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 Re:

Chapter 9 - The Voice of Isaiah (Continued)

"They knew not... the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath" (Acts 13:27).
"And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah..." (Matthew 13:14).

It is very impressive that the Prophet Isaiah is quoted so many times in the New Testament. Over fifty-five times is Isaiah cited. Perhaps still more impressive is the fact that so many of these quotations are related to Israel's antagonism to God's messengers, and particularly to His Son, Jesus Christ. In the Gospels, where Isaiah is quoted so often, there are only two exceptions to this fact.

If this Prophet alone has such a very large place in the New Testament, which is the record of Christ; in other words, if there was so much Christ background to this Prophet, how very true it must have been that the Lord said so early to this Prophet as to his ministry:

"Tell this people, Hear ye indeed (marg. continually), but understand not; and see ye indeed (marg. continually), but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart..." (Isaiah 6:9,10).

"Read every sabbath," said Paul, but not perceived, not understood.

We, who now have the cumulative story, are amazed and cry: 'O, can it possibly be that Jesus, the Son of God, could be so imminent, both in prophetic ministry and His own personal presence, speaking, living, suffering, working, for so many years, and people be in close approximation without really perceiving and understanding?'

Yes, it is all too possible that, after years of hearing and being in touch, the final verdict should be: 'After all, they have not seen, the root of the matter is not in them, and they can persecute and discard without a pang.' There is no Prophet who brings Christ more into view than Isaiah. Probably no Prophet has suffered more at the hands of Biblical criticism. It is always significant that where Christ is brought most to view, there the opposition of every kind is fullest and fiercest. The work of discrediting will be found to reach its strongest when and where the glorifying of Christ is most present. We have heard it said in our own time: 'We don't want prophetic ministry; we want simple preaching!'

Tradition has it that the Prophet Isaiah was sawn asunder, and that the reference in Hebrews 11:37 is to him. If this is true, it alone would indicate how vehement is the hatred of the exaltation of Jesus. A focal point of this rejection is the pre-incarnate Divine sonship of Jesus Christ. One of the most remarkable statements in the New Testament relates to this. Quoting Isaiah 6:10, John says: "These things said Isaiah, because he saw his glory; and he spake of him" (John 12:41). This means that "The Lord, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple... the Lord of hosts... the King, the Lord of hosts" is identified by John with Jesus. It is an astounding statement, and makes the matter of spiritual perception and understanding quite an acute one. Nevertheless, John understood it, and it is a part of that tremendous difference between the old Israel and the new spiritual Israel. The blindness of the former, due to pride, prejudice, and jealousy, has meant for them this closed heaven and has cost them dearly.

Hearing the voices of the Prophets, and not only the words, is thus no less a matter than one of life or death, salvation or condemnation. We repeat what we have said before: the New Testament, Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Revelation, is built very largely upon this faculty of the new creation of 'having an ear to hear, and hearing'. It is a faculty, like that of seeing, which - through new birth - gives capacity for knowing meanings, and not only theories or "the letter of the word". It is a simple fundamental of the Christian life; hence it stood right at the inception of things relating to the Kingdom, as in the interview of Nicodemus - the scholar and teacher - with Jesus. New birth means a new entity with new faculties.

Israel, as a nation, not believing and being born again, was doubly deaf by a judgment. This is the first thing that Isaiah says and 'voices' in relation to the Son of God. We have heard, read and said much about Isaiah 6, the Throne and the Lord upon it; the Train and the Temple; the Seraphim and their thrice Holy chant. Also the cry of woe from the Prophet, and his call and response to God's appeal. But we have learned little of the terrible issue of his commission. We know that Isaiah was read in the synagogues of Israel, for at Nazareth the ruler of the synagogue handed that Prophet to Jesus to read publicly. The Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8 had been to Jerusalem and probably secured from the Temple or synagogue a copy of Isaiah's prophecies and was reading it in his chariot. He confessed his blindness as to its meaning, and confessing in humility, his blindness was removed. "He went on his way rejoicing," while Israel - who had the same scrolls - went on their way to perdition. It is not what we have, but what we know that we have, and whether what we have changes our lives, that matters.

The Holy Spirit, who inspired the Prophets (1 Peter 1:11), made the Apostles and believers understand that it was as the Spirit of Christ in them (the Prophets) that they wrote of Him. Thus they saw Jesus by the Holy Spirit where those who had not the Spirit were blind. This is not only a statement; it is a test.

Prophetic ministry, which is just the proclamation and presentation of God's mind, always has a threefold meaning:

(1) It brings that presentation of the mind of God into the presence of men.

(2) It challenges to the humble obedience of faith, with which is offered the new capacity and faculty of spiritual understanding.

(3) It determines destiny according to - not the hearing of the words, but - "the hearing of faith" and the consequent walking according to 'knowledge', or otherwise.

The serious and solemn question must be honestly and sincerely faced: 'How much of all that I have heard has really changed and shaped my life?' 'Is it so much teaching, doctrine, theory, or is it the truth of God?'

The right answer will be the ground of life and salvation.

The wrong answer will be condemnation and judgment.

The voices of the Prophets have a stern as well as a comforting note. This is peculiarly true of the voice of Isaiah.


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 Re: The Voices of the Prophets - Sparks

Chapter 10 - The Voice of Ezekiel

"They knew not... the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath" (Acts 13:27).

We would remind our readers that these messages are constituted by a principle which governs so much of the Bible. It is that, deeper than the words of Scripture, there is a voice; that it was - and is - possible to hear the words and miss the voice. The words are the statements; the voice is the meaning. We have proved this to be the case by such a statement as that in Isaiah 6:9: "Hear ye indeed, but understand not, and see ye indeed (margin: 'continually') but perceive not." This is the condition lying behind our basic quotation in Acts 13:27.

The "voice" of Ezekiel has its own particular significance, and is very rich and challenging in the context of religion, and Christianity in particular as it has become.

Isaiah is mentioned many times in the New Testament, but this is not so with regard to Ezekiel, who is not quoted by name, but there is a profusion of allusions to his prophecies. On the surface of much of the New Testament his symbolisms are obvious, and beneath the surface his spiritual principles are not far to seek. It is this significance which constitutes the tragedy of Israel and the pathetic weakness and ineffectiveness of much that is called Christian. It is the failure to discern

The Essential Difference Between the Literal and the Spiritual

What a lot of labour has been spent upon trying to explain this book, and what a lot of explanation proves futile, if not foolish! This Prophet, more than any other, conveys his message in symbols and parables, and, while some of these can be easily interpreted by history, there is much which cannot be so interpreted literally without entering upon the realm of the impossible and the ridiculous. The only answer to this latter lies in spiritual principles, not in literal fulfilments. We will instance this shortly. But here we immediately find ourselves confronted with an imperative necessity: it is to point out another fundamental distinction. The literalists have resorted to an evasion of enigmas by launching a charge of 'spiritualizing things away'. In so doing they leave much without a satisfactory explanation, and - worse than that - they fall into the very deception which gives so much falsehood to so much 'Christianity'.

It is therefore necessary, before we can understand Ezekiel, to give space to this vital distinction which so few are able to recognize. It is

The Difference Between Mysticism and Spirituality

How terrible, and at what loss is this failure! Between these two things there are all the differences of two worlds, and if the contrast were understood there would be greater care in the use of the word 'mystical' in relation to such things as 'the body of Christ', 'Christianity', 'the elements of the Lord's Supper', etc. Perhaps the chief distinction between the two things is that mysticism is rarely - if ever - practical (in spite of a common phrase: 'Practical mystic'), while spirituality is most positively practical. Let us explain.

Mysticism has to do with the soulical senses, and usually relates to emotional and aesthetic impressions. It is the effect of music, pictures, ceremonial, ritual, vestments, pageantry, dramatic episodes, solemnities of voices, sounds, intonings, regalia, lighting (or the opposite), and all such things. The effect is transient and confined to the occasion. We have known the most vicious explosions of rival hatreds to take place immediately after those concerned have been in attendance at a celebration of the Festival of Corpus Christi, with the Elevation of the Host. This may be an extreme example, but it serves to define the nature of mysticism, for, during the 'Celebration', we heard those concerned groaning and swaying as if they were in the throes of Christ's physical agonies - which were being portrayed. Whether it be in such extreme form, or in much milder, mysticism is not practical in the sense of changing fundamental character, but puts people in a false realm, and deceives them into an idea as to themselves. It is an illusion, a false spirituality, and is - in its finest and also most evil forms - the devil's delusion. Religion, as such, can be just mysticism, without life-changing power; whether it be 'Christian' (?), Hindu, Buddhist, or any other.

On the other hand, what the Bible (particularly the New Testament) means by the spiritual is immensely and unavoidably practical. Basically it means a change of nature, as, said Christ: "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit", and thus "Ye must be born anew" (John 3:5,7). That is a statement of fact. The classic on the difference is by Paul in 1 Corinthians, chapter two. The contrast there is, in the first case, between the intensely religious, intellectual Ruler in Israel, Nicodemus, and a man born of the Spirit. In the second case, the contrasting of the 'natural' (Greek 'soulical') man, and 'He that is spiritual', and the focal point in both cases is understanding. Spirituality, therefore, according to the Bible, is essentially practical both as to the origin and the progress of the true Christian life. It is nothing less than a difference of species. The New Testament is founded and built upon this differentiation and contrast.

Herein, then, lies the tragedy of Israel and of much that is called Christianity. It is here, at this focal point, that failure to 'hear the voice of the prophets' is found. That is an essential preface to the understanding of Ezekiel's symbolism, and with that introduction we can proceed.

The key to everything in Ezekiel's prophecies (the whole book) is the characteristic word. From chapter one to chapter forty-two reference is made twenty-four times to "the Spirit". The Spirit is the energy, the guide, the revealer, the life, etc. The Prophet attributes everything to the Spirit. No book in the Old Testament gives anything like as large a place to the Spirit by name. While the same word is used for wind or breath, it is impossible - without being absurd - to use such words in all the connections in this book. We are compelled to relate the Spirit to God - the Spirit of God - in the ultimate conclusion of this book. God is taking the initiative; God is manipulating the Prophet; God is showing His servant; it is God speaking to the "son of man" (another characteristic term). The inclusive conclusion is that the great issue for the people was that they were confronted with a work and speaking of the Spirit of God, and they neither saw nor heard. The result was that - as a nation - they were lost in captivity and only a remnant was saved. With more to say as to the message of this book, we have already reached the climax in principle.

We, in history, have before us in full view the fulfilment of terrible words uttered by the Lord Jesus. We can see a nation, from the year A.D. 70 until our own times, in the "outer darkness, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth". This was said by Him to be the consequence of "the sin against the Holy Ghost", for which there is "no forgiveness". But we are also in Romans: "But a remnant shall be saved". The "Son of Man", anointed and filled with the Spirit, came first to Israel, speaking and working "by the finger of God" (the Holy Spirit). His words and His works were discredited and repudiated, and He was charged with "having a devil". They "killed the Prince of Life", demanding a form of death so shameful as would never be imposed on a Roman by Rome. This was the sin, and the centuries have told the story.

To conclude this introduction, what is the point? Is it not that particular issue raised by Jesus in His time among men, and later to the churches: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith"? It is sometimes positively amazing and staggering what even Christians - and Christian leaders - can do and say because of this deaf ear to the Spirit. They can take up and pass on most pernicious reports which are sheer lies and do untold harm to others and the Lord's interests because they do not so walk in the Spirit as to have Him say within: 'That is not true.' It is one thing to include belief in the Holy Spirit as a tenet of Christian doctrine, and it may be quite another thing to know when "the Spirit of truth" witnesses within the heart to the truth or the falsehood. It is significant that both the Remnant and the Overcomer are marked by this 'hearing the voice'. Jesus placed the ultimate issue of life or death upon this 'hearing the voice (not just the words) of the Son of Man'.

"Every sabbath" they heard the words, but not the voice.

Ezekiel has so much to say to us which demands an ear for the Spirit. Let us pray for the ear of Samuel -

"Oh, give me Samuel's ear -
An open ear, O Lord!
Alive and quick to hear
Each whisper of Thy word!"


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 Re:

Chapter 11 - The Voice of Ezekiel (Continued)

"They knew not... the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath" (Acts 13:27).

Having laid the foundation for these messages, but making some essential distinctions and differences, especially regarding symbolism and reality, and mysticism and spirituality, we can now proceed to indicate how Ezekiel and his prophetic message falls into our basic purpose. That purpose is to show that it is possible to be very familiar ("every sabbath") with the words of the Divine message, and yet, at the same time, miss the inner meaning, the 'Voice'.

If we take only one major aspect and instance of this, it will indicate how serious this is, as well as obvious, to us who have the fuller story.

It will be known to those who are familiar with 'Ezekiel' that one of the most common characteristics of that book is the form of God's address to the Prophet. No fewer than ninety times Ezekiel is addressed as "Son of Man".

It does not concern me very much that in the Hebrew the term simply means 'Son of Adam', and is repeatedly used simply to indicate a human being, just mankind. I am impressed with two things in this book: one, that in no other case is it anything like as characteristic of an Old Testament book; and, two, the persistent and exclusive reiteration of the designation. There are deeper things than these which we shall draw out as we proceed; for it is in the deep significance of the two things noted that we shall find our message. This book is a book of visions, revelations, disclosures. It is a book of portents and predictions. It is not least a book of movements, activities, and energies. But in all of these God is addressing Himself to, and through, one whom He invariably calls "Son of Man". In every matter it is by keeping to this form of address. Very well, then, if that is noted, we can go further.

The "visions of God" which comprise this book are all governed by an inclusive and initial vision

The Vision of the Cherubim

We are not going to move into a study of the Cherubim from the Garden of Eden to the book of the Revelation - the first and last mention of them. We shall keep to Ezekiel with but one object. By the river Chebar the Prophet was given the vision of what has been called 'the chariot-throne of Jehovah', borne by the Cherubim. The Cherubim are a symbolic representation of creation. Four is the number of creation, and the representation is of the four realms and governments of creation. The lion, king in his realm. The ox, king in the realm of domestic creatures and the service of man. The eagle, lord of all the realm of the air. And man. It is common knowledge that in this symbolism the man-feature is pre-eminent. The fact that it is the 'chariot-throne of Jehovah' that is being borne by the Cherubim is meant to show the absolute sovereignty of God in His creation. This sovereignty is chiefly expressed - in the creation - manwise. "What is man? ...Thou madest him to have dominion..." (Psalm 8:4,6). In the three instrumentalities and methods of Divine government, i.e. Priest, King and Prophet (the Old Testament order), the Prophet is always represented as the man particularly. Man particularizes the speech of God. By his very creation in "the likeness and image" of God he speaks as God's representative. Of course, it is true that the Priest - the mediator - is man. The same is true of the King. But these have their own symbolism in the lion and ox, while the man is particularly indicative of the Prophet. The Prophet runs right through the Old Testament, so far as function is concerned, but he comes into full measure when Priest and King are either in weakness or needing special counsel from heaven.

I think that we have now reached the heart of 'Ezekiel', and there we find in as full a way as anywhere in the Old Testament the representative of God's mind in speech by vision, word and deed. That is why the Lord said to Ezekiel: "Son of man, say unto the people of Israel, I am your sign." "I have made you a sign..."

We lift out of this book the teaching and truth that the sovereignty of God in creation and redemption is manwise. Man - let us repeat - is God's representative in His government, and His instrument in redemption. (See Romans 5:12,19, and 1 Corinthians 15:21.)

The Prophet as a Sufferer

One other factor must be mentioned as essential to this particular message, for, without it, the whole case will break down. It is the suffering aspect of God's representative in redemption. The Prophet is invariably a suffering man. Suffering for God's people is a very real thing whenever and wherever the prophetic function is in operation.

This that we have said is the voice of the Prophet Ezekiel.

Now we are ready to make

The Transition from Ezekiel to Christ

The link between the two is largely found in the name, with a difference. In Ezekiel it is "Son of Man". In the Gospels it is "THE Son of Man". Here again, on the best of grounds, we reject (despite the Aramaic language) that it is just and only 'a man', one of the human species called 'man'.

This is a title chosen by our Lord as particularly His favourite. It occurs eighty-two times in the New Testament, and in all but two it came from His own lips. This alone gives it a significance that is more than the general 'a man'. But the main strength of its uniqueness is found in its various connections.

It is used in relation to:

1. His first coming.
2. His life here in union with heaven.
3. His ministry and work here among men. (His authority.)
4. His going out of the world.
5. His "lifting up"; the Cross.
6. His coming again.
7. His glorification.
8. His judgment of men and the world.

Inclusively and comprehensively the title is always with a supernatural context.

Jesus never referred to Himself as "Son of Abraham", "Son of David", "Son of Israel", etc. This keeps us to the real significance. Why did Jesus prefer and love this title?

First, it goes right to the heart of God His Father. It leads us to that great and dear concern of God for man; a creation in which God has vested so much for His creational glory and pleasure. It touches the deep sorrow of God because of man being "lost" (see Luke 19:10 and 15:4,6,9,24,32). It is therefore the Redeemer title; the title of the 'Kinsman Redeemer'. It is a name of universality; the whole race. It is more than any earthly category of nationality, colour, language, temperament, sex, age, culture, or zone. Herein is the "Voice" of the Greatest of all Prophets, it is "the voice of the Son of man" (John 5:27-29).

So, with a vast subject only hinted at, we come to our particular point. Why did Israel not hear this voice, although hearing the words every Sabbath, and hearing His words for over three years? There are two answers, or two factors to the one answer.

One was their national and exclusive prejudice.

Their horizon was Israel, and all others were "dogs", outsiders, and worse. They had lost their vision and vocation to the nations. They had narrowed God down to Jewry and Judaism. Still worse, they had come to believe that they alone were righteous, and all others were "Sinners of the Gentiles". It was not men for whom they cared, but for themselves as Israelites. Hence anything that did not conform to their exclusiveness was anathema to them: and Jesus did not conform! He refused to be trammelled by their legalistic strictures, the 'heavy burdens which they put upon men's backs'. He was already breaking down that legalism against which He later swung His great Apostle Paul like a battle-axe. Prejudice, born of exclusive self-rightness, will always result in blindness, confusion and limitation.

But there is another factor in their inability to hear; the last one mentioned in relation to the Prophet's ministry.

The idea of the Messiah being a man was not strange or foreign to the Jews. When Jesus was in popularity with the multitude they were ready to acclaim Him the Messiah. But a hitch and affront came to their enthusiasm, as it came to the disciples themselves when He introduced the subject of His approaching death, and that by 'lifting up', that is, the Cross. The word which expressed their reaction to that intimation was "Offended". The point was reached when everyone, even His disciples, lost confidence in Him. A suffering Messiah? "Far be it from thee, Lord, this shall never come to thee." "The Son of Man must go...", but surely not that way! So the multitude changed their minds and asked: "Who is this Son of Man?" (John 12:34). Unwillingness and unpreparedness to accept the Cross, "the fellowship of his sufferings", will certainly make blind and deaf to the full knowledge of Him, and hinder the fullness of the "New Man". The movement from the one man, Adam, to the One Man, Christ, is ever and only by way of the Cross. The ear has to be a crucified ear if it is to hear "the Voice of the Son of Man". Until the Cross has separated between the old and the new, the natural and the spiritual, there is no faculty for hearing "what the Spirit saith".

Words, yes words; year in and year out; but at the last the 'voice' has not really been heard.


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 The Voice of the Prophets - Sparks

Chapter 10.

[i]It is this significance which constitutes the tragedy of Israel and the pathetic weakness and ineffectiveness of much that is called Christian. It is the failure to discern

The Essential Difference Between the Literal and the Spiritual

What a lot of labour has been spent upon trying to explain this book, and what a lot of explanation proves futile, if not foolish! This Prophet, more than any other, conveys his message in symbols and parables, and, while some of these can be easily interpreted by history, there is much which cannot be so interpreted literally without entering upon the realm of the impossible and the ridiculous. The only answer to this latter lies in spiritual principles, not in literal fulfilments. We will instance this shortly. But here we immediately find ourselves confronted with an imperative necessity: it is to point out another fundamental distinction. The literalists have resorted to an evasion of enigmas by launching a charge of 'spiritualizing things away'. In so doing they leave much without a satisfactory explanation, and - worse than that - they fall into the very deception which gives so much falsehood to so much 'Christianity'.

It is therefore necessary, before we can understand Ezekiel, to give space to this vital distinction which so few are able to recognize. It is

The Difference Between Mysticism and Spirituality

How terrible, and at what loss is this failure! Between these two things there are all the differences of two worlds, and if the contrast were understood there would be greater care in the use of the word 'mystical' in relation to such things as 'the body of Christ', 'Christianity', 'the elements of the Lord's Supper', etc. Perhaps the chief distinction between the two things is that mysticism is rarely - if ever - practical (in spite of a common phrase: 'Practical mystic'), while spirituality is most positively practical. Let us explain.

Mysticism has to do with the soulical senses, and usually relates to emotional and aesthetic impressions. It is the effect of music, pictures, ceremonial, ritual, vestments, pageantry, dramatic episodes, solemnities of voices, sounds, intonings, regalia, lighting (or the opposite), and all such things. The effect is transient and confined to the occasion. We have known the most vicious explosions of rival hatreds to take place immediately after those concerned have been in attendance at a celebration of the Festival of Corpus Christi, with the Elevation of the Host. This may be an extreme example, but it serves to define the nature of mysticism, for, during the 'Celebration', we heard those concerned groaning and swaying as if they were in the throes of Christ's physical agonies - which were being portrayed. Whether it be in such extreme form, or in much milder, mysticism is not practical in the sense of changing fundamental character, but puts people in a false realm, and deceives them into an idea as to themselves. It is an illusion, a false spirituality, and is - in its finest and also most evil forms - the devil's delusion. Religion, as such, can be just mysticism, without life-changing power; whether it be 'Christian' (?), Hindu, Buddhist, or any other.[/i]


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 Re: The Voice of the Prophets - Sparks

Chapter 12 - The Voice of Ezekiel (continued)

"They knew not... the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath" (Acts 13:27).

If the prophecies of Ezekiel were read in the Synagogues, as no doubt they were, the hearers would hear a phrase three times repeated - "I have set thee for a sign"; "Say ye, I am your sign"; "Thou shalt be a sign unto them" (Ezekiel 12:6,11; 24:27). This designation as applied to the Prophet embodies and signifies the greatest of all of God's methods with man. It is therefore something of which to be taken very careful and serious notice by all who are called to represent God in this world; and what Christian is not so called? Indeed, that is the vocation of the Christian and of the Church! This supreme method of God is that He incarnates the truth in His messengers: that means that He does not just give a message in words, but He makes the messenger the message. It is not just that something has been said, but that there has been a person in the place. It means that the spiritual history of the representative is the ground of the message. That is why the factor and element of life is so very prominent in Ezekiel's prophecies. God is not working mechanically - machine-wise, but by "Living creatures". It is the life which is the essence of the testimony.

How strongly this law is applied to Ezekiel! This Prophet is not saying: 'I have an address, a teaching, a discourse, to pass on to you.' He is saying: 'I AM your sign.'

So the Lord makes him painfully set forth the message in his own body, and causes things to happen in his life, even his domestic life - the death of his wife - to make very personal and ocular God's message. This is very challenging and searching; but it is also very enlightening as to why God deals with His servants as He does. We can see the close identity of the persons and ministry of Paul, Peter, John and others. They had to go through the ministry before it could go through them. We could enlarge upon this at many points, but it would involve us in such an extensive necessity. We must keep close to the law of God's ways. It will now be seen how and why our basic Scripture - Acts 13:27 - is related to Christ by Paul. The argument of the Apostles was always that there had been a Man amongst men, and that that Man was Himself God's message, not only His messenger. Jesus enunciated this law and Divine method every time He said: "I am!" He was God's representation! To see Him, He said, was to see God. Not so to see Him was the very nature and judgment of spiritual blindness. Read John's Gospel again in this light. So 'the voice of the prophet' has become a living person.

When it came to the incarnation of the Son of God, that incarnation came to be shown as something vastly more than God taking flesh and blood. When John wrote: "The Word was God... and the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us" (John 1:1,14), that was just the introduction or preface to his Gospel. He then went on to elaborate and extend that, and to show what the incarnation meant. This - in his Gospel and the fight given him from heaven - resolved itself into two contrasted things. On the one line John brings out into clear definition that everything relating to God had, by the Jews, been resolved into a crystallized system; a fixed tradition, as such; an institution, a creed; a ritual; a form; a binding legality; and, although they might not use the word, an organization.

Along the other line, John shows throughout that Jesus was persistently, unbendingly, and with a constantly reiterated ''Verily, verily" - "Most truly, most truly" - bringing everything to the Person, making it all personal. He was the Law. He was the Temple. He was the Lamb. He was the High Priest. He was the inclusive Shepherd and the Vine, both of which were Old Testament symbols of Israel as the Lord's flock and the Lord's planting respectively. Jesus would not allow the people of His time to get away from Himself. Everything in the incarnation had become a Person, and that Person was - when the Holy Spirit came - to be not only the personal Christ (that would remain) but corporately manifested.

All those things mentioned above, which Judaism had become, had been displaced by the Person. This was the Sign. This is what the inspired Simeon meant when, taking the infant Jesus in his arms, he said: "This child is set for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and a sign that is spoken against" (Luke 2:34). This is the significance of Christ.

True Christianity is therefore not an organization, an institution, a tradition, a form, a creed, a ritual, etc.; it is the presence and expression of a Person, the Living Son of God! The living Son of God and an organization are complete antitheses. Organization is mechanism, committee, congress, directorates, arrangements, schemes, and so forth without end. It is man's hand of control, and man's mind of ideas as to the work of God. Christ repudiated all this, and the Spirit of Christ just brushed it all aside and took independent control, and the comparison is obvious. Have we travelled a long way from Ezekiel? Not in spiritual truth or principle!

Because the Jews failed through their fixed position, prejudice, pride, and bondage to the system, to hear this voice of the Prophet, they missed the significance of the Sign as tragically as they did in Ezekiel's time, with such baneful consequences. The Sign is a test, a stumblingblock for the rise and fall of many. This will be the effect of every ministry which is a personal embodiment of the truth, as differing from a secondhand retailing of studied material.

May it be ours to be so concerned for reality as to hear the 'voice' as more than words, and, above all, may we be the embodiment and not the imitation of the truth and testimony!


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 Re:

Chapter 13 - The Voice of Jonah

"They knew not... the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath" (Acts 13:27).

All that the majority of Christians, and others, know about the Prophet Jonah is the quite general substance of the little book that goes by his name. It is that he was commanded to go to Nineveh and deliver a solemn warning as to imminent judgment: that he refused to go and ran away, taking a ship to Tarshish: that a heavy storm arose on the sea so that the ship and crew were in jeopardy of their lives: that the superstitious sailors decided that there was a man of evil omen on board and they cast lots as to who it was: that the lot fell on Jonah; he confessed and told them to throw him overboard: that he was swallowed by a great fish and three days later was vomited on to dry land: and so forth.

Very little more and other is commonly known about Jonah, and the mention of his name usually brings little other than: 'Oh, yes, Jonah was swallowed by a whale!'

The fact is that Jonah was a great Prophet in Israel, contemporary with the close of Elisha's ministry (2 Kings 14:25). It will perhaps surprise our readers to know that in the middle of the nineteenth century a saintly and scholarly servant of God in Scotland wrote a book on the ministry of Jonah which runs into no fewer than 359 pages.

We shall see later that the Lord Jesus Himself concentrated His testimony to Israel with two references to Jonah. In this series of messages, as you have recognized, we are not dealing with the life and times of each Prophet in question, but only seeking to put our finger upon what we believe to be the particular 'Voice' of each; it is a matter of what is resultant from the passing on of the Prophet. The Prophet passes by, but his 'Voice' remains! The voice of Jonah is very challenging, and Jesus hung the destiny of Israel as a nation upon that voice. What then does this voice say at all times, and to our time essentially?

1. Firstly we must take note of a certain uniqueness about Jonah and his mission.

It was not something new in the eternal thought of God, but in the days of Jonah the specific call and commission of that Prophet was something new. So new and unusual was it that it startled both Jonah and Israel. In a way it was unheard of; certainly it was foreign to the ideas of the nation. It was a break-in, an innovation, a strange thing, a departure from tradition. While God did not plan or purpose the disobedience and breakdown of Jonah, in His foreknowledge and sovereignty He ordered that it should form the very setting and basis of a miracle which would give the message and a commission a thousand times more significance than it otherwise would have held. So deep and far-seeing are the ways of God! God just rode roughshod over all the set and fixed ideas of His own people; over all their notions and settled ways. It was a new thing in Israel, and that was a part - only a part, but a strong part - of Jonah's dilemma and difficulty.

Therein is the first note in his 'Voice'. The whole battle with Judaism in New Testament times, and, as indicated by our basic phrase (Acts 13:27), very largely, if not entirely, raged around this very fact. Stephen was murdered very largely because of this question. It is

The Serious Peril of Prejudice

Prejudice in Israel, as in Christianity, and everywhere, just means and says: 'God must not do that.' It shuts the door to man and to God.

If the writer may give his own testimony, for what it is worth, on this point, he has to say that a very big turning-point in his life and ministry, from limitation to great enlargement; was reached at a certain time. One Lord's Day morning I preached on prejudice. Didn't I slaughter prejudice! I called it by all the evil names that I could lay my tongue to. I called it 'the closed, slammed and barred door against God and man'. Very well! During the following week I received an invitation to a certain conference with all expenses paid. I had said long before that I would never have anything to do with what that conference stood for; indeed, I would never touch it at a distance. Well, this very kind and generous invitation came, and all my prejudice at once looked for a reason to refuse. I was a very busy man and my diary was very full of engagements for months ahead. So that was the first resort, and I did not think that my diary would let me down for a good excuse. But to my consternation the only week without appointments for a long time was the week of that conference! Was there any other honest excuse for refusing. I could not find one anywhere or anyhow.

As I sat there with my problem, it was as though a voice said: 'Now, what about your sermon on prejudice? You have only two courses open to you: either to say that you will not go, or to go; and if you say that you will not, it will be because of your prejudice!' It was a battle, but the Lord, and a bit of honesty, won. I went, and although full of reservations and questions, as I have said, it was a life-crisis which resulted in a new release of the Lord. Forgive the personal reference, but it may serve to give point to the message.

Prejudice can be a thief and a robber. It can be absolutely disastrous, as in the case of Israel. Said Nathanael: "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" That was the most critical point in his whole life, and had he not been an honest man, 'an Israelite indeed in whom was no guile' (Jacob), all that was subsequently said of him would have been lost (John 21:2 and if, as is believed, he was identical with Bartholomew, Acts 1:4,12,13). How it becomes us to analyse our prejudices, to see if they are prejudices or true. Remember, Jesus Himself was involved in common prejudices, strongly supported and 'documented' by the best authorities, people would say; but history gives the answer.

2. Prejudice, as in the case of Jonah, meant an unwillingness to break with the set ways of Israel. God's dealings with Jonah, and Jonah's voice among the Prophets is the

Divine Thunder Against Exclusivism

In Israel, and Jonah, prejudice was based upon a wrong and false interpretation of election. Election with them, while being perfectly true, was interpreted as being a matter of salvation, whereas, in truth, it was a matter of vocation. They were it, for time and eternity. They were the first and the last. All others were hopeless exclusions. "Except ye be circumcised, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1,25). The tragedy, nay, the crime of Israel was twofold; it misinterpreted their calling and election, and in so doing made God far, far smaller than He is. Israel - to them - was a box or cage into which they forced God and sought to keep Him there. If there is one thing that the book and history of Jonah says above everything else, it is that God will shake sea and land to show that prejudice and exclusivism are a violation of His nature as "the God of all grace". The history of all ultra-exclusive movements, related to God's name, is one of endless divisions, disorders, and reproach. It is immensely impressive that Jesus - the full and final expression of God's grace - took up Jonah after Jonah's death, burial and resurrection, typically. Israel was indeed chosen, elect, selected, but it was in order that, by holiness and Godliness of life, of character, as God's representation, they might be God's messenger of grace to the nations; that, in the Seed of Abraham all nations of the earth should be blessed. This is the vocation of the Church; but its effective fulfilment waits and depends upon it being a true representation of God! Jonah defaulted in the first place. Israel failed finally. The 'Voice' of the Prophet Jonah is a warning.

3. So we come at last to that full and final voice of Jonah:

"A Greater Than Jonah is Here"
(Matthew 12:41)

We have said "Final", and by that we mean when the battle is over and Jonah - on resurrection ground - truly represents God. The context of Matthew 12:41 is in verse 40. There, on the one side, is "a wicked and adulterous generation" the Israel which has lost its place because it has failed in its vocation (note that!). In the middle is Jonah as a parable and sign. On the other side, Jesus; going down into death - on that side representing that which does not and cannot live before God, and then, by resurrection, representing that which is alive unto God for ever. This is the 'Sign' to Israel, whether historic or spiritual.

This is the voice of the Prophet Jonah, but it needs more than 359 pages to exhaust it!


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 2008/5/17 14:44Profile
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Chapter 14 - The Voice of Micaiah

"They knew not... the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath" (Acts 13:27).

"How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the Lord?" (1 Kings 22:16).

This is a thrilling story, and it reads like a drama. Micaiah is - so far as the record goes - a minor of the Minor Prophets, but quite evidently he was of some serious account in Israel, even if not very popular. It is something to be noted that his accountability was because of his unpopularity. He was evidently taken seriously even if he was in a very small minority. Among the Prophets of Israel his ratio was

Four Hundred to One

That is the first impressive thing of which to take note. It is possible for a servant of God, or 'voice' for God, to be just one over against a disparity of four hundred! But not just the ratio, but the one to be right and, in the end, vindicated. So this story shows.

Of course, this does not mean that singularity is necessarily a virtue, and that being different from everyone else is inevitably right. But, given that it is the kind of aloneness of Micaiah, it can very well be the 'voice' of truth.

Our verse above contains a suggestion and implication which is quite enlightening. Said Ahab, to Micaiah: "How many times shall I adjure thee...?" This, then, is far from the first time that Micaiah had toyed with Ahab, or taunted him. The Prophet evidently knew his man. He knew full well that Ahab was a man who, if he set his heart on having, or doing, something, he would have it at any cost, even the cost of principle, or the life of a good man, as in the case of Naboth and his vineyard. The deliberate tone of unreality in Micaiah's voice, which even a selfish and wicked man could not fail to detect, had provoked Ahab again and again, and made him, in spite of himself, demand the truth; although he had no intention of accepting it.

The voice of this Prophet, in the first place, shows that it is possible to be so set upon one's own course, and determined to have one's own way, as to pursue that end against the knowledge of the truth and all faithful warning and counsel. Such an attitude has at its very core the seeds of doom. It is very impressive that this very strength of self-will became characteristic of Israel in the years following Ahab and ended in the seventy years of captivity. Worse still, it was this very thing that led finally to their being set aside as a nation through the rejection of Him who was the Truth. Micaiah first played with Ahab, like a cat with a mouse, and then slew him. The reason for Ahab's terrible doom? Knowing the truth but refusing to obey it!

But what of Micaiah? The four hundred Prophets had tuned in to the popular strain. The ruling power wanted a certain theme. Policy demanded alignment. The current vogue required acquiescence. The day and the hour said that adjustment to its fashion was essential. Safety and freedom from trouble said - 'Fall into line'. The four hundred time-servers and opportunists were only concerned with, and actuated by, how things would affect their own interests and prospects. There was, however, the embarrassing presence of Jehoshaphat who, while he eventually smothered his better judgment, had a sense that all this noise and clamour was hollow and lacking in genuineness. He asked Ahab if there was not another 'voice' that ought to be heard. This put Ahab into a peevish mood, because Jehoshaphat, by his question, had brought a discord into the music and a cloud on the gay horizon. Yes, there was that fellow who had not been invited to the convocation because - well - he spoke the unpopular truth. Jehoshaphat insisted that Micaiah should be fetched, and the messengers sought to persuade him to play the popular tune, sing the popular song, and to fall into line. We know what Micaiah replied.

But Micaiah had every reason to know what would be the consequences of any failure to comply. He knew Ahab quite well, that he was not a man to take pleasantly to having his ambitions thwarted or questioned. Moreover, behind Ahab there was that evil genius, his wife Jezebel. If Jezebel had succeeded in making a stalwart like Elijah run for his very life, Micaiah would suffer no less a fate. He was already in Ahab's bad books. To oppose him on this supreme occasion would not make things easier. With his eyes wide open to consequences, after taunting Ahab, he - at all costs - said what he knew to be the word of the Lord. There are more details, as you can see by reading the story, but the hammer fell and for a time he was in a prison of discredit, ostracism, privation, and exclusion. But eventually his word was proved to be the truth. What Ahab's thoughts were when he was borne away, mortally wounded, to linger out the miserable day until he died at sundown, we do not know, but we can guess. We do know what Jehu did to the four hundred and to Jezebel. From this we see that if Micaiah had compromised, his fate would have been very much worse than it was under Ahab.

We come back to our general object in these messages. Our basic passage in Acts 13:27 focuses the voices of all the Prophets on Christ. He is the inclusive, full, and final 'Voice'. How true He was to the way of all the Prophets, and how true today! He, as the Truth of God, stood alone, "despised and rejected of men". He was offered bribes in the wilderness, and in His last agonies on the Cross, He refused to "come down" and have an easier path. "He endured the cross, despising the shame."

It is the way of all who have a prophetic anointing which stands against the accepted and popular current; who really have a message from God. Not a 'slant', a 'singularity', an idiosyncrasy, an eccentricity. There are plenty of these. Micaiah's stand was for reality! This is what all the Prophets stood for, and if there was one thing more than another that drew out the white heat of Jesus, it was unreality, hypocrisy, falsehood, and compromise with 'the prince of this world', in principle or system.

Unless we are mistaken, the Spirit of God is forcing the issue of reality in a very utter and ultimate way in our day. The 'four hundred' may seem to triumph for a little while; the Micaiahs may be in an ostracized minority; but reality will issue triumphant at the end.

So says the 'voice' of this Prophet.


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CHRISTIAN

 2008/5/19 13:57Profile





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