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The Christadelphian | December 2008

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Fellowship in the Gospel: 4 – An assembly of covenant people
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “Cleansed by his touch” | George Dolphin
  • The Rechabites | Jonathan Cope
  • “According to my righteousness” | Peter Forbes
  • Pause and ponder 24 – Married in the Lord, part 7: Choosing a husband | Stephen Whitehouse
  • Fellowship at the breaking of bread | Michael Owen
  • Acts of the Apostles 22 – Acts 20:17–21:7 | Paul Cresswell
  • “I am he”: the ministry of the Lord | Dudley Fifield
  • What’s remarkable about that? | Barry Lambsdown
  • Naboth the Jezreelite | Trevor A. Pritchard
  • Preaching in the “other Paris” | Roger Long
  • Signs of the times A new President-elect
  • Israel and their land The UN ‘mourns’
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

“I am he”: the ministry of the Lord

IT was twelve months before the final passover and the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, and it was a time of crisis in the Lord’s ministry. We know that at the beginning of his ministry the Lord Jesus engendered great excitement among the common people. They were looking for the coming of the Messiah and many believed that in him they had found the one promised.

The Gospels describe the enthusiasm of the multitudes:

“And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.” (Matthew 4:25)

“He [the healed leper] went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.” (Mark 1:45)

“But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judaea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and from beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they had heard what great things he did, came unto him.” (3:7,8)

It would seem that at first nothing could quell the fervour and passion of the people. But as time passed and the Lord Jesus did nothing to encourage their desire for a king to break the yoke of Rome, the mood of the people began to change.

At Caesarea Philippi the Lord asked his disciples: “Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:13,14; Mark 8:27,28; Luke 9:18,19). It is an insight into human nature. They would grasp at straws rather than accept the reality of the situation. They could believe that he was John the Baptist or one of the prophets risen from the dead, but they could not face up to the challenge that he presented. They no longer mused in their hearts whether or not he was the Christ (cp. Luke 3:15). Little has changed, and men will still grasp at any notion rather than accept the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. How then the Lord must have been encouraged by the declaration of Peter and the other apostles: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”.

The feeding of the five thousand

It was the feeding of the five thousand that proved the catalyst. This miracle seems to have rekindled the zeal and enthusiasm of the multitude, for they said, “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world” (John 6:14). It would appear that they saw in this miracle a Messianic act, perhaps recalling the words of Psalm 132 that, “The LORD hath sworn in truth unto David … of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne” (verse 11). Then, referring to the work of this promised one God had said, “I will abundantly bless (his) provision: I will satisfy (the) poor with bread” (verse 15).

Such was the fervour of the multitude – a spirit almost of hysteria – the Lord Jesus perceived they would have come and taken him by force and made him a king (John 6:15). Far from acquiescing in their wishes and acknowledging their desire, the Lord did everything possible to dissuade them from their purpose: he sent the disciples to the other side of the lake and went alone into a mountain to pray.

The bread of life

It was on the following day that the effect of these events, not only on the multitude but also on many of his disciples, became clear. In the synagogue at Capernaum the Lord Jesus delivered his discourse on the bread of life (John 6:26-58). Its emphasis was not upon kingship but rather on the manner in which he should lay down his life. The development of thought is seen in some of the Lord’s words:

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (verse 51)

“Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (verses 54-56)

The perplexity of the people is evident for they said, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (verse 60). The result was that not only were the people deterred from following him, but “from that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (verse 66).

It was, of course, following these things that Peter made his wonderful declaration of faith that the Lord Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God. How then was it that Peter and the other apostles retained this firm conviction? The answer is in the Lord’s discourse:

“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God [Isaiah 54:13]. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” (verses 44,45)

Notice that they are drawn by the Father by hearing and learning of Him, and this the disciples had done through the teaching of the Lord Jesus. Clearly in our generation the word of God is the primary means by which God draws men and women to the Lord Jesus. This does not mean that the apostles had a smooth path in coming to their conviction, for they too had their difficulties, moments of confusion and lack of understanding. Indeed the words of Isaiah 54:13, referred to by the Lord, were prefaced by, “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted” (verse 11). The record of the storm in John 6, as the apostles struggled against the wind and the waves, helps us to appreciate that there is a deeper significance to this tempest than we might have realised.

The disciples’ confusion

For all their loyalty and conviction that he was the promised Messiah, the apostles too had a limited understanding of the nature of his work as Saviour. They too were expecting him to take the throne of David and rule as king. Consequently, it was not only the people who were confused by the Lord’s reaction to the desire to make him a king. The Lord was anxious that the apostles should not be influenced by the mood of the people and for this reason he sent them in their ship to travel to the other side of the lake.

We can perhaps imagine the sense of disillusionment and disappointment they felt as they set forth. Their minds too were in turmoil as they sought to understand why their Lord had behaved in this way, and the inner conflict they were experiencing was reflected in the storm that overtook them. Their mood is reflected in the words, “And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them” (John 6:17). It was in the midst of all their uncertainty and anxiety, fearing even that the storm might swallow them up, that the Lord Jesus came to them walking on the sea. The message he had for them was one of great reassurance and comfort: “It is I; be not afraid” (verse 20).

Literally, what the Lord said was, “I am” (Hoskyns and Davey, The Fourth Gospel, page 291), or more precisely, “I am he” – the same Greek being translated thus in John 9:9 in relation to the man born blind and in John 8 of the Lord himself: “For if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins … then shall ye know that I am he” (verses 24, 28).

Walking on the tempestuous sea the Lord Jesus came to them and stilled the storm. But remembering that the turbulence of the waves and sea was but a reflection of the apostles’ inner turmoil, as they wrestled with the question of his kingship and mission, we can appreciate that the coming of the Lord across the troubled waters was symbolic also of the peace and reassurance that he brought to their anxious and distressed minds. The message was “I am he”: they were not to be disconcerted by the events that had occurred following the feeding of the five thousand. Their faith was not misplaced; they had not put their trust in him in vain, for he was indeed the one promised of old who one day should sit upon the throne of David for ever. He alone could say that before Abraham was, “I am he” (John 8:58). It was in this confidence that Peter could say: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68,69).

We too can learn from these experiences of the apostles. Like them, our progress in the Truth is rarely an unhindered and smooth passage to complete and perfect trust. Our faith is put to the test as we too are assailed in the circumstances of life by the storms and tempests that flesh is heir to. In the midst of our adversities we can also be assailed by doubts and uncertainties.

Yet if we hold fast to those eternal treasures that have been committed to our trust, we can be assured that he whose way is in the sea and his path in the great waters, whose footsteps are not known (see Psalm 77:19) will, perhaps in ways imperceptible to us, come through the raging storms of life and bring to our hearts the conviction, “I am he; be not afraid”.

Dudley Fifield

 

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