Knowing the Time
G New, Birmingham
'A WISE MAN'S HEART DISCERNETH TIME AND JUDGEMENT', Eccles. 8. 5. (R.V.)
In the nineteenth chapter of his Gospel Luke records that when Jesus drew near to Jerusalem 'He saw the city and wept over it', v. 41. The following verses go on to tell of the sad words our Lord uttered as He predicted the coming siege of Jerusalem which would be so terrible in its consequences. That passage ends with the observation by the Lord Jesus that those things would take place 'because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation'. Earlier He had reproached the Pharisees and Sadducees with the words, 'Ye know how to discern the face of the heaven; but ye cannot discern the signs of the times', Matt. 16. 3.
God sent His Son to earth when the fulness of the time came, Gal. 4. 4. As the Lord Jesus moved among the people during His time here He brought a marvellous opportunity for blessing. They could hear directly from the lips of the Son of God Himself words of life, and if they so desired could gain personal interviews with Him. He was ready and able to meet their deepest needs if only they would come to Him and trust in Him. The sad, sad tragedy was that they allowed themselves to be blinded by the 'god of this world', and consequently failed to recognize that the time of their visitation had come. They failed to love and obey the One whom the Fatller had sent to them.
It is essential that we who are trusting in our Lord and endeavouring to please Him should understand the character of our times, and with God given discernment, order our lives in accordance with the purposes of God. In the days of Elisha the prophet, Gehazi the servant of Elisha had the great privilege of knowing Elisha, and observing his labours for the Lord and hearing from his lips words of grace and truth. Unfortunately his own heart was not right with God, and he needed to be concerned about this. He should also have been concerned, as his master was, with the spiritual state of the people around. As we read in the second book of Kings, Gehazi managed by telling lies to obtain treasure for himself. When he presented himself before Elisha shortly after this, he was reproached by Elisha with these words, 'Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards and vineyards, and sheep and oxen, and menservants and maidservants?' Elisha's question may have a message for Christians today. Do we devote too much time and initiative to pursuing material things? If we do, then we are missing the purpose of God, and behaving in a manner unsuited to the time in which we live.
In the time of Haggai, the temple lay for some time in an unfinished state. The people around were saying, 'the time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built', Hag. I. 2. God had to remind them that they were attending to their own comfort by getting their homes into good condition. They needed to adjust their priorities, and to recognize that the character of the times in which they lived called for faithful devotion to the Lord's interests, and therefore to the building of the replacement temple. We also can drift into neglecting the Lord's interests, and fail to realize that now is the time to buy up the opportunities wisely, see Eph. 5. 15-17. If we spend our tune attending to our own material requirements and pleasures, and neglect to some extent our Lord's affairs, we may well find that we have missed our opportunities, and times have changed, when it is too late to remedy.
Three writers in the New Testament drew lessons from the story of the Israelites in Old Testament days. Paul, in his first letter to Corinth; Jude; and the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews. All these referred to Israel at the time of their journey through the wilderness. The reason for this is not hard to understand, for the church at the present time is a pilgrim church travelling to a heavenly home, and is therefore prefigured in some respects by Israel at that period of her history. In the early days of Solomon's reign Israel was in a strong and prosperous state. This being so, the time was suitable for the erection of the temple and this they were enabled to do. In conjunction with the temple there were also established arrangements for worship which included having singers with various musical instruments. Some people refer back to those days and the mention in the Scriptures of various kinds of harps, of dancing, singing, and sounding of trumpets and timbrels as though they provide us with an example to be followed at the present time. People who do suggest this are failing to realize that they are misinterpreting the nature of the times in which we live. The New Testament knows nothing of the use of musical instruments in the meetings of the church, nor of dancing or other light forms of activity. The conduct of Israel, and the style of worship in the days of Solomon do not prefigure the ways in which believers should live, or the manner in which church meetings should be conducted in these days. Ways in which the experiences of Israel in the wilderness provide lessons for the Lord's people in the present age can be clearly seen in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, and Hebrews chapters 3 and 4.
In Matthew 9. 14 we read of an occasion when some disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked, 'Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not'? In his reply the Lord explained that the time was not appropriate for fasting; 'Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them'? He then went on to explain that the days would come when he would be taken away from His disciples and, in consequence, they would then fast. But it would be wrong for Christians to be melancholy, seeing their Lord has risen triumphantly from the dead, His atoning sufferings having been completed. They know that He will return in power and that His return will be followed by wonderful blessing as the purpose of God comes to fruition. Yet, on the other hand, now is the time of their Lord's absence; it is the time of His rejection by the majority in the world around, and of much sin and suffering. So that while rejoicing, there is bound to be a measure of groaning and grieving while waiting for His promised return. What, we may ask, is suitable for the present time? Paul writing to the church at Rome told them, 'And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep', Rmnans 13. 11. There is no reason to think that the Christians at Rome to whom he was writing were dull and lethargic people. The sort of comments and expressions used by Paul in his references to them as individuals in the closing chapter of his letter to them suggests rather the opposite.
They, like ourselves, lived in a world where indulgence, temptation, and the cares of this life could ensnare people and hinder them from pleasing God. During this time of our Lord's absence we await with great expectation His return. The message to them applies urgently to us, for we are faced by a subtle and relentless adversary, and while the Lord will surely help us, yet He requires us to be alert and watchful by the grace available to us. We certainly cannot afford to be idle or careless; this is not the time for sleeping. It is a time to be sober-minded, to pray, to watch, and to work until the Master comes.