"For where two or three are gathered together in My Name there am I in the midst of them." Matthew 18:20
In practical matters this is a challenging chapter for the Christian. It is addressed to the disciples. At verse 15 there is an instruction concerning any occasion when a brother trespasses against us. Should such a situation arise we are not to bare our wounds to others, but we are plainly told we are to go to the brother who has trespassed against us and endeavour to show him the injury we suffer. If he heeds our appeal and puts matters right then says our Lord, our brother has been gained. If he will not listen to us, then we are to call in one or two who, with us and our brother may review the whole matter. If this somewhat larger circle confirm the fact that we have been injured, and the erring brother neglect to put the matter right, then it is to be presented to the Church. That company has only been mentioned once before in this Gospel. It is the company of those whose foundation is Jesus Christ the chief corner stone, a called out company. The verdict of that gathered company, not the verdict of ecclesiastics, but the whole gathered company, will be final and conclusive. For whatsoever such a gathered company shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever things are loosed on earth by that company shall be loosed in heaven. It should be noted that this is as much a command of our Lord as the Table to which we are coming and it is the duty of all believers to obey it. No child of God should allow a sense of injury to develop into an injury to the fellowship to which he belongs.
Having dealt with discord between the Lord's people our Lord proceeded to indicate the priceless blessings of agreement. There are, of course great benefits from prayer in solitude. We are to close the door, pray to our Father, which is in secret, and He will reward us openly. There are, however, other matters, or even matters possibly which we have laid before the Lord in secret. These are to be put before Him in the fellowship of two or three, and then these shall be done of the Father in heaven on account of the presence of the Lord Jesus in the midst.
Bearing in mind the exceptional significance of this promise, it is rather surprising that it does not receive more attention. It should be a great encouragement to husband and wife, especially in their ministry of prayer concerning their children. People who live in the same district might well regard this word as a serious one from the Lord. Great things could be accomplished by this ministry, and especially where the healthy and strong could thus have fellowship with those who are denied the privilege of ever or seldom leaving their homes. We shall all probably be convicted of our neglect of this important ministry.
Let us then seek to get to the heart of this promise, with the earnest desire, as God knows our hearts that we may prove how wonderfully true the promise is. If, as we meditate upon this word this morning, we have the real living resolve within to put the ministry into exercise, then we may be sure the Spirit of God will open our eyes. If, as He does so, we do believingly respond, then it is almost certain we shall be on the brink of almost unbelievable blessing.
I think we may embrace most of the truth within the text if we consider first, the Gathered Company, then the Holy Presence, and finally the Heavenly Action.
1) THE GATHERED COMPANY
It is not a large company, although the large company is not prohibited. Most prayer meetings are comparatively small. In many churches there is no prayer meeting ever held, and in all churches there are members of the Church who never dream of gathering to participate in prayer. But in most churches it should be possible for two or three to gather, and if they are conscious of the promises of this Scripture they will be less conscious of the smallness of the company.
Our Lord specifically states they must be gathered in His Name. I have great difficulty in excluding the thought of the Church to which reference is made in verse 17. The Church is that company of people, in any locality, each of whom by grace has become a partaker of the Divine Nature as it is in Jesus. That is to say that Divine Nature incarnate, married to and indissolubly one with any redeemed human being. Wherever there is such a person, he or she will inevitably make confession to all others of the Lord's people, and these saved by grace through faith, having renounced their sins and calling Jesus Lord by the Spirit may be so gathered together.
Gathered in the Name, sharing the one life, they are constituted a company with Divine significance. They are redeemed from the world, called out to be separated unto Christ their Saviour and Lord, and as such they being gathered together invoke His Name. In all this, they realise their unity in Him in faith. This agreement of life and grace will be the basis of agreement in their intercession, because before they pray they are to be entirely agreed about the issue of their intercession. I am not sure how far this applies to our normal prayer meetings, or whether it would be possible to have unanimous agreement on the matter or matters for prayer. What we accomplish by general indiscriminate praying none of us can tell; for we do not check up the fulfilments of our prayers. We do know that often and often in our weekly prayer meeting we have felt refreshed, we have felt it to be good, but we cannot say that, in particular, things have really been different because we have prayed.
In its true perspective, therefore, this text is not a consolation promise for small groups of believers, but rather an indication that in such groups it is possible that greater spiritual progress in answer to prayer may be achieved. Hence, if two or three are thus drawn together for prayer they may believe the Lord will first minister to them by giving them an unmistakable urge and direction as to the issue, or issues, to be laid before the court of heaven. This matter of agreement is of the utmost importance. There is to be a "symphony" as to what is the matter for intercession.
As believers talk together when thus gathered they will be surely led as to the issue of their praying. It may be that their first prayer will have to be for guidance as to what to pray for, and as they thus pray the issue will become to every person in the gathered company. Or it may well be that in conversation two or three discover that the Lord has given them a common burden of intercession. Of this we may be well assured, that as the issue becomes clear and definitely accepted in the heart, there will be a wonderful experience of harmony of mind, heart and will. And the closer they get to the mind, will and purpose of God, the greater will be redemptive passion in their hearts, and the greater their experimental confidence in all the hidden power of the mystery of the blood of Jesus.
The assurance of all this will be the gift of the patient persistence of faith to hold on to the Lord concerning the subject of prayer, and about that we shall have something to say later.
2) THE HOLY PRESENCE
Now, when believers are thus in earnest and are truly gathered in the Name of Jesus, there you have the holy presence of Jesus Himself. We do not know how the disciples regarded these words when they were uttered. They must have been somewhat mystified; for if John should happen to be praying in Jerusalem and James and Andrew in Capernaum, How could He be with them both? That would be a question not easily answered. Something of the same kind presents itself to us.
While recognising the limitless ministries of Deity, yet so far as we have any light shining into our minds, we understand that the incarnation determines our Lord's existence, at least until that age when God shall be all in all. Hence, we believe it was as a Man in His earthly body glorified that, having ascended into heaven, He was invested with Omnipotence, made capable of imparting the Holy Spirit and entering upon His ministry of intercession on the behalf of His redeemed people. We cannot deny that it may be that, as after His resurrection His presence should be with His people where He will but subject to the limitations of our minds, we are bound to think that His presence is in heaven. He has gone there to prepare a place for us.
What then is the answer? It is, I feel to be found in two considerations. When the gathered company thus draws near in spirit in the Name of Jesus, the veil is removed and where Jesus is, in spirit the gathered company will be. In all true worship we come unto Mount Zion, the city of the Living God, unto an innumerable company of angels, to the spirits of just men made perfect to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant. Therefore, whether the gathered company be large or small, it will become part of the heavenly company of the redeemed, and the refreshment and inspiration of that great host will be a wonderful experience. Therefore where Jesus is, there the gathered company in spirit will be also. These ordinary common gatherings on earth of believers, entering in spirit into heavenly places, are intended to be foretastes of the heavenly glory, stimulating our hearts with desire for the parousia of our Lord.
The counterpart of that experience must be, so I feel, the liberty of the Holy Spirit in the gathered company. When our Lord departed into heaven He sent from heaven the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to be with us, to abide within us, to dwell within us. When, therefore, we are thus truly gathered in the Name, waiting on God for the things He has laid upon our hearts, then Jesus, our Lord, will be exercising His ministry in heaven on behalf of the gathered company. And the Holy Spirit will have freedom of action in the gathered company. Love will abound and overflow between such believers, faith will be strong, desires after God will be eager and the heavenly blessing will flood the hearts of the two or three.
This, indeed, is the doctrine of the real presence. We have no need to enter some Cathedral to see the reserved Sacrament under the red light, and to delude ourselves with the thought that because some ordinary man has said some words over it, it has become the body of our Lord, inert and incommunicative. How can such a lifeless thing seduce the believer from this glowing, vital, radiant and all inspiring experience of the Holy Spirit in action within the heart?
3) THE DIVINE ACTION
If this be the true understanding of the promise then our Lord is disclosing the Trinity in action. It is indeed a stupendous thought that when feeble, insignificant human beings thus utter the Name of Jesus the Father in heaven is pledged to action.
The gathered company has named the Name of Jesus being already agreed in mind, heart, and will, concerning the issue of their prayers. The Holy Presence has been communicated. Where Jesus is, there His redeemed are. For pilgrims on the earth every such occasion is a foretaste of heaven. To crown it all is the promise, " It shall be done for them of My Father Who is in heaven."
The acts of the Father have alone executive power in the universe. Nothing has the least significance outside the will of God. The acts of man are as perishable as the man who performs them, but the acts of God are eternal. It is very easy to be lost in a maze of abstract thought about the Godhead, but if we follow our Lord's example, as well we may, He spoke very simply about the Father. He wanted the disciples to know that when the gathered company, having named the Name of Jesus and made their petitions as agreed, then so far as heaven was concerned, it was done.There are at least three considerations to be kept in mind:
First, the promise is that it shall be done of the Father in heaven. It is a registration in the realm of what to us is the invisible. That which has been symphonised in prayer on earth is ratified and confirmed by the Father. In the place where it matters it is done!
Secondly, redemption was from before the foundation of the world, yet it is a process both of eternity and time. It involves the birth, death, Resurrection, ascension, enthronement, intercession and coming again of our Lord. And His subsequent enterprise of victory with His redeemed through every part of the universe, bringing to destruction the last enemy death, and finding its consummation when the all shall be handed over to the Father. This should teach us that we have great need of patience if we do not see in time what we think to be the answer to our prayers. Daniel's experience (Daniel chapters10-12) indicates the need for keeping before the Lord the issue until the answer breaks through realms of which we have little knowledge.
Finally, our spiritual desires tend to be superficial and intermittent. Revival enthusiasm takes hold of us, but only for a time. I have known many who seemed to be, and were, extraordinarily zealous for a time, become spiritual icicles. We can easily deceive ourselves that the thing is of God when it is of ourselves, and we can certainly deceive each other. Therefore, the Lord may require that the thing upon which we are agreed must be not merely a passing enthusiasm but a passionate longing. It should weld our hearts and wills to such a degree that as we pray we lay hold of God with increasing tenacity, and in sober truth the two or three will not be satisfied until the prayer is answered. How little we know of this kind of intercession!
Has all this any practical significance for us? Is it not obvious that God
rules the world through the believing prayers of His people? If this be so then
indeed our failure in the realm of prayer is both culpable and tragic.
Is it not clear that all human activity, political or religious, that ignores this promise is devitalised? If we are so busy in action for God and man that we cannot find occasion to join others in prayer then the time has come to make our activity take second place to our praying.
Parents who are troubled about their children may well ask themselves whether God is not giving them a burden to share triumphantly within the promise of the text. What a new sense of the Real Presence our homes might enjoy. Sunday School teachers would find a harvest for their enterprise as their believing prayers reached heaven in this way.
And two or three banded together with a burden for revival that nothing else could satisfy might well be the instruments of priceless blessing to their fellow Christians.
Let us each one think about it. As we do we shall be conscious of a certain embarrassment, temerity we cannot define. But as the Lord speaks to our hearts we shall see that this is His way, and as we take it things will be done of our Father in heaven in the Name of the One whose mysterious Presence is verily in the midst.
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