Recently, in a Bible reading on 1 Samuel, when speaking about the value of the ark of God, a brother made the statement, “there’s something to be valued in Matthew 18:20!” He quoted the verse. “For where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
The ark of God was that thing in Israel that represented the very presence of God in their midst; however, they took it into battle against the Philistines, and they superstitiously treated it like a good-luck charm. The Philistines later learned who the God of Israel was when they put the ark in the house of Dagon. “I am Jehovah, that is my name, and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8).
Walter Thomas Turpin wrote that there is a side of the truth “not nearly so well understood or known, either outwardly or in the heart, as this, namely, that we have no standing whatever in man, looked at as man in the flesh.” There is, then, the old creation whose head was the first man, Adam. We are all descended from Adam and are all part of his fallen race. Nonetheless (and by God’s grace), we have the privilege to be born anew — of an altogether new source. This new source of life has its association with the Lord Jesus Christ and His glorification at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Of course, we know by reading John’s gospel, that this could not be so unless He first went to the cross, was raised from the dead, and then ascended to His Father. “Except a grain of wheat falling into the ground die, it abides alone; but if it die, it bears much fruit…But this He said signifying by what death He was about to die” (John 12:24, 33). This is a picture of death and resurrection, but it’s also a picture of life in the One who dies and is raised. If He dies and is raised, He will bring forth much fruit. The life that is present in the plant, is the life that we possess. It is life in the Son. “And this is the witness, that God has given to us eternal life; and this life is in His Son. He that has the Son has life: he that has not the Son of God has not life (1 John 5:11-12). “So if anyone [be] in Christ, [there is] a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Christ is the head of the New Creation. He bears the title for it. He also bears all of the glory and the honor in association with it. The glory of man in the flesh after the first creation has no place whatsoever in connection with it. The thought of it is shameful and contemptuous. John’s gospel, which picks up the theme of new birth and life in Christ, brings to our attention also the glory of the Son of God. At the onset of the gospel, John says, “He that comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me — for of His fulness we all have received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:15-16). Again, his words in the third chapter complement perfectly his disposition before the Lord when he states that, “He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all…” (John 3:30-31). There was One there that had a more excellent glory, and John bows himself down before Him, and hails Him as One greater than himself. What a lesson for us! John later records in the thirteenth chapter the words of the Lord concerning His glory. “When therefore he (referring to Judas) was gone out Jesus says, ‘Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him!‘” (John 13:31).
What does all of this mean, then, for us? Let us read the words again from W.T. Turpin:
“…Man, looked at in his natural condition before God, was tested in a variety of ways by God Himself; and the end of the testing, the result of it, was that he was entirely set aside, and that man, looked at as natural man, or man born into the world, has got no standing whatever as such before God. The moment a person is a Christian, a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, he stands, not now as connected with the first man at all; he is not looked at by God, God does not regard him as having any connection with the first Adam, but he is looked at as standing entirely in a new position in Christ risen from the dead. Now this truth, beloved friends, through God’s mercy and grace, is brought out and known, however little or feeble the effect may be seen in any of us. It would have an immense power over souls if it were really felt and known in our consciences.”
The Christian has a life to live, but it is not the life after the first man. It is not the life of the world. “He that loves his life shall lose it, and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. For ye have died (meaning to everything relating to the old creation), and your life is hid with the Christ in God” (John 12:25, Colossians 3:3). This is one side of the coin, that we should see ourselves as dead to this world and the old creation but alive unto God. The other side of the coin is that we should always be about bowing our hearts to Jesus Christ who has died to save us from our sins, has given us life eternal in Himself, and has been given glory at the Father’s right hand. Sadly, Christendom today has become the comfortable haven for man after the flesh. Man’s glory finds its prominent place among Christians. All aspects of Christian worship and service are marked by it, and in the eyes of God, it is all shameful.
The Father has one precious object and that is His Son. Notice the special way the Lord, in speaking to the Father, defines eternal life in John 17: “that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). We realize here that the thought of eternal life is not merely a reference to time, but it is about that eternal fellowship and communion between the Father and the Son into which we have been brought. “…And our fellowship [is] indeed with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Man’s glory has no place there. All of our hearts ought to be attracted and bowed down to the central Person Whom the Father has glorified. In Heaven, we see as shown to us in the Revelation, that the Lord is that Person in the midst that receives all glory and honor (Revelation 4:8-11; 5:11-14).
Returning to our verse, Matthew 18:20, we see brought before us “the midst” that He fills while we are yet in this earthly scene. Do you think that His glory and honor are less important in this instance? In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God presents to us the great principle that His glory is connected with His presence. As an example take Exodus 40:34-35 — “And the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Jehovah filled the tabernacle. And Moses could not enter into the tent of meeting, for the cloud abode on it, and the glory of Jehovah filled the tabernacle.” That cloud was the visible and personal presence of Jehovah, and His glory filled the tabernacle.
The Lord, although we do not see Him with our eyes, has promised to be “in the midst” of two or three gathered together unto His name. First and foremost, we must believe that this is a true spiritual reality. Do we actually believe that He is there in the midst of two or three gathered together unto His name? Secondly, we must realize that His glory and His honor are everything there! He is supreme there! The glory of mankind is absolutely shameful and contemptible in the place where the Lord’s glory ought to fill all — and be all. Nothing of myself can be tolerated (1 Corinthians 1:29).
In reading the first few chapters of 1 Samuel, it is easy to feel discouraged seeing the struggles of Hannah who stood faithfully in a nation that had forgotten Jehovah’s presence among them. Or the mother of Ichabod, who when she heard the news of the stolen ark of God, she sorrowed and suffered in child-bearing because of her heartbreak knowing that “the glory [had] departed from Israel” (1 Samuel 4:21). We might see parallels in our own day, and be downcast as a result of all the failure and confusion with the people of God. Nevertheless, these Old Testament accounts serve as moral lessons for our own day. There surely is something to be valued in Matthew 18:20: His presence and His glory. May we not forget about it, treat it like a good-luck charm or rationalize it according to our own superstitions.
In closing, the reader is left with another citation from the writings of W.T. Turpin:
The moment I accept my true place, namely, that I am outside of the first Adam altogether as to standing, and that my place is entirely in Christ risen from the dead — as soon as ever that has a hold upon my conscience, then everything connected with me, everything concerning me, is to be ordered to suit that. There is an immense difference between trying to make things suit us, and God fashioning us to suit Himself by the truth. He delights to have us so as to answer to the place He brings us into. It is not ours to order things so as to suit ourselves; we are brought into the most wonderful position before God that it was possible for a human heart to conceive, and God says, Now I am going to have everything about you suited to that position, and therefore everything else must go. And the more my heart is in the affections of the blessed God, the more willing they are that everything else should go.
“…He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord!” (1 Corinthians 1:33).
May the Lord help us to be here more for His glory until He comes! (Titus 2:13).