The Continuation of Christ During His Absence.
I HAVE been much struck lately by the way the Spirit of God has brought these chapters before us at one time and another; it would seem as though the blessed Lord desired to awaken afresh in our hearts, before His coming again, the last desires He expressed to His disciples on the eve of His departure from this world, on that memorable night on which He took His last meal with them, so I venture a few remarks which have been precious to my own soul.
This chapter commences with the Lord adapting Himself to a new service, a service which was forecasted in Exodus xxi., that of the Hebrew servant, whose ear was bored through with an awl to the door post, thus binding him to the house. The house referred to was figurative of that which was then in course of construction. It was Jehovah's dwelling-place in the wilderness, typical of all that followed in that line of truth. The Lord's service was applicable to all within the house, for He has taken up all our liabilities on the cross, which has given Him the right and title to serve us in this new capacity.
As priest and advocate, He disengages Himself from them for a moment, a figure of His present attitude, as it were, preparing Himself to fit them for heavenly associations with Him in the place whither He was going. He washed their feet with water—not their bodies—as it was to be practical fellowship with Him; as He said to Peter, who rather drew back from allowing the Lord such an office, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." This service was doubtless to strengthen them to receive His communications, so that they might keep one another in this receptive condition, to receive His constant instructions in His intercourse with them by the Spirit. How much we all lack this state is very manifest; may we greatly desire it and persevere in prayer to acquire it!
Then the anxiety of Simon Peter to know who the traitor was, brought out the character of Judas. He appealed to John to ask who it should be who would betray Him. This is often the case with us; we have to employ others who are nearer to the heart of Christ than ourselves. Like Martha of Bethany, who ran off for Mary, feeling that she was a little out of her depth as to the resurrection, and that her sister, who had sat at Jesus' feet, might be better able to understand than she. I daresay, many of us have felt at times how blessed it is to sit at His feet and not be found among those who go to "seek the living among the dead." Mary of Bethany was not found at the sepulchre on the morning of the resurrection.
Now John did not take his place in the bosom of Jesus to ask this question, but being there, he could ask the question because he was already in the place of intimacy in the love of Christ. How many have said when difficulties arise, we will go and ask the Lord about it. Quite right, but that is not what this incident teaches. It shews that in immediate intercourse with the Lord, we are in the current of all that is passing in His heart. Would that each of us might cultivate this, and not be such strangers to His thoughts.
The heart of the blessed Lord begins to expand as soon as Judas goes out. He begins to speak of that which was immediately before Him, the glory of God and His own glory at the right hand of God. How relieved we have often been, when freed from the company of the world into which we have been involuntarily forced. How well the Lord might have occupied them with His sufferings, but no, that was not uppermost in His mind at that moment. Satan took possession of Judas. May we ever keep him out by keeping Christ in!
This is a lovely scene inside that room. Christ alone with His own, perhaps for the first time, in the absence of all evil, a suitable moment indeed to give the new commandment in two parts—first that they were to manifest the divine nature one to another, and secondly, that the divine atmosphere which He had brought with Him from the bosom of the Father should permeate the company "amongst yourselves." (John xiii. 35, New Trans.)
Evidently this was pressing very much upon Him at that moment. Simon Peter, thinking that the Lord was speaking of what was natural, at once volunteered to lay down his life for Him, but Christ quickly discovered his mistake to him; was it natural love that led Him from the Father's bosom to the cross of Calvary? No, it was not, nor was it natural love of which He spoke in John iii. 16, though it is often mistaken for it. Listen to a line of a beautiful hymn which we sometimes sing:
"We joy in Thee, Thy holy love
Our endless portion is."
This, though not inspired, is very impressive. Nothing natural could lead us to follow Christ; let me say that there has always been a tendency to bring what is divine into what is purely human, and thus what is of God has been obscured, as though the wood of the ark covered the gold instead of the gold covering the wood; we must try to keep God's things in God's settings, especially His pictures; once take them out of the divine setting and the design is lost.
Chapter xiv. contains two very distinct parts of Christ's life. Verses 1-14 refer to faith, the remainder to obedience; so we find that He was "The author and finisher of our faith." (Heb. xii. 2.) Others had walked the course for a while but had not finished it; none but He had gone its length in undeviating steadfastness. He led in the race and reached the goal—others had followed it is true. "Let not your heart be troubled." Jesus counted on their feeling His departure; how little it is felt because of little attachment to Him.
The faith of the disciples would now be tested. There is always a moment when our resolve is brought to the crucible to be tested; it is ever so sooner or later in our spiritual career. Absence proves the reality of love and devotedness. The absence of Moses exposed the condition of the camp, and the golden calf told what it really was. Absence is the test of patience also, and this was shewn in the state of King Saul, who said, "Bring to me the burnt offerings," &c, and his lack thereof was what contributed to his downfall. Time tries everybody and everything.
Then the Lord at once diverts them from Himself by speaking of the Father and directing their attention to Him. Then follows the word of comfort, "I am coming again, and I shall receive you to myself, that where I am, ye also may be." Now the Person is always greater than the place, for it is that which gives character to the place, and in this chapter, the Father's name occurs twenty times and the place only once. The whole Godhead is engaged to safeguard the believer, the Father had always been, as it were, the quiescent Person of the trinity until the advent of the Son.
Verse 15 begins another part of the Lord's life, and a most blessed one, as Peter tells us, "by sanctification of the Spirit, unto the obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." This is not the same as the sanctification of John xvii.; its true character is found in verse 23, not to a given commandment, but response to the desire and love of a Person, just as the three mighty men met the desire of David in getting the water from the well of Bethlehem, "which is by the gate," which the king would not drink, but poured out before Jehovah; it was the life of these men, and he gave it back to God as life belongs to Him, and Christ could say, "I do always those things which please him." As in the above gallant action, it was obedience to a wish, not to a word; it is not the surrender of a desire to do something else, Christ had no such wish, and He promised His especial fellowship, and also that of His Father, to such as would walk as He walked. Abraham was thus honoured when he had carried out the ordinance of circumcision. (Gen. xviii.) He responded, "the self-same day," says the record.
Chapter xv. is fruit-bearing, which was a great desire of the Lord for His own; this is not confined to any particular kind of fruit. When He said, "In this is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, and ye shall become disciples of mine," it shewed how truly this was part of the new commandment.
The first part of this chapter ends with Psalm lxix., Christ as the true trespass-offering for Israel (ver. 4), and then the Spirit comes to enable us to carry out His wishes. Chapter xvi. is the fact of the presence of the Spirit on earth, with whom we are to have the closest fellowship. A very serious matter, for we cannot take Him into what is evil, into that which caused the death of Christ. How sad to take Him to a theatre or a racecourse!
The frequent occurrence of the conjunction "if", makes our enjoyment of things conditional, as the constant use of the same little word in Deuteronomy shewed in regard to Israel who were on the same ground as to their enjoyment of Jehovah's gift of the land, and we find also in this chapter the Noah-like type of the Spirit; he comforted the remnant (his parents, Gen. v. 29), but pronounced the judgment of the world, after that which was heavenly, Enoch had been taken out of it.
Now what is known as "the Lord's prayer" is superseded, as all is now to be in "my name," and instead of asking for forgiveness of sins, we are told to accept the forgiveness of sins as we find Paul preaching at Antioch, "Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." (Acts xiii. 38.)
These remarks are but ideas thrown out of the desires of the blessed Lord as to how He would wish to be continued during His absence, and may He use them to create MEDITATION, for I believe that it is more difficult to express Christ than to preach Christ.
J. S. BAGSHAW.
“The Believer’s Friend” 1915