The Church's Marching Orders
Here again is sounded a great summons from heaven to the people of God concerning their exodus from the captivity of Babylon. It was not the first time that God has said this to them, for the Lord has said exactly the same thing: “Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob” (Isaiah 48:23). Here is the prophet anticipating a day when God is going to lead His people out from their bondage and captivity. Israel had raised objections to this. They had said it could never be, for they were too deeply entrenched in their present location and trouble, and furthermore, God had forsaken and forgotten them. In the intervening chapters between 48 and 52, we see the wonderful way in which God so patiently and gently had answered one by one the objections of His people, and summed it all up in a threefold claim for them to hearken, and then to awake and put on their beautiful garments. He has stirred, as it were, startled their lethargy, and demanded that there should be action.
Now here again is this great command, “Depart ye, go ye out from thence.” God is pictured for us in the context. “The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eye of all the nations” (Isaiah 52:10). Here is God with His sleeves rolled up—if I may say so reverently—ready to take action about the move in all the power of His omnipotence, ready to display His authority in and through the lives of those who will respond to His marching orders.
The literal fulfillment of this prophecy is given to us in the book of Ezra, where we see the procession of God’s people moving slowly, quietly, calmly, confidently, out from Babylon through Jerusalem, on a journey through desert which took them for a period of four months across that trackless area. There was no fear of pursuit or recapture, because “ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your reward” (Isaiah 52:12). You will remember that, though they were offered military escort to defend themselves, they were so sure of the Lord’s presence that they scorned such an idea. As they travelled so securely, the priests carried vessels in their hands which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple and which Belshazzar had used in a drunken feast, very precious vessels about which we have this word in the eleventh verse, “be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.” Ezra tells us that there were five thousand four hundred of them, different vessels that were to be used in the sacred worship of the Temple when they went back to Jerusalem.
But, of course, the significance of a passage of Scripture like this cannot possibly be limited to an immediate historic fulfillment. Only in a very limited sense did the release from Babylon of the Jewish nation fulfill the events that are recorded for us here in prophecy. Look at the context of verse 10 again, “The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” Look again at the passage of Scripture which follows it, this is perhaps the most precious chapter in the whole of the Old Testament. It speaks to us of One Who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, the Lord Jesus Himself. I believe there is a far greater deliverance pictured for us here. I believe that it is the deliverance of the Israel of God, the church of Jesus Christ from the captivity into which, as verse 3 tells us, “ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money.” I believe that it is the ransom of a people who have been in a captivity far more serious, far more crushing, far more devastating than that of Babylon: the captivity of sin. Thence is a release that has been made possible by the One Who was wounded for our transgressions. I believe as we meet today that we are moving on rapidly in history to a day when that release will be complete and the Lord Himself will come and take His people home and the church redeemed, as the Scripture says, from every tongue and from every nation shall be forever with the Lord.
Furthermore, I believe this text is not simply to deal with the ransom of a people from Babylon, nor to anticipate the complete rapture and ransom of the whole body of Christ until that day when we are all taken into His presence, but I would suggest to you that it is speaking to us about the principles of our deliverance from captivity which must be observed by the church of every day and every generation: that call to separation, to purity of life, to inward cleansing of heart, to freedom from every form of bondage—this is the sting, the thrust, the drive, the impact of this passage to my own soul.
It finds its expression in the New Testament in the letter of Paul to the church at Corinth, where in 2 Corinthians 6:17–18, he says, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
It finds its expression also in Revelation 18:4 where in the final scene of world history, which is under the judgment of a holy God because it has rejected Jesus Christ, a civilization which is doomed to total perishing and judgment is addressed, as it were, as a last opportunity by the living Lord, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues,” lest ye become involved in her destruction.
If you and I complain of any divine delay that seems apparent in God’s fulfillment of His Word, let me remind you of the words of 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” I think when we get to heaven and we look back at the past and look on the experiences of time, we shall marvel beyond all else at the patience of a holy God with His people.
I take therefore the words of my text today as the marching orders of heaven to the church right now, as the marching orders of heaven to my own soul, to every one of us who would be delivered from the captivity of sin and who would be freed and know the liberty of the children of God. This is what God says, concerning the type of people with whom He intends to populate heaven, and I am sure we all want to be among that great company that no man can number and who, as the Scripture says, “have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
Let us listen, therefore, to God’s marching orders to your life. Listen as if your life and death depended on it, as indeed it does. For this portion of God’s Word tells that there will be clear and unmistakable evidences that are known and observed by yourself and other people which will make it clear to everybody that you are marching on toward Zion, that you have responded to God’s briefing and instructions, and that He is releasing you from the captivity of sin. We will consider four of these that stand out as we study and meditate upon this chapter.
First, there will be the evidences of a constant release. The Jew had become accustomed to Babylon after seventy years, and I suppose if you live with anything long enough you can get used to it. Custom will make anything endurable, if you stay with it long enough. Few of these people who were alive now at the end of seventy years of captivity remembered the awful anguish, the shame and horror of that first moment when, because of their rebellion, they were removed from Jerusalem and were taken down into the awful shame of slavery and captivity. They had conformed their methods of life to the conditions in which they lived, and the majority of them had settled down quite comfortably to enjoy captivity. I don’t suppose too many of them would be too anxious about getting out of it, and exchanging comparative prosperity in Babylon for a desert march and for what they recalled of only ruins in Jerusalem. The prospect of the release did not seem to attract them.
How this has burned its way into my soul! In every one of our lives from time to time, if we are honest in the presence of God, there have come to us Babylons which should have no claim whatsoever upon the life of a Christian. Maybe we have forgotten the anguish, the tears, the battle of the first days of our captivity. Maybe we have forgotten the sting of conscience when it first took place. Maybe we’ve almost forgotten, in an oblivion of memory, the first attempts, the failure, the reluctance with which we gave in until at last we have almost established a comradeship with something from which in early days we shrank with horror. Perhaps it is an amusement which fascinates us now, and we once regarded it with suspicion. Perhaps it’s a habit of life which dominates us now from which we fled with fear of infection in early days. Perhaps it’s the love of money, of property or of things and possessions, from which once we shrank because we knew it would catch us in its snare. Babylons such as these have cast their fatal spell upon our soul, and against them the voice of God speaks in urgent warning, in serious protest, “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from among them.”
I believe that a man who has accepted heaven’s marching orders for his heart and for his soul becomes daily more sensitive to sin, and this voice of warning is constantly sounding in his heart. The Christian on the attack for God knows his marching orders; he has heard them and he dare not lay them aside. He lays aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset him (Hebrews 12:1). His eye is on the goal and he says, “Forgetting the things that are behind I reach forth to those that are before and I press toward the mark.” In this life, there is in the man who has responded to heaven’s marching orders a perpetual exodus as day by day he leaves self behind and follows on to know God.
It is a tremendous experience when God’s alarm bell has sounded in a man’s heart and he’s on the march for God like that. May I ask you lovingly and tenderly if you are on the march today, or have you settled down in comradeship with something against which all heaven protests? Do you survey the walls of separation which you set up through the years, and as you look back in the pages of memory and see them today in ruins, can you look upon all that with a tear? God forbid. There are some people now whom God is calling to resume their march heavenward, to step out of Babylon and get moving and to feel again the breath of the Spirit of God upon their lives. His promise to the one who obeys is, “I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you and ye shall be my sons and daughters saith the Lord God Almighty.”
A mark of the man who has obeyed heaven’s marching orders is that he is moving God-ward day by day. He is constantly being released from captivity and from Satanic power, and he is setting himself free by the power of God with one objective and one great goal. Friend, is this you? Or has God spoken to you week by week in church and other places, but you have stealed your heart against it because you have become so tied to something or to someone against whom heaven sounds its note of command? And you have listened but you have resisted, as you hear God say, “Come ye out, go ye out, be not unclean, get rid of this.” Are you on the march today, as a Christian? You know the answer to that question. You know in your own heart whether you are marching with God, or whether you’ve gone back or got stuck in the mud somewhere.
Another evidence of the man who is accepting God’s marching orders is not only the constancy of his exodus but also the continuance of the calm in his life. “Ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight…” There are many proverbs in the language which we use which warn us about the danger of rush—“more haste, less speed,” and so on—but apart from a soul really finding rest in Jesus, I don’t see any hope for a feverish life at all. Most people live at fever heat, and boiling point is never far removed. They are always in a hurry to do everything, with their eyes glued on clock. That feverish restless spirit has got into our religion at this point, into our worship, into our service, into our meditation, with disastrous results. I am sure of this statement which I would desire to make to you: that the reason for it, I wouldn’t risk a percentage, but I would say the vast majority of this rush, restlessness and feverishness is failure to be on the march with God. Inner captivity of soul inevitably spells outer restlessness of life. Failure to respond to heaven’s marching orders and to step out of sin’s captivity is the reason for the greatest proportion of nervous tension and nervous breakdown which are so frequent and so common in these days. “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments: then had thy peace been as a river and thy righteousness as waves of the sea” (Isaiah 48:18).
We will look anywhere for the source of our trouble except to go right back to the root of it and the fact that God has said, “Get out of that captivity!” and we have refused. We will examine any possible cure and any possible answer to the restless feverishness of our mind and heart and soul. We will be tormented, but we will not examine our hearts concerning grass-root obedience to heaven’s marching orders; and the tension that has so often gripped the life of the child of God and the terrible restlessness of his life stem right back to his disobedience.
I think we need to learn from the example of the Lord Jesus, through those crowded years of conflict and tension the like of which we know nothing in our own lives, when Satan mustered everything he could against Him. Read the Gospels for yourself to confirm this statement that He moved majestically and quietly and deliberately through it all, and that He had leisure for every appeal, for the touch of every weary hand, for the cry of every broken heart. There was never any trace or example of feverishness or unrest, and as others tried to hurry Him along, He would say, “your time is always ready, but My time is not yet come.” What was His secret? It was submission to His Father’s will, and this brought absolute calm into His life. That is God’s purpose for you today, for Jesus said: “My peace I give unto you.”
As you think of the feverish unrest of your own heart and life, think about this seriously. You won’t find rest in religion or in any church; you won’t find rest in a system of doctrine; you won’t find rest in anything except in Him. Have you laid down your soul and cast the weight of your burden on Him? Because if so, verse 12 will be the true: “Ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your reward.” If the Lord goes in front of you, what on Earth is the sense of trying to dash ahead? He is in front to guide and He is also behind to guard. When you really believe it, and rest in His promise, trusting in His arrangement of your life and responding to His orders. Then a wonderful sense of calm descends upon your soul. Nothing else matters in life but just that. Calm is not inactivity; it is the movement without friction.
If your great longing is for peace, how long do you have to look back upon life and experience until you come to the place of real peace? Ask yourself, was it disobedience to heaven’s marching orders in some situation that put an end to peace? If it was, let me tell you that immediate obedience will restore it as once. The evidence of the kind of man with whom God intends to populate heaven is a constant exodus from every captivity, which is followed by a calm and a quietness.
I would say that another evidence is confidence, “for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your reward” (Isaiah 52:12). On the occasion of the first exodus of the people from Egypt, God guided them by the pillar of cloud and of fire, day and night, but not at this time from Babylon back to Jerusalem. There was no visible presence of God at all to guide them across the desert. Those two things have spoken to my heart in perhaps a strange way, yet they have reminded me of early days of Christian experience and then the years that have followed. I wonder if your heart gives an echo to this? In the early days of Christian experience, somehow the path seemed clearly defined for us. We followed the steps of other advanced Christians. We sat at their feet and received counsel and advice and help. Perhaps some godly pastor who had been along the road of life many years helped us. I know I could not possibly forget days during which I sat at the feet of Dr. Graham Scroggie, the saintly man with white hair and such a lovely sense of humor—that was what appealed to me I think, to have been a Christian for fifty years and to have retained that sense of humor, with true piety and godliness—how I recall sitting and just drinking it all in! Yes, perhaps you have some experience like that with someone else when you have learned from their counsel. There always seemed a crowd going on ahead and all you had to do was follow.
Time went by and the years went past, and if you have responded to heaven’s marching orders, the crowd will have grown less and less until one day you found yourself all alone. You know what I mean, and now there are no footsteps on the sand ahead of you. Now there is not weightlessness, about which we’ve heard a lot this week, but what I would call, waylessness. All the props have gone. Indeed other people begin to try and drink from your life, and when you suddenly begin to recognize that this has happened, it is a terrifying moment. It’s enough to make you turn and run to get in among the crowd again, unless you hear a voice saying to you at the moment, “Now, my child, every prop has gone from you. No crowd is in front. You have followed My marching orders and obeyed My word up to the light you have. You have walked on in this path of obedience and you find yourself now alone. But I am the way.”
At that point there is perhaps a turning point in your Christian life. You find yourself without a single human prop, but you find yourself blessedly cast upon the Lord Himself. In the New Testament, the early Christians were known as “men of the way,” men who had discovered the secret of blessedness, the path which would take them through every perplexity of life and present them in the presence of God. If you were to ask them what their secret was, they would simply have used one word, “Jesus.”
In response and in obedience to His marching orders He gives us His peace and then He removes every prop, and what happens next? The man who goes through begins to enquire from the Lord as to how He would react in situations. He doesn’t ask Mr. So and So, or Dr. Somebody Else what he should do, but he turns direct to the Lord. “Now, Lord, I have no props at all; the crowd that was in front of me seems to have departed, and I’m utterly cast upon You. I want to know what You would do in this situation. How would You react? What would You say here? When there is no footprint on the sand, thank God He is there. Stand still at that moment and hush every voice in His presence; take your bearings in the Word of God, and He will give you complete confidence in Himself.
The evidence of a man who has responded to heaven’s marching orders are constant response and exodus, a calm in his life and a confidence in Jesus. Perhaps somebody just had to have that word, from whom some props have been removed in recent days in order that you might learn to draw upon Jesus Himself.
There is another evidence of the mark of a man who is responding to heaven’s marching orders, and that is a cleansing of his heart. Ah yes, I know that when you came to Jesus, He washed away your sin. But I also know the defilement of a Christian’s life that needs the constant, maintained cleansing. The second part of verse 11 says that the vessels which the priests carried were very precious, they were holy unto the Lord, and the command was: “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” I would remind you that men who carried them were Levites, who were set apart for this work and possessed at least a ceremonial purity and cleansing. So, passing across the desert between Babylon and Jerusalem was a procession of holy men carrying holy vessels.
In this world in which you and I live there is a procession passing. People don’t recognize it too much, the world doesn’t notice it, but heaven watches, and there is a procession passing, threading its way through the continents of time and it is bearing holy vessels.
I quote 2 Timothy 1:12, 14: “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day…That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which Dwelleth in us.” He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him, and because I have committed my life to Him, He has committed to me a sacred task and to you also. He has put His reputation in our hands. He has given us charge of a testimony to the truth, the announcement to the world of His way of salvation, He has put in our hands the good news of the Gospel. I am to bear His reputation. Therefore He says to us, “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” What manner of people ought we to be, to whom God has entrusted a task like this? How careful that the picture of the glorious Jesus remains undimmed and unblurred by our behavior! How careful lest our testimony to doctrine of the truth be rendered void by the life that professes it! Only the indwelling Jesus can make this possible, because it is He in me Who enables me to respond to my marching orders from heaven.
“Be ye clean…” How desperately we need that cleansing today from the defilement of speech, of unkindness and scandal, gossip. How unkind can some Christian people be! “Be ye clean…” What wonderful fruit there is from a life that obeys God’s marching orders. You see, it is in the setting of what I have been saying that some of this passage takes on a new meaning: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publish salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isaiah 52:7). Why, that was the language coming to a people released and going back home to Zion! Such is the setting of that verse.
There is nothing more beautiful in all the world than the life of a man set free from captivity, because what was desert when he came to it was heaven when he leaves it. Bear testimony to that in your witness to someone else, if in your heart you are obeying God’s marching orders and you go into a home where there is defeat and brokenness, failure and misery. Because you have obeyed God’s marching orders and are going out of your own captivity, as you speak in the desert of that home, I tell you, when you leave it, you’ve left a bit of heaven behind you. Whereas once there had been hostility, suspicion, misunderstanding, when there is the impact of a life that is moving on in obedience to God’s marching orders. I tell you, all that is dispelled and peace reigns.
Are you on the march today? Are you on the march with God, or have you established comradeship with something or someone against which heaven protests? If you have done that, you have no calm, no confidence, no cleansing. Ah, that you would turn to God today and respond to His call.
If I may go back to my metaphor, God stands with His sleeves rolled up to work on your behalf. What is our motive for our response? It is in Hebrews 13:12, 13: “Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp bearing His reproach.” Go ye out and touch not the unclean thing, for the place of communion and fellowship, of forgiveness and cleansing, of walking with the Lord is outside the gate. That is the only place where you and I will meet God today, at Calvary.