(This message was given by Zac Poonen at Brother Bakht Singh's "Holy Convocation" in Hyderabad in October 1963, when Zac was 23 years old and still a Naval officer.)
Reading: Matthew 5:13; 2 Kings 2:1-22; Acts 1:1-9.
God's Provision For This World
In the portions of Scripture listed above, we read of the days when the great prophet Elijah was about to be taken up to heaven. God sent Elijah at a time when Israel was turning further and further away from their God. He was a mighty prophet. At one time he had called down fire from heaven. Now he was going to be taken up. What would happen to the people of Israel?
God had already told Elijah in 1 Kings 19:16, "Elisha the son of Shaphat shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room". This was God's provision. It was the same when the Lord Jesus Christ went up. He left His disciples behind in this world to carry on His work.
Knowing that Elisha had a difficult task ahead of him, Elijah asked him, "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee" (2 Kings 2:9). That is exactly what the Lord Jesus also told His disciples: "Greater works than these shall ye do, because I go unto My Father" (John 14:12). Elijah said to Elisha, "If thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so" (2 Kings 2:10). Elishadid see him going up, and he took up the mantle which fell from Elijah. In the same way, after the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven on the day of Pentecost He sent the Holy Spirit into the hearts of His disciples.
The Exaltation Of The Lord Jesus
After this the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, "Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head today?" (2 Kings 2:3,5). Later, when Elijah had actually been taken up, the same sons of the prophets pressed Elisha to send fifty men to search for him. They had said with their own mouths that Elijah would be taken up soon. Then they saw Elijah going up. Yet they never believed that he was going up to heaven. They thought that the Holy Spirit had thrown Elijah down somewhere. That is why they did not receive the power of Elijah.
In the same way there are many people today who know things intellectually. They say many wonderful things with their mouths, but in their hearts they do not know that the Lord Jesus Christ has been exalted far above all. Paul had to write even to the believers in Ephesus about Christ's exaltation (Eph. 1:18-23).
Elijah said to Elisha, "If you see me going up, then only will you receive a double portion of my spirit". It is only when we see in our hearts, with the eyes of faith, that the Lord Jesus has been exalted far above all, that we will receive the fullness of the Spirit. God will reveal to us Christ exalted, only if we ask Him.
If you read through the book of Revelation, you will see that the Lamb is in the midst of the throne. It makes no difference what the people of the world might think. God has exalted the Lord Jesus Christ far above all. That is why the Lord Jesus told His disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth was in His hands. The same Lord is in our midst today. We may not be able to see Him with our eyes, but He is here. So we do not have to worry about little things like the rain disturbing our meetings, because we know that all authority in heaven and in earth is in the hands of our Lord. We need not be worried about what the American President or the Russian Prime Minister might say, because all authority is still, and forever will be, in the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ. No man on earth can touch a child of God without the Lord's permission. But the sons of the prophets never believed this. Such kind of people cannot have the power of God.
The Barren Land And God's Remedy
Elisha was a witness of God. Just before the Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He told His disciples, You are going to be My witnesses unto the uttermost parts of the earth". If you read 2 Kings 2:19-22, you will see how God wants us to be His witnesses unto the uttermost parts of the earth. Elisha went to Jericho, and the men of that city told Elisha that the situation of that city was pleasant, but the water was bad and the land barren. It was a wonderful city. There were many beautiful gardens, remarkable buildings, colleges and schools in it, and many other wonderful things besides. But the one thing that was essential for life was not there: the water was bad.
Water is an essential thing for our life. You can live without good buildings. You can even go without food for days together. But you cannot live without water for long. This beautiful city with bad water, barren ground and no fruit, is an apt picture of what man is today! The appearance is pleasant, but the heart is bad. Outwardly they are so beautiful, they wear nice clothes, they have good manners, they have many degrees, and they have good houses. But the one thing that is essential - eternal life - they do not have. That is what we see all around in the world today - and not in the world only, but also in the churches.
Where did Elisha hear these words spoken to him? In Jericho! Jericho was the place where God's power had once been manifested. Jericho was a very strong city with walls all around it. When Joshua came with the children of Israel to this city, its walls had fallen flat. At that time God's power had been manifested in Jericho. But now 500 years later, there was no power of God in that city. Now the land had become barren and fruitless.
Similarly, 2000 years ago God's power was manifested mightily in His church. Since then there have been times when God revealed that power again. But what do we see today in the churches and even in the so-called New-Testament-pattern churches? The situation is pleasant, but the water of life is bad. And this is exactly what the Lord said would be the condition in this world during the last days (Rev. 3: 17).
What is God's remedy for this bad water? What is God's remedy for this barren land? What is God's remedy for the barrenness in your life and mine? What is the way in which pure rivers of living water can flow out of us? You will find the answer in verse 20: "Bring me a new cruse and put salt therein".
This has been the subject of our meditation these days: "Ye are the salt of the earth".
God's remedy for a barren world and for fruitlessness in the church is, "Bring me a new cruse full of salt.". God wants new vessels that are full of salt. The salt was cast into the waters and the Lord said, "I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land" (verse 21).
The diseased, fruitless land was healed. What we need around us today is the healing of the land. How was it healed? It was healed by salt being poured out on it from a new vessel. But I want to tell you that it was good salt. If it had been salt that had lost its savour, it would not have healed that land.
Can bad salt regain its savour? There is a way.
In 2 Chronicles 7.14 we read, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from - heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land".
Here the Lord tells us how the land can be healed. If we are like salt that has lost its savour, we must fulfill the four conditions given in this verse. Then we can regain that savour and the land will be healed.
The first condition is, we must humble ourselves. This is very difficult, not only for unbelievers, but for believers too.
The Word of God says in Philippians 2:5-8, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who being in the form of God made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant." You may ask, "How far do I have to humble myself?" This Scripture portion tells us that we must humble ourselves as much as the Lord Jesus Christ did. Have you humbled yourself as much as that? That is the first condition for the salt to regain its savour, as you can see in Matthew 5:3 also, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
There are several things of which we may be proud. It could be of our reputation or our popularity - because others think very highly of us. But what about the Lord Jesus Christ? Was He popular? We read in Isaiah 53:3, "He was despised and rejected of men". The Lord Jesus was not a popular man. He Himself said in Luke 6:26, "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you". The disciple is not above his Master. Our Lord was despised and rejected of men. This world cast Him out. So we have no right to be proud of our popularity.
Perhaps we are proud of our learning and our education. But do you know that the Jews said about the Lord Jesus in John 7:15, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" The Lord Jesus had no learning or education to boast of. The Word of God says, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus".
Perhaps we are proud of our beauty: "What a beautiful face I have, What a good body I have, and so on. How was it with the Lord Jesus Christ? Even though He was the most beautiful man that ever walked on this earth, yet when He hung on the cross, we read in Isaiah 52:14, "His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons or men". That means that His face did not look like the face of a man. How did that happen? What did men do to that beautiful face - that face that was fairer than those of the sons of men? They pulled out the hairs from His face. They smote His face with their fists and spat on it. They slapped him on His cheeks. They put a crown of thorns on His head. They hit His head with a rod. They did so much to Him, that finally His face did not look like the face of a human being. We have no right to be proud of our beauty.
Perhaps we are proud of our abilities. We might think, "I can preach. I can pray nicely. I can teach the Bible. I can take care of God's children. I can do so many other things". Even though we may not say all this we may think like that in our hearts. How was it with the Lord Jesus Christ? He said, "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do¦I can of Myself do nothing" (John 5: 19 and 30). The Lord Jesus said that in His own strength, He could not do even the smallest thing. Everything He did was done in the power of the Holy Spirit. Do we say the same thing? If we think we are capable of doing something on our own, that means we are proud of it. That is why the salt has lost its savour.
Sometimes we are proud of our ancestry or our progeny. We say, "My father was a servant of God. All my children are ministers."
If you read through the genealogy of the Lord Jesus in Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapter 3, you will find there the names of men and women of Old Testament times, some of whom were the worst of sinners. Our Lord Jesus humbled Himself so much that He chose one of the most sinful lines of humanity through which to come into this world. So we see that our Lord had nothing to boast of.
Maybe we are proud of the beautiful houses we have. You might think, "I have got four rooms in my house", or "I've got six rooms in my house". Again how was it with the Lord Jesus? We read that He had no place to lay His head. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, Who though He was God, humbled Himself and took the form of a servant", There was no reason why He should have ever come to this earth, except for our sakes. Yet He humbled Himself to become a servant.
It is very difficult to be a servant sometimes. Who is greater? He who speaks in the meeting or he who serves? Isn't the one who speaks greater? But the Lord Jesus says, "I am among you as One who serves". "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus", You might remember that night in the Upper Room, when the Lord Jesus took a towel and wiped His disciples' feet. None of the disciples would have been willing to do such a lowly job. Imagine the God of glory washing the feet of sinful man, and Judas Iscariot among them? Very often we are ashamed to do lowly jobs. But the Word of God says, Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. Because we are proud that we have become like salt that has lost its savour.
In Psalm 22 we find a picture of the crucifixion. There in verse 6 is described the experience of the Lord Jesus Christ when He was hanging on the cross: "I am a worm and no man".
You know what a worm is. It crawls along on the ground, and the people might step on it, and not even notice it. Nobody cares for a worm. That is how they treated the Lord Jesus.
You and I have no right to be anything more than a worm before God. Yet, very often we complain about many things. We say, "I want a nice place to sleep in. I want sufficient food to eat. I've got every right to that". But remember that the servant is not greater than his Lord, and the disciple is not above his Master. If the Lord Jesus came down to the position of a worm, you and I have no right to claim anything greater. Have you ever heard of a worm complaining? People may kick it, squeeze it, trample on it or even kill it, but it will never open its mouth.
It is quite different with a snake. If you kick a snake, it will bite you straightaway. That is how it is with the people of the world. If somebody hurts them a little, straightaway they get angry. When believers behave like that, they are as salt that has lost its savour. That is why the land is not healed, and there is no fruit. Very often we ask for revival and for more fruit. But before we do this again, let us ask ourselves whether we have fulfilled this first condition. Have we humbled ourselves as much as our Lord? We might have heard this verse, 2 Chronicles 7:14, many times. But may the Holy Spirit bring these words with fresh power to our hearts today.
The second condition that we see in this verse is that we must pray.
We talk a lot about prayer, but we actually pray very little. I believe that very often we do not pray because we do not believe that the Lord will answer. If we really believed that God answers prayer, our prayer-life would be changed completely. The Lord Jesus Christ said, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children how much shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" (Luke 11:13).
Let me give you a personal testimony.
I mention this for the glory of God, and as a testimony of what God does when His children pray. I was very eager to come here for this 1963 Holy Convocation. I came last year, and was greatly blessed. Therefore I was eager to come this year also. I am working at present in the Naval Base at Cochin. On the first of this month I was told that I would be granted leave for the period of this Holy Convocation. However, one week later, information was received from New Delhi that there would be an All-India Exhibition at Mysore, and that the Army, Navy and Air Force were to take part in it. One of the other officers from my office had to leave on October 9 for this exhibition. Therefore my leave was cancelled. I gave up all hopes of coming here for this Convocation.
On October 12, in my morning quiet time, I was reading my daily portion in 2 Samuel chapter 2. The first verse said, "David inquired of the Lord, saying, shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? And the Lord said unto him, Go up". So I felt that the Lord was asking me to go for this Convocation. So I prayed again, "Lord, do you want me to go for this Convocation?" As I looked further down the first verse, I read, "And David said, Whither shall I go up? And the Lord said, Unto Hebron". At once I felt that the Lord was definitely directing me to go to Hebron for the Holy Convocation. So I said, "Lord, if my leave has been cancelled according to Thy will, I accept it gladly. But if this is Satan's attempt to prevent me from going to Hebron, then I resist him in Thy Name". The Lord has said, If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt.18:19). So along, with some other brothers and sisters I claimed this promise.
Two days later, on October 14, an order came from New Delhi that the Navy was not going to take part in the exhibition, and that only the Army and the Air Force would take part in it. That is how I got my leave and was able to come here in time. I mention this to show you that God does answer prayer. It was not by my strength or my power. This was possible because of the prayers of God's children. I know that many of you here in Hebron were also praying for me. And that is why the Lord cancelled the Naval part of that exhibition. God will shake heaven and earth for the sake of His children, if only we pray to Him.
It says here in this verse, "If My people which are called by My Name, shall humble themselves and pray". It is no use coming for prayer if we have pride in our hearts. Sometimes we believers are proud of our position. If some rich, well to-do brother comes to talk with us, we will talk nicely with him for a long time. But, if a poor, humble brother with a torn shirt, comes to talk with us, we neglect him and don't even bother about him. That is our nature. That is why the salt has lost its savour. Let me warn you that we will get some big surprises at the judgment seat of Christ. These poor, humble brothers whom we despise today, may be right in the front line, on that day. So remember, beloved, it will be no use praying, if we have not first humbled ourselves.
Seeking God's Face
The third condition in this verse is that we must seek God's face.
I wonder if we do this. Very often we seek a lot of other things, such as better jobs, better houses, good husbands or good wives (with plenty of money), and so on. But we do not seek God's face. David says in Psalm 27:4, "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple."
David was a great king. He was rich, he had won many battles and he had a great reputation. Yet he said, "I am not satisfied. One thing I have desired of the Lord. It is not that I should become the king of the whole world, or that I should become a great preacher, or that I should become very famous. But one thing I have desired of the Lord that I may behold the beauty of my Lord, and that all my life I may keep on beholding more and more of His beauty". Is that the one desire of our lives also?
In John chapter 20, we read of another person who also had only this one desire. That was Mary Magdalene. She went to the tomb very early that Sunday morning. Why was she not sleeping at that time? Why did she wake up so early, when it was still dark, and go to the tomb? Because she had one desire in her life, and that was to behold her Lord. We read that when she came to the tomb she found it empty. So she ran and told some of the other disciples. They also came and looked into the tomb, and then returned to their homes, perhaps to go back to sleep.
But Mary Magdalene stood outside the sepulchre weeping. You see, the disciples did not love the Lord as much as Mary did. The disciples, when they saw the empty tomb, went back to sleep. But Mary could not do so, because Jesus was everything to her. God needs people like that today, in the church. When the Lord Jesus came to Mary Magdalene, she thought that He was the gardener, and so she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away elsewhere, tell me where you have kept Him, and I will take Him away". She was prepared even to carry away the body. Now you know, it would be almost impossible for a woman to carry a dead body. But so great was her love for the Lord, that she was willing to undergo any hardship for His sake. This is the meaning of "seeking God's face". It means having only one desire - to behold the beauty of the Lord - and nothing else. It is not for me to be a rich man or a great man in this world, but just to behold the beauty of my Lord more and more, day by day.
I remember the story of a man who once visited a widow's house. She was a very poor woman, but she loved the Lord. She had four or five children, and she lived in a very small mud hut. The man asked her, How is it that your home is so full of joy and peace? You don't have much money. Your children are all half-starved, yet they are always smiling. You have so many difficulties and illnesses in your home and yet you are always rejoicing. What is the secret of your life? She replied, Jesus Christ is everything to me. I don't need anything else in this world.
Beloved, if the Lord Jesus Christ became everything to us, we also would be like her. On the other hand, why is it that so often we murmur and complain? We call ourselves the children of God, and yet when we have to suffer a little inconvenience, we start complaining. Why is that? It is because the Lord Jesus has not become everything to us. Oh, that from this evening onwards, the Lord Jesus might become everything to us, and that we might be able to say with the psalmist, Lord Jesus, there is nothing and no-one upon this earth that I desire beside Thee. (Psalm 73:25). This is the third condition we should fulfill in order to regain our lost savour.
Turning From Our Wicked Ways
Now the fourth condition in 2 Chronicles 7: 14 is that we must turn from our wicked ways.
There might be many wicked ways in our lives. We might be very proud and perhaps that is why so often we misunderstand other people, and spend so much time criticizing them. God has given us a tongue to glorify His Name, but we misuse it very often in unkind criticism. Perhaps we have bitterness in our hearts against certain brothers and sisters. We might not show that bitterness outwardly, but all the same it is there in our hearts. Or perhaps we might be harbouring jealousy in our hearts. Now these are all ways belonging to the Evil One.
Sometimes we tell lies. What is a lie? You might not say anything with your mouth. But even if you do something to give a wrong impression to another, that also is a lie. If you make other people think that you are holier than you really are, that also is a lie, and an abomination in the sight of the Lord. Thus there are many wicked ways, which we might not recognize as such. For instance, we might neglect meditating on the Word of God, or attending meetings (Heb.10:25). Normally, we would not classify these as sins.
Sometimes the duties in the home are neglected. The Bible says, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church". There is no limit to the love that Christ has for the church. In the same way, there should he no limit to the love of husbands for their wives. But, very often it is not so. That is why the salt has lost its savour. Again the Word of God says, "Wives, he subject unto your husbands, as the Church is subject to Christ". That means that just as the church is fully subject to Christ, so should wives be to their husbands. This is not to be done in a spirit of slavery, but in love. But sometimes, wives do not feel like doing that. Thus the salt has lost its savour.
The Word of God says, "Fathers, bring up your children in the fear of the Lord". Yet, how many children of believers there are today, who are walking in the ways of the world! Why is this so? Because the parents have never taught them the fear of the Lord. They have taught their children good manners and given them good education and good clothes to wear, but have never taught them to fear the Lord. That is why, later on, after the children have grown up, the parents are full of regrets. By then it has become - too late to discipline their children.
The Word of God further says, Children, obey your parents. Some children think that they have become too old to obey their parents. But we read in Luke 2:51, that the Lord Jesus Christ was subject unto Mary and Joseph right up to the age of thirty.
Thus you see how many wicked ways there could be in us. That is why we are like the salt that has lost its savour, and the land is not healed. That is why the water is bad and the ground remains barren.
Here is the promise in the Word of God, If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land".
What a wonderful promise this is for all those who fulfill those four conditions!
I Will Hear
God promises to hear from heaven. Do you know what happens when God hears from heaven?
Once Elijah cried and the Lord heard and the fire of God fell. And all the people fell on their faces and said, Jehovah is God. Again you remember how in Acts chapter 4, the disciples prayed and God heard from heaven. What was the result? The whole place was shaken where they had assembled. We also read in Acts 16:25 that Paul and Silas were in prison and began to sing praises to God. God heard from heaven and the whole prison was shaken by an earthquake. You remember how in Joshua 10:12, Joshua prayed and God heard from heaven. That day the sun and the moon stood still for 24 hours. It is a wonderful promise, "I will hear from heaven"!
I will forgive
Further, in 2 Chronicles 7: 14, God says, "I will forgive their sin".
Oh, what a wonderful God! It does not matter how wicked you may have been. It does not matter how many sins you may have committed in your life. If you humble yourself now and believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins - that He gave His heart to be broken and His precious blood to be shed to the last drop for your sins - this very moment God will forgive you every one of your sins. What a wonderful promise! God says, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isa. 1:18). God still hears from heaven and forgives our sin.
Please turn to Micah 7:18,19, and as you read it, claim this wonderful promise of God: "Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgressions of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not His anger, because He delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us. He will subdue our iniquities, and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea".
According to 2 Cor.1:20, we can claim this promise for ourselves this very moment in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He is a God ready to pardon (Neh.9:17). And not only that, but God also says that He will not remember your sins and your iniquities any more (Heb. 8:12). He will never remember your past life again. If you come humbly to the cross, and say, "Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner", He will forgive you right now, because the Lord Jesus has already died in your place for your sins.
"I will heal"
Then we read in this verse that God says, "I will heal their land".
Your life is full of a disease called sin. It is ruining you and killing you. Your outward appearance may be pleasant, but your heart is bad. God says, that if you come with a humble, broken heart, He will heal that disease. Maybe your life has been barren and fruitless. Maybe the water of life which is coming out of you is bad. But God says, that if you do the four things mentioned in this verse, He will heal the land.
I want you to notice the order given in this verse: "I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sin, I will heal their land". The land cannot be healed before our sins are forgiven. Thus we see that if we humble ourselves, and pray and seek God's face and turn from our wicked ways, then the salt will regain the savour which it had lost. The Lord Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its savour, what is the use of such salt ?" May God help us to fulfill these four conditions and thus regain the savour we have lost.
A New Vessel Full Of Salt
Just turn for a moment to 2 Kings 2:20, and you will see what God is looking for. Elisha took a new vessel.
God is not looking for new methods, nor is He looking for new organisations in this world to propagate the gospel. The Lord is looking for new vessels full of salt through which He can carry out His purposes. God is not going to evangelize this world Himself. If God wished, He could have thundered from heaven to preach the gospel to this world. But that is not His way. He wants to put the salt inside a human vessel and then pour it out on the land.
Elisha could have taken the salt in his hands and poured it out. But he did not do that. He took a new vessel, filled it with salt, and then poured out the salt on the waters. The land and the waters were healed at once. God grant that we might be willing to become vessels fit for the Master's use, emptied of all the things of this world and filled with Christ.
There is just one more thing that I want you to notice here. After filling the vessel with salt, Elisha did not let the salt remain in the vessel - he poured it out.
God fills your life and mine, only in order that we might be poured out in service to others. We might have been asking God for a long time to fill us with the Holy Spirit, and to give us one spiritual blessing or another. But perhaps, we have been asking for these things with a very selfish reason. God will not fill us with His heavenly salt, so that we might go around showing-off to others how spiritual we are.
We read about the Lord Jesus in Isa.53:12, that He poured out His soul unto death. Because of that your sins and mine can be forgiven today. We should also be willing to be poured out in the service of others. Otherwise the land will never be healed. The Lord does not want us to be water-tanks filled with water. He wants us to be channels through which the rivers of living water can flow out to others. God is looking for vessels of that kind - those who are willing to be poured out.
The eyes of the Lord run to and fro, throughout the whole earth, looking for vessels like that. It does not matter if you are not educated. We do not read anything about education in 2 Chronicles 7:14. It does not matter even if you have never been to school a single day of your life. It does not matter even if you are the poorest man in the whole world, or the most foolish. God is not looking for these things at all. He is not looking for Bible-knowledge or for diplomas from Bible Schools. He is looking for something else.
He says, If my people who are called by my Name shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will use them to heal the land".
It does not matter who you are. There is no respect of persons with God. If you are willing to fulfill these conditions and be poured out for others, then whoever you may be, God will use you.