IN THIS SERIES of studies it has been suggested that the real reason for the creation of humanity was that it might provide a form in which it would be possible for our Lord to come and give His life for the universe.
That is why man was made in the image and likeness of God - that Jesus could come in human guise and still be recognized as the Son of God. Both Peter and Nathaniel testified to this fact (Matt.16:16; John 1:49). Humanity was created in order to provide the vehicle, namely flesh, in which death could operate. But why the need for this? Because prior to the creation of humanity there had been a rebellion against God among His higher creations - His prime creation - the inhabitants of the celestial realms. How do we know this? How do we know that there had been a rebellion among the celestials?
Because (1) we are told in Ephesians 6 that our adversaries are not blood and flesh but that we wrestle with "the sovereignties, with the authorities, with the world-mights of this darkness, with the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials." Because (2) we are told, in Colossians 1:20 that the reconciliation work accomplished by the blood of Christ's cross must include those in heaven as well as those on earth. Because (3) there must be new heavens as well as a new earth, and the creation of new heavens would be unnecessary if the original heavens had remained unsullied. Because (4) we are told that the original creation of the heavens and the earth was followed by a darkness accompanied by chaos and disruption (Gen.1:2), and this was before man appeared on the scene at all. Because (5) we are told that the Lambkin was slain from the disruption of the world kosmos, and this again was before man was created. Therefore, the slain Lambkin was a factor in God's purpose before humanity appeared, and humanity was, in fact, the means created by which the figurative Lambkin could be slain.
But it soon became clear that humanity in its own powers could achieve nothing. The first generation from Adam provided clear proof of this - Eve's firstborn showed himself to be a murderer, and in this typified all humanity who would rather crucify the Saviour than acclaim Him. We have already traced the failure of humanity up to the deluge when it was all but destroyed - so complete was God's judgment against it - and through to the time of Abram when it was again in an idolatrous state. But we have also seen how with Abram, representative of idolatrous mankind, God took His stand before humanity and indeed in front of all creation, and declared, "I am the God Who suffices." And Abraham believed God and became the father of all who believe the first in an entirely new concept of believing. The first to believe that ALL IS OF GOD.
The lesson of mankind teaches us that humanity was completely unable to save itself, let alone provide the Saviour of the universe for which purpose it had been created. This is because of the inherent nature of flesh which is a form of creation especially adapted for the sufferings of death. Yet this very feature which inhibits its own power to perform a useful service for God is the one which God actually uses to fulfil His purpose. For God will not be balked; He cannot be thwarted. He does nothing in vain. He created humanity as an instrument for His use, and full use will be made of that instrument. Though thousands of years might elapse, during which men would seek in vain for a Saviour from among themselves, God Himself would eventually provide the One Who as the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent's head. The God Who suffices would produce in humanity the One Whom Isaac portrayed and thereby turn the grief of the universe into laughter. Humanity, in the person of the virgin Mary, merely confirmed the form in which that Saviour should come.
There are many sincere people claiming to be believers who yet pay homage to the virgin Mary. This is surely misplaced worship. Mary declared herself to be blessed simply because she was privileged to be the mother of the promised Messiah. She was the one chosen by God to bring Him into the world and to provide Him with His body of flesh, but His Father was God. He was generated by the Spirit of God, not by man. The widespread adoration of a woman only presses home the fact of man's incapability. Mary was blessed (happy) in the role that she was called upon to play; but to exalt her to a place of veneration is to deny the all-sufficiency of God Who alone could provide the Lamb that should take away sin.
Yes, it was God Who sent "His own Son in the likeness of sin's flesh" (Rom.8:3). It is God Who (to use the Greek aorist tense, which takes no account of time) "thus loves the world, so that He gives His only-begotten Son." It is God Who "is commending this love of His to us, seeing that, while we are still sinners, Christ died for our sakes" (Rom.5:8). But Christ Himself was fully obedient to the will of God. He took "the form of a slave" and came to be "in the likeness of humanity" and was "found in fashion as a man" (Phil.2:7,8).
Jesus frequently called Himself "the Son of Mankind." He was a Man in the fullest sense of the word (See 1 Cor.15:47; 1 Tim.2:5). He had all the feelings of humanity and could sympathize with its infirmities (Heb.4:15). He could hunger (Matt.4:2), be weary (John 4:6), experience suffering (Matt.16:21), and weep in compassion for the sufferings of others (John 11:35). He needed to be taught, for in fact He learned obedience through that which He suffered (Heb.5:8). Like Adam He could be tried by the Adversary, and if He came through the trial without sin it was not because of any superiority of His flesh, but simply because His flesh was completely dominated by His Spirit which He had received from God.
And yet though Jesus lived a life in the flesh which was completely without sin, this does not glorify the flesh but rather glorifies God Who was operating in Him. Frequently Jesus said that He could do nothing of Himself, but only the works of His Father. Even in the hour of His greatest trial He glorified God by the very nature of the death that He would die (John 12:27-33).
With the crucifixion of Christ, the flesh fulfilled the main function for which it had been created. It is the lot of the flesh to be crucified, deadened, discarded. "Those of Christ Jesus crucify the flesh together with its passions and lusts" (Gal.5:24). The rite of circumcision signified the casting off of the flesh as impotent; the Jews, with the perversity of humanity, misread the sign and regarded it as a symbol of physical superiority. How can mutilation ever be an improvement? Those who glorify the flesh are enemies of the cross of Christ. Paul had no confidence in the flesh, but rather looked upon it and its apparent accomplishments and advantages as something to be discarded and treated as refuse that he might gain Christ and be found in Him (see Phil.3:1-16).
What, then, should be our attitude toward the flesh? we should regard it as nothing but a temporary earthen vessel to be discarded in that day when Christ shall call us to Himself and make us like Himself, that we may display to all in the celestial realms the transcendent riches of the grace of a God Who suffices.
It is only as we believe in such a God that we grow into a deeper realization of Himself which is what Paul's epistles are consistently urging. When we accept that ALL IS OF GOD and refuse to adulterate His power of salvation by mixing it with human endeavor, we can truly say like Job, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee." The evangel is God's power for salvation based upon the heralding of the cross of Christ, and when truly appreciated produces laughter and rejoicing in our hearts, for nothing can turn it to sorrow.
Going back for a moment to the circumstances surrounding Abraham, it is significant that God chose Ishmael's name as well as Isaac's. Ishmael means "God is hearing;" Isaac means "Producing laughter." God indicated that He had heard the groans of Hagar by naming her expected child Ishmael; but His real answer to her groans lay in a laughter-producing Isaac. That is why He directed her back to her mistress (Gen.16). Later He was to hear the groans of a sorely afflicted Israel and provide an answer in a delivering Moses so that they would all sing together, "The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation" (Ex.15:2). And make no mistake, God has also heard the groans of a sorrowing universe - a universe estranged from Him, an entire creation groaning and travailing together until now - and He has provided His answer in the One Whom both Isaac and Moses typified, a laughter-producing and delivering Christ.
God intends all His creatures to enjoy themselves. He wants them to laugh and sing. He has no pleasure in groans and tears. Indeed He has promised to wipe away every tear and to abolish completely that which causes misery (Rev.21:4). But first He hears the groans and then proceeds to remove the cause for groaning. He allows the trial and then provides the sequel (1 Cor.10:13). Yet in one sense He provides the sequel first, for everything was purposed from the beginning. Though it is true that the Lambkin was slain from the disruption of the world (Rev.13:8), it is equally true that the blood of Christ as of a flawless and unspotted Lamb was foreknown, indeed, before the disruption of the world (1 Peter 1:20). God's purpose in every facet and detail was planned from the outset, and in no sense whatever is any part of it an improvisation to meet an emergency. He is the One Who tells "from the beginning the hereafter, and from aforetime, what has not yet been done, saying, All My counsel shall be confirmed, and all My desire will I do" (Isa.46:10). He is "the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will" (Eph.1:11) and Who has purposed "to head up all in the Christ - both that in the heavens and that on the earth," and "through Him, to reconcile all to Him (making peace through the blood of His cross) whether those on the earth or those in the heavens" (Eph.1:10; Col.1:20).
When the reconciliation of all is complete the joy of the universe will be full. When the purpose of the All-sufficient God has reached its consummation, and He is All in all, every heart will be filled with the true laughter which accompanies the praise and adoration of Him Who is Supreme and Whose name is Love.
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We have entitled this particular study, "From Abram to Abraham," because we wish to stress the importance of this change of name. It represents a turning-point in God's relations with humanity, and indeed with creation as a whole; it indicates the moment at which God determines to make a new and all-important revelation of Himself; it marks the point at which He introduces an additional value into believing.
We may, therefore, properly ask ourselves a significant question. As believers, do we classify ourselves with Abram or with Abraham? Abram means "exalted father," and at first sight may seem to be a name worthy of great respect, but it was the man-given name which he held in idolatry and which he continued to hold right up to the moment when God appeared to him as the One-Who-Suffices. At that moment his name was changed to Abraham, meaning "exalted father of a throng," and he became the father of all who believe. Now with which name do we associate ourselves? For by just as much as we introduce self-glory, self-righteousness or self-endeavor into our relationship with God, by so much do we become idolaters, for by so much are we paying homage to the flesh. This is what Abram was doing. "But," says Paul, "Those of faith, these are sons of Abraham" (Gal.3:7).
Let us not fall back into the former category, but rather let us give all glory to God, abhorring self completely, regarding the flesh as being dead, and consequently worthless; then, believing God as the All-sufficient One we shall, as those of faith, be blessed together with believing Abraham. We shall be blessed as Abraham was with the righteousness of God, for this is only reckoned to us when we believe. And "being, then, justified [declared righteous] by faith, we may be having peace toward God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have the access also by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we may be glorying in expectation of the glory of God" (Rom.5:1,2).
We were sinners, and like all the rest of humanity were wanting of the glory of God. He, the One-Who-Suffices, rescues us from this position by the giving up of His own Son, and as we believe on Him Who rouses our Lord Jesus from among the dead, so we are justified. No longer are we then walking according to flesh but according to spirit, and God's Spirit is making its home in us.
Let us, then, like our father in faith, Abraham, walk before God, acknowledging Him in all things as the One-Who-Suffices, and cast aside the deeds of the flesh as worthless and refuse; thus shall we be holy and flawless in His sight, and thus shall we find in our lives, even while still in the flesh, the joy and peace that come with believing. For no longer being debtors to the flesh, but living in accord with the spirit, we shall indeed know that we are sons of God.
May God bless us to this end, and in addition to the joy and peace, give us all laughter and rejoicing in the knowledge that He is operating in us to will as well as to work for the sake of His delight.