8th May 2013

Letter from the Pastor

and they kept that saying with themselves

Mark 9 verse 10

These are words spoken of the three disciples of the ‘inner circle’, Peter, James and John, who had just had the wonderful privilege and blessing of witnessing the Lord Jesus Christ’s transfiguration. Coming down the mountain, the Lord had ‘charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of Man were risen from the dead.’ From the words of our text, we can see that, although they did ‘question one with another what the rising from the dead should mean’, they did fully comply with their Lord’s instruction to keep the glorious transfiguration they had witnessed between themselves.

Now, perhaps, you read this and think, well of course. What is remarkable about this? This is what we would have expected them to do. But when placed alongside other instructions the Lord has given, recorded already in this gospel, we see the compliance, the obedience, of these three does, in fact, stand out. For example, take the leper in chapter one: after the Lord Jesus ‘moved with compassion’ had healed him, the Lord instructed him: ‘See thou say nothing to any man’ … but in the very next verse we read: ‘But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter.’ Another example is to be found in the seventh chapter, in the case of the healing of the deaf man who had ‘an impediment in his speech.’ The Lord Jesus, after healing him with that single gracious, powerful word, “Ephphatha” – “be opened” – we read of his instructions: ‘He charged them that they should tell no man’ … as well as reading of their disobedience to this: ‘but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it’.

Now, perhaps as we read of these failures to comply with the Saviour’s commands, we can tend to excuse those who broke them. We think, well, clearly they were bursting with joy and exuberance at being healed where prior to this they had resigned themselves to being in that sad state throughout their earthly life. Thus, we think, it was only to be expected that they would be unable to keep such an order; that they would be unable to control themselves speaking to others, loud and often of the miracle they had benefited so much from. But could we not say the same of these three disciples? Had they not seen something sublimely glorious – even heaven opened, Moses and Elijah descended, and their Lord glorified: ‘His raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow.’ Would it not have been equally difficult for them to restrain themselves from telling of this remarkable scene – particularly to the other nine, who had been left behind on that particular occasion? Yet, we read of them, that ‘they kept that saying with themselves’.

And this was surely most commendable in them. We have recorded elsewhere, in the honesty of the Bible, the weaknesses and failures of the three of the inner circle. We read of James and John being named Boanerges – sons of thunder, probably after they had called for fire to come down and destroy that Samaritan village which had refused to receive the Lord on His way up to Jerusalem. Also, we are told of their mother’s audacious ambition for her two sons to sit on either side of Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven – a desire they clearly shared, as Mark 10v37 shows. Peter’s shortcomings are also many, reaching their sad and sorry climax in his strong, triple denial of the dear Lord in His hour of need. Read, more generally, of these three as being part of the body of disciples the Lord had to often berated due to their lack of faith and weak understanding. But here, in this compliance with their Master’s instructions, see that despite these woeful weaknesses and spiritual deficiencies, the spark of grace was clearly evident in them: they did obey their Lord.

And there is surely much here for our own encouragement. For as we go on in the Christian life, the more we see of our own weaknesses, shortcomings and open sin against God. Like those three of the inner circle of disciples, we discover our lack of faith, our easy compliance with the suggestions of the flesh, even our own cowardice, effectively denying the dear Lord Jesus as Peter did. But here we see the Scriptures taking note of this simple obedience; on the surface, no great feat, but all the same, even this small expression of a work of grace is noted by the Holy Spirit. And the same is true with each of the Lord’s chosen people.… We feel our own graces to be so small and insignificant, especially in comparison with our failures, but through Jesus Christ, even these weak and poor good works we have done, as He has enabled, these are noted in heaven. Even something as small as the giving of a cup of cold water in His name, Jesus tells us, is marked as worthy of receiving a reward!

See this truth elsewhere, in the mention of Sarah in 1 Peter 3, where she is held up as the choice example for Christian women to follow. But what exactly was it that Sarah had done to be thus esteemed? We are told that: ‘Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord’, recorded within the account of the three visitors coming to Abraham in Genesis 18. But reading through that chapter we read of almost shocking things concerning the Matriarch of Israel: she laugh’s in disbelief at the wonderful promise the Lord gives to Abraham concerning the birth of Isaac, and then when challenged about this she resorted to cowardly lying: ‘Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid.’ Before this chapter, have we seen better things from Sarah? The answer is of course, no. We have seen her give Hagar to Abraham, and then treat Hagar most harshly out of jealously. All these things are hardly characteristic of one to be given the high title of ‘Matriarch’ of the people of God. But in 1 Peter 3v6, the Holy Spirit draws attention to her simple obedience of Abraham: she was bidden to prepare the meal by him; she did, and then her referring to him in respect, as ‘my lord’ – words actually spoken as part of her faithless mocking! So, what a lovely, encouraging example we have in this story also, of the tenderness of the Lord as He views our weak and defective efforts at Christian living, and even draws attention to such in His great grace.

The enemy of our souls will always seek to magnify our sin; but the Saviour of our souls, He it is Who magnifies even the slightest success we have in terms of godly living. He it is of Whom it is stated, in the words of Scripture: ‘a smoking flax shall He not quench.’ He sees, and in loving-kindness, treasures, the least spark of true grace within, despite it being almost obscured by a profusion of the smoke of our sin. The consideration of such truths should lift us and bless us much, for they speak most tenderly, yet powerfully, of His love unto us all, in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Paul Ackerley