Luke 10: 23&24 “Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.’’
One of our great weaknesses as Christians is not appreciating the blessings that we have been given by God. This is the chief reason for our restlessness and dissatisfaction. We are freely justified by the grace of God, but we don’t appreciate that. We are adopted into the family of God but we don’t appreciate our status as his children. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, but we do not marvel at that fact. There are Christians who go through their live with the slimmest understanding of what God has done for believers through his Son. We can come to shrug at the blessings God has granted us in abundance. Think of it – taking for granted the forgiveness of all our sins! You’ve heard that sad saying, “You never know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” We Christians suffer from that. We fail to appreciate our opportunities to serve, prayer meetings, friendships, ministries and then our life is over; people have moved away; we have been satisfied with the good and rejected the best. Jesus did not want this ignorance and neglect to happen to his disciples, and so he took them apart to strengthen their appreciation of what they had. He said these words to them – not to the curious people who weren’t committed to him – “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” Then, if they were not persuaded, he added this; “I tell you many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” Our Lord wanted to encourage a sense of conviction that these boys had lived at a time of extraordinary events in the history of the world. What was our Lord talking about?
1. THEY HAD BEEN BLESSED WITH THE MOST GLORIOUS VIEW OF THE PERSON OF CHRIST.
They had been given the maximal possible . . . the grandest possible . . . the greatest possible view of the Messiah. They had received the most stupendous view of Christ. Adam and Eve heard about one who would bruise the serpent’s head. Moses said that the Messiah would one day come and would be one of his brethren. David knew that he would be of his line and would sit on his throne. Isaiah knew that his name would be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace, that he would be despised and rejected of men, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and the Lord would lay on him the iniquity of us all, but those prophets and kings had no idea of the unique glory of this person. That he would be the incarnate Jehovah, that he would be the Christ the Son of the Living God – that is how Peter saw him. “My Lord and my God” – that is how Thomas saw him. That a sight of him would make you fall as one dead at his feet – as John did.
It is remarkable because those men had not always had that view. Thomas had scorned his fellow disciples when they told him they had seen Jesus alive again. Men do not rise from the dead, Thomas knew. The apostle Paul did not always think that Jesus was the Son of God. There was a time when he held a very different view. He judged Jesus by human criteria. He asked around, “Where does he come from . . . what does his father do for a living . . . what sort of home does he live in . . . who are his friends . . .what kind of job does he have?” They are the sorts of questions we ask . . . “did he go to university . . . what income does he have . . . how does he dress – is he smart, fashionable, trendy, dowdy? . . . how does he cut his hair?”
Then Paul looked at the teaching of Christ, and his lifestyle, at the fate that befell him. People told him all he needed to know. This guy had been crucified, after being found guilty by the Sanhedrin, at a special meeting convened by the chief priests. Paul came to an obvious conclusion that Christ was bad, just a terrible man, a blasphemer and an imposter, and being the sort of man he was Paul expressed his convictions about Christ by persecuting those who worshipped him. He wanted to strangle the infant church in its crib – just snuff it out. Then on the Damascus Road the Lord had intervened, and he had given this man, Saul of Tarsus, not a feeling, not an emotion, not simply some marvelous experience, not great darkness. God gave his eyes a sight of his Son, and gave Paul’s ears the hearing of the voice of Jesus saying, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” With that God gave him a whole new insight into Jesus Christ. God transformed the apostle’s beliefs and ideas regarding the Nazarene. God imprinted indelibly on Saul’s conscience a few elementary, momentous convictions regarding Jesus of Nazareth. It was basically an intellectual revolution that had turned this man into a Christ-man.
God had opened Paul’s eyes to see that Jesus was God’s own Son, and I believe that there is nothing more foundational to a Christian that that same position, that my mind assents to the belief that Jesus Christ is the Lord of Glory. That was the great confession that the early church made and baptized men and women who said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” It was that great affirmation that the early church placed upon its banner, “We have a great High Priest.” When their eyes were open and they saw who Jesus was, and when they heard more of his teaching, then he became the song on their lips and in their hearts. They were not bearing testimony to experiences that they had. They were bearing testimony to the glories of Christ. What King David had longed to see, what Moses had scarcely dreamed of, what Isaiah only had a faint glimpse of the eyes of these disciples had seen and their ears heard.
When men came to John the Baptist they wanted to hear John the Baptist talking about John the Baptist. But John the Baptist would have none of it. John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He was pointing away from himself, and so is the Christian church. It is pointing to the Lamb in the midst of the throne. A Christian is a man who makes the most stupendous claims on behalf of his Saviour. I believe in the pre-existence of Christ, that he always has been, that he was there in the beginning, that he never came into being. I believe that he is the maker of heaven and earth, that he designed every leaf, that he planned the flight of every comet, that he upholds the whole universe by the word of his power, that every physical and biological and chemical bond in the cosmos has been fashioned and maintained by the Lord of glory. I believe that our mathematics, as applied to this universe, describes the thought patterns of the eternal Jesus Christ.
I believe that he will one day come again, that he will pull the universe apart atom by atom and molecule by molecule, and that he will put the whole cosmos together again as a new heavens and new earth. I believe that one day you and I will stand before him, face to face, and we will give an account to him, and from him receive our destiny. I believe that in him we meet ultimate and absolute and final reality. I believe that he is God, the only God there is, that in him there is the fulness of God, the whole form of God, the whole glory of God is found in Jesus Christ. That is why we are blessed men and women, that we know this. We believe in the greatness of Jesus, in the unique greatness of Jesus, in the incomparable grandeur of Jesus of Nazareth.
“Who is he in yonder stall at whose feet the shepherds fall?
‘Tis the Lord, O wondrous story;
‘Tis the Lord, the King of glory.
At his feet we humbly fall; Crown him, crown him Lord of all.”
Their eyes were blessed with the most glorious sight of God incarnate and the virgin’s son, and their ears were blessed hearing the most glorious words of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have seen what they saw, the stable, the baptism, the defeat of Satan in the wilderness, the healing of the Gadarene demoniac, the raising of Lazarus, the feeding of the 5,000, the walking on the water. We have seen him arise from the dead and ascend into heaven. We have seen what patriarchs, prophets and kings never saw. We have heard God speak at his baptism, we have heard the sermon on the mount; we have heard the great discourse in the Upper Room. We have heard the parable of the prodigal son; we have heard Jesus cry “It is finished!” We have heard the Great Commission of the risen Lord. We have heard what Moses and David and Isaiah never heard. How blessed are our eyes and ears.
2. THEY HAD BEEN BLESSED WITH THE CLEAREST UNDERSTANDING OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST.
These men knew why the Son of God had to shed his blood. Critics have even carped at the extraordinary emphasis his apostles gave to his death, grumbling that they attached a greater significance to his cross than the Lord himself. Yet we find that he speaks of it from the beginning of his ministry and in a way that gives it unique significance. “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). “Verily, verily I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die it beareth much fruit” (John 12:24). “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). Their ears heard those words. How blessed were they to hear him tell them so plainly, and refuse to be deflected from that journey to the cross. Initially they did not hear the message of his death with pleasure. Whenever he spoke about it then it was unpopular. His disciples hated those times when he raised the subject. They brought their own pressures against him to be silent. They thought that it was a morbid obsession. “Far be it for you to die such a death.” For them it was incredible that the One who spoke and the winds and waves obeyed, the one who could raise the dead, should ever submit to being crucified. For them such an end would mark the complete failure of Jesus’ life. But he would not be intimidated by their frowns; he returned to this theme relentlessly. He must go to Jerusalem; he must be betrayed; he must die and rise again. Indeed this is the only event in his life that he commanded us to commemorate (Lk. 22:19).
We know of 15 other messianic movements in Judea in the two centuries surrounding Jesus’ days on earth, from 50 BC to 150 AD. All fifteen were popular nationalist political movements which created excitement and expectation. Not a single one of those would-be messiahs had any thought that his cause would be advanced by dying, especially being crucified. Not one of them considered his martyrdom would have significance for the whole wide world. But the Lord Jesus, every month or so, would sit those boys down and tell them that he had been called by God to lay down his life, and that he would rise again and that through his death life would come to the world.
In all four Gospels their climaxes are the death and resurrection of Christ. Compare the number of pages that describe that one final week in the life of our Lord. Our Lord lived for about 33 years. Now we know that in 30 years there are more than 1500 weeks, and for most of those weeks we know nothing at all, while 40% of the four gospels deals with the last week in the life of the Saviour. The gospel writers were blessed in seeing its significance.
Again, consider the apostolic preaching recorded by Luke in the book of Acts. He tells us that the climax of their message was that the Messiah had died and risen again. How strange a message for any group of followers to declare, that they went round and round the Mediterranean basin celebrating the humiliation of their Lord. “Do you know that men spat in the face of God the Son . . . they whipped the skin off his back, and tortured him to death.” There must be some striking reason for this emphasis.
Or again when you read the epistles of Paul, Peter, John and the letter to the Hebrews how few are the references to the life of Christ – to his miracles, to incidents during his ministry, to his parables, but how many references exist are to his death. Paul has no mention of what Jesus did in his life. Peter was Jesus’ companion and right hand man for three years. He writes two letters which include one single reference to an incident in Jesus’ life – it is the transfiguration – but a number of references to his death: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Pet. 1:18&19). The apostle Paul speaks on behalf of all of them when he says, “I was determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2).
Some of you will remember the 26 year-old Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones stood up in the pulpit of Sandfields Forward Movement church in Aberavon 80 miles from here for the first time on November 28 1926 and announced that text, and over fifty years later February 6 1977 returned to that same pulpit and preached another extraordinary sermon on the same text (published by the Banner of Truth). It had been the theme of his ministry for half a century. There are clearly extraordinary implications to the event of Christ’s death. You remember how often the minds of the apostles turn to it in their writings. If they are dealing in a letter with various issues such as relationships within a congregation, or marriage, or stewardship, or evangelism, or the nature of the church their inspiration or their motive for exhorting people to a different and a distinctive life is the cross of Christ.
Or again in that great climactic book which brings the canon of Scripture to a close, the book of Revelation – in many ways so mysterious – yet one thing is clear, the one who has the sovereignty in heaven and earth is the Lamb. John had seen this, that the praise of heaven is, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” or “Unto him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” There is one particular scene when the voice from heaven asks, “Who is worthy to open the book?” and no one is found, and John weeps bitterly. The book is the history of the church and the world; it is the book of the decrees of God. Who can be found to unfold them and take the heavens and the earth to their determined destination as written by God? “Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed” cries an elder. Then when John looks to find the lion then it is not a lion that he sees as the Sovereign instigator of God’s plans but in the midst of the throne stands a Lamb as it had been slain (Rev. 5:6). John was blessed because he knew why Christ had died.
Again, how fascinating the way that the death of the Lord Jesus is tied in to the other doctrines of Scripture, of sin, of grace, of justification, and sanctification, of adoption, of entry to heaven’s glory, of the work of the Holy Spirit. Turn the pages of a systematic theology yourself and think. The isthmus that links every attribute of God, all his works of grace and every divine achievement in all their fulness to ourselves is the death of the Lord Jesus.
Again, consider the nature of Christianity itself. The Christian faith is not a self-help religion. The Bible is not a manual of prayer and meditation. The Scriptures are not a rule book or a code of conduct. They are a revealed religion centring upon the mediation of the God-man Jehovah Jesus. Man is estranged from God, with a contemptuous rebel heart through his sin, but that communion is restored only one way and that is by the incarnation and righteous life and sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ alone. All by himself he has effected that. The redemptive character of Christianity is its heart. It addresses the world as a lost world. It speaks to people as men and women without God and without hope. Mankind’s greatest need it sees to be the grace of God in delivering them. That grace is displayed in redemption, and that redemption is conceived, accomplished and applied by God. It was not that a parliament of world religious leaders got together and set out a blue print which they laid on a conference table, fine tuning it and obtaining maximal agreement before presenting it to the Ancient of Days. It is not that men devised and designed the plan of salvation and then pleaded with God to accept it and implement it. No! The initiative was all divine! The plan was all his. The accomplishment also. The application is all pure vertical sovereign grace. He loved the world, not the world love him. He loved what is defined as the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, what we are told not to love. He loved it to save men from it by the gift of his dearly beloved Son. He walked with Jesus across the clouds of heaven to its portals and waved him goodbye as alone Jesus set off to Mary and the womb and the stable and Nazareth’s carpenter’s shop and the garden and Golgotha and the dereliction and the tomb. God gave him to that, and spared him not from that. Willingly Christ came to that because he loved us with the same love wherewith he loved God. Their eyes had seen this; their ears had heard him as he spoke seven times on the cross.
3. THEY HAD BEEN BLESSED WITH THE CLEAREST UNDERSTANDING OF THE SCRIPTURES.
The prophets and kings of the Old Testament were confronted with hundreds of laws. They knew the general purpose for God giving them those regulations, but not until Christ lived and died did they see and hear the full implications of these divine decrees.
i] They knew that these laws were telling them to be holy, to be set apart to Jehovah, and that this was an attitude that covered every part of their lives, what they wore, what they ate and even what they sat on. Our Lord’s disciples quickly learned about 24/7 service too as they watched everything that Jesus did. Every tiny part of their lives was to be dedicated to him, every second of the day. They had to be consistent followers of their Lord. They knew as they read the Old Testament prohibitions about mixing different fabrics in their clothes, or mixing different seeds and planting them in the same field, the big lesson of those little laws, that they must not mix loving their neighbours with seeking revenge on their neighbours. Jesus’ disciples could benefit from those prohibitions more than the kings and prophets because the disciples read them through the words of Jesus that their ears had heard, “No-one can serve two masters . . . you cannot serve both God and money” (Matt. 6:24). We cannot be half in love with him and half in love with the world.
ii] The kings and prophets knew that these laws were calling them to be different. They were saying, “Don’t you live like the followers of Baal or the followers of Dagon. Don’t have the morals of the Philistines and the Midianites.” You must have a different lifestyle, and so the O.T. regulations spelled out how differently these people were to live. For example, there were some insects that they could eat and others they were forbidden from eating. It was a tiny detail but when they shook their heads and refused to eat certain grubs then it gave a dramatic message to, say, some Amalekites who were observing them as to the seriousness of belonging to the Jehovah God who told them how to live. It was such a tiny detail, but their devotion to God touched not slipping a grub into your mouth; it involved the smallest actions, the shortest moments. They were different. Christ’s disciples lived different lives from the pagans around them. They took up their crosses and followed Christ.
iii] They knew that those laws instructed them to be clean. There were laws about washing, and being pure; there were cleansing rituals that they were to be sure to keep. When the disciples of Christ read those regulations they understood what their purpose was; Christ had died that they might be clean and sanctified people. The writer of the Hebrews explained it to his readers; “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebs. 9:13&14). How blessed were their ears to hear that explanation. How they could read Leviticus and understand it more clearly than Moses who wrote it! All the religion of the O.T. with its priests and tabernacle and sacrifices was a massive visual aid pointing forward to their Lord Jesus and to themselves. They were challenged reading the O.T. as to whether they were serving Christ with a pure conscience and clean heart.
What did they learn from the O.T.? They learned that sin was serious. The sacrifices said that sin meant death. There was no way around it; either the sinner must die or someone else must bear the penalty. You cannot trivialize the holiness of God; he cannot turn a blind eye to sin. They also learned that God had provided the answer. There in their midst was the Lamb of God and he had set his face steadfastly on Jerusalem. God had provided sacrifices for sin for two thousand years saying at hundreds of altars, and then at the Tabernacle, and then at the Temple that they need not die in sin. Here was his way of atonement and the sacrifices were pointing to the one who came to lay down his life for them. Again, they learned that they had a place of forgiveness to go to as much as Abraham and Moses and David. Not now the Temple but the Lord Jesus was the place of atonement, not for the Jews alone but for the sins of the whole world. We go to him trusting in what he has done and promised. He is our altar and our sacrifice; his shed blood cleanses from all our sins. Calvary is the place that wounded and guilty sinners must go. Once again, when Jesus’ disciples read of the amount of sacrifices that day by day had to be offered for sin they realized the cost of forgiveness. It had not been a light matter for their parents and for all their preceding generations to take the best animal from the flock, the one most suitable for breeding, and cut its throat and offer it to Jehovah. In other words, repentance was very real and very costly for their forefathers. So too with them. God had given them his best. He had given his only Son. The Lamb of God came from his bosom. It cost him a tremendous amount to forgive us and when the disciples of Jesus were blessed in understanding that then they were compelled to give their very best to him, to hold back nothing, to present all their bodies as a living sacrifice to the Lord. They knew that they could not palm God off; they had to give him their best.
4. THEY HAD BEEN BLESSED WITH THE CLEAREST UNDERSTANDING OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD.
Jesus’ disciples read the Old Testament and its message of God choosing a people to himself, Noah and his family, Abraham and his seed, Israel and the remnant within that often disobedient people, and the Servant of God. God had always had a people and the disciples of Christ saw themselves as now having this same status of the people of God under the new covenant. Their Saviour said that he would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. The people of God were to come from all nations and fill the world. Now they were the faithful Israel of God; they had become, as Peter said, “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Pet. 2:9). This was their status because each one of them had been united to Christ in his death and resurrection and ascension to heaven. A Christian is ‘in Christ’ by faith and it is that same faith that joined the patriarchs and prophets and godly kings of Israel to the Messiah who was to come. They were not a group of individuals; they were an assembly, a people, a body, Christ’s own body.
It is enormously important to remember what we are, not just our individual status as forgiven, justified, cleansed, adopted into God’s family and put in Christ, but what we are as chosen by God, preserved by his providence and one of the people of God. A friend was at a lecture given by R.C. Sproul who said that most people choose to find their identity either in “being” or “doing.” He pointed to his wife Vesta Sproul, who was sitting in the class, and he said, “If you ask her what she does, she’ll answer, “I don’t do anything, I be.” My friend’s wife was sitting next to him, and she turned and she said, “You’re a do-er; I’m a be-er.” (That is one who “be’s”, not a beer.)
Many Christians are caught up with the idea that we are blessed only when we do things and they work out all right. We have to do something to justify God blessing us. Yet, while we all “do” things, I think we make a serious mistake when we put doing ahead of being as the basis for God blessing us. Think about the way Paul teaches us the Christian life. In the letter to the Romans there are first eleven chapters of all the blessings that your eyes have seen and that your ears have heard – all that God has done for you. Then the imperative (what you should do) follows that indicative of what you are. It is because you and every single Christian has this status of being joined to Christ in his death and resurrection that you can do something about putting sin to death and living a new life. What you are always comes before and takes precedence over what you (try to) do. Your identity is complete as one of the chosen people of God – “I belong to them by the grace of God”; your performance is at its best always much less. You find your praise and blessing, I say, in what God has done for you, the privileges and blessings he has freely given you.
I think this principle applies to the whole of life. Think about the majority of Christian women. If you ask one of them, “What have you accomplished in your life?” she’s not likely to point to what many people consider great accomplishments – making a scientific discovery, building a great company, exercising political power, solving a mathematical problem and such. Her real accomplishments usually have much more to do with being than with doing. She is a loving helpmeet, a nurturing mother, a faithful worshiper. What she does flows from what she is, and often it does not look very important – cooking meals, changing nappies, running a household, taking the children to school, showing hospitality, keeping an open house for other mothers and their children in times of need.
Now, please understand that I’m not saying that women are so limited that this is about all they can do. I am saying something very different. I am saying that Christian women show us that being is far more important than doing. I am, for instance, using them as an example to men, who need to learn more about how important it is to be sons, husbands, fathers, worshipers and not to focus just on working, producing, and ruling things.
These first Christians were encouraged by Christ to consider themselves greatly blessed not for what they had done but for being passive and simply seeing and hearing Christ.
Today, it is almost a given that the church needs to do something besides preach the Word, administer the ordinances, nurture the children present, shepherd the saints to heaven. These things are all a consequences of what our eyes have seen and our ears heard of the Lord Jesus Christ. I think we can sell short the glory of the church being “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Pet. 2:9). The people of God at worship, being the church, declaring the praises of Christ, may not impress the world or even some Christians. But, our lives are a response to what is divinely substantial and eternal, that one day our eyes saw and our ears heard God and we said, “that is what I am living for.”
We are present with the people of God today. There is the power of presence that means everything to the people who gather in this place. There is also the power of an individual presence that counts very greatly at a deathbed, in the maternity ward, when a marriage is crumbling, or at peak times in the lives of believers. It’s not so much what was done or said at those times, but that you were able to be there and their eyes saw you and their ears heard your few words and that mattered most. We were there because we had actually seen and heard what Abraham, Moses and David only tried to imagine.
28th March 2009 GEOFF THOMAS