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For the Christian, in Life or in Death, there is
the same impenetrable,
impervious eternal life,
which sees beyond, acts on site
and looks to the end of the matter, where death being quenched, because of
Christ's vicarious atonement, life has a brilliant reign: and so it is written,
that "they shall reign forever and ever"
(Revelation 22:5). Indeed, you catch the force, the fervour,
the flow and the atmosphere of eternity as you watch these performances of
Christ when on earth,
and of those in His name.
This is no mere dream of power: it is the power of God which, having preceded our creation, persists past judgment and smiles on the elect (James 2:13, Titus 2-3). You are surprised: Am I of the elect ? you ask.
Yes, to be sure you are, if
you receive His free pardon, from His hands of deity, besmirched on the
justifying cross, His features defaced but His heart undefiled,
where His vicarious atonement makes you at one with God,
where this anteroom of anguish becomes the throne room of the resurrection,
with His word working in you as in its own, the prelude to His rule to come.
Otherwise, quite simply, there is not. It becomes, through absence of what is necessary, natural and required, a parallel to spiritual scurvy.
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
Acts and the Gospels
Recently I heard from a relative who had not been constant in faith. Facing death at some time, because of a chronic disease, yet bearing up in the process and intensely active, he suddenly announced this: I am not going to stay in some box. I am going to heaven.
Now this was as delightful as unexpected. The song of course has it that everyone who talks of heaven ain't goin' there. It is true. Yet in this statement and what followed there did seem a kind of determination which savoured of conviction. I noted that indeed if he received the free pardon of Christ (Romans 3:23ff.) and believed in Him (John 10:9, 6:47), and if His Holy Spirit was in him, as it is in all Christians (Romans 8:9), it would be well. This reminds us that we ARE dealing with a matter of life and death.
We are intensely fragile: despite what soldiers for example can and do suffer, it is all a matter of degree. The skin ruptured is avenue for infection; antibiotics are of decreasing effectiveness in numerous cases. An axe-man can fell an oak, and a heart attack or cancer, a man or woman, sometimes in short time. Others face death more slowly. It is there; and so is life, no less.
It has the resources of vitality, the wonders of illumination from God to find, the discoveries of grace and the joy of service for the God who made us, the assurance of the Gospel - and like snakes suddenly under one's feet, the deadly and perilously near appearance of frauds, false prophets and foolish ideas, as if life and death were quite unreal, and provided one was nice, and believed something or other fervently or at least fondly, all would be well.
It is not so. Life must be faced: we must not allow fascination with accounts, or accomplishments, or actions or hopes or dreams, with this world and its manners or lusts, desires or fantasies to delude us. The kingdom of heaven is the milieu for the Christian, and its ways of faith, confidence, of continually resorting to the Lord, of finding, doing and rejoicing in His will, resting only on Him and on His righteousness, of showing forgiveness and walking with discretion, these are as far from this world as the most distant star.
Let us then remind ourselves of some of the dramas of life, to awaken in us a keener sense of its significance, in each step, and all in all. It is significant to REALISE reality, and not just spout spiritual or unspiritual phraseology, as though rites and rituals of pseudo-faith or blatant unbelief were relevant to truth.
Much is discomforting in life because of sin both individual and racial; but when God is met on His own terms, there is a profundity like that of ocean and skies meeting in a symphony of beauty, and in this depth and height, this perspective there is more than comfort: positive rejoicing. Cases can prove informative and a stirring to the mind, a bracing of the heart.
I THE APPOSITE COMFORT
LIFE AND RELIEF AMIDST THE
WORK OF PETER - Acts
The blessing of life on persevering kindness Dorcas.
Peter is sought in urgency from a nearby town, and arriving amidst tears and testimony of the great good works of loving Dorcas, now deceased, orders all out, while he takes her by the hand. Then, as if the chasm between life and death were of no consequence in the presence of the Creator's power and the Redeemer's testimony, he tells her to arise: this she does.
First however ? She SEES PETER (Acts 9:40), when she opens her eyes.
Here is the testimony of the personality of man, the inter-personal love, the trust and confidence, the acquaintance through love and faith which death cannot break, nor sin breach, where sin is itself covered in the Saviour. The sure confidence presented in Peter's action is precisely that of Christ when He appeared to the disciples in the upper room, after His death; and indeed, being risen, when He invited Thomas to test by digital prodding, the reality of the resurrection. Here is the message to be on board in PERSON, not in mere distant thoughts, to arrive on the scene, and to be efficient in faith. Christ did it: it is good to be willing to invest personally in the ways of faith, not merely propositionally or in intent.
LIFE AND COMFORT AMIDST THE
WORK OF PAUL -
The Sleepy Young Man: God has His ways of securing attention.
This is another example of the unfazed power that comes from the death-breaching Christ (what is left when you have conquered that! even that ...!); for Paul DID preach rather long one night when travelling through Troas.
It seems in his passing through this place, and exhortation and instruction of the people of the Lord, he passed normal times in his preaching zeal. A young man became heavily asleep. It was not encouraging (I have had one man do this, in a breach that was as odious as ample, but only one); but it was not discouraging. Why ? Paul simply in the awesome strength and secured power of apostleship went down, lay on the man and raised him up, as if the power of God through his own life were a finger of the Lord to touch the other. To have a member of your congregation not only sleep, but fall from a window to the ground with death a step away, this was no fitting feature!
Indeed, Paul did more than this; for he fell on the prostrate figure of the fallen man, and embraced him, as if love were beyond his own body and would not be separated or segregated even by bodily bounds. So death was avoided and life ruled.
Don't trouble yourselves, Paul cried, his life is still in him!
It may then be that this particular case was not resurrection, but the restoration by spiritual resuscitation of a life about to slip away. In any case, the cause of truth was not hindered in the event, and the power of God was displayed by the passionate care and concern with which the apostle acted first to instruct, and then to construct! Moreover, it is all of the Lord for whom nothing is too hard. Christians are not powerless flowers in the presence of intense pollution, but empowered towers, whether in acute humiliation as very often, or in trying challenges as frequently arise, like giant waves.
Scandalously travestied they may be, satanically caricatured; but the power continues and the work is done.
The Cross of Christ, that terminus for the download of truth as men sought the lie, and that focus of the truth of the love, mercy and pardon of God, at the same time: it was scarcely an attestation except of the lie; and the greatest of men, God as man, was thus abased as His subtle plan was fulfilled: to die even for those at whose hand He was stricken. They don't know what they are doing! He cried to His Father. Even for these, not vengeance but victory was the offer; and if they too rejected EVEN THIS, so be it. It was not mere vengeance as such; it was the penalty for sin, here made permanent in the rejection even of the restoration offered, which would provide the fatal and fateful count. Here then was the passion of love in the midst of life and death.
With what passionate assurance Paul acted; with what clarity and simplicity He proceeded. Like the toll of some great bell, his words and works clapped their hands together in one harmonious whole of grace and power.
II THE EMERGING EMERGENCY
LIFE AND RESURRECTION BY A
WORD FROM THE SAVIOUR - Luke 7:11-13
The Widow's Son restored in pity to be a stay.
Here Jesus comes to Nain. A funeral is in progress. Although some might (well) feel, people being what they are or become, that it was not fitting to raise the dead, when you are busily and traditionally occupied in the recitation of their honour or the lamentation for their departure (men being among the most perverse creations ever made, when given their head and avoiding the leading of the Lord): yet Christ pitied the widow.
Pity in its profundity moved Him. Was the dead young man not her only son ? Was not this the day of grace and the exemplification of its quality and quantity ? What then was His divine response ? It was this. He raised the son from the very dead; and again the action was simple, majestic, unfazed: He TOUCHED the open coffin, and SAID: "Young man, I say to you, arise!"
He did what it took. In this case, life was asserted and overflowed death as the waves overflow the flat surface of obtruding rocks, as their surge rising and falls beyond.
In so doing, Christ as so often, acted with that indigenous grace, that intimate power, that unfazed assurance which comes from reality. When it is God who acts, there is no limit, not even that of death, to the scope of His activities in life.
It is never too often to protest that ONE failure in such numerous cases of majestic and serene power on the part of Christ, one lapse into error in the quiet spoken word of authority would have been as terminal as any cancer ever was, for the Messianic testimony of Christ. There would, quite simply, have been no Christianity if any one single instance, either where Christ took the initiative or His challengers did, He failed the relevant test, did not produce the Messianic and predicted power, and were to be exposed as man and no more.
In the Messiahship 'games', however, He did not merely succeed, for He was a champion unparalleled in KIND. He acted as men act in drinking or eating, in the most natural of ways. That men decided to kill Him, the very source of life, this is one more testimony to the background and basis for the current and contemporary passion*1 for killing or culling, whether by those estranged from life as Militant Moslems, Machinating Maoists, Crusading Communists or New World visionaries. In one way or another, wilfully or witlessly, these act in despatching the power of their own nations, lest any good remain, and lest anything less than the very antichrist foretold, should come to be in a plethora of power of this kind or that, misused and truth abused.
Some may not know what they are doing; yet they still do it. The evil results accrue, whatever the intention. Men founder and flounder in false visions precisely as did those of Israel when the prophets denounced their folly in avoiding the inevitable truth and indefeasible realities of the living God, for their own ideas, ideologies and pronunciamentos (cf. Jeremiah 2, 23, Ezekiel 14, Isaiah 1, 6). That is but one reason why truth is indispensable: the issues of life proceeding from the heart, whole conflagrations may arise from this 'invisible' source of purpose, imagination and resolve, in defiance, defilement or deviation from the changeless realities of truth (cf. SMR Chs. 3, 5).
Though this they may do as blind,
it is a passionate blindness, not a mere ophthalmic deficiency; and they draw
out their own eyes, the better to be in the dark while they parade their powers.
The unfazed reality of Truth does not avert the eyes from all of this, and the
immutable word of God simply proceeds as it was written, to characterise what
then were ultimate events for the Age, and what now are evident occurrences
before us (cf. SMR Chs. 8-9).
LIFE CONFERRED DESPITE
INTERRUPTION - Luke 8:49-56
The Importunate Woman and the Lost Child ...
Patience, concentration, authority, the multiple and quick dower of power are the features of this multiple work of Christ.
He is approached in the thronging crowds, by one hidden person. These masses, eager to see His power or to receive His healing, or to find the truth which He was and is, with understanding, include one urgent for His coming. Meanwhile, another scene is occurring: The daughter of a religious ruler is about to die. Indeed, her father came and falling at the feet of Jesus, begged Him to come to his house.
As Christ moved on to the action needed, there was a new action. The woman hidden in the crowd, who had spent her substance on useless works of physicians, to stop a haemorrhage, touched the edge of his gown, with a faith in His power to heal by whatever simple means.
She WAS healed, and Christ as He declared, felt the outflow of a power that nothing could hide. WHO touched Me ? He asked. Touched ? his disciples expostulated; for many were pressing onto Him as is the way with seething crowds. Yet Christ knew the difference between a casual touch and a meaningful one, delving into the dynamic of deity, by faith.
The woman acknowledged what she had done. Christ then spoke openly to the one who did not fear, equally openly, to ADMIT that she had been healed by HIM, and encouraged her, declared that her faith had made her well.
This left the dying or dead daughter of the religious official, to a delayed treatment. Dead! What is the treatment for that! Too late. Don't bother to come, He was told.
What a sense of pungent or maybe lamentable anguish, they may have felt: frustrated with One so able, so near and so dispersed by events from giving that able and ample touch needed. But Christ in majesty unfazed, proceeded to the place, had all leave but Peter, James and John. She is not dead, but sleeping, He announced amid their ridicule.
Sleeping ? Had they not seen the death in its outset, onset and slaying! However, to Him whose is life, this passing from it was not ultimate, not permanent. Rather, it was a prelude, like sleeping as the eyes shut, one to which life can be restored at His will. Here again the resurrection of Himself with no man's hand, was foreshadowed with that perfect teaching which built up to the climax through many lesser deeds, though in themselves they were magnificent. In this, the perspective was as conspicuous as the power! His words and actions showed both in the same holy harmony as usual.
He has set us here an example against being flustered on the one hand, or flimsy on the other. There is no excuse for botched, superficial or slithery work: God is our sufficiency, who trust Him (II Corinthians 4:2-6, 3:2-5).
Thus we read from Paul, inspired by the Lord (I Corinthians 2:9-13, 14:37), of the relay of power from such a Lord as this!
"But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every manís conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
"For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesusí sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
And again he declares to the Corinthian Church:
"You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.
"And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God..."
Indeed Christ Himself has set before us a teaching which is the best of all: the sort demonstrable by what follows and introduced by fitting preliminaries, and for Him, this was His entire prior mission! Like His seamless robe, it moved as He moved.
Paul whose epistle we have above cited, for his own part, was an expositor from Christ, in life as well as word, in action as well as proposition, in power as well as precept. The vast river from the spring of life mounted and spread, putting forth prongs of power in peace, and of grace from its eternal Source.
This, Christ's advent focussed: His power featured it, while His mercy transformed in its brilliance. His work opened the door to eternity and showed its route to time.
LIFE AND RELIEF - Matthew 8:5-13
The Soldier's Servant: Faith has its reward, even at a distance.
The great God can do great
things: do not limit Him by 'common sense', if this is to make of Him who is
Almighty, a common thing! Failure in faith is mere cutting of the wires.
Not so is the example following, where faith has a very prodigy and a healing is
through a summary word, spoken at distance from the recipient!
A similar case is found in the annals of healing from Elsie Salmon (cf. SMR p. 339) where healing did not require the personal presence of the healer who acted quite simply in Christ's name. Again, in that case, there was the same simplicity in the name of the One defaced, but unfazed, whose power is as available now as then. Yet it comes, whether in preaching or teaching or healing, on His own terms and conditions, through such speakers or healers as He may appoint. It is not limited to these, but to some a specialised gift is given (I Cor. 12, Romans 12).
As to the amazing works of healing through Elsie Salmon: nothing of hype, of confusion and profusion of ecstatic emotions was there, but the simple reference of the power to Christ whose Gospel is the point of the whole exercise.
So with the Centurion in Matthew 8: there is Christ, there is need, there is request and there is faith. God does not always heal as you see with Job for some long time, or with Paul in one case disclosed in II Corinthians 12; but when He gives faith for an event, the answer is not far to seek. In this way, relief came when death threatened, and this by simple application.
Sometimes death does more than threaten, when the life works are complete or the testimony in the grand opus of life as prescribed and prepared, as predicted and governed by God. Yet nothing that befalls the Christian is in vain (Romans 8:29ff.). Even humiliation can be beneficial, and it is indeed true that all things work together for good FOR those who love God, the called according to HIS PURPOSE!
In this perspective, the challenge and crisis of life and death has more blessing than bane, more benefit than tragedy, more hope than for the hapless, more depth than mere sensory perception, because of the power of God and the mercy in the same place set before all: Jesus Christ. If shutting the eyes leaves one bereft of physical vision, how much more the closure of the spiritual eyes. Yet with these open, and focussed on the living and lively Word of God, life has its base in operation, and its point and purpose declared and available.
Such was the experience of the centurion. Such does one find when willing to accept guidance, governance and direction, correction and inspection from the Lord according to His word. There are standards; there is reality: it is useless to transgress, though the marvel of mercy in His covenant makes life more than duty, and love to have its resting place.
III THE OPPOSITE POLES
LIFE AND FRUSTRATION - John 11:45ff.
The Terrifying Truth: Graver clouds are stages for greater deliverances, and even slander and selfishness can be turned to serve God, through His wisdom and despite man's folly. In this case, we find ourselves near the end of the record through John, of the life of Christ on this earth. As He has by this time, raised one who was dead for days, a man whose relatives were concerned at the opening of the tomb because of possible stench, Lazarus to wit, so the fame and name of His implacable power and precise words were telling on those envious and perfidious to God, seeking for their own lives, not His.
These ? a body of priests and zealots implacable to please their own power lust, or appease their own survival stridencies. Indeed just as Ezekiel exposed the corrupt and self-seeking priesthood of his own day, in Ezekiel 34, so Christ exposed these (cf. Matthew 23, Luke 11). In fact, it was precisely such corruption which was one of the grounds for the coming of God into the human form so that as the Good Shepherd, HE HIMSELF (as also in Isaiah 40:10 and 29, 35) would do what priests failed to do. This is the burden of Ezekiel 34, which is fulfilled as Christ exhibited and expressed in John 10.
In tenderness, solicitude, concern and provision HE would act for His people, the Lord declared in Ezekiel 34; and so He did. As Hosea 13:14 shows, it was to be a service ending in sacrifice not merely of form and manifest glory, but of life on this earth. That, too, though planned, was none the easier to endure for that! Thus as an active prelude to this act, Jesus Christ raised Lazarus after a number of days, from the dead, in this way exercising the power needed to raise Himself later in the greatest act of power of all time: and that from the dead, when He was departed! (cf. John 2:19).
Thus the perfidy of the priests was used as God's occasion to show His power... according to His long and publicly stated plan. This indicated that He would personally come in the form of man
to die a sacrifice for sin,
and that without sin (I Peter 2:22-24),
to breach death in body, mind and spirit, shown in purity as the "Prince of Life" (Acts 3:14-29).
THEY who priestly, plotted His
were frustrated - for all their plans and action, and in fact BY THEM:
so much for the counsel of the wicked.
What then was the result ? CHRIST the victim, was victorious: the events foreseen, foreknown and fulfilled according to precise prediction as in Psalm 2, 16, 22, 40, Isaiah 49-55, their very evil therefore being used in the wisdom and by the power of God to authenticate completely the authority of Christ, came as a Messianic chorus of praise in power and purity. What did it show ? it was that here was the salvation of God (Isaiah 43:10-11) Himself, blighted for the benighted, and arising for the blessed (cf. Psalm 16, 22). Sending forth His Spirit (Luke 24, Acts 2) as He said, He then enabled His work according to His word (Galatians 1:6-9) in and through those who received Him (John 1:3, 12-14). This was the confirmation ahead as the prophecies provided the verification from behind.
As victim, He showed, from the majesty of God in the humility of man, how to love His neigbour, even the neighbour who despitefully used Him, viciously traduced Him and selfishly abused Him for mere advantage! His very act of salvation was a testimony of conduct, a tiding of truth, a spectacle of love as well as a well of wisdom.
His love led to the protracted cry to the Father to forgive them, lost in their blindness (Luke 23:34): they did not know what they were doing. It led to the resurrection: a dead Love cannot act, but the eternal God is not subject to a death which can hold Him. Innocent of sin, for which death is the penalty, He erupted from death (Acts 2:23-32), irrupted back into life, the Son rising as the sun rose, showering the earth with a love and demonstrating a power which is of God only.
Meanwhile the earth ignores the love and misuses the power of creation while dispensing with the power of God to its destruction. Power is present in creation: it is however the power of the God who made it which is crucial to man, not the best means of witlessly and woefully exploiting what God has made as if it were a game of skittles, beerily played by the world-weary in fits of sudden exultation.
Yet while God remains the same, the day of opportunity does not. It passes quickly into the Day of the Lord, of judgment. Judgment already strides the earth from the very hand of man; much more to come is from the hand of the God whose gift of eternal life was despised by the scheming and plotting priests of His day, who brought Israel to ruin by their survival philosophy, blind to the God who made them. It is no less despised by the present plotters of the course for man, making truth an evacuee which being present, merely excludes themselves.
Before we leave this schema of the unsurrendered, in Christ's day preparing plans to exterminate the God of glory from their midst, so bringing on an extermination program of immense and historic proportions, let us notice its thoroughness, which is mimicked today as men seek not only to guide the universe and mankind by their witless philosophic extravanganzas, but to teach the young by forced-feeding in isolation from the truth, about what did not and does not happen, as if it did (cf. TMR Chs. 1, 8, Beauty for Ashes 3, The Merciful Might of the Majestic Messiah: Jesus Ch. 6).
They actually were planning to kill Lazarus, whom Christ had resurrected, since this deed in the midst of all the others, made Christ in their view, impossible to resist, a sure leader for the nation, a prince beyond prelates (cf. John 11:47-51). To kill one already raised from the dead ? what thoroughness is to be found in the devices of the devil as in his mad rage (Revelation 12), he seeks to subdue man to himself!
LIFE AND PEACE - The Verifying Peace John 20:24-30
Honest Insistence is not Disdained, but Sustained by Truth.
Belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is as unnecessary as a heart for the body, or bones for the physique. You CAN do without it, but only if you are a disembodied relic of life; and if you reject it, or refuse it, you are like one who asks for all his bones to be broken. YOU did not raise the Lord, and your faith is not raised by you either - it is a gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8), and ALL are invited to it, while NONE without it can storm the gates of heaven.
The very principles of faith are spelt out by Christ, with this immovable truth of John 20:27-28. Thomas' confirmed faith in Christ's bodily resurrection, and in Him as (Greek literally) "the Lord of me and the God of me" thus became a criterion of what faith is, as to Christ and His works.
If you ignore this,
it is not merely at your peril: it is like requesting an atomic bomb in your garden.
If you believe here, and it is faith which acts: then you have a channel to the very power of God (Ephesians 1:19) ... You are dealing then honestly and in fact with the Maker of created life and the breaker of sin-ridden death, through the channel of power in the climate of peace (cf. Colossians 1:15, John 1:3).
Death is not permanent, except for the time on earth; it is not even permanent for the spirits of those who know God, which nothing can breach. Its fruits however are quite permanent, its sentence is permanent for those who do not have it revoked, through remission. Permanence is only in God: whether within Him, or outside.
Now is the time for definition! HE is defined, definite and clarity itself: but you ? The question requires an answer now for each one, as it did for the seething crowd whose decision was for the death of Christ (Matthew 27:22). You can hear this as if an echo to this day, and to this word we attend:
"The governor answered and said to them,
'Which of the two do you want me to release to you?'
"Pilate said to them,
'What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?'
"They all said to him,
'Let Him be crucified!'
"Then the governor said,
'Why, what evil has He done?'
"But they cried out all the more, saying,
'Let Him be crucified!'
"When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying,
'I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.'
If ever there was a spiritual transvestite! Here is the JUDGE declaring as he knowingly and explicitly condemns a righteous person to crucifixion, that he is innocent in so doing!
He is scarcely less culpable than those who NOW judge Christ a sacrifice to be made, a neglect to be assured, in the interests of the love of this world and its preferences, its devious devices and its lust to play god! Neither is or conceivably could be 'innocent'! (John 3:19). Life and death are far from merely birth and decease: the cause throngs the passage-ways of life, challenging and chiding if need be, encouraging and inviting.
It is most directly present when the spirit itself of man is most conspicuously involved. While it is implicit in all, sometimes it is obtrusive in its significance and to this aspect we now turn.
IV SPIRIT AND BODY
Consider now the specifically spiritual side of the dramas of life and death.
The STOLEN LIFE - Mark 10:17ff.
Rich was this young ruler, who came running. His possessions however came running, well able to keep up with his rapid pace. What did not manage the feat was grace. What did achieve success was place. Neither would he yield place nor riches: and why should he ? If someone is stuck on that vile-smelling, brewed defamation of liquid called beer, then it is to this the challenge comes. If one is obsessed with golf, then to that comes the axe of truth; if on girls or boys or success or prestige, on appearing learned or powerful, or whatever it may be, then there the scalpel of spiritual challenge cuts.
That is why, for the young ruler, seeking eternal life at the trot, there came a very specific, a very special answer from the Lord.
But first: The commandments ? he should keep them. So Christ indicated to this enquiring, this zealously seeking young man who came to consult Him.
Life is more but not less than what is organised and ordered. What then was the young man's answer to this challenge ?
Yes, he replied, he had kept these from his youth up: and Christ we find, loved him.
There is, after all, something lovable about the simple preference for goodness, the intense reliability of character that can go with it. Life however is far more (but not less) than morals. It is more than order. It is FOR WHAT and for whom it is ordered: it is this that ultimately matters most.
It is the purpose, it is the life in correlation and communion with God, that is of account. This, it is no more effusively evasive or evanescent than is breath. It may SEEM but a ghost of air, but it is in fact a loading device for gases needed by the BODY at a POINT or surface in the lungs by a MEANS through nostrils or alveoli, in a milieu where the capillaries can pick up or shed the required gases.
That is not all that it is: but it has this MODE. It does matter.
Always, however, the design of the designer is above the means, as truth is above writing (but uses it) or love above kind deeds (but does them). WHY do them ? Love is not the deeds but the dynamism of desire and the passion of purpose in the environment of attitude and the emotion of delight. Yet it is not for that very reason paralysed: for action is its natural environment, just as air motion is natural to lungs. That is not ALL that it is; but it moves in that manner. Why is it made to move and to sustain what is its thrust! That is the question which only God can and does answer.
Thus the young ruler had to be challenged as to his purpose, purport, program and desire, as to his heart and where it rested. It COULD not rest in things and power, if it were to rest in the spiritual harbour of God the Creator.
It would have to see the difference between means and ends, instruments and objectives, and submit to the word of God. Thus Jesus pointed out that the term 'good Master' as used by the ruler in addressing Him, was neither adequate nor correct. It is only when the pure deity which is His who became incarnate is realised, that you can bring yourself to GIVE UP what is most dear: for what after all can wisely be kept when it offends one's designer in His love!
The young man, however, would not because he could not give up his possessions; and he could not because his way was fixed, set, transfixed in power, prestige and property. His image ruled his reality, and except he repented, now he has lost both.
The tussle was spiritual. The arena involved possessions; but the fight was the possessor, aflame with desire for what passes, or a wise steward, putting all things behind Christ, and following Him!
The CRYING NEED THAT WOULD NOT FEED
The FLITTING LIFE - II Timothy 4:10
We come to another spiritual case, where the reality is obvious at a glance.
Demas for cash ? Here we find focus for the movements of this disciple who had figured before in Paul's epistles (Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24), just at the time when Paul came near to his terminus, to his death sentence, that last of the afflictions and entrance to life; and here we find testimony of the results of the test for Demas.
The way opened before him like a chasm or a castle, perhaps, in his own mind.
Was it to be Paul and godliness ? Was it to be a matter of facing and living through what appeared Paul's imminent execution and suffering, as Rome's persecution of Christians peaked ?
Being in the midst of someone grossly degraded by adversaries in the presence of a State confirmed as a Christian-butcher, as Sudan now appears to be, would Demas continue to the end, or crumble in the midst ?
This course of oppressed truth was not for him. As Judas ran out on Christ, so did Demas run from Paul. When the storm came, he quit. Consider a voyage and a crew, as a storm approaches: what a time to quit!
Many are those whose works are in word, but when the crucial thrust comes which might deliver thousands, they are crushed by fear, by desire for their own lives or the life of their church, for its comfort, to prevent typhoons from having currency, to secure advantage and continuity; and so they sacrifice the depth of spiritual love for the decencies of ease and composure.
What is it like ? It resembles someone about to kiss her friend, who has proposed, who happens at that very moment to remember his bank book, and feeling a revulsion from figures so lowly, emits but a cry and bids good-night.
What drew Demas from his operations celestial ? It was "this present world". What was his relationship with it that so broke his life into useless planks, such as are washed up on the beach after a ship-wreck ? It was a relationship to it. What was this relationship ? It was a LOVE for it. What was wrong with that ? Is not love good ?
No, not when abused. It is FOR God, FROM God and IN God that it has its being; and without this base, it becomes narrow and limited, confined and unhallowed, equipped with all the littleness which has led in the first place to the severance from God. It is water running down the stream, when the spring has ceased. Its origin is gone; its dynamic is lost and its form alone continues for a time.
Did not Jeremiah put it simply ? The people had forsaken the source of pure water and had instead hewn out wells, broken ones that could hold no water, and so doubly deprived, found their lives as lost things (Jeremiah 2:13-17, 18:12-14). Again, it is like nerves, dissected out from tissue, and left in the sun.
It is not flitting about, manipulated and manipulating which is needed. It is sound grounding where the ground is in which the plant of human life can grow: that of Christ, whose avenue to the Father is both single and singular, for none can come UNLESS HE WILLS IT (Matthew 11:27ff.), and the Father grants it (John 6:65, cf. John 14:6).
Nothing that merely would make use of God will arrive by His side, except as with Judas, to be forever severed. What leaves goes simply because it is gone already; and as to that, it is because it never arrived. It was mere appurtenance, not substance, superficiality, not reality.
Did not Christ declare that one of the disciples WAS a devil! (John 6:70). That was long before the devil entered into Judas as the crisis of reality cast its spotlight on him, on his stage, and showed him hasten into darkness both literal and spiritual (John 13:27,30).
Death is a mere passing; it is the spiritual death which is crucial, for when this is confirmed through denial of Christ, or refusal to receive His Lordship and salvation in reality and in truth, there is no more light (Isaiah 8:20, John 3:36). Man is not forced into the light... Moreover, the Spirit does not always strive with man, who is not an eternal site for contest! (Isaiah 57:15). There comes a time when truth is manifest, if not sooner, then before the matter passes.
Faith is in one sense, a disclaimer of the lie (II Thessalonians 2); and this is no mere passing wave. It is the river itself which is in view.
The FITTING LIFE - The Tongue and the Truth Luke 9:26-36
Faith's utterance is not a flattery, but a matter of fact: the glory is in what the fact is. This is highlighted in this passage of the Bible, where faith's work is seen in life's centre, to which it relates as reflected light to its source, each disciple like a ray, meaningless and powerless without that sending source. Indeed, without that, man would be meaningless, impossible and a mere delusion of thought*2 . Here we see the issue of faith in practical as well as intensely personal terms.
First in this context we find Christ declaring that if anyone is ashamed of Him before man, He will be ashamed of him before God (Luke 9:26). There is a certain parity. Shame ? Shame for life ? Why ? Obviously it is because man, his ways, systems or culture, is being either courted or feared, in the way God only ought to be.
Indeed, it is not only a social or parity matter. It is entirely personal in its abysmal centre. Just before this utterance of Christ regarding shame, there is another which puts its definition firmly in place.
What did He then indicate then, in effect ? It was this. IF anyone refuses to take up his cross and follow Christ, then this is a life-saving operation; and those who desire to save their lives will lose them. Those who lose them for Christ's sake will keep them. It is as He declared in John 12: if the little grain of wheat is so self-sufficient that it stays alone, then it rots; if however it is allowed to fall into the ground, it takes root and lives. One might note that then its beautifully robust little seed coat is ruptured for shoot and root, and its desirable competence is lost in the interests of abundant life as new stalks and grain!
Life it is, and the matter is life or death. There is no other option; there is design and deity, and there is life or death. One kind of death is that of the grasping for life-selfishness, and this becomes set in mortar if there is no repentance. There are other kinds of death than that of the body of flesh: these are to be found in the antics of autonomy, the desires of separate life glutting itself with its own features, ostensibly moral or immoral, but always self-determined. Then walking death becomes a species called life, but inveterate in the grounds of dissolution.
Save your life in this way: it is lost. Lose it for Christ, the reality, God in flesh, and you gain it. What else ? Without God, you are shiftless, even if not shifting, and your end is like that of a book, the end of a tale: except that the odour of it and the spirit of remain, where rubbish is (Mark 9).
Having shown the principles, and these strike deep practically, as found in Luke 9 (and amplified in Luke 14): Christ went into a mountain and was transfigured with a light so bright, a cleanness so compelling, a radiance so overpowering that Peter as if stupefied, wondered if they should built three dwellings, one for Christ and one for Moses and another for Elijah. These latter two were seen in this brilliance, talking with Christ concerning "the decease which He was about to accomplish" in Jerusalem.
Interestingly, the literal term for the translation 'decease' is in fact that for ''departure', as if He had completed His mission and went to the air-strip to go aloft in departure for the homeland. It was however not so much up, though this was the initial lilt, as beyond that He went, where the celestial is in authority over the temporal, holding the reins of history (Isaiah 43:13, 44-45, Amos 3:7); and where the form of the Creator in Spirit is as far beyond the whole temporal and increasingly tempestuous realm of creation, as any author his book.
Indeed, it is far more vast than that: for deity is infinitely beyond the limitations and the sin, the commencement and terminal provisions for flesh.
It is here, as seen in Luke 9, in the transfiguration of Christ AS A MAN with the reflected glory that was Him, that the vastness of the gift of eternal life became more apparent. Indeed, with the conversation occurring with two of the past prophets, there is just that awesome sense of the unfazed, just as it was seen when the three friends of Daniel were in the furnace, and the King saw a fourth like the Son of God, with them. The pangs of anguish were keen; but the plan of salvation was pre-emptively sure. It was duly enacted, for after the explosion of glory, as in deeds of power and this transcendent and triumphant time where the presence of glory was manifest and the divine voice was heard, there came the necessity of action.
Sin is like that: you act or fail, one or the other. Christ, on man's behalf, acted (I John 2:1, Titus 2-3); but the action is where the gift lies, not where it is not! Where it lies however, there is access to peace and power. Then man is as designed, and it is this which brings the freedom of being in God's image, design intact again.
Then ? When God is for you, who can be against you! Suffer ? of course: fail ? not at all.
In all these ways, we see the
life and death elements which we must meet, in their directly spiritual
applications. The reality of glory and the necessity of truth appear as twins,
and shame is the cost of divorce. Here the spirit of a man becomes almost
visible, and certainly apparent.
Things done in the body are THROUGH the spirit of a man, whose purposes, imaginations and choices display it, like the flags on naval vessels, even if all cannot read them well! The Lord can, however, read exceedingly well. The issues of life come from the heart Proverbs 4:23 tells us this:
"Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life."
All these cases just given, bespeak what is true without the drama and the power in external confrontation. What do we find ? it is the absolute need of man to find the Saviour from sin and Prince of Life for ALL of its opportunities and ALL its fitful tragedies which come like storms and leave litter like typhoons. The still of His spiritual presence is not an option for wisdom, but basic for life.
Having found Him, the necessity is to worship Him as deity, and realise Him in His magnificent reality. Of the storms and challenges, the drama of death is just the last one: life has many more for which the last is merely the final page of the novel. All that went before contributes. In Christ, there is shelter sufficient, sure and eternal (Isaiah 32:1-4, 55). Have then your ways written with the pen of truth, the nib of grace and the ink of love, and make the turning of each page, a work of faith!
It is ALL a matter of life and death. If you reject the Prince of life, then you are subject to death and the shame which follows it. What then for the Christian, and what for the one who ponders without result ? This: As to life, do not leave any of its drama, dynamics, decisions, actions, performances, holiness, graces and love till then, the final hour. You are building a house. Start at the foundation of salvation, and put only the solid tiles of truth on the roof, esteem the spirit of grace and rely on the Lord of lovingkindness in its rule, and use the decisiveness of faith in all the phases and features on the way.
It is when the definition of life is found that confusion is dismissed; it is when the source of life is worshipped, that completion is discerned; it is when the power of life is ushered in from its own source and in its own conditions, that the weakness of mischief and madness, of striving and sedition, of callow thoughts and woeful propagandas is displaced by truth, and in this is peace. There is none for this world, whose prince knows his fate (Revelation 12, John 14:30), where God's greatness man seeks to emulate, capture, control or make redundant. As well make redundant your brain. Indeed, you would fare better, merely flirting with folly: this however, it is not flirtation, it is marriage amiss!
The Challenge of Life and Death - this, then, declares itself in provisions of comfort, situations of emergency, contesting opposition, but above all in the purposes of the heart as it meets the changeless holiness of the God of eternity, and the pressing appeal, on His part, that we receive His free pardon with the repentance (Isaiah 55, Romans 3, I Corinthians 7:9) that gives access and the faith that gains its grant (Hebrews 11:6).
His provision is as narrow as mathematics - Jesus Christ crucified and bodily risen from the dead (Romans 10:9, Luke 24), Lord of all life (Luke 6:46); and it is deeper than the ocean, the torrents of His truth and mercy pouring through that vast chasm in the towering rock face of life eternal, that is the place where Christ is to be found (I John 1:1-4, John 8:58). He is the Rock cleft for your inclusion; but on those disbelieving that it falls, it is very hard (Matthew 21:44).
Mercy is free but not foolish.
Love is wonderful but very pure. Yet grace is sufficient and very sure (I John 5:11-12, 4:14).
*1 See *7 of Christ Incomparable ... See also SMR pp. 867ff.
See for example:
Christ's Ineffable Peace...
Ch. 5, The Merciful Might of the Majestic
Dig ... Chs.
1 - 2, No Thanks for Angst ...
Ch. 5, Aviary
of Idolatry, Barbs ... 6
Repent or Perish Ch. 7).