David J Wright
John 11: 32-35
Luke 22: 54-62
Acts 20: 28-31, 36-38
2 Timothy 1: 3-5
Nehemiah 1: 1-4 (to “of the heavens”)
There is a Psalm that speaks about tears that go into God’s bottle: “put my tears into thy bottle”, Ps 56: 8. I have read these scriptures because I think they give us varying circumstances in which tears were shed which went into God’s bottle. The present time is a time of tears. There is soon coming a day when they will not exist anymore. What a thing to look forward to. Tears belong to the present time. I am not speaking of sentimental tears, but of tears of true feeling as coming from the presence of God. We do not have to travel long along life’s journey before we experience something of sorrow.
In John 11 you have the tears of Mary and the tears of the Jews, and Jesus being affected by them, His own tears. What a comfort it is that the Lord Jesus remains a Man with the feelings of a man.
For ‘tis in grief that Thou dost draw so near;
Dost touch Thy people in Thine own sweet way,
And turn their night of weeping into day.
Our brethren recently bereaved are experiencing times of sorrow, because it is right to feel the breaking of nature’s ties. What this chapter brings out is that, if a void comes in as it does in the time of breaking of nature’s ties, the Lord intends to fill that void. He was One that loved Bethany and those in it, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. It was a place where He found refreshment. The psalm says, “He shall drink of the brook in the way”, (Ps 110: 7); that reflects something of His experiences at Bethany. The Lord did not find much sympathy in His pathway here. He was affected by the intrusion of death into a family that He loved. It says, “Jesus therefore, when he saw her weeping” - that is Mary - “and the Jews who came with her weeping, was deeply moved in spirit”, bringing out the reality of the manhood of Jesus. He says, “Where have you put him? They say to him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept”. It is the shortest verse in the Bible, but it stands out in its distinction; and I am sure that there are very many persons in this room who have experienced the sympathies of the Lord Jesus in times of sorrow. These are tears that went into God’s bottle. He knows them; we might be affected by the sorrows that have come in in recent years, your own family might be affected, but the Lord Jesus knows, and He would feelingly enter into your sorrow. May every one of us prove what it is, so as to develop us and deepen us in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus, and to form us in features like Him.
In Luke 22 there are very different circumstances. I would draw attention to the tears of repentance in Peter. Peter was one who undoubtedly loved the Lord but he allowed himself to get into circumstances in which he could not stand. It is very solemn to think that he was in a company of persons who were showing hatred to the Lord Jesus. I do not know about you, but I would have to say that I have allowed myself to get into circumstances like these. Peter followed afar off; how we need to follow close to our Lord Jesus. Peter of course had to learn a lesson here, that he could not do things in his own strength or confidence. If you find yourself in company with persons who hate Christ, your only way out is to confess His Name. “The name of Jehovah is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe”, Prov 18: 10. He is able to deliver you and give you power to take the initiative in confessing the Name of the One you love. Peter denied the Lord three times. The Lord had said to him, “I have besought for thee that thy faith fail not”, Luke 22: 32. Think of the intercessory service of Christ for each one of us. It was not that Peter would not fail, but that his faith would not fail. If your faith fails, you have no object for your affections and you are set adrift; and you just drift along. The Lord had confidence that Peter would be restored; He knew what was in Peter. He says, “when once thou hast been restored, confirm thy brethren”. As soon as Peter denied Him three times, “the cock crew. And the Lord, turning round, looked at Peter”. That was enough, just a look. Peter had a tender conscience.
We referred earlier in the day to the importance of keeping short accounts with God. We have not arrived at perfection and any of us are liable to give way to the flesh at any time; it just explodes. What I would desire for myself, beloved brethren - and maybe you are exercised too - is that, if it does happen, my conscience is tender enough to recognise it and judge it. That is what Peter did, grievous though his failure was. Peter remembered the word of the Lord, “the cock shall not crow to-day before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me” (v 34); that is exactly what happened. “Peter going forth without wept bitterly”; they were tears of repentance, and therefore went into God’s bottle.
There is something very attractive about the recovery of a soul. I can remember when I was young, an assembly meeting was called for a brother and we all expected that he would need to be withdrawn from; but God worked, and he repented, and there was something morally attractive about it. That brother remained in fellowship to his dying day. After this experience Peter was given his commission. The Lord probes him about his love, but the Lord knew what love was there. He says to him, “Feed my lambs”, “Shepherd my sheep” and “Feed my sheep” (John 21: 15, 16 and 17); that was his commission. Peter would have taken note of the fact of that little word “my” every time. He would have a very firm impression that these sheep and these lambs were not his; they were the Lord’s. In his epistle 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. The Lord did not change His mind about Peter after this experience; it was Peter who first preached in the dispensation which we are in, after the Spirit had come, Acts 2. The remarkable thing about that preaching is that it is the same gospel that is preached in 2016. He did not have a script to go by, but he spoke about repentance; that is essential to the gospel message. And he spoke about the One who is in heaven, “God has made him, this Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ”, Acts 2: 36. He was not ashamed of that Galilæan accent resounding through the streets of Jerusalem, in the very place where our Lord was crucified a few weeks earlier. He spoke boldly in the power of the Spirit as to the One he loved. That was the result of the tears of repentance going into God’s bottle.
In Acts 20 we have another setting. We have Paul’s tears and we have the Ephesians’ tears at the end of the chapter. At the beginning of the chapter we have Paul’s love towards those disciples: “Paul having called the disciples to him and embraced them”, v 1. That represented the love of the Lord Jesus to them. At the end of the chapter, you get the affections of the Ephesians who embraced Paul. It shows the place Paul had in their affections and reflects the love of the brethren for the Lord. There was a climax reached in Acts 20. You get the practical expression of what we were speaking of in the reading; that is, first love. Paul also saw the dangers as he was about to pass off the scene and he felt them; dangers from outside, and dangers from within: “Wherefore watch, remembering that for three years, night and day, I ceased not admonishing each one of you with tears”. No wonder he had a place in their affections. He admonished, but he admonished with tears. We have been occupied with Joseph’s tears. Who was it that detained Simeon in prison? It was a weeping Joseph. Paul felt for the saints: “from among your own selves shall rise up men speaking perverted things to draw away the disciples after them”, and also, “For I know this, that there will come in amongst you after my departure grievous wolves, not sparing the flock”. It is clear it was painful to Paul to think of the flock scattered. He would rally them to Christ; he would instil Christ in their affections. He could only commit them to the grace of God on his departure, but he could look upon what he had secured in Ephesus. We know that they fell from their first love. Do you think the Lord felt that fall from first love? I think He did. If your love for the Lord Jesus is not as strong as it was last year, He feels it. May we be maintained in affection for the Lord Jesus, the One who has shed His precious blood. At the end of the chapter “they all wept sore; and falling upon the neck of Paul they ardently kissed him, specially pained by the word which he had said, that they would no more see his face”. What an expression of Christ must have been in the face of Paul, and how he had found a place in their affections by the way he served them for three years, night and day. What devotion that was, devotion to his Master and devotion to those in whom God had wrought; the flock. I think the tears in this chapter were again tears that went into God’s bottle.
I come to Timothy; Paul says to him, “remembering thy tears”. They obviously left an impression upon Paul to such an extent that he felt that he could commit to Timothy what he had laboured for in his ministry. Timothy is a man for the last days. In another scripture, Paul says, “I have no one likeminded who will care with genuine feeling how ye get on”, Phil 2: 20. Things were safe, therefore, in the hands of such a man as Timothy, of whom he says, “who shall put you in mind of my ways as they are in Christ”, 1 Cor 4: 17. It was not only Paul’s doctrine, but what Paul was; Timothy was able to convey something of that to the saints. Now we know that at the present time the doctrine and teaching of Paul is under attack, and it has been largely departed from. It will involve tears to maintain it, beloved brethren. Paul felt that he could entrust things to Timothy. He says, “the things that thou hast heard of me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, such as shall be competent to instruct others also”, 2 Tim 2: 2. Timothy was faithful and he was beloved. In our natural minds we do not often put those two things together, but he was faithful and beloved; beloved by Paul. Timothy had a good mother and a good grandmother; the unfeigned faith in them was seen in Timothy as well. Nothing is said about Timothy’s natural father here, but his spiritual father was Paul. Everything he had learned he had from him, and he was a feeling man. He had picked up not only the doctrine of Paul, but also the feeling that lay behind his teaching; “remembering thy tears”, they were tears that went into God’s bottle. Timothy was one who could carry the responsibility of maintaining what came in through Paul. It must have broken Paul’s heart to write in this epistle: “all who are in Asia … have turned away from me”, chap 1: 15. He does not say it was from Christianity, but from Paul. Timothy would have felt that. Paul would have felt it, but Paul went out as a true overcomer: “I have combated the good combat, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”, chap 4: 7. He went out in triumph even in spite of the public breakdown and ruin that has come to mark the profession, and the departure from what Paul had ministered. There were some such as Timothy that he could entrust things to because Timothy was a man of feeling.
In Nehemiah, there is another setting. We referred in the reading to the passage in the gospels where the Lord Jesus looked upon Jerusalem and said, “how often would I have gathered thy children as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”, Matt 23: 37. He shed tears over it; Jerusalem speaks of God’s chief interest on earth. Nehemiah was a man who was deeply affected by the state of things in Jerusalem. I wonder whether I feel the unfaithfulness publicly of what bears the name of Christ. Many divisions have come in since what we speak of as the time of recovery to the truth; how the Lord feels that! I wonder whether I feel it sufficiently. The more I feel things with God the more He has a basis to work. Nehemiah enquired of his brethren as to those “who were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, Those who remain, that are left of the captivity there in the province, are in great affliction and reproach; and the wall of Jerusalem is in ruins, and its gates are burned with fire”. What was the reaction of Nehemiah to that? “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat and wept, and mourned for days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of the heavens”. What depth of feeling! These were tears too that went into God’s bottle. I plead that we may feel more with God in relation to the present state of things. It was an individual exercise with Nehemiah to start with; he carried the exercises, saying, “I consulted with myself” Neh 5: 7. What you see in Nehemiah is what God can do through one man. He brought in influence which raised exercise with others and he oversaw things with such energy, spiritual energy, so that the persons stood shoulder to shoulder with a sword in one hand and worked with the other, chap 4: 17. Are you and I committed to that? You may point to the public breakdown and ruin. But remember that the Lord’s word to Philadelphia in Revelation 3 looks forward to something being preserved, a remnant: things that marked the original have come through. Things will never return to the public pristine glory of the church; but is there a desire and a heart to re-build the wall? The gates, the valley gate, the dung gate, suggest lowliness and self-judgment whereby we can maintain in our measure what is due to the Lord. Nehemiah felt things; he wept. They were tears that went into God’s bottle.
I just desire that these few words might be an encouragement to you in a day of sorrow, a day of tears. It will involve tears to maintain things according to the Lord’s pleasure, but may these few thoughts be an encouragement to us all to have part in them, for His Name’s sake.
9th July 2016