Malachi 3: 3; 10
John 21: 1-17
Phil 3: 3-10
I would like to say a few words about the great matters of deliverance, devotion and dedication. The Lord is working with us all, constantly, through a refining process so that we come into the gain and good of deliverance, and so that we might be here in devotion to Himself and dedicated to the service of God.
I read in Malachi to indicate how God is set upon this matter of refining His people. Malachi was written at a time when there had been great departure from God; and even the sacrifices that were made were not acceptable to God, and He was indicating in this chapter where we read that He was going to come into this matter. He was going to come in and bring about a change, and He was sending a messenger on ahead. I suppose, in a sense, it relates to the coming of Jesus into manhood. It also relates to the day yet to come when the Lord will come and everything will be purged and changed, and He will sit as a refiner. What a time that will be, when the Lord comes publicly and the purification takes place publicly. All the impurities in the whole system in the world will be dealt with by the Lord Himself, as a Refiner. This applies to us and that is why the prophecy of Malachi was written, to apply to the people of God, that they realise that God is looking for what is pure in His people. He is looking for a refined product that will answer to His desires and answer to His love. He anticipated that as a result of this refining they would “offer unto Jehovah an oblation in righteousness”. and while this applies to Israel in the context, I think we can make the application to ourselves. The refining process that goes on in our lives here, and in our circumstances too, is all calculated that there may be an answer to God in righteousness and an answer to His wondrous love.
I thought that what we read in John 21 showed the wondrous grace of the Lord Jesus in this process of refining. He knew what gold and silver there was in Peter and in Nathanael and in these persons that went out fishing. He knew what gold there was there as was the result of His own work in them, and there was precious silver. But they went off to fish and I suppose the gold and silver were just submerged for the time. It is like ourselves, you know; we take up an independent course of things and forget about the things that we have just had revealed to us. You see, the Lord had come in amongst them on two occasions already since His resurrection and in the first occasion He breathed into them. How intimate the Lord was with His own! Peter received the breathing of the Lord Jesus, and John did, and Nathanael did.
Thomas missed it. Oh, it is a sad thing to miss the Lord’s breathings, especially when He is seeking to imbue us with His own Spirit and that was what He was doing in John 20. He came in amongst them and said “Peace be to you” (v 21), and eight days later He came in again in wondrous grace, held out His hands to Thomas, and said, ”Bring your finger here and see my hands; and bring thy hand and put it into my side”, v 27. What grace on the part of the Lord Jesus. What refining was going on with Thomas and he came to it and confessed Jesus as, ”My Lord and my God”, v 28. But here, in spite of the fact that He had been manifested to them in these distinctive ways already, the Lord in grace was prepared to manifest Himself a third time. “This is already the third time”, John says. Mr James Taylor said this is an appendix to John’s gospel (vol 6 p92) - what a wonderful appendix, to see how the Lord in grace was prepared to come into this circumstance of independence on the part of this little party. It may sound legitimate - to go off to fish - and it may have seemed that way, but Peter had left that work at least three years before. He left the ships, the nets, everything. He and Andrew along with James and John had left it, so why go back to something you left?
I read in Philippians because Paul never went back to what he left. He left it off and he discarded it and he realised it was under the refining hand of the Lord that he had been delivered from it. Deliverance is a wonderful thing and, I believe, the Lord continues to work with us all the time to bring about more and more on the line of deliverance. We need to be delivered from sin, the world and self. I suppose that covers almost everything the Lord is working out in our lives, to be delivered from these things so that we might be devoted to Him.
I did not read on in John’s gospel because it is a long passage, but the Lord was working towards devotion in these men, devotion to Himself, especially devotion in Peter. A little further on from where we read He says, “Follow thou me”, v 22. That is the devotion the Lord is looking for, and think of the wondrous grace towards this apostle who was to be so important under the Spirit’s hand in just a few days, when the Spirit came. I suppose it was only about forty days? Peter went off to fish and led the rest with him but the Lord was prepared to work with him further to refine what was there and bring about devotion, and I would say to help him to see that he was delivered from self, and from the world, and from sin. So the word says the Lord was on the shore: “early morn already breaking, Jesus stood on the shore” - He knew where they were as He knows where we are all the time, which is something for the young people to remember. The Lord knows where we are all the time, in all our circumstances. You go off too school and He knows that, and when you come home from school, the same. You go off to business and He knows that, as He is watching us all the time. Think of the wondrous grace and glory of that, the Lord taking account of His people and the circumstances in which they are. He knows when we are independent too, like these disciples were, and sometimes He arranges it so we get nothing out of it. That is what He did here. Here they were casting the net over the side of the ship, over and over, all night long and nothing happened. Not one fish in the net! How often He has to do that with us, to show us that He is in charge and we must depend on Him. There He was on the shore asking “have ye anything to eat?”, and they had to say “No”, nothing to eat. He had asked them that when He came in amongst them according to Luke 24, ”Have ye anything here to eat?” and they had something, “part of a broiled fish and of a honeycomb” (v 41, 42), and so they could give Him something. The Lord is always looking for some answer to His own desires from us, but here they had nothing. How solemn that is! Someone has said 'all negatives, night, nothing and no'. How they were tested but all this is in view of their refining. Jesus was refining His own and John recognised that it was the Lord. He was the one who had leaned on the breast of Jesus, the one who had been the most intimate with Jesus. He was the one who could immediately detect that this had to be the Lord. You might say it was so simple, they should have all known it. The Lord said “Cast the net at the right side” and it became evident immediately that the fish had gone right into the net. It had to be the Lord, as it is the very thing that had happened in Luke 5, when Peter was asked to draw right out into the deep. The very same thing! How the Lord is prepared to repeat Himself in His grace towards us so that we eventually get the point, eventually realise who we have to do with. How beautiful that is! So John realised it immediately. It seems that Peter had to be told that it was the Lord. Thank God we have brethren who sometimes remind us that we have to do with the Lord and that the Lord is speaking to us. That is what John did - what a fine service that was. Peter realised how naked he was. It is another negative you see, ‘night’ ‘nothing’ ‘naked’ all these ‘n’s’ in the presence of the Lord. When they come to the shore the Lord does not rebuke them. He says simply, “Come and dine”. What grace, what wondrous grace!
What I want to lead onto is the probing of Peter. They were all there and they all got the gain of the probing of Peter. The rest of them did not go home before Peter was probed. They were all there, and I suppose it was in view of Peter particularly but also the company because everyone was there, to get the gain of how the Lord was handling matters and refining His work in this beloved apostle Peter. So he is probed concerning his love and attachment to Christ three times over. The third time Peter is grieved about it and I suppose I would have been too, but the Lord keeps on. He keeps on until He gets this commitment from Peter, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I am attached to thee”. We have often been reminded of the way Peter finally spoke. The word ‘knowest’ indicated that Peter realised that the Lord had a different kind of knowledge of him in this third time as Jesus is probing him. It was sufficient; now the Lord can tell him what is going to transpire in the day to come when he is old - is that not fine? Peter has the knowledge from the Lord Jesus of what would transpire at His death when he would glorify God in his death. How fine that is! But in the meantime He says, “Follow thou me”. The Lord is working toward that end with all of us - is He not? - devotion to follow Him; and how often we need the refining process to probe the depths of our attachment to Christ. How deep is my attachment to Christ? How firmly is my heart linked with the Lord Jesus? It is always a test, is it not? I think it is quite often a test that the Lord brings us in our circumstances and in our affairs, or wherever we feel the Lord probing us. It may be in the meetings when we are together, but it is all in view of bringing to light the silver and the gold. They are put there by His own work. What a work had been done in Peter already, what a work had been done in John, what a work had been done in Nathanael and these others that are mentioned here, Thomas called Didymus, and the two sons of Zebedee (that is James and John) and two other disciples. We can put ourselves in there, two others - I suppose I would have gone with them too if I had been there, as that is my inclination - to do things with other people. There are two others, anyway, and they are all being refined by the Lord Jesus. The silver and the gold were there and it was soon going to be apparent that all the silver and the gold on the earth were in these disciples and the others that were with them in the upper room. That is where the gold and silver were, that the Lord had been refining both during His life and through death and resurrection.
Well, I read about Paul because I think he illustrates so fully the results the Lord is getting at in this matter of refining. He indicates what deliverance had taken place with him. If you read the epistles that Peter wrote you can see what deliverance had come about with him. You can see the devotion that was there with him, too, in writing those two epistles. What dedication he had to Christ as a result of what the Lord had been doing in his soul, working out in his soul, this refining process. But Paul expresses it in relation to this great matter of deliverance so beautifully in Philippians 3. He says he had had his trust in certain things and in that he indicates that he was, you might say, head and shoulders above so many even among the Jews, and even blameless as to the law. Think of that! A most remarkable word to say that but I suppose it was true - blameless as he never contravened the law at all. Yet he persecuted the assembly and he says that. But he says “what things were gain to me these I counted, on account of Christ, loss”. That is deliverance. It is wonderful to be delivered from the things you might take the greatest pride in. You might have the most accomplishments and natural abilities, and so on - well, discard them! Discard them and count them loss on account of Christ. I did not read the whole chapter - wonderful chapter that it is because it goes on to devotion. Deliverance first, and then he says, “surely I account also all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ”. What wonderful devotion on the part of the apostle. No wonder the Lord was prepared to reveal such wonderful things to him concerning the truth of the assembly, concerning the worship of God, concerning the things we have been conversing about in the readings, things that are available to us now. Here is a man fully delivered from sin, from the world, from self, and devoted to Christ. He goes on to speak about this great matter of having fellowship. He says, “to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if any way I arrive at the resurrection from among the dead”, v 10, 11. That is dedication. What dedication in the soul of this beloved apostle, dedicated to reaching in the fullest extent the things available through the resurrection of Jesus. Then he goes on to admonish others to follow him, to be followers of himself, and he says (I did not read all this but it is very important), “I pursue, if also I may get possession of it”, v 12. You say, ‘Did he not have possession already?’ Well, he indicates there is still more to reach out for, more to be devoted about, more to dedicate himself to and then he says, “Brethren, I do not count to have got possession myself; but one thing - forgetting the things behind, and stretching out to the things before, I pursue”, v 13. What a wonderful word that is to ‘pursue’, and as you read on in this chapter, he encourages us to pursue. How much there is to pursue in Christianity. Paul speaks that way to Timothy. He says in the first epistle there are certain things to pursue, and in the second epistle he says it again. He says in the second epistle, “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart”. 2 Tim 2: 22. That means we can do that jointly together, pursuing those things: righteousness, faith, love and peace. Pursue them! Mr Taylor said pursue faith because it may get away from you (vol 81 p382), and that is what Paul was doing here. He says “I pursue, looking towards the goal”, v 14. What a goal it is: “for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus.” Then he puts it on us. Someone asked about this word ‘perfect’. “As many therefore as are perfect”, v 15. Paul has in mind full grown persons to be devoted like himself, delivered, and devoted to Christ; and he says, “As many therefore as are perfect, let us be thus minded”. It is remarkable word Paul uses - minded - he uses that in Corinthians too, the word minded. Your mind is a faculty, but he says minded, which means the bent of your mind is this, “and if ye are any otherwise minded, this also God shall reveal to you. But whereto we have attained, let us walk in the same steps. Be imitators all together of me, brethren, and fix your eyes on those walking thus as you have us for a model”, v 17. It is a wonderful thing that a man was delivered like he was from sin, the world, and self, devoted to Christ, maintaining that he had not really fully reached the prize, that he was still pursuing, stretching out and pursuing. Yet he can say, ‘Be imitators of me. That is what I am doing and you do the same’. What a devoted man he was, what a refined believer Paul was. Think about how the Lord worked to refine His apostles. No doubt in each individual case the Lord worked personally with each one to bring about the silver and gold that would be so valuable in the testimony. Paul came later, and the Lord was still continuing to work from on high and that is what He is doing now. He is not here with us as He was with the twelve; He worked with them personally, right while He was here, refining what was here for God. But now He has gone on high and Paul is a perfect example of the way the Lord can work from on high to bring about a refined product where there is gold and silver for His glory and praise.
I trust that we might be encouraged, dear brethren, to pursue and walk in the same steps, be imitators of persons like Paul, be formed by the refining process that comes into our lives and see it in others, see it in those persons there on the shore with Jesus, as they could see what the Lord was doing with Peter. We can see it in others, can we not? Our dear brethren are going through deep exercise, and discipline. It is a refining process the Lord is working out. You say, ‘Well, can I get the good of that for myself, what the Lord is doing with so and so?’. Let me take it to myself and see how the Lord is seeking to bring out this precious silver and gold that will be for His glory and will be here when He comes. This chapter goes on to His coming, and we await the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. It says “for our commonwealth has its existence in the heavens, from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory, according to the working of the power which he has even to subdue all things to himself”, v 20, 21. That is what we are all looking on to and what a refined product there will be in the assembly when the Lord comes. Is that not wonderful, think of that! The saints all having been through the refining activities of the Holy Spirit here and the Lord looking from on high, to refine the gold and silver in the souls of the saints, the work of God in its lustre and glory for His own praise when He comes.
May the Lord bless the word.
8th June 2008