Spiritual Potential 

 

Those who know God's word will find encouragement there in their experiences of life- but that encouragement is dependent upon their appreciation of the word, and their ability to see the similarities between their situation and that of others who have gone before.

1) Thus the Angel tells Peter to gird himself and get up and walk (Acts 12:8). If Peter saw the connection with Jn. 21:18, he would have realized that this was another way of saying that his time of death was still far off: " When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest" , but only when he was old would he be unable to do this and would therefore be executed.

2) Another example is to be found in the way the Lord told the disciples to feed the crowd, when they had nothing to give them (Mk. 6:37). He was actually quoting from 2 Kings 4:42, where the man of God told his servant to do the same. He gave what bread he had to the people, and miraculously it fed them. The disciples don't seem to have seen the point; otherwise, they would have realized that if they went ahead in faith, another such miracle would likely be wrought. But it seems that God almost over-ruled them to make the response of the faithless servant of 2 Kings 4:43: " Shall we...give them to eat?" (Mk. 6:37). They were almost 'made' to do this to make them later see the similarity with the 2 Kings 4 incident. If they had been more spiritually aware at the time, the Lord's quotation would have been a fillip for their faith.

3) Israel were told three times that Saul would have many chariots (1 Sam. 8:11,12). If they were spiritually aware, they would have realized that by multiplying horses and chariots, he was going to be a King who ruled in studied disobedience to the Mosaic Law (Dt. 17:16-21). They were given the spiritual potential to grasp this. But they were already hard bitten in their rebellion, and this potential spiritual help went unheeded (although God still gave it to them potentially, even at a time when it seemed pointless. He is so ever willing to coax His people back!).

4) Stephen's enemies " gnashed on him with their teeth" , and his Biblical mind would therefore have raced to Job 16:9, describing the behaviour of the wicked towards the faithful: " He teareth me in his wrath, who hateth me: he gnasheth upon me with his teeth" . The context goes on: " Now, behold, my witness is in heaven and my record is on high" (v. 19). Surely Stephen had thought ahead to this, for as his enemies gnashed their teeth against him, " he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). He looked up to Heaven and saw His witness, faithful and true, standing there as he expected.

5). A lack of rain was one of the Law’s curses for idol worship (Dt. 11:10-12,17). Elijah’s response to Israel’s idolatry was to tell them there would be no rain (1 Kings 17:1 cp. 16:32,33). Those reflective upon God’s Law would have realized the implied criticism which this carried; the more unspiritual would have just cursed Elijah for bringing about a devastating drought.

6) The Lord asked the confused Mary: “Whom seekest thou?” (Jn. 20:15). He had used these words three times in His ministry (Jn. 1:38; 18:4,7). He used words which she ought to have recognized as a catch phrase of the Lord, and thereby have realized that it was the Lord speaking to her. She did, eventually, make the connection; she lived up to the spiritual potential which the Lord realized in her. She replies by exclaiming: Rabboni! When three years earlier the Lord had “turned [as He did again to Mary]...and saith...What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi...’ (Jn. 1:38). And now Mary sees the similarity which the Lord has set up, and joyfully realizes the reality of His resurrection through it.

7) There is quite some internal evidence that the book of Job preceded Moses, or was just before his time. If this is so, Israel’s appreciation of Job 26:12 would have been proportional to their faith in the Red Sea deliverance: “He divideth the sea with his power, and by his understanding he smiteth through the proud [Egyptians]”.

8) The ‘devil’ of the Lord’s own nature tempted Him to apply Ps. 91:11 in a wrong context, and jump off the pinnacle of the temple. But if the Lord had gone on, as surely He did, He would have found the words: “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet” (Ps. 91:13). This promise would have been of wonderful comfort, as throughout the wilderness temptations the Lord “was with the wild beasts” (Mk. 1:13).

9) The Lord several times quoted an OT passage which if quoted further would have made a telling point. Thus He quoted Is. 56:7: “My house shall be called an house of prayer”, leaving His hearers to continue: “...for all people”. He recited Ps. 8:2: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise”, leaving them to complete: “...that thou mightest still [through their witness] the enemy and the avenger”. For the Bible minded, these things ought to have taught them. There is reason to think, in the subsequent response of a Jewish minority after Pentecost, that at least some did make these connections. They made use of the spiritual potential they had been given.

10) Above all, the events of the crucifixion were so packed with fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and shadows that the Lord’s discernment of them must have given Him a wonderful boost of strength, in knowing who He was and where He was destined. For example, when they put a broken reed in his hand as a mock sceptre, His mind would have flown to the Messianic Is. 42:3: “A bruised reed shall he not break...he shall bring forth judgment”, as they mocked him for his apparent inability to do.

11) God said He would “cut off from [Jerusalem] the righteous and the wicked” (Ez. 21:3). Yet Abraham had observed that it was “far” from God to do such a thing. Surely the point of this language was to send the mind of the Biblically-aware back to Sodom, and to realize that therefore this was not what God wanted to do, and fervent prayer after the pattern of Abraham’s could save the city.

12) When Gideon received the golden earrings of the Ishmaelites (Jud. 8:24-27), his mind should have flown back to how golden earings were turned into the golden calf (Ex. 32:2). He was potentially given the strength to resist the temptation to turn them into an idol. But he must have blanked out that Biblical precedent in his heart; he ignored his spiritual potential.

13) When Joshua told the spies “Go and walk through the land…” (Josh. 18:8), they ought to have perceived that he was asking them to walk in the faith of Abraham- to believe that this land truly had been promised to them, as his seed.

14) When Zedekiah called Jeremiah out of the prison house to meet him and show him the word of God, he ought to have perceived that he was going through the very experience of Pharaoh with Joseph (Jer. 37:17,20). Jeremiah’s desperate plea not to be sent back to prison to die there surely echoes that of Joseph to his brethren; for Jeremiah was let down like Joseph had been into a pit with no water in, so reminiscent of Joseph (Gen. 37:24). But Zedekiah didn’t want to see all this; he should’ve listened to Jeremiah, as Pharaoh had listened to Joseph and saved himself. It was all potentially set up for him; but he refused to take note.

15) The Lord’s parable of the vineyard is shot through with allusions to the vineyard parable of Is. 5. When the Lord asks “What will [the owner of the vineyard] do?” (Mk. 12:9), those who picked up the Isaiah 5 allusions would have found the answer in Is. 5:4,5: “What…to do…what I will do”.

Because of this, it is apparent that the experiences of believers are often suggestive of those of other believers. Insofar as we appreciate this, we will find strength to go the right way. Consider, for example, how Hezekiah was intended to see the similarities between himself and the earlier king Ahaz his father, and learn the lessons:

Ahaz

Hezekiah

Threatened by invasion; tempted to turn to human help (Is. 7:2)

Ditto (Is. 37:1)

Visited by Isaiah and told to not fear (Is. 7:4-9)

Ditto (Is. 37:6,7)

Ahaz was unfaithful by “the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the fuller’s field” (Is. 7:3)

Here in just the same place Hezekiah’s faith was tested and he learnt the lessons of Ahaz’ failure (Is. 36:2).

Given a sign by God and promised deliverance (Is. 7:14)

Ditto (Is. 37:30).

Ahaz refused to ask for a sign when offered one (Is. 7:11)

Hezekiah learnt, and asked for a sign (Is. 38:7,22). Thus his asking for a sign was not a sign of faithlessness but rather his seeking to not be like Ahaz.

“The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it” (Is. 9:6)

Ditto (Is. 37:32).

Awareness of God’s word and reflection upon Biblical history allows the upward spiral to operate, it triggers our spiritual potential. A thoughtful reflection upon the hand of Providence in our lives does likewise. Take the healing of Jairus’ daughter. The Lord’s rush to heal her was interrupted by a woman, whom He addressed [unusually] as “daughter”. She had been sick for 12 years. And she was healed because of her faith. To the unspiritual man, this would have been nothing but an irritating interruption, to be sworn about under the breath. But to the spiritual man, there was ample encouragement here for faith; for another beloved daughter lay sick, and she was 12 years old, and she likewise could be healed by faith... The Lord’s question: “Who touched me?” was therefore also a rhetorical device to spur faith in Jairus and his family. Who? Another “daughter”, 12 years afflicted... It is only by our spiritual laziness in not providing that freewill input, that desire to understand, that crying for the knowledge of God which is in His word (Prov. 2:3-5), that this marvellous equation will fail. What greater motivation could each of us want in inspiring us to a total commitment to the word, rising early and staying up late to find that knowledge of God to overcome the sin which we hate? If we can only continue to desire to make the effort, to bruise the flesh more through that glorious word of God, then this spiral of growth will catch us up with ever increasing speed. As we go up the spiral, we will find the true life- perceive, see, realize (Mt. 10:39 Gk.) the real, spiritual life, as the wayward son " came to himself" , he found himself, when he repented. And we will come to see that actually, there is no third way: we are either on the upward spiral, or the downward spiral. Bright light illuminates the surroundings, but also casts dark shadows which otherwise would not be there. And the brighter the light, the greater the contrast between the two. The surpassing brightness of the Lord had this effect upon men; it brought (and brings) out the best in good men, and the very worst in bad men.

Jer. 8:5 puts all this in another way: “Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return”. The Hebrew words for “slidden back” and “return” are identical. The image is of a man on a muddy slope; he slides back either into sin, or into the way of the Lord. We must ‘slide’ one way or the other; every micro decision which makes up the stream of daily life is confirmed by God one way or the other.

" What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who (or what) can be against us?" . Paul caught the gloriously positive spirit of all this, and reflected it in his fondness for words with the hyper- prefix (Rom. 8:37; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 7:4; Phil. 2:9; 4:7; 1 Thess. 3:10; 4:6; 5:13; 2 Thess. 1:3). God is not passively waiting for us to act, indifferently offering us the possible futures of salvation or condemnation according to our deeds. He earnestly desires our salvation, He wills and wishes us into the upward spiral of relationship with Him; He has given us spiritual potential and strength. Having specifically told Ezekiel that Israel would not hearken to His word, He tells Ezekiel to act out his parables in front of them- for " it may be they will consider, though they be a rebellious house" (Ez. 3:7 cp. 12:3). Here we see the supreme hopefulness of God, to the point of even being willing to deny His own words. Having spoken of how our attitudes to God's word will elicit from Him varying responses, the Lord cried, loudly, " he that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Lk. 8:8). There is then the sickening anticlimax of v. 9, where the disciples ask Him whatever His parable meant.  One senses a moment of silence in which the Lord composed Himself and camouflaged the pain of His disappointment; and then His essential hopefulness returns in v. 10: " Unto you it is given (potentially, anyway) to know (understand) the mysteries (parables) of the Kingdom of God" .