The verse that I have for today was given to one of our founding leaders, Miss Taylor, when she had her original call from God relative to the early days of our church. The verse is that spoken by God to Moses at the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army behind and the Red Sea in front:
Speak to my people that they go forward.
It is a verse that often lives for me and has come back again: I know I spoke recently of the people moving forward and keeping fire burning at these times. When God said that to Moses he was in a seemingly impossible situation, with the army behind, the Red Sea in front. Indeed he didn’t know, I think, that he was going to wander for forty years in the wilderness with the people, and all the hazards that they had to face: the drought, the dangers, the attacks from enemies. Perhaps the worst thing that he had to face was the people and their rebellion, and the difficulties that were created because of that. It was a difficult time for Moses; it was a difficult time for them all. But he was to keep the people moving forward until one day they came into the promised inheritance in the land. And so for us, at this time and at any time, it is vital that we keep that forward look. But if you consider something of what they met in the wilderness, in the different experiences which we do not have space to go into here, they actually encountered God. Some of their deepest encounters with God were as a result of their rebellion. How we can identify with that! Our rebellion has brought us ultimately to the cross of Christ and to the Saviour.
The experience I want to refer to here is when they had murmured against Moses and against God, loathing the light manna that they were eating. The result was that fiery serpents were sent amongst them, and they were bitten by them and they died – and then they cried out for help. Moses was told to lift up the serpent in the wilderness. This is referred to by Christ:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. (John 3:14)
When they looked at that serpent, they were healed – which in some ways seems a strange thing, but we can understand it because Christ, who knew no sin, became sin for us and hung upon a cross, and we have come there and found His forgiveness from the wound of sin, which is the worst wound of all: the one that becomes putrefying, corrupt, and destroys. We look at Christ, covered with our sin and yet still with His own righteousness, and we find healing.
And there has been on my spirit all week, since last weekend particularly, a sense of that healing Christ. He heals physically, we know that – and we actually had a wonderful narrative of that healing power in our Zoom meeting where Hugh Gilchrist, one of our earliest members, told us again of the healing of his brother-in-law, something that happened maybe over sixty years ago, but Hugh could still not speak of it without tears. The wonder of it: his eyes being destroyed by the acidic substance that had got into them along with a molten piece of lead, and when he was prayed for by Mr Black, though not a believer his eyes were healed, and within hours he was released from hospital with two whole eyes. The healing power of Jesus Christ!
He heals us again and again in our body. But he carries out an inner healing which is transforming for life. I’m aware that many at this time are beginning to struggle with the current circumstances. I also know that some of you who have had the illness have suffered deeply in it if you have had a bad bout of it. Some people can become quite traumatised by it. But whatever has caused the trauma, and whether it is our own nature, and whether it is something quite minor or major, there is one source of healing. Again and again there has come over my spirit that One who is the Healer: the beauty of the healing of Christ. He is intensely personal in His coming. He doesn’t come to us en masse, but he comes to you and to me in our individual walk in life. Let Him come and touch you wherever you are just now. It may be that something quite trivial has touched you, and yet it is not trivial to you. He knows. He is anointed for healing.
I often think of Christ coming out of the tomb on Resurrection morning, His garments redolent with healing spices. Remember how Mary had anointed His feet with that precious ointment, and He said: “She has anointed my body against the burial.” She didn’t know, but these spices that were poured out on Him speak to us of healing also. Jesus Christ, the mighty to save.
“Who is this that comes from Edom … travelling in the greatness of His strength?” (Isaiah 63:1)
It is Jesus Christ, the mighty to save.
Believe no evil of Him. Let no whisper from your own heart, from the enemy, destroy your relationship with Jesus Christ. He is perfect. His love for you and for me is perfect. And Christ Himself has said that no sparrow would fall to the ground without the Father knowing and caring, and of how much more value are we than many sparrows! Just think of it: two sparrows were sold for a farthing, and five sparrows for two farthings – it’s as if the fifth sparrow were of no value, just thrown in. If our heavenly Father knows when one of them dies, how much more does He care for you and for me?
Try Him, try Him now. Let that healing balm flow over your spirit into your inner being, where He knows the stress and the strain. He knows your reactions, He knows your needs, He knows your need of physical healing. Try Jesus. He is never found to fail. His grace is sufficient for you and for me. That grace is all-abounding.
Let me bring to you again a quotation from Professor Finlayson, whose book The Cross in the Experience of our Lord I would recommend to you if you want to know something of the deeps of the sufferings of Christ. He speaks of the traditional notion in Scotland that when you find a mountain beside a loch, the loch is as deep as the mountain is high. That is just a fancy, but as he says:
The mountain of God’s grace rises sheer from the ocean of Emmanuel’s suffering and sorrow, and they measure the same.
Blessed Saviour! Try that healing Christ, and let His beauty and His garments, His fragrance, close around your spirit now.
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means
hurt you. (Luke 10:19)
This is a wonderful verse, and even more wonderful because we know that it was spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ. When He says that we have power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and that nothing shall by any means hurt us, we know this cannot mean that nothing shall ever hurt our body. What He means is that it will not hurt our spirit: our spirit can remain unscathed in the midst of life, including spiritual life and at times spiritual conflict.
When we went into lockdown, I think I’d had a hope in my own heart of a time of really deep, sweet communion with Christ. Now it’s not that this cannot happen: at times I find Him very accessible. But I also discovered that the devil has not gone into lockdown, and he has not disappeared. Many of you in the midst of this time will have found that also. There’s a tremendous sense of the protection of God and the overshadowing of Christ. But the enemy comes like a scorpion. If you look at the picture of a scorpion, it is not a very pretty sight. It’s not a huge creature. It’s an arachnid with a sting in its tail; its tail seems to arch over its back and has the sting at the end of it, which means that if we tread upon it it will definitely sting us, sometimes fatally. Christ says: “I give you power to tread on the scorpions.” Sometimes missionaries have found this literally true, but for most of us it’s not in the physical but in the spiritual sense.
What are these scorpions? Well, I think at this time there can be many arrows that will come to sting our minds and our spirits, arrows sent from the enemy but aided by our own personalities. One of these arrows that’s very much in my mind today is the arrow of fear, anxiety and worry. Some are more prone to this than others, but at this time it’s one that can be used, and that the devil uses, to exploit us, because it is one that can affect many people, but very much those who already are prone to it.
I have already been told by one of you who’s a scientific expert that we have our own level of happiness to which we constantly return: that in spite of any joys or sorrows in life we have our own median that we return to. I suspect it’s the same with anxiety. Some of us are, mercifully, reasonably free from it – sometimes maybe too free from it! – but others are very prone to it even if there’s nothing to worry about. And I feel very compassionate for such at this time, because I think it must be a extra struggle.
The Lord Jesus Christ said that He has given us power over the power of the enemy, and to tread upon these scorpions that disturb our peace and disturb our spirits. How do we do that? We have to resist the enemy. Now sometimes it doesn’t occur to us that we actually can resist fear, that we can resist anxiety, we can resist worry, as we would resist a very obvious temptation to sin. And if we resist, the enemy is actually forced to flee.
We find such reassurance from those who have gone before us. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul knew what it was to be fighting fears within and without. He knew what it was to have to resist. One of the ways that he did it was by disciplining his mind. He said: “Let the mind of Christ be in you.” He brought every thought into captivity to the mind of Christ. Paul had a brilliant mind, but it had led him very astray, into persecuting the church of Christ. He didn’t trust it any more. But also the devil had a very handy weapon like a scorpion to sting Paul with. He had persecuted the church of Christ, leading to their deaths. Paul had to train his mind, crucify it, bring it into subjection to the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ. That way he found peace, and he looked ahead of him and not behind him.
I don’t think we’ve got anything to sting us as severely as Paul had, and yet he found the means of resisting the enemy. It is the way of victory for us again and again. If you are a prey to fears and anxiety, or any other of the arrows that come, cultivate this disciplined mind that is centred on Christ and open to receive inspiration and thoughts from Him. Christ understands. He lived on this earth amongst men. It is prophesied of Him in the Psalms - in prophecies fulfilled many times but certainly on His cross:
They compassed me about like bees: they are quenched as the
fire of thorns. (Psa 118:12)
“Compassed me about like bees” – stinging bees, stinging of mind, stinging of spirit, I think to the very end, till the glorious hour when He cried: “It is finished!”
He received help when He was here on earth. We find Him in the wilderness being tempted by these stinging arrows. And we read that lovely verse:
And the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. (Matt 4:11)
They strengthened him there in that wilderness. And we find in even greater trials, there in Gethsemane, again:
There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. (Luke 22:43)
It is a beautiful and amazing picture, that an angel from heaven could strengthen Christ. We don’t know in what way an angel could minister to the Lord Jesus Christ. But we know it’s recorded for us. As Professor Finlayson so beautifully puts it, there just on the eve of His suffering, in the midst of it, He had a “message from Home”: a messenger came from the Father to comfort him.
We have a messenger from home. Our messenger is not an angel; our messenger is Christ Himself. And He comes Himself to minister to you and to minister to me, to calm every fear, but more than that to take the poison out of the stinging arrow, stinging scorpions of the enemy, and to give us a place of power over the power of the enemy. It’s all from Him. We are not victims, we are not helpless prey to his attacks, but we find that as we are resisting him there flows into us the peace of Christ Himself. It is the One who has trodden down strength who speaks to us. It is that One who said to John on the isle of Patmos: “Fear not. I am He that liveth – that liveth and was dead.” The power of these words “Fear not” lies in the one who speaks them to us. It is as we look at Him – “Well, Lord, if You say, ‘Fear not,’ there is nothing to fear” – there is nothing to fear, for there is Christ.
His love is so over His whole church all across this world in these days, and over the world: He cares. He knows the end from the beginning. What we do know is that there are many more in our country tuning into services than ever come to church. His Word goes out.
In the words of a wonderful verse from the Psalms:
The God of Jacob defend thee, send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee. (Psalms 20:2)
Our help comes from the sanctuary, the dwelling place of God – so it must be effective.
May God bless us all.
I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. (Songs 2:3)
“His shadow”, of course, is the shadow of Christ. In the midst not just of the present day but of any time in our life – but I have found it particularly so just now – there comes a longing just to be with Him. There is so much going on … and so much can be said … and we want just to hear His voice, just to come to Him. He speaks to us through many channels, and for that we thank God: through His Bible, through the spoken word. But oh, the bliss, when we turn in our spirit and we come, and we see Him. As the disciples of John said to Christ: “Master, where do You live?” and He said: “Come and see,” I think He says that to us again and again: “Just come and see. See Me, see where I am.” And His fruit becomes very sweet to our taste.
His fruit is not sweet to our taste if we are eating too much forbidden fruit, or if our lives have become very cluttered with the things of this life, even the legitimate things. But His fruit becomes very sweet when we begin to look for it; we find there is fruit both new and old laid up at our door, which He shows to us. He said that He would send His Holy Spirit, who would show to us the things that relate to Him. When we begin to seek Him, the Holy Spirit begins to minister into our spirits, and He shows to us in a way that is indescribable something of the beauty of God, the beauty of Christ, and the fruit that He alone can give.
And we think: well, what are these fruits? There is the fruit of forgiveness, which is one of the sweetest. There is the fruit of peace. There is the fruit of power over sin. There is the fruit of power over the enemy. There is the fruit of His love – and we rejoice greatly in that.
But there is another fruit which He gives, also related to that. It is the fruit of love for God, and love for Christ. And it is not one to be neglected. It is one to be sought for. The Holy Spirit begins to show us that One who is full of grace and truth. And there begins to well up in our hearts an overflow not only of gratitude, not a sense of duty to Him, but an overwhelming love for Him. It is only the Holy Spirit who can really reveal to us these aspects of Christ, the very person of Christ, causing love to begin to grow in our hearts.
If we seek for this fruit then God surely will give it to us, and it will begin to grow. It grows, as all fruits grow, in the soil of Calvary, where His love is poured out and engenders a love for Him. We see that in His followers in spite of their frailties. We see it in Mary Magdalene as she waited there in the garden in the early morning, looking, searching for the body of Christ. To her it became the garden of unveiling, and she saw the risen Saviour. Why was she there? She was there because she loved Him. She had been forgiven much: she loved much. She just loved Him, not now thinking of what He could give her but just of who He was. And so to her was given that first revelation on the Resurrection morning.
We think of those two, Adam and Eve, in an earlier garden. They had eaten a forbidden fruit – and what a miracle that in our heart there comes a love for the fruit that is of Christ Himself, and we seek for Him in our fallen condition, yet brought back to Him.
And we can see how much Christ values our love. He said: “The Father Himself has loved you, because you have loved Me.” That is still true. We see in His treatment of Peter that what mattered, I think, more to Christ than anything else was that Peter loved Him, and that Peter would acknowledge that he loved Him – acknowledge to Himself, a strong man would acknowledge this, that at the very root of his being, in spite of all appearances, what was driving him was a love for Christ, a belief in him. And when Christ said to him: “Peter, do you love Me?” the response was: “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” And again and again he had to say it.
And so Christ looks at you and at me for that fruit, that we will be driven by a love for Him that will cause us to endure things that we wouldn’t otherwise endure, that will cause us to remain faithful in all sorts of circumstances, but more than that, that just draws us into the very deeps of His presence, and makes us hungry for Him as for nobody else, and makes us insistent that we will find Him.
Looking down through the centuries at the martyrs we can see again and again that what was at the root of their being was a love for Christ. Some of the most famous martyrs were actually slaves, slave girls, the most lowly and despised, like Blandina in the south of France – yet she was famous; she was thrown to the wild bull because she would not deny the Christ that she loved. And when they interrupted the process to try even then to make her recant, they found that she was in an ecstasy of love and praise to God.
It is a very sweet fruit. “I sat down under His shadow” in coolness, to find rest from the heat of the day – the heat of circumstances around us or within us, and we find shelter and shadow under His tree, in Him, and His fruit becomes very sweet.
As I was meditating on these matters, two verses in my reading from Daily Light seemed so appropriate:
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit. (1 Cor. 2:9–10)
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Some lines from Tersteegan’s poem “Satisfied” speak eloquently:
Draw me to Thee, till far within Thy rest,
In stillness of Thy peace, Thy voice I hear –
Forever quieted upon Thy breast,
So loved, so near.
By mystery of Thy touch my spirit thrilled,
O Magnet all Divine;
The hunger of my soul forever stilled,
For Thou art mine.
For me, O Lord, the world is all too small,
For I have seen Thy face,
Where Thine eternal love irradiates all
Within Thy secret place.
And therefore from all others, from all else,
Draw Thou my soul to Thee …
… Yea – Thou hast broken the enchanter’s spells,
And I am free.
Now in the haven of untroubled rest
I land at last,
The hunger, and the thirst, and weary quest
For ever past.
There, Lord, to lose, in bliss of Thine embrace
The recreant will;
There, in the radiance of Thy blessed Face,
Be hushed and still;
There, speechless at Thy piercèd Feet
See none and nought beside,
And know but this – that Thou art sweet,
That I am satisfied.
It has been some weeks now into this lockdown, and we don’t expect to be out of it any day very soon.
But God has not changed, and we find Him very near when we seek Him. At this time in our nation’s history, businesses are very concerned and anxious about how they are going to fare and what will happen in the afterward. The church of Jesus Christ is not a business. The church of Jesus Christ is a living thing. It is composed not of buildings but of people, and of people whose hearts are truly in love with God, and have found Him and have found His salvation. And I think that we have a choice with what we do during this time, and what our expectation is.
What has been impressed upon my spirit, and very much so over this last week, is to expect the church of Christ – not just our own church but the church of Jesus Christ – to emerge stronger and more alive: but that is dependent on our keeping a flame alive inside us. It is dependent on our not sinking into a certain insularity, which could easily happen because of the lifestyle that has been imposed on many of us. If you are one of those who is having to work very hard, perhaps in the front line, then you think you are not sinking into insularity, and yet you can become very enclosed in the world of ‘work, eat, sleep’, and just trying to keep going from day to day.
For others who may be in the shielded category, it would be very easy to become actually shielded from life, and to find it hard to pick up the threads again. And for all of us, as we are living in smaller groups and have less contact with one another, what is vital is that we do not see the church as just marking time during this period, but that it will actually grow, not only numerically, but in its faith and in maturity, to come into the full stature of a grown man or woman in Christ Jesus.
It caused me to think of the early church. There is a book about the growth of the church of Christ whose title, The Spreading Flame, I have always found very inspiring. In it, F. F. Bruce describes something of the early days of the church and how unlikely it seemed that it would take root and grow.
He says: ‘An observer in the middle forties of the first century might have concluded that the new movement had come to stay. He might even have considered the possibility that it would spread within Judaism until it had covered the whole Jewish world. By the middle fifties he would have seen, to his surprise, that it was spreading swiftly through the Gentile world and was being eagerly accepted by Gentiles. He would have shaken his head, however, in the middle sixties, as he saw it coming into conflict with the imperial police. That would put an end to it. But the events of the later sixties and the early seventies decided that, though the struggle might be long, the Roman empire and not Christianity would capitulate in the end.’
During those 250 or 300 years of the early church, she was a very living church, and (as the author says) the visible church and the true church of those who really knew Christ were more or less one. And we know that with Constantine embracing Christianity, at least in theory, it became an accepted religion, and ultimately there was a serious decline over succeeding centuries, until again and again God has intervened and moved.
In the words of the apostle Peter:
Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. (1 Peter 4:12)
That early church was born in fire. Peter knew there was a fiery trial of persecution breaking on the church of Christ that could have extinguished her. But in fact the fire enacted a purifying process: it was a refining thing.
The fire also caused the church of Christ to spread out. As people were persecuted they spread into different parts of the empire. I read during the time of the Australian bush fires recently that there is a phenomenon whereby the fire is used to explode seed, particularly in eucalyptus trees, so that the fire actually causes ultimate growth and fruitfulness. And so it can be for us, that instead of the fire of trial and present difficulties making us closed down and in on ourselves, thinking that the enemy has shut the church doors, we rather think that God is at work, and it is a time of opportunity when there can be real growth inward as well as outward, if we keep our look Godward and outward to our fellows.
We think of the church of Jesus Christ: it was the exploding fire that caused the seed on Calvary to take root, to grow, to spread. As one of Amy Carmichael’s colleagues said as they were looking at the grave of Ragland, an early pioneer missionary to India: ‘The best plan for growth is Christ’s own plan.’
Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abides by itself alone, but if it die it brings forth much fruit. (John 12:24 KJV adapted)
That is Christ’s own plan. He fell into the ground and He died. It didn’t look as though that tiny group that He had left would be able to spread His teaching. And we see how ultimately it came into conflict with the exceedingly strong power of the Roman empire, but nothing could quench the love that was deep in their hearts and zeal for Christ. The seed exploded with the fire of the suffering of Christ, and it exploded on the day of Pentecost with the coming of the fire of the Holy Spirit. And, praise God, that fire has never gone out.
I would say to you, to all our congregations and others who may read this: ‘Is that flame burning brighter now than when we last met together? Has it become an even more single-minded flame to God Himself?’ It means to be at His disposal, to fall into the ground and die: that is, to die to our own natures, ourselves, our pettiness at times. The things that can loom so large at other times have faded into insignificance at a time like this. And we say: ‘Lord, I want to be obedient. Bind me to Thee. Bind me to the cross of Calvary, that I’ll grow straight and strong and true, that Your church will grow straight and strong and true, bound to that cross of Calvary, till it will be said of Your own church and of our lives (because the church is made up of individual lives):
Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? (Songs 8:5)
That is the way to become the seed of corn that dies, to die to ourselves and our own natures and our own desires. It is to lean on Christ, and be the church coming up out of the wilderness leaning upon her Beloved.
Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners? (Songs 6:10)
It shall be the church of Jesus Christ: we do believe it.
Blessed be His Name.
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