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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Ministry of the Significance of Christ

The Meaning of Christ Must Be Inwrought

Luke 2:33-35)

In the passage quoted above we have given us something  of the meaning of Christ, something of what is involved when Christ comes into our lives with ministry in view. That is the real significance of Simeon's vision and service. Sooner or later, to those who are "called according to his purpose" the meaning of Christ will be brought home in a forceful and much fuller way. It may be that we have a deep and very real knowledge brought to us at our conversion; but whether that be so or, on the contrary, we are born again in a simple and comparatively easy way, the time will come when, through deep crisis and upheavals in our lives, we shall move up to the fact that Christ, and union with Him, is something infinitely greater than we had ever imagined. It is true that salvation is free and all of grace, but it is not cheap and superficial. If we so regard it we may just fade out, count for little, or be among the offended. The eternal counsels of God, comprehending all ages and realms, and centering in a redeemed people, are so full of meaning, so vast in their import, that much deepening work has to be done to bring about a correspondence with them. We have to come to a realization of what it means to us that we have been called into fellowship with so momentous and so vast a One as God's Son. There are three aspects of "the fellowship of his sufferings:" the first, cooperation with Him in His work of delivering souls from a jealous and bitterly hostile enemy; the second, the discipline and purifying which makes for Christlikeness; the third, the enlarging of capacity, and developing of faculties for apprehending and understanding the greatness of  Divine things, particularly the knowledge of Christ. All this is suffering indeed. We cannot attain unto this knowledge along the line of merely being informed; it has to be inwrought. No amount of listening to teaching will bring it about. Often a large amount of long-standing teaching only springs into life when the one possessing it passes into an almost devastating experience of suffering and testing. One world seems to be entirely breaking up and falling away, and a new one is essential to survival. Those who know Christ more fully and really are those who have discovered Him in deep spiritual agony and perplexity. Christ is the door into an immense realm of Divine meaning, and there is nothing casual or haphazard about that way. The whole being becomes involved in this issue if we are really going to represent spiritual measure for others. "A sword shall pierce through thine own soul."

John Bunyan, in his great dream allegory, sought to personify characteristics and propensities, and to represent them in life-sized form, so that they could be seen in full stature. By his characters he would make us see ourselves, our weaknesses, our perils. As we see them passing before us we smile, we feel ashamed, we are disgusted, and then we find that Bunyan has portrayed ourselves.

One of these characters, in which Bunyan has concentrated his genius for humor, sarcasm and irony, is Mr. By-Ends. He tells us that Mr. By-Ends' ancestors gave their name to the town of Fairspeech, that his great-grandfather was a waterman, who always looked one way and rowed the other. Mrs. By-Ends, his wife, was a very virtuous woman, the daughter of my Lady Feigning, and By-Ends, and his wife had two firm religious principles to which they most strictly adhered, and brought up their family accordingly. These established religious principles were (1) never to strive against the wind and the tide, and (2) to walk with Religion when he goes in his silver slippers, and if the sun shines and if the people applaud him. Bunyan says that is a tendency found in human nature to pretend, to feign, to look one way and really be going the other, to make believe, to choose the line of least resistance, to go the popular way, but to disappear when things are difficult. We all have nothing but contempt for Mr. By-Ends. But that kind of thing can be the peril of us all, more or less. Indeed, it is going to be disastrous unless the Lord deals drastically with it, for it is so utterly incompatible with Christ and with God's eternal purpose as centered in Him.

Let us look again then at the words of Luke and see something of what is involved through Christ being brought in.

Christ Determines Destiny

First of all, Simeon says that this Child - the Christ - is going to determine destiny. He "is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel." There are several different translations of these words. Firstly, they may mean that some will fall, never to rise again, as they come up against  the Lord Jesus. They will find Him a stumblingblock. It was said in the Scriptures that He would be a stumblingblock to many (Isaiah 8:14). Many would strike their foot against Him and go headlong. How true that has proved to be! Coming up against the Lord Jesus, and not being willing to accept the offence of the Cross, not willing to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, not being willing to take up the Cross and follow Him, they have gone headlong, and their destiny has been settled by their contact with the Lord Jesus. It is ever so. On that side He is set for the falling of many; that is, He is put there to find out whether we really mean business with God or not; and many coming up to Him and finding Him and His way an offence have turned and gone again, God only knows to what. "Set for the falling... of many."

"And the rising of many;" and oh, what a glorious story is bound up with that! Many have come to Him, sensible of something of the cost, recognizing that in which they will be involved if they should link on and go with Him. Nevertheless, they have chosen Him; and what a lifting i has meant for them! Yes, from the dunghill to be set among the Princes of His people (1 Samuel 2:8). "He maketh the rebel a priest and a king." You and I know just a little of what it means to have been lifted by reason of union with the Lord Jesus. But how much more there is yet to be, for He has given His word that some shall sit with Him in His Throne, even as He overcame and sat down with His Father in His Throne (Revelation 3:21). What a rising! Along and wonderful story could be told of men who have been lifted by the Lord Jesus. The settling of destiny: some will fall, some will rise. Their attitude toward the Christ will determine for ever which it is going to be.

These words may also mean that many will fall and also rise, and in this connection there is a mighty army. I see Peter in that company. Oh, this self-elevated, self-confident, self-assured, boasting Peter! "Even if I must die with thee, yet will I not deny thee" (Matthew 26:35). There was a man who was up, but up on a false platform, and when he came really into touch with Christ crucified he fell - but, praise God, to rise again. Christ, Who brought him down, brought him up. See the great Saul of Tarsus riding his highhorse to Damascus; and what a highhorse it was! Oh, how self-sufficient and self-important and self-confident was young Saul of Tarsus! He came down off that highhorse into the dust at the feet of Jesus of Nazareth - the most humiliating thing that could ever have been conceived by him. 'Jesus of Nazareth, the false prophet, that impostor, that blasphemer of God, that one who was hanged on a Cross, bearing what our law declares to be the mark of the curse of God resting upon him!' Think of that man humbled at the feet of Jesus of Nazareth and saying, "What shall I do, Lord?" Has he not come down? Yes, but did he not come up? "This child is set for the falling and the rising of many."

It will always be like that, one thing or the other. We shall go down before Jesus Christ, we shall come up, according to our attitude and response to Him, according to whether we refuse or accept, obey or disobey; He determines it. Coming down from our own natural strength and fullness, in brokenness, humiliation and shame at His feet, confessing Him Lord - a hand will take us to such wonderful heights of grace.



~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2)

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