UNDERSTANDING THE TIMES
1 Chron 12:32
1 John 4:1-6
I believe, dear brethren, that one thing that is needed by every lover of the Lord Jesus is to have an understanding of the times. That is, for us, the day we are in, the present time.
We know the character of the present day, but we also know, as we have sung together, that it is a waiting time –
We’re waiting for Thee, Lord,
Thy beauty to see
and that should be a stimulus and an encouragement for each one here today. We are looking forward to the glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ. First of all, He is going to come for us, and then we are going to come with Him in all His wonderful pomp and glory. The blessed One Who was rejected by this world is going to come fully vindicated in heavenly pomp and glory, and He is going to come in triumph, with a triumphant train. His saints are going to come with Him. We can look forward to that, and understand that for us it is a waiting time.
Therefore we would surely be concerned as to what resource we may have and what we may do. These persons, children of Issachar, understood the times, and they had understanding to know what Israel ought to do.
At the present time God is dealing with the Gentiles – with the nations. A day will come when He will take up relationships again with His earthly people, and it is as well to be reminded that not one thought of God in relation to His earthly people will ever fail. There is a question raised in Ezekiel 37:3, as the brethren know, “Shall these [dead] bones live?” You read that chapter and you will find that they became, as they stood on their feet, an exceeding great army. All the blessings of God in divine faithfulness are going to be seen in a coming day!
In the present dispensation, the times of the Gentiles, God is acting towards men in wonderful grace. We are at the close of the dispensation – I believe most would regard it that way – the dispensation of grace, possibly the longest of all the dispensations. We know this wonderful feature of grace in our time, and I believe that is something we need to appreciate and understand.
The children of Issachar had an understanding of what Israel ought to do. There is an obligation, I believe, for God’s people today to have such an understanding. Those who love the interests of Christ, who understand what is due to God, ought to know what to do.
In Haggai, we see the great divine resource that God assured to His people. He would give us today that same assurance that He gave to His people in recovery days in Haggai. If you read the Book of Haggai, you will find that the work of rebuilding had come to a halt through unbelief – the fear of man, too – but the word from God through the prophet comes to stimulate, encourage, and assure God’s people of that time, as God would assure us today, of the fact that His thoughts had not changed one bit. How wonderful to think of it! As you think of the history of the testimony in our time, God would give us an assurance although the day is dark and difficult. I believe He would give us an understanding of our times.
Read 2 Timothy and you see what assembly-minded persons ought to do. Things need to be rekindled – 2 Timothy 1. Then we are reminded in 2 Timothy 2 that the firm foundation of God stands, and there is a standard to be maintained by those who understand that in a day of public breakdown – a day when iniquity has to be judged – separation is still essential. In 2 Timothy 3, again, we have the reminder that it is a difficult day, and all sorts of things are coming in amongst men. The mark of 2013, dear brethren, is well outlined and detailed in Scripture! There is no need for any believer in Jesus to be at a loss, in one sense, to understand the present time. In 2 Timothy 4 Paul values and lists all who were available to him in the last days; one had departed from him, having loved the present age. Paul delights in telling us too of what was laid up for him (v8), and that at his first defence no man had stood with him, “but the Lord stood with me, and gave me power” (v17). Thank God for divine power!
These are thoughts that come before us as we understand the times that we are in now. We are not left, in any sense, without instruction. The Spirit of God has come – the Lord Jesus Himself said, “He will announce to you what is coming” (John 16:13).
In these verses in Haggai, dear brethren, what struck me was these words that come from the prophet. It says, “Be strong, Zerubbabel … be strong, Joshua … and be strong, all ye people of the land … and work: for I am with you, saith Jehovah of hosts. The word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, and My Spirit, remain among you: fear ye not.” In understanding the times, we need to understand primarily that divine resource for the testimony has not deviated at all since it was set on at the time of Pentecost.
What does it tell us in this Scripture? “The word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt” – for us, that would be God’s faithfulness in a time of testimony, and no doubt it goes back to when He said that they were a peculiar people unto Him (Exodus 19:5‑6). Then, “[My word], and My Spirit, remain among you.” Think of the preciousness of the divine word, and divine testimony to God’s faithfulness! “[My word], and My Spirit, remain among you: fear ye not.” We might be fearful at the present time – there is much against the testimony of Christ, and increasingly so. “My Spirit” – you will notice it is a capital ‘S’ – brings home to us the glory of a divine Person Whose unswerving commitment to the testimony of Christ has never varied one iota. He has maintained it – thank God for His glorious Person, the blessed Spirit of God! We need to understand the resource that is with us! “[My word], and My Spirit, remain among you: fear ye not.” I believe we need to take courage from that.
It goes on further: God says He will shake certain things, and surely He is doing it. God is shaking many things that perhaps men would regard as stable and permanent. But God is going to secure His thoughts. He secured them in the house that was built in Haggai’s day. He will secure an answer from the present dispensation through what Christ has done. He will secure the assembly for Christ. May we appreciate the glory and service of the Spirit of God – a divine Person Who, as the faithful Custodian of the testimony of God, has maintained it from Pentecost and will do so gloriously until the Rapture! What a triumph it will be when the Spirit will go with the assembly as a result of that united cry of “Come” to Christ (Rev 22:17)! What a triumph then to see the glorious answer to those hundreds of years of patient, faithful service by the Holy Spirit of God!
The Book of the Revelation is to many a closed book. In the early chapters, 2 and 3, we have a prophetic outline of the history of the Church. Later chapters portray divine glory in judgement, and the wonderful glory of what will shine for divine pleasure eternally.
Of the seven assemblies in chapters 2 and 3, the features seen in the last four assemblies run on together. Laodicea was lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. That is a feature of the day we are in. How the Lord Jesus felt it! He counsels them there to buy certain things. We want to be marked by the Philadelphian feature of love for Christ. Let it be so, dear brethren, that our hearts are stimulated as appreciating this waiting time, and yet a wonderfully glorious time too, when lovers of Christ, those who belong by the Spirit to that glorious vessel, the Church, the assembly, are being formed and encouraged in view of that day when that vessel will be taken home to be with Christ for ever.
In 1 John 4 we see the solemnity of the character of a day that is now present. John had already spoken of a time when many antichrists were about (1 John 2:18). That person who will be seen, called “the Antichrist,” has not yet come onto the scene publicly – no doubt a man, and no doubt, according to Scripture, the subject of severe divine judgement. Nevertheless the spirit of Antichrist is abroad in this world today. Let no one here be in any doubt about it! The character of the day is against Christ, against the testimony of Christ. Therefore we can be ever thankful for the guidance we have in God’s word, and the mighty power of God’s Holy Spirit that would direct us as to His word. We need ever to remember that the Spirit of God is “He Who restrains now until He be gone” (2 Thess 2:7). We should understand the power that is against the testimony – it is no small power, it is the power of the Antichrist, it is gone abroad in this world! We have only to take account of newspapers and other media outlets to see the rising tide of what is antichristian and against Christ, as man rushes, under the power of Satan, headlong into the abyss of what is so abominable and contrary to what is set out in the word of God. We need to be sober about these things, beloved. We can give thanks that the Spirit of God will maintain a testimony to Christ, and it should be our concern that we may be maintained in relation to what is pleasurable to Christ, and ever praying that, until the moment when Christ summons His own away, the Spirit will restrain such a tide of appalling evil.
In 1 John 4 we have, “Prove the spirits … many false prophets are gone out into the world.” John could write these words in his day, and how solemn it is today! He tells us, “Every spirit which confesses Jesus Christ come in flesh is of God.” What a standard indeed! What an answer indeed to many questions arising today!
John refers to the power of the Antichrist, “of which ye have heard that it comes, and now it is already in the world.” It is a difficult day, but let us remember the power that is towards us. Let us remember the power that is in us. It is a tremendous challenge in Romans 8:31 – “If God be for us, who against us?” Romans 8 is a chapter which draws attention to the power of the Spirit of God in a very marked way. We should take encouragement from it, because it is God Who has justified, it is in the work of Christ that we can stand, and the power of the Spirit will help to maintain our testimony to Christ in vitality until His return.
After speaking of what had already come into the world, John says, “Ye are of God, children, and have overcome them, because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” I think that is a tremendous assurance, that the Spirit of God – blessed divine Person – indwelling the believer in our Lord Jesus Christ is greater than he that is in the world. Let us all be sure that we make way in our lives, and in our spiritual histories, for power from the indwelling Spirit of God! Paul says in another context, as to our very bodies, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do ye not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?”
John writes, “They are of the world; for this reason they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God; he that knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Thank God for the spirit of truth, maintained by the Spirit of God in the testimony and lives of believers in Jesus! Let us understand and not forget that in this world today there is the spirit of error. And “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”
Philippians is a remarkable Epistle marked by considerable joy, despite Paul speaking of his circumstances in prison. The Philippians were noted for their “fellowship with the gospel, from the first day until now” (ch 1:5). They appreciated the service of the apostle Paul, for the way the gospel came to Philippi was in much suffering. As you read here what Paul wrote to these brethren, he commends them for features that marked them in those days. He exhorts them too, “Do all things without murmurings and reasonings, that ye may be harmless and simple, irreproachable children of God.” These are features that came out in all their distinctive fullness and glory in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He goes on to say, “In the midst of a crooked and perverted generation.” Paul is writing, I suppose, the best part of two thousand years ago. He said then that it was “a crooked and perverted generation.” Does anyone think 2013 is any different? The god of this world has men in bondage, and it is a crooked and perverted generation. The liberation and transfer, I believe, from such an awful scene is through the power of the gospel, God’s glad tidings. That is what Paul brought to Philippi – a message of blessing, a message of life, a message of salvation. To that poor jailor about to take his own life, the cry that Paul gave was, ”Do thyself no harm.” When the jailor asked, “Sirs, what must I do that I may be saved?” he was given that wonderful answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:28,30‑31). The only answer to a crooked and perverted generation is in the power of the gospel. It is the liberating effect of what God can do in the power of divine grace. We often sing, ‘O God, Thy grace no limit knows’ (Hymn 407).
Paul says to the Philippians, “Among whom ye appear as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life, so as to be a boast for me in Christ’s day.” Paul is exhorting these brethren to be true, heavenly luminaries of the blessed grace that had shone into their hearts. Corinthians speaks of the God Who commanded “that out of darkness light should shine Who has shone in our hearts for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). The word therefore comes home to us. The exhortation is that we might, in the midst of what is crooked and perverted at the present time in this world, shine as true luminaries for Christ. How precious that there should be something shining in our hearts, and thus a shining testimony for Christ! Peter speaks of the Morning Star arising in our hearts (2 Pet 1:19). What is it? It is the glorious harbinger of another day, a day when the glory of Christ will shine in all its brightness! But, in the midst of the present world, let us shine.
There is a well known chorus, ‘Jesus bids us shine … you in in your small corner, and I in mine.’ Well, we have all learned that, no doubt, at a very early age. We need to remember it right into old age.
There is a great call for our hearts to shine today. Thank God for those who are carrying on the testimony of Christ! We should remember at the present time that there are many who are suffering grievously, many laying down their lives for a testimony to their Lord and Master. We should not forget them! There is the great list of persons in Hebrews chapter 11, and amongst that list there is a reference to certain ones as those “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb 11:38) – that is, there was something morally greater and more glorious in the testimony and lives of these persons than anything this world could possibly give. May we in our day be marked by increasing faithfulness to, and appreciation of, our blessed Saviour!
Finally, in Mark 14, we see a woman who understood the time. It was a time when the opportunity to distinguish Christ was available to her, and she used it. Criticism was made that what she did was a waste of money. Some in this world today are motivated by the love of money. This woman was motivated by love for Christ. We see here in Bethany that she used that alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard. It was the very best kind – it was of a costly character. She broke the alabaster flask, for it was a time for honouring Christ – it was a time for expressing unreserved love for that glorious, blessed Man – and she did it. Brethren, we too have the opportunity now to honour Him in the day of His absence.
There is an opportunity now – particularly, I believe, on the first day of the week, when we can gather together, still in the scene of His absence, still in the scene of criticism as to Him. In the simplicity of availing ourselves of love’s privilege, we can distinguish and call to mind our absent Lord. Oh, these are things that are very precious! They are available to all who have a genuine, true love for the Lord Jesus. Did He appreciate what had been done? Think of what He said; He drew attention to it. It was much more important to Him than giving three hundred denarii to the poor! There was angry comment as to the woman, “but Jesus said, Let her alone; why do ye trouble her? She has wrought a good work as to Me.” As understanding the time, she knew what she ought to do.
Now is the time for faithfulness to Christ, and expressing love for our Lord and Saviour. Who knows how long the dispensation will go on? Who knows how many more opportunities any one of us may have to carry out such an act of love and affection? She understood. The Lord says here that “what she could she has done. She has beforehand anointed My body for the burial.” It is a time for crowning Christ in the scene of His absence. The public crowning is in a day to come, and it is coming soon. The Psalmist says, “Let the sons of Zion be joyful in their King” (Ps 149:2). May we also joy in the One Who is our King, the One Whose head we would love to distinguish, that head that is truly as the finest gold. He is the chiefest among ten thousand, the altogether lovely One (Cant 5:11,10,16).
The Lord Jesus speaks of this woman; He says, “Wheresoever these glad tidings may be preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall be also spoken of for a memorial of her.” I wonder why He said these words. I would suggest that He said them so that when the passage is read, and when the glad tidings are proclaimed to persons like you and me, we might be moved to carry out the same service of distinguishing our blessed Lord and Master.
Well, may our hearts be encouraged to understand, first of all, the resource; and, too, the gravity of the present day; but also the privilege and the blessing that is available to us as lovers of Christ, for His name’s sake.
2 March 2013