed, and there is often bewilderment. Yet there must be patience and trust in the dark. “A saint’s life in the hand of God is often like a bow and arrow in the hand of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and then the saint cries, ‘I cannot stand any more!’ God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly!”1 Those words well describe some of the trials of faith of the believer. It is a real help to realize the process going on. We cannot see Him clearly, we cannot quite understand what He is doing, but we know Him. We may often have to learn to trust Him in the dark. Only so is deepest fellowship developed.
“That they might be with Him.” As He said later: “They did continue with Him in His temptations,” yet only in body. Yet how far off they were in real sympathy and understanding! When, “offended” at the truth, ‘many of His disciples walked no more with Him” (John 6:66) He cries: “Will ye also go away?” Then though Peter made a sincere and important declaration, “Thou art the Christ,” yet when the Saviour spoke of His inevitable cross, Peter only willing for the crown cries, “Be it far from Thee, Lord!” So, refusing to discuss His death, he failed Him in His need. Later at the transfiguration, sent by God to revive their fainting faith, Moses and Elijah spoke with Him concerning just that “departure” He was to make on the cross, and so supplied the disciples’ lack.
But why prolong the recital of the disciples’ failure and the Saviour’s isolation. Only after Pentecost and the gift of the Spirit did the disciples and believers really begin to enter into “the fellowship of His sufferings.” Was there any sorrow like His sorrow? Can we not make amends today? He has promised to enable us to abide in Him. Thus by the Spirit’s aid we may walk in unbroken communion and fellowship with the Saviour. Then, day by day, He may “see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied.”
(2) “And … send them forth to preach.” Believers “were called Christians first in Antioch.” The people knew they were actually disciples and converts of Barnabas and Saul, yet those were not the names they were called by. Because of their evident likeness to their Saviour they were called Christians. The change was wrought by Him and not by men. Today lives must authenticate lips. Because they do not, most sermons are in vain.
“From church and creed the light goes out,
The saintly life survives;
The blessed Master none can doubt,
Revealed by saintly lives.”
The Saviour’s Journey, down and up
“I beheld Satan…fall from Heaven.” So cried the Saviour one day in Galilee (Luke 10:18). That describes a tragic event in Heaven which has had far-reaching results on earth. For having rebelled against God, the tempter succeeded in involving man in his ruin, and dragging him down with himself in what is rightfully called “the fall of man.” And what a fall it was! From the will and love and presence of God! For it changed the whole direction of the human race, to make it ever downward, away from God, down into darkness and ruin. So the needful appeal in Job 33:24 is “deliver him from going down into the pit!”
And that downward trend of the human race, away from the inoncence of Eden, was so rapid that in nine generations the whole earth was “corrupt before God,” and the world had to be purged by the Deluge. Yet even those flood waters were unable to cleanse Noah’s heart, or to reverse the ever-downward direction of the human race, “deceitful and desperately wicked.” At once the inevitable process began again, and it has continued ever since. So that, today, in a way unthinkable a generation ago, the evident trend of large sections of the human race is back to the “law of the jungle,” and might, not right, seeks to rule the world of men.
Who then is able to reverse this fatal trend of the human heart? Who can change it so that it may be no longer downward, but upward and Godward? Man cannot do it for himself, for he has now a nature that is “enmity against God.” Nor is he able of himself to get free, for “the whole world lieth in the Evil One,” and is under his power and dominion, and the Devil will never of himself relinquish “the prey of the terrible.” To reverse this downward evil direction a Saviour was needed. The operation could not be performed from Heaven. The Deliverer would have to act as did the “Good Samaritan” of old, who came “where he was,” to meet the sinner’s need. This emphasizes the fact that six times over in the sixth chapter of John the Saviour pointedly declared: “I came down from Heaven,” “I am the Living Bread which came down from Heaven,” etc. He had to descend that man might later ascend.
(1) First then, He came down to be born of Mary, for as Man He must die for man. So from the lowly resting-place of Mary’s arms and the manger, let us trace His ever-upward progress from the cradle to the grave, and so to the opened Heavens, whither He carried “a multitude of captives” into glory.
(2) Taken up. Then let us behold “the Child Jesus,” brought by His parents “to do for Him after the custom of the law” (Luke 2:27). Then the aged Simeon appears led by the Spirit into the temple, and we behold a charming and symbolic scene. For, beholding “the Lord’s Christ,” the old man “took Him up” in his arms and blessed God for Him, in the sublime words of the “Nunc Dimitis.” So the Saviour’s first stage upward to the cross and to Heaven is up into a loving believer’s arms!
(3) “Jesus went up” (Matt. 3:16). Passing by the silent years at Nazareth, the time of His public ministry drew near. Then, that He might “fulfil all righteousness” He presented Himself as an Israelite to John, His prophetic forerunner, in Jordan. There He publicly assumed the humble guise of Jehovah’s Servant, in meekness and submission. “Then Jesus when He was baptized went up straightway out of the water,” went up symbolically out of death into life. Then there came the first of those “voices from the excellent glory,” which ever approved Him on His way to the cross.
(4) “Led up” (Matt. 4:1). Immediately upon His enduement with the “Spirit of God” for His earthly ministry, there came the official assault of the Prince of Darkness He had come to conquer, which is called “the Temptation.” Deliberately He was “led up” of the Spirit into the wilderness, to the encounter. There after fasting forty days, He met and defeated the great adversary of souls with the Word of God, the armament ever available to the humblest believer. “Led up by the Spirit,” He but used “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” It is deeply significant both in language and intention that two of the temptations were: “If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down,” and, “All things will I give Thee if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Is this language accidental? Surely the very words imply a moral as well as a physical movement, the very downward tendency of the human heart He had come to reverse. No; His direction was not “down to the pit,” but ever upwards to the throne of God, taking with Him His blood-bought Bride.
(5) “Going up.” Passing over His earlier ministry, after His rejection by the nation, we read in Luke 9:51: “He steadfastly set His face to go to” the cross, and of the same journey we read in Mark 10:32: “They were in the way going up to Jerusalem” for it could not be that a prophet perish out of the capital. And it was a going up! Up to the city, “Beautiful for situation,” up to the Temple, centre of the worship of His Father, up to the council of the priests and scribes with their jealousy and hate, but supremely up into the plans of God, that He might become the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” But His very going up indeed implied a laying down of His life, a ransom for many.
(6) “Delivered up.” Then came the last dark night of the betrayal, when He was arrested in the Garden, and brought before the priests and scribes. By them He was to be condemned and then to become, as Peter expressed it in Acts 3:13, “Jesus whom ye delivered up, and denied Him in the presence of Pilate.” That was their purpose, to deliver Him up. They did not realize it was also “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” For while the rulers in their blindness delivered up the Saviour to the injustice of Pilate, God was also active, and in Romans 8:32 we are specially informed of what was not evident at the time of His death: “He that spared not His Son, but delivered Him up for us all…shall…freely give us all things.” The Jews, then, in their hatred delivered Him up to injustice; God the Father, delivered Him up to the altar (as with Isaac of old), where “the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
(7) “Lifted up” (John 3:14). How then was the Lamb of God to die? If the Jews had had their way He would have been stoned, the Jewish mode of death. But stoning would have meant a casting down, first of the Saviour, then of the stones. This however was not the plan of God, nor would it have been in keeping with the progression of the Saviour upward to Heaven. But long before God had settled for all time and beyond dispute that He was to be lifted up, not cast down. So the brazen serpent (Num. 21:9) was made a type of the coming Saviour, and there was “life for a look” to the dying Hebrew, as there has been “life for a look at the Crucified One” to every dying sinner ever since. And very early in His ministry, the Lord Jesus accepted the type, and applied it to Himself in the words of John 3:14: “As Moses lifted up the serpent…even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” “Must” because it had long been the will of God; “must” because, as He said: “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” That was His purpose, hence this had to be the mode of His death.
And so “they crucified Him,” and on the hill of Calvary, as “sitting down they watched Him there,” the chief priests mocking Him said, “If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.” But such belief would have been unavailing, for He had to die that we might live. “Come down!” No; He could not, for it was upwards He was bound, up to the cross, the only way to Heaven.
(8) “Raised up” (Acts 2:24). And now came the most momentous fact of all. It is well expressed by Peter in his sermon on the day of Pentecost: “Ye men of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God … ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain whom God hath raised up because it was not possible He should be holden of death.” It has been well and truly said that the whole fabric of Christianity has been reared upon the fact of an empty tomb. And that He did die, and did rise from the dead, is the best attested fact in human history. The subtlest brains in the world have sought in vain to disprove the resurrection, and have utterly failed. Interpret it as we may, react to it as we will, reject it if we dare, the fact of the resurrection stands absolutely certified, unshakable, in human history.
“Raised up” in victory to live for evermore; “Carried up” in triumph to Heaven and home (Luke 24:51); “Received up” into everlasting glory (Mark 16:19); these are some of the concluding stages of the upward progress of the Son of God who graciously came down from Heaven for our salvation.
(9) “I will raise Him up” (John 6:40). And what of us? What of all “the redeemed from among men?” What of the multitudes of captives He led to Heaven in triumph? Why, He has something very particular to say about us all. And He said it four times over in the sixth of John, it was so important to us; it was such a glad anticipation to Him. The momentous fact is that the direction of every believer’s life has become permanently changed from down to up! In fact we are now each one linked on to Christ; in His upward progress we share in the triumph of His resurrection from the dead; we are all bound for Heaven. This was the Father’s will, the Father’s plan, “that every one which seeth the Son and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” He was raised up from the dead, and just as surely every believer will share in the same mighty miracle and be raised up.
(10) “Look up, and lift up your heads” (Luke 21:28). Meanwhile, what is our prospect, our outlook on this world of sorrows and alarms? Our outlook must ever be an uplook. “Look up, and lift up your heads,” is as binding on us, and as needful for us, as many other great and precious promises and commands. It is the Divine prescription for gloom and discouragement. It is just as sorrowful to the Saviour as it was on the way to Emmaus that we should “walk and be sad.” We have come to the days when, rightly, “Men’s hearts are failing them for fear.” They have surely begun to come to pass. Then let us “look up, for our redemption draweth nigh.”
(11) Finally “caught up to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17). He was “carried up,” we are to be “caught up!” Whose are the hands stretched out now to keep us, then to receive us? Surely the One whose hands were once nailed to the tree for us. For the Lord’s Christ “having spoiled principalities and powers… made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” And in spoiling them He delivered us, and finally and for ever has reversed the downward direction of every believer’s heart. So that we too are now bound upward, to be raised up, to be caught up! Wherefore, let us “comfort one another with these words.”
“Though the shore we hope to land on,
Only by report is known,
Yet we freely all abandon,
Led by that report alone;
And with Jesus,
Through the trackless deep move on.”
“A Man of Sorrows”
“A Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).
Yet “anointed… with the oil of gladness” (Ps. 45:7).
In Hebrews 11 we have been “compassed about with a great cloud of human “witnesses.” These were not “epoptes,” actual eye-witnesses. A different word is used which rules out the idea of their being spectators, but which signifies those who witness by their faith in God. (Griffith Thomas). Yet immediately we have had displayed to us all these paladins of faith, we are exhorted in Heb. 12:1 (as in the transfiguration) to get our eyes off men and on to God. For our only safe and habitual objective must ever be “looking unto Jesus.” He, only, is to be the focus of our eyes, and hopes and hearts.
But more than this is needed. So in Chap. 12:3 we are given another very interesting and important command: to “consider Him,” lest we be weary and faint in our minds, a condition which is so chronic in many believers. Here a unique and expressive Greek verb is used, nowhere else found in Scripture: “analogizomai.” This word which is translated “consider,” implies much more than to “ponder.” It has rather the meaning of “reckon up carefully” (Young). From this verb we get our English word “analogy,” which implies the comparison of things partly alike for their better understanding.
So we are to “reckon up carefully” “the contradiction of sinners against Himself;” to seek to estimate some of the sufferings and sorrows of the Holy One who died for us.
Let us think at this time of the mental and moral anguish that came to Him in being “made sin for us.” Truly was He called the “Man of Sorrows.” This is a title that echoes down to us from Old Testament times. Yet when we come to the Gospels, those detailed records of His life, we find hardly any expression of His sorrow of heart. True, He often expressed His sorrow for others. He wept over Jerusalem. He groaned at the grave of Lazarus. He joined the sisters in their tears, so tender and sympathetic was His heart for others. But of Himself and His own personal sorrow and suffering, hardly a word.
We do indeed have certain indications how much it all was costing Him. He needed to “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem,” and to Calvary. He sweat “as it were great drops of blood,” in dread Gethsemane, as being “made sin for us” became more imminent for Him. He even cried: “If it be possible, let this cup pass”; and on the cross: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” These were sure indications of the cost to Him. But of the expression of His own anguish of heart there is scarcely a word beyond that cry, uttered under the hot Syrian sun: “I thirst!” It is deeply significant that otherwise He gave hardly any expression in words of His agony of spirit:
The remarkable fact is, He could not! He could not utter the plaint of His sorrows, or it might have sounded like a complaint against God. He could not audibly express His suffering, lest He might seem to reproach His Father. So it was foretold of Christ: “He shall not cry nor lift up His voice” (Isaiah 42:2). In the circumstances He could not!
Yet God the Father evidently wished us to be told of the infinite cost in sorrow and anguish to His Son. He desired that we, upon whom the ends of the age have come, should be able at this long distance, “reckon up carefully,” and so comprehend more fully the “Man of Sorrows.” And it is a further remarkable fact that the only way this could be done was by men giving expression beforehand to these sufferings on God’s behalf. The writers themselves, strange to say, realized the problems, and “searched diligently what … the Spirit of Christ did signify when it testified beforehand of the Sufferings of Christ.” It was mainly through the Psalmist these revelations were made known, though Isaiah and others shared in this unique ministry.
Psalm 22 perhaps voices most completely His anguish of spirit. “I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not” (ver 2). “Be not far from Me.” “I am poured out like water, all My bones are out of joint.” “They look and stare upon Me.” “Be not Thou far from Me … O haste to help Me.” Perhaps the most urgent and anguished of all is in Psalm 69: “Save Me, O God…I sink in deep mire.” “Reproach hath broken My heart.” “I looked for some to pity…but I found none.” And Lamentations 1:12 sums it all up and expresses most completely the many plaints and cries of sorrow uttered on behalf of the Holy One by psalmist and prophet: “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like My sorrow!” Contemplating such grief, what matters “our light affliction which is but for a moment?” A Man of Sorrows indeed!
Yet because He was God’s perfect and representative Man, “the Last Adam,” it was needful that He should clearly exhibit and exemplify the other emotions of the human heart. He could not be one-sided. There must be that even balance of mind and character, as typified in the fine flour of the meal offering (Lev. 2:1). So that, though He was supremely the Man of Sorrows on account of His redemptive work on the cross, yet joy must also needs find a large place in His heart and life. So it was divinely foretold of Him in Psalm 45:7, “God hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.” It had to be so! It was so! Blessed paradox, the Man who was supreme in sorrow, yet surpassed all others in joy—“above Thy fellows.”
Now let us join the little company as they leave the Upper Room. It is the eve of Calvary. Many times in the past the Saviour had spoken of peace and love and joy in regard to others. Now He is on the way to dark Gethsemane. He is approaching the turmoil of His trial and death. He is to face the hatred of the very world of sinners, the pain of the Cross, the sorrow of His Father’s averted face draws near. If at any time He might well have been preoccupied and sad and troubled, it was now! Yet with these three contrary emotions besieging His heart, turmoil and hate and sorrow, remarkable to say this is the very moment in His ministry when He chooses for the first and only time to refer to the feelings of His own heart. Here clustered in a few precious verses recorded by John, we hear about: “My peace” (14:27), “My love” (15:19), and, strangest of all, “My joy” (15:11). What a miracle of Divine grace and sufficiency! Yet though He only referred to “My joy” at this extreme time of approaching sorrow, there are clear evidences all through His earthly life and ministry of the out-working of this joy. These can only be mentioned in outline.
(1) The consciousness of His Father’s presence was ever His delight. Well had the Psalmist declared: “In Thy presence is fulness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). And that presence was ever His abode. So He declared: “He that sent Me is with Me; the Father hath not left Me alone.” (John 8:29). And never once was this joy of communion broken save when on the cross He was made sin for us.
(2) The Psalmist also declared on His behalf: “I delight to do Thy will, O My God” (Ps. 40:8). And when that will was for God to reveal His wisdom, not to the wise but unto babes, we hear the glad refrain of the Saviour’s heart: “Jesus rejoiced in spirit (Luke 10:21), and cried”— happily—”Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight!”
(3) Another often unrealized joy that is to be His, is the joy of ruling someday in righteousness. In Matt. 25:21 the servant is to be ruler over many things, and to enter into the joy of his Lord. For Emmanuel’s coming joy will be to exercise beneficent dominion over creation that groaneth and travaileth in pain at present. Then, sorrow and sin and sighing will have forever passed away.
(4) Then there is His joy in answered prayer. In John 11:41 he cries “Father, I thank Thee,” at the prospect of the deliverance of a friend from death. True, but a little while before He had “groaned” in spirit over the same man. Yet He had known what was to be the issue. He knew Lazarus was to live again, yet He wept. Yet He soon rejoices when the Father’s time had come for Him to raise the dead. Are we often able to utter that cry of joy over answered prayer?
(5) Then the joy of successful service is His, and is to be ours too. “Rejoice,” He cries, “with Me, for I have found My sheep.” Whose is the joy in the presence of the angels but His?
(6) And then when things are darkest His heart is buoyed up in hope, as a divine antidote to present distress: “Who, for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” Thus anticipated joy was one of His emotions. It was legitimate. It had practical value in the difficult present. Is it not in that same anticipation that Paul joins the Saviour when he cries: “But none of these things move me…that I might finish my course with joy”
Truly, “in all their affliction, He was afflicted.” Is it not equally true that in all His joys we are to rejoice? Of course it will not always be fine weather, nor shall we always have blue skies, as we seek to “fight the good fight of faith.” We shall often have varied emotions. It was not extraordinary that Paul’s songs in the night were preceded with stripes. It was only according to promise that the Thessalonians “received the Word in much affliction and joy in the Holy Ghost.” “Weeping may endure for the night,” but it is promised, “joy cometh in the morning” (Ps. 30:5). It was so with the Saviour. It was so with His servant Paul. It must be so in some measure with us. Yet, though circumstances may be full of sorrow, the heart may still be full of joy. We too, in some measure, must be “acquainted with grief.” I believe each one of us also has a right to be “anointed with the oil of gladness.” “The joy of the Lord is to be your strength.”
“He humbled Himself…wherefore God hath highly exalted Him” (Phil. 2:8, 9). “Looking unto Jesus…who…endured the cross, despising the shame. For consider Him that endured…lest ye be weary and faint in your minds” (Heb. 12:2, 3). At once the practical application of this latter passage is evident. Having recorded the suffering of His Son, God commends this “consideration,” “lest ye be weary and faint in your minds.” How easy it is to be weak and faint in the fight for righteousness! God knows how many droop by the way. He knows the disappointments of life, the difficult circumstances; His own hand often bestows the sorrows, hence the warning. In 1 Peter 4:1, in the same connection of suffering, it is expressed more strongly: “Arm yourselves with the same mind.”
We have already considered something of the moral and mental sufferings of the Saviour, but the immediate context here is rather “the contradiction of sinners against Himself,” and the physical indignities and sufferings resulting to Him.
But how are we to estimate those sufferings? With what standards shall we compute them? We have various standards of human measurement, will they be adequate? Well, we estimate some things by size, but “He taketh up the isles as a very little thing,” and where are we? We have measurements of time, but with this timeless One “a thousand years is as one day,” and we sink back bewildered. Other things we estimate by color or purity; but “He dwelleth in the light no man can approach unto.” So all our human standards fall pitifully short when applied to the Son of God. Yet He has given us the records of the Gospels by which we can realize something of the cost to Him of the incarnation.
(1) We might first examine where He was led, in that earthly life of His. This in itself seems a contradiction in terms, for how can God be led? He must ever be first. And yet such was the price to the Saviour of becoming incarnate, that He “at whose word creation sprang at once to light,” had deigned to put Himself at the disposal and in the power of men and women, often wicked men, just so long as it was His Father’s will. First of all, He deigned to lie in Mary’s arms, and humanly speaking to be dependent on that human mother for life and sustenance; no doubt legions of angels were guarding His life those days, but it was Mary’s arms that were around Him. Coming back from Jerusalem, “He went down to Nazareth and was subject to them,” a wonderful verb to be applied to Almighty God. It opens up vistas of the long, silent years in Nazareth, when at the carpenter’s side, He helped to earn the daily bread for the little family, “subject” to His elders.
Then, His ministry beginning, we read in Mark’s Gospel, “He was driven of the Spirit into the wilderness,” another wonderful verb to be applied to Him, implying not unwillingness, but utter subjection to the Spirit. Later, preaching one day in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16), His audience was so incensed with the truth and with His claims, that “they rose up and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill.” Thus wicked men were allowed to lay violent hands on the Son of God, and just so long as it was His Father’s will, He had to suffer them. But as no prophet could perish out of Jerusalem, the moment came when it was no longer His Father’s will for Him, and His majesty flamed out, and “passing through the midst of them, He went His way.”
At last came the night of His arrest (Luke 22:54) when we read: “They took Him, and led Him, and brought Him unto the high priest”— again three remarkable verbs to be used about God. That night there followed the mocking and scourging of the sinless Son of God by wicked men, the spitting and the shame, the purple robe and the crown of thorns. At long last the pilgrimage of suffering was almost ended, and “they took Jesus, and led Him away” to “the place which is called Calvary.” There on a green hill, (still a green hill), “Our Lord was crucified, who died to save us all.” Thus ended His leading by men. Thank God the last glimpse Luke gives of Him He has resumed His only possible and proper place, and “He led them out as far as to Bethany.” So ends the unique spectacle of God being led by men, in gracious subjection.
(2) Then we might well consider what He was lent during His earthly pilgrimage. For strange to say He came into the world with resources so slender that continually He had (and I use the word advisedly) to be beholden to people, mostly poor people around Him, for the common necessities of life. This was by His Father’s and His own deliberate choice, for we are specially told: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though He was rich (beyond compare), yet for our sakes He became poor.” Had we been having a son born into the world to die on a cross, we might have planned to have him born in a king’s palace, that he might have all he desired on the way to death. But this was not the plan of God. So Christ went through life a poor Man. There were evidently no savings from those years of toil in Nazareth. He became deliberately poor. He remained deliberately poor, so poor that one day they borrowed from a fish the tribute money for Himself and Peter! Here are lines which express His extreme poverty on His shining way to the cross:
“They borrowed a bed to lay His head,
When Christ the Lord came down;
He borrowed the ass on the mountain pass,
That He might ride to town;
But the crown that He wore and the cross that He bore,
Were His own, the cross was His own.
He borrowed the bread, when the crowd He fed,
On the grassy mountain-side,
He borrowed the dish of broken fish,
With which He satisfied.
He borrowed a room on the way to the tomb,
The Passover Feast to eat.
They borrowed a cave, for Him a grave,
They borrowed a winding-sheet.
But the crown that He wore, and the cross that He bore,
Were His own, the cross was His own.”
These I think are moving words. They bring to our minds something of the cost of His poverty on His journey to the cross. They seem true. Yet when you come to think of it, they are just the truth reversed. The poet has taken poetic license indeed! For the bed and the ass, the bread and the fish, the room and the cave were really His own. He had created them. It was men who had borrowed them! But the very things the poet says were His own, were not His at all, but ours! We had deserved the cross, and should have died on it. But in grace, He died on it in our stead, that we might go free.
(3) Lastly where He was laid. This again is a strange and a mysterious aspect of His incarnation and humiliation. As the Son of God, I can naturally picture him stilling the storm, for all power was His. I can see Him give the touch of healing, for was He not the Great Physician? Further I can picture Him raising the dead, for was He not the Resurrection and the Life? But I find it harder to picture this Mighty Timeless One laying Himself down each night to take needed repose in sleep for His tired body.
Yet many a time He must have rested after those long preaching tours in Galilee, “being wearied with His journey;” tired out, not with the labor of loving but of living. Let us attend then to the invitation of the angel: “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” First of all it was in the manger, prophetic meeting-place of man and beast. For as a result of man’s sins, “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” And Christ came to bring peace to the disordered earth, and to set all right again. He lay then, in Mary’s arms, and in the child’s crib, this Mighty God. Moving indeed are the words of the poet:
“No room, no room! The inn is full,
Yea, over full;
No room have we for such as ye,
Poor folk of Galilee,
Pass on! Pass on!
For see, the place is packed.
We scarce have room for our own selves,
So how shall we make room for Thee,
Thou Man of Galilee?
Pass on! Pass on!
Christ passes on His ceaseless quest,
Nor will He rest
With any, save as chiefest Guest.”
Then we find other strange resting-places. Once we read (Mark 1:13): “He was with the wild beasts, and the angels,” a strange combination indeed which seems to express the utter cheerlessness of His earthly outlook. Again, one night they were on the lake, and “Jesus, in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow.” But it seems the word only implies the leathern thwart of the boat. Probably His holy head knew little of pillows and comforts! Many a time He must have laid Him down on the grassy mountain side, where night found Him, or by the roadside behind a hedge, or in some little humble home of love that was opened to Him.
At long last He came to “journey’s end.” John tells us of it so graphically in chapter 19: “And Jesus…bearing His cross went forth into a place called…Golgotha…where they crucified Him.” Come, see this place where our Lord came, and laid Him down to die. Follow Him in mind through those blazing hours of the forenoon, till at midday God sent the merciful darkness, and the sun hid his face, to screen the sufferings of God’s Son from the impious eyes of men. At the time of the evening sacrifice came the cry of the One who was both Victim and Victor: “It is finished!” How much can be read into those immortal words. At last man’s salvation was accomplished, his sins and iniquities were for ever paid for. But it meant more to Christ in a personal way as well. At last the suffering and scorn were over. From Him at last was to fade for ever “the contradiction of sinners.”
And so He died. As Matthew is careful to point out (27:50): “He yielded up the ghost,” or, as the Greek is literally, “He dismissed His spirit.” For let us ever remember, His was a voluntary death. The soldiers were allowed by God to crucify Him, they could not kill Him. He had specially proclaimed: “I lay down my life… No man taketh it from Me.”
And then a wonderful and affecting thing happened. God the Father who had watched and shared every pang and pain of the death and passion of His Son, God then suddenly intervened and interposed an invisible and impassable barrier between that sacred form and the world of sinners around. It was as if He said: “Thus far and no farther; I have yielded My Son to your scorn and slander, I have allowed Him to be insulted and crucified. But now no more! He has accomplished salvation for sinners; the price of human sin has been paid in full. From henceforth no hands but hands of love shall touch that sacred form, no eyes but eyes of believers shall see Him in resurrection.”
No more indignities, with one exception. We might wonder why, at first; for we read in John 19:34, “One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.” Why did God allow that last stab of hate from the world of sinners? Surely because it had to be proved to the world then and for ever afterwards that He really did die. Had He died of a broken heart as some suggest, His would no longer have been a voluntary death, for then men’s sins would have killed Him, but they had no power to kill Him, for “no man taketh My life from Me.” And now it was the end. No more indignities were to be allowed to that sacred form by sinners.
We know what was next in the plan of men, because centuries before Isaiah had foretold it in his 53rd chapter. Thus in the ninth verse, “And He made His grave.” The Revised Version alters the English to the more correct reading: “And they made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death.” And so accurate is inspiration that the word “wicked” is in the plural, no doubt referring to the two malefactors, while the word “rich” is in the singular, no doubt referring to Joseph of Arimathea.
So we know the further degradation which was next in the plans of men. For a common felon’s grave was dug, no doubt somewhere convenient to the cross, and into it were tumbled the two poor helpless bodies of the malefactors, with their broken legs, and into it too would have followed the sacred form of the Son of God, had not the Father intervened. But God had another plan, and His plan prevailed. For He moved timid Joseph to beg the body of Jesus, and He further moved the heart of Pilate to grant his request. So we read: “And he (Joseph) took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre…hewn in stone wherein never man before was laid.” Joseph had prepared that tomb for himself, God had prepared that tomb for His own dear Son, and according to plan He occupied it, and laid in state till the resurrection morn.
In that sudden intervention of the Father on behalf of His Son we have a wonderful revealing and unveiling of that great heart of love. There we read all that the Father must have felt, as His Son went through with His dying for man, scorned and scourged and suffering.
Turning to the disciples we can hardly realize what must have been their feelings, that last dark Sabbath. How black was the outlook! Their Lord was dead, their hopes had vanished, their prospects were gone. They were sunk in gloom. No wonder two of them were “sad by the way.” Then came the resurrection morning, and gloom gave place to glory, as they met their Lord and received His renewed message, “Peace be unto you.”
It is recorded that after the battle of Waterloo, one of the first messages to get across the Channel from France to England was flashed across by heliograph. The first two words which came through were ominous: “Wellington defeated.” Then the fog shut down, and the message was interrupted, and gloom spread as far as the message. A little later, the fog lifted and the message was repeated and ended, and the end made all the difference. For the message really was “Wellington defeated French Waterloo.” So gloom gave place to glory.
And so it was that Resurrection Day. Gloom gave place to Glory!—the glory of the risen victorious Christ, who had conquered death and hell. Some day all believers will see the glory consummated in Heaven; meanwhile something of it is part of our present inheritance, for “the glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them,” cried the Saviour, in His High-priestly prayer. Are we exhibiting something of that glory on our way home? Is He a glorious Saviour to us? He longs to be. Lord, “show us Thy glory!”
“In the Midst …a Lamb” (Rev. 5:6)
“That in all things He might have the preeminence.” Thus Paul the Apostle in Colossians 1:18 describes the will of God the Father for the Son. But it is reserved for John the Seer to behold and describe the sight in Heaven where He received that preeminence. And in Rev. 5:6 we too can share that sight, and join in the song. Bidden by the Elder to behold the “Lion of Judah,” we can imagine with what admiration and anticipation John the Jew turns, but he beholds instead “in the midst a lamb.” This is indeed the central sight of Heaven, the climax of redemption. It is Coronation Day when Christ assumes a new title. He has many illustrious names before, “Wonderful, Counsellor, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God.” But the time had come for Him to be invested with a name which transcends them all. It is said that Queen Victoria of England never forgot that it was Disraeli, the great Jewish statesman, who through an act of Parliament bestowed upon her a new title, Empress of India, which has often been called the brightest gem in the crown of England. So in this scene in Heaven, described in Rev. 5, Christ is honored anew with the supreme Crown of Redemption.
Twice over, in verse six, the Holy Spirit stresses the fact that He was “in the Midst.” For long centuries since the world at large became centred “in the Evil One,” God’s Son had been excentric in human hearts. But now by His exertions on Calvary He had regained His rightful position in the hearts He had created, and here we behold Him central in position, central in affection, and central in the universal worship of Heaven. “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy.”
Now in Revelation 4 the great ascription of praise centres round His creative might, and in the last clause we are given the reason for that creation:—“For Thy pleasure they are and were created.” It is in keeping with this central purpose that in Gen. 3:8 we find the Lord God seeking pleasure in His new creatures man and woman, as they “heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden.” Yet when He called to them He failed to receive the response He desired. For in the interval man had sinned, and become a rebel to God. He had in fact formed a new allegiance, and that with God’s great enemy Satan, so that the world now “lieth in the evil one.” Man was now entirely out of centre, excentric to God, in that the control of his being was centred in Satan. From then on God’s activities were directed to one aim, to restore the lost centre of the human heart by making man excentric to the world and its god, and again centred around Himself.
(1) In the midst of sinners to purchase their pardon. The Chinese picture Confucius, the founder of their national religion, at the top of a deep well shouting down good advice to the poor sinner in the mire at the bottom, which in no wise enabled him to escape from his sad and lost position. With God how different! As the Saviour expressed in the parable of the Good Samaritan: “He came where he was!” (Luke 10:33). And so He did! For when He came to die as our Sin-Bearer and Substitute, there was not erected a single cross in solitary grandeur, where on the green hill the Son of God might die. Far otherwise! Man, seeking to degrade Him crucified Him in company, and such company! “So “were there two thieves crucified with Him,” “two other malefactors.” But surely John’s account (19:17) shows this was also by “the determinate counsel of God.” For he records: “They crucified Him, and other two with Him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst” Indeed, men crowned Him with thorns to express their hate, and crucified Him between two malefactors, that their shame might extend to Him. Yet really the effect was just the opposite. For God crowned Him with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9) to express His approbation, and had Him crucified in the midst of sinners that His salvation might extend to them. “In the midst” of sinners, that He might begin to resume His rightful and needful place in the human heart, the focus and centre of their lives.
(2) In the midst of saints to ensure their peace. Then after the resurrection, “the same day at even,” “came Jesus, and stood in the midst and saith unto them, peace be unto you!” Here is again a blessed significance in the term “in the midst.” Having purchased the believer’s pardon at the cost of His precious blood, He could not rest there. For pardon from sin is not a terminus, it is only the starting-point for a life in Christ. More than pardon is needed. For when man sinned against God and became a rebel, peace with God was lost for the race. So the Saviour died that peace might be regained as well as pardon purchased. These together form the legacy He bequeathed to all believers at His death. And, blessed fact, He rose again that He might become the executor of His own dying bequest; and having “made peace by the blood of His cross,” He came that fateful evening to announce the tremendous fact to all believers.
But are all of us who have entered in by faith to peace with God actually enjoying this peace of God, in troubled days and anxious lives? For this peace of God is a further installment of salvation. It is meant for all. It is needed by all. It is meant for you. Yet it can only be ensured and enjoyed by a daily life of faith.
It is important to realize that though God does give an absolutely freehold title to Heaven to all His own, yet He only gives a leasehold of blessing for the enjoyment of salvation on the way to Heaven. And some of us have not been paying the rent! So we have been evicted from the needed shelter of the peace of God till we do! Let us then “bring all the tithes into the storehouse;” let us pay all our dues of love and devotion, and again prove our God, if He will not at once and again admit us into the safe haven of the “peace of God.”
(3) In the midst of believers to answer their prayers. “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). This is an oft-quoted promise. It is usually applied to the memorial supper, and He is certainly present there. It has often been made the basis of a sectarian division,. But this verse is not an independent statement. It begins with a “for” which couples it on in application to the previous verse. It is really promised for the prayer-meeting! “If two of you shall… agree…as touching anything they shall ask, it shall be done for them” (ver. 19). So here we find the Ascended Saviour in the midst of praying believers to ensure answers to their petitions. And no wonder! For as we began by faith in a Saviour, we must go on to faith in a Father. “The just shall live by faith.” Such a promise is indeed the very character of the Church, the motive power of the army of God. Truly with us “in the midst” is “the Lord our God to fight our battles,” and to answer our prayers.
(4) In the midst of the fire to succor His saints (Daniel 3:25), comes at once to mind in this blessed sequence of His presence. We not only need pardon for our sins, and peace in our hearts, and power in our prayers; we need as well, constant protection from the powers of darkness, for we are travelling through a world where Satan has great authority. We are a protest to his power. No wonder he sets on us, and sets men on us in enmity. Truly, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, yet the Lord delivereth him (not from but) out of them all.” There was no evident need for the three Hebrews to go into the fire. God might easily have arranged for them to be absent with Daniel their leader, when the test came. But He wished a testimony borne to Nebuchadnezzar which he could not ignore, a testimony not in words only, but in deeds and practical deliverance. Again there was no essential need for the Son of God personally to have appeared and joined the Hebrews in the fire. He did not do so with Daniel in the den of lions, where the need was as great, and the deliverance as definite. But it pleased Him that for all time believers in their fiery trials should be able to remember the August Company the three Hebrews had in their fire; and that we might vividly realize that He is present just as really in all our fires of affliction. That “in the midst” was to be both typical of His love and prophetic of His care.
(5) “In the midst of the seven candlesticks…the Son of Man” (Rev. 1:13). Here once again He is seen “in the midst,” now of the churches to scrutinize their behavior, to peer down into the hearts and lives of His own. Unlike so many human critics God never fails to give approval where He can; all that is good and pure He gladly commends. Yet He is too wise and kind a Friend to overlook our failings. Hence His eyes are “like a flame of fire.” He gives pardon, He supplies peace, He grants power, but He does demand purity. “He sees, He knows,” yet, thank God, He still “cares” and loves. Well (in the words of Isaiah), “What hath He seen in thy house,” thy heart, Has He seen a divided allegiance, or doubtful pleasures, or worldly friends, and affections? Are there things tolerated which continually grieve His Holy Spirit? Oh, how costly to us, how grievous to Him!
Is there a “shelf behind the door,” where self keeps its treasures and pleasures, that are reserved from Him? In the words of the old chorus, we had far better face the position, and let Him deal with it:
“The shelf behind the door,
Oh, tear it down and throw it out,
The shelf behind the door!
Don’t use it any more!
For Jesus wants His temple clean,
From the ceiling to the floor;
He even wants the little shelf,
That’s hid behind the door.”
(6) In the midst of Heaven to receive their song (Rev. 5:6-9). At last the climax is complete for the Church. Sin has been dealt with and done away. Harmony has been restored in Heaven, and once again Christ is central. Surely it is with Divine intention that the phrase “in the midst” is twice emphasized in verse 6. Pardon and peace, power and protection, were necessary stages by the way. In each case the Saviour personally provided for human need by taking up His position “in the midst.” Once again equilibrium has been re-established in Heaven. Redemption is complete for all present. For them sorrow and sighing have fled away. No wonder that Heavenly host burst into song to signalize such a victory. In chapter four the elders were “saying,” “Thou art worthy.” In chapter five it seems as if the same elders singing on behalf of the Church could not forbear but burst into song, in this great future scene in Heaven. Yet need we wait till then? May we not continually anticipate their song, while on the way to Heaven? Have we not enough to praise and thank Him for? If once more Christ is really central in our hearts and lives, then we shall be blessedly excentric to the perishing world. We shall no longer desire its pleasures or share its ambitions.
“As by the light of opening day,
The stars are all concealed,
So worldly pleasures fade away,
When Jesus is revealed.”
Do we long for Him to be “in the midst,” “on the throne,” “central” in our hearts and lives? Well, “now then do it.” Then,
“All hail the power of Jesus’ name!”
1 Oswald Chambers.