Chapter 1.....Bethlehem

"And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy One that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Luke chapter 1:35

IN the early chapters of the Old Testament we have the record of a woman serving the ends of Satan and thereby bringing disaster upon the race. The New Testament opens with the record of a woman serving the ends of the Spirit and thereby bringing redemption to the race. And these contrasts are not fortuitous; they belong to the genius of Sacred Writ and are there for our instruction. As Eve yielded to that which dazzled the imagination and fed the passion for exaltation, so Mary yielded to that which baffled her spirit and brought her to a season of deep humiliation.

The mariolatry of Rome finds no echo in our hearts: nevertheless we recognise and praise God for her wonderful submission to the Holy Spirit, her living faith in the Divine purpose and her courage to endure the spiritual and social isolation which became her lot for a time. Truly Elisabeth declared of her: " Blessed art thou among women." Mary is called the mother of Jesus, but the Scriptures never call her the mother of God. Once only, and that by the murmuring crowd, is He called the Son of Mary. Never, in Scripture does He call her mother. And He, Son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit, never addressed the Spirit as Father. These all indicate mystery, facts that emerge in revelation concealing much more than they reveal, taking us back into the fastness of Deity, baffling us with the immensity of the Mind that fashioned the Eternal purpose: facts much more easily observed than explained.

In this transcendent mystery of Bethlehem certain things are clear. We may observe two parallel objectives.

First, the purpose of God to secure the occupation of heaven by man made in the image of God, albeit fallen by the way. The Incarnation was the initiation of that fathomless process by which the likeness of man should stand in the presence of God. Secondly, to bring the life of God into the life of man, to create a God-likeness in the man whose Divine image was marred by sin. These two objectives upon which the purpose of God was set are the ultimates of redemption. They vivify the Eternal questioning to which Calvary in its tragic majesty is the complete and conclusive answer. How shall fallen man stand in the presence of a Holy God in perfect eternal fellowship? How shall the Holy Spirit enter and abide in the human heart conquered by sin? In these two questions we touch the deepest need of heaven and earth. In heaven God hungers for the fellowship of man whom He created in His image and on earth, man (although many know it not) hungers for the fellowship of the God for Whom he was created. And this is the amazing truth which the Word of God makes clear: the dual problem has been solved in the mystery of godliness, even the Word made flesh.

As to the first, Jesus has come to this earth and lived a spotless life, indwelt by the Holy Spirit to a perfect obedience even unto death. Out of the grave God has raised Him, preserving to Him the body of His humiliation, bearing the marks of Calvary. He has lifted that body from the earth glorified it, giving His Son, now returned to heaven with the body of His Incarnation, to sit on the throne of God. Neither God nor man but both God and man the God-Man, the first born of a new creation. He thus has power to communicate His resurrection life to all who believe and in such to propagate, by the Holy Spirit, that same life which is His. To make them partakers of the Divine nature and at last to present them in the presence of His glory with a body like unto the body of His glory giving to God a race redeemed out of sin, restored and glorified according to the Eternal purpose.

What a marvellous grace is this! As to the second and parallel objective, by reason of the perfection of our Lord's humanity, the Holy Spirit was free to enter His body that He might become an Incarnate Spirit, intimate in the experience of the race from within and that fellowship being unbroken through to the Glory, our Living Lord shed forth the Spirit upon all those having faith in Himself as the Crucified, Risen and Glorified One. By the consent of the woman, Satan entered the race to its ruin; by the consent of the Word, the Spirit entered for its regeneration. Bethlehem then is the place of a deep consent, where the Eternal Word recognised the Body prepared for Him by the Spirit and " emptied " Himself. He abandoned that " form " in which from all eternity His equality with God was obvious and He accepted that form in which that eternal equality was obscured. He trusted the Holy Spirit to quicken the obscured life in Mary and to bring it to its consummation. He yielded Himself to the processes of the Spirit that men might see God and that seeing Him in all the marvellous unveiling of a spotless purity and a sacrificial passion, they might be reconciled. He trusted His being to the weakness of babyhood, exposed Himself in the helplessness of infancy to the Satanic powers that were quick to inflame the passions of Herod and to seek to encompass His destruction and with it all hope for the race. And He grew up amongst men full of grace and truth.

Clearly the first work of the Holy Spirit in any man is a life. A man may have wonderful opinions, marvellous oratory and may be quite useless, but if he have obedience in the Spirit he will be in the same spirit omnipotent. Our Lord was nourished upon the Scriptures, He was perfect in His sufferings, but first He had a life created of the Holy Spirit and what was the primary essential in Him is fundamental for us. The first step in service must be the possession of the life of God, a life quickened in us by the Holy Spirit. It was THE MAN with the life out of the Spirit who broke the power of hell and no man disturbs Satan who is not first in possession of the Spirit-quickened life. It is no less clear that the prelude to service is an emptying. The Word could not enter into that redemptive service until the Holy Spirit had created a life of God, a prepared body. We must trust the Holy Spirit to create that life of God in the body, this body of ours. Our Lord surrendered Himself implicitly to the Holy Spirit to function in Him. He presented His body a sacrifice in life as well as in death, He lived as One Whose body was in actuality a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Not so readily do we yield. The self in possession of our body is not sinless but rebellious. That rebellious self is useless to God, it is incapable of being an instrument of the Holy Spirit. Psychologists extol self-development, but the Scriptures teach the need of yielding the body that it may know no life but the life of the Spirit. Every believer must be a sacrifice in life, conscious moment by moment that the body is in truth a temple of the Holy Spirit. The shrine of a life Divinely created and interpenetrated so that the "self " of the old life is dead and the new man is in perfect union with the Holy Spirit the Quickener. Perfect service commences with a prepared body. Hence our Lord came to Bethlehem.

For us that perfect service in the Holy Spirit is not possible now but it will be yet. For that perfect body He came to Bethlehem, but we must go to Calvary and await the crucible of death or the rapture of the body when we shall serve Him day and night in His temple. But there is a service available even now and of great consequence. For it we need a yielded body, for it we must have an inward life of God, created of the Holy Spirit. Out of Calvary comes the energising recreative life of the Spirit, eager to function in us as He functioned in Him, to bring His life to us even as the Holy Spirit brought the life of God to Him. And the question which you and I must face at the outset is simple and yet profound: have we this life? He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son hath not the life. With that life men of clay become giants of God; without it, it were futile to face the wilderness, the challenge of Calvary and the crisis of the tomb.

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