Norman J Henry
1 Timothy 1: 14-17
Acts 20: 18-21
Ephesians 2: 11-22
What impressed me today is that God is able to reconcile persons to Himself, and also He is able to reconcile persons together. It is amazing that God is able to do this. The basis of it is the Person of the Lord Jesus and His work. The preaching according to Paul here was to Jew and Gentile; he preached to both. It refers to “ye who once were afar off are become nigh”. Those that were afar off were the nations and those that were near were the Jews. He preached to both, the same glad tidings. God is looking for persons to be reconciled to Himself, and also for reconciliation between persons. That is the gospel; that is my message for you today. Persons who are not reconciled together have not reached the end of the gospel. Through the wonderful, powerful ability of God, He can reconcile us by what was done in Christ. Our responsibility is to lay hold on that work in faith.
It says in Ephesians, “that he … might reconcile both in one body to God by the cross”; - that was in Christ - “having by it slain the enmity”. What enmity exists in this world: religious enmity; it corrupts the world, it makes it violent. Think of the violence in the world today: you hardly read a newspaper without some religious hatred, violence, murder; it pervades the world. It started in Cain; that is where it started, Gen 4: 3-7. It flowed out of an offering to God, which was from the ground; it was in a religious setting. Abel and Cain offered to God. You might say that was religious, that both were fine. One took from the firstlings of his flock, recognising that the coats of skin were on Adam and Eve; so death stands in the way to God, and Abel laid hold of that. But “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground” which was cursed, and what rose up in his heart was because God had not looked on him and his offering: so he slew his brother. That pervades this world; we are in the Cain world. That Cain world crucified my Saviour. That is what happened; the hand of a murderer took Christ and nailed Him to the cross. Satan has the most enormous history, and he is able to do what he can to make you insensitive as to your state before God. He blinds you; he blinds men today about their actual state in the eye of God. I want to tell you, God knows it; you might be blinded but God is not.
The verses in Timothy struck me: the apostle refers to himself when he says, “the grace of the Lord surpassingly over-abounded with faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus. Faithful is the word, and worthy of all acceptation”. He comes to the point, and says, “Now to the King of the ages, the incorruptible”; how could an incorruptible God take up sin in the creature? You think of it: “to … the incorruptible, invisible, only God, honour and glory to the age of ages. Amen”. I would say, “Amen” to it. For such a God, an incorruptible, invisible God, is so determined in His desire for the sinner to be saved, to be separated from his sins. He points to the cross; that is where you can be separated from your sins; that is where the Saviour suffered for sins.
Ephesians deals with the greatest questions in the universe. It begins with what is in the heart of God, when there is nothing to draw His love out. It refers to “God, being rich in mercy” (Eph 2: 4), and what He did for Himself. Where we read it comes down to what He is doing for you and me; and for Gentile and Jew, to reconcile them and bring them into a company. It was never God’s mind to leave you as an individual. There is no scripture that tells you that those who go to hell will have company there. I do not believe they will, and if you found company there it would be the most awful company you could ever get, with consciences being restless eternally; under conviction of sin, without release: what a horror to spend even a moment there! I know in my own life, a moment of conviction of sin brought me to my knees, and every brother and sister in this room that has it can say 'Amen' to that: that they were under the conviction of sin; and where can you get release? Will you get it in the world? Never. They do not know how to address the matter. Will the newspapers help you? They do not know how to address it. The blessed incorruptible invisible God has got the solution; it is in the work of the blessed Lord Jesus that you can be delivered from sin. Sin has a terrible domain. Satan holds men in it, in bondage and the fear of death; he wields that power, friend, and he holds men in bondage. The incorruptible, invisible, only God has the answer and that answer is in Jesus. What a Person He is.
Solomon was known for his intelligence; he could have spoken about anything creational. Job too had an amazing knowledge of the creation. With the Lord Jesus it is His perfection, His obedience to His Father's will, His simplicity; the simplest Person to draw near to is the Lord Jesus, the image of God. That is what He is; the invisible God come into manhood. God is a Spirit, but in Christ He came in in manhood to express Himself and draw near to man. God came into manhood Himself; “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us”, John 1: 14. There was and is a circle of persons who appreciate it.
The apostle says, “But for this reason mercy was shown me, that in me, the first, Jesus Christ might display the whole long-suffering”. What was that for? Was that merely for himself? No, it was for others. Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul, is “a delineation” - a setting out to you - “of those about to believe”; not those who believed beforehand, but those about to believe. If he could get salvation, have the Spirit and come into the assembly, then you can have it. That is a great point in Paul. He is a delineation spreading out to “those about to believe on him to life eternal”. Think of having that wonderful promise of blessing, promised by God, that you might come into life eternal.
In Acts 20, Paul is preaching to Jew and Gentile, and he is setting out the groundwork for salvation. He says to these elders at Ephesus, “Ye know how I was with you all the time from the first day that I arrived in Asia, serving the Lord with all lowliness, and tears, and temptations, which happened to me through the plots of the Jews”. Did that weaken the glad tidings? I think it enhanced it. The more the persecution, the more the light shines; that is what Christianity is. There were “the plots of the Jews”: plots mean they are trying to trip you up; they are setting a snare for you. They are plotting in their counsel and they are going to try and get you somehow. The glad tidings still go out; Paul says, “how I held back nothing of what is profitable, so as not to announce it to you, and to teach you publicly and in every house, testifying to both Jews and Greeks”: even those who were plotting; the glad tidings was for them. That is wonderful. He says, “repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ”; those are the two things that I would like every person in this room to know, since they are the groundwork. If you do not start there you have not started at all. You might come to the meeting, thank God you do, but unless you start with repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ you have not started at all; that is the groundwork.
The waves of the world will not touch that ground; you are on solid ground if you have repentance towards God. How we need to express repentance towards God. The One who was offended was God; Adam disobeyed God. The very fact I have my own will was against the will of God. It is “repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ”, what groundwork. I am sure a believer rejoices inwardly to think that that groundwork is solid ground. I remember one person saying to me, 'You will never ever be sorry if you commit yourself to the Lord Jesus'. Whatever the enemy says to you and tries to rock you, you can never be sorry because you are on ground that is wrought on and developed and secured by the work of Christ. That is wonderful. Paul says the same to both Jew and Greek; he is speaking to both. There are some religions today that are apostate. Yet God desires all to be saved and reconciled. Here Paul was speaking to the most prominent, and that was Jew and Greek. These two covered much of the known world then, I suppose, and he says this is what they testified. He loved Christ. Had he had a perfect life? No, he was probably one of the most self-righteous persons that walked in this scene. He probably was; that is not speaking against him as a man: he was blameless as to the law, he was a Pharisee, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, a leading doctor of the law at that time, who was a very able man. In Acts 5 he says, “take heed to yourselves as regards these men … lest ye be found fighters against God”. He was a very ardent Jewish doctor of the law, and Saul was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel.
So Saul was not only after the believers, the Christians and lovers of the Lord Jesus in Israel; he was going out, and he was on his way to Damascus. He was on his way there with all the learning that he could possible absorb in the Jewish system, and he was going out there with the letters of authority from the chief priests, and he was determined to pursue his course. Then he was arrested by the Lord; not arrested near Jerusalem, because he might have gone back to his friends and all his acquaintances in Jerusalem. He gets near to Damascus and the light shines out of heaven. Who was that? That was the light of a glorified Christ, the Saviour. Think of this wonderful expression of all that is in God, “the incorruptible, invisible, only God”; everything in Christ shining down on that dear man brought him down. He gives up his trust in all his learning; God was going to bring him to the knowledge of Christ and put it into his heart; that was what Jesus did on the way to Damascus. He secured him and here he is testifying. It is wonderful. If he can be saved - he says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first” - you can be saved too.
How truthful Scripture is: it does not gloss over anything. Dear young brother and sister, read the Scripture for its intense perfectness. It does not gloss over the sins in David; it does not gloss over anything at all: it tells stark information and moral teaching that you need. Here in Ephesians Paul is speaking about what God did in purpose, and what He did in Christ; but now he is saying there are difficulties. Those “who are called uncircumcision by that called circumcision in the flesh”; he is addressing difficulty between peoples. Why is there such difference in the world today? There is difference between peoples, and a large element of it is religion. It plagues everywhere; the distortion of nations is because the Prince of peace was cast out, and when He comes back the world is going to be one. It will not be such as we know at the moment, but man's government will be dissolved, and it will be the government of one blessed Man. It will be headed up in the Christ; what the world to come will be, friend! You will have part in it if you are saved; you will come out as reigning with Christ. What a privilege to be with Christ then, and here in the glad tidings He is seeking to secure persons.
In Acts 8: 27, the Ethiopian is brought in. How God covers the differences in the race; what a God He is! Now Paul refers to the nations, “ye were at that time without Christ”; that is where we were. We have nothing to boast in. It says, “ye were at that time without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel”. We had no right to the Jewish system; it was a closed system as far as the nations were concerned, but then God worked. Then it says we were, “strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world”. That is pretty hopeless, is it not?
God is going to tell you that what you could not do He has done in Christ; “but now in Christ Jesus ye who once were afar off are become nigh by the blood of the Christ”. I love that, “become nigh by the blood of the Christ”. It not only meets my need, my sinnership, but it brings me nigh to God. What glad tidings; we want you in, friend! We want you near to God. The nearer you get to the world the further you get from God; that is what the god of this world wants. There are the two characters of the devil, he is “the ruler of the world” (John 14: 30), and then he is “the god of this world”, 2 Cor 4: 4. He is holding persons away from God, but it says “ye who once were afar off are become nigh by the blood of the Christ”. You are brought nigh to God, in an area of blessing and privilege; and then Paul says “he”, that is Christ, “he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of enclosure, having annulled the enmity in his flesh, the law of commandments in ordinances, that he might form the two in himself into one new man, making peace” - it was done in Christ. - “and might reconcile both in one body to God by the cross”. That was the means that the Lord Jesus took to do it, and then it says, “having by it slain the enmity; and, coming, he has preached the glad tidings of peace to you who were afar off, and the glad tidings of peace to those who were nigh”.
It is the same glad tidings; is that not wonderful? I suppose the Jew wanted blessing; they thought they had the right. They do not know that the apostle speaking here is speaking about the “both” and the “to”. It says, “through him we have both access” - that is Jew and Gentile - “by one Spirit to the Father”. There is nothing at all but being near to God, and brought near to one another. You need reconciliation to be serviceable to God. “Be reconciled to God”, 2 Cor 5: 20. The cross was elevated so that it could be seen; it was an object of ridicule in the eyes of the world, but it was by that means that God brought in reconciliation of peoples.
The present world will go on to doom, but persons will be drawn out of it and be brought in as it says here, “no longer strangers and foreigners, but … fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God”. Are you going to be lonely now? No, you have all the company you wish, the best of company. That is the best company; does God’s house not include the best of company? Show me anywhere else; you will never find it. You will be at home there, “no longer are strangers and foreigners, but ye fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God”. That is where you are brought to. You are brought from confusion into simple habitation in the house of God. It says, “being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the corner-stone, in whom all the building fitted together increases to a holy temple in the Lord”.
The final thing I would like to touch on is “in whom ye also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit”; a habitation of God: that is where God resides. That is what the house means. God has got a place to reside and it is “in the Spirit”; “a habitation of God in the Spirit”. You not only get the forgiveness of sins; you not only come into blessing and liberty with God: you are given the Spirit to enjoy the blessings. You are given the Holy Spirit to enjoy salvation and to enjoy God: that is the glad tidings. He is not a stranger God; He is known to you. It says, “a habitation of God in the Spirit”; that is a wonderful thing to arrive at. We are in the habitation of God in the Spirit; when we gather we are in the light of that. It is something worth committing ourselves to. Do not treat it as any meeting, or that it does not matter. It is a habitation of God in the Spirit, and if God inhabits that place I want to be there. It is as simple as that. The glad tidings will bring you into the very centre of it and there is no distance between one and another; no enmity, it is all gone; “He is our peace”. What a Saviour He is; He sees us through, friend. May we come into blessing; may every one of us come into the fulness of what God has in His heart for us. For His Name’s sake.
9th November 2014