The Revelation of the Father
For the understanding of Bible references to things like eagles we have to remember that we are dealing with days before the modern paraphernalia of rock climbing, and in every eagle story the idea of it belonging to a region inaccessible to all natural powers is never very far away. In Isaiah 40 it talks about the youths fainting and being weary, but then we read that, "they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles..." In Revelation 12 where the mother of the child is given the wings of a great eagle to fly into the wilderness there is again the idea that by its power the eagle has access to, and has its home in, a region that is inaccessible even to the greatest powers of men. In considering "the face of a flying eagle," we remember then that the eagle soars in a realm inaccessible to men, but the fact that holy Scripture does also speak of the face of an eagle indicates that although its home is in a region so far removed, yet it does present itself close to man.
There are two passages which speak either about the flying eagle or the face of an eagle. The first is in Ezekiel 1, and in this particular case the cherubims had each one four faces. It is a description, some of it very difficult to present to the imagination, of these creatures that formed part of the sustainment of the divine glory. "As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle." The other passage is very similar in many ways. It is in Revelation 4, once again about the living creatures that are connected with the throne of God and its administration. It says in verse 7 of the four beasts, the four living creatures, "The first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle." It does seem quite plain that we are to understand by these four figures the four representations of the Lord Jesus given in the four Gospels and although from ancient times there have been all kinds of disputes as to which they are, generally speaking, Christians have always understood that the eagle represented the Gospel of John. Now I would like to begin with this idea that the principal feature of the Gospel of John is that it presents to us the Lord Jesus Christ whose home was in a region quite inaccessible to the mind or any power of man, but who came to earth to make it known. In this sense this Gospel is the Gospel represented by the face of an eagle or by a flying eagle.
If we look at the first verse, we already find ourselves face to face with a region that is inaccessible. "In the beginning was the Word." This represents eternity to us as nearly as it can be grasped by us even when our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit. In this whole prologue to the Gospel of John we have to draw an extremely careful distinction between what was, what existed, generally speaking unchangeably existed, and what began to be or began to be something that it was not before. We will notice verse 14 where it says the Word became something that He was not before. He continued to be the Word but the Word became something that He was not before and that is flesh. But in the first verse, it is very different. "In the beginning, the Word was," the Word existed. In other words, if we can take our minds back to the moment, perhaps only in imagination, when all things began, not only did it begin through this Person, the Word, but He already existed. And taking our stand upon the absolute limit of the shores of time as we can know it, we find ourselves gazing out over the sea of eternity. There immediately we have the very definite indication that this Person belonged to a region concerning which the human mind unaided can know absolutely nothing.
Now we had no knowledge at all of the region spoken of in the opening verses of John's Gospel until the Word of God came. There were one or two hints in the Old Testament, such as the statement in Isaiah 57: 15, "For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, and whose Name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit..." There is this vast stretch of eternity, out there beyond the reach of the human mind, and we are brought knowledge of it. But not only are we brought knowledge of it, which of itself would be an empty thing, but we find very soon that it is given a content and that content brings us very quickly to part of our theme. "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." We have read of the Word that He existed in the beginning, He existed with God and He was God, and it is absolutely necessary to make such statements. But here we find something the Word became: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The apostle John's mind goes back to his youth when he was one of that band of disciples who were with the Lord Jesus Christ. A little lower he says, He "dwelt among us,... full of grace and truth," and after the parenthesis in verse 15, "And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace," or "grace upon grace." Looking back over all the years that had intervened John recognised and testified to the fact that nothing but wave upon wave of divine grace had come to him from the fulness that was in the Word made flesh. The statement, He "dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory,...)" indicates that there was time for the eye to linger and to take account of all that was passing before it. We beheld and admired His glory. But what was that glory in the exact statement of this verse? I am partly retranslating and partly paraphrasing when I say it was "... (... the glory as of an only begotten from the side of the Father,) full of grace and truth." I suppose the brackets are quite correct. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, (...) full of grace and truth. But, of course, it is what is between the brackets that we are particularly concerned with because we are told that He came, when He became flesh, from being at home with the Father. That is what gives substance, meaning and glory to the concept of eternity that we have here. And in the end we will see it gives not only glory but eternal love, and the very fount of eternal love, to the concept. As their eyes lingered upon Him and they heard His words, they recognised and realised that this was the only begotten from being at home with the Father, full of grace and truth. I don't want to suggest for a moment that the Lord Jesus Christ ever ceased to be in the bosom of the Father, but there was a sense in which He left the glory that belonged to that place. He was the only begotten and He was coming forth from His glory with the Father.
Verse 18 is the verse which next speaks to us of the Father. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." John's Gospel has a vital place in the distinctive New Testament part of the blessed self-revelation of God which occupies the whole of Scripture. A central theme is the revelation by the Son of the Father's Name, and a mere inspection of the contents compared with the Synoptics confirms that this revelation of the Father occupies a unique position in John. In this verse 18 taken together with verse 14, we meet the opening note of this transcendent theme, the knowledge of the Father. Christendom appears largely to ignore the immensity of the step forward immediately apparent in John's opening page when compared with the, in themselves, tremendous steps by which God made Himself known in the Old Testament. This opening note presents to us, not God's power as in the Name El Shaddai, Almighty God, nor the foundation elements of God's character, as in the Name Jehovah, but it presents to us His affection. And this is seen at first embracing the everlasting object of His delight, the only begotten Son. This quality of eternity which belongs to the Father's bosom, is indeed connected here with the Person who is there. Matthew first noted His Sonship of God at His baptism. Luke goes further back and notices it at His birth. But John goes farther back still even to the unmeasurable, unspeakable distance of eternity and declares His Sonship in the bosom of the Father. The Lord Jesus is the firstborn Son, and in this He has companions: He is the firstborn among many brethren. But as the only begotten Son He is alone from eternity. The first is Sonship in manhood, the second is Sonship in deity. At this moment the phrase "which is" must be taken account of. These two small words might with sufficient accuracy be translated, "the One who is." In such a context only the most exalted meaning is to be considered, and there is no doubt what that meaning is. This is the Name used in the Greek Bible in Exodus 3: 14 when the presence is so solemn that Moses is commanded: "put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." God commissions Moses to be His messenger to Pharaoh. Moses asks for God's Name and God said unto Moses: "I am the One who is. Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the One who is hath sent me unto you." Here is the divine mystery. The One who lay in the bosom of the Father was Himself the Eternal God. The only begotten Son and the bosom of the Father are co-eternal.
When it says here that "the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him," it is perhaps the simplest of the statements that are made about this unveiling part, the great central part, of the mission of God's only begotten Son. We are told by the Lord's prayer in John 17 to which we will come afterwards, God willing, "I have manifested Thy Name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world." Then we have the declaration of Psalm 22, "I will declare Thy Name unto My brethren." But this one is the simplest of all for it means to "tell the whole story." When you have Cornelius telling the messengers the story of the dream that he had had, and the apostle Paul telling the church at Jerusalem how God had worked by him amongst the Gentiles, and the disciples from Emmaus coming back and telling what had happened to them, it is the same word. It means, "tell the whole story" and that is exactly what the Lord Jesus Christ came to do. He came to say all that could be said, to say all that had to be said, to say all that must be said, in order to make God known and set the knowledge of Him in a light accessible to us by the Spirit of God. It was in the bosom of the Father that He was and therefore it is as the Father that He declares Him and that gives its character to the pages that follow. It is the whole story of the Person whom the Son came to reveal in all His glory and love and that is the Father.
Now I want to turn aside for a moment to read chapter 12 verse 44 to the end. You might wonder for a moment why I should take this leap while we are in the middle of considering John 1: 18. A moment's thought will show us that these verses occupy a very special place in the structure of the Gospel of John. The public ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ closes with the words of the Lord in verse 36. "While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide Himself from them." Now that is the end of the story of His public ministry and the remaining verses of this chapter are the Holy Spirit's commentary, the Holy Spirit's explanation, of the significance of the public ministry. That commentary is in two parts. First of all, from verse 37 down to verse 43, we can see that the Holy Spirit is commenting upon the staggering fact that so few people believed in Him. He takes two passages from Isaiah to explain that it was to be expected as a matter of fact, that it was prophesied, that few would believe and the reason would be that their hearts were hardened. Yet for those whose eyes were enlightened and who did believe, the remainder of the part we read, verses 44 to the end, presents to us the real essence and quality of what they received who believed. They were put in touch with the Father. The Spirit of God's comment upon the public ministry is that those who heard Him had this great thing done for them. It was great to know the Son but we understand that a person who would be satisfied-I must be extremely careful here-who would be satisfied with knowing the Lord Jesus, would not have gone to the conclusion that holy Scripture in the words of the Lord Jesus presents. Why? Because they haven't known the Son unless they have been taken by Him to the Father. Unless they have explicitly seen the Person of the Father in Him, and they have heard the Father speaking in Him, they have not really known the Lord Jesus and what He came to do. So this tremendous truth is set before us that the purpose of the public ministry was to put those who heard and believed in touch with the Father. Only so would a person fully know the Son, because He came for this purpose to make the Father known.
Well, when all the story is told, there is a great deal more about the blessedness and the wonder of the Person of the Son Himself. There is a great deal about what the Son does and what the Father does. There is a great deal about what the Lord Jesus Christ personally is to those who believe in Him. But in the end it comes down to this, that if we really have heard and believed, then we have been put in touch with the Father. I wonder if our souls have really been in the realisation of this, that it is only if we are consciously in touch with the Father that we have received the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and the full end of believing.
Now let me return again to verse 35 of chapter 1. Two of the disciples of John heard him speak and they followed Jesus. They were following Him and He turned to them and said, "What do you want?" They said, "Master, where dost Thou live?" and He said to them, "Come and see," and they came and they stayed with Him for the rest of that day. Now that is a simple story and there is absolutely not a word about it to give us an assurance, if we feel we need an assurance, that it has another meaning. But could anyone doubt that in the setting of the first chapter of John we are being invited to come and see the dwelling place of the only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father?
As we follow through in the pages of the Gospel of John seeking to gather up the details as far as it may be permitted to us, the Lord Jesus Christ declaring, manifesting; perhaps declaring in the first part of the Gospel, perhaps manifesting in the latter part of the Gospel; then we are surely following the invitation of the Lord Jesus Christ when he said, "Come and see." I suppose that there are very few young people who won't say, when they hear a title such as has been announced, "This is too deep for me." But let us never forget that in that portion of holy Scripture most explicitly addressed to the babes in Christ, the babes in the family, the Holy Spirit says by this same writer John, "I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father." I represent to myself that that means it is absolutely natural for the most new-born babe in the things of God to turn to God in prayer and to say "Father." The very first step upon that line is what we are invited to take when the Lord Jesus Christ says, "Come and see." Every new-born babe in the family has started with the knowledge of the Father and if only we will heed these words, and keep on coming and keep on seeing, then we shall indeed know where He dwells and we shall dwell with Him. We shall be able to understand what the apostles mean when they say, we want you to have a sharing of fellowship with us and truly our sharing is with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Revelation of the Father (2)
John 4: 20-24
It is obvious that I shall only be able to touch the text of this Gospel here and there. The alternative would be to spread my remarks over every part of the Gospel and I feel by doing that the essence of what I particularly want to try to bring out would be largely lost. So without attempting to expand the relations of the various parts of the Gospel to each other, except in one or two special cases, it will only be possible to touch those verses which outstandingly are those which bring before us the revelation of the Father.
In John 12, at the end, we have the end of the Lord's public ministry. His words in verses 44-50 give the Holy Spirit's commentary upon that ministry. What follows was spoken in the inner, intimate circle of the upper room with the door closed and the Lord Jesus surrounded by His disciples. Outside there was the bitter enmity which He had encountered and which was to bring Him to the cross. Inside were the blessed Saviour and His own and they were supping with Him and hanging upon His every movement and word. There is a great deal of difference between the utterances of the Lord Jesus Christ, even relative to His revelation of the Father, amongst those who needed awakening, and the intimate disclosures and communications of the upper room. Nevertheless the Spirit of God in the first part of that summary and commentary in John 12 indicates the amazing fact that so few believed and yet so it was foreseen by the prophets. But those who did believe, what was the quality of what came to them? Well, nothing less than this. They were put in touch with the Father. This is what happened to the woman of Samaria. We are told that hearing the Lord Jesus they heard the Father, and seeing the Lord Jesus they saw the Father, and believing in the Lord Jesus they believed in the Father. He said that the Father had given Him commandment what He had to say. All these things that we have been touching upon are what the Father commanded Him to say. In that commandment is eternal life. In reflecting upon, in meditating upon, in seeking to feed heart, mind and spirit upon these the words of the Son-this is eternal life.
Now let us cast our eyes upon this passage of very special interest in the fourth chapter without in any way attempting to go back over the story. The woman introduced the question of worship. It seems to me extremely unlikely that to a woman still in spirit dead and far from Him, such immense disclosures and basic teaching about the true worship would have been made. There must have been, it seems to me, in those seconds perhaps, the reception of that water that Jesus could give springing up into everlasting life. She said: "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain." The king of Assyria had deported the whole population of the northern kingdom of Israel and the Samaritans were the direct descendants of those who took their place. They had thought it wise to placate the god of that country, and so they began to imitate the worship of the Jews. They had the five books of Moses in a version which is still called the Samaritan Pentateuch. This was the Samaritan worship and it was a spurious worship of the God of Israel. Now the Lord Jesus Christ says here, considering Himself for the moment as a Jew, He says, "we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews." There was a contrast between what was all the time an entirely spurious worship and something which was instituted by God to be the worship of the real God who made all things and had revealed Himself to His people as the God of Israel. But of course at a stroke the Lord Jesus Christ puts clean out of court these two kinds of worship that belonged to a place. He substituted the worship of the Father in spirit and in truth and said, "the Father seeketh such to worship Him."
Now the introduction, without any special explanation of the introduction, of the Name "the Father," is the point about which I would like us to reflect together for a few moments. Let us first of all consider this other contrast, and that is the contrast between the worship of the Father and the worship which formerly had quite rightly gone on in Jerusalem, and that was the worship of Jehovah the God of Israel. In this contrast between the knowledge of Jehovah and the knowledge of the Father is the very essence of the contrast between Israel and the church, between Judaism and Christianity. It must be manifest to us all that what concerns the Name under which God has made Himself known to His people must be a matter of the greatest possible interest to the people of God in every age. The Names under which God revealed Himself to the patriarchs and to Moses in Israel were in the highest degree a matter of strength and comfort and light to the people who received these revelations. When God said to Moses, "I am El Shaddai: walk before Me, and be thou perfect," attention was specially drawn to the power of God who had revealed Himself to Abraham to sustain him in his pilgrim pathway. Later, in Exodus 6, we read that "I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the Name of El Shaddai; but by My Name Jehovah was I not known to them." There God made Himself known by a new Name according to the needs of the formation of a Nation who would be God's people and amongst whom there would be worship of God. Then we only have to reflect upon the way in which the Name Jehovah proliferated itself into those compound Names to see that the experience of the people of God, the strength of the people of God, the victory of the people of God, was largely involved with their learning by experience as well as by the instruction of the prophets, the content of the Name Jehovah.
I love to think of the ministry of Elijah in this connection. How his whole soul was devoted to the restoration of the people Israel to the knowledge of the true God, Jehovah, the God of Israel, and to His worship. But, if we look at the last verses of Exodus 33, we are told as plainly as language could speak that this was not the end of the process of the self-revelation of God. Moses prayed, "shew me Thy glory" and God said, "I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the Name of Jehovah before thee; and... thou canst not see My face; for there shall no man see Me... and thou shalt see My back parts." Could words speak more loudly of the fact that there was still more to be revealed? The last secrets of the divine nature were not revealed either in the Name El Shaddai, or even in the Name Jehovah which dominates all the rest of the Old Testament. Why is it that when we turn over from the last verse of Malachi to the first verse of Matthew, the Name Jehovah, for all the wonder it has been to the people of God, vanishes like the stars in the sunshine. Why? Because immediately the Lord Jesus Christ began to speak of that Name, that wondrous Name, in which the last secrets of the divine nature are made known. A Name never to be superseded as the others had been superseded.
It is an interruption, I know, and perhaps it would be better not to have such an interruption, but I feel absolutely bound to repeat a simple statement that I have often made before. It is that since the essence of the contrast between the Name Jehovah and the Name the Father contains the essence of the contrast between God's relationship to His people Israel and His relationship to the church, then those who refuse to see the distinction between Israel and the church will not see the immense difference and distinction, the all important difference for a true Christianity, between the former Names of God and the Name of the Father. Well, John Calvin did not distinguish between Israel and the church for all he was a mighty man of God in many things, and for all his teaching on many things was very wonderful. He was a man raised up of God, yet he fell short as it says in the letter to Sardis, "I have not found thy works perfect before God." When Calvin wants to deduce from holy Scripture instruction for the church of God he is just as happy to get it from Amos as he is from the epistle to the Romans. And since the teaching of John Calvin is still dominant in evangelical circles, this truth of which we are now speaking is not known. Of course they will say, "We know very well that God is our Father and we are His children," but this is a world away from realising that the Father with the Son there in eternity at last make themselves fully known. The dominant central truth of the Christian faith is ignored and it is not known in evangelical Christendom. When we get such benefit as is to be got from the writings of some people of this class, let us ever remember that on this point they will certainly lead us astray. I remember the shock which came to me when I was reading Campbell Morgan on John 17. He comes to the passage which we shall be considering on another occasion, "Holy Father, keep through Thine own Name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one." Now, says Campbell Morgan, a great man of God in many ways and a very clear teacher in many ways, "What is the name of God? God has only had one name and... it is Jehovah." Well, the book almost fell out of my hands. It is so absolutely staggering that it is difficult to persuade people that it is true, but it is true. You can search the hymn books used in the evangelical circles until now and you will find practically nothing about the knowledge of God as the Father. Much less will you find the whole world of supreme divine truth regarding the Father's love for the Son and the special way in which we, the children of God in this immensely privileged age, are being called to share the Father's pleasure in His well-beloved Son, and to have and share for ourselves, the manner in which the Father has loved the Son. So let us strive to understand, let us try to have in our hearts this wonderful truth, the revelation of the Father's Name. Let us strive to guard it as one of those things that in the last days are to be guarded according to what the apostle Paul said to Timothy in the second epistle that he addressed to him.
Now I want to speak for a few minutes about the content of the Name of the Father because for all that we speak about things which are indeed the subject of holy ground, yet we are certainly called evermore and always to reflect upon the meaning of such a Name to us. It is a matter that might immediately strike us with surprise that when the very last secret of eternity about the revelation of God is made known, it should be brought with a Name that is familiar to us. When we come to the last secrets of God, it is in a Name which is written in every human heart, "Father." In Ephesians chapter 3, "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," the J. N. Darby Translation continues by saying, "of whom every family in the heavens and on earth is named." Now I suggest, and it can be no more than that, but it certainly commends itself very strongly to me personally, that what the passage really means is this: "I bow my knees unto the Father of whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named." In other words, the whole concept of fatherhood comes by the fact that God made man in His image. God made man with the concept and experience of fatherhood and sonship so much a part of his established constitution that when that secret comes to be told, we find that in our nature and in our being has been written beforehand the means whereby the word immediately means something to us. Now we are here at a point when it is very wonderful indeed to seek to have an intelligence of the things that God has revealed. I am sure that you will feel with me that when we come to the end of this verse 23 we have the very throbbing outreach of the heart of the Father: "the Father seeketh such to worship Him." When the Son of God came forth He uttered two expressions of a seeking God. "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost;" and we must say nothing to take away from that tremendous urge that brought Jesus from heaven to earth to seek and to save by Calvary. But beyond that seeking and beyond that saving there lies that other request, and how much we are in danger of making little of it. We ignore so often this tremendous reach out from the heart of God to your heart and mine by the Spirit, the renewed heart capable of response to God: "the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him."
The Revelation of the Father (3)
John 14: 1-9, 23; John 15: 9-11; John 16: 5-7
The main part of what I have in mind to say this evening is connected with a concept which is absolutely central to all the writings of John but particularly it is central to this upper room discourse. It is the concept which centres in the one original word which in these chapters is translated by the four English words, abide, dwell, continue and remain. Just as we are considering how the Lord Jesus, the only begotten Son, came from that realm inaccessible to all human powers, the eternal dwelling place of the Father and the Son, so the things that John deals with in his writings and above all the things that the Lord Jesus speaks to us about in this discourse, they are the things that remain, the things that abide, the things that last, the things that continue. The dwelling place that is put before us is a dwelling place that is not a temporary dwelling place but a dwelling place of perfect love and light and glory for all eternity.
Nobody has ever surpassed the thinkers of the Greek world that preceded John, in the powers of the mind of man alone, and they were ceaselessly questing for something permanent under the ever changing flux of the things on the surface. They said, truly there must be something real, that is the real essence of true existence, and the test was that it should be something that is lasting. It is against a background like this, of hopeless aspirations of a glimmer of a possibility, with no realisation at all of a fulfilment, that the Lord Jesus Christ speaks in these chapters to the disciples and to us. The apostle emphasises again and again that the things about which he writes are the things that remain. These are the things that are lasting. This is a permanent dwelling place of love and light and glory. Is not that a glorious concept to underlie all that he has to say?
Now two of the passages before us have two separate aspects, or perhaps three, depending on the way you look at it, of this idea of the permanence of the things of the Spirit, the things of God. But before coming to this main theme I would like to say a word or two about a statement in John 13: 8. The remonstration with which the Lord Jesus Christ deals is the protestation of Simon Peter against his feet being washed. Without spending time going into the detail about feet washing I want to emphasise this statement: "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me." For the time being I do not want to think of this in the negative sense; the circumstances in which he would have no part with Him. The Lord Jesus Christ was washing his feet and the Lord Jesus Christ will wash our feet if we permit Him to do so. He is our Advocate with the Father and one of the great results of that work is that we might have part with Him. What meaning does your heart put into that expression that this took place that Simon Peter and the others might have part with Him? What was His part? What was that which was really His joy, the delight of His heart and from which His spirit was never absent? It was His fellowship with the Father. It was His oneness with the Father. It was His rejoicing in the Father. The Father was His portion just as Jehovah was said to be the portion of the psalmist in Psalm 16. And it is that we might have part with Him that He performs this feet washing act. How very important it is that we should be brought ourselves to the reading of God's Word with the express purpose of putting our hearts, spirits and minds, into the hand of the Saviour that we might be cleansed by that Word day by day. He knows far better than we what we need. He can take that Word and apply it to us and the purpose of it is that we might have part with Him. No one could doubt that to have part with Him in the setting of these chapters is to be brought into the greater knowledge of the Father and the Father's Name.
What impresses me very strongly indeed about the passage in John 14 is that we have been thinking about that region, inaccessible to all human powers, which is the eternal home of the Father and the Son. The Son ever dwelt in the bosom of the Father and He was the One therefore who could declare Him. That region inaccessible to man has been made accessible by the knowledge that has been brought to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Is it not wonderful to hear the very words of the Lord Jesus Christ that this is the home of the Father and the Son? "In My Father's house are many permanent abiding places." Is it not something which is wonderful beyond all expression that we are not talking about some abstraction of profound and difficult meaning? All that is contained in the idea of the Father's house, the Father's home, is here. As much as to say, "there is a special room for each one of you and if it had not been true, I would have told you." No wonder that the Lord Jesus Christ says, "Let not your heart be troubled." Faith in God, faith in Me, would bring you to this knowledge that there is a home in heaven where the Father dwells and the Son dwells and I am going to prepare a place for you. There is very little said in this discourse about the sacrifice of Calvary and that precious blood by which we are being prepared for that home. But let us never forget that, as far as I read it, this supper was continuous with the supper of the Synoptic Gospels, when the Lord Jesus Christ took the loaf and the cup which spoke of His body given and His blood shed. All this is sure and settled ground when the Lord Jesus comes to speak to them like this and they therefore understand that they themselves are being prepared. Unworthy though they be in themselves and sinful, they are being prepared for that home. The Lord Jesus Christ has gone to that home to prepare that place for them and it is His presence there as a Man in heaven that is preparing the place, the permanent abiding place for every one of His own. It is our everlasting dwelling place because it is the Father's home, and the Lord Jesus Christ says, "I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." Now that is not given to comfort us in the face of death but it was given to comfort the disciples who had a towering missionary enterprise in front of them-to go out into the world and turn the world upside down. It was life and service and strife that was before them and they could go out to this from the upper room. It was the place where their hearts were forever founded in absolute certainty of their oneness with the Son and of being found in the Father's home. Now when it says here in verse 2, "In My Father's house are many mansions," that is one of the few cases where the word that I have explained to you as having different translations in English, is given a translation outside of the four that I have mentioned. It really is a dwelling or abiding place. "In My Father's house are many dwelling places." It rather looks as though what the Saviour had in mind as the picture was the temple, which strangely to our ears sometimes He called His Father's house, although it had to be cleansed by Him. He said: "Make not My Father's house an house of merchandise." In His Father's house here in John 14 the dwelling places have the quality of permanence. It is dwelling with the Father and the Son and the love, light, joy, and glory of which these chapters speak.
Now by contrast with this and alongside it, is it not very wonderful to come down to verse 23: "If a man love Me, he will keep My words." He will treasure and guard them in his heart and let nothing rob him of these words, for in them is eternal life. But the Lord Jesus Christ said, "If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him." We are comforted by the knowledge that we are going onward with certainty to the Father's house. That is verse 2. But the Lord Jesus Christ says, in the meantime, if you love Me and keep My words, My Father and I will come and dwell with you. We will make Our dwelling place with you. This is not something that is done regardless of our behaviour, but only if we keep His words. What could surpass this? Sometimes young people say, "This is doctrine. We don't want doctrine, we want practice." My dear brethren, old and young, if we have driven a wedge between doctrine and practice, it is not a wedge that is found in holy Scripture. The closeness of our hearts to God the Father and the realisation of His love for us is something that gives us the strength through which the disciples did such great things for God. This should make us seek with all earnestness to keep the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not wasted time to pour over these words and try by the Spirit of God to understand them so that we may keep them. We love Him, we keep His words and the Father and the Son make their dwelling place with us.
In between verses 2 and 23 we have this very striking statement where Philip makes a request in verse 8. "Philip saith unto Him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us." There was more he wanted to see and to know and to experience but in the meantime he was quite certain of one thing: that to know the Father would suffice. He felt he had not got there. He wanted to grasp the Saviour's words and to get there because he realised that when he did get there it would suffice him. It is really the full knowledge of the Son because we shall never, never fully know the Son until we reach the point towards which He seeks to bring us and that is to know the Father. To see the Father, to realise the Father, to know the fact that He has loved us and made us one with His Son. This will and does suffice us.
In chapter 15 there is another aspect of this thought of the permanence of the things that belong to the Father and the Son. John 15: 9 says, "As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love. If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love." Now it is a very strange thing that the translators have changed the word there. It does not much matter whether we make it the one or the other but it will help us to understand it if we make it the same. "As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: live ye in My love." Live in it. Remain in it. Grow in it. "If ye keep My commandments, ye shall live in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and live in His love." Here you see there is a certain sense in which this is tracking the theme to its source. I cannot possibly dwell upon what the chapter teaches about fruit bearing but there is one cardinal fact about the right understanding of this. That is that bearing fruit and keeping His commandments are the same thing. There is no other way of keeping His commandments except it comes as fruit. That does not mean it comes so naturally we do not need to care about it. We all know that if the ground is left to itself it does not bear the fruit we want. Fruit bearing demands the greatest diligence and care in the nurture of that plant. Now in this chapter the Father is the husbandman and He does certain things in order that we might bear more fruit. Then it goes on to speak about keeping His commandments, and bearing fruit is the same thing. I will illustrate this by the well-known passage about the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5: 22-23). The fruit of the Spirit is love, therefore love is a fruit. But the Lord Jesus Christ says, "This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you" and therefore love is a commandment. Here the Lord Jesus Christ is explaining how He lives in the love of the Father. "If ye keep My commandments, ye shall live in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and live in His love." The Lord Jesus kept His Father's commandments. He lived His life in obedience to God the Father and He lived in His love. Now He says, If you keep My commandments you will live in My love. One of the great purposes of this upper room discourse and the prayer that follows is to establish the disciples in the fact that the place that He occupied on earth as the sent One of the Father is the same as the disciples place relative to Him who had sent them. As the Father loved Him so He loves us. As He kept His Father's commandments and lived in His love so we, if we keep His commandments, will live in His love. That is another aspect of this permanence of the dwelling place that we have for our spirits and our hearts. While we are living here in this evil world we can live in the Father's love and we do it by keeping His commandments.
Now in closing I will say a word or two on John 16. In John 7 the Lord said, "Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto Him that sent Me. Ye shall seek Me, and shall not find Me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come." There is indicated the most deadly doom for those who opposed Him: "Where I am, thither ye cannot come." In John 13 almost the same thing is repeated to the disciples and they found it something very difficult to understand: "Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek Me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you." But when it comes to Peter in John 13, He says: "Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterwards." Now in John 16: 5 the Lord says, "Now I go My way to Him that sent Me." He was going away to the Father and the fact that He was going away to the Father was the answer to the mystery that surrounded these words. "And none of you asketh Me, Whither goest Thou?" In these verses there are three words used for "going away." It is another case where a very close study is helpful. But the word in that verse is the mere fact that He was going to depart, He was removing His presence from them. "Now I go My way to Him that sent Me; and none of you asketh Me, Whither goest Thou? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart." Because you are imperfectly informed about the truth of the situation, you regard My going away as loss. You regard My going away with sadness. "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away." The point about that going away is that it is expedient to you that I rob you of the absolute benefits of My presence with you. "For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come." The word there for "go... away" means that He is going away with an object. He is going away to do something that is a complete answer to their present problems. And therefore it was expedient that He went away to the Father because the greater blessing of the coming of the Comforter and all that He would do for the disciples would be theirs because He went away.
We have touched two or three principle themes out of these chapters concerning what they say for us about the declaration of the Father's Name and the great purpose is that we might have part with the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray that more and more, on the one hand we will read His Word so that it might be the means of the Saviour's cleansing us from daily defilement, that we might be fitted for His Word and His presence, and on the other hand that we might treasure these wonderful words spoken in the inner circle of that upper room so that we might have part with Him.
J. S. Blackburn.
The Revelation of the Father (4a)
John 17: 1-26
If we are concerned with the revelation of the Father and His love, then this chapter is the very centre of the matter. The Name Father occurs in the New Testament some 255 times and of these practically a half are in John's Gospel. Although there are only six explicit occurrences of the Name Father in chapter 17, we obviously have to take account of the fact that every "Thee" and every "Thou" is a direct reference to Him, which brings the number to at least 50 times.
We are all familiar with the beginning of the chapter in which the Lord Jesus Christ says, "The hour is come." Whenever a moment of extreme portentousness is concerned we find such words coming from Him. "His hour was not yet come," or here now, "The hour is come." It has long and generally been recognised by those initiated in the things of God and the ways of holy Scripture that the Lord Jesus Christ is taking His place here in this prayer with the cross behind Him. "I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do." I connect this very strongly with a later part of the passage where the Lord Jesus says: "I am no more in the world... I come to Thee." For a long time I thought that this meant the Lord Jesus Christ was coming to the Father in the prayer. But simple reflection on the passage makes it very clear that this is not what the Lord Jesus Christ means. He means: "These are in the world but I am leaving the world and I am coming to Thee, back to the place which I have left." Therefore it becomes very important that before He left the world He should leave on record such words as these which present the very last thing that is to be said. "And now come I to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves." How absolutely amazing that this prayer should have been heard by the apostles so that by the Spirit it could be remembered and written down. Our apprehension will change from time to time but it should be amongst the words that are treasured and hidden in the heart, and if we keep these words then our joy in the Father and in the Son will indeed be fulfilled.
"The hour is come;" the Lord Jesus says, "glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee." What follows seems to make it very plain that while there are few explicit requests made in this prayer, this is the first one: "Glorify Thy Son." The purpose is "that Thy Son also may glorify Thee." This is to be taken with the statement "I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do." In other words the Lord Jesus Christ is praying that He might be taken to the place that belongs to His glory, so that from that new position He might continue to glorify the Father but in an entirely new way. He has glorified the Father and above all we know that He has glorified the Father in the work of Calvary. This needed His coming from heaven to earth, but now He is praying that He might be restored to the glory so that He might glorify the Father in a new way.
Now what does "glorify" mean? I have for many years represented it to myself to mean something like this: "To make the real excellence of a person known to others." I am convinced the idea of it being made known to others is essential to the thought. The original word first of all, before it began to have its Bible use, means "opinion." In other words, the view, the opinion of people is very important to the meaning of it. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Word, the Son, had come from heaven and upon earth He had glorified the Father in all that He had done but now He was going to glorify the Father from His place in heaven. How was He going to do that? If I were slightly to amplify the second verse I would put it like this: "Glorify Thy Son that Thy Son also may glorify Thee inasmuch as Thou hast given Him power over all flesh in order that He might give eternal life to as many as Thou has given Him." I haven't said very much about eternal life but here we have come very close to the heart of the matter about what is eternal life. Brethren have said that this is not a definition. If we think of a definition as something that absolutely and entirely includes every facet of the matter being defined then perhaps it would be wrong to expect anywhere that there would be a definition of eternal life. But I am sure holy Scripture does not afford us a greater one than these words in this chapter. "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent." It seems to me that we are being told in this verse that eternal life is the life that belongs to the Father's house. The life in which the Father and the Son lived together in that eternity where they were at home together-the life of pure delight, the life of eternal love, is what is eternal life. No wonder that we are told that if we have imparted to us eternal life, then this is the knowledge of the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ His sent One. Oh what a wonder that we are given the life which is capable of entering into relations which a chapter like this describes. Apart from this there could be no answer to the last prayer of the chapter, "that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them." Therefore the thing that is standing at the very portal of this prayer is that He might be put in the place where in a new way He may glorify the Father, by making Him fully known in the sense that He gives eternal life to as many as are given Him.
What is the Name of the only true God? The Name of the only true God is the Father. The blessed Son and the Spirit are one with Him. The Son eternally begotten, the Spirit eternally proceeding. But the Name of the only true God is the Father. This is confirmed in 1 Corinthians: "though there be that are called gods... But to us there is but one God, the Father" (1 Cor. 8: 5-6). The disciples are given, and all those who were to believe on their Lord were to be given, this wonderful life in the power of which they can know the only true God.
I want to dwell on this word "true." What does it mean that He is the only true God? Was not Jehovah the true God? Was not El Shaddai the true God? Was not the most High God, possessor of heaven and earth, the true God? In one sense they were all Names for the one true God but in another sense the Father is the Name of the only true God because only, and this is one of the tremendous things that we have tried to see, only in the Name of the Father is God fully revealed. That is what the word "true" seems to mean. Whenever you have it in this Gospel especially, you have it plainly meaning the fulfilment as distinct from the promise. You have it meaning the perfect and complete as distinct from the partial. We begin with "the true Light." Well, John the Baptist was a light from God but he was not the true Light. It means that in a partial sense he was a light but in the full complete and final sense, Jesus is the One who could say, "I am the Light." There was "the bread of God." The manna was the bread of God was it not? Indeed it was but it was not the true Bread because it was entirely superseded when the Lord Jesus Christ came and said, I am "the true Bread." He said in chapter 15: "I am the true Vine." Well, several parts of the Old Testament are devoted to explaining in the most touching language how Israel was the vine or the vineyard. In Psalm 80 we have the story of how God cultivated it and so it would go on until the One came who He had made strong for Himself, and when He came He said, "I am the true Vine." Was not Israel the vine of God? Indeed they were, but the true Vine entirely superseded them in the sense of being equipped and able to bring forth fruit which would glorify the Father. So we have the meaning of the word "true" prepared for us beforehand by those examples. The deepest secrets of the heart and life of God were made known when the One came who spoke of His Father as the one true God. Eternal life is not an earthly thing because it really and certainly consists in the knowledge, not of Jehovah, not of Almighty God, not of the most High God, but it consists in the knowledge of the only true God, the Father. The knowledge of the Father is wrapped up with the real meaning of eternal life and the real possession of eternal life. But then it goes on to say, "that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Thy sent One." Now in such a context it must indeed have a wonderful meaning almost tantamount to expressing the very deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a concept which takes us right back to the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah chapter 6 the Lord said: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" and Isaiah says, "Here am I; send me." Isaiah became the first sent one; not the sent one of the Father, but he became the first sent one of Jehovah, the God of Israel. I would also allude to that beautiful passage in the eighth chapter of Isaiah when he was referring to the greatest message that he had brought from Jehovah to His people. It was a message to awaken them, a message to restore them to Himself that they might learn His mercy and His grace, but they refused it and so Isaiah said, "Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah" (the sent One) "that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son; Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many." Even back in Isaiah's day there was something very special about his being the sent one and the waters of Shiloah flowed softly, with a sweet and loving voice of God's mercy and lovingkindnesss. How much more is the word full of meaning when it refers to the Father's sent One? In the Gospel of John 9 when the man who was born blind has clay put upon his eyes and the Lord Jesus Christ sends him to wash in the pool of Siloam (which means "sent"), it is the truth of the Sent One coming down here to be, as it were, as the water upon the earth. It was the means whereby sight was given to his blind eyes. So again and again we have this concept of the Father's Sent One. When we read later in this chapter 17, what is it that the disciples have believed, what is it that the world is going to believe, what is it the world is going to know? It is that the Father sent the Son. This is something supremely important for us to receive into our hearts and for us to meditate upon-it is eternal life. "That they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Thy sent One." You cannot get beyond this, that the Lord Jesus Christ is giving to those who the Father has given Him, eternal life. This is His present way of glorifying the Father because in that life is the knowledge of the Father, the only true God and Jesus Christ His sent One.
In verse 6 the Lord Jesus says: "I have manifested Thy Name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world." Now to say that He had manifested the Father's Name means that He had set it in a clear light. He had made the knowledge of it available to those who had eyes to see. In the first part of the Gospel we read of those who had not eyes to see. Their hearts were hardened and their eyes were blind. In the very words following that explanation of the blindness of Israel it says, "he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." This is to be taken together with the fact that He has given to His own eternal life that they might fully make their own that manifestation that He has made of the Father's Name.
The Revelation of the Father (4b)
John 17: 1-26
Now I must take you to verse 11 because the concept of the Father's Name comes very strongly here. "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to Thee." The disciples are going to be in the world and the Lord Jesus Christ is leaving the world and going to the Father. If you were to make a concordance of John 17 you would find the next most frequent concept to that of "the Father" is that of "the world."
We all know that the world stands over against the Father. We have it in this chapter again and again. The world hated Him because He came on the part of the Father. According to the second chapter of John's first epistle: "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." If the love of the Father is not in the one who loves the world then we are given these instructions and these revelations for the express purpose that we may not love the world but that the love of the Father may be in us.
In this setting they are still in a hostile world and the Lord Jesus Christ prays saying, "Holy Father." He is thinking of the uncleanness, the impurity of the world in which the disciples were going to be left, the world in which we live. "Holy Father, keep through Thine own Name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as We are." In the Proverbs the writer says, "the Name of Jehovah is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe." Now for Israel the Name of Jehovah, the God of Israel, was like a refuge for them. When they were in it they were kept: they were guarded and they were safe. This prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ is bound to be answered and it is answered in our salvation. In the next verse it is put in contrast with being lost: "Those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled." If the Name of Jehovah is a strong tower and the Israelite fled into it and was safe, how wonderful that the Lord Jesus Christ says that the Name of the Father might be for us that which keeps us in circumstances where we are always open to the influence of the evil and impurity of the world that is around us. The Name of the Father, which is the Name of the One that has made us His children, is the Name whereby the believer is kept and will not be lost. This is because the oneness that is prayed for in this particular verse is the oneness that is the inward life and unity of the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The place the believer occupies in the world is the place that the Lord Jesus occupied in the world relative to His Father. "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" and in verse 18, "As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." Now one of the things about the concept of their being sent is evidently, although there are two words in the original tongue used for being sent, there is evidently something about it of the ambassadorial quality. The ambassador of another country should be given the precedence of the head of state of the country from which he comes as the sent one. That the glory should have been given to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Father's Sent One is revealed in this idea.
As the Father sent Him into the world so, He says, have I also sent them into the world. This is one of the few explicit requests that we have from the Son to the Father regarding the men who had been given Him. "Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth." What can the word "sanctify" mean? I am not speaking about its use elsewhere. It obviously has a very special meaning in this place because in verse 19 we read, "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." In what conceivable sense could the Lord Jesus Christ say that He sanctified Himself? The basic idea of sanctification is "to set apart." The only way in which we could possibly understand it is that the Lord Jesus Christ set Himself apart from the world by His bodily presence in heaven. "For their sakes I sanctify Myself"-I am taking a position so that I can be the object upon which their whole heart is set. "I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." The more that we learn of our oneness with Him in that place, the more we learn of the fact that we are in one bundle of life with the Father and the Son, the more we in heart, mind and spirit will be set apart also from that evil world in which we live.
"Sanctify them through Thy truth." That is a very special thing-the Father's truth. "As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified through the truth." So these two statements: "Sanctify them through Thy truth" (verse 17), and "that they also might be sanctified through the truth" (verse 19) are the means whereby the hearts of the disciples may be taken away out of this world and founded on better and brighter things above and this will lead to a real sanctification.
Verse 20 is really the beginning of a new paragraph and the Lord Jesus explicitly extends His request from the eleven men who are before Him to all those down the ages who should believe on Him. What a mercy of God that these words occur in this prayer. We are unquestionably amongst those who afterwards have believed on Him through the words of these disciples and therefore, wonder of wonders, you and I explicitly find a place in these communications from the Son to the Father.
Now I must pass by the second request for unity in verse 21, "That they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me." I suppose this is the unity manifested in the beginning of the Acts when brethren were together as one.
Then in verse 22: "The glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in Me." I am not quite sure to what extent we ought to carry over this statement of the Gospel of John to the circumstances of the Revelation of John, but we all know how exactly this statement of unity is exemplified in the holy city, the new Jerusalem. Just as you have the statement here in verse 23 about the future glory concerning which the Lord Jesus Christ is now speaking, "That they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in Me." The Father and the Son, and the Son and the saints, that the world may know. Now that is exactly parallel with what we have in the holy city, the New Jerusalem, in Revelation 21. God is the light of that city. There is no need of the sun or moon and there is no temple there. God is the light and the Lamb is the lamp thereof and the saints themselves compose that holy city that is illuminated by the eternal light of God shining in the Lamb. How close that is and how well it illustrates what the Lord Jesus Christ means here. The Father in the Son, and the Son in the saints, "that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me."
Coming to the end of this chapter we can see that it moves on beyond the thoughts of that glory to which these verses undoubtedly take us. Verse 24, "Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world." There we have absolutely explicitly what there was in that inaccessible, eternal world. A world that would never have been reached by human power or understanding at all, except the Son who knows that love came to make it known. He came from that eternal home, the place where there was love between the Father and the Son before the foundation of the world and, in the earlier verse, where there was glory that the Son shared with the Father before the foundation of the world. In the earlier part of the Gospel we trace the love that the Father had for the Son, but it becomes absolutely clear here that the Lord Jesus Christ is thinking above all things of the fact that: "Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world." All crowns and kingdoms are conferred upon Jesus but they are all as nothing compared with the fact of His Father's love. And in such a prayer as this that explicitly gets to the root of the matter, He desired nothing but to be again in that unclouded home where the Father loved Him before the foundation of the world.
We can well imagine someone saying: "But surely that love wherewith the Father loves the Son cannot be the same wherewith He loves me." Yet, just as though to exclude any other possibility, that is precisely what the Scripture says. The last words of verse 26: "that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them." Our measure is limited. How many an earthborne cloud arises to hide Him from our eyes! But we are told that the love is the same. The love wherewith the Father loved the Son is the love wherewith He loves the saints.
"O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee." Now there you see the world with all its pride and achievement, and it has had some achievements in the physical and mental sense. When you compare what has been achieved in the world with the Bible days one is absolutely staggered at what there is in man. But that world, with all its triumph, with all its frightful sin and cruelty and with all its darkness, that world is just passed by as a phrase in the sentence, "the world hath not known Thee." Written over all the exhibits of history with all its kings and conquerors and empires, it just comes to this that the world is nothing in this setting. "The world hath not known Thee: but I have known Thee, and these have known that I am Thy sent One." The world is a mere episode in the history of the real things that we are speaking about and we are brought to rest in the place where that love wherewith the Father loved the Son may be in us and He in us.
The Revelation of the Father (5)
John 20: 1-23
I want to come to the story in John chapter 20, hoping that we shall see in it a culmination of what I have said before in this series of addresses. The first great feature of this story is the simple, burning, quality of the love for the Lord Jesus that moved Mary Magdalene. What will keep us right? What will take our steps in the right direction? What will bring us to the right place in the end? It is love to the Lord Jesus Christ which will do this and make us obey Him.
It is not easy to reconcile the opening words of this chapter in John with the resurrection chapters in the other three Gospels. All we can say is that Mary Magdalene was on the scene first, so great was her personal affection for the Lord Jesus. Before it was light and before, possibly, she came with the others, she was at the place. And when she came and found that His body was gone, she went back to tell the other disciples. "They have taken away my Lord," she said, and they came urgently enough, for they ran. But when they saw the evidence before their eyes that the body of the Lord Jesus wasn't there, they said, "He is risen from the dead." They were satisfied and went home. Health and home satisfied them, but not Mary. Her heart was wrapped up in one object only and that was Himself. So she lingered at the scene where last He was visible and she was looking into the tomb when she heard the message from the angels, and then the Lord Jesus Himself spoke to her. She thought it was the gardener. Her whole heart was occupied with one Person. She didn't trouble to describe to the gardener who it was that she was concerned about. She simply said, "they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him." She didn't stop to think she would be quite unable to carry the body of a dead man. She said, "You tell me where He is and I'll take Him away." These were the simple marks of a most ardent and concentrated attention upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Then eventually we read that although she did not know Him, He said to her, "Mary." He called His own sheep by name and she breathed out the reply, which isn't simply "My Master," but "My own Master." She simply breathed out the fact that she had found Him whom her soul loved and then and only then was her quest satisfied.
Now be assured that a love to the Lord Jesus Christ like this, that makes us all ashamed of ourselves when we read about it, is the one thing that will keep us right. It is the one thing that will make us linger day by day and year by year over His words so that we treasure them in our hearts. And if we treasure and keep His words, then we shall indeed live with Him and the Father whom He came to declare. I often think about the case of Elijah and Elisha. When the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, "Do you realise that your master will be taken up from your presence today," he declared his intention of following Elijah. Even Elijah tried to discourage him but he said, "as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee." The one thing that kept him going to the place where a double portion of Elijah's spirit fell upon him was this simple principle of keeping near to Elijah. And it is that love to the Lord Jesus Christ that keeps us cleaving closely to Him and to His Word which will bring us safe home to the desired haven in the end. Well, when this revelation of His identity was made by the Lord Jesus Christ, He gave Mary Magdalene a message for the disciples. This is rather astonishing considering He knew very well He was going to meet with them that same day. It must have been that this message would brook no delay: "go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God." "Touch Me not," He said, for He was going to ascend into heaven where He would be with His Father and Mary would be in a very new way bound up with Him there. I read into this the very culmination of the wonderful sequence of details regarding the revelation of the Father by the only begotten Son. He ever dwelt in the Father's bosom and came to make that love known. I have often reflected upon the difference between the Lord Jesus Christ saying, "the Father" and, "My Father." When the Lord Jesus Christ says, "the Father," He is referring not to the Father's relationship with us but to the only true God, the One who dwelt in all eternity as the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit. But when the Lord Jesus Christ says, "My Father," in the original language it is "the Father of Me." In other words it is not really a departure from the Lord Jesus saying, "the Father," but He is drawing special attention to the fact that He Himself is the Son of the Father. In this particular place He is saying to them, "the Father who is Mine is now your Father." He is saying that you and the disciples and all those who afterwards should believe in Me, are going to be wrapped up in the same bundle of life with the Father and the Son. What a culmination to all He had said to them! It takes us back to words uttered by Abigail at the end of the first book of Samuel, when she was dissuading David from the violence that would have been the deserts of Nabal. She said, "the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God." Although such wonderful revelations had been made, there never was imagined such nearness to God as was contained in this message which the Lord Jesus gave to Mary. It is no longer the Father only but "My Father is your Father and My God is your God" and we are all wrapped up in the same bundle of life together. We have read how the Father's Name has been made known and has forever superseded, as the sun outshines the stars, the previous Names of Jehovah and El Shaddai. Is it possible that the majority of Christians never get a thought as to these details about the revelation by the Son of the Father? O yes, it is said in the Creed, "I believe in one God the Father." But the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ has come to make known to us the secrets of that divine home of love; the fact that He has wrapped us up in the same bundle of life with the Father and the Son as a consequence of the work that He has done, this is a closed book to so many. O how privileged we are that these things have indeed been made known to us.
The Lord Jesus Christ spoke to them of the Father's house. It was the place whereof the everlasting and unchanging benediction was the peace and the joy and the love that must ever surround Him, the Father. The Lord Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you." He had prepared them by His precious blood but He was going to heaven to prepare a place for them in the Father's house.
Now what did that message do? It assembled the disciples together. If you look back again at the story in verse 18 it says, "Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things unto her. Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you." That message assembled them and in a certain and important aspect of the matter it created the assembly. Now, I wonder to what extent when we come together on the first day of the week in the Scripture pattern, it is something infinitely more than this, arising out of this fact that we are wrapped up in the same bundle of life with the Father and the Son. We have received that message and it has assembled us together and with the Lord in the midst we respond to Him. It is a very wonderful truth that we are reading here the fulfilment of the words in Psalm 22, when we come to the moment when the sorrow and the sob are over and the song of triumph begins. After those words of the Psalm which represent the resurrection cry, the Lord Jesus said, "I will declare Thy name unto My brethren." I suggest that that promise, quoted in Hebrews, is fulfilled in this message sent by Mary Magdalene. He declared His Name unto His brethren, to those who were coming to share the life that belonged to that circle and who only on the resurrection side were made His brethren. It is in these words that the Lord's promise of the Psalm was fulfilled and then following that, "in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee."
In the pattern that John gives us, their mission to the world began immediately out of that gathering when they were assembled together by this message. He had shown them His hands and His side and there was in that the evidence of the identity of the Person who was there, with the Person who had suffered on the cross. I love to think of the loaf and the cup, of the Lord's Supper, being for us the marks in His hands and in His side. He showed them His hands and His side and their hearts were moved to respond to Him, and it was out of that gathering on the first day of the week that He said to them, "Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." Overlooking for the moment the special nature of this remission that is spoken of, we can say very generally that out of their standing in peace there arises the mission to go out into all the world. We must never separate the wonderful disclosures we have been considering, and the real joy for the heart that basks in the love of the Father, from the fact that these men were soon to be found out on the mountains of this world with the gospel of peace. They were soon to be found turning the world upside down. They knew from John chapter 16 that there was at last a power in them and with them adequate to press the claims and to bring conviction to men and women of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only with our hearts set like this that we really are in the spirit of the gospel mission that has been committed to us and how we all pray that we might be more and more awakened to it. It is contained in the following extract which puts the thing very well: "The Father, eternal and infinite fountain of love, had sent the Son who abode in that love, who was the Witness of that love and of the peace which He, the Father, shed around Himself, where sin had no existence. Rejected in His mission, Jesus, for a world where sin did exist, made peace for all by His blood, and now sent His disciples from the bosom of that peace into which He had brought them by the remission of sins through His death, to preach it in the world, and He gave the Holy Spirit to this end."
Now I would like to make a reference to an important feature of the things we are speaking about and that is that it is almost certain that many young Christians will say, "All this is perhaps all very well but it is beyond us." Now I would like to say that there is a terrible danger here. I think that no one who knows me would accuse me of lack of sympathy with work amongst young people and seeking to instruct them in the things of God and reach them. But there is a terrible danger, not only in the meetings but everywhere, that young people are being encouraged to grow up with the idea that they can live their own fellowship and their own Christianity and that there is a special kind for them. Consequently, they churn over things at their own level and never get outside it, and they never will realise what lies ahead unless that outlook is replaced. By all means, let the young people gather together but let them never forget how the disciples continued with one accord, steadfastly, in all the functions of the assembly! You can add what you like to that but never let anyone think that the real functions of the assembly, the teaching of the apostles, as well as the breaking of bread and prayers, can be displaced. All the children of God of whatever age group should meet together like this and then bit by bit they will grow up into what really does lie ahead in growth in the Christian life, whereas if they spend all their time churning over together they will never get outside their own level. At the same time, of course, we who are older should do all that we possibly can to consider them and to help them and to speak in ways that they can all understand. Above all we should present them the humility and the meekness and the longsuffering with which we are enjoined to strive to keep the unity of the Spirit.