By S.D. Gordon
There was a third group of experiences in our Lord Jesus' life. But it will be good for us to remember that the third comes after the second. There can be no third until there has been a second. It is impossible to take first and third and omit the second. The third can come only after the second. There can be experiences of gladness and glory only to him who follows all the way. The hilltop experiences come after going down through the valley. And there is no way of reaching the hills except through the valley.
But there is a hilltop roadway of exhilarating air and outlook for him who has been through the valley. The valley is only part of the way. There are heights, too, as well as depths. And if the depths have seemed very deep, yet remember the valley depth tells how high the height is. The only way up is down. And you go as high up as you have gone down, and then a bit higher. For you started down from the level of the main road, and you go up above the level. But you go up higher than you go down. The hilltops are higher above the main road than the valley is below. The glory comes to be more than the sacrifice.
Sacrifice is only one-half of a chapter, the first half; there is a second half, the musical half. There's a wondrous singing in the heart, even while the knife is cutting, such as only he knows who goes this way. There's a breeze from the hilltops that comes sweeping down through the trees, while you are slowly picking your way along the rough, narrow valley road. That breeze plays upon your inner strings and makes rare 'ˆ†olian melody. It is the breeze of God playing upon the heart-strings of your soul. But this music is heard only in this valley road. Lovers of music say there is nothing to compare with it.
You remember the words, "who for the joy that was set before Him." Ah, the joy! As the Master's feet slipped down into the dark shadows--the shame, the cross, the tomb--there was something else under the pain He was suffering. There was a low underchording of sweet minor music, the rhythmic swinging of His will with His Father's. And that music still sang as He slipped down quite out of sight under the cold waters of the river at the bottom of the gorge.
The Transfiguration Mount.
There were three of these glory experiences in our Lord's life, with a fourth one yet to come. Midway in the last year came the Transfiguration Mount. In a sore emergency, for the sake of the leaders of His little band of disciples, the inner glory of His being was allowed to shine out through His humanity. The glory of God shined out from within Him. The usual fashion of His countenance was altered by the dazzling beauty-light shining out through it.
And this too will be true of those who follow truly. As we live with our faces ever held open to Him, the glory of His face will be reflected in ours, and we shall be changed more and more into His image. I have frequently told the story of the jurist who lived in our middle-west country two generations ago, a confirmed but honest sceptic, and who was converted by the face of a fellow townsman. The sceptic became thoroughly convinced that the thing in his neighbour's face which so attracted him was his Christian faith, and it was this that led the sceptic to accept Christ. Last year, I met out in the Orient a kinswoman of the man with the convincing face.
I remember distinctly one night, years ago, in northern Missouri, a young woman waited at the close of a meeting with her friend. We talked and prayed together and she made the great decision. I can remember looking after the two as they went out, wondering to myself how much it meant to her. I could not judge from her demeanour. But the next night they were back again, and instantly I knew that it had meant much, everything, to her. The transfiguring peace was upon her face. I would have called her face plain the evening before. Now it was really beautiful in the sweet clear light shining out of it.
Two things stand out sharply in my memory of Ping Yang, in Korea. One is the visit to the home of a Christian family, whose head was one of those being held in prison in the famous conspiracy case. I still feel the pathos of face and voice as the dear old mother, and the gentle wife, asked so eagerly, "When will he be back?"
The other, was the faces of certain of the women in the church service there. I found myself time and again turning to look at their faces as I was speaking. There was a sweet light that transfigured their worn faces, and gave them a real beauty. It was the more striking against the background of the faces one sees in those Oriental lands.
The story has been told in various ways of the European artist sent to a Salvation Army meeting to make a caricature. He was an infidel, with a sinful life, an uneasy conscience, and a sore heart. But the faces he saw there of those redeemed out of the depths of sin, convinced him that they had what he needed, and what he afterwards got, at the same place as they, the feet of Christ. One who has looked into the faces at some of the Salvation Army meetings has no trouble believing the story.
Now this is part of our Master's great plan for reaching His world. He comes in to us, if we let Him. He changes us as we yield to Him. The beauty of this wondrous One within shines out of face and eyes, and touches those whom we touch. His presence transfigures when He is allowed to dominate. We are changed from within. Though like Moses and Stephen we will not wist of the transfiguration, only of the Great One whose presence within it is that makes the change. We know the peace and music within; others know more of the change in face and life.
Resurrection Power--A Present Experience.
There is a second experience in this group. In sharpest contrast with Jacob's tomb stands out the Resurrection Morning. Our Lord Jesus rose up out of death. The strongest bars that death could make--and surely every one of us has some sore experience of their strength in holding dear ones from us--those strongest bars were snapped, as a woman breaks the cotton thread in her sewing.
Our Lord Jesus rose up again into life, and into a new, a higher, a different sort of life. The personal identity was unchanged. His disciples recognized His voice and face and form, as they talked and ate with Him. But the limitations were gone. The control of spirit over body was complete.
And it is a bit of His gracious plan that we shall follow Him here, too. When He returns in glory there will be a resurrection for those who have followed Him. As He comes down on the clouds, the dead bodies of those who have the warm vital touch with Him, that the word "believeth" stands for, will be touched into a new life and be reunited with the spirits that had lived in them.
There will be a wondrous meeting in the air with Himself, and an equally wondrous reunion in His presence of those bound to us and to Him by ties of love. Our personal identity will be the same, loved ones instantly recognizing loved ones. But the bodies will be of a new sort, free of all the limitations and weaknesses of our earth life. And our Lord's return is peculiarly precious because it is the time of this change and reunion.
But there is yet more than this. This is something future. There is a present meaning of the resurrection-life for us, to-day, if we'll accept it, and live in the power of it. There may be the resurrection life and power coming into our bodies now. As the need comes, it is our privilege to look up, and ask for, and experience resurrection power coming down into our bodies, overcoming their weaknesses and diseased conditions.
The subject of healing involves much more, for a full poised understanding of the Scripture teaching, than can be satisfactorily talked over in the brief limits here. But the great fact can be thus simply stated, that there is full healing for our bodies by God's direct touch upon them. But this means on our part living a real faith life, looking up moment by moment, receiving from His hand constantly what is needed, and using it wholly for Him. It is actually a living of the dependent life as regards the bodily needs.
Paul is clearly speaking of a present experience when he says, "If the Spirit of Him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your dying bodies by means of His Spirit that dwelleth in you." But this resurrection power coming in to affect our bodily conditions is frequently in the midst of most difficult trying circumstances. It is as though a subtle hindering power were tenaciously at work, and this were being offset and overcome by the resurrection power.
It was under just such circumstances that Paul writes these words: "We who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also--the resurrection life--of Jesus may be manifested in our dying bodies." This as plainly means a present experience of power in our bodies, overcoming weakness, disease, and the tendency to death.
This is the present meaning of the resurrection for us. But it is possible only for those who will live the resurrection life of separation and of union; separation from all that separates from the closest union of life with our Lord Jesus. And it comes oftentimes through much conflict and difficulty. This bit of the road is much contested.
The Ascension Life--Power in Possession.
When our Lord Jesus had tarried long enough to make clear to His disciples His actual bodily resurrection, He ascended to the Father's right hand, and was seated there in the place of highest honour and power. So He began living the Ascension Life. That means two things, it is the life of fullest power in actual possession; and that power is exercised through prayer, His, and then--ours. Through His intercession with the Father, and through our intercession in Christ's Name, the power comes from the Father through Christ to us, and so through us.
Our Lord Jesus is eager to have us follow Him here also. Following this time means, actually using the power that has been placed at our disposal. It means receiving from His pierced hand all He has actually redeemed for us by His precious blood. There is so much that is ours by right that we do not take and use. Some do not take because they don't live where they can take. And some live where they can take, who yet do not take.
Since the Father thinks of us as risen with Christ and seated with Him in the place of highest power, we should seek to live up there, by His grace. The ascension life for us means simply living the actual life of power that has been made possible for us, and using that power through prayer.
It helps to remember here just how much may be included in that word "prayer." One cannot be all the time on his knees, praying with his lips. And it certainly was not meant that we should be. Yet there can be prayer "without ceasing." Prayer is an act, the kneeling, and giving voice to the desires of our hearts. Then the act grows into a habit, as this becomes one of the fixed things of our daily round. And the habit full grown, becomes a life. All the life grows out of that bit of kneeling-time, and all the life is carried to it. The hidden springs of the life are here.
And prayer becomes a mental attitude. You think of everything that comes up, opportunity, difficulty, emergency, crisis, plannings,--you instinctively come to think about each thing from the standpoint of the kneeling-time. And so prayer grows to be an atmosphere. You live your life in His presence to whom you kneel. He is always present. You come to recognize His presence, which means that His presence dominates all your life. He, this One whom you go to meet at the kneeling-time, He is always here with you, listening to the unspoken thoughts. By and by you come instinctively to think your thoughts as in His presence. Your longings, plannings, difficulties are held open before Him. Prayer becomes the atmosphere you breathe.
And so prayer comes to be a person. You are the prayer. The Father looking down comes to recognize you, by your very attitude of heart, as a prayer, a continual, walking, living prayer, as you go quietly about your simple, homely round. And the powers of evil, too, so recognize it. And the Man at the Father's right hand recognizes in you one whom He has redeemed, and who, by His grace, would be and do and have, in actual life, all He has gotten for you.
And through that six-fold continuous prayer, by the man who yields all, and reaches out for all that is now his, the power of God is being continually loosened out among men, and the Father's plan being worked out. So, our Lord's ascension life at the Father's right hand, finds its echo in the ascension life being lived by His follower on the earth.
The Coming Glory.
Then comes the glorious future experience, the Kingdom Reign and Glory. Some day our Lord Jesus will rise up from His seat, and step again into the direct action of the affairs of earth. Soon after that day He will begin reigning over the earth as its King. The later pages of the Old Testament are all aglow with the glory of that time. He shall reign from the Mediterranean, at the centre of the earth, out to the farthest sea-coast line, and from the Euphrates east and west to the most distant ends of the earth.
And those who have followed Him during these trying days of His absence, shall reign with Him over all the earth, and be sharers in His glory. He will give both grace and glory. Grace is the beginning of glory, and glory is the fulness of grace. It is all grace, free unmerited favour.
Now I have grouped these experiences in this way to get a clear understanding of them. But we must remember that they did not come in groups in Christ's life, and they won't in ours. The red and yellow threads, the dark and bright, are interwoven throughout the web, to make the beauty of the pattern. The minor chords come up here and there through the others, sometimes overcoming, sometimes yielding to, the joyous notes. The road of life runs valley and hill, valley and hill, up and down.
There were great crises in Christ's life, and there may be, there quite likely will be, crisis points in ours, but in the main the hard places intersperse with the smooth going. The weaver sitting at his loom runs in a dark shuttle-thread, and then a sharp blow of the beam puts it in place; then a bright thread and a sharp blow of the beam, and so, slowly, patiently, threads and blows follow each other till the design has been worked out.
Even so will it be in this "Follow Me" road. A glad, joyous experience may be followed by the one that is bitter and that hurts; and that again, perhaps, by something gladsome and cheery, while the daily round of life plods slowly on, day after day, week in and out, as the calendar works its steady way to the end, and then begins anew.
But all the while there's the presence of the wondrous One, unseen by outer eyes, but unmistakably real. And His presence gives peace. And there's an unfailing, guiding hand, whose grasp steadies you as you push along.
This is the road. And yonder, just ahead, is the Lone Man, whose wondrous face calls, and the reach of His pierced hand beckons. Let us take a careful look at the road, and a long look at the Man, and then----.