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THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE SACRIFICED
and Necessary Conformities
If the world is to go, as we see further in the next Chapter, and if it deserves it as in II Peter and we have seen not a little in the last, are there then no other stringencies, constraints ? Is negativity necessary ? then is positivity not equal ?
As the Creator is CREATIVE:
the point and purpose,
what of liberty and love amid the creation
Of the love of God, in this site, there has been multitudinous expression as in
The Biblical Workman Ch. 3, in
Great Execrations, Great Enervations and Greater Grace, say Chs. 7 and 9,
The Kingdom of Heaven Ch. 4, The Christian Pilgrimage Ch. 3, and indeed in the volume
Love is Purer Than the Peak Snow-Crested, More Vital then its Dashing Streams: The Love of God Alone, especially Ch. 5.
While this is the eternal reservoir to which we perpetually look with delighted awe, at the moment there is an outcome of it which is our special concern: the necessity of sacrifice.
God has NO necessities ? Almost true. NOTHING FROM WITHOUT can necessitate anything for Him. But what is within, not as a mould or constraint imposed, but as the nature of His Being which of course, lacking control and imposition of any kind, is precisely what He WOULD, what He desires to be, this is not only immovable, but inalienable. GOD WHO CANNOT LIE - says Titus. We have considered this elsewhere - and again, it is not a condition for His Being, for nothing has Him as conditional, but an ingredient in WHO He is so elemental as to make alternative ludicrous (cf. Barbs ... 6 -7). Again, He CANNOT DENY HIMSELF, says II Timothy 2:13, in most delightful fashion.
How is this last point so ? SINCE He is what He would be, time being a creation of His and not a condition, as a necessity of waiting and so forth, since nothing conditions Him, what is affirmed ? What He is. What is not affirmed for Him ? What He is not. How COULD what is not affirmed (through, by, within and concerning Himself) be denied, except as a lie! How could He lie if what He has constructed, construed, propelled into being and esteemed in advance from first to last, is what He affirms, creatively, providentially and in terms of His own assessment ? It could be done rather easily, but only if He were not there. Since He is there, it would be simply a contradiction in terms for Him to 'deny Himself'.
What then of the love of God, which He affirms repeatedly in originating scope and intensity (John 3:16-19, I John 4:7ff., Colossians 1:19ff.), and how does this apply ?
There are things unthinkable for some mothers and fathers, concerning their children, for which they would so willingly sacrifice themselves that the issue does not arise. How much more is this so with the One of whom it is biblically written, "God is love", just as "God is light" in I John 4:7, 1:5, and further, as in Deuteronomy 32:1-4, "A God of truth, and without injustice, righteous and upright is He." As Christ declared, "I am the Way, the Life and the Truth." Here is its place, here is the site of wisdom (as in Job 28), here is goodness and mercy in which the Lord delights (as shown in Micah 7:19ff., Psalm 31:19-20, 144:2, Psalm 34:8, 100:5, 135:3, Jeremiah 33:11, Nahum 1:7). The Lord, we read repetitively, and find insistently when we know Him, IS GOOD.
He DELIGHTS in mercy (Love is Purer ... Ch. 5), as we find in Micah 7, and in our lives as with the Psalmist.
Yet is this without discipline ? Of course not: that is in fact a part of life for sinners, even if sanctified and redeemed, cleansed: they are CORRECTED. The heights are there not for preening but for seeing the wonders of the Lord and following by faith. The righteous may fall seven times (Proverbs 24:15), and yet be corrected and conducted onwards, with living abundantly.
What however of the NATURE of discipline ? It is chastening, child-training, and can be very humiliating, but must be accepted. One well remembers an older brother, now well into his nineties, relating his memories of days at Scotch College, Melbourne, where he went there long before I did. He was mentioning the fact that boys used to line up in the morning for caning, at the hand of the much loved Dr Littlejohn, a character of zeal and zest, it seems, and kindness. It was, he asserted cheerfully, part of what was there, what went on.
It was a piece of the picture.
In other words, roving lads might incur this or that, realise the error, be corrected and continue with goodwill and good heart. This is the sort of thing of which you read in Hebrews 12. It may not seem at the moment of impact (whether figuratively or literally) so good; but at the hand of the Lord, it is. This should not be confused with the impact of suffering, as with Job, which is really a form of service when you ENDURE what evil when this is wrought on you, in the love of God, for some great purpose of His. For example, it may occur and be permitted as a testimony that love is stronger than suffering, beyond pleasure, a matter of heart, and towards God, it is impelling past all that this earth can contrive. Such was the case with Job.
Even Job showed a few cracks in his tail-plane, as in metal stress, during his ordeals, but the outcome has blessed the hearts of millions, ministered grace to multitudes and to mention one aspect alone, has been set to music by Handel in the words of Job 19, which must have been audited by many millions, repeatedly in those countries where public demonstrations of faith are not yet banned by the monstrous compromises of governments which bow to convenience and have the spirit of a weed which proliferates but does no good.
No, our concern in this Chapter is not to be confused with suffering, which love endures for Christ as in I Peter 4:12ff.. It is rather the NECESSITY of sacrifice which is in view. The other elements are mentioned, since all are one in the Lord; but now that they are differentiated, let us proceed to sacrifice and its impulsion, and in a voluntary sense of what ought to be and thus MUST be, compulsion. It is a voluntary compulsion: that is the recognition of the non-viability of the liability to disobey, and be selfish, when one is committed freely to the love of the Lord.
Indeed, first of all, we shall consider some strange necessities which are not even directly a matter of suffering, but of surprising impact, so that the sense of the spiritual may lead us to a sensitive state of spirit to receive the next layer, if you will.
I CHRIST'S BAPTISM
John did NOT want to do it. That is clear from John 3:13-17. WHY did he not ? It was because "I need to be baptised by You!"
In other words, a sinner, though a prophet he was, this John, he did not mess about in his vocation. Called to baptise in the milieu of repentance, he had no desire to confuse the point and baptise the sinless, anoint the Saviour, signalise in his routine of duty, God as if He Himself were needing forgiveness. This Jesus, after all (John 1:29) as he declared, was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
HOW then would he baptise Him who baptises, HOW cleanse the clean, indeed the Cleaner, who was to do this very thing ultimately and effectually ? HOW could He cleanse Christ who in Himself cleansed others, and would cover mountains of sins by His own sacrificial blood, His own anguish therein, as death took its toll of Truth who in and as this divine Saviour took toll of death and burst out in resurrection, in His own innocence and integrity!
How on EARTH, John would be thinking, could I baptise, I who baptise sinners warning them to flee from the wrath to come, baptise HIM, the Judge (cf. Acts 17:31)!
We should remember that John is not less than, but more than a professional. He is a prophet designated in the top of the class by Christ. He shrinks from what seems not merely an anomaly but perhaps even an enormity! Yet it is this SAME Christ, with this same authority, who ASKS IT! What a predicament for the prophet! The very grounds of his repugnance from baptising Christ are the same both to repel and to impel. If Christ is Lord, should he not obey ?
Naturally, he does obey. He does it. This is a lesson in the meantime to us all who seek truth, and especially to those who in Christ have it! It is the truth which sets us free (John 8:31-2,36). There is no need for ambivalence, tension, let alone neurotic impulsions stirring like some vast oceanic combination of contrary whirl-pools. The truth is quite clear. How often does one find people acting as if they found themselves in some harsh, unideal, unidyllic, vociferously vigorous sort of set-up or situation in which it is SO hard to know what to do. Some may find this, but the provision of guaranteed wisdom (James 1) for the Christian excludes such from any need to inhabit this category, be subject to such a plight as this!
That is not to suggest that the Lord does not purposely give us meaty matters from time to time, as a good mathematics teacher might to his students.
It does mean however that the answer is ALWAYS available, in good time for need. Light is like that, and he who walks in the light of Christ will neither stumble nor walk in darkness (John 9:4-5, 8:12, John 11:9). Often, a 'problem' which someone feels desperately, considering its difficulty a whirlwind in his mind and a sore in his heart, is largely composed of an unwillingness to do the obvious; and the number of ludicrously ephemeral, obviously truth-abusive lurks people seem to manage, to avoid what they do not want, even in Churches, at times gives pause to amazement, that one might consider some greater response even than this. Stunning ? perhaps ...
John however had discipline, a thing we all need, and which sometimes, when it has been both applied and received in its intent, helps us to appreciate all the more the nature and beauty of truth, and the point of the lesson when it is received as a quality within. He DID what he was ordered to do - or if you prefer. requested ...
PERMIT it, this baptism of Himself! allow it for the time, said Christ. WHY ?
Obviously it was because the perspective in which John was conceiving the matter - most naturally, but not warrantably - was incorrect IN THIS CASE. Hence his yielding to the Lamb of God was apt and appropriate.
What however was the correct perspective ? Why would the Son of God, as in Matthew 4, want to be baptised by John; and above all, why would this be not some mere ceremonial dab, but a matter no less than this, a compulsion, a constraint, a need, yes a necessity - to "fulfil all righteousness."
Obviously, since this was ceremonial, and not a matter of inwardness, an outward sign or signal, and righteousness is the concept, the criterion, there is something in the law of God that would make it inept, improper, a mutilation of rightness, NOT to do this thing.
In Numbers 8 we find such a consideration. Here the Levite as part of the institution of the order, is to receive a sprinkling of water, in dedication. It is not just any water: it is water of purification which we read in Numbers 19 had participation in sacrifice, indeed, blood; for what had not been sprinkled before the tabernacle when the heifer was sacrificed, was burnt with the rest to ashes and these were placed in water which then composed the water of purification, to be sprinkled here and there in various ablutions.
A sin offering was added, and laying on of hands proceeded for the Levites. However, our present purpose is to consider the water of sprinkling.
In the case of John, there was no mention of water of purification. It was just water such as could be found, as in the case of the springs of Aenon, which as Jay Adam points out in his work, The Meaning and Mode of Baptism was a place of shallow streams and springs (John 3:22ff.). This - springs or fountains - is the meaning of the term. Adams cites Christy to the effect that "these streams trickling through marshy land on their way to the Jordan, as they do to this day, offer little or no facilities for immersion." Why should they ? John 3 shows baptism was a matter of purification and as Hebrews 9 shows, this is the nature of the listing following the reference to "many baptisms" (by the AV put as 'washings' though the Greek is many baptisms, the normal term, and we are here in the domain of such).
Let us however return from the normative sprinkling, so liberally sprinkled in the text of Hebrews 9 in conjunction with that term, and in the Old Testament relative to cleansing (cf. Keys ... Ch. 4 with News 51), to the extraordinary, the prima facie strange-seeming baptism of Jesus by John, as an ACT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
The case in fact lent itself gloriously in simplicity to the desire of Christ and the impact of the law. John's water was not, as noted, water of purification in the ceremonial sense above described. Hence it did NOT carry the sacrificial norm. Indeed, as the blood of Christ is precisely that cleansing agent, taking it in its underlying sense of sacrificial instrument in death for sin, symbolising life given, thus the baptism of John as PRELUDE and preparation for the work of Christ COULD not contain any such thing! AS it (necessarily) did not, then of course the exclusion zone which WOULD have been in it, had it been merely a ceremonial act of the Old Testament, was NOT there.
As a result, it could be used in the normal way for Levites. But why SHOULD IT ? John was not using it, though Levitical practice did. The point then is as follows.
Christ was under the law (Galatians 4:4), and this was an essential part of His self-discipline in being a brother, one like the others, not permitted special exclusions and artifices, but subjected to the rigours of what man had to bear, in order that He should overcome these things (as in Hebrews 2) in genuine participation and so be the genuine Saviour who having withstood, could contribute His own unsullied and tested righteousness (as indeed stringently challenged by the devil, in the Matthew 4:1ff. episode). If then as in Ezekiel 36:23-25, in the ONE AND ONLY new covenant, those of Israel returning to the Lord after their departure from Him as described in Isaiah 49:7 and on, those returning in and for Him were to be sprinkled with water, what was so surprising about this ?
Yet those were to be sprinkled as symbol of redemptive cleansing on the part of the Redeemer, already then come in this setting and depiction (as in Ezekiel 37), so how could this be used, even this, in the case of the Saviour ? one might ask.
While, however, this gives some indication of basis for John's baptism, it does by no means exclude an adaptation of this, for Christ Himself.
As John's baptism is a PRELUDE to Christ's death, and not a result, significant towards it though it be, and as Christ was, though not a Levite, in the office of formal though extraordinary and indeed inordinate service to His brethren to the uttermost, and as this was a dedicatory device in Numbers 8, and Christ was most keen to be integral with the whole word of God (as you see for example in Matthew 26:52-54, where the scriptural depiction "must happen", from His own lips), then we see the fulfilment of righteousness, of law.
In an atypical but highly significant parallel to Numbers 8, with unpurgative water, and with the Father commending Him AS HIS SON and the Holy Spirit anointing Him in trinitarian conjunction (rather fascinatingly parallel to Matthew 28:19), Christ then appears as one REQUIRING appointment (as man, since he was in all things but sin like His brethren). In this, there is the formal parallel to the case of the Levites. He is seen no less as One SUBMITTING to its ministration, while yet adapting it with this aftermath, which cleared up confusion.
In what way ? Why, in this: that it was not in repentance but in reception He came, in this as with the Levites, in readiness for commission, publicly given, formally announced and precisely propounded. He was to be, in purely human terms APPOINTED, received in office, and though it far transcended the Levitical case, and could not be mere substitute for it, that ceremony in this way expressed the call, commission, appointment in the sight of man. With that of course, there was need for differentiation.
In this, John's reluctance acted, showing very clearly that this was not a normal case, of of appointment with cleansing. Far more, the Father's willingness and evocation acted, as HE HIMSELF CONFIRMED the appointment, not in receptiveness of a sinner but in declaration of filial kinship with His very self, on the part of Christ, "My beloved Son" and the direct statement that in Him, He was well pleased. The eternal Word of God had become flesh (John 1), and in flesh had shown both willingness for being subject to the law, to fitness and wise things, not faux pas, and His distinctiveness in being in Himself, but sin-free and eternal by nature.
The ensemble with its aftermath therefore HAD to be done, lest it should seem that THIS priest, this Christ, this Saviour from heaven, was immune from anything like a priestly submission at the start, so that in such positive style, His true manhood and participation should be published. In this way, ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS as in Hebrews 2, was indeed fulfilled.
It seemed at first, and expressly so to John, who did not at the first know the aftermath ... strange, a strangeness which spoke; but in the end it was an adaptation of necessity unique in kind, for to whom else did the Father so speak, and on whom else did the Spirit so rest (cf. John 3:34)! This teaches us to be reachable by the Lord; and it thrusts us out, not to ensure that our own limited understanding, as alas it is at times, is the criterion. Instead, we are to be ready to learn and GROW and studying ALL of the Bible, to find in its mutual interactions and ricocheting, the sum of its communication. We must not only SOW but GROW, and for that matter, glow with the loving acceptance of our Father through the ministrations of Christ.
It would be unfitting not to note, in conclusion of this segment, that there was even here, an element of sacrifice. For Christ, eternal resident of heaven (Micah 5:1-3), equal with God as His express image (Hebrews 1, Philippians 2, John 10:30), to have to undergo human action in the very midst of His dedication would at first sight seem a sacrifice of dignity, almost of being, an in ept diminution of His standing; but since He had humbled Himself to the form of a servant, THIS was the SORT of thing to which He MUST now relate.
And He did! That is the way with the Lord; it is right, He does it. It is a challenge: He meets it. It is different because of who He is, He does not exploit it, any more than He did when He declined to turn stones into bread, a mere prostitution of power, one avoided in His illimitable purity of heart.
II PETER'S FEET
Here is another event, at first sight strange, but in the end, not only understandable but enlightening; and indeed, in it too, there was a peculiar element of sacrifice, which will link later to our main theme.
The scene is simple, spectacular in a humble way, glorious in another. There is Christ with a towel, with which He girds Himself, offering to wash the disciples' feet. He makes it clear that this is an exemplary exhibition, that He wants them to humble themselves towards one another, if He their Lord could humble Himself so to each, so achieving an approach which in its spiritual dimensions is accorded blessedness.
He comes to Peter. This valiant disciple is not disposed to have any fuss or form. Wash his feet ? the feet of one accustomed in his earlier days to lavish swearing, it might seem, to the hustle and bustle, the straightforward slashing of fish and getting on with things as the base level ? Are you joking ? Is this something esoteric for the erudite ? special for the fussy ? Peter ? He is not one of those. He is straight, strong, no illusions, to the point, of no elevation and not seeking any.
Wash my feet! You will NEVER wash my feet, he affirms with, quite candidly, very understandable vigour. He does not wish to be misunderstood. I well remember, when a Welfare Officer in the Army, talking to a keen young soldier who had come to our site, now in his own home. He told me that I might think him a sweet sort of kid, but that the truth was far from this. He had evidently not been for too long a Christian, and the new fashion of his life was far from the way in which he had lived most of it.
So here, Peter does not wish to be mistaken for a splendid fellow. This is endearing in a way; for it is not so often that one meets disclaimers, as if to indicate that someone is not as good as he should be, or would like to be and is not afraid to admit it.
Another such case which Peter's case reminds is this. It is one of great joy in memory, being that of a young Canadian school teacher who advised me, before his first communion and after classes intended to convey the realities of the Gospel to those who did not seem to have known much of them in a far off Canadian Island, that he was not good enough. That of course was precisely one of the main ingredients for being ready! If he realised the necessities of salvation's power and transformation, not the opportunity to present his own righteousness, he was in this most ready. Asking him if he were good enough to be a sinner, to which one gained emphatic answer, and bad enough to need the Saviour, to which he gave ready assent, then one pointed out the result: Why not take Him then! He attended the communion.
Here then Peter is made to realise that in Christ's ministry there was no recognition of virtue, but requirement that one wash (cf. Titus 3:3-7). But why the feet ? if one is going to choose some kind of symbol, surely not the most dirty, the least attractive part is not to the point ? Why not head ?
No, feet. Indeed, if his feet were
not to be washed, Christ indicated to this disciple, then he had
no part in Christ.
What an amazing dénouement! NO PART. How could so small a thing have such results ?
It was because Christ the Lord was asking for it, and asking personally, individually and without any possible case for waiver: He was asking it of PETER, THERE and THEN. It is not enough to feel good about Christ; one must apply one's mind, heart, soul and body to DOING what He wants. A servant girl, a maid who feels good about her mistress, but less so about washing the dishes tends to combine arrogant fancifulness with hypocrisy. It is unattractive AS WELL AS unserviceable.
Obedience gives satisfaction; disobedience does not. We are not saved by, but in - obedience. It is not the way to find God, but in love it is a way of expressing love. It is not perfect, for which of us is even near perfect; but where bedience is explicitly withheld, then this is nothing less than rebellion.
Peter submitted. He always did in the end. His robust insistence on getting and keeping to the point, in the midst of genuine devotion, would make him a delightful person in any Session! Not only no nonsense, but no omission! and all in the lustre of love for the Lord.
WHY however did Christ go to such lengths in this matter, so soundly requiring THIS WASHING.
First, we have already seen, it was a direct and unambiguous request made of Peter than and there, at the very hand of Christ.
Secondly, as you see in what Christ said, it was not a sacramental confusion, or rather, a ceremonial formalism, for A PART was ALL that was necessary. It signified the whole as anyone could see, so that more washing of more of the body was irrelevant. Such was Christ's insistence. PART is enough!
Sprinkling, the normative, historic and central purification mode in the Old Testament, had always shown that; and repetitively over long centuries in many ministrations for many purposes was this so as in Leviticus Chs. 1ff.. Thus feet alone could here stand, as well as would little drops, for the idea of cleansing.
Part would assuredly do for all.
But why this part ?
Again, the least lovable, the least lovely, the least susceptible to adulation, whether in heart or body, this is what has to be accepted, processed, regarded, COVERED. If the little sins were all, what of the main ones! It had to be the feet partly because they were unlovely, as is sin, and this least could then symbolise the worst of sins, the basest need to be covered as well as the apparently lesser. If the worst is covered, the lesser is within its scope.
If Christ, to leave the symbolism for the fact, could not deal with all and the worst of sins, it was perfectly useless to deal with any. One could have no part in Him. Forgiveness is not an avenue of escape from holiness, but a mode of dealing with breach. Christ is creating new men and women (II Corinthians 5:17ff., John 3, Titus 3), not providing phrasing for a humanity, as in communism, which are wholly unchanged, or substantially so.
Yet again, why was this done on so solemn an occasion and in such ceremonial style, and why did Christ use a towel which GIRDED Him, in order to do it.
Once more, we need to go to the text book of that day, the straightforward, page by page, word of God in the Old Testament, then fully operative. We find in Exodus 30:17ff., that the priests, Aaron (the high priest) and his sons HAD TO wash their hands and their feet in a special laver between the tabernacle and the altar.
They had to do this "lest they die". It thus signified that crucial distinction between the holy and the profane, between spiritual realisation and normal usage, between a due regard for the special wonder and awesomeness of approach to God and simple performance of other duties, between HIS law, ways and will, and areas where one's own judgment could operate properly and in propriety. Thus men of God, teachers in particular, are not to present their theological ideas as doctrine, but the word of God, not to allay instructions with the intoxicating wine of cultural awareness, but to perform them!
Accordingly, in Ezekiel 22:26, we find this dictum of the Lord. While He is exposing the lassitude and folly, the failure and worse of the priests, He declares:
"Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things:
they have put no difference between the holy and profane,
neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean,
and have hidden their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them."
That provides the point in impactive and indeed judgmental format from the Lord Himself. This is no light matter, and when churches today, or what remains of some of them, make use of rock music of more than doubtful name and genesis, basis and usage, for the sacred, on the mistaken assumption that the more like the world you are in your MODES the better you will get through your message, there are violating this.
To be sure, it is good to be "all things to all men" within the Gospel as far as is spiritual; but not as far as participating in what is intrinsically carnal or evil or godless or a concourse for vice. You do not put the image of a snake on a wedding cake.
We come then to the NECESSITY that Peter's feet be washed. ALL must be washed, and nothing of the carnality of man must cling, far less cloy, as he seeks the Lord with zealous mind and lavish heart.
What however of the ceremonial aspect of feet ? Why, this is as shown in Exodus 30, where this is precisely, once again, what those chosen for priestly ministration HAD to do when involved in sacred ceremonial in the holy place. CHRIST was so engaged. His apostles in the New Covenant would minister from His ministrations, like Levites in the Old Covenant for His priestly sacrifice. Though the format had changed, because the pictorial had become the substantial, and the preliminary the consummation, yet the relay of authority and the nature of authority in the word of God, this did not change.
They HAD to wash their feet. Why not then the hands ? As Christ had explained equally, a part would suffice. This was not a precise application of the law, in that first of all, HE was not a sinner, and secondly, they were not actual priests in the Old Testament sense (though assuredly no less, but rather more because of the greater glory of the ministration as in II Corinthians 3:10).
Nevertheless, just as the promise was to the children of believing Israelites, and to those who were afar off, as Peter made clear at Pentecost (Acts 2:39), so here, the newness applied to the disciples, as did baptism to the children in the context of Peter, being translated as shown (cf. Colossians 2:11-12). There is the utmost insistence on detail, on its spiritual significance, on there being no change in the Lord, or the desires of His heart, and even when as here, a preparatory covenant is being replaced by a consummatory covenant, there is no question of any change except what is for some reason announced or shown to be categorically required; for the Lord knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), and as a teacher, does not dispense with principles applicable, but applies them.
God does not alter nor does He change His ways (cf. Habakkuk 3:6, Malachi 3:6, Psalm 90). The world does not culture God, as if He were some microbe in a test-tube. It is man who is more like the microbe, except for this, that God first made him, and lastly, still loves him if by any means WITHIN THE TRUTH, he might yet be saved. WITHIN the truth ?
Hence, in the symbolism of the foot washing, it was REQUIRED when the Lord so put it to Peter, that he exhibit the reality by obeying Him who so spoke to him. Love operates in truth; truth showers commands as well as coming in Spirit. The word of God and His Spirit are trinitarian in unity. Commission within the bounds of the HOLY NOT being the PROFANE, thus excluding the inner-self-commissions of Liberalism and neo-orthodoxy and the rest of the word of God transmutative arrogations, were as clearly excluded as was any other phase of self-will, self-authorisation and self-imposition.
Thus Christ is not FOR this world, this present evil world, this world of attention to trivia, cultural conformity and detention for truth; He is for what love desires, truth requires and spirit fires, for people righteous through conversion and regeneration, restored by redemption and renewed by the Holy Spirit, strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Ephesians 3:16), if weak, then reinforced (Isaiah 42), for whom the Sermon on the Mount is like daily bread. He is for saving them from this world and its cultures, the vultures of evil thought. He forwards and implements the desire for the realities of abundant life, vitality and reality, having come not only to save, but to sanctify them through His word by His Spirit (John 17:17).
He is not for a world of eccentric innovation, moralising about amorality and spiritualising reality to the point that no command is so sacred but that of the heart of a man, which doctors, 'adapts' and frequently flatly contradicts biblical commands, while smirking about spirituality in a style worthy of the worst of the scribes. He is not for a world wise in its own eyes. For such a world, Christ does not EVEN pray (John 17:9).
You pray at this point, for extraction not renovation; to remove the tip that faces you, not to restore it ; and the way is not by synthesis of democratically delightful people, full of themselves, but for the Creator. It is for Him who in purity of love and fatherhood of mercy is full of pity, in gathering those brought not only to remorse but to repentance. From what then do they repent ? It is for ignoring or translating Him into foolish and feckless substitutes, whether consciously or unconsciously, in a life where God, if relevant at all, is so only by ... permission. It is for indifference or callow disregard, for self-will and all of its appurtenances.
It is indeed especially, then, not only for denying His word, but trivialising either it, or their attention to it, for living for themselves either directly or by their own charismatic or bucolic choice, trusting in themselves in or in their own appointees. Such a world, such a culture, such a civilisation, such a way of life, such a ruling regime: this is not to be prayed for, since like terminal cancer, it merely approaches doom. The cancer goes when the sinner comes to the Lord; but as for praying for the conduct of the cancer, when its remedy is denied by the one who has it: no, just no! (John 17:9).
Returning to the foot washing, then, we find an incorrigible realism, a determinate determination in the Lord. What had been proposed had to be done, not in wilfulness, but in witness, in truth, because of what things are, what symbols mean, what had been prepared in the first covenant and was coming in the second, because of spiritual strategic insight and because of the teaching implicit. Certain things had been done with intent both for their own time and for that to come, and now that it had come, their full application had to be realised. If this was wrought in this instance by symbol, then the message of the symbol, if endorsed within, would meet blessedness from the Lord (John 13:15-17).
So then here, the foot washing was to proceed with these disciples at this time, as a cardinal example while Christ was still there; and its symbolic portent was crucial in mutual service, without highmindedness or hostility.
Like the Levites, not in summary identity, as before, but in crucial spiritual unity of thought and concept, the disciples HAD to have their feet washed: it was to preserve the principle of separating the profane and the holy, to apply the principle of dedication and devotion, to apply the point of cleanliness as something becoming those in His house, at the spiritual level, and to underline the point that it is not in terms of this world's ideas that the ways and will of God are to be followed. Instead, it is in HIS OWN TERMS, and in His word, so that what He has set at all times is as Paul declares, for our edification (II Timothy 3:16).
Thus once more, this strange seeming necessity is perfectly clear and apparent when taken in terms of Christ's insistence, NOT on removing Old Testament principles, NOT on innovating according to one's own ideas or the world's, but on APPLYING and PRESERVING principles into their consummation, meaning intact at the vital level, things already indicated now set in the new format or realised direct.
Was there any sacrifice in this ? Did Peter have to make anything of this kind ?
It seems that Peter's initial reluctance did indicate something of this sort. Would he suffer himself to be so dealt with, that not only the outward appearance of devotion but the inward necessity of cleansing even at the most lowly and even base level was met ?
He sacrificed his sense of independence and self-reliance.
Christianity is rather like a Grand Central Station for sacrifice, to bring us, to cover us, to cleanse us, to anneal us, to reveal Himself.
Christ's sacrificed His body, in slow, premeditated anguish, drip by drip, anguished drawing of breath by breath as chest slowly collapsed, in thirsting agony, in the beauty of His mind, as the slow and dreadful meaning of sin sought to find affinity with its antithesis, moving remorselessly, by appointment relentlessly assailing His spirit, in which He bore the worst feature and focus of all, the intensity and immensity of human rebellion and rottenness. It was so, that by grace He might annul sin with its guilt and gore in Himself (II Corinthians 5:21), and so prepare for resurrection in glory, those who would follow His own resurrection, at the appointed time (I Corinthians 15:50-58).
Hebrews tells us not only that the many baptisms, which it cites in sprinklings of purificatory kind from the Old Testament, were replaced by ONE sacrifice, but that the intimacy is so great with those things foregoing, that it is positively a matter of fulfilment: that ex-blood of animals, ex-repetition, and by HIS OWN blood, He became "the Mediator" (not a mediator)
"of the New Covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant".
He did this so that those who are called may
"receive the promise of the eternal inheritance."
The Eternal Son of God brings eternal redemption and with it eternal inheritance (as in I Peter 1:1-5), one not fading away but reserved (as in Hebrews 6:19) and complete (as in Hebrews 10:10,14). He did it by a purification and purgings NOT by anything repetitious, not by animal sacrifices, not by various baptisms (Hebrews 9:10), but by ONE ACT.
Thus the tie-up of sprinkling cleansing and the New Covenant is complete, intimate, sustained and developed step by step in its immensity.
Just as the many baptisms (8 sprinkling cases are then mentioned in this Chapter 9, following the general word - baptisms, in the domain of sin clearance) were a sign of a thorough purge and purification then, in times past, so in Hebrews such "sprinkling" is expressly linked in Hebrews 9:13-14) to
"the blood of Christ who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot...
to cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God."
And on whom was it sprinkled, but on the people of the Lord, and for whom was the covenant presented, but for the whole congregation, little ones and all (Deuteronomy 29:10-11, Exodus 24:6); and what was said in Hebrews of the purpose and result of Christ's own purification of His people by His blood, but this, that
"you may enter into covenant with the LORD".
In the case of Deuteronomy's covenant people, who had just been cited before this inclusive statement, but
"your leaders and your tribes and your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel,
your little ones and your wives - also the stranger who is in your camp,
from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws our water" !
In that theocratic State, to be IN it, was to be under the Lord. If you do not want it, you had to leave the land. ALL were in it.
To all the covenant applied. Children COULD not leave the land, so it had to apply to them. It did not save them: far from it. Breach of covenant in Israel was common and often awful: the circumcised with the uncricumcised are proscribed, ready for death, when in defiance of the Lord, as in Jeremiah 9:26. There is no need to move from one extreme to the other, from removing what God has stated and never withdrawn as to attitude, paralleled in significance and bound in ongoing promise to the people, to making ceremony a work of salvation! Both are estrangements from the word of God; and neither excuses at all, the other. Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee may hit each other on the head, with pillows or billows or anything else, but it would have been better in the first place to have sought resolution, and avoided needless conflict.
God repeatedly as here, shows Himself to be keen to keep to the meat and meaning of all that He has said; and so letting children remain unbaptised in some sort of democratic-seeming innovation, not one derived from the God of creation, represents a motionto lapse and omission from the other extreme. What is that ? It is one of ceremonial pseudo-piety. It is to imagine in some illogical leap that the children being baptised are regenerated. Neither is at all biblically warranted, the abuse or the omission.
But what of that regeneration assumption, that ceremonial salvation! What then of those who are Judases and the like, Demases and that type ?
This is then linked, to excuse itself just a little, to ludicrous Arminian theology, to enable falling away which is flatly contrary to scripture (I John 3:9, 5:11-12, John 10:9,27-28, Romans 5:1-11), though of course it can be a type of what is never found by definition in believers (cf. John 6:50ff.), the case of only tasting what is spat out, by in fact always lost, though not so in appearance! Thus error compounds itself, both in the one extreme and in the other.
Baptism is symbolic; it does not save. Baptism is for children; it does not save them. Baptism is an awesome expression of the pardoning, cleansing, covenantal power of God, and it does not depend, this salvation when and if it does come to any baptised, on the symbol. It relates for those who understand it, to the faith in the completed work and living, resurrected, bodily triumphant Christ, who rose, and in whom, His people will rise at His return. It is applied as was circumcision, without respect to knowledge, in the young, and on the basis of saving knowledge in the old, but saves neither, while indicating whether preformatively or post-conversion, what salvation is all about, and how near it is to any, if only it be received.
It is time to remove the offence (of child exclusion) and the counter-offence (of ceremonial salvation) and get back to the salient point that ALL scripture is given by inspiration from God and is profitable for edification and instruction. Leaving little lapses, like senior moments, does not have the excuse of ... age. For more detail on such issues, see with News 51, which sees these things in a far broader orchestra of biblical instrumentation, the following:
Questions and Answers 11 for a fuller and more general treatment, as also
The Pitter-Patter of Prophetic Feet Ch. 5 and
What is the Chaff to the Wheat Ch. 1
How anyone can even begin to imagine that the sanctity of Old Testament actions and ceremonies, being translated with elevation into uniqueness and substance from the divinely chosen symbols, could be fulfilled in such a precise setting as this, so sustained a manner, by some other means, such as immersion, gang pressed from some perimeters, is almost past belief! It is not just a matter of Baptists (with Baptist Churches, despite the fact that Paul did not come to baptise, but to preach the Gospel - a strange emphasis indeed); indeed, it concerns the whole approach to the Old Testament in general (God does not evolve, nor does He improve His teaching style, or learn more ...).
Here when the particular concentration on the matter in hand between the two Testaments is intense and grand in biblical presentation as in Hebrews, is precise and focussed, to move away in this sort of innovative manner (relative to the BIBLE), gives theological learning a role in the dimension of extravaganzas.
It is not however in extravanganza but in circumspection and readiness to learn, that one is directed to act.
It is not merely that God does not change His mind about the meaning of the family unit which HE CREATED; nor is it a matter of the way in which mankind is to relate to Him in initial ceremonial fashion, whether circumcision, or its container unit as Paul has it in Colossians 2, baptism; nor is it only an issue of the principles of His desire for formal relationship with every member of the family, conscious or not of the significance of these things. It is rather the change from the very matrix of identity, carefully spread out before us in these scriptures, to something other. It is another method that is desired by many, but not provided by God. His word is not for estimate but for declaration, and where implication is in, mere imagination and innovation beyond bounds, is out. WHO after all IS writing the Bible!
Indeed, when this variation is permitted, it is another time that is desired; and despite the most minute observance of the intent of the Old Testament as shown here, above, there is to be another framework and another significance.
When of course adult baptism of children long since Christians (perhaps as in the case of one of my children, since 3 years of age) occurs, then a vast omission of divinely prescribed principles of association is deleted. There is, however, not merely no excuse for deletion without express authority of a clearly stated and intensively applied divine desire re age groups (as exemplified in Exodus 4).
Nor is there simply in view, the fact that to move from this when the promise, furnished with abundant Old Testament reference, is to you and to your children (Acts 2), an explicit Old Testament signification, one picking up on various Old Testament references made in this Pentecost speech, is an an intrusion close to alienation, and certainly an alienation of context. It is that beyond all this, the very term for HOUSEHOLD unit which was that for which the prescription of covenantal association by formal and described ceremony was to obtain, in Old Testament times, being still in view (as in Acts 16), to subvert this into dissolution is to invent the word of God without ground, sustenance or excuse.
We can however, at this stage, helpfully make the point, tying together these aspects now cited, that just as baptism was a re-expression of circumcision, so Christ's baptism was a purged parallel of Levitical sanctification, devotion, dedication. There is a precision in parallels, a directly noted insistence on derivative meaning from symbols, and in the baptism of Christ, the invocation by HIMSELF of the category of the NECESSARY in the realm of RIGHTEOUSNESS which underlies all of this. What made it necessary was His insistence over the will of the prophet, and His concepts of rightness. He, after all, it is who is the God of salvation; and it is well to let Him speak, and then to listen.
As He removed the repetitive baptisms of animal blood, replacing them with the shedding of His own, the merely pictorial provisions of such cleansing means, effective only because of authority so providing, becoming a mere prelude to His own mediation of the New Covenant in His own death for transgressions, so there is tied as by expert nautical knots, the whole apparatus of the Old with the whole transformation of the New, in categorical terms. Their precision of mutual conformity, their mode of application, all continue without release, for the word of God is bound, and bound to be believed and done, not as a platform for innovation, let alone reneging novelty.
Precision, culmination, accumulation of considerations, performance, transition from pictorial to actual truth direct, from presentation to actualisation: these are visible elements in the transition from the Old to the New Covenant, granted by divine inspiration in Hebrews. We move from baptisms, washing, to sprinklings, from these to Christ's blood, and His mediation of the New Covenant in one blindingly brilliant operation of cumulative constraint.
What then ? Instruction in righteousness is by no means to be excluded, nor the sacrificial lessons and explication which is exuded from the text. Hallowed, holy, precise, perfected, not denied, the underlying becoming the obtrusive and the implicit the explicit: these are the indications of Hebrews, and they are for us as well. The transition in Hebrews 9 from this old to the blood of Christ is so efficaciously intimate, the movement so graded as if by pages in a book, sections of an operation, parts in a mathematical proof, that it is pure joy both to perceive, apply and perform the outcome. There is nothing insidious, except in intrusion; nothing invidious, except in exclusion.
Changes ? where do they come from ? Let us be clear: they come from God only, and when He does not speak, they do not exist. Again, when He does speak, they are implemented. In both cases, here, we have that, the double impact: what is to be, and what is left alone. They concur; and so must we if we wish to follow His word.
When God specified sacrifice, therefore, in effect in Genesis 4,
in fulness in Leviticus,
in necessary provisions, not
in His own purchase (Hosea 13:14),
His own then coming sacrifice of
Himself for sin in the person of His Son
His irresistible intent (as in
His immovable resolve (as in Psalm
His implacable good pleasure (as in
Psalm 40, Isaiah 66),
His abounding resolution throughout
the Ages (as in Zechariah 12:10-13:1),
whether in pictorial format or consummation of the same:
then there was never any question.
ONCE would be enough: a statement on one occasion from the Lord would be binding.
But this! it was perpetually pronounced, from the very era of the Fall. So far from the everlasting God quenching the flame of truth, altering the requisition of His own Being for His own people, He proceeding in a multiplicity of times, occasions and opportunities, to make salvation itself freely on offer from His heart, directed toward all. He made it precise, He was punctilious, He made it ample, His loving heart spoke freely, He covered each case, He gave the deeper matters and the more symbolic, He urged, He exhorted, He applied, He required, He made it clear that no JOT or TITTLE of His word was optional.
He made it clear.
Sacrifice, sufficient for all, applicable to whomever, desired for all, wrought for some, boundless in cost of Him who is perfect, triumphant in result after anguish and substitution: this was more real than 2 + 2 = 4, for that is part of the INSTITUTION of things in our world's format and creation; but THIS, divine sacrifice, it is part of the CONSTITUTION, the very Being of Him from whom we come, and to whom those who love Him according to His word, in truth, will go.
In the end, the issue is simple: the word of God is not subject, in theme, in application, in divine indications of His nature, desires and thoughts, to ANY variation by man without the danger of Proverbs 30:6, of being found what it calls "a liar". The word is that of the Lord.
One does not add to it, even here; nor would one dare. He is GOD! Even He confirms it and conforms to it, since it was in the first place His will, desire and work. He does it; indeed as in Psalm 138:2. What do we there read ? It is this:
"You have magnified Your word above all His name.
In its event, in its significance, in its deployment, in its Christ, in His date of sacrifice (Daniel 9 - as shown in Highway of Holiness Ch. 4), in its purity of the Participant, in His Power, in His humiliation in order to accomplish it, in its impact and in its glory, in its application and in its consummation: it is all sure, immutable, beautiful and immersed in the pure loveliness of the dutiful which in this case, is felt even by the Messiah Himself (cf. Matthew 26:52-56).
WORK, UNUSUAL ACT,
HIS MARVELLOUS WORK AND A WONDER
God Himself makes it very clear that the unusual, the unexpected, the entirely new, the utterly divine is His plane, where He works, and that to seek to conform Him to anything of this world is mere nuisance. Democratic principles are good to the extent liberty is better than dictation, but do little when wicked men seek wicked deeds in unison, any more than is a dictator good because efficient (if so be!), because of that. Godliness is not subject to substitution. It is what it is, since God is what He is, and intrusion of cultural concepts, whether in baptism or salvation, consecration or evangelisation is all to the limitation of God with human 'helpfulness' which is mere hindrance.
Sometimes it is gross; sometimes less so: but the only prudent and safe course, where care is imposed with awe, involves leaving nothing to the thoughts of the heart of mankind, and rather finding from the word of God the heart of the desire of God, and keeping to it.
Thus the Gospel itself was a surprising necessity, a remarkable advent. As Paul shows in Romans 4, the principle of salvation by faith was always applicable from the Abraham, and from Genesis 4 we find that sacrifice for sin, life for life, was indicated from the era of the Fall; but for all that, deviation from the liberty and love which provided it, has been epidemic in history. Overlays of works-righteousness (I impress, you receive me), whether by ceremony or by deeds outside, is always latent and often patent as shown in Romans 10! The very idea that we could CONTRIBUTE something at the LEVEL of God to satisfy Him is almost a playful oddity, but certainly a useless pretension. It is veritable palace for pride. Culture does not like to conform to this feature, because whether in the physical or spiritual domains, heart surgery is ... challenging, and many remain averse to it. In the spiritual sphere, it is only when the Lord is found, revealing His majesty and purity and holiness in illimitable grace and mercy, goodness and truth, that mankind is willing to receive it. The Lord however knows His own, and though seeking and desiring all, enforces His salvation on none (cf. *4, Ch. 1 above).
Yet what a marvel it is which He provides, with a passionate sincerity offering, exhorting and providing alike!
Truth tends always to surprise when its demise is assumed, and man takes his little soap boxes, and proclaims his own heart (as in Jeremiah 23:26). Indeed, Jeremiah refers to this not even as proclaiming the 'vision of their own heart', but since it is wrong headed and wrongly heeded, he calls it "the deceit of their own heart."
While, then, we are dealing with the strange seeming, but actually right course of affairs in the words and ways of the Lord, and talking of the reason for this sense of strangeness which may at first appear (sounds are by nature strange at first, to those who had been deaf), it is good to look at Isaiah 28:21 and 29:13. The latter being cited by Paul in I Corinthians 1, leaves no ground for concern as to its meaning. It is all the clearer.
Let us look back a little.
In Isaiah 28, the Lord had been speaking disparagingly, through the prophet, of those who view the scriptures in a scholastically scribal fashion, seeing the medium but ignoring the message because of short-sightedness (Isaiah 28:10-15). "Whom will He teach knowledge ?" He asks (Isaiah 28:8). Must He go to young babes, before the blindness born from erratic and alien religious culture sets in ? Who else is able even to learn! Here a little, there a little, they poke about in His word (28:10), counting in this and that principle, till with a suppuration of confusion they simply go backwards. Culture has conquered them; the word of God might as well have been a play-pen for their ideas and thoughts.
What will the Lord do ? Why, He will lay a foundation which is impregnable to such confusion, a foundation stone on which all must be built. Believing in Him will bring a peace and a security desperately needed (28:16), and provide remedy and purgation of folly alike.
"Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation,
A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation."
Standing on that basis, one has found what to be sure, is to be rejected (as patiently described by Psalm 118:22-24, of this very 'cornerstone') and exhibited in greater depth in Isaiah 49-55, where the cost of sin-bearing as a sacrifice, to the Lord Himself, is depicted. The nation rejection in particular is seen in Isaiah 49:7.
The nation of Israel as foretold, would indeed, in terms of the gamut of prophecy prior to Isaiah and in his own God-inspired words, reject this foundation stone, this deity in sin-free purity, this human but also divine sacrifice for sin, this offering of the Judge of Israel to be smitten on the cheek (Micah 5:1-3), though His own credentials are these: "His goings have been from eternity."
It is in Him indeed that man must trust, as in Psalm 2, similarly showing the rowdy and riotous rejection of His salvation by men, as they set about seeking to extinguish His light and to remove His life from this earth - the desire of many ever since. He, as there shown, is the appointed judge of mankind, and the mighty God (cf. Ch. 3 below).
In this exhibition of the devious, disastrously intrusive approach of Israel, in Isaiah 28-29, of false prophets like new car models, teeming aplenty, of the undiscerning hiding from the will and word of God, of wholesale perversity of spirit, operating at a premium, with its centrepiece of the divine decision to send the Messiah to save the people from their blindness, there is almost a trailer, a run ahead of time, of what happened when this same Christ actually came at length. Just as Isaiah exposed for his own day, the folly of spirit in his own land, misleading leaders and malappropriate hidings and cultural occlusions, shutting up the word of God, being bound by tradition and tedious in triviality, so when Christ came, with the Pharisees and Sadducees, the nation had little changed!
In this way, what is here exposed by Isaiah is virtually a prelude to Christ's denunciation of those scribes who were neither entering into the kingdom nor failing to hinder those who would! (Luke 11:52).
What then ? The Lord in Isaiah says that HE HIMSELF will do a work NOT to be misunderstood and not to be veiled. HE WILL LAY IN ZION this FOUNDATION STONE, this corner stone, and here it is that faith must work. As seen above, and stressed in Ch. 3 below, it is the Lord Himself who comes.
In this, it is the precise equivalent of Ezekiel 34, where excoriating the false, self-seeking 'Shepherds', prophets, religious servitors, God declares that He Himself PERSONALLY will come and do their job as is required. Here in Ezekiel's prediction, then, there is to be in the face of these pettifogging, inanely scholarly and inveterately blind exponents of the word of God, these false shepherds, idle for the people, active for themselves, the direct, decisive, personal incarnation of God Himself. as shown in Micah 5:1-3, Psalm 40, 45, 73, Isaiah 7,9, 53.
Again, it is as in Hosea 13:14 where God Himself makes it clear in His pity and mercy, that HE HIMSELF will come and REDEEM in His own being, His people from their sin, He will even enter into death, like a plague, to exterminate its application, this again as in Ezekiel 34, in His own action, in person. How COULD He plague death ? Why, it is by cancelling its applicability. How could this be done ? Simply, by bearing the guilt that sin created, and so giving man quittance, not this time from the word of God in rebellion, but from the results of rebellion and transgression, in redemption.
How was this to be ? As explained and depicted in great and fulfilled detail in Isaiah 49ff., and especially 52-53, with Gospel application in 54-55, it would be by the piercing of the body prepared for Himself (Psalm 40, Isaiah 9 cf. Bible Translations 15), in a death so that the sins of all to be healed of unholiness would be placed ... where ? On Him! (Isaiah 53:3-6).
When anyone, by faith, would make of His soul an offering for sin, then HE would see His children, of which He would have none while on earth. And why this ? It would be because He would be CUT OFF from the 'land of the living.' A God export was desired, and so ever since there has been a war import, and to what a vast extent this has been in the Middle East, as it is to this day, who this way or that, have seeming to make rather a specialty of avoiding this same God, this same attested, verified Gospel and this same work, this same foundation, tried stone and deliverance wrought by God.
So be it. You cannot have peace with the grounds of war in vogue. The ultimate war is against God, and it is never successful. Peace is not at any price, but at a price paid, and it is payment was divine, just as man's repentance must be real, for without reality, truth does not operate.
That, that is the point: it is to him who believes that the foundation stone becomes available as in Isaiah 28:16. It is to the one who actually receives the Messiah, His Person, His salvation, that the new role of being a child of God, one of Christ's spiritual 'seed' so delightfully comes (cf. Isaiah 53:10 as explained in this reference).
Thus One will come as the tried foundation, who though rejected by the natnion, will still for the entire earth be the only, the divine, the predicted, the implanted and the sinless Saviour.
By this means, there is scope to annul "your covenant with death," and to to ensure that "your agreement with hell" does not stand (Isaiah 28:18). Thus exposed is one of the objectives of the direct divine action of Isaiah 28:16. It is so to provide the Messiah, the Truth incarnate Himself, that the vast outpouring and incisive exhibition of truth would imprint the earth like a constructive atomic bomb, so that teaching might be pure and pointed, known and applied, evident and expanded into vast impact. Such it would be, and not hindered as it was by Israel of Isaiah's day. While evil would by no means fail, yet the triumph of Christ would put the divine word, the provision of free pardon into the whole world with vast impact (cf. Isaiah 49:6, 42:6).
The word of God would not then be so harassed, its presentation illicit and lassoed, coralled and quieted for virtual quittance from the text, by rampant pedants, morbid traditionalists and adventuring false prophets. Whatever these should continue to do (and Jeremiah 23 shows that in the latter days this unwholesome evil would be rampant) yet the truth would be bilboarded once for all. Those seeming to receive it, and yet in fact hiding from the Lord, would have a publicity of powe to contend with, and a realisation universal to deny!
This was to be done. It has been done. What has contended and does contend; but now in the face of this massive divine act which has impacted the nations with enormous power and led to unceasing and vast literature and propagation, promulgation and proclamation, yes and application in the lives of mankind, the reality is as clear as a space-ship leaving Cape Kennedy, or an airship overhead with placards. Men still deceive, but their deceit is obvious, the truth paramount and the final lurch to ruin on the part of the race, is in the very gale of sublime wind, blowing to the uttermost parts of the earth.
What however of the opposition of rebellion, sometimes sophisticated ? How like Matthew 23 is the impact of Isaiah as he makes this contrast between religiosity and religion, suppression and expression of the word of God, insertion of human counsel into divine wisdom, false prophecy and foolish understanding!
There will indeed come a time when "His awesome work" and "His unusual act" will become a final prelude to the "destruction determined even upon the whole earth" (Isaiah 28:22). This as in Isaiah 24:5ff., and 51:6, is about as metaphorical as a tidal wave. It seems so, perhaps as the water withdraws in preparation for its onset; but it is far from it when it happens, even to poetical souls, who imagine that life is for mesmerism, and disaster for others.
This is part of this strange action. It is a matter of definitive divine mercy, at infinite cost, and determinate rebellion, at vast cost likewise, on the part of man so keen to avoid the pardon and the peace of God, that he even invents new words, concepts and thoughts for God, as he runs far from Him. That is shown up so clearly in Isaiah 29:14, where the only nearness that is commonly to be found, to Himself, the Lord reveals, is with the LIPS of those who SAY things.
It is as in John 3:16 and 3:36: the Rock and the ruin, if not the Rock!
Now let us turn to the Isaiah 29 context of the "marvellous work" and this "wonder" (reminding us of Judges 13:18 and Isaiah 9:6-7). These twin passages speak of the same thing, which however has various phases.
We learn that just as in the day of Christ, who Himself cited this passage in Isaiah (Matthew 15:8-9), there is a spirit of sleep, eyes being closed lest they listen and heed and be converted so that He should heal them! (cited in Matthew 13:14ff.). Do they then not draw near to God ? They do not entirely neglect it. They
"draw near with their mouths, and honour Me with their lips,
but have removed their hearts far from Me,
and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men."
That is what Isaiah 29:13 has to say.
It is precisely this that has been the earlier concern, where traditions become more important than the clear teaching of the Bible, where additions and inventions make of the word of God, something ready to be quenched (as shown by Christ in Mark 7:7ff.), of no effect. Indeed, it is even worse, in that the mouth is an honouring instrument, but their very hearts are explicitly far from Him. This is the end of the road to ruin, of being inventive in the word of God, and preventive as well! So bad was the condition in Israel at that time, and not dissimilar we learn from the words of Christ on earth, was the Israel in much, at His own time.
It is paralleled in the Gentile world today.
Thus from Isaiah 28 and 29 we learn that not only has there been an academic stupor, a confinement of vision by verbal clutter and ideological traditions, but a sleepiness, which reminds one of a tutor in one Australian University, who seemed in actual danger of going to sleep during a tutorial. You can imagine how much interest it held for students!
What then are some of the features of this wonderful work which God is about to do, as in Isaiah 29:14. Let us pursue this one of the twins a little.
First of all, it will be such as to make the wisdom of the wise perish, and the understanding of world watchers will find their talents hidden. It is startling, fresh, original, does not pander to the philosophy of man or evoke it, but rather comes clean from the furnaces of love in the heart of God. The Lord proceeds to apply the point further. WOE, He declares, to those who seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord (Isaiah 29:14).
What a wallop this provides for Liberalism and neo-orthodoxy alike, and the various reconstructions which ignore what has become obsolete and try to re-invent it (as in Hebrews 8)! Counsel if of the LORD and not of man; the word of God is HIS and not some substitute for or complement to the word of man! Cryptic gods and conditional gods, merging with human power, their words, ways, schema and dispositions dependent on the thoughts of man, these are not merely illicit, but virtual complicity with rebellion.
THEREFORE God is going to perform this word of wonder, this strange work. We have already had earlier reference to it in 28:21, where it is sketched very simply. God is going to lay a foundation stone, and this is to be so foundational, so perfectly functional, so utterly a one-stop shop, except you do not buy, for it is GIVEN (as in Isaiah 55), that anyone who believes in this Rock (as in I Corinthians 10 - Christ is the Rock) will not make haste, will not be splathering and spattering around, will not be witless, will not be charmed and disarmed, wrought and taught amiss, only to err but instead a very different path will be found.
Now, on this Rock, there will be presented a constant, conspicuous and saving foundation that saves. Believing in it is finding who it is, and finding Him is finding His nature, word and will, and hence never being ashamed (Isaiah 54:4-8). Here the the prophet beyond prophets of Deuteronomy 18, for which the people were waiting (John 1:21,25, 6:14).
Who is He, this Rock, this foundation stone, as in Psalm 62:1-2 ? Why it is the Lord, there being statedly no other Rock. Indeed, since God is one, and the only Saviour (Isaiah 43:10-11), and the Messiah is the Saviour of Isaiah 49-55, the Servant of Isaiah 42, the Counsellor of Isaiah 9, the Mighty God of the same verse (cf. Bible Translation 20), whose kingdom is for ever, it is He who is God. There being ONE SUCH as in Isaiah 2:17, one who is the trinitarian God (Isaiah 48:16), it is God the sent who has come from God the sender (as in Isaiah 48:16 and Zechariah 2:8, with the result of Zechariah 12:10-13:1!
It is the Lord, who is excellent in counsel (Isaiah 28:29) and in guidance. This thing is of Him, and this Person is from Him, who lays for man this entire foundation for faith. I t is indeed (Isaiah 29:14) a marvellous work and a wonder, and here we find the strength in salvation of that Rock of Isaiah 28, for this work decimates the wise, destroys their lurks, removes their perks, brings truth in Person and salvation itself. Indeed, as in Isaiah 53, it is the Messiah who PURCHASES it!
In what way, then, is the incarnation of the Eternal God, as in Ezekiel 34, Zechariah 12:10, Micah 3:5, Isaiah 48:16 with Isaiah 11, 49-55 as in 61, to make both ludicrous and little the wisdom of the wise ? Clearly, when GOD arrives, human efforts stand at a relative loss; but it is far deeper than that.
Erroneous, fatuous, unspiritual formulations and creeds, considerations will be exposed for all their insipid ineffectuality. It is just as in Isaiah 44:25-26: when GOD ACTS in speech and deed, then in contradistinction from the cognoscenti, the self-assured, the virus particles of misled philosophy, is He, and with all power He has His will, fulfils His word, so that He
"frustrates the signs of the babblers, and drives diviners mad,"
and indeed, He
"turns wise men backward, and makes their knowledge foolishness."
These unholy prognosticators, typed in Jeremiah 23, He so leaves while by contrast, spiritual and profound, He
"confirms the word of His servant, and performs the counsel of His messengers."
He goes on in that case to specify that Jerusalem, to be destroyed in due course, will have a king who will freely restore the exiled captives, and names him - Cyrus, of fame for so doing archeologically in the so-called Cyrus cylinder, which specifies such things historically.
When you proclaim a vision of your own heart, what do you expect when the Almighty comes on scene and tells the truth!
We have already, in Chapter1 above, considered the application and intent of Isaiah 29:16. Citing those who try to hide in the depths of their psyches or recesses of their thoughts, in their dealings or principles, alien approaches without the Lord (28:15), Isaiah lampoons the naturalist premises in particular, as indeed all those arising to construct their thought without the Lord. 28:16 has this (abbreviated from Ch. 1): :
"Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people,
even a marvellous work and a wonder:
for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.
"Woe unto those who seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who sees us? and who knows us?
"Your perversity is as though the potter were taken to be the clay:
for shall the work say of him that made it, He did not make me?
or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding? " (red colour added).
Pursuing the context from Isaiah 28, and indeed from Isaiah 7, 9, 12, 22, we find the Lord's then stated intention, one now fully realised, is to do a marvellous work, by the incarnation of the Christ, not only to render perpetually ludicrous the naturalistic and theologically mutant machinations of the godless and the god-makers, the false prophets, whether of that or our or any other day, but to demolish the incomprehensible incomprehension of those who want a part of 'Nature' to make another part as its Creator!
This is a turning of things upside down indeed,
a perversity of mind,
a wilful distortion of wisdom,
a causal disturbance of acute invalidity*3A,
an irrational oddity and a gross perversion of the purity of God,
making matter speak its commands into DNA,
or share the privilege of creation with what created it,
as though a megaphone spoke,
or the inert transcended itself and made
laws for the living, thought for the mind and excursions into symbolic logic from the chatter of mindlessness and the performance of directions.
Does no truth, because such models have none to provide it, become truth by provision from nothing ? Is this the god of such self-contradictory suppurations ? Can you KNOW the truth when you deny its very existence ? Will you invent understanding from what exhibits it, by denying what constructs it ? Will you invent information*3B from resourcelessness, and marvels of constructive prowess from the hidden quarters of mere servitors ? Is logic to be invented by its absence, design by its devastation and are words to be re-invented as conveniences, their definitions deleted for the occasion? or will the mind of matter contribute to that of the Creator, and assist His inventions, this codicil to His will, this means to His devices, this implement of His construction! and will matter too be given aetiological exemption, be taken as 'given' in unholy hiatus from all the canons of science: that you must NOT ONLY give ground for your inventions, but COGNATE or at least COHERENT ones, relevant with interface to the point!
Yes. this world and its contused formulations of fantasy in fruitless and often brutal endeavours to escape from the God of their creation, of information and causation, of ratiocination and validity, of verification and declaration, of Biblical uniqueness without any rationally testable option, for His word: it does not lack. Does not lack ? you ask. Yes, as in our initial heading for this section, it does not LACK PRESUMPTION.
It is well to consider the satire of this word in Isaiah, to consider the breach of reason involved, and to apply it to our day. Reason itself vomits on such confusion, and it is needful to point out this antipathy (cf. Deity and Design ... SECTION 8). It is good to see how the gifts of reasoning conceptually which the Lord has given man, themselves require both God and His word as source (cf. SMR Chs. 1, 3, 5).
Treason to reason is of course far from the ultimate abuse of man's capacities; but as a brace to the mind and a resource for testing, reason can provide marvellous verification and confirmation of the amazing statements of the Lord, since it directs to His word and it is His word which informs us of His enterprise, and originalities of mercy and scope of grace. Many drift into devious hidden resources, not able to be verified, let alone vindicated, and false prophecies thus abound.
This of course is carefully to be distinguished from the biblically authorised and commended course of giving a reason for the faith, since that is directed (I Peter 3:15), not diffuse, biblically based, not self-made, and showing the truth of what is in advance, divinely specified as true, not seeking to do something elsewhere. Further and in particular, as in Romans 1:17ff., the divine nature of God is manifest, obvious, as His power, and to show this is therefore a fitting work of reason; although naturally revelation is the authoritative point at issue, and in the end, as at the first by faith, all must be taken from that source.
Yet let us return to the divine exposure of two things, the distorting twistiness of truth by man, and the alerting exposure of truth by God, whose alone it is, though He is most generous with it (cf. Barbs 6 -7). This is epitomised in "His awesome work" and "His unusual act" as in Isaiah 28, with that foundation stone, tried and precious, and in Isaiah 29 with his then to come "marvellous work and a wonder." While judgment was a preliminary to these events, and following a failure to be corrected, should this occur, the sheer majesty and potency of God's coming gift was thus set up like Twin Towers of Testimony which shall never be destroyed, for their focus was this same Jesus Christ who both came and did everything predicted: except the Judgment which is yet to come. As Jesus put it in Luke 24, the predictive focus was twofold: His sufferings and the glory to follow. Part I is done. Part approaches like a rocket, in point of verifiable fact (cf. Answers to Questions Ch. 5).
Paul, in citing Isaiah 29 to this effect, in I Corinthians 1:17ff., makes a beautiful exposition from the Lord.
"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,
not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
"For it is written:
'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.'
"Where is the wise?
Where is the scribe?
Where is the disputer of this age?
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
"For since, in the wisdom of God,
the world through wisdom did not know God,
it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached
to save those who believe.
"For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom;
but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block
and to the Greeks foolishness,
but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men,
and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
"For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh,
not many mighty, not many noble, are called.
"But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise,
and God has chosen the weak things of the world
to put to shame the things which are mighty;
and the base things of the world and the things which are despised
God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,
that no flesh should glory in His presence.
"But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God -
and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—
that, as it is written, 'He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.' "
We are thus now prepared to return to the other passage concerning this strange and wonderful act, as found in Isaiah 28:21 and ponder further aspects of it. Here, as may be seen above, we are just a little past the prophecy of the coming FOUNDATION STONE, in whom one must believe. God, in doing so, is going to make "justice the measuring line, and righteousness the plummet."
"hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters will overflow the hiding place.
Your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with hell will not stand."
Thus we are dealing with two options, the narrow path to eternal life and that so much easier, to damnation, for those who insist on believing the lie. (Lies have no place or home in heaven; and if they did, it would not be heaven or haven at all.) We find here, that in conjunction with this Rock is such utter truth and justice, that if He be not taken, then there is to be a summary impact of justice at last (as in Revelation 19, Isaiah 11), even eventually a destruction upon the whole earth (as in Isaiah 24) which is to end (as in Isaiah 51:6).
Christ for His part made this eminently clear, this double aspect of the Rock, for having made faith in Him as the Son of the Living God, Christ the Rock for redemption as Matthew 16, the criterion of Christianity, in a place where Peter is humorously contrasted as a pebble, or ordinary stone. Peter was, in fact, about to slip badly immediately afterwards - cf. SMR p. 99), to the point of seeking to eliminate the Cross! He was rebuked, but as to those who do not receive the Rock, there is another type of interface possible.
Christ makes this result or omission equally clear, in Matthew 21:44. If this Rock falls on you, He indicated, it would grind you to powder. Some like Stalin are interested in spiritual affairs as in others, in how many divisions of troops you have; but God is far deeper than that, and knows how to bring down empires and cities, and often both did and foretold what He would do (cf. The Pitter-Patter of Prophetic Feet Ch. 4). For that matter, He equally foretold what would be built up, as in the case of Jerusalem, when foretelling its initial destruction, as in Isaiah 44-45, and in doing so, He added the name of the King who would restore the exiled Jews, after their disciplinary removal from their land was over!
Having noted, then, as seen in Matthew 21:42, that the stone which the builders rejected had become the headstone of the corner (cf. Psalm 118:22), something which is "the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes", using thus language such as we have been seeing in Isaiah 28-29, concerning Him, the Lord makes the negative pronouncement. Rock abused is not gain but a smashing. "And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder." The stone rejected ? Himself.
If you trip on the word of God, you break; but if you confront it, you are pulverised! That is the point of the analogy, and many do stumble at the word of God, abusing and twisting, tormenting themselves in troubles innumerable, as with straight face they engage in crooked thinking (cf. I Peter 2:7-10).
There is then is the glory which is to follow faith in Him, but there is judgment when finally. tp revert to the agricultural, there is the taking up of the tares, the weeds on the one hand, and the wheat on the other. In this, there is a segregating according to type, not born type only, in this case, but to apply the point, born and reborn type (John 3). One is genetically modified! It is on repentance and faith in the Rock, equipped with redeemed genes of heart and life, to pursue the analogy. And who does this ? the modifier in this case, is GOD cf. I Peter 2:23 cf. Titus 3:3-7).
It is the Lord, the Creator, in His fashion as Redeemer! (John 3:9, Titus 3:4-7). Small wonder God went so far when both the wonder and marvel of knowing Him and the disaster of turning from Him, with that image of God liberty, the soil on which love can grow, is so profound. As to the loss ?
Destruction is one facet of it, while everlasting shame is another. This is very much in line with Isaiah 59 and 66, where the Lord so comes.
This is the way and day of Malachi 4:1-2
" 'For behold, the day is coming,
Burning like an oven,
And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble.
And the day which is coming shall burn them up,'
Says the Lord of hosts,
'That will leave them neither root nor branch.
But to you who fear My name
The Sun of Righteousness shall arise
With healing in His wings;
And you shall go out
And grow fat like stall-fed calves.' "
Such is the sweep to eventual judgment, but in the middle ? In the midst of all of this, and leading directly on to it, what is to be found ? It is the Gospel of grace and salvation, repentance and reconciliation to God Almighty. It is indeed a strange thing that the impassioned love of God has been so great that before He suffers any to be judged, He insists on being judged Himself, not in genuine guilt, but vicariously bearing that of those whom He loves, an event contrary to selfishness, to sordid majesty or crafty planning, but elemental in purity, magnificent in concept, marvellous in performance. It is in that sense that it is strange; but what is equally strange, though alas empirically most evident, is this: that man seeks not only to dismiss such love, to be selfish and self-centred and self-fulfilling, ignoring God in practice if not in tongue, but to formulate thoughts to seek to justify such brash and brittle belligerencies, which in the end rebound on himself, and on the world which quickly is losing any appearance of peace.
Here, however, in this precious stone, this Rock, this Redeemer (and ONLY God is the Redeemer - 43:10-14), this Lord Jesus Christ, who shows the blind what sight provides, the deaf what hearing could have if the ear were to be opened, the selfish a better way and the sheep their Shepherd who is such indeed.
What puts it more succinctly than does the completion of the verses of Isaiah 61, from which Christ was quoting at Nazareth (cf. Luke 4). Let's hear this with the next verse added (bold added). The term seen below, 'the acceptable year of the Lord' would refer to the 50 year jubilee freeing, when land is restored and debt forgiven in ancient Israel, when it was a theocracy.
This symbolises free salvation and restoration to the farm of one's life in the presence of the Lord, sins and guilt covered, liberty in love renewed.
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."
Why then is there a separation so marked, in the spacing of the type made bold, above, in this citation from Isaiah ? It is because the last line of the first part is what Christ announced at Nazareth, and the rest is what follows in Isaiah, after that. The first part of this is comfort and even in the same sentence, there comes judgment! Beautifully, the word then returns to the more desired theme, of beauty for ashes, the intervening reference to judgment having the contrast provided by mercy, makes judgment more obvious impact and mercy if it were possible, more beautiful in its pleasantness and pity.
It is important to realise that the reference to judgment follows immediately after what Christ declared in Nazareth (the first 6 lines), no doubt because on His then current mission, as in John 3:17, He was not involved in judgment, but in paying the price freely to avert it in love.
Thus we have seen the centrality, the certitude, the irremovable necessity of sacrifice, its sovereign gift (there is no bargaining), and its wholly free character (as in Romans 3:23ff., Galatians 5, Isaiah 55).
WHAT FOLLOWS John 3:16 is John 3:36
What follows the word at Nazareth then, the presence of the inviting Christ?
It is what follows rejection of Christ in the end, which is tantamount to spewing on mercy and bombing love. What is that (since Christ did not come to judge the world but that it might through Him be saved - John 3:17), but the work of what is not saved; and so cncludes the bipartite story. It is in one verse, this that Christ came
"to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God."
You see this so clearly in the parable of Matthew 21 when a King sought to have wedding guests for his son's wedding. Those appointed did not come, so the message to the King's servants was this, Go and get guests wherever they may be found. They were obtained, from all sorts of odd places. When they came, however, one man did not have on a wedding garment (as in Isaiah 61:10, that is the garments of salvation). He was cast out into utter darkness.
That is why, for love, sacrifice is indispensable, inalienable from love, necessary. Evil has to be dealt with: it is in judgment or reconciliation and redemption, debt cancellation and heart transformation, one of the other.
There are no other options. God is a Spirit and appearances in themselves simply do not matter.
Thus Christ declared this, as shown in John 7:24:
"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."
Christ went in surrender to the assailing temple guard because HOW OTHERWISE would the scripture be fulfilled that thus it must be (Matthew 26:54,56). It was, as a student once pointed out, a case of the MESSIANIC MUST. This sacrifice HAD to be done; and without it, no love would be effectually unleashed, but only sentiment; no ransom would be paid, but only pageantry; no mercy would meet the penitent, but only oral presentation. Only thus in this sacrifice of moral perfection and spiritual purity itself, in One who being deity, became in chosen format, human, could the sweat of suffering become the salvation of sinners; and only thus could sinners indeed be redeemed at all.
Despite the flirtation with fancy of all naturalistic pedants, you have to PAY for what you get, CONTRIVE what you created, INVENT your systems and COGITATE your thought. There is no easy way; it does not and could not happen. It is just the same in salvation. You do not have salvation by thinking about it, or doing this and that, since the DOER is the trouble.
The work of salvation is not merely legal, to cancel forfeiture of life by the provision of sacrifice to cover the guilt; it is also regenerative, to present to God a new heart which CAN HEAR, eyes that are NOT SHUT and a seed which is restored in principle to His own image, as created (as in Colossians 3:10). It is free, it is fatal to death, to condemnation and fruitful to good works in kindness of heart and joy of spirit (John 16:22).
What does it matter how much he does, if the doing of it is marred by the doer, be he dour or sweet in disposition! As Paul indicates in Romans 10, what is the good of going about, working to establish your own righteousness when you, the worker, need someone to work on YOU, to put you right. It is like driving a car that can only turn left, and rejoicing in getting bigger and bigger circles, but always being unable to get far enough to find your destination.
There are many things that are necessary; but the love of God, this is the pre-condition of it all in the whole field of salvation and redemption. Without this, there is no point. You could want God, but not find Him. You could yearn to find Him, but He might not think enough of you even to help. It would not be in the slightest degree surprising, and it is in point of fact almost unutterably amazing that He does care, does want His people, does seek, does not hesitate to take the worst, and to expose the proud who think of themselves far too much.
It is the love of God which makes sacrifice necessary, since He is also... the TRUTH.