Robert W McClean
1 Peter 2: 4-8 (“offence”); 1: 18-21, 6-9
Matthew 26: 6-13
Psalm 133: 1-3
You may well have noticed that a link between the scriptures we have read is the word “precious”. It is in mind to say something about what is precious. I think the remark at the end of our reading (see Issue No 91 p 18) links with it when our brother spoke about the scripture, “in him all the fulness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell” (Col 1: 19) - in the Lord Jesus. There was that which was precious, which God held precious, and it says elsewhere “in Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”, Col 2: 9. And so we have read in the second chapter of 1 Peter about what is “precious”. If you search for the word “precious” in the Bible, you will find that Peter seems to like it; he uses it several times. He uses it here about a Stone. He speaks about it as being “cast away indeed as worthless by men, but with God, chosen, precious” and then he says, “elect, precious”. So I wanted first of all to talk about that, the preciousness of Christ to God. And then where we read in the previous chapter, it speaks about “precious blood”; we might speak about that. Who holds that precious? God holds that precious. And then it speaks about: “the proving of your faith, much more precious than of gold” as if to say the proving of your faith is precious to divine Persons. In Matthew it is the woman with the “precious ointment”, which would speak of her valuation of Christ. In the well-known Psalm 133 it is “the precious oil” which unites the Head and the body, you may say. How precious that is! And so we will maybe touch on these things, as I am able, in order.
First of all we will speak about the Stone, Jesus, and how God values Jesus. I have thought about this cornerstone. Buildings are perhaps not constructed quite the same way nowadays. Reinforced concrete seems to be the order of the day, but if you go around an old place, an old house, or see an old bridge, you will see quite often, where there is an arch, or a bridge, a stone in the middle of the top of the arch. That stone quite often is made prominent and you will see it is a slightly different shape to the ones that are around it. The ones around it are all carefully shaped so that they form the arch, but the top one, the one in the middle, is called the keystone of the arch: it holds the arch in place, and everything about that arch depends on the angles of that keystone. This cornerstone serves a similar purpose to the keystone, which is the top stone of what God has prepared for Himself, and everything fits together. Without these stones being the shape that they are, the building will not hold up. You look at these old houses and bridges and you wonder at how many years that arch or bridge has stood up, simply because the keystone holds it in place. That is how precious Jesus is to God - holding everything in place.
It says “cast away as worthless” by men. You could just imagine: there this stone was; I think there was some admiration from the rulers, the Pharisees and so on. At one point some said, “Never man spoke thus, as this man speaks”, John 7: 46. There was some admiration for Jesus. I remember Mr Lamont saying once it is as if they picked up this stone, and they looked at it, and they examined it from every angle, and they put it down because they could not see how they could fit it into their building. And so it is: that stone could not fit in man’s building so they cast it away, not as something that could perhaps be utilised elsewhere, but as “worthless”. That really is what man’s systems think of Jesus. They might think He is a nice Stone, but He is “worthless”: “but with God chosen, precious”! And so when you come to know Jesus as your Saviour, you come into something of the appreciation of God’s valuation of Christ, and that is what we sang about:
Sharers of Thy joy to be,
And to know the blessed secret
Of His preciousness to Thee.
How precious the Lord is! Not only is He the keystone in the sense that everything is held together, but He is Son of His love, the Son of the Father’s love. We sang a hymn on Lord’s day morning which we often sing:
Blessed and glorious Man,
which goes on to say:
All that God’s holy mind
Has sought in man to find,
All that His love designed,
Secured by Thee!
It is all secured and held by Jesus, a Man of a different order altogether, but One that has gone into death in order that He might secure our blessing.
And so here it speaks about “a spiritual house, a holy priesthood”. I do not feel able to go into that except for us to see that it takes its shape and character from that Stone, and that is what we are brought into. When we put our faith and our trust in Jesus and have a sense of the gift of the Spirit, we are brought into “a spiritual house”.
I thought it was quite interesting in the context that this Stone was “cast away indeed as worthless by men”, that he says, “To you therefore who believe is the preciousness”. Think of God holding such a One so precious, and you have believed on Him. You have put your faith and your trust in Him. I trust each of us has. There is an opportunity now to do that, but it will not always be that you will have the opportunity; so I trust anyone who has not done so would do so now, and put your faith in the blood that we read of too. “To you therefore who believe is the preciousness”: think of that! God’s valuation of Jesus held for you, held on your account: “To you”; it is almost like a gift from God, as if He is saying, ‘I hold this One precious and I have secured your eternal blessing through this blessed One’. It is available for you. If you count Jesus worthless, then you will have no benefit from that, but if you believe on Him, then to you is the preciousness. It gets us feeling like God, getting beyond ourselves, getting beyond just what has been done for us, into a sense of the assembly, the vessel which God is securing for Himself.
There are two things that we need to remember. One is that everyone who believes on Jesus and has the Spirit is a member of that body, and to every one of them “is the preciousness”. It does not have any other barriers at all. The other thing is that there are many families. We speak about that, we read about that, the many families, but each one of those families will all stand there in the worth and preciousness of Christ. The assembly will have a particular and peculiar place, but there will be that which flows out and all those families will be there where the divine dwelling place is: “the tabernacle of God is with men”, Rev 21: 3. They will all be there in that eternal day, centred round that blessed One, all in the worth of Christ.
So we read about the blood. It touches on the cost that has been expended on our account to bring us into blessing in this One. Now the preciousness of Jesus was there from His incarnation. I want to be careful what I say, but God found His delight in Jesus here, did He not? Just when the Lord was about to commence His public testimony, and He went to John the baptist and was baptised, the Father says, “in thee I have found my delight”, Mark 1: 11. The Spirit descends as a dove upon Him, giving a sense, as we touched in the reading, of “the fulness of the Godhead” being pleased to dwell there. God had found His delight, the Father had found His delight, in Jesus here as a Man. But that One had to go on into death and so it gives us God’s valuation of the blood of Jesus. It says, “ye have been redeemed” - it usually means you have been bought back - “not by corruptible things,” - how thankful we can be for that, that we were not bought by some gold coins or anything else that men value! People talk about things that have an intrinsic value and that is a value in themselves. For instance, if you had a gold coin and cut it in half, it is no longer any use as a coin, but the gold is still valued at the weight of the gold; it has an intrinsic value. But I think what the apostle Peter is alluding to here is that even that is not a very good figure because it only has a value that someone else is prepared to give. In some countries of the Middle East people take gold around with them; they have gold bangles and things and they use them in payment because gold is valued in that way; it is like a currency. You can imagine you might go somewhere else and people might say, ‘I have no use for this soft metal. I do not think it is worth very much at all’. So the value varies depending on how the people you are transacting with value it. Peter is saying, ‘It is not like that. It is not like corruptible things. It is “by precious blood”’. I have often thought about that precious blood of Jesus; it did not corrupt. How precious it was! Somewhere else it says of it, “speaking better than Abel”, Heb 12: 24. So we have been “redeemed … by precious blood”. It is the Father, God Himself, who values that blood. He puts that precious value on it, and it stands for time and eternity and when you come to know Jesus as your Saviour, you are coming into the value of the preciousness of that blood. You have been redeemed by it, “the blood of Christ, foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world”, and then it says “that your faith and hope should be in God”.
Then we read about our faith, “the proving of your faith, much more precious than of gold which perishes, though it be proved by fire”. The proving of gold in a fire is where it goes into a furnace and gets very, very hot, so hot that it melts, and when it melts, impurities float; they can be separated off and then the gold tapped off and used, the impurities removed. The fire is doing that: so it is proved by the fire. It says “the proving of your faith, much more precious than of gold”. It is as if to say “the proving of your faith” in this blessed One, whose precious blood has redeemed you, yields something “much more precious than of gold which perishes”. It speaks about being “found to praise and glory and honour in the revelation of Jesus Christ”. It is linking you, your faith, with this blessed One who has died, whose blood has been shed, but now is raised and ascended, in heaven receiving the praise and honour that is due to Him, “glory and honour”.
And then I thought this was really quite touching because - I am appealing to us all, really - you have put your trust in Jesus; you believe on Him; so what comes next is for you: “whom, having not seen, ye love”. You have not seen Jesus. Peter was one of those who had seen Jesus, but you have not and I have not. But you love Him. And God loves to prove your faith. He values your faith and the proving of it as “precious”, the same word as He uses for the blood of Jesus. That is your faith. I want us to be encouraged in our souls by that, because there are things that are discouraging. It is easy to get discouraged when put to grief by various trials, but they have to do with the proving of our faith. The end of the Lord is not exactly whether this is right or that is right, but it is that your faith might be proved, and that you might be established in Him. To paraphrase Mr Stoney, the purpose of the trial is not so much that you discover your distinct need, but that you may be cast entirely on the Lord, JBS vol 12 p502. That is why your faith gets proved and tested.
So he says, “whom, having not seen, ye love”. You love Jesus, and these very words of Scripture are showing God’s appreciation of that. “On whom though not now looking, but believing”: we look for the Lord; we look to have an impression in our minds and in our spirits of the Lord, and we look to have a sense that He has spoken to us, but we have not actually seen Him. We are “not now looking”. Peter was one who had seen Him, but he was “not now looking”, and it says, “but believing”. How God appreciates and values your faith and belief in Jesus. God holds it precious, and we are to hold it precious too. We are to value the work of God in ourselves and in one another, and to have sympathy with one another in the various trials that any go through in the proving of their faith. It says “put to grief by various trials”. Peter is not glossing over things, but it is “the proving of your faith”. Then he goes on to say “ye exult with joy unspeakable and filled with the glory" - this is what we are to be brought to. The proving of our faith may be very testing, but, as we touched on in the reading, if my link is clear with the Head, then I will be preserved through “the proving”. That is what we want, is it not? We want to be preserved through “the proving” that there may be a result Godward, valuing the work of God in yourself and in others, “receiving the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls”.
How precious indeed it is to see these things, and what I would like to engender in our hearts is a desire to hold them precious. We might have things that we value that are not precious. You may have a piece of equipment, like I have a hearing-aid, which is helpful and I value, but it is not precious and if I lost it or it got broken, I could get another one. It is not precious. We have things like that that we rightly value. Then there may be other things that hold what we call a sentimental value. I do not mean that wrongly, but we value it perhaps above its face value. It may be precious, might be some gold, even, but it has a value for us beyond that because of what it tells us. It might have a link with someone we love or something like that, and we hold a valuation of it that you cannot put a monetary valuation on, and these things are to be like that. You cannot put a monetary value on these precious things, but we are to value them and we are to hold them tenaciously. There may be other things which to anybody else are worthless, maybe some photographs. To anybody else they are of no value at all, but to you they are precious because they might be a picture of a loved one; they are a reminder. These are right feelings, and we are to hold the precious things of God and to value them because the world does not value them at all. If we drift towards the world, we will lose our sense of the value, but if we hold to these things, we will retain our sense of their value.
Now, this woman valued the Lord Jesus and she had this “flask of very precious ointment”. It was worth a lot. It “might have been sold for much”. In other gospels we get an attempt to put a value on it. It “might have been sold for much and been given to the poor” and that sounds all right, looking after the poor. We give money for things sometimes and perhaps this could have been given to the poor, just the money though, not the ointment itself. The ointment itself was too valuable to be given away. But this woman valued the Lord Jesus so much that she used it for Him. The disciples thought it was a waste, which was rather insulting: “To what end was this waste?” It must have been hundreds or thousands of pounds worth of ointment in our valuation that she poured out on the Lord Jesus - she valued Him so much. She had been accruing it, perhaps, ready, waiting for a moment. She took the moment that presented itself and was not ever going to present itself again and she used what she had accumulated for the Lord Jesus, showing her valuation of Him, she used it on Him, and, it says, she “poured it out upon his head as he lay at table”. What I am thinking there is - we have spoken about the preciousness of these things, but how much do we value Christ? What is your feeling? What is your response? This woman has been spoken of as a type of the assembly by which we mean the bride of Christ, who values Him and loves Him, and in her affection, intelligent affection, she pours this out upon His head. Do we value the Lord in that setting as the Head of the assembly, Head of the body? How high a valuation do we put on that, holding that in our hearts and honouring Him in the midst? She had this ointment and she was prepared to give it for Him. The Lord says something unique here when He says, “Wheresoever these glad tidings may be preached in the whole world”, and we ourselves here, sitting in this room, right now, are the proof of the truth of the Lord’s words because it says, “that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her”. She had a valuation of Christ and she was prepared to use it. Once this ointment had been poured out, that was it. It was not going to be used any more. It was only for Jesus. Do we value, do we hold precious that blessed One and His links with the assembly, His bride? How we are to value Him and hold Him in our hearts!
Finally we read in the Psalm 133: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”. It speaks about “the precious oil”. I think it is interesting when it speaks about “the precious oil upon the head, that ran down upon the beard”. This would be a reference to the holy anointing oil, the oil that was established in the tabernacle system. The recipe for it was given: they were to take these proportions and make the precious oil. It was not to be used on human flesh; but it was to be poured on Aaron’s head, as priest. Aaron in that sense is a type of the Lord Jesus, and it “ran down upon the beard, upon Aaron’s beard, that ran down to the hem of his garments”. It is interesting that it does not say that it dripped off the hem of his garments, but, you may say, it accumulated there. There was that which flowed down from the head, it was precious and it was valuable and it speaks of brethren dwelling together in unity. It says that brethren dwelling together in unity is like this; so there is the head and there is this oil which, you might say, is bringing in this union to the hem of his garment. It is not wasted; it does not drip on to the earth; but it is absorbed, it soaks in, and the fragrance of this oil permeates the whole garment. “How good and how pleasant it for brethren to dwell together in unity!” You may say, ‘Well, there is this which we have a difficulty with’, and someone else may say, ‘Well, I have a difficulty with such-and-such’, but the idea is that we “dwell together in unity”: we hold that so precious that it holds us together and we get help together. The thought is not dividing; it is holding together; it is unity. If these people belong to the assembly and I belong to the assembly, then when the Lord comes, we will all be together. I am not trying to dilute any concerns that any might have, but the thought is dwelling together in unity. It is like this precious oil. I am sure there is a reference to the Spirit in that, that the precious Spirit would work in our souls to hold us together with these things in our hearts. We are to value them and hold on to them.
Then it speaks about “the dew of Hermon that descendeth on the mountains of Zion”. That would be a refreshing thing. I think it has been said that the oil and the dew are always necessary to keep us together, to unite us, to refresh us. “For there hath Jehovah commanded the blessing, life for evermore.” It is a wonderful thing “life for evermore”; it is a link with eternal life. This is what God has in mind. How precious these things are, precious to God. He values them. They give Him pleasure and joy, and we are to find our pleasure and joy in them too, but we are also to value them. I was thinking about the crown jewels of Britain. You can pay some money and you can go and see them, but you cannot touch them. They are behind thick glass, and there are people guarding them. They may be dressed rather quaintly, but they are armed guards. These items are held precious. The guards do not own them, but they hold them precious and are prepared to defend them, with their lives I am sure, if necessary. We are to hold these things precious. The assembly’s knowledge of the love of Christ has been described by a servant of the Lord as a ‘precious crown’, CAC Letters p13. How we are to love and value these things and hold them as precious. Well, may we be encouraged to do so for the Lord’s name’s sake!
21st June 2014