2-10-2 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
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
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:
by invasion; tempted to turn to human help (Is. 7:2)
by Isaiah and told to not fear (Is. 7:4-9)
was unfaithful by “the conduit of the upper pool on the
highway to the fuller’s field” (Is. 7:3)
in just the same place Hezekiah’s faith was tested and he
learnt the lessons of Ahaz’ failure (Is. 36:2).
a sign by God and promised deliverance (Is. 7:14)
refused to ask for a sign when offered one (Is. 7:11)
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.
zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it” (Is. 9:6)
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" .