Our beloved brother William Neill, who served on the committee of Assembly Testimony for approaching forty years, almost twenty-five of them as secretary/treasurer, departed peacefully to be with Christ on 11 February 2021.
Billy (as he was known to us all) grew up in Belfast, and was saved there as a boy of 14. He married Miss Elizabeth Hogg in 1979 and came into fellowship in Dunmurry Assembly, then moved to Banbridge in 1983. There he remained for the rest of his life, and was a valuable and highly-esteemed member of the assembly, where for many years he served faithfully as an elder, and as correspondent and treasurer.
Older readers will recall the days when there was less technological assistance for printers of books, pamphlets, tracts, etc., when most records were made in longhand, and letters were individually typed. This was very laborious and time consuming. It was with this background we learn that brother Billy joined Elizabeth and her father, John Hogg (who at that time was the secretary/treasurer of Assembly Testimony, but who was in advanced years), in every aspect of the printing and distribution of the magazine. What an undertaking, as these few yet devoted saints were involved every two months in the parcelling and posting of around fifteen thousand magazines, every one of which had to be lifted and placed in envelopes! Billy was very happy to undertake his share of this burden, quietly, with no desire for the praise of men, but out of love to his Lord and Saviour.
Billy joined the Assembly Testimony committee in 1980, and in 1983 he took on the role of secretary/treasurer. He came home from work as a Civil Servant, had his meal, and often spent the rest of the evening working with the magazine responsibilities. He kept the accounts with meticulous care, dealt with correspondence, change of addresses, and everything else that is involved in good housekeeping, including, when possible, facilitating the hand delivery of magazines, to reduce distribution costs. He exemplified the truth that "it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" 1Cor.4.2.
He desired that we would look ahead and ensure the future welfare of the magazine, in the will of the Lord. He believed that there should be a smooth handover of responsibilities, and in 2007 he requested that his duties would be undertaken by younger brethren. It is a measure of the commitment given by Billy in the service of the magazine that his former duties are presently shared by a number of committee members! Billy remained on the committee for a further ten years, and during that time he maintained his interest and involvement in the work, for example, he continued to be responsible for distribution of the magazine, right up to 2013.
Now Billy, in his ninetieth year, has gone to be with the One he loved and served. Younger men have filled the ranks and we seek to continue the work that Billy loved. He has left us a pattern as to how "we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" Heb.12.28. Please, dear saints, pray for his wife, Elizabeth, who is not in good health herself and who is surely feeling the loss of her husband very keenly. She was unwavering in her support for him in this work. Their many years of exemplary, humble, loving labour for the Master cannot be measured by human standards, but all is known by Him, and we know that He will surely recompense all that has been done for Him, for the blessing of His people and for the furtherance of the gospel.
"Whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" Heb.13.7,8.
We come now to the last of the three Psalms which form a unit of their own within the first section of the Psalter. The Psalm of the Cross (Psalm 22) and the Psalm of the Crook (Psalm 23) are now complemented by the Psalm of the Crown (Psalm 24). The Saviour of Psalm 22, Who is the Shepherd of Psalm 23, is now the Sovereign in Psalm 24: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in."
We are not told why the Psalm was originally composed, and the simple title, "A Psalm of David", does not point to any particular occasion. Most commentators opt for the carriage of the ark from the house of Obed-edom to Jerusalem, 1Chronicles chapters 13 to 16, and this is certainly not unreasonable when we remember that the glory of God was associated with the ark. It is described as "the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims" 1Sam.4.4. See also, for example: "the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubims" 2Sam.6.2; "Thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth" Ps.80.1. This event is certainly commemorated in Psalm 132.
However, the arrival of the ark on mount Zion does not adequately explain the strength of language in the Psalm. Isaiah chapter 59 describes the event to which Psalm 24 refers: "For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon His head; and He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, accordingly He will repay, fury to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. And the Redeemer shall come to Zion" vv.17-20. Most of the older commentators quoted by C.H. Spurgeon in The Treasury of David, and Spurgeon himself, refer Psalm 24 to the ascension of the Lord Jesus. On this basis, the triumphant climax in vv.7-10 describes the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ at the gates of heaven. But the Psalm is dealing with earth, and the right of Christ to reign over the earth. He will reign; He must reign, and God will say, "Yet have I set My king upon My holy hill of Zion" Ps.2.6. Isa.2.1-4 now becomes compulsory reading and we should notice the reference to "the glory" in Isa.4.5: "And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence." These are two of many passages which emphasise the coming importance of Jerusalem. It will be the worlds capital city. It will be as described in Ps.48.2: "beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King". This was quoted by the King Himself, Matt.5.35.
Psalm 24 describes the return of the King to Jerusalem, not now "lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass" Zech.9.9; Matt.21.5, but "with power and great glory" Matt.24.30; Lk.21.27.
The three sections into which the Psalm divides seem quite different in composition and content. There is, however, a clear progression as the Psalm proceeds. It commences by declaring the Lords rights over creation, vv.1,2, continues by stating the demands of His righteousness, vv.3-6, and concludes by describing His glory, vv.7-10. Or, to put it another way, it commences with the wide circle of His creation generally, it continues with the smaller circle of His people particularly, and concludes with His glory alone. The Psalm may be summarised in the following way. The earth is the Lords by right of creation, vv.1,2; by right of character, vv.3-6; by right of conquest, vv.7-10.
A close alternative is:
The Rights of the Creator vv.1,2
The Righteousness of the Creator vv.3-6
The Reign of the Creator vv.7-10
THE RIGHTS OF THE CREATOR vv.1,2
"The earth is the Lords, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein: for He hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods."
Next time you visit the City of London (postcodes EC1-EC4, not the West End or the East End), have a good look at the Royal Exchange in the City itself (opposite the Bank of England). You might see something you recognise!
The Psalm commences with a most comprehensive statement: it covers "the earth" (Hebrew erets: the earth, as created) and "the world" (Hebrew tebel: the world, as inhabited).
The first clause, "the earth is the Lords, and the fulness thereof", evidently refers to the earth materially, with its resources and fruitfulness. Adam was placed in "the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it" Gen.2.15. This is elsewhere rendered "to till it and to guard it" J.N.D. In the language of Psalm 8, Adam was "crowned with glory and honour" and God gave him "dominion" over the works of His hands, vv.5,6. He was to rule for God. The sorry state of the earth today bears witness to human failure. It is readily admitted that the famines of recent years exist through warfare, greed and human inadequacy, rather than lack of resources. Mankind is a tenant; and a very poor tenant indeed. It is only the mercy of the Divine Landowner that has kept the tenant in situ. Otherwise, he would have been evicted long ago.
The children of Israel were required to bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of their harvest unto the priest, who would then wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for them, Lev.23.10,11. The prophetic significance of this is firmly established in the New Testament, 1Cor.15.20, but we must not ignore the fact that Gods people in the Old Testament were to acknowledge the fact that "the earth is the Lords, and the fulness thereof". Sin has made mankind generally unthankful, Rom.1.21, and we must never forget the diversity of Gods goodness. This verse (v.1) is quoted in 1Cor.10.26 ("For the earth is the Lords, and the fulness thereof") to emphasise that all that God has provided is intrinsically good. Preachers have nicely pointed out that the Lord is the Proprietor of all creation, including "every beast of the forest" and "the cattle upon a thousand hills" Ps.50.10. The Forestry Commission would lay claim to a vast acreage of standing timber, but another Psalmist reminds us that "the trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which He hath planted" Ps.104.16.
Pharaoh was told by Moses that as soon as he "spread abroad" his hands "unto the Lord", the thunder and hail would cease, and Pharaoh would "know how that the earth is the Lords" Ex.9.29.
The second clause, "the world, and they that dwell therein", evidently refers more particularly to the sphere and activities of the human race. Men and women also belong to God. See Acts 17.26-28: "and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth that they should seek the Lord " The devilish doctrine of evolution has erased any sense of accountability to God, and has brought disaster to the human race. The huge increase in the crime rate over recent years bears witness to the fact that more and more people are living on the principle of every man for himself. The loss of any sense of accountability to God is accompanied by the loss of any sense of accountability to anybody or anything. The Christian must never cease to recognise that
Lord, we are Thine: our God Thou art;
Fashioned and made we were, as clay;
These curious frames, in every part,
Thy wisdom, power, and love display:
Each breath we draw, each pulse that beats,
Each organ formed by skill divine,
Each precious sense aloud repeats,
Great God, that we are only Thine.
The fact remains that, whether presently acknowledged or not, both earth and mankind will soon recognise the rights and claims of the Creator: "Every knee" will bow, and "every tongue" will "confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" Phil.2.10,11. The Creator Who "hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods" v.2, will ultimately reign with undisputed authority over His creation.
The words "hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods" refer, of course, to Gen.1.9,10: "And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called He Seas". The word "upon" could be rendered above (as in Ps.8.1), and the word "floods" could be rendered rivers or streams, so that the entire verse synchronises perfectly with 2Pet.3.5: "by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water".
"Standing out of the water." The preposition ek means out of. This is Gen.1.9: "Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear". So: He hath founded it above the seas.
"And in the water." The preposition dia means by means of. This means that the earth adheres by water, that is, by water both above and under the earth. So: and established it upon the floods, where "floods" translates nahar, a word often rendered river or rivers.
But why does creation exist? It exists for Gods pleasure. See Rev.4.11: "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour, and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created"; Col.1.16: "all things were created by Him, and for Him". What about the human race in particular? See, again, Acts chapter 17: "and hath made of one blood all nations of men ... that they should seek the Lord" vv.26,27. What qualities does He require in those who seek Him? In the will of the Lord, that will be the subject of the next paper.
Having considered Dan the Man and Jacobs prophetic insight, we shall consider Dan the Tribe.
Dan in the Wilderness
The children of Dan "from twenty years old and upward" at the outset of the journey into the wilderness numbered 62,700, and they were the second largest tribe, Num.1.1-3,38,39. Dan was next censused on the borders of the land almost forty years later. While their numbers had only marginally increased, to 64,400, they were still the second largest tribe, Num.26.42,43. During the wilderness journey one Danite, Aholiab, contributed much to the work of God; while another unnamed Danite was the first in blasphemy. We shall consider both men.
We have, earlier, considered Bezaleel of the tribe of Judah in relation to the construction of the Tabernacle. However, he had a valuable co-worker: "And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee" Ex.31.6. To Aholiab the wise hearted the Lord gave additional wisdom so that, in obedience to His command, the desired outcome would be achieved. It is one thing to have a heart for the work of God and be spiritually wise-hearted, but we must always be dependent on Divine enablement and seek timely wisdom for every task.
Such spiritual empowerment is not for personal benefit: "And He hath put in his [Bezaleels] heart that he might teach, both he, and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. Them hath He filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work" Ex.35.34,35. That which is given by Divine wisdom is to be evidenced in service by word and practical demonstration.
Aholiab had certain special competences: "And with him [Bezaleel] was Aholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver, and a cunning workman, and an embroiderer in blue, and in purple, and in scarlet, and fine linen" Ex.38.23. Aholiab had responsibility for detailed work. The value of the precious metals and gemstones at his hand was immense, requiring integrity in stewardship. His tasks required a single eye, a steady hand, focused concentration and personal application. The result of his work would be seen by very few. Indeed, the minutiae of engraving and stitching, with the same care being required across various materials, could only be appreciated in full by God. The work of God always requires care, application and attention to detail. Those with spiritual aptitude may often feel personal inadequacy, but "if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not: and it shall be given him" Jms.1.5.
Perhaps Aholiab is the noblest of the tribe of Dan; and he came relatively early in tribal history. He demonstrates that with Divine bestowal and enablement it is possible to rise above tribal temperament. Aholiab may represent the zenith of Danite contribution, setting a standard against which all later Danites can be judged; providing a what could have been benchmark. May God enable us all, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to achieve in our own sphere of service all that He has intended.
Aholiab, ever subordinate to Bezaleel, demonstrates that when the tribe of Dan cooperates with that of Judah, great things can be accomplished. These men were chosen by God for the vital tasks they performed. They worked together, complemented each other and taught others how best to assist. Aholiab and Bezaleel came from different tribes and had different propensities, yet each found fellowship together being called of God to a specific service and in giving themselves wholly to it. Surely this should encourage us to work together as brethren in a cooperative and harmonious spirit to mutual benefit and blessing.
The tribes of Judah and Dan also had complementary roles when the host of Israel was on the move. Dan encamped on the north side of the Tabernacle, with the tribes of Asher and Naphtali, a combined host of 157,600, under the standard of Dan, Num.2.25-31. It was "Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai, prince of the children of Dan" who offered on the tenth day for dedicating the altar, Num.7.66-71. Ahiezer, and the standard of the tribe of Dan, led the rear-guard as the children of Israel progressed through the wilderness at the direction of the pillar cloud, Num.10.25-27. While Judah led, Dan brought up the rear. Leadership amongst the people of God is onerous and demanding but rear-guard action, care for those tempted to fall out of the line of march, maintaining vigilance lest an enemy overtake, etc. is also vital. We are indeed our brothers keeper!
The Unnamed Danite
If Aholiab was the outstanding person from the tribe of Dan in the period following the exodus from Egypt, there is an unnamed male associated with their tribe who sinned grievously. He was "the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian ... and his mothers name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan" Lev.24.10,11. Whether or not it was his mixed race parentage that provoked the fight we do not know, but this son, and "a man of Israel strove together in the camp; and the Israelitish womans son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed. And they brought him unto Moses ..." Lev.24.10,11. We recall that when Moses was still a prince in Egypt he intervened when an Egyptian was smiting a Hebrew, and the next day when two Hebrews were striving together, Ex.2.11-13. It was one thing for Moses to be involved with such in Egypt, but tragic when such conflict occurred within the redeemed nation. Aggravation and niggling words can easily develop into an attitude of interpersonal hostility and eventually erupt into open animosity and the spewing forth of intemperate words. How grievous must this be to God when it occurs among His people?
Aholiab of Dan had laboured with the carefulness that association with the sanctuary required; and we have no record of anything Aholiab ever said! Sadly, this unnamed Danite had no such sense of the holiness of the camp of Israel and, while his actual words have not been disclosed, his vituperation is evident. It was language never before used in the camp, words contemptuous of God, with associated cursing. Surely he had passed through the Red Sea, had seen the pillar cloud, partaken of the manna, etc., yet he "blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed".
This was not a private matter. What had happened and what was said were witnessed, "and they brought him unto Moses ... and they put him in ward, that the mind of the Lord might be shewed them" Lev.24.11,12. The witnesses were on the record. This is no dont say that I said it type of reportage, or any they say insinuation. The law on this matter was clear: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain" Ex.20.7. While this applied to all Israelites, Moses was careful to ensure that it applied equally to a person of mixed race in the camp, hence the holding on remand until the mind of the Lord was obtained. Those reporting the matter to Moses were required to be associated in the judgment: "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him" Lev.24.13,14. It was a solemn and testing time, never to be forgotten by those present. Gods determination was, "Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord ..." Lev.24.15-23.
This regime of justice required due process, competent public witnesses and a recognised adjudicator who would discharge his responsibility impartially as a stewardship bestowed by God. There was nothing arbitrary here. Neither prejudice nor preference interfered. Moses was everything that an Attorney General or Head of a Supreme Court should be; and every civil society subject to law owes an immense (though probably unrecognised) debt to law delivered on Sinai. Such care should be exercised in any matter requiring examination and adjudication among the people of God, with a weighty responsibility on witness reliability and accuracy. It was tragic in the extreme that the first penalty for blasphemy was handed down to one from the tribe of Dan. However, it is good that neither his name nor his actual words are disclosed.
The only other Danites of note from this period were "Ammiel the son of Gemalli" who represented Dan in the survey of the land, Num.13.12, and contributed to the discouragement of the people at Kadesh-barnea. Also, "Bukki, the son of Jogli" was the prince from Dan delegated to oversee the division of the land when the wilderness was past, Num.34.22.
Dan Moses Prophetic Blessing
Moses blessings in Deuteronomy chapter 33 contain no critical comment. Rather he encourages the tribes to possess the land and reach their potential. His blessing in respect of Dan is the shortest of all: "And of Dan he said, Dan is a lions whelp: he shall leap from Bashan" Deut.33.22.
If Jacobs prophecy concerning Dan, Gen.49.16-18, referred to his serpentine guile, Moses provides a picture of Dan exerting power. In their later history we will see examples of Dans ruthless determination, as well as association with Bashan. However, their exercise of Danite strength could equally be in a bad sense as well as the good. The exercise of power requires wisdom as well as appropriate control and direction; otherwise there will be collateral damage. Moses, in referring to Dans power, made no comment on how it would subsequently be used. But, as stated, Moses blessings contain no censure.
These notes were written to accompany a series taught in the assembly Bible Class at Uxbridge, England. The series was shared by three brethren, which is reflected in the individual styles of writing of the notes.
PRAYING AT THE CROSS (2) Luke 23.46
This second prayer of our Lord on the cross occurs during the climax of His rejection on earth.
It is very difficult for us, as sinful people, to comprehend how keenly the Lord must have felt the rejection of His fellow men. In Jn.1.11 we are told that His own did not receive Him. In Luke chapter 23 we can see a summary of this fact: the crowd, the nation (represented by the leaders), the religious (chief priests and scribes), wrongdoers (malefactors), also the authorities (Herod, Pilate and soldiers). Then in the three hours of darkness He was forsaken (not the same as rejection) by His God. We, His followers, should not be surprised if rejection happens to us, Matt.10.25; Jn.13.16; 15.20!
We also see with all this antagonism towards our Saviour a wonderful example of His selflessness towards others. We now see how one thief comes to
In v.39 we observe a railing malefactor and we know from Matt.27.44 and Mk.15.32 that both thieves acted in this way until the process of repentance occurred in one of them. Firstly he rebuked the other thief and admitted his guilt by saying that they were receiving what they deserved, v.41. He then acknowledged the righteousness of Christ, v.41, recognised that He was the coming Messiah/Saviour and expressed dependence on the Lord by asking to be remembered, v.42. The Lord then gave him the reassurance of paradise today, v.43. We notice that this thief was unable to do any good work to merit Gods favour but just relied on a dying Saviour, Who, the thief believed, would be resurrected, v.42. Now we see the
RESPONSE OF CREATION to the Lords Crucifixion vv.44,45
At midday there was a darkness over all the earth for three hours. This had not happened since the dawn of creation, Gen.1.2. Both times God was making something new. Compare a perfect world which man spoiled to a perfect work which makes man fit for Gods perfect heaven (see also Matt.27.51-53). In v.45 we read of the
RENT VEIL of the Temple v.45
This is mentioned in this verse (and also in Matt.27.51 and Mk.15.38) and reminds us of Heb.10.19,20, which tells us that we have an access to God which Gods people in the Old Testament never had. We now read of the
RIGHTEOUS CRY of the Victorious Lord v.46
Two cries of our Lord on the cross are recorded as "cried with a loud voice": "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Matt.27.46; Mk.15.34; and the loud cry recorded in Matt.27.50; Mk.15.37 and Lk.23.46, which is presumably the same as His word "finished" Jn.19.30. The first cry would tell us of the awful experience that the Lord passed through (see Ps.69.2) and the second tells us of a work fully completed. As we come to the Saviours prayer in v.46 we see complete
REST and RELIANCE in His Father v.46
He knows the work is completed, Jn.17.4. We see for Him, as the perfect Man:
Communion enjoyed in all its fulness, after He had been forsaken: He was "made sin" 2Cor.5:21. The result for us is found in 1Jn.1.9;
Confidence which comes from a completed task. Our confidence is in Him and in His finished work!
Commendation of His spirit into the Fathers safe keeping. For us, Jn.14.3; 2Tim.1.12.
Finally, we come to the
REACTION of the Onlookers vv.47-49
The centurion glorified God, v.47;
The people acknowledged injustice and returned home, v.48;
Those who knew Him and had helped Him stayed with Him, v.49.
Who followed Him later? Acts 1.14 implies that those in v.49 did so. What about you?
Unless otherwise stated, all references are from The Acts of the Apostles.
This chapter vividly illustrates that God may bring His people through wave after wave of trouble, even though He has the power to stop it. The Judaean believers were undergoing famine, 11.27-30, and yet "about that time" 12.1, Herod began his malicious persecution resulting in James execution, and if God had not intervened Peter would have died too. Their contrasting fates show that God could have saved James if He purposed to; but He did not, so He must have had a purpose in James death. By the same token, He must have had a purpose in the famine (Paul saw one, Rom.15.25-27). As such, even though we may not perceive it, we can be sure God has a purpose in His peoples sufferings today, Rom.8.28.
HERODS DISPLAY OF POWER vv.1-3
Herods actions reveal someone in love with power. When he "stretched forth his hands" v.1, things happened. James could not escape him, v.2: likely his thought was, So much for the Christians God! The Jews liked the spectacle of violence against Christians, so Herod intended to further indulge them, v.3. Using the military power at his disposal he had Peter "apprehended" and heavily guarded, all with a view to providing a Passover-time spectacle for the Jews, v.4. The timing is reminiscent of the Lords treatment at the hands of wicked men.
Deliberately set against this impressive demonstration of power is the picture of apparent weakness: a church that can do nothing but pray, v.5. And how they prayed! The whole story pivots on this point. Herod had planned things to maximise his popularity with the Jews, but God would turn the tables into a humiliation of greater measure. Herod created "the expectation of the people of the Jews" v.11, "but" v.5, he was about to learn what the Lord told Pilate: "Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above" Jn.19.11. God allows proud man to go so far, but, like the sea waves, there is a point at which He says, "Hitherto ... but no further" Job 38.8-11.
PETERS MIRACULOUS ESCAPE vv.4-11
The Divine intervention resulting in Peters escape from jail underlines important principles about Biblical miracles. Firstly, miracles are not naturally explicable. They involve the temporary alteration of the rules by which God normally governs the universe. In this instance Peters two chains falling from his hands defies the expected behaviour of metallic materials. In addition, Peters walk, undetected, past a high security guard defies the normally expected behaviour of soldiers whose lives were evidently in jeopardy if they lost their prisoner. The fact that the escape remained undetected till morning suggests a trance or sleep came upon them. And then there is the iron gate automatically swinging open, v.10. This defies normal laws of motion: no visible force was exerted on it, yet it opened. Put these elements together and we are left with a choice: the story is fabricated, or it is miraculous. We come to the same point as we read the Word of God, and indeed, as we investigate the Person of Christ, Jn.20.30,31. We cannot accept the Bible as Gods Word and strip it of the supernatural. And we do not need to; after all, what is incredible about the Creator occasionally intervening to alter the natural laws that He has established in His world?
Secondly, miracles are not normally expected. In Acts chapter 12 we are in the period when, and with the people through whom, God was performing miracles, designed to validate the preaching of the gospel, Heb.2.3,4. Yet when Peter was released the saints were "astonished" v.16. This is no criticism; after all, James had just been executed. Miraculous intervention then, is always Gods prerogative, and He is under no obligation to do so to satisfy the whim of man, Matt.27.40; Lk.16.31.
Thirdly, miracles are not needlessly employed. Just look at what Peter had to do for himself! He had to get up, dress, put on his sandals, follow the angel on foot, and then when the angel left him one street away from the prison, use his initiative: he was on his own! Angels serve "them who shall be heirs of salvation" Heb.1.14, but clearly they do not do for saints what saints can do for themselves; a useful principle to bear in mind when seeking to help saints in need.
THE ENGINE ROOM OF THE CHURCH vv.12-17
A positive effect of the adverse situation was that it united "the church" in prayer, v.5. The scene in Marys house where "many were gathered together praying" v.12, is heart-warming. Rhoda going to answer the door shows the saints felt at home there, v.13; but better, they felt free to pray there. The whole church may not have been able to attend the emergency late night prayer meeting, understandably, but their contribution to the prayer effort from elsewhere is still registered and it still availed. The prayer was fervent, being offered "without ceasing" v.5, a word which according to Vine means to stretch out. They certainly stretched themselves, continuing in prayer well into the night, past Peters bedtime at least, v.6!
As to the content of their prayer, the only clue we have is that it was "for him" v.5, that is, for Peter. The incident therefore encourages intercessory prayer. We may conclude their prayer was effective by looking at what followed it, and thus find guidance when praying for those in need today. Firstly, Peter was sleeping! The expectation of his execution was at fever pitch, and he was in the most uncomfortable of beds doubly chained between two soldiers, v.6 yet he was so soundly asleep that the angel "smote" Peter to awaken him, v.7! Rest is a gracious provision that comes from God, Ps.127.2, thus it is fitting to pray for practical peace for those saints experiencing trouble in this world, Jn.16.33. Secondly, Peter was set free. This was entirely at Gods discretion, as evidenced by James execution; thus we can pray for deliverance from adversity, provided we caveat it with "if the Lord will". Thirdly, Herod was stopped. We may bring before God the threatening of wicked men, leaving Him to intervene according to His all wise purpose, 4.29; Dan.4.17; Ps.76.10. Fourthly, the saints were surprised! There is something of the comical in Rhodas response: leaving Peter outside while reporting the good news of his release to those in the prayer meeting! But it simply serves to illustrate that God "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" Eph.3.20. Peter made a point of informing them of his release before quickly departing, reminding us that it is important to share answered prayer with those we know are interceding for us.
HERODS DEMISE vv.18-23
Herods reaction to the situation has all the hallmarks of wounded pride. First, and understandably, he held the soldiers to public account for Peters escape by having them executed. How solemn it is that sixteen soldiers lost their lives, ultimately because of their wicked rulers political whim. Second, Herod moved from Judaea to Caesarea. It is reminiscent of Ahithophel who, when he suffered loss of face, could not continue in the same place and in fact resorted to suicide, 2Sam.17.23. Herods pride caused a further, this time fatal, problem when he was flattered into an insincere reconciliation with the people of Tyre and Sidon. His failure to resist their blasphemous flattery resulted in the angel of the Lord smiting for the second time in the chapter, not now to waken Peter, v.7, but to execute Herod, v.23. His undignified demise illustrates Heb.10.31: it is "a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God".
THE ENDURING RESOURCES OF THE CHURCH vv.24,25
The chapter ends by drawing a contrast between the demise of Herod and the growth of the Word of God, v.24. Proud Herods intentions had ultimately been frustrated, yet despite the outward turbulence, Gods agenda had quietly moved forward. What had the young church learned? For one thing, their continuation depended not on James, whom Herod killed, nor on Peter, for after his miraculous release from prison Peter had to depart to another place, v.17. No matter the usefulness of a human servant, the ultimate resources for the church, then, and now, are "God, and the word of His grace" vv.5,24; 20.32. God taught them the lesson by means of a famine, a loss, a dramatically averted loss, and the solemnising removal of a violent opponent. His lessons are perfectly crafted, at times costly, yet He works all things together after the counsel of His own will: harnessing things created, both fallen and redeemed, in order to manifest His glory.
Thus far we have considered the expression "in the beginning" in Gen.1.1 and Jn.1.1. We come now to closely related words in 1Jn.1.1: "That which was from the beginning".
Notice the words here "from the beginning". "That which was from the beginning" is another expression that has been subject to different views and interpretations. Are these words that indicate a point of time? If so, what period then is indicated? Or do these words take us to a timeless beginning? John says, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)".
Some suggest the expression refers to the manifestation of the Son of God amongst men (see Jn.1.14); His incarnation. It is argued that in the Epistle Christ is presented as "from the beginning", the manifestation on earth of that eternal Life that was with the Father; this being different from Him as "the Word with God", as in the Gospel (John chapter 1). Relationship and fellowship in the Divine nature is the subject here.
Some suggest the expression is more restrictive and takes us to the beginning of the public testimony of the Lord Jesus at thirty years of age, the manifestation of Him Who was the eternal Life. Those who hold this view suggest that the context leads to this conclusion. It is argued that here is the beginning of gospel preaching, when they first heard of and from the Lord Jesus (see also Jn.15.27; 16.4; 1Jn.3.11; 2Jn.5,6).
There is an alternative view. The closing words of this verse suggest, as a minimum, that the apostle refers to our blessed Lord in incarnation, for it was down here, after that the Word became flesh, that the only begotten Son manifested that eternal life which He had ever enjoyed in a past eternity with the Father. This revelation was not only in His public ministry. The manifestation of eternal life could hardly be restricted to only three years of His life. Surely the whole of His life was a manifestation of life with the Father. Indeed, the manifestation may also include Christ in His resurrection. The words "was manifested unto us" indicate that John writes to believers in the circle of fellowship of the apostles. What had been manifested to the apostles had been conveyed to his readers, and their eyes had been opened to discern in Jesus of Nazareth the Divine Son when resurrected.
In contrast to the above it is suggested that the expression is not time related. It also (as in the Gospel) goes back beyond the earthly life of the Lord Jesus. The One Who is eternal has been manifested. It is in fact a critical doctrinal statement at the beginning of the Epistle and wholly consistent with the doctrine of the Epistle. The broader context of the whole Epistle, not just the immediate verses at the commencement of the chapter, must be taken into account. The verse is teaching us of His eternity and the reality of His humanity. This is the error that John was facing when he wrote this letter. In an epistle which defends both the Deity and true humanity of the Lord Jesus there is an emphatic doctrinal statement at the start. Here then the apostle is saying that the Lord Jesus existed "from the beginning", from all eternity and came down into manhood. The "beginning" here takes us back to the Sons eternal pre-incarnate being.
This is different from what is referred to in 1Jn.2.13. There it is knowing "Him that is from the beginning". It is the beginning of His taking flesh, the incarnate Word, in this world. "From the beginning" there is reckoned from His manifesting Himself as Emmanuel, God with us.
Taking our thoughts forward, "the beginning" is a title of the Lord Jesus, Col.1.18; Rev.3.14:
In Col.1.18 we read, "And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead". The apostle speaks here of Christ as the Head of the body, the Church. It is clear that he presents Him in His risen and glorified condition. To remove all possible doubt, after he has termed Him "the beginning", he adds, "the firstborn from the dead". The beginning here tells of Christ in resurrection. In resurrection He is the revelation of Gods counsels for man. As "the beginning" He is the source, energy and originator of the new creation. All He was to the first creation He is to the new creation.
The resurrection of Christ is a moment of supreme importance. It marks Gods new beginning after all the sad history of mans failure and sin. It is a moment on which the eye of God has rested from all eternity; for while Adam, as the responsible man, came first upon the scene of this world, Christ was ever the Man of His counsels, the One in Whom and through Whom the whole universe will be filled with redemption glory.
In Colossians chapter 1, He is the Beginning, as Firstborn from among the dead, ascended on high, the glorified Head of a new creation; Who is the Head of the body, the Church, the members of which are firstfruits of this new creation. It is the beginning of a new epoch, Christ in resurrection.
In Rev.3.14 Christ terms Himself "the beginning of the creation of God". This is slightly different from Colossians, in that our attention is directed to the new creation of which Christ is the beginning, rather than to Himself in His new condition. He is the source and origin of the new creation. The words could be translated "the beginner of creation". All in the new creation is founded upon Him.
The references in Colossians chapter 1 and Revelation chapter 3 are connected in that both refer to Him in resurrection; but we learn from Revelation (as from other Scriptures) that there is a new creation suited to the Divine and heavenly Man, and that He Himself, in His condition as risen and glorified, is the expression of it. He presents Himself thus to Laodicea because the local church (and indeed the whole Church) ought to be the exhibition morally of the new creation in the power of the Holy Ghost. Sadly, we have come far short of this goal. But Gods thoughts are completely realised in Christ, and the presentation of Himself in this character serves to bring out by contrast our failure in responsibility (whether as individuals, or as local assemblies, or in the broader sphere of Christian testimony) as witness-bearers for Christ. In Revelation chapter 3 He announces Himself to the angel of the church at Laodicea (where to His view the riches, pretensions, and independence of the first man were apparent) as "the beginning of the creation of God". He is the originator of the new creation. It is under His headship. In both Colossians chapter 1 and Revelation chapter 3 Christ in resurrection is Gods new beginning.
It is evident that there is some divergence of views on the interpretation of the expression "in the beginning". Alternative expositions are allowable as long as there is no compromise to the fundamental truths of Scripture in relation to Divine Persons. The intention and desire is that the exposition suggested should prompt us to consider the matters through additional study. Whatever our exposition of the verses looked at in these articles, surely they would cause us to adore the eternal Son of the eternal God.
"We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you " Numbers 10.29
Sadly, many of those who may have heard the words of Moses to Hobab never entered the Promised Land; the wilderness became the cemetery of the unbelieving who failed to be persuaded that God would fulfil His promises. Their unbelief caused needless wanderings in the barren wastes and prevented them from enjoying the "land flowing with milk and honey" Ex.3.8.
Thankfully we will reach the fair land of Beulah in spite of our all-too-frequent failures and abject unworthiness. "He is faithful that promised" Heb.10.23, and our arrival in those celestial scenes, where the interests of Christ are paramount, is guaranteed. Jesus, the Forerunner, has already entered that blissful land; He is the Captain of our salvation and is "bringing many sons unto glory" Heb.2.10.
Fret not, nor fear, dear believer; no one and nothing can prevent us from arriving safely in the haven of eternal rest.
There is coming a day when no heartaches shall come,
No more clouds in the sky, no more tears to dim the eye;
All is peace for evermore on that happy golden shore,
What a day, glorious day that will be!
"God is mine helper" Psalm 54.4
"The Lord is my helper" Hebrews 13.6
There are many times in life when we will be reliant upon the help of others: the care and expertise of doctors and nurses; the professionalism of experts in their realm to advise and direct us; the energy of friends and family when our strength fails and in many other situations. Some will do their best but, for various reasons, will be unable to proffer the needed help; others will refuse to help though they could offer assistance.
How blesshd to consider a Helper Who is always interested in our need and is willing and able to offer the help required. He will never encounter an insurmountable problem and every iron gate must yield at His command. When I am weak, He then is strong; when I am anxious, He calms my fears and in every need He supplies His all-sufficient grace.
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labours increase,
In the first paper, we noted that the word "moment" occurs three times in the New Testament:
Lk.4.5: Moment of Temptation
2Cor.4.17: Moment of Trial
1Cor.15.52: Moment of Transformation
We began to consider the MOMENT OF TEMPTATION and looked at Mentions of the Temptation in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. We now come to:
Motive of the Temptation
The devils motive was to stop Gods redemptive purpose. Down through history he sought to stop God bringing forth the seed of the woman, thus there is: the killing of Abel, Genesis chapter 4; the corruption, Genesis chapter 6; Babel, Genesis chapter 11; the murder of Hebrew children, Exodus chapter 1; the line of Judah being reduced to one baby, Joash, 2Chr.22.10-12; the slaughter of children under Herod, Matthew chapter 2; and now the Redeemer has appeared and has been verified by the announcement from heaven at His baptism: "My beloved Son". We repeat that in the temptation Gods purpose was not to find out if our Lord would sin; rather, it was to show He could not.
Moment of the Temptation
The word "moment" employed in Lk.4.5 means a point of time. Each of the different writers gives a perspective on that point. Matthew chapter 4 comes after the proclamation "This is My beloved Son"; that is, when He is in the public eye. In Mark chapter 1 it is "Thou art My beloved Son"; that is, when He is enjoying personal communion. In Luke chapter 4, "Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from Jordan"; that is, when He is in the path of obedience. Verse 2 ought to be carefully considered: "Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days He did eat nothing: and when they were ended, He afterward hungered." The cruelty of the devil is seen in that he attacks when we are physically weak. We have seen so many choice saints, whose salvation is undisputed, doubting their salvation as the devil attacks the weak saint with ferocious savagery.
Manner of the Temptation
James records that "every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed" Jms.1.14. As noted previously the Lord Jesus Christ never was tempted from within, since He was holy both inwardly and externally.
The wilderness was the backdrop for the stone(s) to be made bread and this was an attack on the manner of His life, since He depended on God for every word. At first sight it might appear that there is nothing sinful involved here (since turning stones to bread would not be a sinful act in itself) but it presents Satan as the serpent.
The next has to do with the high mountain and the kingdoms of the world and it displays Satan as an angel of light. This offer by Satan was rejected by our Lord Jesus but will be accepted by another man in a day to come: "And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast ... power was given unto him to continue forty and two months" Rev.13.4,5. What the Lord refused from the devil He will get from God: "Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession" Ps.2.8.
Then we come to the attack on the manner of His death, when He was taken to the pinnacle of the Temple and told, "Cast Thyself down". This is Satan as the roaring lion.
Method of Resistance to the Temptation
It is not surprising to discover that protection is found behind "the shield of faith": "Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked" Eph.6.16. This is the comprehensive covering, the shield of door-like dimensions which covered the whole body. The shield is "the faith"; that is, all that is involved in Christianity is based on faith, not our understanding. We continue to believe when we do not understand. This quenches: stops the fire spreading and getting out of control. It is not feelings or experiences! This will be a bulwark when we are attacked by modernism, atheism, ritualism, intellectualism and every other ism there is. This faith has for its foundation the Holy Scriptures. The young men of Johns day used it: "I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one" 1Jn.2.14.
To negate every temptation the Lord Jesus quotes a suitable Scripture, and on each occasion it is from Deuteronomy, which is the book for the wilderness.
In Lk.4.4, at the first temptation, there is a quotation from Deut.8.3: "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." This was spoken to the nation, in the wilderness, and it has a real and unforced application to the present state. The nation was dependent on God, Who met every need. Now the Lord is the dependent Man and He will not use His Divine power to satisfy His human needs until there is a word from God. He turns water into wine for the good of others but will not use this power for personal enjoyment.
The second temptation, regarding the mount, kingdoms and worship, is met by Lk.4.8, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve", which is a quotation from Deut.6.13. This is a chapter that emphasises the need to "fear the Lord". We read in v.2, "That thou mightest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments", which highlights Submission to Gods Word. Verse 13 says, "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve Him, and shalt swear by His name", underlining Separation to Gods Will. In v.24 we read, "And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is at this day", teaching us that there is Safety in Gods Way.
Regarding the temptation on the pinnacle of the Temple, Lk.4.12 simply states, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God", which is a quotation from Deut.6.16. Here the devil misquotes from Ps.91.11,12, when he both omits and adds important words. Ps.91.11 reads, "For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." The devil omits the words printed here in bold, Lk.4.10, and then, in v.11, he adds the words, "at any time". Our Lord does not correct these misquotations but He rather uses a Scripture which is clear and unmistakable. The principle is obvious: what is obscure cannot annul what is clear. The answer is in Lk.4.12, where Jesus answered and said to him, "It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." This is not a statement of the Deity of the Lord Jesus, but it is rather saying that to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple and expect the Lord to guard Him would be presumption and therefore tempting Him. It is teaching that to put God to a test is really a lack of faith.
Message of the Temptation
What message and practical application has this for us?
The first temptation in the wilderness involved making the stone(s) bread, which was an attack on His manner of life since He depended on God for every word. Application: We hear the question being asked, What harm is in this? We should think positively, not negatively, and ask, What profit is in this? Paul expressed this in 1Cor.6.12: "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." We should live depending fully on God for everything.
The second temptation was an attack on His kingdom: "the devil, taking Him up into a high mountain, shewed unto Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time" Lk.4.5. Application: The kingdoms of the world are transient and when compared with eternity, are short at the longest. The only thing worth having is what God offers. What the devil offers is passing and is encapsulated in "one hour" Rev.17.12. For what are we living? Materialism, social climbing, cliques and groups; all glorying in things that are not for His glory?
The third temptation was on the pinnacle of the Temple and attacked the manner of His death: " set Him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto Him, If thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down from hence" Lk.4.9. Application: Do we desire the public eye and their admiration? Can we truly say, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" Gal.6.14?
MOMENT OF TRIAL 2Cor.4.17
In 2Cor.4.16-18 Paul presents a number of contrasts which give us the secret of godly living. These contrasts allow us to see the passing features of this life and they assure us that living for God will all be worthwhile when we get to heaven and see Him face to face.
In v.16 the outward and the inward are contrasted, and the outward is out-lived;
In v.17 the light affliction is laid alongside the weight of glory and the affliction is out-weighed;
In v.16 perishing is out-stripped by renewing;
In v.17 affliction is out-shone by glory;
In v.17 a moment is out-lasted by the eternal;
In v.18 the things which are seen are out-classed by the unseen;
In v.18 the temporal is out-valued by the eternal.
Paul, in v.17, refers to his sufferings as "light". How can he say this? The only other occurrence of this word is in Matt.11.30: "For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." Consider what he calls "light": later in this same epistle; in 2Cor.11.23-28, he writes, "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. (Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;) in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches."
This was light because he had eternity in his soul. All was weighed in the context of what was lasting and eternal. Thus he speaks of "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory". If we are honest, we find it difficult to define glory, but it is an almost impossible task to weigh glory. By this time, Paul has been saved for about thirty years and has suffered greatly throughout that time. The answer to the question as to how he can refer to his sufferings as light is found in relating all to eternity: an eternal weight of glory.
He expresses the same thought in Rom.8.18: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." We may suffer for thirty, forty, fifty years, or more, but when compared with eternal glory it is momentary.
In Lk.24.13 we find two dejected disciples walking along the dusty road to a village called Emmaus. Their hopes seem dashed, they are very sad at heart and the future appears so bleak. They are deep in discussion about the events that have taken place recently at Jerusalem.
A third Person joins them, Who appears to be a stranger, but it is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 15 is very direct and personal: "Jesus Himself drew near, and went with them".
Here is the eternal Son of God, the Creator of the world, the One destined to reign in absolute majestic glory for all eternity, coming up, in person, to a sad married couple, Cleopas and his wife. In them we see humanity, with its failings and weakness; yet the Lord Jesus joins them. This act of joining such a downcast couple is a beautiful illustration of the personal compassion of Christ for any who are heartbroken. They are suffering personal heartache, yet they are about to learn in a remarkable way that their sadness is going to draw them to the things of Christ. The Spirit of God withholds from them any recognition that they might have that it is the Lord Jesus Who is beside them. This may seem strange, but the temporary lack of recognition was special to that unique occasion. In response to their discourse (about the crucifixion of Christ and the subsequent events) they are drawn to concentrate upon the expounding of the reasons for the events they have recently witnessed.
The Lord Jesus spoke about the essential need for His death. He opened the Old Testament Scriptures and gave them a feast of Divine truth. They could not have had a greater teacher, or heard a greater exposition and ministry, or experienced a greater privilege, as they exclaimed later: "Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?" Lk.24.32. They were not only united in marriage as one, but were also one in spiritual things.
Although they did not know that they were in the presence of Christ, their hearts had been so warmed and blessed that they constrained the "stranger" to lodge the night with them. At supper, as "He took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them" Lk.24.30, their eyes were opened and they saw the risen Christ. What prompted the opening of their eyes? Was it seeing the bread in His pierced hands? Oh the indescribable comfort He has brought them! What spiritual help on the highway, and what abundant joy is now their experience as He vanishes out of their sight!
It is interesting to observe the significance of the Lord Jesus tarrying with the couple for the last meal of the day, which is often the most relaxed. Before the close of the days activity, Christ brought comfort, which, besides such precious spiritual blessing, also promotes physical calm for refreshing rest for the night hours ahead.
The Lord Jesus came to two lesser-known disciples because no one else could come, should come, or must come: no spirit; no angel; no other disciple. Only He could come. He came to where they journeyed. He came unexpectedly. He came because they needed Him. He came because they did not understand what had happened and why it had happened. He came to dispel all fear and doubt, to comfort, and to reassure. He came personally, with a message personally for them. We are not given a detailed account of His ministry to them, but it was entirely from the Word of God. It was for them Divine help and blessing, as individuals, whatever their circumstances.
Here we see Gods standard of intimate compassion, care and love to the individual who belongs to Christ. What a great Saviour we have; the only Friend Who never fails us; Who loves us with an everlasting love! Praise His excellent name!
The presence of the Lord Jesus on the Emmaus Road teaches the essential value of personal ministry, individual care, demonstrating compassion and bringing joy and comfort to the heavy heart of a believing soul. It does not matter how dark the circumstances, or whatever stage the saint has reached travelling along the pilgrim pathway. The Christlike companionship of spiritual and practical help, together with assurance, is so important to the welfare of every believer.
Recently many news outlets published a story about a man, Eric Schwam, who died at the end of last year, at 90 years of age, and whose entire estate was bequeathed, not to his family or friends, or to an organisation, but to an entire village: Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, in southern France. The reason: he was an Austrian Jew, who had arrived there with his parents as a 12-year-old in 1943, fleeing from the Nazis. The people of the village hid them in the village school, where they remained, undiscovered, until the end of the Second World War. Mr Schwam intimated that the bequest (reckoned to be about two million euro) was "in gratitude for the welcome he received 78 years ago".
I found this story very touching, for at least two reasons. The first was to think of the selflessness and sacrifice made by the people of that village to save this family from almost certain death (and many others too, for it is estimated that they took in two and a half thousand Jews during World War II). A plaque outside the school records the villagers bravery, and states that they acted "in peril of their own lives". It reminds me of an even greater example of selflessness and sacrifice, made by Gods Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We were sinners, and not just in grave danger, but absolutely certain of eternal death, to suffer forever the righteous penalty for our sin against God, in the Lake of Fire. Yet He loved us and willingly, selflessly, He came into the world, not at the risk of dying, but with the certainty of it, by laying down His life, voluntarily, as the sacrifice that was needed to free us from the judgment for our sins. "Christ hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice" Ephesians 5.2; "He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" Heb.9.26; "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" Romans 5.8; "Christ died for our sins He was buried He rose again" 1Corinthians 15.3,4.
The second reason I was moved by the story was to think how highly this man had valued the sacrifice that had been made for him, all those years ago. The stipulation in his will was evidence of his profound gratefulness. Yes, there were very strong grounds for his deep appreciation, but possibly there were other people who were sheltered by the same villagers, but who never expressed any thankfulness. How sad, to think of such ingratitude for such a sacrifice! Yet the Lord Jesus did so much more, in sacrificing Himself for the people of this world, and how sad it is that so few are thankful to Him. What about you? Are you, like the majority, indifferent to Him and to what He has done? He is looking for a response from your heart. He is not asking you to show gratitude by giving your money, or doing works, but simply by coming to Him in all your need as a sinner, with thankfulness for the work He did on the cross to save you, turning away from your sins, and receiving the gift of eternal life, which is freely available to you, today. If you do, you will be able to say, truthfully, along with all those who are saved: "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us We love Him, because He first loved us" 1John 4.16,19; "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift" 2Corinthans 9.15.
"The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression" Proverbs 19.11
This verse is not teaching that we should ignore wrong-doing, or that people should be free to sin with impunity; rather it is about how we should respond when wrong is done against us. This happens to us all, but how we react is crucial. It is natural to let ones anger well up, and to hold a grudge, but it is not a spiritual response. God is "slow to anger" Ps.103.8, and one who has this characteristic is demonstrating prudence. If he overlooks transgression done against him, he is praiseworthy. He knows that to flare up, and to harbour resentment, is harmful: to the testimony, to others, and to himself. "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" Jms.1.19,20.
"Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone" John 16.32
In recent times, many have known, as never before, what it is like to be alone. The terms self-isolation and social distancing were not in our vocabulary, but now none of us will ever forget them. For those to whom enforced isolation is a new experience, it ought to instil in them a greater sympathy with those for whom it is their normal situation in life. How good it is to know that the One Who can sympathise most is He Who has been through the worst possible experience of being alone: our Lord Jesus Christ. Shortly after speaking the words in our text, He was left alone by His disciples in Gethsemane, Matt.26.36,56. He stood alone at Gabbatha, before Pilate, Jn.19.13. At Golgotha, Jn.19.17, alone, He "His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" 1Pet.2.24. Do we find isolation difficult? He, Who has known it more than we have, sympathises as none other can.
"There are many devices in a mans heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand" Proverbs 19.21
This proverb is true regarding the devices of evil men: "The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: He maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations" Ps.33.10,11. It also assures us of Divine providence: "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed" Lk.2.1; "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son" Gal.4.4. Caesars plan was part of the outworking of Gods immutable purpose. It is also true for arrangements that believers make. We should always follow the example of Paul ("I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will" 1Cor.4.19) and the exhortation of James ("Ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that" Jms.4.15).