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APPEARANCE AND REALITY
John 7:24 and its Application
Recently I passed an old Dodge car. It was a particularly attractive shade of blue, neither too declarative, nor childish, nor too deep, nor too shimmeringly atmospheric. Its front I do not remember seeing before, but it had a certain dash to it. Enjoying the spectacle, I reflected. If it had a bad engine, the beauty of form would have been meaningless to me, except perhaps for aversion for its false lure. If it had been a model which sported such an engine, or one of limited function for its day, this would have been much the same. It was ONLY because my recollection of the exquisite advance of the 1935 Dodge which came to our family in that year, was one of admiration, that the form COULD be found attractive, and not 'false advertising'.
It is when one is tuned in like this, that one can the more readily appreciate the word of Christ Jesus as in John 7:24. There had of course been considerable flutter about His healing on the Sabbath, and deep resentment, as if this were a specious/spectacular combination of elements to erode the reality of the need for man to rest for one day in seven, a creation requirement independent of covenants. For this, Exodus 20 gives the creation ground, which being past, does not alter. It is a design specification for that personal product called mankind.
Christ continued to heal when some sick soul arrived en scène and did not reject aspiring faith in such a case. It was not as if He had formed an operating list for the day. The appearance was good for grace, but what of the Law ? To this we return shortly.
I APPEARANCE AND DISAPPEARANCE
Thus we find appearance, even as an art form, can have little attraction if the objective is evil, where word and work do not agree! Always however we must find the correct basis for this, for both may agree with ONE PRINCIPLE, when it is known, and this may through ignorance leave critics without understanding of the actual agreement! God is a Spirit, and the spirit of a thing may be that to which many are immune, not having the Spirit, nor the word for that matter, of the Lord.
Let us meanwhile pursue the concept of appearance. One would scarcely drool at the sight of the efficient hypodermic syringe use by a murderer. Function relates to purpose, in a moral being.
Things which are simply instruments for good or evil, in the abstract, may appeal because of a splendid effectiveness, if their appearances bespeaks that aptly - like a sleek, thin, elegant sound system. Yet as soon as the instrument is given in its purpose, program or historic use to oppression or corruption, its use tends to flavour its estimation, and it does not appear so appealing. Thus torture irons would rarely be considered with delight for their exquisite capacity to destroy human sensibility and impart anguish.
II APPEARANCE RE-ENFORCED WITH REALITY
It is when what is used in splendid virtue or delightful pity or delivering strength with which to meet the challenge of torrid times, has also an appearance to match the spirit of the enterprise, that joyful admiration can readily follow for the instrument used - as in the case of barrage balloons in World War II, to protect London.
Thus if someone rescues a victim with deft strokes, or a lawyer exposes a criminal with revealing treatment of the evidence, we can delight in this feeling, the appearance of the thing vastly, because of the good way it achieves its blessed goal. Such an action is not likely to be smashed into spiritual smithereens if it is delivered for good reason, on a Sabbath - as for that matter, is the normal preaching of a preacher! It is what is the ordained manner and call, and this requires knowledge of the source who in this instance, is God!
Criticised vehemently for healing on this day, Christ pointed out that they would happily provide circumcision where the Law required it, on the Sabbath, and since this is a hurt, would they say yea to this and nay to His making of the sick healthy on the same day! On another instance, He asked if they would not bring cattle fallen into a pit, out of it on the Sabbath!
"Do not judge according to appearance," He vigorously declaimed, "but judge with righteous judgment."
Righteous judgment should rejoice in the unsought response to a healing or the gracious act of such divine intervention, the power of God adorning the living words of the Speaker with verification (as notably seen in the case in Mark 2:1ff.). Would a woman bent for 18 years (Luke 13:10ff.) be left that way when they unhesitating pull a cow from a pit into which it happened to fall, on a Sabbath. ? Is the short pain so important, and the long one so minimal! Moreover, that is part of a farm very probably, whereas this is in the passing movement of the Lord as He walked the public highways.
The appearance itself is to be savoured because of the simple fact of the healing - so brilliant, so effective, so sudden, so gracious and timely, undelayed and free, kindly and potent! ... and in the biblical domain, because it is what is required as a badge of identification of the Messiah whom Christ claimed to be and was, in the prophecy of Isaiah (29,35). Moreover, from the first, Christ linked this healing power to the Messianic fact of being able to forgive sin (cf. Isaiah 53's prediction), so that there was an ensemble, a collection of beautiful things all in humility, all in divine power, all in consort with revelation given over millenia and now come to fruition in the midst of a kindness which was that of the Lord God Almighty.
This coherence of many elements of good, with the good purpose and result had an integral wholesomeness, integrity and beauty. Its appearance was magnificent. Thus such a healing should not be witlessly condemned, because of its underlying reality. She was healed in this way by the Being of that eminence who came on the appointed way and time, as in Daniel, to do His work. Moreover she was healed when perhaps in her own self, after so long a time, almost driven to distraction.
III RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT
If someone allows false principles, priorities and understanding to rule him or her, how shallowly may that person judge by appearance. You cannot afford to do this. You must first GET the facts, the function, purpose and nature of the need, and compare this with the nature of the action, the response made to it. Then, with life beyond form, and reality before rote, the Biblical principles can be applied. When this is done, the whole appearance changes from one for clamorous challenge to condemn, to one where acute love and mission is seen for admiration.
Thus a new and very different perspective anoints the eyes, and one sees a good appearance. Logically and indeed spiritually, principles coming first for interpretation basis, and appearance second for application and understanding in that environment, then one is ready to see the very spirit of the thing matched to the ensemble, to the whole.
In fact, there is from the biblical perspective, a truly beautiful appearance about the Son of God acting with a vast understanding which could survey all the aspects, commands, principles, feel the pity and the need, and act harmoniously in depth to meet all with the very personality of God, who spoke these words to us, both of loving our neighbour as ourselves and resting from all one's labours on the Sabbath. Did not, for that matter, priests have to work in sacrifice and perform duties then, and was not Christ the High Priest par excellence! It was not as if there was, in special circumstances which could arise, no way of replacing the rest lost.
When therefore all this is seen in reality and in principle, there is no ground for condemnation: all is sharp, elegant, defensible and defended, pitiful, refreshing.
This does not mean that the sabbath or day of rest commandment should be lightly treated, far less subjected to a planned violation. It does however imply that loving your neighbour as yourself may in emergencies, providentially met, require abrupt action to help, just as one may so act in such a case in one's own unexpected emergencies. Well does one remember at University suddenly discovering on a Sunday that one had forgotten an important exam on the Monday, and deciding to give 30 minutes (from memory) to study, despite the rest norm.
Assessment should include purpose, then, place, performance, procedure, felicity, dedication, principles apparent, conformity to commandment and its intent, and spiritual understanding of that intent. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Luke 2:27). On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that it was MADE, it is a specification. It is a work of grace for best blessedness, and its command should in all honesty be applied; but it is not beyond love for the mode of its usage, just as it is beyond annulment in kind.
IV THE JUDGMENT OF THE UNRIGHTEOUS
Accordingly, we find in John 7:28ff., that Christ proceeded to answer the words of His critics, and their musings about who He was and how His authority should be regarded, and to play on the question in their minds, of where He came from. Yet surely they know ? but they did not know His Father, and hence their knowledge was mere appearance, appraising the form, not the function. It was rather like trying to assess the performance of jet against a paper aeroplane, without realising the difference in design, purpose and just expectation. Some of the criteria for paper aeroplanes would be broken by a large jet plane, but that is merely confusion: they are not meant to be identical, and the larger work of the latter has its own criteria, predicted by those who sent it.
Thus from the misplaced and blinded response of Christ's critics to what appeared to them, their ignorance of Christ's heavenly source, of the ground of His verbal and healing power, came their judging by appearance, as also from their failure to see the supervening power of love in emergency from rigid ruling without the brightness of the light. They were blind to love and light alike . Small wonder that Christ declared to them that the time was coming when they would seek Him and not find Him (Leviticus 26:18-19)*1, so that possessed by blind appearance, with plenary failure to recognise reality, they would have a price to pay. To this horrible but pressing result of their prejudice, He added that if anyone should thirst - a diametrically opposed response - then
"let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me," He added,
"as the Scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water"
(cf. Isaiah 12:3, 44:3-5, Ezekiel 47).
Indeed, the greatest labour of all, the arising from the dead, this came with no human intervention on what became the new day of rest; for without the resurrection, there is no rest, and with it, there is no room for anything else (cf. Romans 10:9, John 20, Luke 24, Ephesians 1:5ff.). The Barrister of Bliss did the work to INSTITUTE the new day of rest so that because of His vast labour, all who receive Him might rest indeed, having entered into that rest which for so long so many avoided (cf. Psalm 95), but a multitude now find.
Its parameters, principles, priorities and place are to be seen in that One Person who in One Event, destroyed the myth of death's omnipotence and confirmed the New Covenant which for all creation is the way home (Hebrews 2, 9). His deposition to meet the case of sinful man being Himself, His peroration being the resurrection, His cardinal argument being the Cross, His client being whoever calls in faith and repentance upon His name alone (Acts 4:11-12, Romans 10:9): His is the most costly court case of all time, He the best barrister (I John 2:1-2), the ardent advocate, the persistent intercessor (Hebrews 7:25), the assured agent (Ephesians 1:5ff.). Glorious amid the abundance of grace is this: the charge zero to us, is all to Him.
Further, He brings back home those who knew no home, being astray from the first (II Peter 3:18).
Home does not change, nor the way to it (John 14, 10).
As to the blindness which has been that of the Jewish nation as a whole - though gloriously excepted are the apostles and multiplied thousands of believers despite the plight of the nation - this has proceeded for some two millenia; and as foretold, will end as this era of prodigious divine grace and entreaty finally closing (Romans 11:25), many of the people in long lost Israel come at last in spiritual swathes, cut by the Lord, to Himself. Also as shown to be coming in Isaiah 65:13-15, and recorded now in history, their plight outside the light in the interim has been grievous. The change to come, therefore, at this massed conversion, is if possible, the more monumental, according as their long plight has been detrimental.
Now many are beginning to seek the Lord, and when the predicted time comes, many will be found to make with the Gentile Christians, one vast team. This duality in unity is what Revelation 7 discloses so vividly and dramatically.
The interim as that day approaches ? It is for the Gentile as well as for the Jew, for now every man, woman and child needs to seek the Lord, not in terms of appearance, but by meeting the Lord who heals the heart, pardons the spirit, reinforces the mind, proclaims pardon and peace, and this means dumping all contrary competition, following Him as Lord of all. Then, finding and knowing God (John 17:1-3), you deal direct with the Almighty on the basis of actual reality - His!
"And after all this, if you do not obey Me,
then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.
I will break the pride of your power;
I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze.
And your strength shall be spent in vain..."
This passage in Leviticus 26 is poignant and zealous. It is at first, like some manufacturer of space vehicles, telling what will happen if they do not look after it, and allow its heat shied to be damaged; and then what will happen if sundry other omissions thrust like eagles on wings, into sight, yet by confusion moving downward instead of into the empyrean. The vehicle is not MADE for such treatment. It is contrary to design.
If now the product be personal, then this is far more evocative; but if the personal product is equipped with a potential to know God, then the misuse becomes almost a parallel to blasphemy, a distortion most horrible, an abuse of power, a distortion by desire. Thus when prayer from such a state comes in the unrepented pretensions of continued autonomy, the heavens let it bounce back. They are like iron, unresponsive, as if impersonal to the caricatures of personality whose "haughty confidence" (NASV) being repellant in aspiration, is repelled.