After the parable of the early verses, this chapter is composed of questions from Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, with final questions to them from the Lord Himself. These questions and answers form the four parts of the chapter following the parable. The parable is similar, if not the same, with different emphases, as the parable of Lk.14.16-24.
A certain king had made preparation for the wedding of his son. There had been a prior invitation and arrangement with a number of guests and when the feast was ready servants were sent out to bid those who had been invited to come. An abrupt statement says, "they would not come." The response of the king is to send other servants to them to explain the preparation which had been made for the dinner. Oxen and fatlings had been killed and everything was ready. "Come unto the marriage" is the appeal of the second invitation. Some made light of it all, and went their usual ways. Others took the servants, abused them and slew them. The king was understandably angry. He sent his forces, destroyed the murderers, and burned their city. Once again the servants are sent out, this time to gather in from the highways as many as they could find, both good and bad, to furnish the wedding with guests.
The parable is, of course, dispensational. For centuries there had been a promise to Israel of a kingdom of the heavens, with all the blessing and joy which that would bring. At the appointed time Messiah came. He extended the invitation to them, a privileged and chosen nation, but they rejected Him and His ministry of grace. There would have been a feast of good things for them if they had come, but they would not. Notice that now, when other servants are sent forth with the renewed invitation, there is mention of sacrifice and death. When the work of redemption had been accomplished God again appealed to the nation by the preaching of the apostles in the early chapters of the Book of Acts. This was longsuffering indeed, that such mercy should be extended to those who had rejected and crucified their Messiah, God's Son. Once again the invitation was spurned. They not only made light of it but murdered Stephen in Acts 7 and James in Acts 12, and there were other martyrs too, Acts 22.4; 26.10. This was not now just a simple refusal to come, it was a climax. God would deal judicially with those who had so rejected all that He had prepared for them, and eventually, as in the parable, He literally destroyed their city. The Saviour had predicted it and had wept over Jerusalem. The long siege of the city in AD70, and the awful events that took place during the siege, ended with its ultimate burning and destruction.
The invitation, however, must go forth again, this time to the highways, to the good and the bad, to whosoever would come. All things were ready. The house must be filled. If the Jew will not come then the Gentile must be invited. The Gospel of the grace of God will call them in and the wedding will be furnished with guests indeed.
In considering what now follows it must be remembered that this is a kingdom parable. The Church is not in view but the kingdom of the heavens, viewed here as a sphere of profession where not all is real. As is often said, there are both professors and possessors in the kingdom. The king observes a man not wearing the provided wedding garment. Just as the prodigal was dressed in "the best robe," Lk.15.22, so these guests from the highways were provided with garments that they should be suitably attired for the king and wedding. There was one who had apparently refused to wear the garment of the king's providing. So it is in the kingdom. There are those who robe themselves in their own morality, culture, respectability, and even religion. This is not acceptable dress. Only Christ will suitably cover a man for God's presence. As Paul writes, "found in Him, not having mine own righteousness ... but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God," Rom.3.9. The intruder is confronted by the king, and, speechless, is cast out.
A most strange and unusual coalition of Pharisees and Herodians now comes to question the Lord. They had little in common, these Pharisees and Herodians, but they were allied now to oppose the Saviour. They asked about paying tribute to Caesar. Was it right, or not? Their approach and address to Him was hypocritical in the extreme. They eulogised His person, His teaching, His integrity, and His impartiality. All that they said of Him was true, but they did not mean a word of it, it was feigned. If they had really meant what they said of Him they would have believed Him and received Him. It was a subtle question. Had He given a negative answer they would so quickly have reported Him to the Roman authorities with a charge of conspiracy against Caesar. Had He given an affirmative, approving of paying tribute to the Roman Emperor, this would hardly have been in keeping with His Messianic claims. He calls them hypocrites. He knows their hearts and their intentions and says, "Shew me the tribute money." Did they not realise it, that He was making them handle the coin? Did they quibble about paying tribute to Caesar? They were not averse to handling Caesar's money! The image on the coin was that of the Emperor and they admitted it. "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things which are God's," He said. They marvelled, and left Him.
The Sadducees then came, men who denied the truth of resurrection. They had a question about a most grotesque and unlikely situation of a woman who had been married during her lifetime to seven brothers. They were, of course, basing their hypothesis on Deut.25.5. If there was a resurrection (were they sniping at the Pharisees?) whose wife would this woman be in the supposed after life? The Lord disposes of them very quickly. They erred on two counts. They were ignorant both of the Scriptures and the power of God. In resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God, and, He who said, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob," was not the God of dead fathers and patriarchs; He was the God of the living.
The Pharisees then took courage to come to Him again, having observed how He had silenced their bitter rivals, the Sadducees. They send one of their lawyers with an old question, about which there had been many councils and debates. "Which was the greatest commandment?" The Saviour reduced the law to two commandments. Love to the Lord God with the whole being was the first and great commandment. But there was another, like unto this, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." The whole law hung on these two commandments, "Love the Lord thy God." "Love thy neighbour."
Now, while they are all gathered together, Jesus will ask them a question; perhaps two! What do you think of Messiah? he asks them, "Whose Son is He? They answered immediately and correctly, "The Son of David." Now His second question to them, "How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord?" he quotes from the Messianic Psalm 110. "The Lord said unto my Lord." David calls his Son, "My Lord"! Can they explain? How can Messiah be David's Son and David's Lord? The simplest believer in the Lord Jesus has no difficulty, but for the Pharisees, and for every Jew, and for all those who deny the Deity of Christ, there is a problem. They could not answer. Every true believer however, knows that Jesus is both the Root and the Offspring of David, Rev.22.16. David might well have used the words of John Baptist, and said, "He that cometh after me is preferred before me; for He was before me," Jn.1.15. When once it is believed and confessed that Jesus of Nazareth is Jehovah of Eternity, and that He is the promised Messiah, then there is no problem with our Lord's question. For those, who will not acknowledge that He is indeed a divine Person, then the question is unanswerable.
In the chapter which follows our Lord will expose and condemn, ruthlessly and in detail, the hypocrisy of these religious leaders.
(12) THE MAN WHOM THE KING DELIGHTETH TO HONOUR, Part 2
Read Chapter 6 again
In part 1 of this study, we suggested that this chapter can be divided as follows:
A man who had not been honoured, v1-3;
A man who wanted to be honoured, v4-9;
A man who was publicly honoured, v10-11;
A man who would never be honoured, v12-14.
We have already pondered the first two sections of the chapter, which brings us to:
3) A MAN WHO WAS PUBLICLY HONOURED. v10-11
Imagine the chagrin of Haman. "Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king's gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken," v10. The very position he sought and expected, was given to the man he had attempted to destroy. Assuming Lucifer to be the dark master of the king of Babylon, and speaking through him, we read: "For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High," Isa.14.13-14. But the position, and more, sought by "Lucifer, son of the morning" belongs to Christ.
Ahasuerus was evidently reminded of Mordecai's nationality from the official records. But why didn't he immediately identify Mordecai with the people whose destruction he had recently authorised? The best answer is, simply, that he didn't know who Haman was describing in 3.8-9. Haman carefully avoided mentioning the Jews by name, and Ahasuerus made no attempt to verify the charge brought against them. He just accepted Haman's word for it!
The words, "the man whom the king delighteth to honour," cannot fail to remind us of the Lord Jesus. Every word is weighty!
A) he is "the MAN Whom the King delighteth to honour"
You can build on this yourself. Start with Heb.10.12, "But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God." Go on from there. Oh, and don't forget it is "THE Man Whom the King delighteth to honour."
B) He is "the Man Whom the KING delighteth to honour"
There could be no greater degree of honour. Mordecai received honour from the highest authority on earth. The Lord Jesus received honour from the highest Authority in heaven: "For He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory," 2Pet.1.17. The honour and glory bestowed upon Christ is unique. It is shared by none.
C) He is "the Man whom the Kine DELIGHTETH to honour"
It was no grudging recognition. The scene on the mount of transfiguration was a picture of "the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." That is, of course, His second coming. The world will hear God say, "This is My beloved Son: hear HIM."
D) He is "the Man Whom the King delighteth to HONOUR"
He was honoured by wearing the "royal apparel ... which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head," v8. (The competent authorities tell us that this means, literally, that the crown was worn by the horse! Well, the crown certainly isn't mentioned in v9 and v11). Mordecai was invested with royal honours, but that is nothing when compared to the honour bestowed upon Christ. "Jesus said, now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him," Jn.13.31-32.
Mordecai was honoured publicly. He was honoured in the very place where a gallows had been erected for him, and the details are most significant. Firstly, that the word "gallows" is literally, 'tree'. Secondly, that the punishment intended for Mordecai was some form of crucifixion, since hanging, in the usual meaning of the word, does not seem to have been employed by the Persians. Need we say any more? Christ will be proclaimed as "the Man Whom the King delighteth to honour" in the very world which nailed Him to "the tree". God has said, "Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool," Ps.110.1. Mordecai was brought "on horseback through the street of the city." The Lord Jesus will emerge from heaven seated on a "white horse". See Rev. 19.11.
John C. Whitcomb has it nicely: 'Fourteen centuries earlier, Joseph, another Israelite, was thus honoured when the Pharaoh "had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him, Bow the knee! Gen.41.43. Some day the entire universe will bow down before God's unique Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, cf Ps.2.4-12; Phil.2.10-11.'
4) A MAN WHO WOULD NEVER BE HONOURED. v12-14
Just try to imagine the turmoil in Haman's mind. R. Sinker (Ellicott's Commentary) puts it like this" 'It would be a grim and curious study to analyse Haman's feelings at this juncture. Various thoughts were mingled there. Self-reproach, perhaps, that he had so thoughtlessly been the cause of the present display, bitter hatred of his rival now multiplied a thousandfold, and the evident knowledge that the game was played out, and that he was ruined. The more subtle the brain, the more truly must he have known this.' Of course, Haman had not been in any way disgraced by leading Mordecai through the city: but it was a terrible blow to his pride. A humble man can cope far more easily with the blows of life than a proud man!
Once again, we encounter the words, "And Haman told ..." But what a difference now! It was boastful pride in 5.11: it's bitter disappointment in 6.13. His wife's words in vl4 could well have been the last he ever heard her say. We certainly mustn't underestimate this lady. She certainly influenced her husband in 5.14, and correctly assessed the situation in 6.13. But was Zeresh speaking "off the cuff," or was she giving Haman the benefit of careful observation? Had she noticed that somehow or the other, the Jew comes out on top? For example, Joseph with Pharaoh, and Daniel with Nebuchadnezzar. Or had she learnt that, "he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye?" Zech.2.8. One thing is clear: the omens had changed, and so had the attitude of Haman's family and friends.
The Lord Jesus taught that "Whosever exalteth himself shall be abased," Lk.14.11. Remember too that "pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall," Prov.16.18. There could hardly be a better example than Haman.
Ever since the Kingdom had been divided in the days of Rehoboam, a total of eleven kings had ruled over the Southern nation of Judah before Hezekiah took control The record of his life is given in a total of four chapters in 2Chron 29-32, and from these we can observe
(a) His Stability
In order to appreciate the contribution that Hezekiah made to the nation of Judah, it is important to consider the background and conditions from which he emerged His great-grandfather (Uzziah) was a man of pride and he ended his sojourn on earth as a leper, 2Chron 26 21 His grandfather (Jotham) was a man of strength, one who 'prepared his ways before the Lord his God,' 2Chron 27 6, and yet the impact on the people was minimal, 2Chron 27 2, 2Kgs 15 35 His father (Ahaz) was a man of idolatry, one who was exceedingly wicked and corrupt, 2Chron 28 1-4, 22-25 How necessary it was then for the new king to introduce a degree of control and stability back into the nation, Hezekiah was such a king' Although both Uzziah and Jotham 'did that which was right in the sight of the Lord,' 2Chron 26 4, 27 2, notice that their model was the previous king, their own father For Hezekiah, his model was far superior, king David, 2Chron 29 2 '
In tracing the factors that must have influenced Hezekiah in the early years, we can identify three important directions from whence he looked
• Backwards. The History of Judah
The fact that Hezekiah used king David as the 'measuring stick' for success is interesting1 David was a spiritual king, one who had a heart for God, Acts 13:22, and His Word, Ps 18 30 Not surprising therefore, every good king of the Southern nation was compared to David, whereas the same could not be said for men such as Ahaz2 2Chron 28:1 Josiah was another king of Judah who sought to reproduce the character of David during his reign, 2Chron 34:1
1 Notice how often David is mentioned in the latter part of the chapter 29:25, 26, 27, 30
2 Ahaz is compared to the kings of Israel They seem to be synonymous with evil and wicked hearts and every king of Israel is compared not with David but with Jeroboam John Heading likens David and Jeroboam to the influence of Christ and Satan respectively (Understanding 1 & 2 Chronicles The House of God and Its Service 1980 p.335)
As believers we should follow the example of others who have gone before Whilst the Lord is the supreme example, 1Pet 2:21, the Apostle Paul could exhort others at Corinth to follow him, for in doing that, they would be following Christ, 1Cor 11:1 Looking back need not be interpreted as 'living in the past', rather it is with the desire to learn from others
• Outwards: The Captivity of Israel
2Kgs.18.10-11 reminds us that it was in the sixth year of Hezekiah's reign that the Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria. The reason, as verse 12 of the above passage indicates, was due to their own disobedience towards the Lord. This, together with the implications of his own father's idolatrous heart, must have had a profound impact upon Hezekiah.
For us, as we live in the 'last days,' 2Tim.3.1, it is not difficult for us to observe how the hearts of men have turned away from God. However, even when we notice the lack of spiritual vigour in other believers, it should not bring criticism, rather it should impress upon all our hearts the need for faithfulness to God.
• Upwards: The Prophecy of Isaiah
The prophet Isaiah had served under the kings of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and now Hezekiah, Isa.1.1. Accordingly he must have been both old and experienced and thus in an ideal position to impart pearls of wisdom to Hezekiah. The close relationship that both men enjoyed can be observed from passages such as Isa.37 and 2Chron.32. Nevertheless, the most significant contribution that the prophet would have made to the king was to reveal the Lord and His desires for the nation.
Within the local assembly there will be men of great age and knowledge. Whether they be elders or not, it should be both our joy and responsibility to learn from such men, for they have something we do not have - experience! Moreover, godly men reveal the character and will of the Lord in this present age.
Therefore, when Hezekiah was installed as king of Judah he brought a great deal of stability to the throne. This should be our desire within the assembly, and remember, the process in achieving this is the same as that for Hezekiah: model ourselves on the spiritual legacy of the past; separate ourselves from the lawlessness of the present age; identify ourselves with godly believers who reveal the Lord.
(b) His Spirituality
For Hezekiah, the single most important place in his life was that of the sanctuary. 2Chron.29 outlines the various ways in which he demonstrated his spiritual interest in the one place where God dwelled. His whole heart was given to the work, vlO - see also 2Chron.31.21. Consider the following:
• Caring for the Temple
2Chron.29.3 remarks that in the first year of Hezekiah's reign - no delay shown3 - he 'opened the doors' of the temple and then sought to repair it. Not only was the House to be accessible to the people, but it had to be attractive. It was because of the actions of his idolatrous forefathers, v6-7 - particularly his own father Ahaz, 2Chron.28.24 - that Hezekiah found it necessary to make such repairs.
3 Notice how the king had the tendency of rising early when it came to the work of the Lord! (2 Chron. 29.20).
We must remember that the assembly is the place where the Lord has chosen to place His name, Matt.18.20. Thus, as the world embarks on the so-called 'spring-cleaning', surely the assembly should always be engaged in 'sin-cleaning'! This is where each believer endeavours to walk before the Lord and so maintain holy character, consistent with the One who dwells therein. In addition, the assembly must be accessible to the people of God; the place where priestly work can be conducted, lPet.2.5, and it must be attractive; the place where the truth is exercised and the Lord is glorified, lTim.3.15.
• Charging the Priests/Levites
Tenderly, 'My sons", 2Chron.29.11, Hezekiah encouraged the Priests and Levites to sanctify themselves unto the work of the temple. It was only fitting that a clean temple should have clean servants, thus they had to be set apart. In the present age all believers are priests and all should be engaged in offering the sacrifices of praise, Heb.13.15, irrespective of gender or gift.
• Conducting the Worship
With the temple cleansed, 2Chron.29.17, and the Priests/Levites sanctified, 2Chron.29.15, the way was open for the offerings to commence. Notice what they gave: the sin-offering, v21; the burnt-offering, v27; the thank/peace-offering, v31,35, and the drink-offering, v35.
Whilst there is much that could be said about these sacrifices, in terms of their order, objective and outcome, it is important to stress that all, in their own way, spoke of Christ. Surely this is what true worship is. Not thanking God for what He has done for us, rather presenting to Him the only One who fills His heart with joy and affection - the Lord Himself.
From this passage there is much to learn regarding our approach in worship. First, it was collective, all the congregation worshipped, v28. A strong assembly is one where all have a desire to express their gratitude for Christ. Second, it was joyful, 'they sang praises with gladness', v30a, 36. No sad or mournful expressions here! Third, it was spontaneous, 'when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also", v27, 31. Fourth, it was reverent, 'they bowed their heads' to worship, v30b. Fifth, it was in fellowship, Levites assisted the Priests in their work, v34. Sixth, it was orderly, Hezekiah ensured that the offerings took place in an organised fashion, v25, 27, 31. How could it be any other way when our God is one of order Himself, lCor.14.33. Seventh, it was in humility, Hezekiah and all the people acknowledged that it was God who 'had prepared the people', v36.
Thus, the spiritual nature of Hezekiah can be observed by means of his attitude to the dwelling place of God and the service that took place therein. Surely this is how we should measure a believer's spirituality, and not by how eloquent he may appear. In the next paper we shall consider Hezekiah's steadfastness and strength.
In the Old Testament God is portrayed as the Shepherd of Israel. The Psalmist declares, "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock," Ps.80.1.
THE FALSE SHEPHERDS
God, out of His shepherd's care for Israel condemned the false shepherds. They were the kings, the priests and the false prophets who led the nation away from God and into idolatry and sin, then ultimately to judgment. Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds. Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?" (see Ezek.34.10). But God will provide a true shepherd for His people, a descendant of David, "And I will set up one Shepherd over them, and He shall feed them, even my servant David; He shall feed them, and He shall be their shepherd", v23.
THE DIVINE SHEPHERD
Where can this true shepherd be found? God answers that God alone can be the true Shepherd of His flock. 'The voice of Him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD make straight in the desert a highway for our God ... Say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold the Lord God will come with strong hand ... He shall feed His flock like a shepherd', Is.40.3; 9-11. This voice was the voice of John the Baptist, Matt.3.1-3. The One whom John was to introduce to Israel was, as Isaiah prophesied, 'the LORD', 'our God', 'Your God', 'the Lord GOD'. This Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, was to be God manifest in the flesh.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD
When the Lord Jesus Christ referred to Himself as 'the good Shepherd,' Jn.10.11,14, He also stated His deity, "I and My Father are one", v30. The goodness of the good Shepherd extended to laying down His life for the sheep. As a price paid is the value of what is purchased, so the value of the sheep to the shepherd (that is the value of the believer to Christ) is the value of that perfect life laid down. "Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish," Matt.18.14, such is the value of the believer. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand," Jn.10.27-28.
THE GREAT SHEPHERD
'Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ,' Heb. 13.20-21. The greatness of the divine Shepherd rests upon a threefold foundation. First, He has conquered death, the great enemy of the sheep, 'brought again from the dead.' Second, He, the Shepherd, has established an eternal agreement with His sheep, 'the blood of the everlasting covenant.' Third, He is the Shepherd who provides all the spiritual needs of His sheep, 'make you perfect in every good work ... through Jesus Christ.'
THE CHIEF SHEPHERD
'When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye (the elders) shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away,'-lPet.5.4. The elders are the shepherds of the local assembly, 'their flock' (see vl-5). "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers (bishops), to feed (shepherd) the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood," Acts 20.28. The elders are responsible to the chief Shepherd, the Head of the church, to feed the sheep on His teaching. Thus to fulfil the chief Shepherd's purpose, 'Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish,' Eph.5.25-27.
Therefore the sheep of the good Shepherd's flock can say, " The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want," Ps.23.1.
A consideration of the life of Abraham has long been of delight and benefit to the Lord's people. Many a saint has been blessed by a study of his life practically, such as his example to us of faith in God's promises, which is so beautifully set forth in Heb.ll. At other times our hearts have been thrilled by the contemplation of Abraham typically, for example in his offering up Isaac, picturing God the Father offering up His Son on Calvary, or in sending the servant to find a bride for his son, picturing God the Father seeking a bride for His Son. We have also enjoyed considering Abraham's importance prophetically, the Abrahamic Covenant being highly significant for the whole of prophetic study. Many a writer and speaker has set forth these things clearly, and it is not the exercise of the present writer to go over such ground again. Rather it is his desire to consider lessons that we learn from Abraham doctrinally.
Abraham is one of the most often mentioned Old Testament characters in the New Testament. He is mentioned by name no less than 70 times, with Moses (79 times) being the only Old Testament character named more often in the New Testament.
Often when Abraham is mentioned in the New Testament, he is used to expound and illustrate truths that are of importance to us today. In these papers, it is our hope to look together at some of these truths.
We will consider the following:
Abraham and the Greatest Privilege (John 8.31-47).
Abraham and the Greatest Person (John 8.48-59).
Abraham and the Greatest Principle (Romans 4.1-5:1).
Abraham and the Greatest Proof (James 2.14-26).
Abraham and the Greatest Promise (Hebrews 6.9-20).
Abraham and the Greatest Priesthood (Hebrews 7.1-28).
Abraham and the Greatest Partition (Luke 16.19-3).
Abraham and the Greatest Power (Matthew 22.23-33).
Abraham and the Greatest Place (Hebrews 11.8-16).
(1) ABRAHAM AND THE GREATEST PRIVILEGE (Jn.8.31-47)
— "If the Son therefore shall make you free ye shall be free indeed. " (Jn.8.36)
In this passage, Abraham is mentioned by name six times (v33,37,39,39,39,40). The Lord Jesus Christ clearly impresses upon us that it is possible to be a descendant of Abraham physically, but to be a slave of sin and a child of Satan, and that only the Son of God can give freedom from sin and Satan.
We will look together at five lessons that we learn from this passage:
The Message of the Saviour;
The Mistakes of the Sinners;
The Methods of Satan;
The Meaning of the Seed;
The Marks of the Saints.
1. The Message of the Saviour
In v30, we read "many believed on Him." However, not all of them were truly saved, as v31,32 show. The "disciples indeed", v31, and those "free", v32, would show evidence of the reality of their faith by continuing in His word, v31. Evidently some believed the facts of which the Lord was speaking, but did not trust Him as Saviour. It is not enough to believe with the mind; one must believe with the heart, Rom.10.10. This realisation would lead us to not get carried away by numbers of people professing, but what should really rejoice our hearts is to see those who have professed continuing in the truth, 3Jn.4.
The Lord Jesus Christ then goes on to explain the message of true freedom:—
In v34, he says that to commit sin (the word "committeth" is a present participle, indicating a continual practising of sin) is to be the slave ("doulos" — a bondservant) of sin. Those whose lives are characterised by the practice of sin are simply giving evidence of the fact that they are slaves to sin. How contrary this is to the popular view today: the worldings think that they are "free" to do as they like, and that they are exercising "liberty", when, in reality, all the time they are exhibiting the opposite — their slavery to sin.
In v35, we see the fundamental difference between a servant and a son. Here we have a general principle: a servant has no guarantee of his position. He has no security in the house; no assurance of remaining there. Not so for the son — he is guaranteed an abiding place in the house. In the context of Abraham in this passage, it is highly likely that the Lord is here alluding to the case of Abraham's two sons,
Isaac and Ishmael, Gen.21.8-21. Ishmael was the "son of the bondwoman," and was cast out; whereas Isaac's position in the household was secure. The teaching is clear — not only is a sinner enslaved to sin; he does not have any security. The privileges of sonship are not his.
But v36 gives us a deeper insight: although v35 is indeed true of a son in general, it goes beyond a general principle: "the Son" of v35 is not just any son, but, as v36 shows, it is "the Son", the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. What a wonderful truth is here brought before us:- The Lord Jesus Christ's position in the house is secure - He is not just "a son" but "the Son" - the eternal, only-begotten Son of God. Therefore anyone whom He makes free is sure of a position in the house, in identification with Him. What a wonderful statement of the believer's eternal security! What a privilege! It is no wonder that the Lord describes someone who has been freed by "the truth", v32 and by "the Son", v36 as "free indeed"!
2. The Mistakes of the Sinners
Those who were in conversation with the Lord Jesus knew nothing of this great privilege; nor did they want to. They were badly mistaken, in several ways. They were:
(a) wrong in their appreciation of their history:
i) they thought that they were not slaves, when in fact they were.
In their minds, they believed that being descended from Abraham meant that they had never been, nor could they be, in bondage, v33. This is amazing, in view of their past servitude (e.g. in Egypt and Babylon) and their present servitude to Rome. However, an even more serious error was their failure to grasp that they were slaves to sin, which the Lord Jesus brought before them in v34.
ii) they thought that they were sons, when in fact they were not.
They were of the opinion that their national history meant that God was their Father, v41. Whether we take the statement "We be not born of fornication" as literal, or as a statement that their background was not one of idolatry, both are true — their relationship to Abraham was an honourable one. However, this physical relationship did not automatically make them sons of God; v42 shows that they were not children of God.
We can pity these people in their blindness. Yet how common it is, even today, to meet sinners who think that physical relationship automatically confers spiritual blessing, and who are blind to the reality of their slavery to sin.
(b) wrong in their apprehension of truth:
Several times the Lord Jesus speaks of their failure to apprehend divine truth. In v46, He points out that His sinlessness was proof that what He was saying was the truth. Yet they did not believe it, v46. They could not hear it, v43, and His word had no place in them, v37. Why not? Because they were not of God, v47. Indeed, so serious was their state that they deliberately rejected what they knew to be true, v45. Any person should always believe the truth, but, perversely, their very reason for rejecting what He said was precisely because it was the truth that He was speaking.
It is still so today. The natural man still does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, lCor.2.14. Indeed, he deliberately rejects truth, because he knows it to be
truth, and he willingly believes lies. The popularity of the theory of evolution is a clear example of this: men want to believe the lie, against the evidence for creation, because they do not want to face the implications of the truth of an all-powerful Creator.
(c) wrong in their attitude to the Lord:
they did not love Him, a Man who came from God, v42;
they wanted to kill Him, a Man who spoke the truth of God, v37,40;
A true believer loves the Lord Jesus Christ; someone, however religious, who does not love Him, is certainly not saved. "What think ye of Christ is the test ...".
(d) wrong in their actions:
Their deeds were what they had observed from their father, the devil, v38, and took character from him, v44.
3. The Methods of Satan
Verse 44 of this chapter also affords us an account of Satan's methods, right "from the beginning" of the human race, in bringing mankind into bondage, and keeping them in it:-
(a) he is lustful: "the lusts of your father ye will do":
we see this in him tempting Eve to eat the fruit that God had forbidden.
(b) he is lethal: "he was a murderer from the beginning":
we see this in him enticing Eve to take action when he knew full well it meant that they would "surely die".
(c) he is lying: "he is a liar, and the father of it":
we see this in him telling lies to Eve about the consequences of her disobeying God.
His methods were certainly working well for those people with whom the Lord was in dialogue: they did the devil's lusts, desired the murder of the Lord Jesus, and believed Satan's lies. His methods are the same today — resulting in unbridled lust, a hatred for the Lord (if He were here today, the world would treat Him no better now than they did then), and believing all Satan's lies.
4. The Meaning of the Seed
In this passage, we see that "Abraham's Seed" can be taken in different senses:
Physically: In v33, the people said "We be Abraham's seed." This was true physically, and the Lord agreed with them: "I know that ye are Abraham's seed," v37.
Spiritually: In v39, the Lord Jesus points out that they are not children of Abraham spiritually: "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham."
This distinction is important practically: it is not enough to be physically Abraham's seed; the important thing is to be his child spiritually. It is also important prophetically: some would try to tell us that the term "seed of Abraham" always refers to his spiritual children, not his physical children, and thus that Israel has no future. In this passage we have a clear case of the term being used physically — these people were not Abraham's seed spiritually, yet the Lord calls them "Abraham's seed." Thus when we study in Scripture the promises to the seed of
Abraham, we need to be very careful to distinguish those promises which are to his physical seed and those to his spiritual seed. The wonderful thing is that it is through the Lord Jesus Christ that these promises will be made good to all the seed, both to that which is of the law, and that which is of faith, Gal.3.16; Rom.4.16.
5. The Marks of the Saints
How blessed it is to see that, in this passage in which we see so much of the work of Satan and his followers, the Lord also gives us the marks of true disciples:-
Abiding in the Lord's word: "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed," v31:
Affection for the Lord Jesus Christ: "If God were your Father, ye would love me," v42:
Accepting God's words: "He that is of God heareth God's words," v47: True believers have a love for the Lord, a desire to hear and receive the Word of God, and they continue in it.
In conclusion, we learn that the greatest privilege that someone can have is to be a child of God. It is possible to be a physical child of Abraham, yet to be a child of Satan, and a slave of sin. The vital thing is to be a spiritual child of Abraham, a child of God, and "free indeed".
But what about this blessed One, described in this passage as "the Son", Who makes us "free indeed"? In the next paper, Lord Willing, we will see how Abraham is used to teach us doctrine about Him, the greatest Person.
In Rom.12.9-13 we saw the responsibilities that each of us faces, primarily in relation to our fellow believers. The circle of Christian fellowship is a real thing and places demands upon us that have to be faced honestly with love and conviction and not just from a sense of duty. Our circle of responsibility now widens out and takes into account the unsaved and even our enemies. The apostle shows that there are others who have to be considered. There is the community in which we live, the townsfolk, our neighbours. In these verses we are given a Christian Citizen's charter which has six very important points. We should not miss the weighty responsibility of each verse by being mislead by its brevity, here are divine commands succinctly put, which if obeyed, will produce Christian living that will be a testimony for God and His glory. Some of these commands are positive in nature, things we must do. Others are negative in nature, things we must refrain from doing. Very often, what a person does not do tells us more about their character than what they do.
1. Spiritual Living, v14. "Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not."
It is the Christian's privilege, indeed duty, to return good for evil. The enemies of the truth of God are always the enemies of the people of God and in one way or another will manifest their animosity against God in how they treat Christians. It is true that in our generation in the Western world, we have not had to suffer much by way of persecution for our faith. Sadly, in other parts of the world some of our dear fellow believers are suffering intensely for their faith in Christ. It is a sad fact of life that where there is no persecution from the world, it is not unknown to find persecution of Christians by fellow Christians. Considering the great truths of the body of Christ, this is incongruous, but it is nonetheless a fact to be faced. From whatever source persecution comes, it must be faced with fortitude. Persecution can be endured and blessing can be returned, but only by those who have experienced the truth of consecration as described in the earlier part of the chapter. Persecution, when handled correctly, should produce those characteristics that make for Christ-likeness. Instead of retaliating with curses we should retaliate with blessing. There is no more effective way to disarm one who is bent on inflicting harm upon his fellow believers than to treat him with love and grace. In this verse we have an echo of the Lord's words in Matt.5.44, "But I say unto you, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you."
2. Sympathetic Living, v15. "Rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep."
Here is the true test of living for others and not for self. Not only are we to share in the temporal needs of the saints as in vl3, but also to share in their spiritual experiences. We are to share each other's joy. The cause for rejoicing is not stated by Paul, but whatever the cause for another believer's rejoicing, we are not to be envious or jealous but willing in our heart to rejoice with them. It has often been pointed out that it may be more demanding to rejoice with others than to sorrow with them. But whenever we find another believing sorrowing, we should be prepared to enter that experience with them in sincerity and with love. This is much more than the clinical empathy of a counsellor's couch, it is real heart-felt sorrow by those with true fellow-feeling. Experiences of joy and sorrow should have the effect of binding the people of God together in real friendship.
3. Humble Living, v16. "Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits."
True humility will be manifested in these two negative and two positive exhortations. V14,15 are requirements that should be met, as occasion demands, but vl6 ought to be the rule of daily life. Harmony instead of haughtiness in our relations with each other is a real test of spirituality. A Christian should be easy to get along with and should have a harmonious disposition that radiates warmth and approachability. This does not mean sacrificing the truth or seeing eye to eye with everybody but it does not mean that even when we differ, it should be in an agreeable spirit. This harmonious living will be the outcome of being lowly minded. There will be no pride in a spiritual believer. Humility instead of conceit should be manifested in our attitude towards others. This is what the Lord did as the friend of publicans and sinners, He "condescended to men of low estate." Genuine humility will enable us to associate with the lowly in a true spirit of friendship. This is not to advocate spending time in the company of the unsaved for the sake of friendship. Rather, it is that attitude of heart that enables us to bring the Gospel to the outcast in society and the down and out.
4. Honourable Living, v17. "Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men."
Another constant attitude of life is being honourable in all things. This takes in every sphere of life to which we have been called, including home life, work life, assembly life, school life or wherever. The believer may not be outwardly persecuted but he may receive evil treatment at the hands of the ungodly. When that happens we should not pay back in kind. In the office, that evil deed is not to be repaid and in the business that underhand deal is not to be repaid. As well as how we handle evil treatment, we are called upon by Paul to show absolute integrity in all our dealings with men. We are to "provide things honest" or literally, "take thought for what is honourable in the sight of all men." The Christian must be beyond reproach. We must learn to live above the temptation to take short cuts in our affairs. The truly consecrated believer should be prepared to pay the price for this type of high principle in living.
5. Peaceable Living, v18. "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
In v16a, the matter of harmony between believers is addressed, but here in v18 undoubtedly the matter in view is harmony with the unsaved community. Living peaceably should be our ambition and aim. It may not always be possible to avoid conflict with the unsaved as they live by different standards, however the cause of the-conflict must never be with the child of God. Living peaceably is not only to be our ambition but it is also to be given our best efforts. "If at all possible, as much as lieth in you," has in mind searching diligently for every opportunity to live peaceably. So, even when we find the unsaved in conflict with us, we are to try our best to live peaceably with them. We should never be the ones to disturb peace and provoke a quarrel. If the situation demands that we must put our faithfulness to Christ first, we must do this and face the consequences. If hostility ensues it must not be perpetuated by the Christian. Peace ought to be pursued and practised by the Christian.
6. Christ-like Living, v19-21.
There can be no better description of these three verses than that they are a manifestation of Christ in the believer's life. This parallels what Peter writes in 1 Pet.2.23 concerning the Lord Jesus when He was under provocation, "Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously. " This is what the Christian must do. In v19, vengeance is prohibited, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay saith the Lord. " When Paul addresses the Christians as "dearly beloved," he is not only putting into practice what he has been bringing before them in the earlier part of the chapter but is also reminding them that there is no question of taking revenge among those who are dearly beloved of each other. In personal matters the Christian must not take it upon Himself to administer punishment or attempt to vindicate himself when another has wronged him. Instead of avenging himself he is to "give place to wrath." In the Greek text, the definite article before the wrath would indicate a specific wrath in this case, i.e. the wrath of God. We are to stand back and let God deal with the situation, for, if punishment is required He alone has the right to administer it, "vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord." To take the matter into our own hands is to enter God's domain and we shall eventually be the losers. It is better to do what the Perfect Man did and leave the matter with God because His judgment will be just right. In v20, mercy is enjoined, "Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." In situations of hostility, the only retaliation allowed, is to show kindness. What exactly the Lord means when He says to "heap coals of fire on his head," is difficult to ascertain and has been the subject of various suggestions. It probably means that showing kindness to those who have shown us nothing but hostility will have the effect of smiting their consciences and producing a burning shame. In v21, evil is overcome, "be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." Retaliation will result in defeat for the Christian. The best way to deal with an enemy is to turn him into a friend by showing him kindness. Victory is found by overcoming evil with good and returning kindness for hatred. In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord Jesus said, "do good to them that hate you: pray for them that despitefully use you," Matt.5.44.
We hear much in the media today about the role of "carers". This term has only come to our attention in the last few years, but the work involved should not be strange to believers. The service of care and Christian compassion is one in which believers have been engaged for generations as they have followed the example of the Master who had compassion on the needy.
Paul was concerned that widows in assembly fellowship should not be neglected, so he gave us instructions regarding those who will be supported by the assembly. In doing so he left us a beautiful description of the work of a godly sister. The elderly widow will be "Well reported of for good works;" if married she will have "brought up children;" she will "have lodged strangers;" "washed the saints' feet;" "relieved the afflicted;" diligently followed every good work;" lTim.5.10.
The general heading over the list is that she will be "Well reported of for good works." All who knew her, both Christians and unbelievers, testified to the good works in which she engaged. When she saw need she was quick to help. This is a vital part of Christian testimony and sisters must be aware of the value to the testimony of this service. Married sisters will have opportunity to go about this work, perhaps with more freedom than unmarried sisters who have full time employment. However, such employment can also be used to carry out "good works" amongst those with whom they come into contact. Our society today expects governments and other agencies to help the needy, but there are many souls with difficulties and problems who feel alone and long for company and a little help on the way. Homes into which illness and suffering have come need that special attention which a believer is able to give, as the compassion which the Master showed to others, and which we have known ourselves, is shown to them. It is a joy to meet sisters who make this service their "employment" and who, without being forward, are known for their good works.
The second feature concerns the family of married women. She will have brought up her children well. She accepted the joys, the worries and the responsibilities of motherhood. How often is this seen today as a "second rate role" for those women who do not wish to have "full time employment"? Such an attitude completely ignores the fact that bringing up children is "full time employment." Complaints that a mother, giving all her time to bringing up children is being unfair to her husband by expecting him to "keep" her, strikes at the very basis of marriage. Her husband vowed to do this in the marriage vows. It is true that circumstances such as an illness or unemployment may necessitate a mother having full-time employment. It may even be possible for a mother of older children to have part-time employment and still fulfil her role. It is disturbing, however, to see mothers give over their children daily to grandparents or child-minders so that they can "go out to work," when it is clear that a little less love of materialism would enable them to live within the income of their husband. Bringing up children for God, that they may in later years be of value in His service, is of inestimable value.
The father is the head of the house, but a mother is the focal point of the family. She can be a "mother in Israel" to her family. From her the children receive their early education in the things of God. She shares their joys and their difficulties. She is there when she is needed, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, a friend to trust and a sharer of laughter. She has earned the commendation of King Lemuel "Her children arise up, and call her blessed," Prov.31.28.
The third and fourth feature which should be noted is that this sister has "lodged strangers" and "washed the saints' feet." She has been hospitable to strangers and has been a servant to the saints. The need to show hospitality in the days when Paul wrote this letter is easy to understand. Those who travelled were far fewer in number than those who do so today, but against that there was no network of suitable lodging places which could be booked in advance. Consequently the ordinary traveller would seek accommodation after his arrival in a town or city. A godly sister would gladly open her home to saints who were passing through. This would entail extra work and the disruption of her daily routine. It would involve her in expense which perhaps could not all be recovered. How appreciated this would be by weary believers who reached her home to be welcomed by warm hospitality. This service, however, was not only for strangers from afar. Even local people who did not know her found, in times of need, that the home was open.
The local believers also enjoyed the blessings of her service. She is said to have "washed the saints' feet". Any service which she could carry out for them was done uncomplainingly, no matter how menial the task may have appeared. If there was work to be done she was willing to sacrifice her time, energy and money to serve others. In addition to all this she "relieved the afflicted." The suffering and the needy found respite when she was there. Her keen watchful attention on all that was taking place would ensure that she did not miss need when it was around her, and she made it her business to act that those with whom she came into contact would remember her work with gratitude.
Here we have a sister who is well known in the area for the kindly, self-sacrificing service of care which she carries out. She tackles this, not on the basis that she will see what she can do to help any in need if she happens to hear of it. This is not a haphazard business in which she is engaged. No! She treats this as a service for the Lord in which she engaged with perception and determination. She looks out for need. No one accuses her of interfering. She is too spiritual in how she acts to even leave such a feeling behind her. This sister honours the Master.
We often hear it said that the influence of the assemblies is declining. For this there are a number of causes, but is one of them not highlighted here? The "working mother" has no time for this role. Many sisters who do not work outside of their home have become accustomed to the thinking of today, that this role is no longer necessary. What a need there is around us that we are not meeting. It is the view of the writer that this is one of the most neglected areas of Christian service today, and no one should underestimate its value to the assembly.
A beautiful example of such a spiritual sister is Dorcas, Acts 9.36-41. It is recorded of her that she was "full of good works and alms-deeds which she did." Dorcas gave her life over entirely to this service. She was "full of this work, indicating that there was little time in her days for anything else. Her good works extended to helping the poor and the needy. She was busy with her needles, sewing to make garments for others. Where there was need she identified it and met it. She was held in such respect by the believers that when she died two men were sent to Peter, who was residing at Joppa, to ask him to come. The grieving saints showed him the garments which Dorcas made "while she was with them". Here was a sister who was considered by the saints to be vital to the testimony. How could they go on without her? What great joy there must have been when she was restored to them. The work could go on.
In this cold indifferent world may we all, brothers and sisters, show that compassion to others which reveals the love of Christ. May our sisters be encouraged that they have an opportunity in this service to carry out work which can touch the hearts of men and women. In doing so they display the care which the Master showed to those who were in need.
Edenderry Village near Belfast, where I was brought up, comprised a linen weaving factory, a small grocery store and a Gospel Hall, along with almost 100 terrace houses. With no through traffic the village had a rural character and it is a special place in the world which will always be dear to me. Father and mother were both saved and in the assembly from their teenage years, so the home in which I was raised was marked by a godly atmosphere and the assembly was central to family activities. Morning meeting, Sunday school and gospel meeting were standard on Lord's Day and between meetings we were permitted to go for a walk through the fields or along the bank of the river Lagan on which the village was built.
Eternal things were impressed upon our minds from earliest days and our need for salvation was brought before us with sincerity and weight, both at home and in the meetings we attended. Consequently, I cannot remember a time when I did not want to be saved, to a greater or lesser degree. The imminent rapture of the church was a truth from Scripture that troubled me, but thoughts such as these did not stay long and life continued. Although not saved, my brother, sister and I would often sing ourselves to sleep with hymns and choruses or we might have been found after "lights out" reading a Sunday school prize book under the bed clothes using a flashlight. Preachers would regularly come to our house for supper after gospel meetings and mother's shortbread and pavlova cake would be accompanied with discussion of the Scriptures and hymn singing. "We're marching to Zion," was my favourite, although I was not saved.
The reality of death was learned when my two grandmothers were called home in 1968, I was then just 8 years old. However, it was not until the first day of October 1973 when my sister Elizabeth got saved that 1 became stirred in my soul and longed to be saved also. On Lord's Day October 7, 1973 the late Mr. Eddie Fairfield came to Edenderry at the start of a week of ministry meetings. That first Sunday night was a solemn gospel meeting. Weight and power characterized our late, esteemed brother's message. I went home convicted and sobered. "Righteous judgment from God should be my portion," was my honest confession of heart. Getting alone upstairs, it came to me like this: "William you are a sinner who deserves to be in hell," but then I thought of Christ, "He came to save sinners," then very simply I understood, "He was punished for me so I don't have to be punished — I'm saved!" I did not tell anyone for a week but when my friend Graham Maze professed the following Lord's Day, I had to tell it too. There was much joy that night in Edenderry.
Soon we were baptised and came into the assembly. School and college years came and passed by. When my wife Ethna and I were married in 1984, we made our home in Bangor and were in fellowship in the Ebenezer Assembly. As the years were passing, invariably Lord's Day evenings would find me going with older brethren to the various halls around the Province to preach the gospel. My father, and others, often took me with them and gave encouragement when appropriate.
During the summer of 1988 we visited Vancouver, British Columbia, in western Canada for a holiday. I took the opportunity to go and talk with some property valuers/appraisers in the city (the profession I was in). Although we were not determined to emigrate, our minds were open and a job offer was necessary for such a move. The last interview was with an expatriate Englishman. Being early for the interview, I sat down beside a fountain to commit issue to the Lord. Opening my eyes I watched the water cascading down and with freshness Ps.l:3 flooded into my mind. "And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water ... and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." Reinforced with this assurance from the Word, I sat the interview. After some time, with this verse before me, I inquired about work and to my surprise Mr. Nilsen offered me a job if I could get through immigration.
Returning to Northern Ireland we submitted an application to the Canadian authorities and in due course the way opened up. We found at each stage of the process an increasing willingness to go to Canada, but at this time my father's health was deteriorating. He had heart surgery six years previously and now the old problem was flaring up. The waiting list was a year long and we could see he would not last another year. How could I leave for Canada with father in such a state and mother in the middle of renovating their house? Before the Lord one December night, grace was given to resolve to do what seemed to us to be His will, to go, and leave the consequences with Him. Amazingly, next day the visas arrived, although they were not expected until February. Father also had his operation early January, and made a good recovery, being spared to us for five and a half more years.
Selling our home proved to be a slow process in a difficult market. However, with suitable encouragement from the Scriptures, we were assured again of the leading hand of God upon us. We arrived in Vancouver with our two year old son in May 1989. We came into fellowship in the Woodland Drive assembly and I started work with the man who offered the job. In the fall of that year, Mr. Tom Bentley was in the city and one day at lunch, he asked me if I had any aspirations for the Lord's work. I replied that I saw my work to be a help in the assemblies in Vancouver and to gain the confidence of my brethren. However, a seed was planted. In the fall of 1991, Mr. Arthur Ward (Wisconsin) visited the city. Again, at lunch we talked about an exercise I had for some gospel meetings in Vancouver, when he said "you know, you should think of Wisconsin." Impossible to emigrate again, I thought, and tried to dismiss it from my mind, but another seed was planted.
Wesley Barr and I had a couple of series in the gospel in 1992 and 1993, and although we were encouraged, openings for such work were few and far between in Vancouver. Meanwhile, correspondence with Art Ward told of blessing, opportunity and a great shortage of workers in the American Mid West. My interest in Wisconsin began to deepen to an exercise to try to help. Just at this time (March '93) a letter from Mr. Tom Bentley set out in clear language his belief it was "time to get at it while you are young!" Little did he know the tremendous impact that had on my exercise of heart. The major obstacle before us was "impossible" immigration procedures to the States. But God is able.
A few days later I saw a newspaper advertisement for an immigration program to the States, so I made inquiry and applied. It was an abbreviated process for immigrants from certain countries, N. Ireland included. The documents indicated that if we had not heard anything from them by the end of June, we were not selected. June came and went. Nothing! Burden of heart and confusion of face was mine. So once more I left it with God in prayer. Before turning out the light that night I read Ps.143. Here was the burden of my heart reflected in the word. Verse 8 fairly stood out, "cause me to hear Thy loving kindness in the morning." Friday July 9, came and went, nothing! Early next week a letter arrived from Art Ward, post marked July 9! "A great need still exists in Wisconsin, where are the workers?" But what about immigration? It wasn't until October that the big white envelope arrived confirming we had been selected and we should get our papers in order. I visited Wisconsin early 1994 and after that spoke to the brethren in Woodland about our exercise. In due course our visas came through and we were commended by the Woodland assembly, with endorsement from the Fairview assembly. The Lord has since been pleased to confirm the work in these parts with His blessing. Brethren, pray for us.
Decisions must be made every day Some are quite trivial as we decide what to choose from a menu, what colour of garment to wear, others are more important as we make a decision in our employment which we hope will benefit our employer, others are even more important as we decide on a career, a partner for life, a place to live etc. In the course of a life there must be many thousands of decisions made.
The most important is that faced by Pilate He was the Roman governor before whom stood the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, manifested in flesh This is what he said, "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?" Matt 27:22.
Various pressures were brought to bear upon him These were both religious and political or social In v20 we read "the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus " There was a constant chant, "Let Him be crucified," v22,23 Many religious leaders will deny what is written in this paper in particular and in this magazine generally, but that does not change the truth You will answer to God alone and for yourself Then there was the social pressure Jn 19:12, "the Jews cried out, saying, if thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend " Popularity has damned many souls The world and its deafening din have caused many a person to forget God and reject salvation. Are you prepared to turn your back on the crowd, leave aside popularity, prestige, the transient glory of this world and trust the Man who died in shame upon the cross in order to purchase your salvation?
In the midst of it all he sought to evade the issue by putting the onus on the people to decide We read, "Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered Him " It was not ignorance on his part, it was desire to avoid making a decision Dear reader, you may be in the same position, but you cannot avoid deciding either for or against Christ Nor can you avoid meeting Him You will either do this by faith while in this world, or you will meet Him literally in the next world when He will assign you to your portion in eternal fire Pilate planned and schemed all on a natural level without any consideration of God or eternity Will your theories do for eternity? Are you sure you are ready to meet God? Acts 4:12, "Neither is there salvation in any other For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
What was the result? Very simply and directly it was crucifixion for Christ and damnation for Pilate Your decision, now that you have read this paper, is, will you accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour or will you reject Him? Will you choose Heaven or hell for eternity? The decision is yours personally You will face God alone Then you will have no one to blame, you will have no props. You will be accountable for your own personal decision.
"Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God," 2 Cor 5:20.