David J Wright
John 17: 6-20; 21: 15-17
Acts 20: 7-12
I would like to say a word with the Lord’s help, dear brethren, about the preservation of life and how it is brought about.
What I firstly call attention to in this first Scripture in John 17 is the living, intercessory service of Christ. What we owe to that we shall never fathom, and it is going on today. This is a remarkable scripture, a unique scripture, because it is the record of a prayer by one divine Person to another; the Lord Jesus still had not died but He was looking on to the time of His death, His resurrection, and ascension. He ever lives to make intercession for us, Heb 7: 25. I think this chapter is very touching. You can tell from the way things are actually said - the deep affection that the Lord Jesus had for His own. One thing I would point out, dear brethren, is how He took account of those men who were given to Him. They were the Father’s; and had been given to Him by the Father. That would greatly elevate them in His mind and affections. We are perhaps familiar with the idea of divine ownership: we speak about the aspect of God’s creatorial rights, and how every breath is in His hand; and He is a faithful Creator. And we look also from the aspect of His redemptive rights, that He has shed His precious blood - therefore “ye are not your own … for ye have been bought with a price”, 1 Cor 6: 19-20. But we may not have thought sufficiently about this aspect of divine ownership because it relates, I think, to God’s purpose, That is, these men were given to the Lord Jesus and He had a real conscious sense that they had been given to Him by the Father: they belonged to Him. The first thing He says in what I read is, “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world”. He had made the Father’s Name known. He could say elsewhere, “He that has seen me has seen the Father”, John 14: 9. If you read John 13 to 17, you cannot fail to be impressed with the way He had been a father to those disciples. That is why they could not contemplate being without Him. When He spoke of the way He would die, and go out of this scene by way of the cross, they dismissed it from their minds. So here He says, “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world. They were thine, and thou gavest them me, and they have kept thy word”. You might say, if you read the gospels and their account of the disciples, that it was generous to say they had kept His word, but the Lord Jesus had perfect knowledge of them. What He said to the Father about them here was vindicated in the Acts. There were one hundred and twenty in the upper room who were the direct fruit of the Lord’s own ministry, and they were vessels that were suitable for the Holy Spirit to come upon, and to launch this dispensation of grace in which we have our part at the end. Everything that the Lord Jesus wrought was perfect. Have you ever thought that the work of God in you is perfect? It is indestructible. It is possible for it to get hidden by other things that come in, but it is there and can be appealed to. I think it is fair to say that the disciples answered to the Lord’s words. They needed adjustment, like we all do, but it is evident - particularly in Peter - that they were amenable to adjustment. Dear brethren, that is part of our preservation; that our wills are subdued to His, and amenable to adjustment as Peter was. I will come back to Peter later.
He says, “I demand concerning them; I do not demand concerning the world, but concerning those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine”. Now, take note of that word “demand”. It is quite a strong word, and I believe it reflects the feelings He had in relation to His own: “I demand concerning them; I do not demand concerning the world”, but what was precious to Him was His own. He never forgot the sense that they were the Father’s. They became His but they never ceased to be the Father’s. So He is anticipating in this chapter: “I am no longer in the world”. That is the present position, He is no longer here, “and these are in the world”. His concern is such for them that He commits them with such affection into the hand of the Father. He would no longer be here, but He also impressed the disciples that, if He did not go away, the Comforter would not come to them. I think of that: our best Friend in heaven is the Lord Jesus, He takes care of our affairs there; our best Friend here is the Holy Spirit - a wonderful system of support. What love lay behind such an inauguration of a system like that! “When I was with them”, He says, “I kept them in thy name; those thou hast given me I have guarded, and not one of them has perished, but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled”: what a perfect shepherd service of the Lord Jesus. “As to those whom thou hast given me, I have not lost one of them” (John 18: 9) - “but the son of perdition”. “I have given them thy word, and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world”. That was the effect of the Lord’s words upon the disciples. Can it be said of you and me that we are “not of the world”? Can we be taken account of as such? The world has crucified Christ, crucified my Saviour. That determines my pathway here, and keeping near Him in such a scene where evil abounds is my salvation. It is yours too. “I do not demand that thou shouldest take them out of the world” - if He took them out of the world, there would be no testimony. The enemy is dead set against the expression of Christ here, but we are to be here as a testimony to Him. But He says, “that thou shouldest keep them out of evil”. What a moral triumph that is, in the world of evil through which we pass, that we are kept from it. What a moral triumph! What a testimony is open to us. Then He says, “Sanctify them by the truth: thy word is truth”; “as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph 4: 21); “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”, John 14: 6. You might ask ’How does the truth sanctify you?’. I think the truth sanctifies you by practising it. That means that you come out in features that are seen in Jesus. He says, “As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world”. In chapter 20, we see that He breathed into them, and He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v 22), and then He sent them out: they went out in the Spirit of Christ. “I do not demand for these only, but also for those who believe on me through their word”: what a comfort that is - He is not only speaking about the disciples here; He is bringing it right down to the present day, to you and to me, if you are one who believes on Him.
In Exodus 28, we get the breastplate, and the names were on the breastplate when Aaron went in. Our true high Priest goes in, and He bears your name before the Father. There are no generalities: your name is on the breastplate. That means that you are in His affections - how much we owe to the present intercessory service of Christ on high! May we value Him increasingly in that way!
Now, I come on to Peter. Speaking reverently, the Lord Jesus had a lot of investment in Peter, but he was one who had a lot of failures. I suppose the failures of the twelve in the gospels are most seen in relation to Peter. At one time, when Peter sought to turn Him aside from the pathway of the will of God, the Lord said, “Get away behind me, Satan”, Matt 16: 23. He said to Peter, “Satan has demanded to have you, to sift you as wheat”, Luke 22: 31. Do you think you are an exception? But then He goes on to say, “but I have besought for thee that thy faith fail not”. It was not that he would not fail, but that his faith should not fail. If your faith fails, dear brother or sister, you are left to drift without an object for your affections, an object for your faith. He says to Peter, “when once thou hast been restored, confirm thy brethren”. I think Peter did that in his epistles; he confirmed the brethren. He says, “the putting off of my tabernacle is speedily to take place”, but, “I account it right, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up” (2 Pet 1: 13, 14) by bringing to mind the experience he had on the holy mountain. Now, we all know that, in the gospels, Peter did not shine on that occasion; he spoke about “three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias” (Luke 9: 33), and a cloud overshadowed them. Peter is at the end of his life and he is thinking now about departing from this scene, but he says, ‘I want to leave you with this impression’. There is no mention of the three tabernacles; he speaks about the “holy mountain”; that is, he has a real sense of the divine presence. And he speaks about “the excellent glory”, and the Father’s voice: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight”, 2 Pet 16-18. All this was confirming the brethren once he had been restored. But remember this also, dear brethren, that, despite the failures, the Lord never changed His mind about “first, Simon, who was called Peter”, Matt 10: 2. Peter was a vessel that showed that he was amenable to adjustment, and to my mind, dear brethren, that is the sign of spirituality: let our wills be subdued to His. There is a sobering thing in Scripture in relation to the elder son in Luke 15: the father went out and besought him (v 28) - think of the affection that lay behind that, that he might come into the house, where his brother had come home, was dead and had come to life again - and he would not: his will was at work. I feel for myself that we must ever be preserved from our self will and be subject to His will. You will find that His will is best.
Well, now we come to the verses I have read. Peter, in the earlier part of the chapter, had gone back to his fishing, and he took six others with him. It was an independent movement. I think it is beautiful to see the way the Lord Jesus restores him in this chapter. He does not do it immediately; He sets on something to eat, and says, “Come and dine”, v 12. He builds up Peter’s constitution; and then He probes him about his love for Him. He knew of course that Peter loved Him, but He is about to give him his commission and He wants to have Peter’s will subdued: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He says to him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I am attached to thee. He says to him, Feed my lambs.” Lambs are young ones; it is good to see many of them here today. “Feed my lambs”: what would Peter feed them on? He would feed them on his impressions of Christ. That is what will build up their spiritual constitution - the little ones need it; we all need it. I wonder sometimes if I have thought sufficiently of the effect of my behaviour upon the lambs. If the sheep go astray, the lambs will. The lambs are always where the sheep are, so that places a responsibility on me as being a little older. The apostle places a responsibility on Timothy as he is about to pass off this scene, but he knew the qualities in Timothy. He says, “For I have no one like-minded who will care with genuine feeling how ye get on”, Phil 2: 20. Timothy is a man for the last days. Have the saints that place in your affections, that you care with genuine feeling how they get on? Paul took account of Timothy’s tears, and he says that he would “put you in mind of my ways as they are in Christ”, 1 Cor 4: 17. It was not only a question of passing on Paul’s doctrine but his ways, and he reminded them of the spirit of the apostle.
So He says the same thing the second time, and He asks similarly in relation to his love; then He says, “Shepherd my sheep”. There is no reference to shepherding the lambs: if the sheep are right, the lambs will be. What a Shepherd the Lord was to His own when here. And then the third time, it is similar probing, and Peter was grieved. Jesus says, “Feed my sheep”. That was Peter’s commission; and then, as I say, in his epistles he stirs them up in relation to his impressions of Christ on the holy mountain. He says, “For ye were going astray as sheep, but have now returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls”, 1 Pet. 2: 25. Now there is a little word that comes in here and it has just two letters - “my”: “Feed my lambs”, “Shepherd my sheep”, “Feed my sheep”. If you cast your mind back to John 17, it had had a profound effect - speaking reverently - upon the Lord Jesus, that those that had been given to Him were the Father’s; and I think it would have had a profound effect on Peter that the sheep he had been given were not his; they belonged to the Lord, and therefore they were precious. I think it elevated them in Peter’s mind. So I think Peter, being amenable to adjustment, was usable of the Lord under His hand. Think of how he could preach so powerfully in Acts 2 in the very place where, days earlier, his Saviour had been crucified; in the very place where he had denied Him thrice, but just a look from the Lord was enough for him to weep bitterly, Luke 22: 61. In the very same place, he gets up when it was not just historic but a current event, and with courage and with power says: “God has made him, this Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ”, Acts 2: 36. Think of the power of those words: three thousand souls were converted. The Lord did not give up on Peter, and I am thankful He has not given up on me either - or you - but He used him effectively.
Well, when we come to Acts 20, there is a certain climax to the book. The chapter starts with the way that Paul embraces the disciples. The chapter ends by saying, “they all wept sore; and falling upon the neck of Paul they ardently kissed him, specially pained by the word which had said, that they would no more see his face”, v 37, 38. He had gained a place in their affections; for three years he “ceased not night and day admonishing each one of them with tears”, v 31. In the middle of the chapter, we get Eutychus and the embrace of Paul. This chapter has been referred to as “first love”, and we know that Ephesus fell from it and publicly that has never been restored; but the ingredients of the original are brought through, I think, in Philadelphia in a remnant. Philadelphia means ‘brotherly love’. So they were assembled to break bread. Paul puts the Supper in an assembly setting. If we are left here until tomorrow morning, we will come up and partake of the Lord’s supper. I am thankful that it is every week, because every time we look on those emblems, it is a fresh reminder to me of the strength of the love of Jesus for me, that the body that was prepared for Him He was prepared to give up in death. And, in the cup, His love for me was such that He was prepared to shed His precious blood in order that I might be redeemed, and forgiven for my sins. Each week, we have the gospel preaching. The subject is Jesus; another fresh reminder to us of the extent of His love in dying for us! You hear of some people who say they do not need to go to the gospel any more because they are saved. But I think that occasion, and the Supper, week by week, are used to keep our affections for Christ fresh. It has that effect upon us, upon me, that we are set to be here for His interests.
But Eutychus was here, and there were many lights in the upper room; there were those there who were prepared to support the line of ministry that Paul was bringing in. And there was Eutychus sitting by the window opening, a dangerous place to be: he could see what was going on outside and what was inside. And eventually he was overpowered by a deep sleep and he fell from the third story down to the bottom, and was taken up dead. But Paul descended, and fell upon him. He enfolded him in his arms, and he said, “his life is in him”. How did he know his life was in him, when nobody else seemed to? Because he was the closest to him and embraced him. “They took away the boy alive and were no little comforted”. What I would say to the young people here - and it is good to see so many, and the interest there is - is, do not stay by the window opening; come right in: come right in. You say there are certain exercises and sorrows; sadly that is so. But remember this: the enemy only attacks what is worth attacking, and conflict will go on to the end. But there is safety in coming out into the circle of light, and in experiencing the circle of affection. And let those of us who are older take on responsibility that that atmosphere is preserved in each of our local assemblies. I suppose the aspect of this service is very largely Merarite, which means care for one another. It means that we do not need gift for it; but what you do need is love for the Lord Jesus, and love for His own. And John makes abundantly clear in his teaching that the two go together.
Well, I desire to stimulate myself and perhaps others in relation to God’s inheritance which is in the saints.
May it be preserved, and may God bless the word.
3rd May 2014