A Primary Object of Present Divine Need (continued)
The Closing of An Entire History
I expect in most of our minds there is already the fragment which the Lord uttered concerning him to Ananias: "Go thy way; for he is a chosen vessel unto me" (Acts 9:15). The first thing we notice in relation to the vessel, that is, now speaking of Paul as a vessel, and as vessel-type of the vessel, the Church, the Body of Christ, is that one history is brought fully and finally to a close. Saul of Tarsus, we have said, represented Israel and Judaism. The closing down of the Jewish dispensation and of Judaism and its age were clearly fore-shown and foretold, and the imminence of that was clearly indicated by the Lord Jesus Himself. He has some parables and among them as in Luke 13, the parable of the fig tree, the fig tree which was fruitless and concerning which the owner of the vineyard said: "Cut it down; why doth it also cumber the ground." It was not only fruitless, but is was mischievous; it was not only useless, but it was in the way. There was not only the negative aspect, but there was the positive which the Lord saw. It was a menace to something else, as well as unsatisfactory to Him. "Cut it down." That was a clear indication of what was coming to Israel, to Judaism. The argument of the gardener was: "Lord, let it alone this year, till I shall dig about it and dung it; and if it bear fruit henceforth, well; but if not, Thou shalt cut it down." He would dig it and dung it and seek to improve the thing, and so it was given a little space for an extra ministration of grace, but then the result was just the same, and it was cut down.
Now that was Israel and that was Judaism up to the time of Calvary. With the Cross of the Lord Jesus it is then, we remember, this dispensation was closed, but there is the plea for still a season of grace, and a season of grace, that little extra period, was given from Calvary to the death of Stephen, and the digging and the care was that wonderful grace of God shown at and round Pentecost; for you notice that through the first chapters of Acts it is Israel in view. Right up to the point where the lame man is at the Beautiful Gate and Peter and John going up to the temple at the ninth hour to pray saw that man there who asked an alms, and Peter said: "Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk" (Acts 3:6). And I think there is so much that is significant there; that up to that point the extra period of grace is ruling. That man had been in that state forty years, the number of Israel's crippled movement in the wilderness, and representing the probationary period in which Israel was useless. It is that probationary period represented by that man. That period ends, and at the end of that probationary period Israel is in a state of crippled infirmity, useless, cannot stand on its feet, but Jesus of Nazareth comes in at the end of that period. What Judaism could not do, Jesus of Nazareth is able to do, and now Israel's only hope as represented by that man of forty years of impotence is in Jesus of Nazareth. Oh yes, but Saul of Tarsus represented Israel, and: "Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the High Priest, and asked of him letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1, 2). With the authority of the official representatives of his nation, he went forth to destroy Jesus of Nazareth just as they had destroyed Him at Calvary. You see! That closed the extra period to Israel, the extra period of grace closed when Saul of Tarsus consented to the death of Stephen, because Stephen was a vessel who, in a specific way, brought in Jesus of Nazareth in the glory. "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56).
(continued with # 59 - (The New Vessel Comes In Only On the Ground of One History Ended)