“Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him; and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).
HEAVEN OPENED ON JESUS
This scripture presents to us a very wonderful scene—a man on the earth on whom heaven is opened. Supposing the heavens were opened again now, and you became conscious that the eye of God rested on you, that He was close to you, how would you feel, my reader? Do you think God could speak of you, as of this blessed One here, as “well pleased” with your ways? God’s delight in Jesus was attested by the gift of the Holy Ghost. He was the seal of the Father’s delight in the perfect humanity and spotless ways of that lowly, praying Man. The Holy Ghost came on the Lord without blood, without redemption. The believer gets the Holy Ghost now as the direct result of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ; it is the seal of certain redemption, as having been cleansed by His precious blood.
There had never been anything up to this moment, in the history of man, to equal this scene. The birth of Jesus was wonderful, and a messenger from heaven might and did announce His birth; but now the heaven is opened as He emerged from the water, and the voice of God, the Father, is heard saying, “This is my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” He was the only sinless, holy, perfect, blessed man in this scene of whom God could say, “In thee I am well pleased.” Oh! the Christian’s heart is refreshed by the sight, so unique, but so perfectly comely and fitting. There is no “hear him” at this point, as in the transfiguration on the Mount. Why? Because His moral worth and blessed words ought to have gained Him every ear, and it is taken for granted that He would be listened to. Further on in the Gospel, the Father’s voice is again heard saying, “This is my beloved Son,” but adding emphatically, “hear him” (Luke 9:35).
Jesus was about thirty years of age. Time—the true test of all—had been given to show what He was. Here was One of whom the world was utterly ignorant. God’s Son was in their midst, and they knew Him not. Here it is no question of a man coming, and testifying to Him, as John the Baptist had already done, but the Father of that Son speaks, saying, “This is my beloved Son.”
Reader, what think you of Him? Can you answer and say, “This is my beloved Saviour.” It is a sad thing if you cannot.
Having seen thus heaven opened on the Son of God here on earth, I will now point out to you a few other things in the Word of God that are opened; and I trust, as the result, that your heart may be opened, for if your heart be not opened to receive Christ, hell will yet open its mouth to receive you.
AN OPENED BOOK
In Luke 4 Jesus is seen, in the power of the Holy Ghost, led into the wilderness, there utterly vanquishing Satan morally by dependence and obedience. Thereafter “he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read” (v. 17). He begins at home where He is known. “And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it is written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book.”
Now the passage, from which this is a quotation, goes on thus:—“To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:2). But look at the grace of Christ; the moment he gets to that comma—and for the unsaved sinner there is really nothing but a comma between him and hell—He closes the book. If the Lord were to now open the book, it would be all over with you, unsaved reader, for “the day of vengeance” come, “the acceptable year of the Lord” has ended. Now is “the acceptable year of the Lord”—the day of grace, of mercy, of pardon, and salvation; when the Lord again opens the book it will be “the day of vengeance,” and, then, where will you be?
When Jesus came to this comma, why does He not read on? Because He says, as it were, the day of judgment is deferred, put back, while grace utters her lovely messages. How long is the acceptable time called? A year! But it is “the day of vengeance.” Judgment will come in a moment, when you are not thinking of it. Judgment is short and swift—a day suffices for it. It is a year of grace, and will you, therefore, trifle with it? I beseech you not to.
Does a “broken-hearted” one read this? God sent His Son to heal your broken heart. Are you a “poor” sinner? God sent His Son to enrich you with all the blessings of the Gospel. Have you been a captive to sin and Satan? Jesus came “to preach deliverance to the captives.” Oh! it is worthwhile to have one’s heart broken to know what it is to have Him bind it up. Would Mary and her sister have been without those four days at Bethany? “Oh, no,” they would say, “our very sorrow, and misery, and necessity, gave an opportunity for showing what He was. We saw the tear in His eye, we heard the words of comfort from His blessed lips, we saw the work of power of His hand; no, those days we would not have been without.”
Christ came, He says, “to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind,” Christ opens everything. Are you blind, He opens your eyes. Are you in prison, He opens the door and sets you free. Are you in the grave? He unlocks its hold, and lets you out. What could man do for Lazarus? Lay him in the tomb. What could Jesus do for him? Call him out of the tomb, and then say, “Loose him, and let him go.” It is life and liberty. This is the Gospel. Do you know it? Have you been healed, delivered, set free? This is the day in which Christ can bless you, in which the Lord can receive you—it is “the acceptable year of the Lord,” and it still goes on.
I love to think it was the Lord Himself first came to preach these glad tidings. The listeners were interested for a moment, and “wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (v. 22). But presently, when He began to touch their consciences, it was another thing. God must reach the conscience, for while you learn that He is good, you must also learn that you are utterly bad; while you learn that “God is love” you must also learn that your heart is full of hatred against Him. If you learn the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, you must also learn that He is the truth, too. Thus, though the people wondered at His grace, they could not bear the truth, so they “rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong” (v. 29). Awful exposure of their heart’s hatred! What does He do? “He, passing through the midst of them, went his way” (v. 30). What was His way? It was a way of divine mercy and goodness to man in every conceivable condition. Did He meet hungry men—He fed them; blind men—He gave them sight; leprous men—He cleaned them; deaf men—He opened their ears; dead men—He raised them. Whatever the need was, He met it. This was His way. He was the Healer, the Helper, the Blesser, this gracious Son of God.
At length men got tired of being ministered to by Christ, when along with His grace, the truth as to man and his real state came out, and they made up their minds that they would not bear His presence any longer. They wanted and plotted to get rid of Him. This is what men did with this blessed One. They cried, “Crucify him, crucify him.” Tired of His presence they put Him on the cross. Perfect love and goodness personified was in their midst, and they could only say, “Away with him!” When He was presented to them as their king, they cried, “We have no king but Caesar,” mocked Him with a crown of thorns, and purple raiment; and then having stripped and nailed Him to a tree, they gambled for His garments beneath His eyes. Who put Him on the cross? Men. Men with hearts like yours and mine. Yes, and our sins nailed Him there. Of this expression of perfect goodness concerning whom God said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” man said, “He is guilty of death,” and they put Him on the cross.
Look at the awfulness of the hardness of the heart of man. Dying, and as they thought Jesus was, dying of thirst, when one more tender than others would have given Him something to drink, the rest said “Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.” Seeing Him suffer, they say, Let Him suffer, give Him nothing to assuage His burning thirst; and He died! And does God at once take vengeance for the murder of His Son? No; God takes that moment, as it were, to say, “I will put away everything that could come between you and me.” He rends the veil of the Temple from the top to the bottom. That which stood between God and man, is taken away by God. That death of shame and agony the Saviour suffered, at the hand of man, was the actual means of putting away the very sin of crucifying Him.
A work was at that moment wrought by Jesus that opened the grave itself. Nature was, as it were, more tender than the hearts of men, “the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose” (Matt. 27:51-52). What took man into death? Sin. What took man out of death? Redemption. The graves were opened the moment the Saviour died. Before even His own grave was tenanted, God opened the graves of the saints. Christ has robbed death of its sting, the grave of its victory. By dying He has annulled death. How do I see that first? By an opened grave. The whole question of sin has been settled by the cross of Christ, and the opened grave and resurrection of the dead, are God’s testimony to His estimate of the value of the work of Christ, and now the believer is associated with a risen Christ.
The Lord rises from the dead, the work of redemption accomplished. The proof of redemption is in the opened graves—opened graves the moment He died, and empty graves the moment He is risen. The day the Lord rose from the dead, He took His place amongst His own loved ones, said, “Peace unto you,” and “then opened he their understandings, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
THE HEAVENS OPENED TO US
But the work of Christ opens other things besides the grave, for, having ascended into heaven, and sent down the Holy Ghost, that blessed Spirit of truth indwells the believer, and we read of Stephen, that he being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God and said, “Behold I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56). Heaven was opened then to a saint to look up and see Jesus at the right hand of God—to see a Man in the glory of God. A Man has gone in there to represent the believer in the glory of God, the Man who took his place, and bore his sins on the cross.
AN OPENED HEART
These blessed tidings about a risen and glorified Christ the Holy Ghost loves to spread, and Paul, led of the Spirit, in Acts 16, finds himself called to Europe to proclaim them; and at Philippi, by the river side, “a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, heard us, whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things spoken of Paul” (v. 14).
Has the Lord ever opened your heart, my dear reader?
This woman heard and believed, and then took her stand out and out with the Lord’s servants, for “when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there; and she constrained us” (v. 15). This woman opened her heart to the Lord, and opened her house to His servants. Her heart was the Lord’s, and her house was His too.
Christ opened everything, opened heaven, opened the book, opened eyes, opened graves, opened understandings to understand the Scriptures, opened hearts and houses, and can you have a closed heart still? Oh! listen to this, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). Now you have the opportunity of opening. It has been the Lord opening hitherto. Is your heart still shut? Look then at Revelation 4, “Behold a door was opened in heaven.” The Lord has there come and called up His own saints, and so what John sees open, the foolish virgins of Matthew 25 will find shut.
You who refuse to open your hearts to the Lord, there is yet another scene that concerns you. In Revelation 19:11, heaven is opened again, and Christ is seen coming out to “judge and make war,” and then in chapter 20 certain “books were opened.” The book of the history of your life down here is opened by the hand of Jesus, and what does He read of you. Born in sin, lived in sin, died in sin. Born in sin, lived an unbeliever, died an unbeliever, and lest there should be any doubt upon this point, God turns to His own book—the book of life. He looks down His register for your name, to see if your name is recorded there. Alas! it is not there. Oh, what a fearful thing for you! Will you not turn to Jesus today? Will you still shut your eyes to everything that He has opened? If so, you shall yet see two things. You shall see the Lord when He opens the heavens in glory, and the books in judgment, and you shall see . . .
AN OPENED HELL,
when the prophet’s woe is fulfilled on the careless, pleasure-loving worldling, according as it is written, “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! and the harp and the viol, the tabret and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands. Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst. Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it” (Isa 5:11-14).
The Gospel Messenger 1886, p. 1