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LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
The Lord's Prayer asks: Lead us not into temptation, in the usual translation.
Matthew 4, two chapters before this, indicates that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
How should this be understood in a unitary perspective ?
Mark indicates that Jesus was DRIVEN into the wilderness, through the Spirit (1:12). There was He tempted by the devil.
Is it wrong to be tempted ? Is temptation in itself an indication of a character flaw ?
Are pure people, is the perfect Person above temptation ?
What IS temptation ?
These and allied questions arise in the mind, as the scene is surveyed.
THE GREEK AND THE NATURE OF THE CASE
First we need to note from Thayer's outstanding and longstanding Greek Dictionary for the New Testament, that the Greek term underlying, peirazw (peirasmos), can mean TEST, or EXPERIMENT, as well as tempt and induce to evil. It can mean to put to the proof, to allow to exhibit its true character; but it can also mean to solicit to evil, craftily to seek to subvert.
We could accordingly, if we wished, translate it that Jesus was led, driven into the wilderness by the Spirit to undergo a test.
The nature of that test is soon shown, since it is the devil personally who undertakes to perform it. It is the will of God THAT it be performed. The man who is God incarnate has a most peculiar format, in this almost like some human in a space suit, but fundamentally far more demanding. He can now actually thirst or feel pain. What is the result of this transformation of His vulnerability situation, per format change ?
That is the question. When He is placed as we are, can He make His majesty as ruggedly pure, as remorselessly perfect, His morals as insatiably excellent as in heaven ? The devil sets about it, after Christ's 40 days of fasting, by testing Him in the area of appetite (the 40 days reminding us of that number of years as penalty for Israel when it refused simply and freely to enter the promised land under Moses).
TURN these stones into bread! This was the devil's temptation. How desirable to meet the occasion, with hunger by now intense. No need, to use the modern parlance, to call Colonel Sanders, or something such, as they can in Florida in the 20 metre deep underwater accommodation to which some like to visit. No, just turn stones to bread. The power is there. The need is there, it is urged, so why not ?
Obviously, the fasting was for a purpose, and this was not in order to have it aborted before its objective had been reached. Test was the minimal purpose, and test there now must be; and this, this opportunity was one part of this test.
Would Christ simply indulge Himself, and regard the test as 'silly' as so many unwed couples do, as they progress towards possible marriage, and have a child or two on the way ?
Not actually, for rather He cited scripture, the word of God as decisive, and He did it incisively:
"Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God"
(Matthew 4:4, from Deuteronomy 8:3.
In fact, this word was Moses' construction by inspiration of the teaching of the 40 years in the wilderness, following their lamentable failure to take what God was freely offering, the promised land, when He opened the way to it. It is not what comes from your mouth, but God's which rules!
Moses advised that this penalty of wilderness wandering was to let them learn that man does not live by bread alone; his life is not a mere material conundrum. It is spiritual. It is God-responsible, it is God authorised, it is to be spent not with some general shrug in God's direction, but with the sort of fidelity and concern a dog might show to his master. IS this the will of God ? Yes, then do it. If God opens a door of blessing, take it. If you are to enter the promised land of His provision, enter. Many baulk at becoming Christians, playing a game of fascination and procrastination; others are slow to surrender their wills to His magnificent enterprise. It is all the same: if there is no faith, there is no action. Faith without works is dead; on the other hand, works are a byproduct, just as tenderness is, from love. It is wholly diverse from faith itself. An empire might be built by faith; but the empire itself, this is not faith, but a consequence.
Obedience (Philippians 2), not to man but to God (an infinite difference cf. I Peter 5), obedience to God's written word, the book of the Lord, to His will and way, this is a supreme example from Christ, and if it was not too much for the only begotten Son of God, the Eternal Word of God in flesh, neither should it be for sinners. It flows from love; it works in faith, it finds its target and is content.
To be sure, the Lord loves to reason with man, to whom He has given reason (Isaiah 1, Romans 1, I Peter 3:15), but there is a road, there are rules, there is life, that on earth it is limited. Thus there is a way which seems right and is not; and that way is often essentially a free-wheeling with or without reference to God. Freedom is not free-wheeling. If you stayed that way on a bike, you would not progress.
You must be in gear and directed.
Life is a glorious phenomenon for man, and it requires understanding. Imagine now a character coming into some sort of responsible position in an atomic power plant, and not deigning to realise that life is real, life is earnest, there are things to KNOW, to DO, and to UNDERSTAND; and where you are placed in matters beyond your powers, you need to realise that until you learn, you must follow the rules; and after you learn, you would want to follow them!
This is no more a desolation of
liberty than is the happy continuation of life in the power station above. It is
merely a way to it. Yet while faith is the avenue of understanding, certainly one
to which reason leads, but yet one to be followed without physical school-master
or employer obvious, it yet must be exercised.
Living things show their nature by their actions. They do not have to pretend: the form of life is the function of life. Imperfect though all sinners are, when you hold the truth, He holds you and the results accord! (Matthew 7:17-18). It is God who 'plants' the good trees, saved by grace from deadly fungal infection, and His trees last (cf. Matthew 15:13, Psalm 1, Isaiah 61, 54:10-17, I Jon 3:9).
Christ, though God in dignity, was man in format, and as man He cited and expedited obedience. There were far more important issues afoot after 40 days of fasting, than eating. There was, for example, the little point of MEETING THE CASE for which it was done, and hence, being prepared and in the ring, fighting it out with the assailant to show the superiority of truth and wit over his desultory and spurious promptings.
Was this then a character defect in Christ, that He was tempted ? Not at all. First of all, it was a test, and there is no character defect in being tested; it is in the result that one rather looks. Secondly, the devil put it to Him, and in tests, you listen in ordcr to respond.
Secondly, how would you show perfection if it could not be tested. Far from the test showing a defect, it showed the Lord of glory, sent as made, to be indefectible!
The next aspect to consider however is yet deeper. WAS CHRIST TEMPTED by His Father ? Was it a case of being prompted to do evil by the Divine One Himself ?
Not at all. As James 1 indicates, God is not capable of being tempted, nor does He tempt anyone. Hence it is quite clear that the Spirit of God did NOT engage in soliciting evil from Christ, the eternal Word of God. On the contrary, He drove Him to face the test which the Evil One would seek to perform. His motive is not stated. Presumably, one might imagine it was to allow His authenticity to appear, past all vulnerability, His integrity to be displayed, above any lapse, His sharpness of perception to be authenticated, past any distortion, His entire equipment of heart and soul and mind, to be far superior to anything, to use the vernacular, which the devil could throw at Him.
In so doing, He gave an EXAMPLE of decisive, scripture-citing rebuttal, of self-control and facing first things first, as likewise of purity of motive, not losing sight of duty because of pressing needs of the fleshly format, here intense hunger.
Secondly in this field, He allowed His sinlessness to appear, not merely under favourable conditions, but under severe duress. Even when weakened in body by prolonged fasting, He was besought to make bread, so using His Messianic power for His personal satisfaction, not for His trial and triumph as a sinless sacrifice. Had He failed, gone was salvation, for a sin offering is not an offering of sin, but of purity to bear sin, that the slate be cleansed (cf. Romans 3:23-27).
In this, too, however, He also gave us an example, for while others could not be a sacrifice for sin, they could at least sacrifice sin in order to do their duty!
Thirdly, He showed in the second temptation, that the thrill of the spill, or the annunciation of power, or the merely spectacular demonstration of deity, or whatever other gain might be imagined to have been available if He HAD yielded, to be unable to touch Him. Truth is neither ostensible nor ostentatious, but actual and has its own peace and surety. If in this manipulative moment of Satan's thrust, Christ had resolved to throw Himself from the very pinnacle of the temple, as if from the heights coming, then He could overcome the depths by a deceleration process, so using material or merely directional forces to force the issue. Not at all interested in such devices, Christ simply cited to Satan once more the relevant scripture, YOU SHALL NOT TEMPT the Lord your God. This was from Deuteronomy 6:16. In this case also, the quotation is from Moses' reference to a failure of Israel in the wilderness.
What was this failure of the ancient people which illustrated Moses' point ?
At Massah ("trial" - it is also called Meribah, "strife" Exodus 17:6), they had striven with Moses, coming near to stoning him, complaining about their being led from the comforts of Egypt in a way which showed no small forgetfulness of their ardent woes in the heat, making bricks as slaves. Complaining and seeking what the Lord had not given, impatient, necessitous, unthankful, irreverent, instead of by faith requesting their need, they were the occasion of Moses praying to the Lord, and being given the miraculous mode of gaining vast quantities of water for the masses of people concerned.
"Is the Lord among us or not!" they asked following a deliverance of weeks, marvels of water and land, of plague and timing! Petulance in the face of privilege is no good substitute for faith!
Does this not stir a spark of memory, for how often do people in churches complain at this and that, instead of addressing the point in faith and EXPECTING God to act as the case required, not necessarily as they in their limitations imagined. That is part of the fun of having a father, let alone one who is GOD!
Thus as to this sort of incitation for quick results through simple power play, akin to the church wish of some for victory through statistics (Elijah was sent right out of Israel for the widow's support, as Christ pointed out to the hostile hearers): it was rejected. Do not TEMPT the Lord! That was the scriptural key which Christ turned in the lock of this temptation! Do not put Him to the test to do some idea of your own, instead of waiting to find the way to handle the situation BY FAITH, and in accord with His work and confirmation.
Here then is the example of RESTRAINT.
Thirdly, the devil showed him all
the kingdoms of the world. Would Christ worship him if he gave Him power over
them ? It was simply silly to expect Christ to cower before corruption, let
alone worship before fraud, for the devil is not God at all, merely an
exceedingly evil creation who has misused his superb power for his own ends. In
this also, Christ gives example, for no man should allow money, or power, or
influence, or prestige or any advantage whatsoever to be gained at the cost of
kow-towing to corruption, let alone falling before dishonesty, dishonour or
becoming an acolyte of evil in any sense.
This too is a message to churches. They must not be purpose-driven in a sort of sinless shading of edges, but Spirit led, as Christ was, in a confrontation with evil, and they must acquire the purposes of God, who leads them as a Shepherd, not have themselves thrust by diverse purposes. It is simple: He has said, do it. It is HIS purpose that is to lead us.
They must not be world conscious, and do this and that in order to attract, when the means is rock and roll music, scarcely a godly or sacred production from the first, or relaxing of standards and presuming to call it non-judgmentalism which is merely spiritually criminal laxity.
They must not allow perversions to be called life style, nor procrastination of surrender to the Lord to be called 'leading them gently', which is no leading at all. God does NOT lead into temptation. He does not induce to sin, whether by making it easier or by procrastinative devices. Do you stop murdering by degrees ? or molesting by stages ? or lying by attenuation ? There are ways of life as we saw in Ch. 5 above; and that is the teaching of scripture (I John 3).
In sum, Christ was led to be TESTED by the Spirit, and the test involved that He should be TEMPTED BY THE DEVIL. God did not tempt; but He did arrange that the maximal tempting power of the devil should be shown futile against His Son! Even, indeed, if it were translated that He was led by the Spirit to be tempted (rather than the other option in translation, simply 'tested'), this is merely a shortened form of it. He is led to be tested, and the test is that He be faced in truly challenging circumstances by the expert tempter, whose job is to bring down heaven to his own level while deceiving man and angels to follow him, without letting it appear that this is bringing UP precisely nothing.
In this, he has been followed by Marx, Freud, Darwin; and they have helped man to abolish conscience as far as possible, restraint to the point near to no return, reverence and realism, until many are becoming more and more childish in believing evolutionary fairy stories*1 and teaching them as science in the most flamboyant contradiction to the method of the same. It becomes part of culture, just as false gods were in the days of Israel, at times wild enough to import them! (cf. Deuteronomy 32:15ff.), including naturalistic ones (cf. Jeremiah 2:27-28).
However, you do NOT explain by scientific method what is not found; you account for what is. You do NOT hypothesise how things came to be, which are not found to come to be. You find what is certain, and seek explanation. When instead, you find what is neither exemplified, nor seen in principle, and what is contrary to scientific law, and then set about explaining it in terms of such contrariety that logic smiles and laughter becomes uproarious at the sheer pretentious propaganda of it all, in a way resembling that of Hitler's screaming repetitions; then you realise to what an extent the three frogs of Revelation are at work (cf. TMR Ch. 8). Yes, but they are more like Queensland cane toads, easily coming, hard to remove with their infective grossness when they come (cf. Chapter 4, *2A above, News 44, 98, Highway to Hell).
COMING HOME, BUT NOT TO ROOST
Christ prevailed in entirety not only in this test, where the master craftsman of craftiness opposed Him, showing His eminent superiority to anything of this kind, merely countering it with acumen, departing from it with finality, and despatching the devil with dynamism when his evil work was done, frustrated and shown powerless; but in other tests, trials as well. (Cf. Christ the Wisdom and the Power of God, esp. Ch. 8, SMR Ch. 6).
One of the chief was at Gethsemane, where, if it were possible (Matthew 26:39), He besought His Father that the 'cup', that is the cross of sin-bearing sacrifice might be avoided. Nevertheless, He proceeded, NOT MY WILL BUT THINE BE DONE. It was not as if He were so immune to things human that He did not feel the shadow creeping on Him, like a dynamised tuberculosis lung shadow, growing by the minute, attesting that deadly load of sin which He had to despatch in His own death, in substitution for those who would so take the resultant gift of life: God NEVER forces, or attributes what is not received in the arena of faith - cf. Luke 19:42ff. - without faith you cannot even please Him - Hebrews 11:6.
If great drops of sweat like blood came from His tortured brow of the Saviour, foreseeing the exquisite horror and torture of suffering for sins vicariously, then greater strength of soul came also, and He was strengthened by angels, His task done, the resolution pure and potent, intact.
What then are the two aspects of temptation which might concern us here.
One is simple test, demonstration, experiment, ascertainment of the qualities of something and the results under duress. He triumphed in this.
Another aspect, also possible in the Greek concerned, is solicitation to do evil. This was what the devil accomplished who, being himself and not another, was indeed sinful in so doing. Yet the test, on Christ's part, was undertaken in purity and passed in glory, the Lord even in flesh form, resisting with power and authority the worst the devil could do. He thus served yet again as example, in this, that man must realise that when he belongs to this Lord, then he too can be enabled to resist the worst the devil can do. Greater, John declares, is He who is in you than he who is in the world (cf. I John 4:4).
In fact, I Corinthians 10:13 tells us this, that the Lord will not LET us be tested beyond what we can bear; with the inordinate comes the escape.
What does this divine limit tell us, or to what may it be compared ? It is like refusing to enable an aircraft under test for speed, to be flown at 4000 m.p.h. by being dropped at the edge of the atmosphere, facing down. In other words, there are tests which are mere destruction, not being assigned to test relevant properties, but mere forces as such.
There is nothing such here, unless it be the force of sickness and death, would these respond to His call ? These were in vain before God Almighty who, having made both the health and the curse, could cure the latter and restore the former, even to the point of resurrection. That is just one reason why the resurrection of the son of the widow of Nain, of the little girl whom all deemed dead, and of Lazarus are so important. It is not mere sickness reversal, but death overthrow which is in the domain of Christ; and it had to be so, for unless God does it, death ends life.
Overcoming death in its sanction is parallel to installing life in eternity, with its authority; and this is what Christ did. By PASSING the rest, MAINTAINING the purity, and so voiding all sin from approach to His own life, and being infinite as God, though vested in man's garments, He enabled His cover to be effective for anyone, through acquittal of the sin that breeds death in the power of the life which banishes it.
Sin is gone as a governor for His people; but test is not. Thus even Paul was left with a healthy reminder, in the midst of his extraordinary powers as apostle, that it was all of divine grace, by a troublesome 'thorn in the flesh', possibly a difficulty that developed in his eyes (II Corinthians 12:7ff.).
With Christ, however, sinless, there was an abundance of test, and limitless grace to face it (cf. John 3:34). In sin-bearing, infinite was the test, infinite the dower of power, the purity. It was balanced, the utmost against His illimitable truth, probity and purity. What would be the outcome ? For all ages and to al mankind it has been shown. Salvation is the income from that outcome; ignore it though some may. It is rather like a third world country despising the world bank..
For Christ, test was thus not ONLY test;
it was qualification.
It was not alone to show that He was
pure; it was to BE pure so that the work,
It poured contempt on the pride of
the devil, and gave depth and sanction to the aspiration of man,
In all of this, moreover, there is no evidence of solicitation to evil from within Christ. That impulse however is quite able to come to those who, though acquitted and regenerated, can feel the lust of sin seeking their obeisance (Galatians 5:17-24), whether to greed, or monetary desire, ambition, self-display, enforcement of will or whatever else.
In this case, the temptation can have that negative, insidious and even evil side to it, for the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh, each seeking to subdue the other (Galatians 5). In this case, what can arise in the embattled saint ? There may be the caress of circumstances, the allure of evil, the thrust to the bypass of grace, the indulgence of desire, the toying with trifles, the boundary riding too close to the fence of evil, the walking by the hill-sides where there nestle fallen sites, insidiously attractive but invidiously contemptible, or the case of spiritual voyeurism, concerned to be tasting and trying every unauthorised thing.
All of these things can come from within, and seek by degrees, by some occasion of fall, by some moment of weakness, to degrade, then to defile, to ruin, in as many steps as might seem necessary to that artist of evil, the devil himself, or to his accomplices. The devil can seek to play on such weaknesses, however momentary, as a concert pianist on a grand piano, and to make as much sound from some error as conceivable! He is a propagandist first and last.
The Christian may fall on some occasion or on some number of occasions; but is stilled by the power of God, covered and constrained, enabled and led so that the humiliation of momentary lapse, or the folly of a season that was moving into force, is neutralised and then dismissed. Such hurts are amongst the saddest elements of the Christian life, and some lapse from perfection or delight in the principles of truth, however trivial, the devil will seek to make a demonstration, as of some kind of perpetual motion.
Such is the way of the ungodly, the judges of this earth. There tongue, as the Psalmist declares, struts through the earth (Psalm 73:9). There is really no need for them to be so active; God will HIMSELF discipline the saint who falls into some sin, in any such case!
However they are active, for evil hates good, the devil hates God, the ungodly are not keen on the godliness of the godly, and seem to be delighted if it can be tarnished, the case expanded, exaggerated and out of all proportion, turned into a mountain range, which was a fall that merely skinned the knee.
This being so, and the devil so intransigent, it is wonderful that there is One more indomitable, more endued and indeed almighty, who having fallen not at all, not a step, not a stammer, not a stutter, not a moment, not in any quality, not in thought nor in deed, not in vitality nor in vigour, provides the perpetual cover with His own Person (Hebrews 9:12, 10:10,14, Romans 5:1-11).
Temptation therefore has two immediate aids. Christ has the case covered, so that the outcome is assured; He has PAID. Christ has the case overthrown, having met every test, so that the principles are proved. Again, Christ has overcome death, so that the victory of life is total. In this strength, there is no sin which can win; no failure which can cause the Christian to fold, no power in heaven or earth to separate the children of God from their Father, or their nature from His dynamic (cf. John 10:27-28, I John 3, Romans 6, Romans 8:29ff.).
Chosen from the first, His children are kept to the last (Ephesians 1:4,11). This is not to say there will not be desperate efforts to disjoin them; but they are no more effective than one who seeks to remove the earth so that Christians should have no place to stand. NOTHING can snatch them, NEVER do they perish (John 10:27-28).
THE CASE OF SIMON PETER
God removes the earth; but not until He is ready (Matthew 24:35). God removes any excess in temptation, and He is always ready! The case of Simon Peter is of course classic; but it is also cordial. Christ not only TOLD him that he would fail in his fidelity, but that it would have a threefold application, three denials would issue from Peter's lips, and they did! Yet this was the negative: He had, Christ indicated, prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail. You can fail a test, without failing the subject itself! Christ went further: He foretold to Peter what would indicate that the time for this test had passed. It was the crowing of the cock, twice in particular (cf. Luke 22:31ff.).
This all past, Christ's crucifixion and resurrection accomplished as foretold from the transfiguration and repeatedly, the great corrective meeting occurred (John 21). Christ had clearly PARDONED Peter (cf. I Corinthians 15:5) already; but now He re-COMMISSIONED him to take his work to its end, which was to be by death (cf. John 21). Thrice the apostle had failed under questioning before the crucifixion; thrice He was questioned by Christ as to his love! The symmetry was total! The result was sure (cf. I Peter 1:5-8).
Let us now look at some other famous cases of trial, temptation, failure and flirtation with it, so that the principial may be seen in the particular.
Before we do however, there are a few warnings.
Never suffer a triple bypass, that of sanctity, virtue and godliness.
Never have a colostomy of the bowels of compassion,
and always remember pity.
Never allow the temptation to rest, that tests need not be followed!
Meet the test and overcome the best the devil has to offer:
Fearless, like Stephen (Acts 7),
faithful like Paul (II Timothy 4),
devoted like John, sent to exile in Patmos for his pains.
FAMOUS CASES OF WAR AND TRIUMPH OR FAILURE
PAUL'S COURSE TO JERUSALEM
Paul, notorious for his work in Jerusalem and elsewhere in taking Christians prisoner and having them maltreated in punishments, was not without adverse effects from his past, before his conversion to Jesus Christ. Thus when he went to Damascus, shortly after his conversion, there was a clear reaction, as seen in Acts 9:20ff.:
"Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.
Then all who heard were amazed, and said,
'Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?'
"But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ."
It was here that Paul was let down in a basket, from a house on the wall of the city, lest blood-seeking hunters among men, should seek to kill him. You see first of all, the word "destroyed" used of what Paul had done to the victims of his earlier career. Notice the designation of the sufferers, "those who called on the name of the Lord". Observe the destination of his arraigned prisoners, seized and sent: Jerusalem.
If now in Damascus to which he had been travelling on his conversion, there was such a vocal and violent reaction, already inflamed by the extent of his own earlier career, and its rigors, what would it have in potential violence against him, if he were to become conspicuous to the populace in Jerusalem, that hub of his former persecutions ? Some would be appalled at what he did to the church, before his conversion, while others would be hostile at his departure from just that work!
The risk was substantial.
Yet there was a sense of mission and commission developing in Paul, to go to that city, after many missionary exploits in many places, not least in Europe: as seen in Acts 20:16. Here we see he was hurrying to reach Jerusalem in time for the Day of Pentecost, which after all had figured so grandly (Acts 2) in the birth-pangs of the Church. It is tragic that so-called 'Pentecostals' use this name for their Corinthian-type tongues exercises, not necessarily their existence but the shameless glorying often found in this field contrary to Paul's specifications at the end of I Corinthians 14, and indeed his vast de-emphasis of the phenomenon, in this, that he would in public prefer 5 words with his mind behind them, than 10,000 of babbling.
To use this particular phenomenon, legitimate as it may be in some restricted cases in public, under the name of Pentecost where INTELLIGIBILITY by miracle given for the Gospel to those who spoke many different languages, at an international gathering of people, is a vast abuse. It uses unintelligibility as a keynote in what was famed for intelligibility, a form of restricted testimony for the unrestricted, what does not instruct directly for what did, a para-word performance for what in fact focussed and featured the word of God emphatically and dramatically; and so brings disrepute, when it does so, on the movement.
In general, it is Corinthianism not Pentecostalism, at best, and most often and indeed almost always in one's own observations, it includes rebellion against the apostolic foundations at that, in the WAY it is done, the EMPHASIS and the TIME spent at it (cf. I Corinthians 1:1, 14:37). It is to ALL in EVERY PLACE that Paul here speaks, and it as command from the Lord.
What is a command that it be disobeyed, or a church which so indulges in licence!
That miraculous gifts continue is a view to which scripture opposes NOTHING. HOW and in what way they proceed, and with what qualifications, this however is just as important. Paul, then, was hurrying for an arrival in Jerusalem for that great day of such robust and glorious deliverance of an accelerated Gospel impact in a former year: the day of Pentecost. There would be no doubt many there, from many places, and this now well-seasoned traveller would be likely to be noticed. Further, in various cities as earlier in Damascus, he had with extreme courage and boldness spoken where Jews would be aroused, some stoning him indeed, as at Lystra, where they left him, literally for dead!
As to that Lystra case, it is fascinating to see the species of reaction. First they thought them gods, because of a miraculous healing in Christ's name; then when people came from Antioch, they decided it better that death end the matter, for the healing agent, Paul!
This we see in Acts 14:19ff..
"Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes,
they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.
"However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe."
Christ received no better. Indeed, it was far worse.
With such background, and with Jerusalem the centre to which Paul had TAKEN his victims in the past, then, there might be expected a double impact: first that of wrath because he presented the Messiah whom the authorities had murdered, and secondly because of his past, when he persecuted certain Jews who were Christians because of their faith,
Paul had much to expect if he spent time in that capital city! He had more if he did it on such a public and social occasion, and the more yet, if he were to be seen there when the occasion was a prominent religious one, sacred to Jews for its symbolical word, and to Christians as the birth-day of the Church in action following Christ's ascension.
Despite this obvious fact, which we have to thread out from the tissue of circumstance, but which would presumably throb in the mind of the apostle, who had both caused and received much suffering in these affairs, Paul was exceedingly, even acutely keen to go there on just such an occasion, the very day of Pentecost. Indeed, he was driven to it, we read by the Spirit of God. What vulnerabilities he would have felt; and what sense of overpowering conviction he experienced, which he did not resist. He went. He pursued this course; and the apostle sent by divine vision to Macedonia and the entire amazing European ministry, was now impelled to come to the Jewish capital, and in a TIMELY fashion.
On the way, he received warnings, which would exacerbate his sense of danger, increase the perception of peril, such as would affront any without faith and assurance in the Lord, but could not deter him from the duty which lay before him. In Tyre (Acts 20), Paul was urged through the Spirit, on the part of disciples not to go. Later in his journey to the capital, at Caesarea, Agabus, a prophet came down and bound Paul's feet with his belt, indicating that THIS was what would happen to him if he went to Jerusalem. His words and Paul's need attention, so that we may feel the flavour behind Paul's enterprise and the love which sought to restrain him from this course.
"Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.
"Then Paul answered,
'What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart?
For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.'
So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, 'The will of the Lord be done.' "
It is to be observed that the Holy Spirit indicated a fact, what would happen to Paul when he went to Jerusalem. This was fulfilled most quickly! It did. At Tyre they told him through the Spirit not to go. This is seen in some parallel to the field of Jesus, been driven by the Spirit to be tested in the wilderness (Matthew 4).
It was a hard thing for Paul, it was one which needed weighing, it was something which would not be easy. He was warned, that he might not lightly undertake the fight, or go back if he preferred flight. The ellipsis of course appears to be this: DO NOT GO if you value your freedom, if you love liberty, for this is your coming trial, and it is to be a severe one.
The disciples told him, it was through the Spirit, but the impact was one thing: here is danger, be advised that trial and trouble awaits you there. The outcome was another.
Jesus knew that He was to be killed in Jerusalem and made His way there, even telling His disciples repeatedly of this fact (as in Matthew 17:12, and 22ff.). The test is strong. He triumphed in this. What now of Paul ? Will Paul yield to this coming confrontation in fright ? Love for him enabled some in the presence of this perilous awareness from the Spirit of God, to show him the course of safety - elsewhere, not Jerusalem.
However, the urging, like that of Christ who indicated that one COULD not be His disciple except he forsook all, was not a prohibition, but a due inhibition. KNOW what you are doing! If you value your life above your duty, do not go. At Gethsemane this point was a trial for Christ, who loving much, and doing much, was a blessing of prodigious proportions to the thousands who were following Him. However for the Lord, "if it be possible" being the plea concerning any other way, "nevertheless, not what I will, but your will be done" was the outcome.
So here, Paul is driven to Jerusalem; there can be no other course. Tender-hearted presentations, Are you sure that you are ready for this, for it is now the crucial test! were not negative directions, but unfolding of solicitude, and warnings of crisis. Paul knew by his clear commission that these things, though testimony of love and tender-hearted concern, and indeed based on certain fact which the Spirit had brought to light, were exposures of cost, not intimations of change.
By such means, however, he doubtless the more realised that he would become a prisoner himself now, in Jerusalem, and though the protestations to impel him to realise to the full what was coming to him, were inhibitive, they were not prohibitive. Knowing God, he knew the context of these urgings and their true portent. He knew what he had to do, and went about it with a clarity that left all protest in vain. How heart--warming, meanwhile, were these urgings, from those who loved him. If in one sense if it proceeded, it could all but break his heart, yet in another, since they ceased after a time, it was testimony to their love and appreciation of him. Let us consider this a little further.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN, breaking my heart! we see above, was his reply.
How did he then proceed ? In some such way as this:
I am WILLING both to be bound and to die! Jerusalem can do what it may; but I will do what I must.
What then is the meaning of 'breaking my heart' ? It indicates that Paul was eminently aware already of the danger, and that this love and graciousness on the part of the concerned disciples was only adding to his perception of the cost of martyrdom which was drawing nearer, and would be given fast track forwarding in Jerusalem. It was, this love, adding to his awareness of the cost of loss, leaving those whom he would serve, just as Christ, in His case, to secure redemption itself, had gone to Jerusalem with assurance in the very acute knowledge of the sacrifice he would accomplish here (cf. Luke 9:30-31, 51).
Paul was thus tempted in love, stressed through sympathy, and incited by certain knowledge of what was coming to him. How like cases where duty calls to death, was this, cases to be found in coming contests for many! In this case, however, no social force whatever was at work: it was inwardly perceived and dutifully realised in private communion with God. This made the test more exquisite! When those who may love you, yet criticise you in a loving concern, at the course you must take, it brings in positive beauty to add to your need to exercise self-discipline and undergo self-sacrifice. Thus is motivation tested, and duty realised under fire. Not only physical bullets but emotional and spiritual ones may be the hardest to bear.
Why do you break my heart ? exclaimed the vigilant apostle.
He passed this trial with distinction, continuing like his Master, but for reasons similar only in spirit, to his own testimonial expansion, which would lead him on to Rome and almost certainly to Spain: much of it, at public expense! It was not however with liberty that much of this would be accomplished. He was to become famed as the apostle in chains.
Consider in this, II Timothy 2:8-13 (bold added):
"Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained.
"Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
This is a faithful saying:
For if we died with Him,
We shall also live with Him.
If we endure,
We shall also reign with Him.
If we deny Him,
He also will deny us.
If we are faithless,
He remains faithful;
He cannot deny Himself."
Temptation purifies, it shows the motives. It enables the consideration of contrary-seeming elements, and the priorities to be right, implemented; just as it also brings out dangers both of pig-headedness if you are merely being carried by your own wishes or impressions, and of weakness, if you are being led by the word of God, yet tend to melt when given alternative motives.
With clear vision and cleansed heart, therefore, the apostle was able to move to Jerusalem, with a composure in knowledge of what would happen, and why he must endure it. In this, there is something of the majesty of the Lord, who as king directs His subjects and enables them to prevail, not without suffering, but without doubt.
THE STONING OF STEPHEN,
THE ANTECEDENTS TO IT, AND ITS RESULTS
Stephen was a deacon, one to take something from the load of duties of the apostles, and allow them more time for prayer and the word of God. He was "full of faith and of power" and not only so, he "did great wonders and signs among the people." Many from synagogues were aroused and argued with him, but they could not overcome the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke. The anti-Christ syndrome, issuing in the murder of Christ, the arrest of Paul at Jerusalem where inept traditionalists could not see the Christ so plainly set before them, these were now part of a triad. Stephen was unanswerable, so he too must go.
The other option of heeding the experimentally attested and verbally invested truth did not seem to occur to his persecutors, or if it did, they apparently dismissed the thought and followed proud passion instead.
Making void the word of God by their traditions had become habitual practice for many (Mark 7:7ff.). Setting about their customary business, they brought Stephen to trial and proceeded to stone him to death, presumably on the basis that facts are irrelevant and feeling must triumph, when it is backed by what they had been thinking lately, and for some time.
Stephen could have been cowered, and such was a very possible temptation. Realising that his last day had perhaps arrived in the very midst of his wonderful employment as a testimony for Christ, and seeing the seething crowd, their hate-filled faces glowering, he might have made his words politic, and attuned his replies to their mood. Many do in such circumstances, as if ambivalence were testimony, and a faltering sound were some modern music of the faith. It is not so.
That is the way of many, like the famous catch-word about the Vicar of Bray, who could look either way, depending on the nature of the day! England had persecutions enough, and canny pastors who had no faith could protect themselves by 'adjusting to the times', leaving conscience dead and truth strangled on the streets, so that their nation could descend to the depths. Many were of a different spirit, and were cast out of their manses, their homes, their incomes, and forced to keep well clear of towns, impoverished, hunted with hatred. It was these who showed a spirit of purity and courage which ennobled the nation, even though they were persecuted by the powers that were, within it.
Stephen was of that kind. He told them what they needed to know, like Paul, whether it meant death or not. It did. They killed him; but not before he had given a testimony so clear, so ardent, so comprehensive, so overpowering that it hit the hearts of some, probably including Paul, who had held the clothes of those who stoned Stephen; and if so, the death even there, from the outset had one massive missionary consequence!
On the way, Stephen reviewed the history of Israel with emphasis on their continual rebellions against the truth of the Lord, adding this:
"However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:
‘Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
What house will you build for Me? says the Lord,
Or what is the place of My rest?
Has My hand not made all these things?’
"You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears!
You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.
Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?
And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One,
of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers,
who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it."
These words were just, and the reaction was sure.
"When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said,
'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!'
"Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him."
Stephen in fearless faith showed that the Christ on whom it focussed was worth dying for, worth speaking for unequivocally, worth a warning to his compatriots and a review to their reason, a witness to their hearts. Hate did not abate him, nor did fury dim his faith. His earlier works were a prelude to this, and this a just conclusion. It did not conclude Stephen, however, who persisted in heaven, that haven from hatred, his works following him.
The obvious temptation to play the equivocal churchman, or even make it all relative, so that it did not really matter, matter, matter as Gilbert and Sullivan so playfully put it in their own idiom and context. If it did not really matter so very much, then the way out and on would be there, as one honoured, not murdered, as received and pleasant to meet, not detested and reviled. Such a possibility would not have been past the power of his thoughts! It was however far from his heart.
He did not waver, did not buy time, did not say, "I will have to lead them slowly!", pandering to flesh as if it could call the spiritual shots and obedience were an agreeable option when you are, if ever, ready for it!
He did not proceed, smiling, now allowing this, now that, until the equivocation made it all a muddle of meaningless meander for the slow-witted and dead-hearted.
No such things were to be read of Stephen.
No, he told the truth, and this, it is not an option. So has his case became a witness to many, on how to witness to the most odious, the most violent, when after all, if you do not, you are no watchmen, not even a watch-dog, but a parcel of pusillanimity or a philosopher of convenience.
The sheer glory of the faith, on the other hand, in the light of Him in whom it is placed, shone upon him so vividly, his face shining like an angel, his words possessed of joint power and probity, that his fearless demeanour became a lasting testimony to the dying, a light to the living for millenia!
THE JOY-RIDE OF JONAH AND THE RUFFLING OF FEATHERS
Jonah was no novice: he was a prophet and he knew the Lord so well that he clearly understood he had a mission to Nineveh, capital of the arrogant and cruel empire of Assyria.
Of a different view, he took a ride from Joppa, bound for Tarshish. This was not even in the right direction, not even a concession to geography. It was perhaps that glorious idea of a trip by the sea, a jaunt without obligation, a time away from it all, a beneficial holiday, a change of environment. Perhaps it would seem different there.
However, his journeying was to have novel enterprises in it, including a great fish, possibly a whale-shark, which reputedly can grow to some 70 feet in length, and is possessed of a cavity with air, for the storage of undesired materials which float in, of which Jonah could be numbered as one. Ejected in a way apparently customary, nearer the shore, like someone blowing his nose and finding you in it - but allow for matters of scale - Jonah had a change of heart and proceeded to Nineveh. There his success was phenomenal, sackcloth becoming common wear as the people found themselves facing destruction in quick terms.
However Jonah, instead of glorying the work of the Lord, like Philip in Samaria, was gored. He had spoken in urgent terms of destruction, but fearing the thing would not happen, was reluctant. Now, sure enough, the people having repented, there was no destruction. It was not that he wanted pain; he did NOT want to say one thing and to find another. It made him look rather loose, perhaps, he felt.
It is strange, is it not, that his personal hurt could overcome any reluctance to see milling thousands of old and young meeting calamity. The Lord took him to task, and showed him something of the meaning of mercy! God loves mercy, and His servants have to realise this (cf. Luke 9:55-56). God is interested not primarily in destruction but in saving, in reconstruction!
As to the little matter of what was SAID, God instructed Jonah concerning Nineveh, to 'cry against it', since its wickedness was topical in heaven, so vast was its nature (1:2). After the changed transport, from ship, fleeing from the will of the Lord, to great fish, tasting in the depths the ill-savour of hell, but rescued by divine mercy, Jonah received further instruction: Go to Nineveh and preach the message to be shown (3:2). He cried out in the city, declaring that in 40 days the city would be overthrown. The implicit provision of repentance, the object of the message, was there also.
What actually had God told Jonah, in this aspect ? In Jonah 3:10, we find that on perceiving the attestation that they repented, God relaxed or turned from the disaster He had said He would bring upon them. The 'would' does not imply certitude, but intention. Intention is not the same as determination, as you see in Ezekiel 18 and 33.
When a judgment is determinate, it is too late; when it is presented with urgency, as is the Gospel indeed, then the outcome depends on the income. If the warning is taken, and the change occurs, what is there to be warned of ? Micah 7:19ff. shows that God delights in mercy, and Ezekiel 33:11 that He is asking, "Why will you die!" - exhorting them to return to Him in His mercy and grace, and receive pardon. In Jeremiah 15:1 and Ezekiel 14:20, we see likewise that this message rejected can bring assured judgment that nothing will repel. Did He not give them several hundred years, with movements up and down, though overall very much down!
Though Moses were there, though Daniel and Job, yet they would not achieve any deliverance now for the city! Yet this was not the beginning, but the end!
Jonah was tempted NOT to face possible ridicule and misunderstanding. Later he was tempted NOT to bear a sense of shame, because power was not the visible kind but the invisible, that leading to repentance, not to ruin. He fell in both cases. He was the victim of sensitivities which did not adorn his testimony or improve his life.
This is testimony to the grace of the Lord that He reasoned with him as a child of God, and took it on Himself to use a vine which grew up to shade him from the fierce desert heat, to illustrate mercy. If the vine's sudden death, leaving Jonah physically exposed to heat, was a cause of upset to him, should he not he be sensitive to the devastation of hundreds of thousands!
This case of child-training by the Lord must be seen both in its sympathetic kindness, the way the Lord brought the point to his heart, teaching and exhorting, and in its broader context, as far as Jonah is concerned.
First, he could have been tempted NOT to confess on the ship, when the perilous storm hit it, that HE JONAH was the cause. He could have asked them to protect him from the Lord, the storm, from danger, but he asked them to throw him overboard so that they might have peace, so becoming a type of Christ in this particular, that He directly came to be thrown overboard in this sense, to take sin for those who would yield it to Him (John 8:24), so bringing peace. In these respects, his error in temporary rebelliousness became opportunity for a beautiful display of kindness and mercy to others, on the ship, a case of frank revelation and true care!
It showed likewise that the Lord is over and above all the episodes of truth and honour, so that in trust in Him should one act when in error, not responding in fear.
Again Jonah could have been tempted never again to perform any work for the Lord; and although for a child of God this is not possible, since the way of sin is not his or hers (I John 3), yet he could at least have been reluctant. On the contrary, the lesson learned, he was quick to obey, like a child who had been caned. How foolish is the current and contemporary pre-occupation with the buttocks of children, that one should not cane. It is true that much punishment is of temper, not wisdom, that some is extreme, that harm can be done and the like. It is no less true that much foolishness is the indolent or careless response of those who have not been sensitised, and who need simply a reminder.
Can this be abused ? Certainly, so can medicine, but we still take it.
Can food be abused, so that you become overweight ? Of course, but people still eat.
Should governments try to prevent correction with the cane, because some will abuse it ? In NSW apparently, the law is that one may punish physically, but the authorities determine if it is excessive. Provided this determination is realistic and not gross intrusion, it is fair enough. Nobody wants abuse. However who wants foolishness aided and abetted by making some parents little more than pieces of State apparatus, to bear the expense of bringing up children at odds with wisdom! In fact, it should be made clear that parents are not to be intimidated by STATE DISCIPLINE over themselves, the cane of the State, used with brutal fluency to inhibit their just dealings in timely fashion, with children as need may arise (and it may arise relatively seldom, but like an anti-biotic, it can be useful if timely).
This State sort of involvement is not wisely to be a big sister Social Services dictatorship, but a provision for manifest cases of genuine brutality. We are not doing well if the State moves in the direction of peeping Tom oversight of every move, so that people are gratuitously is in the hands of special authorities for the nature of the art of bringing up children. The presumption of government officials, frequently versed in the ill-sorted academic disciplines of the godless, the secularist, the humanist, who may be psychologically mistaught or even passionately ill-composed, inserting their undisciplined assertions, masquerading as law, is not to be desired.
Politics enabling such 'discipline' is feckless, abusive itself of life and liberty. If some laws may be rightfully protecting from abuse, others enable abuse of parental supervision by irresponsible intrusiveness. If some officials are wise, some are but in the grip of cultural idols.
Freedom with wisdom, is seen by its fruit. It is best not freely to dig up roots with legalistic spades.
Personally, I received the use of the cane or ruler or similar discipline but seldom, and remember each instance, one from an erratic and furious seeming teacher when I took some days at a country school while my parents were on holiday. This was a specious thing and rather disgusting.
Another ... but I have exceeded. I remember but one other, very much deserved, which in retrospect I treasure as most proper and putting things into a quick perspective.
We did of course have some other discipline, not directly physical, though indirectly, and this I rather treasure likewise. It was needed to inhibit foolishness.
Brutality is not another name for correction, nor vice versa; and sanction for due discipline is not that for ill-tempered extreme. Some form of physical retribution, or at least reminder of the cost of folly is very much to the point, and the use of the cane is not at all improper if it is controlled, with good intent and in a milieu of lovingkindness.
As to correction, it should be relished when it is of the Lord. It may be spiritual. Jonah is the case par excellence of WAKING UP! Here is a spiritual man in a spiritual realm, a man of understanding and knowledge of the Lord, and he directly, you could almost put it - insolently, refuses to abide in the express command and will of God. From the revelation of God, he disjoins himself; from the way of righteousness, he lags, lapses and departs. It is only in one thing ? Yet murder is one thing. If you abuse the truth, is this not to abuse the Lord, who IS the truth (John 14:6), who died for sin; and is this not a shameful thing so to treat Him ?
It is impossible so to assuage the sin of Jonah that it becomes less mordant. It was express.
It is just as impossible to assuage or soothe the sin of any minister or official in any church who dares, even for a short time, to make public departure from any one of the words of God. Did not Christ, in HIS temptation, resist mere indulgence of appetite, saying (to bring the pith for the present out of the point) ... MAN SHALL ... LIVE BY EVERY WORD WHICH PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD (Matthew 4:4).
The same Greek word for "word" is used here as is the special term for grammatical units, not the broader one for 'thought' or theme. It is the word used by Peter in I Peter 1:25, II Peter 3:2. As to the first of these, it is in the declaration that "word of Lord endures for ever". Concerning the second, it refers to the need "to be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Saviour". This animadversion, this concentration on the words of the Lord, it is followed by the negative assertion that "scoffers will arise in the last days, walking according to their own lusts..."
Peter then proceeds to designate this Last Days phenomenon, scoffing at divine sovereignty, divine revelation, divine instruction, words from the mind of of the Lord, and from His mouth (cf. Acts 4:25-26). It reminds one acutely of the last prophet in the Old Testament, Malachi in such passages as 2:17:
"You have wearied the Lord with your words;
Yet you say,
'In what way have we wearied Him?'
In that you say,
'Everyone who does evil
Is good in the sight of the Lord,
And He delights in them,'
'Where is the God of justice?' "
There is a slackness, a carelessness, a professional indifference, a willingness to follow king culture, that renegade, that slattern, whose appeal leads many men of the cloth into an adulterous relationship with unbelief in that kingdom, which they then import, shameless without red faces, into the church, or in many cases, into what, before such subversion had been a church, so that, to use the terminology of Revelation, the 'candlestick' is taken away. Faith fails, renegacy rules, pomp proceeds, salaries are paid, ceremony continues, the word of God is expressly contradicted, its provisions slighted and it becomes a weariness to follow the rule of righteousness and the way of His will and word.
Now an empty husk replaces what was living grain, and the harvest is nil, except you should count human pride and passion, ceremonial culture or a priesthood of unbelief as a crop; but if you do, then it is a crop of tares, of weeds, planted amidst the wheat.
As has been pointed out, the parable of Jesus, concerning an enemy planting weeds amidst the new sown fields of wheat, and the need to leave both together till they are grown, which each kind is sent to its destiny, one to be burnt as rubbish, the other to be valued and stored as grain, is not one concerning the Church! It expressly states that this relates to "the world". The parable is told in Matthew 13:24ff., but the explanation the Lord gives in later verses, namely 13:37ff.. Here we read this: "the field is the world."
In this world indeed, experiment of flesh yields at last to experience of God, in His coming for His own to abstract them from the world to be judged, and the judgment on His return, of this world. The latter is wrought both in overthrowing the impudent rule of man worshipping himself, when He comes, and eventually when all past, the ultimate time comes (cf. II Thessalonians 1, Revelation 19-20, Matthew 24-25).
That is the position for this world, it goes its way, it grows in arrogance and folly, it comes to judgment.
In the church however, commandment for purging of the ranks from the rank is clear, and purity is express, powerful and repeated. The point is emphatic from the days of Jehoshaphat who went to battle in the presence, as ally, of his relative, spiritually rebellious King Ahab, and was roundly rebuked by the prophet Jehu. To Jehoshaphat on his return from that polluted alliance, the prophet declared this:
"Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord ?
Therefore the wrath of the Lord is come upon you ..."
To be sure, this was not fatal, for Jehoshaphat had been a faithful servant of God; but it had been a vast failure. In what sense 'love' ? Obviously, it concerns the custom of collaboration and close affinity in action. How COULD you do such a thing as fight as if in a common cause when YOU follow the Lord and others with you DO NOT! This was a theocracy, and the work of battle was therefore in principle, a spiritual one. A war should not be engage in unless truly required, and if so, then wrought rightly.
Now in the Church, where the work is EXPRESSLY spiritual without political additives even, how much more does this rebuke apply! Does a church ally itself with the pride of life, the pomp of philosophy, the cultural lore of God-forsaken thought ? Is it possible ? It may be for some very short time, but if it continues, then the body becomes a proclaimer of blasphemy, a preacher of rebelliousness and readily grows into a pit of serpents. It is not for nothing that we see one famed example described in similar language in Revelation 17:2, 18:2 (cf. SMR pp. 946ff.).
What! embrace in theological seminaries those who preach against any part of the word of God, who are unclear on what it is, who show rebelliousness of heart, as if king culture were their founder, and the world their target, not to win it, but to work with it ...
LOVE NOT THE WORLD, thunders John. Does not Paul in Romans 16:17 expressly FORBID anything closer than AVOIDANCE where the apostolic doctrine is not followed! Does not II John forbid even allowing entrance into one's house and family of those who do not bring the doctrine of Christ, which was dramatically emphatic on biblical veracity to the last and most tiny point (Matthew 5:17ff.)! Does not II Thessalonians use the need to follow what they had been apostolically taught, and not to participate with those who depart from this, even to a relatively minor point of conduct that he cites! (II Thess. 2:15, 3:6).
Again, Ephesians 4-5 speaks of things spiritual and physical, and using the embracive term 'uncleanness' - used of spiritual things expressly in II Cor. 7:1, requires that where such things occur, that you "do not be partakers with them." This is a word to Christians; let Christians heed it.
Now do you AVOID by having communion with such, or do you AVOID PARTAKING by having them teach in your seminaries ? Are words to be evacuated of meaning while the 'church' is evacuated of obedience and becomes one more faded glory of the fallen, false and a fiasco in flight from the word of God, as Jonah was.
In flight ? Yes so he was, this man of God: but how did dramatically did he show that not at all his, was that sort of gross unfaithfulness into which many former churches have fallen, becoming spiritual eunuchs as servants, not of God but of what is mere mutilated residue.
In what dramatic way did Jonah show himself a true man of God ?
The righteous may fall seven times, yet the Lord upholds him. Jonah fell twice in this episode, once publicly and once privately. But he was QUICK to repent. Not only so, he was LOVING in the way he did it, asking them to THROW him overboard that they might be saved. In doing so, he was a type of Christ, who however was thrown overboard for sins borne vicariously, not His own, that these might have peace, which indeed they do!
Do ministers leave the church they infected ? or do they repent in tears and seek to throw out the sin they committed by exposing it and teaching rightly ? Do they risk their superannuation and foul their pride of life and restore sevenfold what they took away, asking for forgiveness and with industry and passion seeking to remedy their errors in the flock, by attacking the spiritual diseases they caused, and culling from the flock what works where faith is fiasco and rebellion becomes portentous!
If they do, then they too may yet be shown men of God. If they do not, then Jonah stands over them, like some architectural emblem, a Statue of Godly Liberty, while they fall into the realms of spiritual Belsens, camps of disaster assaulting the people without pity.
Jonah therefore stands as an example of SHORT departure and LONG return. Of heart which set aside the folly of will in the sacrifice of his very life, if it had been necessary, putting all to risk in the ocean, rather than cause one more moment of suffering for the crew in the tempest which came because of his wandering sin.
Is this what such misled ministers do ? If so, let us honour them when they do it. If not, let us realise that Jonah so far from being the example of error, is one of courage and conviction who, admittedly, like Peter, erred publicly for a moment, but then translated wilfulness into saintliness, wandering into work, and improper peregrinations into beautiful evangelisation. To be sure, he erred again a little later, but privately, when he was aroused by the mildness of the Lord's treatment of a repentant Nineveh. The Lord graciously reasoned with him at this. After all, if Jonah himself had been moved to repent, and so lived; should Nineveh on being moved likewise to repent, NOT be spared!
Jonah is rich is revelation and hides nothing, and his memory is most blessed as an example to churches today.
Is it modern times now ? Then let our image be modern. Jonah is a message to erring preachers and teachers in the church to come out of their nose-dive, to accept the DISCIPLINE of the Lord, to acknowledge their straying, to bring redress to the limit of life, and to serve the Lord with true passion, worthy rather more of the One whose passion leads to life, and whose mercy is not to be fouled by adding arsenic of unbelief, or the potassium cyanide of cultural collusions of straying man, to the antibiotic of faith, which kills the invasions of spiritual germs.
Jonah learned fast, and the teaching was both apt ... and physical, decidedly physical, involving in his case no little concern, in the depths of the ocean. He did not stop at the thought that his very life could be hurt, as he repented. He did it and willingly and indeed he forwarded, even encouraged the action which could have been his death, if so be it could help the crew. Please throw me overboard! was his cry.
He teaches us also the importance of discipline more generally; for the Lord did not simply ignore his sea-faring flight from duty, but brought to him who in his heart loved God, the correction needed through tempest. That done, the Lord delivered Jonah in the very midst of his willing sacrifice, by sending miraculously a biologically fitting large fish. These dealings were drastic, and the power of God was shown, as it is shown today in whatever way He elects.
Such mercy, faithfulness and power was shown in the Lord's provision for this author, of a new seminary when he had to sacrifice the one he was attending, which played the harlot with the pure mission of Christ, daily assailing the scriptures. This it did without reason, contrary to reason but with a rebellion so arrant that it fouled the church, which fittingly lost two thirds of itself not many years later, the rest becoming immured with traditions and uncertainties to a grievous extent (cf. The Biblical Workman Ch. 8, in two places).
As to Jonah, then the results and methods were extreme, but effective.
This of course was from the God who makes no mistakes, and is able to act past the powers of man. That in turn is what one is to expect by faith when one has to act sacrificially for the sake of the purity of truth and the honour of His name. His name is faithful and true (Revelation 19:11). Small wonder the people of God praise Him!
Being cast overboard is perhaps not to be emulated too readily physically! Nor is it likely to be literally required: yet it is far from impossible. With the Lord, nothing shall be called impossible. He only sets limits, as He pleases. Truth prospers in His presence and purity does not wince at need.
The principle of Solomon remains true, Spare the rod and spoil the child! Timely discipline could well have saved the Presbyterian Church in the US, in the early 1900s if only they had not received the Auburn Affirmation, and allowed people to put their sense of kinship above the word of God, so allowing liberal radicalism to flourish in the church, until those spared for their unbelief, became the majority, and those who followed the word of God had to decamp!
This point was put to the Procutator of the PC of Australia in the 1970s, with the point that it was time to discipline the errors that vaunted themselves in the church, and had done so for decades. The reply that this got nowhere in the USA was met by the point that this was from one obvious cause. DISCIPLINE was lacking. They did not ACT! It was not a discipline which failed, but a fiasco which having made its point, did not discipline what departed from it. In failing to act concerning some, it lost all.
Children or churches, one and all, need discipline. What they deed is not, indeed, the tyranny of the anger of the flesh, not the pompous pretension of the too highly dignified arrogance of man or his institutions, but the godly and restrained, the faithful and effective work which CORRECTS while there is time. Much can be overlooked in any context, where it is unintended or merely casual or thoughtless. Mercy is expansive. However when truth is violated and false teaching is in view, there is little room for manoeuvre. Drama may become the more necessary when laxity precedes it.
There is need for action, as if
wolves were feeding ravenously on the lambs. Do you then stand by and take
photos of the exact amount of salivation for Ph.D. work or rescue the lambs, by
dealing with the wolves!
This is the biblical position, and foolish indeed is that un-Jonah like lassitude which watches it happen and congratulates the wolves, honouring their name as occurred to no mean extent in the PC of Australia in the worst day of its woes.
With children, there has also to be a purity in upbringing, not the work of martinets, not of perpetual oversight which allows no liberty, not carping, not intrusive, but watchful, discerning, abiding in love, waiting till the need is clear, acting with godly restraint and eminent love, when necessary. Purity must be in the action and the principle.
What a fantasy of gross indecent rewards there can be for being 'good' when even the motive is corrupt, and by little exclusions, can be built up by parents who, if not ashamed of the licence of their children, ought to be. It is a gross violation of propriety to inhibit due discipline, just as it is an equal violation to use it to intimidate merely, or to cause pain to excuse the bad feelings of inadequate adults who wield it instead of wisdom, rather than in wisdom.
Life requires wisdom not witless generalisations, destructive of all discretion and art. When legislation properly designed to prevent ill-tempered abuse becomes a weapon to oversee the work of the home, government becomes a tyrant and unruly rule a pompous ass.
Discipline is to be a thing of love and kindness, such as one can appreciate when the time comes to realise the way one was going. It should be given in humility, understood in holiness, and imposed with regret, when the case requires it. The longer it is left, the worse the considerations become. It is as with a garden: let it become overgrown and difficult is the restoration! Fail to prune and straggly are many of the plants! Nor is it that discipline replaces love or kindness, but rather is it an instrument for both.
Discipline, then, with Jonah was speedily effective, whether through teaching or events of a more mordant kind. After all - and here is the point - if your heart is willing, correction is to the receptive, and is not a substitute but an upbringing with wise kindness, something better than meeting deadly evils when one is mature, from hands less kindly and hearts less thoughtful!
Let us see then the result.
Jonah actually WENT on a mission of immense danger and extreme personal challenge. He PREACHED with authority and power, and had staggering results. The people of Nineveh were DELIVERED by his preaching in the Lord, from destruction. He learned a better attitude to one aspect of his task. His is an account of weaknesses overcome, duty done and massive harvest achieved. Put like that, the case shows its true lustre, his failure in two temptations becoming flaws in a beautiful stone, one the better in the end by the careful crafting of its facets, that followed. Purity of heart was assuredly advanced, as was also an incidental result in the case of Job; and many were blessed by this delightfully effective prophet, whose imperfections preach, whose responsibility rejoices the heart, whose sacrificial action proclaimed integrity, and whose candour is a blessing to behold.
SUNDERING OF SAMSON AND FINAL ACCOMPLISHMENT
AND ALL IN THE AURA OF CHRIST
INITIAL FAILURE IN HIS TEMPTATION RECORD
AND HIS TRIUMPHANT FINAL GAIN
Samson had a glorious prelude. His
parents has a visit from the Angel of the Lord, who told his wife,
"For behold you shall conceive and bear a son" (Judges 13). This has two features of great interest. Firstly, it was the answer to the couple's desire for a child. Manoah the father would now with his wife have this joy. As with Samuel, there was a divine prescription for the remarkable child to come.
The wife is barren, but behold, she will be with child and bear a son. E. J. Young in his Studies in Isaiah points out the simple fact that since the Hebrew word for "with child" is adjectival in form, the present must be the time for its occurrence, unless there is evidence from outside to show otherwise. Indeed, with Manoah's wife, she is declared barren, hence the new condition has to be future. Without this, as Young notes, the present would need to be chosen, for otherwise we are adding a tense without warrant, a case other than that with Manoah. This is the second point of interest. Those very words are used of the Messiah to come, where Young's case does occur.
Such is the prophecy to be found in Isaiah 7, where we are told to BEHOLD, a virgin (cf. SMR pp. 770ff., with Matthew 1:23), one with child. In this case, the sign which is so tremendous, as the prophet Isaiah indicated just before, is now the occasion of such a strange event: a virgin with child.
Not in some current blessing was Israel to be forwarded, but in view of the crass unbelief shown by tricky and devious Ahaz the King, 'wearying' the Lord, as it were, as well as men, this was to be the divine action. This was to be the way in which the Lord would act in the face of their contemporary unbelief.
What then ? We are told to envisage this coming event, long off in its strong rewards for the nation, since in the immediate future we learn in this same chapter 7, Assyria is going to come in desolatory invasion! In this very distant future, far from those who rejected the divine offer in their own day, who are to inherit a great trouble, there is to be seen the virgin with child. Whose child, as in Isaiah 9:7, is the point: it is to be the prince of peace whose kingdom will eternally rule, whose other names joined in simple sequence include this, the Mighty God (cf. Isaiah 10:21, the LORD).
God Himself in human form alone qualifies. It is as in Isaiah 48:16 where God the Sender shows us the coming of God the sent. It is like a waterfall (of water) leaving a high lake and proceeding down the hill as a stream (of water) for all to see and follow, if they will, to the top of the hill where they may behold the lake itself, courtesy of the stream; and in seeing the stream (of water) they perceive the nature of the lake (of water), as in John 14:9, allied to 5:19-23, where both the nature and the action of God is seen in Christ.
Small wonder then that in Isaiah, this phenomenal child is called IMMANUEL, which is, GOD WITH US. That is precisely what this child, God Almighty in flesh, is to be for the people. With His love of liberty, however, it is not as a sanction, but as an invitation that this occurs in the first instance. Since the Jews as a whole did not desire the Lord in flesh any more, as they had often enough shown, than they desired Him from heaven in His jurisdictive power, having this opportunity, they killed Him. In the process they instituted, albeit unwillingly, the basis for the predicted Gospel, given in Isaiah 50-55 (cf. Heart and Soul, Mind and Strength Chs. 4ff.). This, as Isaiah also foretold (42:6, 49:6) would be not only for those of Israel who would believe, but for those of all the other nations in the world, who would come to know God in Him, the Sent One.
Now that we have considered this antitype, this grand culmination of such a pronouncement in the Messiah Himself, the significance of Samson's birth announcement from the Angel of the Lord can be clearly seen. What was this, but a prelude to the Messiah, in one point, STRENGTH. Samson was to be specially prepared for his task, his hair unshaven. This formula re birth, being pregnant and about to bear a child, applied to Manoah's wife, was then to be applied to the virgin birth of Christ. Whereas, however, the latter was barren and to become pregnant, the latter was virgin and already pregnant, the force of the adjectival present.
The point then is this: she AS VIRGIN is seen as with child, whereas Samson's mother is seen as about to be such though no virgin, this late fruit of the marriage coming through the providential kindness of the Lord. In this latter case, of course, it is not through incarnation, the donation in extremis not of death but of life itself, that eternal life with the Father from always (I John 1:1-4, Micah 5:1-3)! That was for the virgin's womb.
In Christ's case, the envisagement is of one sort of being, the virgin, with another sort of being, the child. It is present in graphic totality. In Samson's case, it is of one sort of being, a barren woman, with another sort, the same pregnant. In the former case, the staggering 'sign' is this, that a virgin could be so endued as to be pregnant while still a virgin, and secondly, to have 'God with us' as the result of this enduement. In the latter, the gift is that the one without, becomes the one with what is desired. For Samson's mother, barrenness is dismissed with pregnancy viewed for the barren; for the virgin, normalcy is dismissed, with God with us the product of the divine power. In both cases, there is an announcement of something prodigious, a delivering act of the Lord. In one, it is against an enemy visible; in the other, it is against an enemy in himself invisible, but not so in his wicked works!
Then again, in each case, there is a transmutation of a prelude: in Samson's mother's case, the barrenness which the Lord would enable her to overcome; with Christ, the virginity, which God would as Father use direct, enfolding the child without intermediary process, beyond the necessities of man, as Creator into the womb.
Clearly, then, Samson as a type of Christ is of great interest, and his temptations instructive the more in the nature of the temptation he met. Great in strength, he was to deliver - or more exactly begin to deliver, Israel from the Philistines. He performed staggering works by strength, even moving the town gateposts and carrying them away in one exploit, slaying thousands in others, by sheer immensity of power, fearlessness of disposition and the suddenness of onset, while many feared.
As to temptation, he contracted to marry a Philistine woman, a matter of more than considerable question, in view of the need not to intermarry, spelled out from Moses (Deuteronomy 7:2-3). The thing however was used by the Lord, so that in the interactions following a massive set-back came for the Philistines, and they learned of the power of their adversary. However, having been betrayed by the one designated for his wife among the Philistines, who told in a contest, a secret which let them overcome Samson in a contest of wit, and which led to substantial expense for him, he still did not learn! In fact, in that earlier case, he had to provide 30 sets of clothing as penalty for having his riddle solved; but infuriated by the trickery of the Philistines, the dishonour, he killed thirty and gave their clothes to those who had deceived him.
This then should have taught him, if prudence had not, not to expose truth as pearls to swine, to those unrepentant and glorying yet in their own strength. He might in this way have learned not to expect, from the mortal opponents of his race, too much in the way of reliability, especially if war were in view. After all, it WAS in view, since Israel at that time had become largely subject to the Philistines, and Samson was to help deliver them from this, which he did.
Foolishly, overcome by temptation, bravado, lust whether sexual or of simple excitement or both, he went to a Philistine harlot, rather like going to a Russian firing squad in the context, to enquire of their health, during the Cold War. She plied him with questions concerning his great strength, and he deceived her, repeatedly telling her what was not the case. She, as repeatedly, betrayed him, and let others know the latest version of his strength's source, so that he had to overcome WITH his strength, repeated assaults made when they felt that now they had him at their mercy.
Did this, even this, teach him ? Not at all. With the rich or the talented, it is often hard to convince them that they are human, limited, need care. His strength had never failed, so he became incredibly careless and told her. Cutting his hair was breach of the sacred mark for the task. This fact she relayed, it was cut, his strength was withdrawn, while his eyes put out by his now more capable enemies when as usual, the woman betrayed him.
Sightless, he was made to draw weight, like an animal, to be mocked. His feelings may be imagined. His times as deliverer were being consumed as delight for his adversaries. He had asked for it by yielding to the temptation to be obtuse, vainglorious about a power which the Lord who had given it, could surely remove if the special feature and purpose were betrayed. In the end, asking to rest against great columns supporting a vast sporting structure, with hair grown, symbol of restoration, he called on the Lord and ruptured these support columns so that the building fell, and 5000 or so honourable people in attendance found their earthly end.
What then of his temptation ? He could resist any actual onset of strength with greater strength. In this, he was a type of Christ. He could go into the very midst of the enemy, and yet prevail, again a type of Christ (cf. Luke 11:52), who indeed prevailed against attempt on his life soon after his very birth, where Herod sought slaughter to slaughter Him by the unillustrious device of killing boys under 2; but His Father intervened to prevent this result for His Son - Matthew 2:9-18. He had another mission than to be the butt of a king in His infancy! Again, Christ was delivered (Luke 4), when men from his own town of youth rose up in fury at His messianic claim made in the synagogue (in the form of announcing that Isaiah 61:1-2 referred to Himself), and sought to throw him over a cliff. They did not, since His time was not for that end, nor His purpose other than at the cross, with its rupture in resurrection.
Again, Samson could be in the midst of a mass of enemies, and still escape unharmed (Samson 15:11ff.). In this case, his own countrymen, afraid for themselves before the Philistines, went down in the number of 3000 to arrest him and turn him over to the enemy. Yet he broke the new ropes and wrought more of his deliverance for his people, however ungrateful and indeed treacherous they had been.
In this too he is a type of Christ. Even on trial, he had answers to every thrust, under every provocation and interrogation, He yielded nothing, until His reputation meant they gave up on that line, and decided on letting His blood (Matthew 22:46). Even in His death, like Samson, He achieved more than in His life, since there not 5000 of the enemy were slain, but countless millions were covered, their sins 'slain' by His coverage as sacrifice, followed by the power of His Spirit giving the victory of life in regenerated persons, now His children (cf. Isaiah 53:10, Ephesians 1).
The vagaries of Samson were not finally to overcome him, in this, that having paid vastly for vast sins, he at last performed the crowning crushing of the overlords' power structure, which made his mission a triumph. Christ on the other hand, sinless in contrast to Samson, and Redeemer unlike Samson whose sins mounted to the skies, for His part by resurrection conquered the enemies of life, as Prince of life showing in glorious decisiveness sovereign power over death, as His Father raised Him. Like Samson, He was mocked and made a parable of contempt; unlike Samson, He brought not death but life to the mockers, praying even for those who afflicted Him, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing" - Luke 23:34.
Yet like Samson whose work at last brought death to many, there was one further element in the consequences of Christ's work. For those who unrepentant would not receive of His mercy, partake of His sacrifice, receive His redemption, there came after some 40 years (the sort of time they were wandering in the wilderness in the days of Moses, having failed to enter the promised land), a vast slaughter: this time around AD 70, at the hand of the Roman Empire. Many were crucified, we read, outside the city wall.
What a parallel! What they did, they received. The desolation they inflicted on Christ, was what they in type, received from Rome. The city was destroyed, salted and ploughed, just as Christ had been crucified, the object of jeering. Hence, although He came in mercy, its rejection, as is the nature of the case where mercy is concerned, for it implies judgment arrested, meant death. This in turn is a type of that final rejection from life in far more tragic circumstances, when what loves not the light, lives in darkness, the wrath of God abiding on it (cf. Mark 9). Indirect but actual enough, then, was a consequence for those far later, who found their sacrilege become their tomb ... if that! for many were slain.
As to that final judgment noted above, while the time and its nature may be quite different from our own, which is itself a created type of thing (cf. Romans 8:38-39), the everlasting contempt which Daniel adumbrates, is the obverse side of rejected mercy for those whose sins have more attraction than does truth, mercy and righteousness as a gift from God (cf. Romans 5).
Where Samson fell, Christ overcame. What Samson did with strength, Christ did at the acme, in weakness, even death, but this was the culmination of strength and the resistance of temptation in triumph. So it was with Him, from the temptation in the wilderness, which we have already considered, and onward.
Test, whether temptation in the external form, or internalised in sinful desire, or indeed simple experiment with no solicitation as such from evil, or for it, can have such marvellous results. Christ having suffered as man, without sin (I Peter 2:22ff.), not only showed the power of God available through Him for men in all tests, but became intimately the experient of man's life, and as such with splendid humility, is magnificently fitted as judge. So does Hebrews 2 show us the wonder, and Hebrews 4 the result in His sympathetic high priesthood for believers, for whom as barrister and advocate (cf. I John 2), He is also ransom and relief (Matthew 20:28, 11:27ff.).
Moreover He is their intercessor now (Hebrews 7:25), a fact to be relished from this indomitable triumphant victor over temptation. In Him does temptation meet its masterpiece for victory, by Him does it meet its power to overcome, for Him does one desire with incalculable desire, to win what is enduring, abide in what is true, delight in the things formed by His creative thrust and accomplished by His intransigent zeal, filled with compassion as with power, stooping in sovereignty, but no less sovereign for that! Here is the king greatly to be desired.
Thus do these contrasts enable us to realise the more fully the severity of the test of Christ, the amplitude of His triumphs, the wonder of His nature and the infallible quality of His accomplishments: not to serve as a model of pride, but of humility, since for God to become man is the ultimate in degradation.
Yet the purposes being the ultimate in kindness, the result is the ultimate in triumph in all history, for all time, covering all aspects for all men, irrespective of culture, or imagined superiority; for who is to be of account before the infinite God!
But out of love, it is of account to Him; and all men are all counted, whether as His or as refusing accounting and hence to be accounted as lost. This world is assuredly of this character, the pompous provisions and inept procedures merely giving testimony to its follies. While man yearns for truth, it is an exacting discovery; yet for all that, since Christ has exactly covered the case for the penitent, and met the need for the believer, the very exactitude, the measure of justice is guarantee of stability and righteousness, without which man cannot really live.
What importunity did many of these exhibit in their determined resolve and ardent seeking of the Lord; and even if Samson seemed blind in more senses than one at the first, it was not so at the last. What opportunity has the Lord given through His own impenetrable passion, zeal which knew no bounds but wisdom, nor any inhibition! What purification of heart is to be found in withstanding temptation, and in taking the opportunity of each trial, then, not as the last straw - for here is not a camel but Christ to bear the burdens (Psalm 55:22, Matthew 11:28-30), but as scope for the guidance and government of God.
In Christ, burdens turn to opportunity, and power becomes master of purity, importunity the key of access, and His hearing the testimony of grace.
*1 See for example SMR Chs. 1 -2, TMR Chs. 1, 8, Secular Myths ... Chs. 1 and 7, Stepping Out for Christ Ch. 9, Beauty for Ashes Ch. 3, Spiritual Refreshings ... Chs. 6, 13, 16, A Spiritual Potpourri Chs. 1-9.