John 4: 36-38; 5: 17 (from ‘My Father’)
2 Timothy 1: 12-18; 2: 1-6
I think it is evident from what the Lord Jesus says in the first passage we read that we could think of ourselves as reapers. I would like us just to consider for a little what it is that we might be reaping; but also, maybe before that, just to review who did the sowing and how it was done. What I would like to convey, beloved, is that the sowers worked for you, and I would like you to consider what they paid for the harvest that you can reap.
The Lord Jesus says in this passage that “others have laboured”, and He says that they have laboured that we might gather fruit unto life eternal, and wages also. What grace of God it is that we are simply sent, as it were - or given the opportunity - to gather what others have sown, and that God would reward us for doing it. I suggest that the “others” who sowed that He refers to here would include the men of God through whom He spoke in the chapters and books of the Old Testament, faithful men in the line of faith. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews goes over these men, not all of them named, and it brings out how much they suffered for their faith. Their mission was to minister the word of God to the people of God. Often they were not appreciated or accepted but they laid down the foundation, hope and expectation for godly souls. They spoke of the day of Christ‘s coming; they spoke of His glory; they spoke of the day when God would have His rights on the earth. They spoke of a day when His people would be at peace and enjoying what God had promised and vouchsafed to them. They spoke in faithfulness and power and many of them suffered for it. Hebrews 11 goes over some of the sufferings that they bore.
What chapter 5 of this gospel brings out, however, is that there were greater workmen even than they, “My Father worketh hitherto and I work”. The creation was a great work of power by God, a labour, in fact, it is spoken of, and God did it with an object in view that He might rest, and that He might rest in man. It has not worked out like that yet and almost from the very beginning - if I may say so reverently - God has had to become a worker. Think of the ways of God down now nearly six thousand years: “My Father worketh”. As I say, God had looked forward in the creation to a place of rest, a place of communion, a place of peace and quietness in which He could share precious things with the head of His creation, man. But, as He says, “thou hast made me to toil with thy sins”, Is 43: 24. Think of the ways of God, how long they have gone on, not work to repair any defects in what He Himself has done, not work to shore up the deficiencies of His handiwork in creation or to make it more sustainable or anything of that sort, but working with man that he might not perish as a consequence of his own sin. What a work it has been for God to undertake! How long He has applied Himself to it! You are one of the subjects of it. He has worked for you. He has worked in you. What a work is the work of God in relation to those things! He has chosen to take a moral way with those who come to know Him, entering into all their exercises, all their sorrows, all the things they pass through; and guiding and leading them that they might arrive each one of them at His end. The detail of God’s work Is wonderful. And then consider that it is not simply to produce millions and millions of people exactly the same, but every one different, all wrought by God to a common pattern, but every one differing. This is the work of God, and, all against the background of a fallen condition, over which God has triumphed in His own patient toil.
And then the Lord Jesus says, “and I work”. What a Son He was! Think of Him taking up His Father’s work! He says, “did ye not know that I ought to be occupied in my Father’s business?”, Luke 2: 49. What a business it was, shedding light where darkness prevailed, bringing in answers to questions that no-one else knew, reaching out after lost and weary souls, touching the needs and conditions of bodies and spirits and minds ravaged by sin, bringing in the love and compassion of God in His healing touch, doing His Father’s work! And not only, you might say, engaged in the same work as His Father, but taking up work that the Father had given Him to do. He says, “I must work the works of him that has sent me while it is day”, John 9: 4. He also says, “for the works which the Father has given me that I should complete them”, John 5: 36. We can think of Him taking up the work of God, what He had been charged to do, the great sacrificial work that the Lord Jesus has taken up at the behest of the Father! What a work it is! How lightly the detail is touched in this verse - “I work”! But let us consider what the Lord Jesus did! He committed Himself to a life of service that brought Him to death itself in the darkest, most agonising circumstances, and He went that way, beloved, because it was His Father‘s will: “that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father has commanded me, thus I do”, John 14: 31. What a workman! He did it for you. Without that work where would you be? Lost! Consider this mighty Saviour working for you, working that you might receive wages and gather fruit unto life eternal. What a prospect, beloved, what a prospect! What a sacrifice He made! The Lord Jesus went that way, that way of self-denial, that way of total devotion, irrevocable sacrifice, a commitment of His life itself. Why? So that you might receive the wages and gather fruit unto life eternal. Beloved, what a reward! Think of that - He worked; you reap. Beloved, these things should affect us very, very deeply. As I have said before, the mightiest transaction that ever took place in the history of this universe was done for you. You may gather the fruits of it unto life eternal. It is something you can enjoy now, relationships together with others who have been blessed as served in the same way, and a relationship with God outside all the bondage and toil of the very sphere in which He worked.
Now others have entered into that labour, the apostles. The Lord Jesus speaks of them in chapter 4. How they worked to spread the gospel! The history of the gospel may be hard to trace in its fulness in the annals of this world, but what a mighty work it was! My understanding is that the gospel spread east and west in the earliest days, God apparently allowing false religions in the east, but the gospel spreading in His mercy in this direction through the energy and sacrifice of those who carried it to us. We should think of them. What a work it was! Paul says, “I have laboured more abundantly than they all”, (1 Cor 15: 10), the apostle who was coming this way. Think of that! What greatness was accomplished in the outgoing of the gospel! Paul stretched himself, he wanted to go further, his ambitions, you might say, in relation to the preaching, lay beyond even what he ever reached. He speaks of himself stretching out with the whole counsel of God. It was not just some elementary introduction to a basic outline of the gospel, but announcing the kingdom of God. He says, “I have not shrunk from announcing to you all the counsel of God”, (Acts 20: 27). That was people like us introduced into the blessings of God’s greatest and most treasured thoughts.
It is another aspect of God’s work - we referred to it in the reading -– that God has prepared things. They have waited for their manifestation until the Lord Jesus was glorified, but now prepared things have been unfolded. They were hidden, it says, but have now been made manifest through the preaching of the gospel and the revelation of the mystery (Rom 16: 25, 26), “the unsearchable riches of the Christ”, Eph 3: 8. We can see the fulness of it, the greatness of what God has prepared, “Things which eye has not seen, and ear not heard … which God has prepared for them that love him, but God has revealed to us by his Spirit”, 1 Cor 2: 9, 10. Think of the fulness and greatness of the gospel! He says, “I ...have “fully preached the glad tidings of the Christ”, Rom 15: 19. Beloved, what has come to us is indeed abundance, and it is there for us to reap. We are not just to have the theory of it or the terms of it, but to have life eternal, fruit from it: “others have laboured, and ye have entered into their labours”.
Now, Paul says in the epistle to Timothy that “all who are in Asia … have turned away from me”. The frontier, if we might so speak of it, along which he had worked, was closing; people were despising and turning away from the full preaching that Paul had announced. What a solemn day that was! Has all that labour been lost because people turned away? Well, there are two answers to that question in the passage we have read in Timothy. Firstly, Paul entrusted a deposit to the Lord. He says, “he is able to keep for that day the deposit I have entrusted to him”. The blessedness and fulness of what Paul preached is safely secured. In that sense, he will never have what he ministered taken away. The value of it, the preciousness of it, is fully recognised by God. Paul says that he had entrusted it to Him “for that day”. I believe he is looking beyond the day of departure. He is looking towards the day of recovery and revival. How wonderful that is! Paul was contemplating the departure that was coming in, but his desires lay beyond that. He might well say that Phygellus and Hermogenes have given up. But the truth belongs to those who may follow later on. It belongs, beloved, to you; and it is there intact, all of it, the fulness of it, the greatness of it. It is there for you to inherit and enter into.
But then Paul also says to Timothy, “Keep, by the Holy Spirit which dwells in us, the good deposit entrusted”. You might think that it is well if the Lord is keeping all of this safe, but what about you? Could you say you are keeping it safe? Is it safe in your hands? Is it safe in your generation? Is it safe in the circle where you find your company? Is it safe in the circle where you find your friendships? Timothy had “the good deposit entrusted;”, how precious it is! Just consider the way people have worked that it might be yours. I just mention this because this keeps coming back to me. I had occasion to go to Amersham in Buckinghamshire. For some reason, I chose to walk to my work there across the fields which were covered in snow, and in the middle of a field there is a stone with the names of seven men who were martyred in 1521 because they wanted the liberty to worship without a priest and to read a Bible in their own language. It says of two of them that their children were forced to light the flames. You might well ask, ’How barbaric is that?’. These are the people who laboured. These are the people whose harvest we reap, and we should think of it! I suppose everyone here owns a Bible. Maybe sometimes we casually put our Bible on the floor. But consider, beloved, that even the fact that you have a Bible in your own language is something for which people have paid a terrible price; and the liberty of which we spoke in the reading to worship God by the Spirit without the intervention of a priest is something for which people have laid down their lives. What a wonderful thing that is!
I was going to say also in relation to the harvest, that Peter was a labourer, but he also knew what it was to enter into the labour of others. We find him on the day of Pentecost preaching to three thousand people. Were they touched only by Peter’s preaching or were they a harvest of what God had already sown? What a fruit it was coming to light from the ministry of Jesus. The world might say that He had gone and not seen it, but here it is coming to light when the gospel was preached. Was Peter sowing? No, Peter was reaping, and he was reaping what others had sowed. We need to remember in all these things that the labour has been on the part of others, whether it was God Himself or the Lord Jesus, or the twelve apostles, or Paul, or the martyrs, or whoever it was. “Others have laboured”, the Lord says, and when we enter into their labours, it is that we might gather the fruit. In God’s wonderful grace it is the reapers who are paid. How wonderful that God should speak to us in that way, that we should reap receive wages and gather fruit unto life eternal.
Well, these things come down to the time in which we are. As we have been going over in the reading, there have been those who have served us faithfully in more recent times. There have been those who have served to recover what we now enjoy. There have been those who have served in our own day to recover it from almost complete disaster. They have served faithfully and sacrificially. For most of them, their service is complete, and they are now with Christ. Their deposit has been entrusted to us, and the question I would simply like to ask - and then perhaps I am finished as I do not have much more to say: are we keeping “the good deposit entrusted”? Is it safe with us? I would say to the young people: beloved, there will be a time maybe if the Lord tarries, and does not come when another generation that you rely on now will be gone as well: will it still be safe, will you hold it in trust? Do you value these things? Are they going to be yours? Are they going to be another generation’s, the ones coming after you? Paul says, “these entrust to faithful men, such as shall be competent to instruct others also”. I think Paul in a sense was looking in two directions. He was thinking first about Timothy spreading the gospel out. Paul never gave up the idea that the gospel was still spreading. What a work was entrusted to Timothy when everyone is turning away. The gospel had still got to be spread, and if people did not want it here, it was to be taken somewhere else. Timothy was to find faithful men; and entrust it to them. Some of them, as I say, have been people from these very islands, people to whom the truth has been entrusted. And then Paul would look down through the generations, fathers entrusting to sons, elders entrusting to those who were younger. It is by way of that faithful process that the truth we enjoy, that we have been speaking of together, has come down to us; and the obligations of which Paul speaks to Timothy here remain the basis on which they will be held livingly now and will continue until the Lord comes. Beloved, what a day of harvest that will be! The Lord waits for His harvest. What a time it will be when the Lord comes. He is looking for something in testimony on the earth when He comes, something living, something responsive. What a precious harvest those are who are with Christ, but then there are to be “we, the living”, 1 Thess 4: 17. How precious it will be to Christ, when He returns on that quickly coming day, to find a generation of those who can be said to be among the living, morally and spiritually as well as physically. Well, beloved, you live by eating the fruit of life eternal, and you live, I believe, by committing yourself to what the Father Himself has done, and what the Lord Jesus Himself has done; and which countless others, inspired by that great work, have committed themselves to.
I do not feel ashamed, beloved, in calling on an occasion like this for committal. I believe it is what the Lord is looking for. We gather for the Supper tomorrow - I say this often I know, and it affects me when I come to the Supper - and there on the table at the Supper are the tokens of what the greatest Man who ever lived has done. He made an irrevocable committal for me and it is to that that I put my hand when I break bread. I have not always been true. I have not always been in the good of it, but, beloved, that is what I am committed to and that is what I seek the help of God’s Spirit to be true to.
May He bless the word!
6th February 2010