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The Christadelphian | April 2012

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Running
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “The true sacrifice” | Paul Wasson
  • The character of God 2 – Omnipresent | Mark Buckler
  • The message to the seven churches 4 – To Pergamum | James Andrews
  • Questions Jesus asks “Why call ye me, Lord?” | Paul Aston
  • An attack on Brother Thomas | Geoff Henstock
  • The heart and holiness of God 4 – “In you the fatherless finds mercy” | Andrew E. Walker
  • “Sing forth the honour of His Name” Ten years of worship from the 2002 hymn book | John Botten
  • Dead flies | Peter Forbes
  • The Gibeonites and Ephesians | Nigel Bernard
  • Signs of the times Russia’s influence grows
  • Israel and their land “Game-changer”
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Questions Jesus asks:

“Why call ye me, Lord?”

THE question is sharp and piercing; it divides asunder; it discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord?” (Luke 6:46). Men call him “Lord” because of who he is and what he says. He is addressed as “Lord” because of what he has accomplished and on account of what he still does. All these things command allegiance and an answer of surrender. But this is not the force of the question: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”

The question, it seems, is addressed to disciples. In the context in which it is asked, there is no indication of any specific instance of the hearers failing to do something which the Master had instructed. The statement, “and do not the things which I say”, appended to the inquiry appears, therefore, to be a general comment as regards the conduct of men who call him “Lord”. That there is no obvious reference to a particular act of disobedience serves to attach a quality of permanence to the question. It occurs in Luke’s account alone. In the parallel passage in Matthew’s Gospel the words are present, though not in the form of a question. Indeed, the words of the text declare a truth. As a statement, the words express a fact. Men call Jesus “Lord”, but fail to do the thing which he says. The Gospel records are complementary and that the words of Jesus concerning lordship and obedience take the form of a question are beyond doubt. In fact, as a question, the challenge of his words is intensified.

The context is important. In both accounts, but specially is it clear in Matthew’s, the words of this text belong to the concluding thoughts of the Sermon on the Mount. Here, Jesus taught his disciples, in the hearing of a multitude, about the kingdom and discipleship. Everything he spoke was with full and final authority. The result was that the people were astonished at his doctrine. Men and women were in awe of his teaching. His words impressed. His wisdom was admired. His counsel, however, is no mere theory. It is, by its very nature, practical. They are words for living. To be in awe and admiration of his teaching and not to be inspired to activity is insufficient: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”

To call him “Lord” demands an accompanied “doing” which is in harmony with the thing he says. A hearing of his word that refuses to allow it to shape the actions is to end in ruin. The statement of the question is illustrated by the Lord using the familiar figure of two builders who construct houses on different foundations. Building must be founded on the rock of his teaching. There is one foundation only upon which things that endure are built.

“Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: he is like a man which built an house … and laid the foundation on a rock … But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house …” (6:47-49; see also, Matthew 7:21-29)

The question is, “Why?” Why do men honour him as Lord, but fall short of doing as he bids? This is what calls for an answer. What is it in men that willingly acknowledges Lordship, yet stumbles in practical submission? Ultimately, the inquiry is intensely personal and each must endeavour to answer for himself. The Old Testament scripture furnishes us with examples to which we may, perhaps, relate.

Righteousness not ritualism

Chapters 1-5 of the prophecy of Isaiah constitute messages delivered during the reign of Uzziah. Materially, it was a time of prosperity; spiritually, it was an hour of dereliction. The religion of the people had declined to a point where it was believed that relationship with God was conditioned merely by external acts of worship. So long as they did their duty; so long as they brought to the temple the sacrifices and offerings prescribed, they had fellowship with God. It was a pernicious, yet prevalent, belief!

“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.” (Isaiah 1:11)

The phrase, “I am full of” (literally, “I have had enough of”), is expressive of loathing. God Himself had appointed the offerings which they brought, but where they ceased to be the fruit of spiritual lives they became detestable. Sacrifices and offerings, devoid of the right spirit on the part of the worshipper, are purposeless and vain:

“Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.” (verses 13,14)

The people called Him “Lord”, but their ways and doings alienated them from Him. God required righteousness not ritualism. Ceremonial observance in the absence of moral cleansing was to no avail. God wanted them to be clean. The remedy announced by the prophet indicates the intimate relation between giving “honour” and “doing”. The spiritual condition of the observances of worship must ever be consonant with the things they stand for, if that worship is to please God.

“Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (verses 16,17)

The deteriorating spiritual health of the nation was summarised by the prophet during the reign of Hezekiah:

“Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.” (Isaiah 29:13)

Significantly, it is “this people”, not “my people”. The Lord Jesus Christ took hold of these words through the prophet and solemnly applied them to the men of his generation (see Matthew 15:1-9). There were those who, honouring him with their lips, called him “Lord”, but did not do the things which he said because, like their fathers, they were deceived as to the fundamental principles of worship and religion.

“The temple of the LORD”

In the days of Josiah, the temple was faithfully renovated and its order of worship restored. The king, with energy and zeal, began a reformation for the honour of God. In terms of the attitude of the people, however, the movement was superficial. They went along with it. The thing that really mattered, but which was left undone, was a genuine repentance and return to God. Nevertheless, after years of neglect, the people resorted again to the newly repaired temple. The words upon their lips were, “The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD!” They trusted in the temple; they were confident that the temple would secure their national safety.

A prophet, whose words were as unsparing as they were true, appeared in the gate of the house of God. He had come to rebuke this people as they assembled in the very act of worship: “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these” (Jeremiah 7:4). The prophetic message is a compelling revelation of the proper value and place of the things which are associated with worship and religion:

“For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.” (verses 5-7)

The conduct of this people gave the lie to the words which were found upon their lips. Their presence in the temple was little more than an expedient. Their attachment to the house of God was rooted in a superstition that it would minister to their safety. They had forgotten the real things which related to worship. Moreover, a false conviction concerning God would prove destructive in that it made true repentance impossible. Irrespective of the words or claims found upon a man’s lips, fellowship with God requires that his ways are in harmony with God’s will. To address Jesus as “Lord” in the mistaken conviction, or superstition, that it secures our safety, while our ways and doings are manifestly at variance with His, is blasphemy.

“Ye call me Master and Lord”

Supper was ended. The Master rose up, girded himself with an apron, and took the servant’s part. He washed his disciples’ feet. Then, immediately he addressed them with these words: “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:13-15).

Jesus is the perfect example. Those who truly are his are requested to do what he does. All that the Lord did was in conformity with what he said. He is the pattern of how to live and of how men should render service. To call him “Lord” and to do the things that he says is to become like him. This is the challenge of discipleship. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (verse 17).

“When … Lord …?”

The Lord comes and he sits upon the throne of his glory in the exercise of government. He gathers the nations in order to separate them. He divides between them upon the principles of perfect justice. He separates such that “the righteous” are on his right hand and the “cursed” on the left. He addresses each group, beginning with the blessed.

It is striking that, in response to the king’s pronouncements, the righteous and the cursed seem to express the same sentiments:

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?” (Matthew 25:37-39; also verse 44)

In like manner, “the cursed” responded. Upon the lips of the accepted and rejected alike is the confession, “Lord”. They are not distinguished by the words which they speak. The fact of separation, to blessing, or to cursing, is not based on the word in their mouths, but on what they have done, or have failed to do. Judgement is administered on the basis of how those who proclaimed the kingdom, in faithfulness to His name, were received:

“When … Lord …? Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren … Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these …” (see verses 40,45)

To call him “Lord” is to profess subjection to him. If the choice is to tread persistently the path of disobedience then it is better no longer to address him as “Lord”. Refusing the things he asks and then to say “Lord” and “Master” is not only dishonest and hypocritical, it is to be utterly deceived. When we set aside his words, and refuse to live by them, why then continue a profession, and pretence, of obedience? That is the question. To find an answer calls for a search which is personal, diligent and ruthless. Facing the question honestly is to discover the reason for failure and the unworthiness of it. We are truly his, and express our love of him, when we strive to do his commands.

paul Aston

 

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