Philippians 3: 20, 21
Exodus 27: 1, 2; 28: 9-12
Matthew 14: 23-31
Colossians 2: 6, 7
I would like to say something as to the personal power of the Lord Jesus. It is something that should stir every heart that loves Him. We thank God for an atmosphere such as this where we are in the presence of those who love Jesus, persons who have learned to trust Him, not only as to their future, but as to the present circumstances of life. It is a wonderful thing to have your confidence in One so great as Jesus. The young ones here will soon prove that there is nothing to compare with a known and experienced link with Him who is the Saviour. It relates not only to the present time but it will cover the future for you. It is a wonderful thing to pass through a world of confusion, with clarity of confidence in the Man of God’s choice.
It says in this epistle which Paul is writing, “for our commonwealth has its existence in the heavens”. Are you not glad that your portion is not earthly; are you not glad that your portion is not in this world of change; are you not glad that your portion relates to another scene entirely? How much time do you spend in relation to your heavenly inheritance? I know that life is busy; I know that demands are real, that righteousness must be met if we are to be rightly in God’s testimony, but our hope is not here. We need to be more interested in what is in that place where the Christ is, “from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour”. We are awaiting Him; He is awaiting the Father’s time. We are in a crucial time. The history of God’s testimony on earth stretches back behind us and we know something of it. The future is absolutely certain, and we know that the great climax of this day of testimony will be that assembling shout, and none who belongs to Christ will fail to answer to it. In a moment, “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15: 52), there will be a great change and it will be a permanent change; it will be a transfer from earth to heaven, and Christ will have what belongs to Him. Another has said that the rapture is not a rescue operation; the rapture is when Christ receives what is precious to His own heart from the scene of testimony. I trust you are part of that great answer that will yet come fully into view.
Then it says, “according to the working of the power which he has even to subdue all things to himself”: note that it is not the power that He will have, it is the power that He has. He has it already. Think of divine supremacy remaining in Christ in spite of the scene of evil that we see around us. He has the power already to subdue all things to Himself. In God’s ways, He waits, His grace active, securing men, taking them from bondage and freeing them for Himself and for His service. These great things are going on in the day in which we live, but remember the power that He already has is sufficient to “subdue all things to himself”. That power has already called the universe into being; how great Christ is! “By whom also he made the worlds” (Heb 1: 2). He not only made them, but He sustains them. The poet says:
And brings forth the host of heaven
by their numbers to display
The uncontested brilliance of His might!
That is the glory of Jesus, demonstrated creatorially in bringing things into being that had no existence previously. We have read in John’s gospel, “All things received being through him” (John 1: 3); not simply that they were made, but they “received being”. There is something in the created universe that finds its character and distinction from Christ. That same poet goes on to say:
But although His arm is power
in the infinite expanse,
That same unerring arm is in control
To determine and to govern
my every circumstance,
To claim supreme submission in my soul!
Robert G Fear (1944)
Where do you stand in relation to the power of Christ “to subdue all things to himself”? What a question that is. Would you not like to submit to Him fully and prove the blessing that that involves?
In Exodus 27 we have the brazen altar - in the teaching of it we have been helped to see that this conveys the power that Christ has towards men. It is “the altar of acacia-wood”, the humanity of Christ is referred to in that, the durable wood, the wood that could go through wilderness circumstances and sustain everything that was pleasing to God. It was overlaid with copper; there was a quality of manhood in Jesus that could sustain the fire of God’s judgement against evil and could also support everything that God required in this scene. It has often been said that according to the words of the Lord Jesus Himself, the altar was greater than the gift that was put upon it. He is able, as Man, to sustain all that was required for God in the scene of testimony. The altar was in the court, a public area where it could be seen, the cross of Christ was a not a secret matter, it was a public matter. Mr Raven spoke of the shame of it, the public shame of the cross of Calvary, vol 6 p298. The Lord Jesus was equal to sustain it.
I read this reference and I will leave you to ponder on it. It says, “its horns shall be of itself”; that is there was sufficient strength in Christ to bear everything that was put upon Him. What a Saviour, what a Man we have to speak to one another about, to stir our affections, to prompt our confidence. He was here devoted to God’s will. The ram in Genesis 22 was “caughtin the thicket by its horns” (v 13); He was held in relation to God’s will by what was in Himself. He not only did God’s will but He loved it. It was not only His rule, but it was His motive: that is why He came. He loved God’s will and, although it involved suffering, He had the strength to go through with what was necessary as to it.
In Luke 22 it says, “an angel appeared to him from heaven strengthening him” (v 43); that is the angel strengthened what was inherently there in the manhood of Jesus in view of the enormity of what was before Him - Calvary’s cross, death itself, He was equal to everything that was required. The personal power of Jesus, you might say it is God’s great resource in the whole universe.
In Exodus 28 we read about the garments of the priest - this involves His power, not with men, not in the scene of adversity, but His power with God. What comes out beautifully in this passage, in these two onyx stones, is that the names of the saints were there according to their birth. This is very precious; the names of the saints are written on the stones and then placed upon the shoulder pieces of the great High Priest. That means that all the strength of His manhood is now being used in the support of those who are in God’s testimony. Do you have part in the testimony of God? What a privilege it is. Do value it, do not hold it lightly. You could not acquire it for yourself; God has given it to you and, if rightly in the place that He has given, you are sustained by Christ in all His perfect manhood as He serves as our great High Priest, interceding towards God. It views the saints according to the affinity they have with one another, according to their birth, not according to their personal distinction. When we come to the breastplate the thought is different, the stones are different and the names are different, but on the shoulder pieces they are “according to their birth”; that is, we are of divine origin and Christ sustains us in the presence of God. I commend these two aspects. He is equal to what was required in the scene of testimony in suffering, and He is equal to sustain what is for God’s pleasure, even in these days as the saints’ names are borne in the presence of Jehovah. It has often been said that in Isaiah the government is upon one shoulder, chap 9: 6. Here two shoulders are employed; the full support of the manhood of Jesus is able to sustain the saints at the level of God’s thoughts about them.
Matthew 14 is a picture of the present circumstances of the testimony. It speaks of the Lord Jesus as Man in the days of His flesh. It says, “having dismissed the crowds”. I suppose that suggests that Israel’s time has not yet come. “He went up into the mountain apart to pray”. He is on the mountain top. Then it says, “And when even was come, he was alone there, but the ship” (and He had compelled the disciples into it) “was already in the middle of the sea tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary”. Is there anybody here feeling that as they have part in God’s testimony the wind is contrary? You will find that. You begin at school, early in your life, to bear testimony to your faith in Christ, and the wind is contrary. You go to work and you find it is just the same, the whole atmosphere, the whole course of things in this world is against God’s testimony. It is not a sudden squall here; it is a continued pressure, the devil being against what is pleasing to God, “the wind was contrary”. “But in the fourth watch of the night he went off to them, walking on the sea”. The Lord takes up a distinctive position here and what it brings out is the faith of Peter. I want to call attention to what Peter says: “Lord, if it be thou, command me to come to thee upon the waters” - firstly, “if it be thou”, the strength of his link with Christ personally is prominent; then he says, “command me to come to thee upon the waters”. The Lord’s answer is, “Come”. Peter comes into a position which, as far as man is concerned, is untenable. Have you ever tried to support God’s testimony in your own strength? Have you ever tried, even with the best intentions, to keep things in order in your little area of testimony, your local meeting? Have you ever tried to do that in your own strength? You will soon discover that human strength is of no avail. Peter finds himself upon the water, a position that is untenable apart from present faith and present contact with Christ. There is a lesson here; we cannot sustain the position in testimony ourselves, we cannot without the strength of His hand be maintained in the path of God’s will. The experience that Peter had is, “seeing the wind strong”; he had some impression at that moment of the force of the opposition that was against them. The Lord had met that opposition. We know that Jesus has been into death and He has bound the strong man, but the opposition may still show itself, and we may see the wind strong; “he cried out, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught hold of him” - a powerful expression. There was a degree of urgency about it, that Peter should know freshly, as he had known before, the touch of that powerful hand. Dear brother, dear sister, the only way to be in the testimony of God is in the strength of that hand. Not according to your knowledge. It is not according to your knowledge of scripture or of ministry or what has happened in days gone by, not according to your awareness of church history and the way that crises have been met. No; the way and the only way to be sustained in the testimony of God is by direct touch with Christ Himself. He “stretched out his hand and caught hold of him”. He says to him, “O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?” - Peter had a degree of courage which I suppose most of us lack. He was prepared to take that position of walking on the water, he was prepared to leave the boat, leave the area of human security. There was no boat, nothing to sustain him, and he soon discovered that it was very testing, but the present power of the hand of Christ was fully sufficient for his sustainment. We referred to it in the reading, our previous experience in itself cannot help us, but as held in relation to the Person and touch of Christ it forms a valuable connection and we can be sustained in the testimony in the power of His hand.
The word in Colossians, “As therefore ye have received the Christ”, brings us back to the beginning of our meeting this morning, “but as many as received him”, John 1: 12. I trust that everybody here has received Him, not only received teaching about Him. We are not simply to be well informed but to receive Him. To receive Him is to perceive the glory that belongs to Him and Him only. It is not to receive simply from Him the answer to your needs, although the Lord is the only One who is equal to that; He can lift the burdens. He is willing to do it, He is able to do it, allow Him, if He has not done it already to do it for you; He can set you free. But greater than that is receive Him, “As therefore ye have received the Christ, Jesus the Lord, walk in him”. I suppose Colossians helps us as to coming under His personal influence. The teaching of Romans is that He is Lord, the teaching of Corinthians extends that, the area of His authority must always be known. There is something, however, beyond the area of simple authority and this scripture suggests to me the need, and I feel it, of coming under the personal influence of one so great as He is. Not simply to do what I am told, but submission because He means so much to me, and because He has so much resource for my blessing and benefit. To come under His influence, even in these days in which we live, is great blessing. “As therefore ye have received the Christ, Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and assured in the faith” - thank God for the faith that is current, “this is the victory which has gotten the victory over the world, our faith”, 1 John 5: 4. That is the great system of teaching that we have embraced; what a privilege we have, what has been entrusted to us, given to us in the way of inheritance “which has gotten the victory over the world, our faith”. But the assurance of it comes as we hold all in relation to the Person of Christ.
May we be assured of His personal power: not only what it has done, not only what it will yet do, because what is alien, what is opposed will soon be annulled by “the appearing of his coming”, 2 Thess 2: 8. He is equal to meet every element of opposition, but in the meantime He is equal to nourish and sustain all that is for His pleasure in His people. I would like to know more of what it means to come, not only under the lordship of Christ, but under His headship, to know His influence, to know the touch of His love. We shall look for it in the morning as He comes amongst us. We come together and we break bread, the area of His authority is immediately recognised, but then He comes. Shall we be amenable to the touch of headship, shall we be ready in the great realm of privilege into which He alone can lead us?
May God bless the word.
5th May 2007