This is a marvelous thing to consider, is it not? And to consider again. And perhaps cease not to consider until it is so firmly axiomatic in our soul; that our God, is giver. The God who gave His own Son, the only God who does so, is far exceeding in a generosity we barely apprehend. But apprehend it we must. Truth is not given for our vexation, but to our clarity in all things.
It must be settled in us; God is source and giver of all to man. Anything of apprehension/comprehension never begins in us, or we find, ends in us. We don’t “get it” because we have figured anything…out. Our own calculus is useless before God, and we may find…even less than so…to an opposition. The gift of God is not based at all upon intellect or cleverness, and clever men will find this out in the pain of heavenly therapy. The God who is of all purpose has purposed man to be filled with His fullness, and this is our testimony of Jesus Christ. He is that man.
As with so many things we may be learning, this too must be worked out in us past the place of seeming paradox. But, as I have said, and to hew as close to an honesty I am allowed to understand, it might only be I (of myself) who has ever found seeming paradox. So, I can only relate what I have found to go on “inside me”. If you are at all able to understand, or see anything of yourself in it, this will not be in vain.
We spoke briefly before of Mary and Martha. How rich is that exchange! Who knows how many sermons and expositions it has endured? And probably most rightly so. As surely as lost keys, or misplaced keys, demand a searching out to finding, no less do we find keys here to help us unlock doors. But really…why?
Why are doors unlocked to understanding made to be of such importance to us? Unless we are made able to admit we are the deepest of mysteries to ourselves perhaps we make little or no progress here. It is not of accident that you inhabit the house to which you have been assigned, while I reside in mine. Outwardly they may appear quite different, and even to an extent inwardly, habits and practices may arise to some distinction. Nevertheless we all inhabit “homes of man”. There is a commonness (not to be confused with a derogatory use of the word common) to all of us. And, to this point in time, whether we like it or not, it is not in our power to tinker with the nature of man.
Why is that said, and particularly “to this point in time”? Because as of yet, we might not be happy about it. We may not yet like it to know we are not our own to do with as we please. Things within our power does not equate to all being in our power. If we forget Adam’s lessons we are surely on our way to an ignoring of Christ’s work. And that is far more than merely losing navigation that we might end up on rocks, or in danger; it is the blind ignorance of not knowing we are already amidst a minefield of destruction. Christ came into a place very unsafe to the soul, to deliver out of it. And it is not putting to fine a point to it to say He came to where the soul finds only condemnation, to be there, in that place, what appears miraculously to its salvation.
We may indeed like to think that to ourselves there is power of improvement. And probably none of us (surely if believers) cares to consider a desire toward a worsening. But can we see this merely as the two sides of a same coin into whose exchange man was duped? Not until we are brought to see by the work of Christ into this matter of nature. Till then we are all of convinced we can make ourselves “better” and even think that this desire alone is presentable to God’s approval. We would do well to keep in mind, that place where we perceive things, and are formed to; that this soul we are must remain informed of the spirit. This alone is the way of conformation to Christ, by beholding He who is the truth in all things, in spirit.
We know that flesh and blood cannot, of itself, force its eye open to the Lord. How many “saw” Jesus’ fleshly form (and still do!), but were to it in reception and perception as hard rock is to gentle rain. Likewise the soul, even in its voracity to know, has no power to pry its eye of apprehension open. And so Jesus says to Simon Peter “blessed are you Simon, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven”
This knowing didn’t come by route of physical eye into mind (and no amount of “seen” miracles will accomplish this either!) nor was it of effort of soul to “make itself see”. (And it is worth noting that it is there, in the soul itself that battles and resistances to seeing are greatest manifest and fought) No, the soul if left to itself, truly bears this testimony rendered through Isaiah: “He had no beauty that we should desire Him… and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
“Wait! Wait!” Might you say? “What about His disciples?” Yes…what about us? What about us after having made good confession in several places “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and likewise, “To whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life, And we believe and are sure that you are that Christ, the Son of the living God.” And these…even being commended and regarded as blessed by Jesus Christ in the seeing given by God alone, what do we yet find?
“And Jesus said unto them, All you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered…But Peter said to him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto you, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crows twice, you shall deny me three times. But he spoke the more vehemently, If I should die with you, I will not deny you by any means. Likewise also said they all.”
Likewise also said they all. Many sermons have been preached about what is called “Peter’s denial” as probably any other topic. Our dear and blessed brother…so singled out for high-lighting, so (I am convinced) willingly and joyously now made from Heaven an example to whatever end that men might see the grace of his Messiah! He bears no umbrage, no bristling in the slightest. To whatever end in usage he might be, as tool, as example, as mere story character (even to prideful wretch), to some benefit to his brothers yet in the earth…Peter delights that Christ be seen. It matters not at all (to him) if he be singled out, be spoken of in such a way that he seem singular in denial. It is hallmark of the disciple, and perhaps apostle in particular, to not shun the lowest seat, even clamor for its occupation. This to not only rightly esteem (as we are instructed), others better than oneself, but that grace be manifestly shown to the glory of Jesus Christ, reaching a depth that man, if left to his own reckoning would doubt its (His) effective grasp.
And this, of course, only comes in a clearing of sight from spirit to soul…of who Jesus Christ is, and has been made to us. The One taking the very lowest of seats to uphold his beloved brothers…and bring…rightly…all of honor, to His God. And we shall see He never let go of either in the holding to both (being Man born of God), but in Himself and in that hold, has brought reconciliation…even in and through Himself. Jesus alone…is that man.
So, to what end are denials mentioned? To what end could it be found salubrious to remind one another of such frailty of the flesh and the deluded soul? That unknowing soul that boasts of what it would do, of what it imagines of itself in stature to a fulfillment…only to discover it is not at all what it either boasted, nor imagined? All must be seen in the light of the grace of God given through Jesus Christ. These things were not preserved in scripture to, or for, the shaming of anyone; nor are they now presented by this writer to that purpose, either. This writer is no less learning, as he trusts is every disciple, that Christ’s word alone is (as He says), both spirit and life, and no less in that nature…completely unbreakable. Is this not our testimony? Not of ourselves, not of who we are, or even hope to be (though we are surely not forbidden to speak of these things) but always, first and foremost (for all else means nothing apart from that) of who Jesus Christ is. He is the truth to us, in all matters.
And this is likewise where the liberty and joy in that liberty may begin to enter into us, even in that place where we once held conviction to a sorrow, alone. This is where the Valley of Achor is made a door of hope. Where Adam begins to hear, and only by a hearing…is changed. At the first no man wants to hear he is lost to himself. He has no power at all over his own nature, it is untouchable to him. He cannot, as he so adamantly (O! so adamantly!) refuses to be told, do one thing to make himself better. These are very fundamental things the believer may begin to apprehend and speak, even at his first steps into this salvation…”man must be changed…and cannot, except by the word and work of Christ!” Yet to himself he may not know he has reserved the right to a thing he must learn is for the relinquishing. And soul will put up as much a struggle here, and in such fierceness as only God Himself is able to preserve from harm in this struggle; as a beast would harm itself snapping and biting blindly to its own devouring if held by less gracious hands. The soul does not know…better.
It is not so much that the soul “does not know better” than to do this. No, that is not the sense, at all. It is precisely that the soul believes it can know, does know, and assuredly acts out from its axiomatic error, that it does indeed know what “better” is. No man can ever persuade, convince, demonstrate to another by neither effort nor argument (and no man can assuredly accomplish this to himself) that this is so. Only God…is able. Only God (and as we believe, and confess…if indeed we do) through Jesus Christ is set for the saving of this thing, the soul of man.
This thing, as one may discover in this salvation, is so very loved of God to its preservation, that even at the very depths of resistance to God, and against His Christ in such mindless and blind thrashing against Him, it could even…lose itself, and would surely…but for the interventions of Jesus Christ. May the Lord help this writer here, and now, that these things not be an issue of a minister of shame. May I be nothing more than a sign, a mere signal set only for a going past. Set only to be exceeded. And having no finality of itself.
I once imagined in such vanity I knew…what the sufferings of Christ were. I imagined I knew “the better”. I could approve “the better”, and did. This I believed was my salvation. “I” approved…of what God has done through Jesus Christ. I said so. I sought (in my understanding of better, and the vanity of now “knowing better”) to act in be in accord with what I thought I knew. But the soul retained its “knowing better”…even if it were able to confess a once resistance to Jesus Christ as condemned sinner, it assured itself still, without interruption, it “knew better” now. The soul, specifically, my soul (and I know I cannot speak for any other) held to its assumed right of participation, and acknowledgement of “the better”. Though this remained (and only God knows yet how much remains) of grossest presumption, God did not abandon me. Christ remained hope to me…even when…in deepest truth of myself, and known to myself, of myself, I was all at odds with Him.
It is not that I believed I was at odds, no, again, that is not it at all. This is the all I did not know! My “deep” truth was to me, I belonged to Christ, I was of Christ, I was among the “saved” and of the followers of Christ…but never knowing, nor having in myself the slightest of hint, that all was hinging solely (to me) upon my soul’s approval of Him. But God knows. God sees. And God does indeed save, through Jesus Christ. And were it not for the preservation manifest there, and continuing, to a thing that once believed in arrogance and such presumption its knowing of the sufferings of Christ to salvation as though presented to “my” soul for judging to an approval of merit and efficacy, as though my soul were to judge Jesus Christ to his effectiveness…I was made aware of just how lost…lost can be. At least as I could bear its then revelation. And from there, in there, and in that experience begin to know, not the “betterness” of salvation…but the absolute necessity of it. And made specifically known…to me, as one in necessity…of it.
Christ had, and has, come into all our “lostness”. Not as bystander, not as observer, not as advice or instruction giver, but as life itself (Himself) to the dead. And I must confess, had I not had the word of Christ in whatever form it had to me , and in me (even in all my grossest of presumptions!) I see…even by that word, there is a lostness I would have unknowingly pursued to all my soul’s destruction. But Christ is whom He says, intervene-or and intercessor to salvation. We may not yet know (as I am not convinced I know yet to any fullness) the necessity of His being such.
He is intervene-or to us, by speaking and being the Word of God to us. He is intercessor for us, by His supplications before God for us. We are saved by His being that all to us, and for us. God forbid we seek to divide His Christ! (In any sense whatsoever)
If we may find ourselves humble enough to safely engage with our brother Peter, not using him, but seeing our likeness in him to a persuasion of safety (that is salvation), neither for his exaltation in our sight, nor any abasement…may we?
Jesus’ word to Peter, and no less to His other disciples, the telling of what must happen, what would surely happen was an offense. And so much so, that they opposed it. They opposed it in protests, in declarations of what “they would do” in spite of Jesus telling; they corrected…the Lord. Also we might note…Jesus speech had nothing of judgment to it, he did not tell them they would act cowardly and flee, he did not add any derision of their actions; but he did pronounce the Word of God to them “I shall smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered”.
This is God’s work, despite all other seeming appearance. It is not the work of the Pharisees to do away with Jesus, nor the hand of Rome wielding its awful power. Men opposing men and empires might have some ground of rebuttal and even resistance, but what can oppose what God ordains? Jesus knew/knows this, lives and walks in this…and is not made to budge by argument, complaint, or even flattery. (Peter once told the Lord, in so many words, he was “too good” for an end Jesus described) So, men boasting of what they can and will do in resistance of what is ordained of God…do not in the least deter Jesus. Nor can all the lies of the evil one. And Jesus, we find, suffers rebuttal, endures contradiction without ire or wrath…but also not without further intervention. He tells Peter specifically of roosters and crowing, and not merely abandonment and desertion…but denial. (Could there be anything of note here? How crowing like a rooster is only rightly revealed to the soul when manifestly answered by such? To a truth?) What crows like rooster will find its part in shame when it finally hears how it truly sounds? But this could seem to skirt an attempt to embarrass my brother, as though he has in some way exceeded my own…denials. My own…crowing. God forbid I lie.
But this we also know. Jesus’ informing Peter of Satan’s desire for him, to sift him like wheat. It is in all such a perfect example and image of a man being deprived of his center, of his soul. The man’s knowing loss of the knowing of himself, fragmented into all of pieces. All broken up in complete and utter separations of part and piece. I believe that to some extent Peter indeed tasted that terror. That loss of identity in being because it is made abundantly clear beyond doubt “I am not at all what I thought myself to be”. But also comes in this terror the deepest of sorrowful conviction that this is right…this is just, this is all that is due…even though in all the abyss of that terror that feels hideously more wrong than anything ever previously known, imagined, or experienced…there is no longer found any footing to lie…which by lie…might seek comfort of relief. The truth may indeed be…this is far more than I can bear! But it is not “this is something I do not deserve”.
Here, nothing avails in the least…”I don’t deserve this”…”I have been such and such” “I tried hard to do right”. But these considerations may only come later to a man…if he survives this…(is allowed to, is given to) but he knows they were not there, not there at all, to even be considered, much less…uttered when in it. No, there, in that place of such clarity, and utter…rightness (though it be terrifying) silence in that terror as to what a man might present for relief…is deafeningly…absent. For he is made there, to himself absent…of himself. All made to perfect sensation of all in truth, but without center of processing. Lost to himself…but not without knowing of it. Soul of reason…exists no more to be centered in us. Sensing all, but without any sense made of it. Cut off. There is a place where the worm dieth not. Where teeth gnash and grievous weeping, far beyond imagination, is a cry knowingly unheard, but taking place.
Peter wept. But it was not his tears, not his wailing that made him heard. The One intervening to his sight of himself, who told him despite rebuttal what he is, what he will do, and specifically how this would be made manifest to him, was/is, also his intercessor. This is/was his salvation and is no less, to the least degree, ours. Someone prayed for us. That Someone is yet praying for us. Jesus telling Peter of this is no less, was no less, for his comfort and knowing and security, than for ours. And ultimately we might see a thing in regards to this matter of placement and experience. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked/requested/demanded to sift you as wheat…but…I have prayed for you…”
Jesus never denies Satan’s right of demand. But Jesus also submits his right of appeal for Peter. He tells Peter He has done so, that his faith would not fail and so that when he is converted, he will turn and strengthen the brethren. Might this not also have been no less accomplished apart from Jesus telling him? Did Peter “have to come through” the experience, and, would he not have come through no less, even if he did not, or was not told by Jesus…that he had been prayed for? I am not seeking to engender speculations…as it may easily sound. But…with what would Peter return to his brothers to strengthen them? Would he tell them of “his faith” that did not fail? Even though this was precisely Jesus’ prayer? Subject and object (as a dear brother once instructed me) is never so critical as when handling truth. It makes all the difference. Especially to the soul of man.
Was it Peter’s having…or who had, and kept Peter? And the One having Peter manifestly displayed his triumph over the one (Satan) whom I believe Peter at those moments knew of a surety had every right to him…but was exceeded by Another in right. Would Peter have any place of boast? Except in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do we? What would we say of ourselves…and our faith? What is strength to the brethren? Would we say of our faith… “it is so great it is keeping me”? Or would we testify only to the Author and Finisher thereof? Our souls already give answer where spoken words are neither needed nor can be summoned…for they are already there.
There is a winning away from what one has, or may accumulate, to whom Jesus Christ is. All our former commerce is based upon a quid pro quo agreement with the world, one another…and we discover (even as believers) with God. This is not a painless process, this winning away, nor has it been for many disciples, a quick one. I include myself there, and must, if honesty means anything. This trading in which we engage, have engaged, once seemed as inescapable as the reality of breathing. We were born to it, and in it. We surveyed our souls, made calculations of risk and benefit, what was available as payment in trade; and swallowed bartering, the way of the world…hook, line, and sinker. It is the way ingrained, the way…we have known all too well.
Jesus Christ alone, is all of God’s gift to the world. We say this, repeat this, and to whatever extent we endeavor, seek to walk in the truth of this. We may all agree (as we call ourselves “christians”) that this is such a fundamental matter that even amongst the most hardened of atheists is known this verse “For God so loved the world He gave…” And, there is no fault whatever to be found in the publicity or publicizing of this verse. But surely the knowing of this, not merely in word, or by words, that is its apprehension in understanding is to be most clear to what has called itself believer, disciple, christian.
God is giver. Man is receiver. And, even to resistance, God remains giver. This is the order of things. God is responsible party to all of creation. It is His, and His alone. It’s origins and sustaining are in Him alone, and all things found in it are made response-able to Him. This is no play on words. Nothing originates in the creation but that God has both willed and allows. Man’s lack of understanding, as a creature in the creation, is also not without purpose. And likewise, any understanding of order in the creation itself, and by the creature is likewise always and only a given thing, by God, for purpose and to a purpose.
It is a step taken from seeing “God has a purpose…” to “God is the One of all purpose”. All in Him is of purpose and there is nothing beyond nor above Him. He is the origin of purpose, and never subject to it. This is where man may have uncovered to him (by God) the roots of presumption. Faulty inferences, or concluding a matter ends in our own conclusions to anything is always being handled, and that rightly, by God alone through Jesus Christ.
May I repeat that? Faulty inferences? How easily we are made subject to them, these conclusions made of our own reason. How much of salvation is found in: “Come, let us reason together” we do not know until we learn how much reasoning we have kept to ourselves, accomplished by ourselves, in ourselves…to a confusion. Do we not yet know this? Unless I am so unlike you, and unlike every other man as to be totally useless for relationship (and God forbid, not a disciple at all) this thing should not be so strange and foreign to us as to make no sense whatsoever. Have you not, (as I surely have) seen God move, received a revelation, had a dream or insight and, either immediately or through process thought “I know what I must do about this” or “what this means” or in whatever sense taken off like a runner with baton? This is not to say God has not given us a “something”. But we may find our presumption of “why”…or “what for” is also something God would speak to us about.
The disciples learned (as I trust all disciples are learning) to gather to Jesus after His preaching and ask, in so many words “what were you talking about?”…”what do you mean…when you say…?” To assume we know what the Lord may mean in so many things and act upon our own understanding is a wonderful way to learn (though perhaps with some pain) to linger with Jesus. We begin to understand the way of the branch in its relation to vine and how very much of our own “now I have it!” must be pruned. We are goers! We are doers! (Or in my own peculiar place…even now) tellers!
Listen, if you will. Do you remember the man Jesus delivered/healed? The one who besought Jesus to stay with Him…and be a close follower? It’s in Luke, Chapter 8.
Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.
Can we see it? Do we see it? It’s almost sad in a way, isn’t it? A man made whole by Jesus Christ desiring now to “stay” with Jesus…can we not almost hear his plea? “Lord! I am so grateful for what you have done for me…I would like to stay in your company…as part of your company, may I?” (And I, no less, must heed “beware of false inferences” here) But I do ask…is it hard to understand that man’s desire? Yet…what is done? “Jesus sent him away”. It’s almost odd…except for it being the truth. An odd truth (to us) perhaps, but the truth nonetheless. We may find many things that seem would argue against it. The chiefest being in opposition to what we know, or believe we do, that sound completely countermanded by a succinct “but Jesus sent him away”.
We could go on and on about what would seem to be opposing “But Jesus, this fellow now has such a wonderful testimony to your grace and power he’d be a welcome addition to our “little troop”! And Jesus …look…look at his plea! Asking to “stay with you”! Who wouldn’t want to? Didn’t you tell that rich young ruler to sell all…and follow you? Why is he given such invitation (a man who walked away sad because he found he couldn’t!)…and this man…who wants to stay…is refused!” Huh? What’s going on?
Yes. We could indeed…wonder. It reminds me of a testimony I heard from a brother who, after many years of following just oozed a sweetness and gentleness of spirit that I could not help but be taken by his words. He had some recognition among the brethren and because of such was in a place of display, having attained to some note, meaning others sought him out for what he had learned. In an exchange with one questioning him as to his experiences and what he has learned this brother said (as I recall now):
“Oh yes! There was a time when I wanted to be an apostle/prophet/evangelist/teacher! I wanted to “be it all”. I wanted to hear from God’s Spirit the great mysteries and deep things of wonder. (If I add to his words forgive me, for you may also have seen this exchange) But now, mostly I hear things like “bend down and remove the hair that is collecting around the shower drain, so that your wife doesn’t have to”.
If that testimony is odd to you…or me…if it seems a painful exposition contrary to what we believe is most beneficial for the advance of God’s purpose and Kingdom, we may reconsider. Just as we may consider the man who was sent away. And what it may mean to truly “stay with Jesus”.
The man, sent away (it still sounds almost harsh!)…did…as he was told. The scriptures bear out, he did precisely…as he was told. To a full sufficiency. He accepted Jesus’ instruction to himself…even what seemed counter to his desire to stay. We hear nothing more of him. The scriptures remain full of the many we do hear about, the apostles and several others. Their exploits and endeavors, some seeming failures and many triumphs. But this man? Might we assume him…merely footnote? Maybe a man fit for some exposition in sermon…or here…in writing? Might we even assume…Jesus forgot about him? (God forbid!) Just a man useful in telling Jesus’s story…but beyond that…of little or no consequence…even to Jesus? (God forbid!) We are not even given his name.
What are we learning in this thing declared to us as “having the mind of Christ”? Can it be…faulty inferences cause us to not see? Can we somehow be duped of ourselves into what we think is great, and greatness (by much clamor accepted) and discover our compass yet remains…completely askew? Again the question: “what does it mean to stay with (abide in) Jesus Christ?”
How wrong might we be to think “this man was sent away, he was not allowed to stay with Jesus.” But what is the truth of it? This man did as he was told! Jesus had given him the very thing he sought…the way to stay with Him. I do not doubt this for a moment…do you? He obeyed Jesus. Even in what appears contrary to his own, and quite reasonable desire. This…is abiding in Christ.
Our brother Paul says something very interesting to the Corinthians in his second letter, Chapter 5:
Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.
I have no new insight into the meaning of this than what is plainly stated. Yet, if it is not made plain to us…it may be. But this is more what we might consider. Is it not a little bit piquing that Paul wrote this? It might have seemed to make more sense if such truth were ministered through Peter…or John, no? After all, they had indeed been among those who “walked” with Jesus, watched Him eat, sweat, breathe…sleep. Die. Paul had no such material testimony. But, he says what he says…
Paul, who never had Jesus’ dusty hand touch him, never saw the creases form besides the eyes in laughter (do we doubt Jesus…laughs?), nor as John, heard the steady lub dub of heart as head was laid to His breast. So, of what is Paul speaking? Almost speaking as though he also once shared the dusty road in treading behind the form that led them. And surely…no Corinthian had such memories.
Might Paul be speaking to a predisposition in all? Seeing it…even in himself? This thing of knowing in one way, or by one way that is ubiquitous to man that can only be rightly disposed of by true sight? The simplicity of saying it does not deny that, in its necessity of being said, we might not assume it is of no necessity we hear it…perhaps even, again and again? In what might we yet persist in some form of “knowing Jesus after the flesh”? Obviously Paul was enlightened to a seeing in two ways, even in himself, and commended one as beneficial, and another perhaps, of no benefit. We remember his prayer in and for the Ephesians (only?):
“The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,”
Might even the necessity of this prayer…touch us? Or…do we, like some he also spoke to, imagine “we already got it all”…we are “already made full”?
For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.
This, as Paul wrote…was not in commendation. It was a reproof. God knows Paul had not set about to steal their crown! There remained for them (as it does for us) the receiving of so much more that he more feared their coming up short than he had interest in their rebuke. Nevertheless, he did not withdraw from it. Like his Master who is unashamed of correcting His own (as Paul surely was/is) I have little doubt Paul had learned (in himself) the benefit to the soul of this ministry of correction. And having experienced and learned its benefit to himself, he too, was unashamed and not reluctant in its ministration through him. The spiritual man has but one approval (do we doubt Paul’s stature?). And that is Jesus Christ.
Paul surveyed much farther than those in Corinth could yet see. This was not by Paul’s choosing, but by Christ’s choosing of him. He was chosen to see farther. But Paul had learned, and was learning this seeing was not to be “kept to himself” it was for the benefit of the body. We might see his struggles to “break down” such revelation into edible parts that might be received as nourishing bread. We might further appreciate that this breaking down was not something merely done by Paul…but being done in Paul by purpose, that we understand his confessions of himself to the Philippians.
Those many things Paul enumerates as once things of benefit to himself by which he might promote his own stature…now meant nothing…and less than nothing. The dung he speaks of. Not one was of any benefit in knowing Jesus Christ. It is not as if Paul denied their being, for they are there and mentioned. But Paul had learned that their enticement of, and to, resort as benefit were not only useless…but I am persuaded, now seen as hindrances. Jesus Christ had made Himself known to Paul, as he has to us; and I have little doubt (as I do not doubt we do) Paul was not exempt from the consideration of “why me?”
Should we consider this? I am open to rebuke if all I do here is engender speculation. And I am likewise as open to rebuke if in my presumption I have concluded that it has not been me alone who has ever wondered “why me?” “Why do I see the Lord?” regardless of what may follow that wondering, as in: “and yet so many others deny”, or even “in such a different way as I perceive of others claiming sight”. And if (it is as it appears) “I am” different, what is “it” about me that is? And it might be that precisely here, in this sort of consideration of “self” it could be of paramount necessity that we remember we do all in the presence of God, not forgetting. There may be no greater danger to the soul should we forget that, yet likewise no greater benefit (to us) if submission in light is acknowledged. To be sober here…should we consider ourselves…is indeed, necessity. And few things awaken a man inclined to sleeping, or even in a drunken stupor…like light shined directly into eyes. It’s a way of looking to see if there’s any “life in there”…by response. Or what sort…sleepy? Drunken? Or…ready to focus.
In the matter of “why”…why you? Why me? Why Paul? (Though we may have little to no right to bring him into the discussion in speculation…after all…he has finished his race.) But…you and I…we could at least explore our own calling, and are free to, with this caveat regarding Paul…(to avoid speculation)…saying no more than he, of himself, writes.
We find Paul’s basic exposition here, in Acts 26:
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:
I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.
My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.
Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
The day of Paul’s presumption of what it meant to be a devout Jew, a wholehearted believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was exposed in the day of his redemption. Or, as he testified in another place “when it pleased God to reveal His Son in me…” And, it was right up until that moment of revealing, as we see above mentioned, Paul took all his stand upon those things identified in himself as indicative of all those thing it meant to be the “best” Jew. Strict Pharisee, separating himself to a service to these by which he believed that God was served. Even and especially, to the persecution of the Church, which he learned was particularly against the Christ, and that the Christ of the God he thought he was serving. (These things he also mentions in Philippians with further enumerations.)
Do we imagine that when light came our brother thought “Oh, I suppose I have gotten a few things slightly amiss…oops” Do we? Or do we see the total unraveling? The whole of Paul’s understanding turned upside down in himself? One absolutely, to one particular point , convinced of service to God, that is now revealed as complete opposition to that very God?
Were we to (I am persuaded) quite wrongly say “At least Paul had some knowledge of the true God’s existence in, or by these things” do we think Paul would agree? (And no, we do not forget Paul’s words as to the advantage of being a Jew, but such advantage is only seen in light of God’s having given, and entrusted to them, and surely not as something innate to themselves)
This God as giver always does have for us deeper implications than what we may yet know. It must, as necessary, be addressed and settled again and again. Our adversary is not called subtle without good reason. The quid pro quo way of the world we may readily admit, and even declare it is never ceasing in presentation. But the presence of its tendrils though, to be discovered and not remain unexposed, must be revealed to us, and then through us. We are not in a bargaining relationship. An exchange has been made for us in which we have had no part…except as beneficiaries. If we must declare a part in it, ours will only be the swinging of the mallet to drive the spikes. The truth of that must, and surely, undercut any boast of our accomplishment in salvation.
We can do nothing for the Christ of God, but receive Him to ourselves as the salvation He declares. This may surely seem baby talk to us, or even many of us. “Of course we know this!” could be the first response. But, do we? (If I am seeking to take any stature to myself as anyone’s teacher and imply a shame of unknowing, God knows!) But…do we? Do we believe…what we so often repeat? If we need to hear it again to ourselves, so be it. God is not ashamed to minister to us according to our need. In truth He is all and only of One who has no intention, desire, will, nor advantage seeking to shame us with our need. His desire is to meet it, and with such a sufficiency as to leave no room for doubt.
We dare not forget this exchange, and may its gravity have full course in us. It is not recorded without reason.
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.
They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.
Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.
Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself? Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
That’s…heavy. That’s grave. And of such gravity we dare not ignore. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him…” Need more be said? From some form of hearing, to lifting stones to cast. Are we unwise to ask of the Lord…”where might I be, Lord…in all of this?” Are you as much an offense to me upon all the things I might take a stand? Do you see a harsh resistance of which I must be made aware? What word of yours is unseen to me…as offense? Unseen to us…is surely not unseen to the Lord. So, what can we do? What are we able to do…against His knowing?
If we are not persuaded of salvation the above would rightly fill us with dread. But neither would such dread be unfitting. It is good for a man, in whatever sense, whatever smallest sense he may perceive it, to know…he is known. Even if all it does in him is produce a dire dread…for such as might lead to its relief, and that through the grace of God the revelation of Jesus Christ be given. A man can learn that dire dread…is even a gift from God as needed. Even apparent total despair…can be a great help.
Nevertheless, there is a fear of the Lord that is all to health…in our salvation. Rightly we are instructed to not be among those who “draw back” (for there is a working to keep at arms length) from a relationship that cannot be settled but by heart to heart. We might all readily admit, a great part, a wondrous part, a quite miraculous part of our salvation is not only that our Lord loves us…but in so doing…also knows us, completely. This is not said that any need be ashamed, for we are made new creatures…but likewise we are not ignorant (nor should be) of the pit from which we have been dug.
I have no doubt my wife loves me…and to some extent, even knows me…but were all thoughts and deeds of mine made plain to her, frame by frame…I would have little expectation but that the grief of this knowing me in all, and all at once, would not, could not, lead to any fullness of joy on my part. Yet…God’s knowing of us…does not diminish one iota His joy in the beholding of His Son. Do I doubt my wife’s sufficiency to forgive? Not at all. But…dare I try it? Put it to the test? Wouldn’t that be…unkind?
I don’t think this wonder can ever be overestimated, that we are both fully known, and loved. To begin to see, in even the smallest part, that God’s love in calling us sons (inclusive of daughters) is far more merciful. Such a One we have never known. There is nothing hidden from Him, even when to ourselves we are in part hidden from ourselves. God’s ministry of such knowledge to us never comes apart from a likewise ministry of mercy. The knowledge of such grace is, has been, and will always be our salvation.
To be simple (and speaking for myself only) had God allowed me to “see myself” fully at the outset of this journey, and only that (especially in the grossest of presumptions that I, of all, surely knew myself best…which surely is what such presumption rightly deserved) that abyss of grief to me seems inescapable. I thought I knew what pride was, and how much or little moved me. Likewise clever craftiness. No less deceitfulness. Sure, I might have admitted to some, seen some desire to self exaltation by whatever means…but to have it all summarily revealed apart from the grace and mercy found in Jesus Christ…I barely can appreciate how crushing, and fully crushing, that weight of knowing would have been.
But, as this has not been God’s way with me I come to appreciate something else. A firm conviction of not the “niceness” of salvation, not even so much the goodness of salvation (as a man might understand and lend his approval to a “goodness”)…but the utter and compellingly firm truth of the necessity of salvation. Yes, it’s a far cry from previous understanding. That going from “man must be saved” to the deepest conviction of “I must be saved” and that even right now! considerably narrows one’s field of view and frame of reference to those things that pertain to salvation. It can only be found in one place…One person. And so an idea, a concept, even a very savory concept “of salvation” is moved from being a thing…to a person. In short a man is rightfully deprived, and being rightfully deprived of those previous things upon which he may have taken a stand.
It seems harsh, this winnowing. This removal of things. And were it not for the ministry of grace, truly all that is unbearable. Even the experience of it with, and in grace, is terrible. ( Do we not hear: “If the righteous be scarcely saved, where will the sinner and Godless appear”) And I do not say terrible as such might deem bad…or evil. Awe full is not inappropriate. And neither is awful, as in “God remains awfully thorough in His work.” We begin to understand this:
“This is the work of God that you believe on Him whom He has sent”
God is carefully removing all but the faith found in the Son of God. And might we admit we had a some believing of things other? Vestiges of “our own goodness”? Some vain hope in our practices? Even trust in our experience and assumptions about them? As in “God did such and such for me, therefore I must be in His good graces and favor”? Those touchstones we may seek for assurance, and though, which are not to be forgotten…must never become for us idols, as Nehushtan? We simply can never look to anything, or anyone, but God, through Christ…for assurance. Our vision is getting narrowed. And narrowed to the only One who receives the fullness of God’s glory and approval, Jesus the Messiah. This is why we are compelled to consideration…again and again of the singularity of the resurrection. All approving is shown there, demonstrated there to us if we believe. And here doubt must make way. For it is God’s intent to fully demonstrate His approval of Jesus Christ. That we “believe on Him whom He has sent”. There is…no other. He alone…is the necessary One.
Paul grew very bold in his conviction. So much so that he was unafraid to touch this in complete confrontation:
“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”
Paul was not speaking here from a speculative position. Far from it. He knew it all came down to this (so to speak) and was not speaking maybes. This is it! Either Jesus Christ is shown alive by the resurrection, or the rest…all of it means nothing without this setting of God’s approval to Him in all things. Many “in the world” will lend approval to many of Christ’s words. Some may even, in speculation remaining of the hows of it, grant he had some power over the material substances of this world to the doing of seeming miraculous things.
But the resurrection becomes the dividing place. It is a hard stop. Impossible in the absolute for man to comprehend. It can never be figured out…only shown. This is not insignificant, for nothing in all of a fallen creation can ever testify of anything beyond death. To come to know this as God’s ordaining in its complete severity assigned is also the doorway into the very truth of the resurrection. It must come from beyond the fallen. There is no other way of it. Nor can be. It must come from beyond the creation, yet into it. And this alone, this gift given into all of what is fallen is to the making of all things new for those who have been given to believe. And that is Jesus Christ who is Himself as He declares: “the resurrection and the life”.
This gift can never be overestimated, only underestimated. And if any of such remains, even in us, God is not ignorant. Again, it may sound harsh, and no doubt feels exceedingly harsh as we are moved in experience from any of what remains of oldness. We are now in the place of all possibility and God is not given ever to allow for lie in Himself nor in His Son. And we may rightly even read there…”His sons”. All things are possible to and with God…and an indicator to move us to the truth of that is always in coming up against what we deem, of ourselves, impossible. Impossible situations and circumstance we must touch, that the God of all possibility be glorified in His Son.
Here then we discover a right fear and trembling before our God. Here we dare not boast of anything but our Lord. We may learn of all of our unwitting invitations made of challenge to God when our boasts were of something else. (And since I am always being persuaded to the reality of a person over mere things, it is fitting to understand that the thing in which we may have held vain boast is no less a person...ourself.) It is sobering to a man, any man when he discovers God answering a challenge made from himself toward God. At that moment it matters not how long such may have seemed unanswered, for in that moment (and it truly never requires more than one) man knows he has been seen, heard…and found out. Rightly we are persuaded against silence as approval:
These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.
It’s so easy for us to be carried away in our own imaginings. Both to whom we are, and also as to whom God is. There is a something working to abet us in all vain imagining. Something that will say “You are not in calamity, therefore being very much like God, His approval therefore rests upon you.” And the not clearly heard corollary always comes with it and for the disciple this must always be discerned lest we be unaware of what speaks:
“Therefore those whom appear to you as in calamity, are Godless”.
How very sobering it is to the disciple when comes the revelation of this lie. And the likewise revelation of those with whom he is found standing:
All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
Our own presumptions are indeed terrible to us in their revelation. And of such terrors we begin to understand what Paul meant:
“Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men”.
Saul…once so sure of doing “God’s work” in slaughter and imprisoning came to understand the great value of grace and became its ceaseless champion. Saul…who in an instant came to understand “his deserving”…but was shown something else…something beyond death. Once so very strong to himself, so very right to himself as worthy of judging to the death those that resisted his practices and understanding of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He changed:
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
This in no way is ever contrary to:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
It is just that the way of it is contrary to all testified to through a fallen creation awaiting the manifestation of the sons of God. This is an ordained matter…coming from the beyond of the creation, into it…to its order and redemption. It can neither be thwarted nor usurped as to its being under the command of God’s authority.
But it can be eagerly awaited and sought. Even to such are we commended. And that is a great gift to receive, the conviction that a day that seems like any other is not and never is.
That today, which to us may at times only appear as just another in a seemingly endless parade of them is actually the day of salvation.
Today is a gift fully fashioned to itself and like no other. The god of boring sameness has been vanquished, the god of all futility has been exposed, the god who would enforce and abet all our own presumption to the seeing of nothing but death as ultimate of all things…is shown naked and powerless.
Someone else now…holds all key. And now is where He is…even now.