The following article forms the Introduction and two pages of our latest book in the ever popular Day by Day series. The theme for this volume is ‘Pictures and Parables’ and these selections are to give the magazine reader a flavour of what will be available when the book is published later this year. See also pages 13 and 25.
The world has a well-known but difficult to attribute cliché that, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. In His earthly ministry this was a lesson that could well have been taught by the Lord as, in communicating divine truth, He so often resorted to metaphors and illustrations. For example, who could forget, ‘A sower went forth to sow’, Matt. 13. 3?
The Lord could identify and use familiar situations and figures. Moving around the region of Galilee, His hearers would understand the ideas of fishing and fish. Hence, the Lord would tell Simon Peter and Andrew his brother, ‘I will make you to become fishers of men’, Mark 1. 17. Similarly, to illustrate features of the kingdom of heaven, the Lord likened it unto ‘a net, that was cast into the sea’, Matt. 13. 47.
In an agrarian society, most would understand the pictures the Lord used in relation to animals and crops. He spoke of the vineyard and the labourers, Matt. 20. 1, as well as the vineyard and the husbandmen, Matt. 21. 33. Those familiar with the prophet’s song would appreciate the significance of this latter picture, cf. Isa. 5. 1-7. The symbolism of sowing, and reaping, whether in relation to cereals or other crops, would also be familiar to most. A nation that had been identified with sheep as long as Israel had would have no difficulty in appreciating the many lessons that the Lord illustrated using this animal. It was an illustration of significance and weight to the shepherd king, David, cf. 2 Sam. 12. 1-5, as well as to a generation different, Luke 15. 1-7.
In relation to their religious life, which was based so much upon ritual, the metaphors of the leaven and the whited sepulchre would have resonance to the nation. That hidden ingredient, yeast, has a significant and visible effect when it is inserted into the dough. What a remarkable picture of sin and the effects of sin! For those who could become ceremonially unclean by contact with the dead, it was of utmost importance to avoid such contact. While today we decorate graves with headstones and inscriptions, the graves of the period were painted white to enable them to be seen and avoided, Matt. 23. 27. The aptness of the illustration as it applied to the Pharisees was not lost on them and generated further hatred against the Lord.
Later the richness of the language used by the Lord seems to permeate the teaching of His followers. All have metaphors that they use to illustrate the truth they wish to teach. In the practice of the early disciples and in the teaching of the apostles, the figure of baptism was death, burial and resurrection. Hence, the apostle states, ‘Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord’, Rom. 6. 11. What should accompany such a step as baptism is that described very pictorially in Romans chapter 12, ‘present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God’, v. 1. How graphic and challenging an illustration of what the believer’s life ought to be!
As we consider the believer’s life there are many different biblical metaphors that may come to our minds. Those familiar with the games would understand the illustration of the race and one ‘that striveth for the mastery’, 1 Cor. 9. 25. The need for self-control is clear. Self-indulgence does not bring success in the race and, equally, does not bring progress in our spiritual lives. Examples of what that self-control may entail can be found illustrated by more biblical metaphors. The ‘washing of water by the word’, Eph. 5. 26, is intended to keep us morally and doctrinally pure that we may be presented as a ‘chaste virgin to Christ’, 2 Cor. 11. 2. Apart from removing the defilement that comes from our daily contact with a sinful world, we should also seek to exhibit the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ rather than ‘the works of the flesh’, Gal. 5. 19, 22.
Following on from the character of our lives, what should be the focus of our spiritual activity? Again, the richness of the Bible’s pictures and parables is evident. Paul speaks of having our feet ‘shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace’, Eph. 6. 15, which is an indication of what he later describes as ‘redeeming the time’, Col. 4. 5. We are ‘ambassadors for Christ’ in an alien world, living for and representing Him to those around us, 2 Cor. 5. 20.
In our care one for another, there are various illustrations that convey what we should be. In the context of believers young in the faith, Paul gives the example of his conduct amongst the Thessalonians, ‘we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children’, 1 Thess. 2. 7. How important that care is for the growth and development of the young!
But our care for fellow saints should extend beyond the young. We should be aware that people characterized as ‘grievous wolves’ have designs upon ‘the flock’ of God. How important, then, that overseers should ‘take heed … to all the flock … to feed the church of God’, Acts 20. 28-29!
But there is also the individual responsibility that we bear. No believer should stand still. We should seek to make progress in our spiritual lives and this provision of a daily reading based upon a passage of scripture is fulfilling in part that injunction of Paul to Timothy, ‘Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth’, 2 Tim. 2. 15.
Perhaps the most helpful use of imagery in the scriptures is that relating to the Person of Christ and our future in His presence. We would all acknowledge that the finite mind cannot appreciate the infinite. It is only with the help of the Spirit of God that we can understand what we do. John’s gospel presents us with many statements where the Lord described Himself as ‘the bread of life’, ‘the light of the world’, ‘the door’, ‘the good shepherd’, ‘the way, the truth, and the life’, and ‘the true vine’. What a wealth of teaching is involved in each of those metaphors.
In the book of the Revelation, John also uses rich imagery to help us appreciate something of his vision of the Saviour. He describes His voice, His head and His hairs, His eyes, His feet, His right hand, His mouth, and His countenance. In it all, we acknowledge what a tremendous vision that must have been. Small wonder that John says, ‘And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead’, Rev. 1. 17. And yet, later John would see the same person but, seemingly, in a different form, ‘I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne … stood a Lamb as it had been slain’, Rev. 5. 6. This Lamb was the one who took the book and opened the seals and released the judgement of God upon an unsuspecting world.
But how could John help us to understand something of the scene in heaven that he saw? Paul spoke, in relation to his experience, of hearing ‘unspeakable words’ as part of his visions and revelations of the Lord. John, however, is given the privilege of describing One who sat upon the throne, a throne before which there was ‘a sea of glass like unto crystal’, Rev. 4. 6. This is only one of a number of visions that, if pieced together, may offer us a glimpse into the experience that awaits the believer in the presence of God.
In the meantime, we await the coming of one who described Himself to John as ‘the bright and morning star’, Rev. 22. 16. The days may grow darker, with conditions in this world growing ever bleaker for the child of God, but in that title assumed by the Lord there is the assurance that He is coming. That coming will dispel the darkness of the believer’s experience and usher in an endless day of glory bright. It is worth contemplating that before you finish the readings of this book we may all be face to face with Christ our Saviour. Maranatha!
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