INCREASING APPRECIATION OF CHRIST
Paul A Gray
Romans 5: 19-21
Ecclesiastes 7: 28 (“one man …found”)
Song of Songs 5: 10
Revelation 5: 11-14
You will notice that in the first scripture that we have read we have one, and in the second we have a thousand, and in the third we have ten thousand, and in the fourth we have ten thousands of ten thousands and thousands of thousands. What I want to speak about is an increasing appreciation of Christ; that is what is in mind, an increasing appreciation of the Lord Jesus. I can assure you, that however much our appreciation of Him increases, we will never exhaust His glory. You will remember that in Genesis 37, Jacob made Joseph a vest of many colours (sometimes called a coat of many colours), v 3. The scripture does not tell us how many colours there were. I think that is because they were innumerable. You could not really say how many there were, because every time you looked you would get a fresh impression of the vest of many colours. For example, if you look at the offerings in Leviticus from chapter 1 through to the laws of the offerings in chapter 7 you get different impressions corresponding to the vest of many colours, different aspects of the offering: the burnt offering, the oblation, the peace offering, the sin offering, the trespass offering, each bringing out some aspect of Christ: His excellence in the sight of God in the burnt offering, the perfection of His manhood in the oblation, the blessedness of His power to maintain right relations among brethren in the peace offering, the work that He did in righteousness on the cross in the sin offering, and then the maintenance of the rights of God in the trespass offering. It is interesting that the trespass offering is the one where you have a fifth part added, indicating that in every exercise there is something added for God as Christ is taken account of.
Now these are five aspects of the Lord’s moral worth drawn from the offerings, and there could be many more; everyone listening to this preaching will have some impression of the Lord Jesus, and as we share them we can add to them. I do not think even eternity itself will exhaust the vest of many colours. It is good simply to look at the Lord Jesus and to take account of His glory, because we all need Him as a Saviour. That is why I began where I did, because we have to start with One; “by the disobedience of the one man”, that was Adam, “the many have been constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the one”, and then it does not even say, ‘by the one man’; it just says, “by the obedience of the one”, because there could not be anybody else but Jesus, there is no other name “by which we must be saved”, Acts 4: 12. That obedience involved His coming into manhood; it says, “he learned obedience from the things which he suffered”, Heb 5: 8. He came into a condition to which obedience attached. He did not learn obedience, as we do, in part as a consequence of disobedience; He learned obedience in perfection because He came into a condition to which obedience applied; He was obedient to the will of His God and Father. Even to the extent of taking the cup, He says, “Father, if thou wilt remove this cup from me:- but then, not my will, but thine be done” Luke 22: 42. And that cup involved not only the suffering at the hands of man for righteousness, but it involved suffering from God, it involved the forsaking, it involved that He was “made sin for us”(2 Cor 5: 21), it involved His death and the shedding of His blood and His going into the grave, and it meant that He would spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. He is spoken of in Ephesians 4: 10 as “He that descended”, and how far He descended! He descended in love from glory to this earth, but He descended in love from the cross to the grave, and He did it for God, and He did it for you and for me. And now He is out of it in triumph and glory; such is the fruit of the obedience of the One!
You have to come in obedience to Him; you have to repent; it says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved”, Acts 16: 31. It requires obedience; God looks for obedience in our hearts, and we find that by faith, and God gives us faith, and He gives us repentance. Everything that God requires in His righteousness He gives in His grace. He does not ask you to do something you cannot do; it says, “without faith it is impossible to please him”, Heb 11: 6. Who gives us faith? God gives us faith! God “enjoins men that they shall all everywhere repent”, Acts 17: 30. Who gives us repentance? God grants us repentance! How great the grace of God is, so that Paul can say, “where sin abounded grace has overabounded”. Sin abounded at the cross! There were persons around the Lord, some abusive, some indifferent, and a few true to His name, but sin abounded, and there was mocking and sneering. The writer Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote the lines,
Jesus! the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
used to have at least one more hymn attributed to him in the Little Flock hymnbook:
Thy head once full of bruises,
So full of pain and scorn
Mid other sore abuses,
Mocked with a crown of thorn.
This is the blessed One who went to the cross, and that same hymn in a further verse said,
O Lord! what Thee tormented,
Was our sins’ heavy load,
We had the debt augmented,
Which Thou didst pay in blood.
Believers were chosen individually in Christ before the foundation of the world, but also He bore our sins individually: “who himself bore our sins in his body on the tree”, 1 Pet 2: 24. He did not bear the sins of the human race in a mass; believers know that He bore every single one. They were accounted for there, in the three hours of darkness on the cross that God’s righteousness might be satisfied, His holy claims of justice met, and that sinners might draw near to God, not for rebuke or condemnation but in order that they might be saved! And Jesus did that in His obedience. He went that way, “by the obedience of the one the many will be constituted righteous”. You are reckoned righteous in chapter 4: that is by faith. You are constituted righteous in chapter 5, because in chapter 5 the gift of the Spirit comes in. So we are reckoned righteous by faith, and constituted righteous as believers having the gift of the Spirit. This is all God’s provision, “grace has overabounded, in order that, even sin has reigned in the power of death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. We are brought into the sphere of eternal life where we can enjoy things together, and Christ is the centre: “through Jesus Christ our Lord”.
What then about this matter of increasing in our appreciation of Him? We must first commit ourselves to Him, but then how does our appreciation grow? There is a little example of that in John the baptist. When He saw Jesus coming to him he says, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”, John 1: 29. In that sense we could say when he saw Jesus coming to him, he first saw him in relation to himself, and he said, ‘I need sin taken away’. Now of course the taking away of the sin of the world involves the whole matter including the end, when the devil and his angels are confined to the lake of fire (Rev 20: 10), and the last enemy that is annulled is death (1 Cor 15: 26): then the whole matter is settled, the sin of the world is taken away. But John saw Him first in relation to himself, but then the later impression he has was “looking at Jesus as he walked, he says, Behold the Lamb of God”, chap 1: 36. He did not just see Him as He was in relation to himself, He saw Him how He was in relation to God. He had an increased impression of Jesus as He walked.
I read in these various scriptures starting in Ecclesiastes; “one man among a thousand have I found”. So first it is one, “one man”, and He becomes distinctive to us, but then Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, had examined, had looked on a thousand men and still there was only one! There was only one! I can remember when I was a child and I was not well, and I was lying on a makeshift bed in the kitchen while my mother did her day’s work and she sang to me, as she often did. One of the lines has stayed in my mind for over fifty years:
Now none but Christ can satisfy,
None other name for me.
Now that is like “one man among a thousand have I found”. I may have looked at all these other persons, but no one but Christ can satisfy. And we have to come to that, there is no satisfaction to be found anywhere else. Years later, I remember a brother preaching and quoting from the gospel hymn my mother sang,
I tried the broken cisterns, ah!
But how the waters failed;
Even as I stooped to drink they fled,
And mocked me as I wailed
The answer lies in Jesus, as another hymn says,
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.
That is open to everyone; no one is banished from the presence of God; all are welcome; we say that on our noticeboards, and it is true. They are welcome because of the work that Jesus has done, and however widely, Solomon says, I might cast my net, I can only find one man, “one man among a thousand have I found”.
Books of scripture such as Ecclesiastes are interesting, even if they are slightly obscure in places; but bear in mind that the Lord says at the end of Luke’s gospel, “all that is written concerning me in the law of Moses and the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled”, chap 24: 44. We may think of the “psalms” as referring to one hundred and fifty psalms, but I understand that the books Job, the Psalms, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs are all included in the expression “the psalms”. They speak of experience with God.
In Job we learn that man’s wisdom has to be put out of court. It is like the beginning of Paul’s appeal in 1 Corinthians 1, where he says, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men”, v 25. Job’s three friends speak to him, they seek to offer words of wisdom, and Job justifies himself, and it all has to go. Elihu, who is younger than Job’s friends, speaks at the end and says that Job has justified himself, and Job comes to it that he cannot justify himself. He says to God in chapter 42,
I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear,
but now mine eye seeth thee:
Wherefore I abhor myself,
and repent in dust and ashes, v 5-6.
He had to come to it through bitter experience that there was nothing good in himself, as Paul the apostle says, “For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell”, Rom 7: 18. The only answer is in Christ. Job had counsellors and comforters, but it all came to nothing. And yet in all of that God spoke to him, there is the point that he says, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and the Last, he shall stand upon the earth”, chap 19: 25. He knew that there was a Redeemer and indeed he sees the need for “an umpire between us, who should lay his hand upon us both” (chap 9: 33) - that is to say, someone who could be in touch with both God and man. The New Testament speaks of “the mediator of God and men one, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2: 5), the One who can put His hand upon us both.
And Job learns things not only from redemption but also creation. He finds a great beast, the behemoth, who “startleth not: he is confident though a Jordan break forth against his mouth” (chap 40: 23), and that is like a type of Christ. He went into death, the Jordan broke forth against Him, and as the writer says,
What ailed thee, thou sea, that thou fleddest?
thou Jordan, that thou turnedst back?”
Ps 114: 5.
The Lord did not startle at death; He went into it in power and broke its power and came out of it again. Once you have seen that great example, the whole of chapter 41 is devoted to the leviathan, which is a powerful beast. It is said to be king of all proud beasts, and it is a type of Satan, and it cannot be attacked, it cannot be assailed on any side. There is no point in trying to attack Satan: he is the destroyer and he wants to attack you. What you must have in mind is that he is the defeated foe! It says to resist him; it does not say attack him; it says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”, Jam 4: 7. You resist him in the power of the Holy Spirit. And Job came through all these experiences, and God spoke to him. Elihu asked him, “Dost thou know about the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him that is perfect in knowledge?”, Job 37: 16. He says there are good days and there are difficult days, but it is all in God’s hands, “the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him that is perfect in knowledge”. Elihu was the one who also said, “From the north cometh gold”, chap 37: 22. He said, in effect, that there are times of trial, and that God will work out His own answer in them. At the end Job comes to it that God has the last word, and man’s wisdom is out of court, and he comes to it by experience.
Having come from Job you come into the experiences of the Psalms, and you find there is one Man before God. It is interesting that the Psalms begin with the words, “Blessed is the man”. Now, of course, we can say that Psalm 1 may speak of features of Christ formed in the saints, but I think it all starts with Christ, “Blessed is the man”. In the second Psalm Jehovah has anointed His King on His holy hill, Zion, and the Man is brought before us, and we learn Him by experience. We learn first His moral greatness, His moral headship: that is what we learn in Romans. Then we learn His personal headship: that is what we learn in Colossians; and then we learn His official headship: that is what we learn in Ephesians, but you see it in the Psalms. Psalm 22 is the moral greatness of Christ, the Good Shepherd who “lays down his life for the sheep”, John 10: 11. Psalm 23 is the personal greatness of Christ, the Great Shepherd, whom God brought again from death “in the power of the blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb 13: 20); it says in Psalm 23,
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me, verse 4.
So He is brought out of death in the power of the blood of the eternal covenant, death is conquered, and the personal greatness of Christ comes before us. In Psalm 24 it is His official greatness:
Who is he, this King of glory? verse 10.
That is the Chief Shepherd! Peter says, “when the chief shepherd is manifested”, 1 Pet 5: 4. The Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd; He is growing in our vision, He is growing in our souls, and we learn through the Psalms what it is to have experience with God. Psalm 72 is for Solomon, and it concludes with,
The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended,
After Solomon has come in, in this setting as a type of Christ, there is nothing more for man to say, “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended”. There is much more that could be said, but the end of the Psalms is,
Let everything that hath breath praise Jah.
All these experiences of Christ are intended to bring about increase and response to God.
Having got that one Man before us, in the Proverbs you come to instruction for sons and what is suitable for sonship, and what is available in wisdom; so a son is not to despise the teaching of his mother, chap 1: 8. The son is to be brought up in what is suitable and to understand the basis of wisdom and wisdom’s house. What accrues at the end of the Proverbs as a result of that is first of all the recognition of the purpose of God where the writer says, “What is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou knowest”, chap 30: 4. And then an appreciation of the assembly, the woman of worth; “The heart of her husband confideth in her”, chap 31: 11. So you can see that there is soul progress as Christ is taken account of and then you come to Ecclesiastes the Preacher, who is the former of assemblies, you come to this point, “one man among a thousand have I found”. He says, “but a woman among all those have I not found”. Why not? Because the answer to Christ lies in the assembly and the assembly alone, that is where it is to be found. The former of assemblies, the preacher, recognises that, there is nothing for Christ in this dispensation but the assembly, “a woman among all those have I not found”. It is not to be found in the world, not in sect or religion; it is to be found in the assembly. It is an important thing to lay hold of for our souls, because as our appreciation of Christ grows our appreciation of what is due to Him from the assembly would also grow, as would the place that the assembly has in His affections.
I know that the Song of Songs is not properly a full type of the assembly, as union does not enter into it, but nevertheless the Song of Songs has been described as the song of a captured heart. That is what we come to! We come to it that the Lord will see us all the way through. It says in the last chapter of the Song of Songs,
Many waters cannot quench love,
Neither do the floods drown it,
chap 8: 7.
I have heard that quoted as neither did the floods drown it, and it has been related to the cross. While the reference to the cross is of course understandable, what the scripture says is, “Neither do the floods drown it”, and that is right now! John the apostle writes, “To him who loves us, and has washed us from our sins in his blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father”, Rev 1: 5-6.
So we go from Ecclesiastes, “one man among a thousand”, and come to the Song of Songs, “The chiefest among ten thousand”. Solomon looked even further afield, and still there is no one to compare with Christ, “The chiefest among ten thousand”. He says, “My beloved is white and ruddy”, and what that means is that our appreciation of Christ leads us to understand that He Himself is entirely pure. The Lord is intrinsically pure, and the answer in the assembly is intrinsically pure. What does it mean to be ruddy? It says of David that he was a youth and “he was ruddy, and besides of a lovely countenance”, 1 Sam 16: 12. It means that he had good colour; what it means is that he was alive; there was evidence of life in his face. There is an answer to Christ in the assembly in what is alive; the response of the assembly is living. It is not a dead matter; it is not a matter of formula or rote; it is a living response; she is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and energised by divine power, “The chiefest among ten thousand”! However wide she casts her gaze there is none like this One, “The chiefest among ten thousand”!
We come in Revelation to “ten thousands of ten thousands and thousands of thousands”. I want to draw your attention to the fact that in Revelation 9 there is also a large number quoted in relation to those who gather as enemies and it says, “twice ten thousand times ten thousand” and John says, “I heard their number”, verse 16. That is the number of the enemies; that might be two hundred million if you work it out; this in chapter 5 is more than that! This is “ten thousands of ten thousands and thousands of thousands”, and he does not say, ‘I heard their number’; in a sense the writer emphasises that the enmity was finite and it was put in its place. In 2 Kings there was a city that was surrounded. Elijah the prophet was there, and there was a young man in the city, and the young man was very worried because he thought that the city was going to fall and their lives would be lost. Looking at it naturally he was quite right; there was one little city and an immense army round about it. Elijah asked God, “I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see”, 2 Kings 6: 17. And the young man looked and instead of looking down from the walls at the enemies he looked up! “The mountain was full of chariots of fire and horses round about Elisha”; there were more with the two of them than there are with enemies. You might be able to see the physical enemies, and you might know what is within too, and perhaps that is not as you would wish it to be, but “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world”, 1 John 4: 4. It is not a question of ordinary arithmetic. There is more with believers than Satan could ever put his hand on, and he is defeated, and this One to whom honour is given, “Worthy is the Lamb”, is the One who has defeated him. And the answer is in “ten thousands of ten thousands and thousands of thousands”, and then “every creature which is in the heaven and upon the earth and under the earth, and those that are upon the sea, and all things in them, heard I saying, To him that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, blessing, and honour, and glory, and might, to the ages of ages”. Do you remember when it said in Philippians that God has highly exalted Christ and “granted him a name that which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly and earthly and infernal beings”, chap 2: 9-10? John actually saw something of this happening! This is not speculation, that every knee will bow to the One to whom God has committed everything.
But the question is, what about you? Have you bowed the knee to Jesus; is He the One, is He the “one among a thousand”? Is He “the chiefest of ten thousand”? And even if there are “ten thousands of ten thousands and thousands of thousands”, is He still the One that is supreme? He is to me! And I am confident that He is to many throughout the world. But I want you to be sure for yourself because that is what matters. At the end it says, “And the four living creatures said, Amen”; that is to say that there was a universal acknowledgement of the fact that this was true. The elders, who represent persons who have experience with God, “fell down and did homage”. The things that believers here and elsewhere too, are passing through, are real, but what they are meant to produce is experience with God, and what you will find, is that God will never let you down, ever! We might let ourselves down, and I have done that, but God will never let you down because all His thoughts are centred in Christ, the One, the Man of His choice, the Man of all His counsels. God is going to head up all things in the Christ, and Christ is going to bring everything in perfection to Him who is God and Father, that God may be all in all.
That is all I have to say and I trust the Lord may bless it.
For His Name’s sake.
29th August 2021