I have been concerned that we might get further gain from considering the Lord Jesus as our Teacher. At the beginning of the Acts this same servant, Luke, said that he put this Gospel together “concerning all things which Jesus began both to do and to teach.” There was clearly a great emphasis in his mind, led of the Holy Spirit, to set out the teaching the Lord Jesus gave when He was here.
The Lord Jesus is the Teacher; we are the learners, and these passages have something to do with our own place as learners.
It is an interesting word, ‘learning.’ We all know from school or work that lessons that need to be learned are not all learned in a moment. Learning, as I understand it, is not quite like coming to the Lord Jesus for the first time as Saviour. We are either saved or we are not, and thank God for every one who is saved – one lasting transaction with the Lord Jesus.
But learning is something that takes time, and it also takes some application. And in a sense, as in natural things, so it is in spiritual things. We have to limit that, of course, because making progress in Christianity is not a matter of being clever or anything of that kind. But still, the need for application is there, and giving heed to what is said, and also, as we shall see, to Who it is that is saying it.
Philippi was the first place in Europe where Paul and those with him brought the gospel (See Acts 16:12‑40). From Philippi they moved on to Thessalonica, and then to Athens and to Corinth. As a result, the apostle Paul wrote two letters to the Christians in Thessalonica. The first of those two letters is one of the first recorded in Scripture that he ever wrote. He also wrote later to the Corinthians. We have no letter that he wrote to the Philippians until he was in prison in Rome. But here it is. And we have what the apostle has to say, writing from prison. I do not know how we would get on if we were in prison for our faith – plenty of people are discovering the hard way how they get on in such circumstances at the present time, and, of course, we should not forget them. But, if you are imprisoned, you may have various thoughts; you may have thoughts about the injustice of your being there; you may wonder why God allowed you to be there. Or you might be like the apostle Paul who writes as a mature Christian to those who are not in prison, but whom he desires to encourage to persevere for the rest of the time that they are here.
I just suggest these Scriptures, dear brethren, as presenting to us some of the glories of the Lord Jesus Christ, and desiring, as our brother said in prayer, that we might get some fresh views of Him and His Person and excellence. There is, of course, nothing new in Scripture; the Scripture is its own record, but we come back to it looking for what we might call fresh impressions of what the Scripture contains.
As regards titles and offices, I think they mainly relate to the Lord Jesus. That is to say that He fills many of the needs of God as desiring to have to do with men, and, through grace, of men as desiring to have dealings with God. It may be said of the Holy Spirit, of course, that He is the Comforter and the Earnest, and maybe has other titles as well. But Scripture, I think, dwells a good deal on the titles of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Epistle to the Hebrews is one – not the only one, obviously, but one – good place to look to see what the Spirit has to say about the offices that the Lord Jesus fills.
I read these Scriptures in the order in which they occur in the Epistle, because that is just the easiest way to keep them in mind. But I did not have in mind to suggest that there was any progression through the passages we have read. They each stand by themselves, apart from the close connection that there is between chapter 3, “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession,” and what there is in chapter 8, where the apostle himself says that a summary of what has gone before is that “we have such a one High Priest Who has sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Greatness in the heavens.” And he then says that He is “Minister of the holy places and of the true tabernacle.” So, I think it is good to think of the High Priest and the Minister perhaps in somewhat the same context.
The question has been weighing with me, dear brethren, as to how the Christian – and, indeed, the Christian company – is to be preserved. And I suggested these Scriptures – which bear, I think, upon us individually and, to some extent, together – to set on an enquiry as to how we may be preserved.
When I say ‘preserved,’ I actually mean being preserved at the most practical level of keeping our faith and our walk, in the state of the world as it now is. I am sure it was always a difficult world, but there are difficulties which are very obvious at the present time. Satan is making a definite assault on a number of things. Some of the things that are most obviously affected relate to the family and family life. I did not have in mind to go into any detail as to that, but rather that we should be alerted, freshly if necessary, to the fact that Satan is active, and that the saints, each of us, as well as the saints when together, need to be preserved.
It does not, of course, manifest itself only in its moral aspects. There is a great tide of what is secular and unbelieving, and that, too, can affect the saints if we are not careful. And we may also be in danger of simply being disheartened.
So we need to be encouraged, but not just in a vague, general way, that everything will come right in the end: we need, rather, to be quite specific that the saints do need to be preserved and that Scripture points to ways in which they can be.
We were speaking earlier today about how the Christian is to be preserved. That takes in, of course, how Christians together are to be preserved, but perhaps a good deal of what we were saying had to do with the individual Christian passing through this world, as under the eye of God, and needing to learn dependence in the same way as the Lord Jesus showed it when He was here. I would like to draw upon the Scriptures to turn rather more towards how the people of God may be preserved together, because there is a need for that, that we might be able to go on together in the things of the Lord, get the gain of fellowship in the things of the Lord, as sharing them, and make progress together so that there is a richer and sweeter response to God while we still remain here.
I thought the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel would be a good place to begin, because this is where we have the thoughts of the Lord Jesus on this subject. If we look back to the end of chapter 16 and the beginning of chapter 17, we find that the Lord took immediate account of the circumstances in which His disciples would be left here. He says, “In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good courage: I have overcome the world.” And that rings down the ages, and it remains true. The Lord Jesus personally has overcome the world. He was here as an Overcomer. He has maintained the rights of God and, in God’s own good time, the Lord Jesus will have His rights here. And He calls on us to be of good courage in the face of the trials and difficulties of the way.
And it says, “These things Jesus spoke, and lifted up His eyes to heaven.” This chapter follows immediately from what the Lord has been saying in the previous chapters. And this chapter, which is, of course, a very precious one and well known to many believers here, takes up a number of things which were on the Lord’s heart in the night in which He was delivered up.
We might well marvel that there was time for such an exchange with the Father to take place, but it evidently was so, and the Spirit of God has seen to it that what the Lord had to say was recorded.
In this Address your attention is drawn to four men in the Acts of the Apostles who gave evidence of life without having much experience at all, so that we might be encouraged to go by the same way as they did and find the enjoyment of life for ourselves, because it is made quite clear in each passage what life meant to them and thus could mean to you and me as well.
These Scriptures show something of what Scripture has to say about life. When Scripture speaks about life it is not, of course, speaking about the natural life which we all have and which much of creation has; Scripture is speaking of life according to God, which is imparted to us by God Himself. It is a gift of God.