If we wish for a better understanding of the Holy Ghost’s thought about Mark’s Gospel, we must briefly examine His teaching in the four Gospels. These present Christ to us, but Christ rejected: and, at the same time, they present the Saviour in four different aspects. Again, there is a difference between the three first and the last. The three first present Christ as the One whom the world ought to receive, although in result He be put to death. In the fourth we find the Lord Jesus rejected already, from the first chapter; and again, too, the Jews considered as cast off: those who are born of God are the only ones who receive the Lord: consequently we find in this Gospel the principles of grace more deeply unfolded— “No one can come unto me except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him”; and the sheep are distinct from the world before they are called. The first three Gospels present Christ to men in order that He may be received; then they give us the history of the increasing enmity of man against Him, and finally His rejection and death.
As regards the character of each Gospel, in Matthew the Lord is considered as Emmanuel the promised Messiah, Jehovah who saves His people from their sins. “Jehovah the Saviour” is the meaning of the name Jesus. Consequently the genealogy descends from Abraham and David, the heads and vessels of the promises from whence the Messiah was to descend. In this first Gospel, when Christ is manifested in His true character, and in the spirit of His mission, He is morally rejected; and the Jews are set aside as a nation. The Lord seeks fruit in His vineyard no longer, but shews that He is really the sower; He reveals the kingdom, but in mystery (that is, in the manner in which it would exist in His absence); He reveals the church which He Himself would build, and the kingdom in its glorious state, which things should be substituted for His presence upon the earth; then the last events and discourses of His life.
Mark depicts the Servant-Prophet; and hence we have not the history of His birth; the Gospel begins with His ministry. We will speak afterwards of its contents. In the Gospel of Luke the Lord is presented to us as the Son of man, and in it we have a picture of grace, and of the work which is now going on; and the genealogy goes up to Adam. The two first chapters however reveal to us the state of the small though godly remnant amongst the Jews; a most exquisite picture of the working of the Spirit of God in the midst of the wicked and corrupt nation. These pious souls were well known to one another, they looked for the redemption of Israel; and the aged and godly Anna, who had seen the Saviour presented in the temple according to the law, announced to all who expected Him, the coming of the longed-for Messiah. In all the remaining part of this Gospel Christ is the Son of man for the Gentiles.
In the Gospel by John we have no genealogy at all. The Word of God, which is also God, appears in flesh upon the earth—He is the Creator, the Son of God. The world does not know Him. His own (the Jews) received Him not, but those who receive Him have the right to take the place of sons of God, being really born of Him. And since Christ is here presented as the manifestation of God, it is for this very cause that we find Him immediately rejected. This Gospel presents Him to us in His own person; then He putteth forth His own sheep, and gathers those of the Gentiles, and gives to them all eternal life, and they can never perish. At the end of this Gospel the coming of the Holy Ghost is explained to us: but let us begin to consider the Gospel by Mark.
We have already said it begins with the Saviour’s ministry. It is preceded only by the testimony of John. The latter prepares the way of the Lord, preaches the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and announces a more glorious Servant of God, the latchet of whose shoes he is not worthy to unloose: He will baptize with the Holy Ghost. The baptism of fire is not mentioned here, because the subject is the Lord’s service in blessing, and not that of exercising His power in judgment. Fire always signifies judgment.
The Lord submits to John’s baptism; this is a fact full of importance and blessing for man. Here He takes the place of His people before God: I need not say that the Lord could have no need of repentance; but He wishes to accompany His people in the first good step they take, that is, in the first step they take under the influence of the word. For Him it was the fulfilling of all righteousness. Everywhere where sin had brought us, love and obedience led Him for our deliverance. Only here He comes with His own: in death He took our place, He bore the curse, He was made sin. Here He takes His place as a perfect man in relationship with God— with the Father; that place which He acquired for us by redemption in the which we are placed as sons of God.
The heavens are opened: the Holy Spirit descends upon man. The Father recognises us as His children; Jesus was anointed and sealed by the Holy Ghost, even as we are; He, because He was personally worthy of it; we, because He has made us worthy by His work and by His blood. For us heaven is opened, the veil rent, and we cry, “Abba, Father!” Marvellous grace! Infinite love! The Son of God has become man in order that we also should become sons of God, as He Himself said after His resurrection: “I ascend unto my Father and your Father, unto my God and your God.” Glorious unspeakable purpose of God to place us in the same glory, in the same relationship as His own Son: in the glory to which He has a right by His own perfection as being God’s own Son. “In order that he might shew in the ages to come the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness towards us, in Christ Jesus.” This will be fully accomplished when that which the Lord Jesus has said shall come to pass: “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them … that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me.” Oh! what ought to be the love of Christians for the Saviour, who by His sufferings, even unto death, has acquired such a position for us, and the blessed assurance of being with Him and like Him for all eternity!
It is also important to remark that here the Trinity is fully revealed for the first time. In the Old Testament we read of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; but here, where we have the position of the second Man according to grace, the Holy Trinity is fully revealed. At the same time the revelation is clear, and the three persons appear together; the Son is revealed as a man, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, and the Father’s voice owns Jesus in whom He is well pleased. We may notice here the difference between man’s responsibility and the purpose of grace. God’s purpose was fixed before the world was created, but it was fixed in the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the book of Proverbs (chap. 8) it is shewn that Christ, as Wisdom, was with God, that He was the object of God’s delight, and that His own delight was found in the sons of men. But before revealing His counsels, or accomplishing the work which was to produce all the effects of this love, God created responsible man—the first Adam. But Adam failed to accomplish his duty, and all the means that God has employed have only brought out the wickedness of man, until the second Man should come. Thus the delight which God had in man has been manifested.
Nevertheless man has not been willing to receive it; there remained only the personal object of the perfect satisfaction of God; and thus in His person He has taken a position which we find revealed in this passage; that of Son of God, with the heaven opened, being sealed by the Holy Spirit. But He was alone. Upon the cross He did all that was necessary as regards our responsibility; and has done more—has fully glorified God in His love, in His majesty, in His truth, and has acquired for us the participation in His own position as man in the glory of God; not indeed as the right of God, that is, His own right as Son, but to be like Him in glory, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. This is God’s purpose: and when the work of Christ was accomplished, this purpose was brought to light. As to its being fulfilled in us upon the earth, we have an example of it in the passage we are considering. Compare 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2, 3.
But this is not all. As soon as Jesus had taken His place before God as man, and when He had been manifested as Son of God in human nature, He is led by the power of the Holy Ghost into the wilderness, and there undertakes the struggle with the devil in the which the first Adam had been conquered. It was necessary that He should conquer in order to set us free; and notice too that His circumstances were very different from those in which the first Adam found himself. The first Adam was surrounded with God’s blessings, of which He had full enjoyment; they were a present testimony of His favour. Christ, on the contrary, was in the desert with the consciousness that Satan was now reigning over man, and all outward comforts are wanting; outwardly there was no testimony of God’s goodness: indeed all was contrary to this.
In Mark the details of the temptation and the Lord’s replies are not given, but only the fact is recorded (a precious fact for us) that the Lord has passed through this trial. He presented Himself according to the will of God, led of the Holy Ghost to meet the powerful enemy of mankind; immense grace! He first shewed our place before God, having taken it in His own person; and then He entered into conflict with the devil who held us captive. The third fact that we observe is that the angels have become the servants of those who shall be heirs of salvation. Here, then, are the three testimonies in connection with the manifestation of Jesus as man in the flesh;—our position as sons of God, Satan conquered, the angels our servants.
The Saviour (v. 14) having taken His place in the world, begins the exercise of His ministry, but not before John’s imprisonment. After that this forerunner of the Messiah was cast into prison, and not before, the Saviour began to preach the gospel of the kingdom. The testimony of John was very important to draw the people’s attention to Him; but it would not have been right that he should have borne testimony to the Lord after that He Himself had begun to bear testimony to Himself. “I receive not testimony from man,” saith the Lord, speaking of John the Baptist; John 5:34. He bore witness to John! He was the Truth in His own person, and His words and His works were the testimony of God in the world. “What sign doest thou?” said the people; “our fathers did eat manna in the desert…” And the Lord replied, “I am the bread come down from heaven.”
The preaching of Jesus announced the kingdom, shewed that the time was fulfilled, that the kingdom of God was at hand, that the people must repent and believe the gospel. We should distinguish between the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of our salvation. Christ is the centre of both; but there is a great difference between the preaching of a kingdom which is drawing near, and that of an eternal redemption accomplished upon the cross. It is quite possible that the two truths should be announced together. And indeed we find that the apostle Paul preached the kingdom, but he certainly also proclaimed an eternal redemption accomplished for us upon the cross. Christ prophesied of His death, and announced that the Son of man should give His life for the ransom of many; but He could not announce an accomplished redemption during His life. Men ought to have received Him and not to have put Him to death: hence His testimony was about the kingdom which was drawing nigh.
This kingdom in its public power has been delayed, because Christ has been rejected (see Rev. 11:17); and this delay lasts all the time that Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, until the time when He shall arise from the throne of His Father to judge. God has said, “Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool,” Psalm no. It is nevertheless true that the kingdom was already come in mystery according to Matthew 13; this goes on during the time that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. But when God’s appointed moment shall come, the Lord will arise and set up the kingdom, and with His own power will judge the living; and peace and happiness shall be established upon the earth. And we who have received Him, whilst the world has rejected Him, shall go to meet Him in the air, we shall be for ever with the Lord, and shall come with Him in glory when He shall appear before the world, and shall reign with Him; and, what is still far better, we shall be like Him and always with Him in the heavenly places in the Father’s house.
The development of these truths and of these events is only found in the word of God after the Lord’s ascension, after that the foundation for the accomplishment of God’s purpose had been laid in the Saviour’s death. Here He announces only the drawing nigh of the kingdom, for men should have received it. But although Jesus taught in all the synagogues, there were not only those who heard Him, or who believed what He taught, but some who also followed Him. It is of the greatest importance to notice this: many in the present day profess to have received the gospel; but how small is the number of those who follow the Lord in the path of faith, in that humility and obedience which characterised the Lord’s steps in this world! Let us try to follow Him: perhaps we cannot literally forsake all, as the first disciples did; but we can walk in the spirit in which they walked, and esteem Christ as the all for our souls; and that all other things are but as dung in order that we may win Christ in glory. The Lord here calls men to make them fishers of others; let us also seek others, that they too may be able to enjoy the ineffable and glorious happiness which the Holy Spirit gives. We may not be apostles perhaps, but whoever is full of Christ will give testimony to Christ; out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. Rivers of living water shall flow from the belly of him who comes to Christ and drinks; John 7.
The Gospel by Mark does not present the person of Emmanuel, and then the grace of His mission, as that by Matthew; but sets forth rapidly His ministry in its application to men. Necessarily the ministry is the same, but the development is different. His word and His works testify equally to the authority with which He taught the people. While He was speaking, the audience in the synagogue was astonished, for His speech was not like that of the scribes who insisted upon opinions, but He announced the truth as One who knew it and could present it from its very foundation. Even evil spirits were afraid of His presence, and prayed that they might not be destroyed. Nevertheless they were obliged to leave the wretched men whom they held as their prey under their power: so that the people said, “What is this? what is this doctrine?” A testimony was raised that God had intervened to set man free, and to communicate His perfect truth to him. Grace and truth had come by Jesus Christ.
His fame spread all over Galilee. Leaving the synagogue He enters into the house of Simon and Andrew: the apostle Peter had a wife, and her mother was sick of a fever. The Lord takes her by the hand; the fever disappears, and the woman begins to serve them in a perfect state of health. As soon as the sabbath is ended, all the city is gathered together at the door of the house: the Lord heals the sick and casts out demons; the demons recognise Him although men have not. Still He remains the Servant of God, and gets up before sunrise to go into a solitary place to pray. Peter seeks Him and, having found Him, says, “All seek thee”: but Jesus, always the Servant, does not seek numbers and fame for Himself, but goes away elsewhere to preach and to bring freedom from the yoke of Satan.
It is important to remark that here the Lord’s miracles are not simply a sign and proof of power, but also of the goodness which was acting in divine power. It is this which gives the true divine character to the miracles of Jesus. All His works are the fruit of love, and bear witness to the God of love upon the earth. There is only one apparent exception, which, after all, is a proof of the truth we are remarking. This exception is the cursing of the fig-tree; but this was a figure of the people Israel, and one may say of human nature, under God’s cultivation, which did not produce fruit—there were only leaves, that is, hypocrisy. Hence it was judged and condemned, and will never bear fruit again; the gardener dug about it, and dunged it, but all was useless; and then it was given up of God. Man must be born again—must be created again in Christ Jesus.
Of the love manifested in the works of the Lord Jesus we have a beautiful proof in that which follows. A leper comes to Jesus well persuaded of His power, having seen His miracles, or heard tell of these mighty works; but he was not certain that he would find willingness in Him to heal him. He says to Him, “If thou wilt, thou canst.” The Lord, not content with being willing and with doing, touches the leper. Now leprosy—terrible disease!—was a figure of sin, and he that was ill of it was shut out of the camp as unclean; and even a man who might have touched him was shut out too, because he became contaminated by it. No means could be employed to cure the leper; it was Jehovah alone who could cure him; and then, when cured of Jehovah, the priest pronounced him clean, and he could, after certain ceremonies, partake of divine worship. Here the Lord comes in with this divine power and the love of God. “I will, be thou clean.” The willingness and power of God were there, and were exercised in favour of the poor excommunicated man. But there is something more—He touches the sufferer. God is present; Jesus cannot be contaminated; but He has come so near to the unclean man as to be able to touch him—true Man amongst men, God manifest in flesh. God, but God in a man, love itself, the power which can do all necessary to deliver man from the effect of Satan’s power. Undeniable purity is found upon earth—but love as well, that is, God is here, but Man also—and works for man’s blessing. The leper is healed immediately, the leprosy disappears.
But although God be manifested in His work of power and love, He does not leave the servant’s place, now that He has taken it; He sends away the healed man, saying, “See that thou say nothing to any man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded.” We may remark another circumstance in this history—that the Lord was moved with compassion when He saw the leper. God, in His love, is man touched with pity in His heart for the wretched state in which He finds man: we often find this fact in the Gospels. Now the cleansed leper spreads abroad the fame of Jesus all around, so that the testimony of the power of God present with His people makes itself felt in men’s minds. Jesus did not seek human glory, but to accomplish the will of God and the work He had given Him to do. Surrounded by all, He cannot enter into the city, where the astonished crowd would have assembled itself around Him.
But after some days, when the expectation had lessened a little, the Lord enters again into the city. It was soon noised abroad that He was in the house, and so many came together that there was no room to receive them, not even about the door. Jesus preached the word to them, because this service was always His first object. He was the Word, He was the Truth, He was Himself that which His word announced, of whom man had need. His word, too, was confirmed by His works, and the people knew that He possessed the power that could deliver them from every evil.
They bring a paralytic man, carried of four; but not being able to get as far as Jesus, hindered as they were by the crowd, they uncover the roof—easily done in the East—and let down the paralytic man to the place where Jesus was. This was an evident proof of their faith; it was the deep sense of need, and confidence in Jesus, in His love, in His power. Without an urgent desire to be healed, and a full confidence in the power and love of Jesus, they would have been discouraged by the difficulty presented by the crowd, and would have gone back, saying perhaps, “We will come again, we may be able to get at Him another time.” But there are no difficulties for faith; its principles are these—the need of finding the Saviour, of feeling our misery, and of feeling that Jesus alone can heal us—that His love is strong enough to look upon us in our wretchedness. It is of course the work of the Spirit which reveals Jesus to us; but He produces such a sense of our wretchedness that we are impelled to go to seek the Lord, and difficulties do not drive us back, because we know that Jesus alone can heal us, that His love is enough; not indeed that we are already sure of being healed, but enough to attract us to Himself in the assurance that He will do it. And if we have already come to Him, faith always produces need in the soul, and the assurance that the Saviour will respond to our need. And Christ never fails to answer to it; He may allow difficulties to prove the faith, but faith that perseveres finds the answer; and that which if we know the Lord’s sufficiency, produces this perseverance is the sense of our need. The source of all is the operation of the Holy Spirit in our heart.
The Lord takes occasion by the wretched state of the paralytic man to point out the true root of all evils—sin. He had come because sin was in the world, and with what object then but that sin might be forgiven? It is true that, since God is just, it is needful that a perfect atonement be made for sins in order that they may be forgiven. But Jehovah, who knew everything, could administer the pardon by means of the Son of man in that manner which now makes all believers participate in a perfect pardon by means of the gospel. As to His government also He could pardon or leave under the effects of His punishment both individuals and the whole nation. Now He who was present had the right and power to forgive sins upon earth: and He gave the proof of it. In Psalm 103 He is celebrated as the One who would forgive all Israel’s iniquities, and heal all his infirmities.
The great need of guilty Israel was this forgiveness: Christ announces it. As to the government of God itself, Israel could not be re-established in blessing, if he did not possess God’s pardon. “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” said the Lord: the scribes cry out against the blasphemy. But God, the Jehovah of Psalm 103, was there present ui the person of the Son of man; and He gives the proof that this right belonged to Him by fulfilling that which is said in that very Psalm: “who healeth all thine infirmities.” “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, He saith to the sick of the palsy, Arise, and take up thy bed and go thy way.” The man gets up, takes up his bed and goes away. Pardon and power to heal were come upon earth in the person of the Son of man, of Him who, having divine rights and power, was down here in humiliation upon earth to bring the love and the power of God to the wretchedness of man, to the fatal miseries of the soul, giving a proof of it in freeing the body from the sufferings which sin had introduced.
God was present in love. The power to heal was there, but the important truth was that forgiveness was come upon earth. This is the first great truth of the gospel. That which is here announced by Christ is now proclaimed in the gospel which is the means of reconciling God’s justice with free pardon, with the full lasting pardon of sins clearly shewn forth before men in the Lord’s words. The remission of sins is announced, founded on the Saviour’s work. But if this be the spirit of the gospel, if this be the work of Jesus, He must come to call sinners, He must make Himself their friend, in order that they may have confidence, and may believe in this grace, and that the world may know the Saviour’s true character.
That which follows in our history makes us understand clearly the mission and the ministry of Jesus. He calls Matthew who was sitting at the receipt of custom. The tax was hateful to the Jews, not only because they had to pay it against their will, but much more because it was the proof of their being in slavery to the Gentiles. They had lost their privileges as the free people of God; and when their fellow-countrymen took this office, as they were wont to do, under the Roman knights, their bitterness was very great, and the man who took such a situation became hated as a perfidious traitor of the religion and the nation. Thus these tax-gatherers were despised and detested. Now Matthew invites the Lord, and many other publicans were at table with Jesus and with His disciples.
The scribes and Pharisees raise the question as to how it could be possible that a righteous teacher should sit and eat with unclean men and sinners. Jesus hears this, and answers with divine wisdom. The simplicity of the answer equals its force. “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Here it is grace that is working; and the work of Jesus presents a full contrast to the law. The law demanded human justice from man; Christ and the gospel announce divine grace which reigns and reveals God’s righteousness. Here we have grace; as to divine righteousness, it should be fully revealed when Christ should have accomplished His work upon the cross: truth as important as it is precious!
Christ, the Saviour, came to seek sinners, and does not seek righteous persons; even were there any such, there would be no need to seek them, but in His sovereign grace and perfect goodness He came to seek sinners; He does not send them away but seeks them, and can sit and eat with them whilst being Himself altogether holy. This is the manifestation of God in love in the midst of sinners to win the hearts of men, and to produce confidence toward God in these hearts, and to bind all the faculties of the soul with the power of a perfect object, and to form it according to the image of that which leads it, and which it contemplates; whence to inspire this confidence, since good was come into the midst of evil, and had taken part in the wretchedness in which fallen man lay— a goodness which did not drive away the sinner on account of his sins, but which invited him to come.
Man’s ruin began when he lost his confidence in God: the devil had succeeded in persuading Eve that God had not permitted man to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because He knew that, if he did it, he would be as God, knowing good and evil; that God had forbidden him to touch the tree from jealousy; and, if He did not wish that we should be happy, we must make ourselves happy. And this is what Eve sought, and what all men seek who do their own will. Thus man fell, and thus man remains in all the wretchedness which is the fruit of sin, awaiting God’s judgment upon the sin itself. Now, before executing judgment God came in love as Saviour to shew that His love is greater than sin, and that the worst sinner can have confidence in this love that seeks sinners and adapts itself to their wants, which does not demand righteousness from man, and brings him salvation and grace by which to present him finally to God as His righteousness through the work of Christ: but He comes in love to sinful men to reconcile them with Himself. Instead of punishing them for their sins, He finds occasion to manifest the immensity of His love in coming to those who were lying in sin, and in giving Himself as a sacrifice to put it away.
In His fife Christ presents this love of God, God Himself manifested in love to man; in His death He is as man before God, made sin for us in order that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, and that the righteous God, the God of love, never might remember our sins. In the history which we are considering He manifests God’s love towards man. The law was the perfect rule of that which man ought to be as son of Adam; it demanded of man that he should be such, and pronounced a curse upon the man who did not do that which it required. It added God’s authority to that which was fitting to the relationships in which man finds himself, and gave a perfect rule for conduct to man in these relationships; a rule easily forgotten or broken in the fallen state of man. It did not give life, nor strength, nor objects to attract and rule the heart; but it established the relationship of man with God and with his fellows, and cursed all those who had not kept it, that is, all those that were under it.
The flesh does not submit, nor can it submit to the law of God: grace then, whilst it establishes the authority of the law and the curse itself, since Christ the blessed Saviour has borne it, must needs change everything in the ways of God. Forgiveness is not the same as the curse, and paying a debt is very different from demanding the money. It is quite just to demand payment, but, if the debtor has nothing to pay, he is ruined; whereas, if he pays, he is set free. Christ has done more; not only does He pay the debt, but He has acquired glory for those that believe. Not only has He freed the debtor from his debts, but He has given him an immense fortune in God’s presence.
But then the change is complete and perfect, and the Lord’s words which follow shew us this. John’s disciples and the Pharisees used to fast, and the Lord gives motives why His own could not do it. The Bridegroom was present and so it was not the time for fasting, but the time would soon come when the Bridegroom would be taken away; and then they should fast. The joy of His presence would be turned into sorrow by His absence, by the need which this absence would create in the heart. The other reason is this: it was impossible to mix the two systems; the new wine (the truth and the spiritual power of Christianity) could not be put into old bottles, into the old institutions and ceremonies of Judaism. If this were done, the new wine would destroy the bottles, and both would be spoiled, the wine would be lost and the bottles destroyed. In like manner a piece of new cloth does not suit an old garment: the garment would be torn, and the rent would only be greater. Indeed it is not possible to attach the spiritual power of Christianity to the carnal ceremonies which human nature loves, because it can make of them a religion without a new life, and without the conscience being touched. The unconverted man, if he wishes, may thus do as much good as the converted man. No, the new wine must be kept in new bottles: it is important for us to remember it. The dispensation was changed, a new order was coming in, and all was altered; the nature of the things was different—they could not exist at the same time; fleshly ceremonies and the power of the Holy Ghost could never go together. Think of it, Christians! Christianity has tried to embellish itself with these ceremonies, and often even under Pagan forms; and what has it become? It has adapted itself to the world of which these forms were the rudiments, and has become really pagan, and its true spirituality can hardly be found at all.
But there was an institution founded by God, that is, the sign of His covenant with Israel—the sabbath—and it was too the sign of God’s rest in the first creation. Now, in Israel man was put to the proof, to see whether, with a perfect rule, and with means offered by the law (God Himself being present in the tabernacle or temple), he could serve God and fulfil righteousness as a son of Adam in the flesh. The sabbath was not “a” seventh day but “the” seventh day, in the which at the end of creation God ceased creating, and rested. The question then arose as to whether man could share God’s rest: and the answer is, that he has sinned, and therefore can never have any part in this rest. Under the law he was again put to the proof; and then he made the golden calf before Moses came down from the mountain. God then exercised patience with the people until they rejected Christ. But it was impossible to establish a covenant between God and man after the flesh; man could not enjoy God’s rest. More than this; the sabbath of the first creation was for man, and He who enjoyed all the rights of man according to God’s counsels was Lord of the sabbath: thus these two principles are unfolded.
First, as when David, the anointed of the Lord, had been rejected, everything was common and profane; so when Christ, the last proof offered to man in the flesh, was rejected, nothing was holy for man; the seal of the first covenant had lost all its meaning. Then, when Christ renounces for a time His position in Israel as Messiah, He becomes (as we see often in the Gospels, Luke 9:21, 22, etc.) the Son of man. Thus He is the Lord of the sabbath which was made for man; thus the sign of the old covenant disappears through man’s sin and his rejection of Christ.
Christ’s resurrection is the beginning of the new creation, the foundation of the new covenant founded upon His blood. This is the sign of God’s rest for us. Satisfied, glorified by the death of Jesus, God has raised Him from among the dead and has found a resting-place for His love and His righteousness; and we, the objects of this love, are made the righteousness of God in Christ.
Thus the Lord’s day is a most precious gift from Him, and the true Christian enjoys it with all his heart; and, if he is faithful, he finds himself in the Spirit to enjoy God, happy to be freed from material labour to adore God as his Father, and to enjoy communion with the Lord. It is always a bad sign when a Christian talks of his liberty and makes use of it to neglect the Lord, in order to give himself to the material work of the world. However free a Christian may be, he is free from the world and from the law, in order to serve the Lord. How much good may he not do on the Lord’s day! And this is a third principle which is found in chapter 3 in this Gospel.
Grace had come (John 1:17), God Himself was present in grace; and this grace was free to do good on the sabbath. The Lord’s true rest is the exercise of His love in the midst of evil. The Pharisees thought nothing of doing evil provided that their traditions were observed. God held Himself at liberty to do good; and for this reason the Lord heals the withered hand, calling the Jew’s attention to this great principle in a formal way.
The Pharisees consult with the Herodians (who were their enemies) to find out how they might put Jesus to death; and the Lord departs. So the dispensation of the law is set aside by Christianity, which cannot be introduced into the old Jewish forms; and at the same time the rights of divine love, that is, the rights of God Himself are maintained. Thus the true character of the Lord’s service is clearly set forth. Here the direct unfolding of the Lord’s ministry ceases. That which follows consists of parables and facts, which develop it and shew clearly the relationships in which the Lord found Himself with the Jews. He withdraws Himself from the hatred of the rulers of the people, in order to carry on His service of love.
A great multitude from all parts of the country follow Him, having heard of the marvellous things that He did; we have here a living picture of the effect of His ministry. The Lord finds Himself obliged to have a little ship upon the lake, so large was the crowd that pressed upon Him wishing to touch Him to be healed. Also evil spirits when they saw Him, fell down before Him, saying, “Thou art the Son of God.” Remark here, that which we often find in the Gospels, that evil spirits possessed people so completely, that their acts are attributed to the spirits; and the demoniacs said that which the spirits made them say, as it were of their own accord. The mind and body were so completely in possession of the spirit, that the possessed person thought that that which the spirit inspired was his own thoughts. The possession was complete. “Thou art come to torment us before the time … I know thee, the Holy One of God” —it is often thus. But the Lord would not receive the testimony of demons, nor allow them to make Him known.
He goes up a mountain that He may get away from the crowd for a little, in order to be alone; and calls to Him those He will, who come to Him. In Luke’s Gospel we read that He passed all the night in prayer before naming the apostles. In Luke we find much more of the Lord’s humanity, most important in its place. He prayed when heaven opened to Him; He prayed when He was transfigured; and when in agony in the garden, He prayed more earnestly. Here we have rather the progress of His ministry: He associates with Himself other servants to continue and extend His work. They were to be with Him, and then they are sent to preach the gospel with power, to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils. Remark here, that Christ not only does miracles Himself, but that He can give others the power of performing them. The apostles could lay their hands on a man that He might receive the Holy Ghost; but they could never give to others the power to perform miracles, and to cast out demons. This is something much more than performing miracles; it is the power and the authority of God. He gives names also to some of His disciples—mark of supreme authority—and according to the knowledge He had of their character, before He had had any experience of it.
At the same time we see how the Lord’s testimony is received; His own friends think Him mad; and the leaders of the people ascribe His wonderful works to the power of Satan. O what a world we live in! Man can see nothing in the activity of divine goodness but madness and the work of the devil. But surely Satan does not cast out Satan: it is this that is real folly. If a strong man’s goods are taken from him, it is clear that a stronger has come and has bound him. May God be praised! But this sin—blasphemy against the Holy Ghost—cannot be pardoned. Whilst they said, “We do not believe: this man does not keep the sabbath, he deceives us,” although it was bad enough, it was pardonable; but the scribes recognised the power—a power greater than that of demons, and, instead of owning there the finger of God, they ascribed it to the prince of the demons—called the Holy Ghost a demon. It was the end of all hope for Israel, as regards his responsibility. Grace could forgive the nation, and will do it when the Lord shall return in glory; but now, as a responsible people, their story is ended.
It is for this reason the Lord renounces all relationship with the people according to the flesh. His mother and brethren come to call Him, but the Lord will not recognise them. He brings in the word to form new links with souls, but every link with Israel is broken. His mother has no claim upon Him, He refuses to own her call: “Who is my mother or my brethren? “He says; and looking round upon those about Him, “Behold my mother and my brethren: for whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister and mother.” Here we find the break between the Lord and the people. The patience of the Lord continued to shew forth God’s goodness, until the last Passover; but all was really over for the people; its condemnation could not fail to be pronounced; He no longer seeks fruit in His vineyard.
Seated in a boat at the lake side, the Lord presents the parable of the sower, who went forth to sow that which, if received in the heart, should bring forth by grace the fruit desired of God. The fruit was not to be found in the vineyard where man was to be tried just as he was in the flesh, under the old covenant, the law being written upon tables of stone. It is on this account that the Lord cursed the fig-tree which did not bring forth fruit, but leaves only; He had digged about it and dunged it, but in vain; therefore it was to be cut down. Solemn truth! Grace raises us above sin, but man in himself is lost as regards his responsibility. The Lord begins to teach the crowd in parables: saying “a sower went forth to sow.” As we have said, He no longer seeks for fruit from man upon the earth, nor in His people, but sows that which ought to bring forth fruit.
As the sower sows, some falls by the way-side, some on stony ground, some in the midst of thorns, and some on good ground. It is no question here of doctrine, but the facts which follow the sowing of the word of the kingdom present themselves; it is a question of outward facts. Three parts bear no fruit. When the word is sown in the heart, in the first instance, it rests on the surface of the ground, it does not penetrate the heart; the devil takes away the word, and no fruit is left. In the second instance the word is received with joy; the hearers are glad to listen to the sound of grace, of pardon, of the kingdom; but when this brings with it affliction or persecution, they leave it. The hearer had received it with joy; he leaves it when affliction comes: the conscience is not brought into God’s presence; the need of a troubled conscience is not felt. It is in the conscience that the word of God fixes its roots; because the presence of God is revealed and awakens the conscience. God Himself is revealed to the heart, and one finds oneself in His presence with the consciousness of being there. Self-judgment follows, the darkness passes away, and the light of God shines in the heart. When the conscience has already been exercised, then the gospel brings joy at once, and God’s answer to the soul’s need. Whatever the grace and the love of God may be, when they are first revealed, they do not produce joy, because the conscience is reached; the light penetrates, because God is light. Love (for God is love) inspires confidence, the heart is attracted and trusts, like the sinful woman who washed the Lord’s feet with her tears; but the conscience, not being yet purged, has no joy. If the announcement of pardon gives joy, there is reason to fear that the conscience is not awakened. The understanding (perhaps also the natural affections) has understood the beautiful story of love and pardon told in the gospel, but the work is only surface-deep and disappears.
Another part of the seed fell amongst thorns, and the thorns, growing up, choked it, and it did not bear any fruit. Last of all, that which fell on good ground brought forth fruit in different proportions. The object of this discourse is not to shew how this takes place; it speaks only of the effect manifested. Doubtless it is grace, but the fact alone is told. We see the activity of grace in the heart in this last case, because it grows and bears fruit, and keeps on growing. He who has truly received the word in the heart is fitted to communicate it to others. He may not have the gift of preaching, but he loves the truth, he loves souls, and the glory of the Saviour; and the light which has been lit in his heart is to light all around him. He too sows according to his strength, and is responsible to do so. All will be manifested, faithfulness and unfaithfulness, with regard to this, as in everything else. God sends light into the heart in order to give it to others, and not to hide it. We shall receive more, if we are faithful in communicating what we possess; and, if there is love in us, this cannot fail. Truth and love both came in Christ, and unless the heart be full of Christ, the truth will not be manifested: if the heart be full of other things, or of itself, Christ cannot be manifested. If Christ—truth and love—be in the heart, the truth will shine out for the blessing of others, and we ourselves shall be blessed, and more will be given to us; and there will be liberty and joy in the soul. That which he already possesses will be taken away from the man who does not let others profit by the light he has.
We see here again that the Lord’s ministry amongst the Jews was ended. “To you it is given,” He says to the disciples, “to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to those that are without all these things are spoken in parables, in order that seeing they may not perceive, and that hearing they may not understand, lest they be converted, and their sins be forgiven them.” They are under the judgment of God. The Lord does not mean to say here that a soul might not believe in Jesus individually, and thus be forgiven; but that the nation, having rejected the testimony of Jesus, was now deserted of God, left outside, and exposed to His judgment. He reproves the disciples because they too could not understand the parable, nevertheless He explains it to them in His grace.
After this explanation and the respective warnings of which we have spoken, the Lord gives another parable which presents His ways very clearly. The kingdom is like unto a man that casts seed into the ground, who, rising and sleeping day and night, allows it to increase without taking any notice of it. The earth produces thus fruit of itself, first the blade, then the ear, and then the full grain in the ear. Now when the fruit is ripe, the sickle is put in at once, because the harvest is come. Thus the Lord worked personally, sowing the word of God upon earth; and at the end, He will return, and work again in person, when the time for the judgment of this world shall have come; but now in the meantime, He remains seated at the right hand of God, as though He did not occupy Himself with His field, although in secret He does work by His grace, and produces everything. But it is not manifest. Without being seen, He works to make the seed grow in a divine way by His grace, whilst apparently He allows the gospel to grow without having anything to do with it until the harvest. Then He will appear and will Himself work openly.
He teaches the people again with another parable. We do not find here the whole story of the kingdom as in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, but only its great principles, and the Lord’s work in contrast with His manifestation and the establishment of the kingdom by His own presence. It grows during His absence, no one knows how, at least as regards human knowledge. The kingdom, then, is like a grain of mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds; but as soon as it is sown it grows, and becomes a large plant, even a tree large enough for the birds of the air to rest upon its branches. Thus Christianity, a little seed, that of a man despised by the world, has become a great power upon the earth, and extends its branches everywhere. Here the Evangelist repeats that the Lord spoke to the crowds in parables, and that He did not address them without parables; then He explained the whole to His disciples, when they were alone with Him.
In that which follows, we have, I think, a picture of the departure of Jesus, and of His power; the security of His own even when He seemed to be indifferent to their difficulties; then the relationship in which He stood towards the Jews. Jesus, having sent away the multitude, gets into a boat and goes to sleep whilst a tempest arises upon the lake, so that the waves fill the boat. The disciples, full of fear, come to Jesus to awaken Him; Jesus arises, rebukes the wind, and says to the sea, “Peace, be still,” and all is quiet. But then He reproves the unbelieving fear of the disciples; and indeed, reader, do you think that the power of the Son of God, God’s counsels, could have failed because of an unexpected storm on the lake of Gennesaret? Impossible! the disciples were in the same boat with Jesus. Here is a lesson for us: in all the difficulties and dangers of the christian life, during the whole journey upon the waves, often agitated by the tempestuous sea of life and of christian service, we are always in the same boat with Jesus, if we are doing His will. It may seem to us that He is sleeping; nevertheless, if He allows the tempest to rise in order to prove our faith, we shall not perish since we are with Him in the storm; evidently neither He nor we can perish. He may seem sometimes to be indifferent to our fate; but I repeat we are with Him; His security is our own.
If calming the winds and the sea shews the Lord’s power over creation, that which follows shews it over demons; He casts out a Legion by His word. But now we find the effect of the manifestation of His power upon the world, even where it worked for the deliverance of men. They beseech Jesus to depart, and He goes away. Poor world! the quiet influence of Satan upon the heart is more disastrous than His outward and visible power; this is sad enough, but the power of the Lord is quite sufficient to drive it away: whereas, on the other hand, the quiet influence of Satan in the heart drives away Jesus Himself. And remark that, when the presence of God is felt, it is more terrible than that of Satan; man would wish to free himself from the latter, but cannot; but the presence of God is insupportable when it makes itself felt: and indeed man has driven God (in the person of Christ) out of this world. Jesus gave Himself for us, it is true; but, as regards man’s responsibility, he has driven out the Lord. I do not doubt that all this scene is the representation of the end of the Lord’s history; and that the swine present to us the end of the Jews, who were hurried into perdition as possessed of the devil at the end of their history. The world did not wish to have Jesus; the Jews are cast down into hopeless ruin.
The man who is cured is quiet; he wishes to be with Jesus who is going away, but this is not allowed him. He must go and announce to others what God has done for him. Here is the position of the disciples and of all Christians after the Lord’s departure from this world. They desire to go and be with Him, but are sent again into the world to declare the blessed work that the Lord has done in their own persons; they can by their own experience say what is the grace and the power of Jesus. But how deplorable is the state of the world and of man! The presence of the devil is more tolerable for him than that of God. He would wish to check the violent manifestations of the power of Satan, but cannot—the bands are burst asunder, and the man is as bad as ever. God is not a tyrant like Satan; He is good, full of grace, and frees men in Christ from Satan’s power; but, this being the proof of the presence and power of God, man shews that His presence is insupportable to him, even when God manifests Himself as the deliverer from all the evils which sin and Satan’s power have introduced.
The history which follows reveals the true relationships between Jesus and Israel. Jesus came to heal Israel; but Israel was in fact dead, speaking spiritually; when Jesus arrived, it was necessary to raise him, if it were God’s will that he should live; the Lord could do it, and will do it for this nation in the last days. But then being in the way with the people, the crowd of Israel surrounded Him; and, if individual faith touched Him, the person was healed, and this is what happened to the poor afflicted woman.
Let us notice some of the details of the story:—the Lord distinguishes between true faith and the eagerness of the crowd which was attracted by His miracles and by the benefits it had received. Sincerity was not wanting in the crowd, the people saw the miracles and enjoyed their effects, but they had not faith in the person of Jesus. But there was good in the woman, by grace, that which is always found in faith, a felt need and the perception of the excellence of His person, and of the divine power that was in Jesus, accompanied with true humility with regard to herself. The poor woman is sure that, if she touch only the hem of His garment, she shall be healed; and in fact it is this that takes place. As soon as the woman is healed, Jesus perceives that the power which is in Him, and which has gone out from Him to the woman, has worked with efficacy. And it is always thus: many can hear the gospel and delight to listen to it, but faith is another thing; and faith always receives the Lord’s answer to the need which it presents to Him. He may make one wait, if He finds it good to exercise the faith, but He always answers in love: the woman is perfectly healed. Faith makes the believer humble about his wretchedness; the woman wished to remain hidden, but the Lord encourages the believer, saying in this instance, “Daughter, be of good comfort, thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace.” However timid and fearful the soul may be in the Lord’s presence in spiritual things, and however much it may feel its wretchedness, when the call is true, it opens out and confesses His grace, not the misery which had rendered this grace needful. It is then that the Lord encourages and speaks peace to the heart. Personal faith is here plainly distinguished from the eagerness of the crowd which followed Him, whether for curiosity, or for the benefits which Jesus conferred upon it. But the power of resurrection was found in Him and through Him. Israel, though dead, was only sleeping: the Lord’s voice will call him into life in His time.
But however great His divine power, He was manifested in a form that could lend nothing to the pride and vanity of human nature. Man was responsible to receive Him because He manifested the character of the Godhead: He would not flatter and give support to human passions, nor to those of the Jews as a nation. If man is to receive God, he must receive what God is; but this is just what his fallen nature will not do. The divine character was much more fully manifested in the humiliation of Jesus, than if He had come as a glorious King; but He was not that which man’s heart desired. He was the carpenter’s son, and that was enough to cause His rejection. They judged according to the flesh: the kindred of Jesus were in their midst; and they did not look any farther. Astonished at their unbelief, He leaves them after having done that which the wants of some of them demanded, for His grace never failed. A prophet is not without honour but in his own country; for it is there that he is known according to the flesh. So it was with Jesus, not only in Nazareth, but also in Israel. Remark what an obstacle unbelief is to the exercise of the power of God. The faith of the sick woman who touches His garment causes His power to come out, but the unbelief of the inhabitants of His own country hinders its exercise. We find, “He could not do any mighty work there,” etc. May God grant that we may not put any obstacle to the activity of His grace, which is always ready to act; but, on the contrary, may we know what it is to profit by His power by causing it to act towards us by faith; chap. 6:1-6.
Now the Lord sends His disciples to preach, and we have a proof of His power more remarkable than that of His own miracles. He gives them the power to perform miracles themselves, power to cast out all demons. This is a power evidently divine; God makes man capable to perform signs and wonders; but what man can give this power to another? Christ gave it, and His disciples, capacitated by His gift, cast out demons in reality: Christ was God manifest in grace upon the earth. We have already called attention to the fact that all the Lord’s miracles, and those of His disciples are not only the results of power, such as the miracles of Moses, of Elias, etc., but they are the fruits of divine goodness. One may except the cursing of the fig-tree, but this after all is a proof of the same thing. The testimony of the Lord, stamped as it was with love, and confirmed by His miraculous works, had been rejected; and Israel—man’s heart—under the influence of this goodness, of the manifestation of God, of all the care which God had lavished upon it, had not brought forth any fruit. Therefore the bad tree is judged for ever, so that it can never bear fruit again. Thus man, having shewn himself to be nothing but guilty, and so guilty, that all the means employed by God, even to the gift of His only-begotten Son, have been found to be unable to awaken a single good sentiment towards God, as to his state in the flesh, he is finally rejected of God. God can save him in giving him a new nature by the Holy Spirit, but in himself he is without hope. Who will do more than that which God has done?
More than this; the Lord has not only power to give to His disciples authority over evil spirits, but He can also dispose of human hearts. The disciples were to start without taking anything for their journey; and nevertheless, as we read in Luke, the disciples bore witness, in answer to the Lord, that they had wanted for nothing. Sustained by the power of Emmanuel, whose power extended everywhere, and armed with His authority, they were to stay in the house into which they had entered until their departure from each place. Thus they were to conform themselves to this mission; possessing the Lord’s authority for their message, they were to act accordingly. And wherever their message should not be received, they were to shake the dust off their feet as a witness against that city, whose fate should be worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrha. It is true that the Lord, full of goodness and patience, sent seventy disciples again before His face when He went up to Jerusalem at the end of His career upon earth, and these were to preach the gospel. But as to the principle of the mission, that which we find in Mark was the last testimony given to Israel before the judgment of the nation. This was to be a last appeal to the conscience and heart of the people, in order that it might receive the Saviour and repent and turn to God and escape the terrible judgment that awaited it; and that there might be at least a remnant which, moved by the powerful word of God, might return to God to enjoy His goodness in the Saviour, and a better hope than Judaism had been able to give them.
The disciples went forth preaching that men were to repent. What grace there is in the sending forth of the gospel! Not only does God give us to enjoy salvation and His love, but employs men as the instruments of the activity of His love. O how we ought to bless God that He condescends to make use of us to carry the testimony of His ineffable love and of His truth to men’s hearts—at least to their ears, in order that He Himself may cause it to reach their hearts in His grace! May we know at least what it is to have our hearts full of love, whether we preach or not, so that they may be a true expression of that grace which seeks men. Thus the power of God accompanied the disciples; they cast out devils and healed the sick.
At this time the report of the works and power of the Lord reached the king’s ears; his conscience was troubled at it because he put John the Baptist to death. Here begins the history of the facts which shew practically the opposition of man’s heart to the testimony of God. The enmity against the truth and the light which was fulfilled in the death of Jesus, manifested itself already in the death of His predecessor. Herod’s natural conscience had induced him to listen to John; the fear that he had of the holy man who had been faithful in rebuking him caused him to have some regard for him, and to keep him from the enmity of Herodias; but that which is natural is not enough to form a barrier to the flesh. The excitement of a banquet and royal pride are enough to cause the prophet’s death. Painful instance of the manner in which man deceives himself; and when he imagines himself strong enough to shew forth his power, all he can do is to reveal his weakness and his slavery to his passions. All this does but accomplish the will of God; this enmity of man’s heart must shew itself, and must introduce, by the rejection of John the Baptist and of Jesus Himself, things infinitely better, through the sovereign grace of God.
The disciples come back and relate to Jesus all that they have done and taught; it was natural that they should be full of it. But the Saviour does not say anything about it; for Him power was a natural thing, and He wishes the disciples to come apart in a desert place to rest a little in solitude. It is always a good thing, even necessary for us whatever the blessing may be—all the more the greater it is—for us poor creatures who are so incapable of bearing the effect of power when the work is by our means, so ready are we to attribute it to ourselves without perceiving it; it is necessary, I say, to retire into God’s presence, and there in His presence to find out what we are in truth, to enjoy in safety His perfect love: but to be occupied with Him and not with ourselves. This is what the Lord did in His tender consideration for His own.
But the love of God does not find repose in this world; and man, finding but little love in human hearts, is afraid of wearying the Lord when He is present there; but divine love never refuses to attend to man’s wants. The people recognised Jesus and ran together from every city, coming out of their solitude to see Jesus; and He, seeing this great multitude, was moved with compassion, because they were as sheep without a shepherd. He begins to teach them: this is the first and true need of the people abandoned of their human shepherds; but the Lord still thinks of all the needs of His hungry people. The disciples would have wished to have sent away the crowd, but Jesus wishes to feed it. This miracle has a great meaning in itself, from the place it holds in this Gospel. Jehovah was the true Shepherd of Israel and was there present in the person of Christ, who in truth was rejected. Nevertheless His compassion and His love were not weakened by the ingratitude of the people.
To shew that He is really Jehovah, He acts according to Psalm 132:15; “I will satisfy her poor with bread.” This is a psalm which predicts the time of the Messiah, which will be fully accomplished in the latter days; but He who shall accomplish it was there present, and though He be rejected, He gives the proof that Jehovah has visited His people—He satisfies the poor with bread. His love was far superior to the malice of His people. He had already said that the Son of man would be put to death, and that the people would not receive their Saviour-God. With all this, Jehovah does not abandon His love; if the people do not want Jehovah, Jehovah wants the people. He gives the precious testimony that Jehovah’s love does not grow weary, but remains superior to all the folly of man. May His name be praised and adored for it! We can all the more count upon His unfailing goodness not to allow us to fall into negligence, but to sustain us in our weakness; for His love is greater than all our failings, so that we can adore His patience.
But there is another important truth which we find here. The Lord does not say, “I will give them to eat,” but, “Give them to eat.” The Lord wishes the disciples to know what it is to use His power for the good of others, and that they may know how to use it by faith. Oh, what a thought that true faith employs Jehovah’s power, and in circumstances which shew that His love is above our unfaithfulness and failure! How important a truth for us, that Christ is the expression of this love, of the superiority of God’s grace over all our sins; for “God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” This was the proof of it; but that which was manifested in His death is always true for us in His life. “Much more,” says the apostle, “being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” Faith, therefore, counts upon the unfailing faithfulness of this love, and uses the strength which is made perfect in weakness. The flesh in the disciples sees nothing but carnal means, and does not look at God’s love and power but at that which is seen. But the Lord gives food in abundance to the hungry multitude, and shews Himself to be both the God and Saviour of Israel.
The story which follows gives us the picture of the separation caused by the Lord’s rejection, and the welcome which will be given to Him at the end of the history of this world which has rejected Him. He does not speak of the judgment of His adversaries, but of the change of the world itself. The Lord constrains His disciples to depart alone, whilst He sends away the multitude; and when they are gone, He departs into a mountain to pray. This is exactly what the Lord has now done: the disciples are tossed upon the tempestuous sea of the world; Jesus has sent away Israel, and has ascended to heaven to intercede for us. In the meantime the wind is contrary, and we toil in rowing with difficulty and trouble, being outwardly left to the Lord; but He intercedes for us always, and obtains mercy and grace for us in the time of need. Israel had been dismissed.
More exactly, the disciples upon the sea represent the Jewish remnant, which in fact has become the church: but here it is considered in its character of the Jewish remnant. Jesus overtakes the ship, walking upon the sea, for He can walk calmly upon circumstances which cause us great trouble. The disciples are afraid, but Jesus comforts them, assuring them that it is Himself, their well-known friend and Saviour. Thus it will be at the end of the times: Jesus will appear superior to all the circumstances by which His people are troubled; and He will be the same meek and humble companion who walked upon earth with His disciples “in the days of his flesh.”
“Now when he entered into the ship, the wind ceased.” I repeat that the judgment of His adversaries is not mentioned here, but that which will happen to His people amongst the Jews, when He shall return. Then the world will be again full of joy. The land of Gennesaret, which had sent away the Saviour after He had healed the demoniac, receives Him now and owns Him, and all the people everywhere enjoy His presence with delight.
Are our hearts ready to receive this teaching? Have we learned that to carry one’s cross is the true position of the Christian, the path into which the Lord has led us? To walk thus we have need of an object which can rule the heart, which can possess its affections, and can fix them on what is on before, and lead them on; an object to which too the cross is united— that is, Christ who has loved us, and who gave Himself upon the cross for us; Christ who is now in glory to which He is leading us, and who shews us what the path of the cross is, in order that we may be with Him and like Him, following the path which the Lord has trod for us in His love. “If any man serve me, let him follow me: and where I am, there shall also my servant be.”
This seventh chapter is full of the most interesting teaching. First, the Lord’s judgment upon the outward piety of the heads of Judaism, which was altogether external and nothing less than hypocrisy, and which set aside the law of God. All these washings are despised by God; the Pharisees had set aside the commandment of God to keep their own tradition. Secondly, the Lord shews that that which comes out of a man’s mouth denies the man, because it arises from the heart; not that which enters into the man. Then having thus judged Israel and man, He shews forth in the most touching manner the sovereign grace of God which passes by every barrier to reach man’s need: outside of all rights founded upon the promises, demanding only that the heart should recognise it in order that it may be entirely the pure grace of God in love which does the good; revealing itself as love when man is bad, and without any hope outside of this sovereign grace.
Outward things are easy to do; man likes to make his religion of them, for they do not need a pure heart; man likes to do them, and to exalt himself and to distinguish himself from others in doing them. By them man boasts of great piety before other men, and gains a great reputation for it; but he can be bad at the same time; these outward acts do not bring him into the presence of God who searches the heart. Man by these acts is religious without possessing holiness, and he finds that this just suits him. One does not find Pharisees only in our Lord’s time; they are to be found in all times. This system always attaches itself to the influence which a man exerts over another by means of a position outwardly holy; it is not the faith which possesses truth and grace for itself (which truth and grace came by Jesus Christ, and which produce holiness and communion with God who reveals Himself in them), but the official influence that a man uses to his own advantage, carelessly leaving on one side the will and the commandments of God. Thus it was amongst the Jews; they washed their hands, but not their hearts; they were very scrupulous about that which entered their mouth, and careless about that which came out of their heart.
Thus is man’s religion always; he can observe such a religion as this, and deck himself with it as with a glory. But he cannot get real holiness in this way, and this is evident to the eyes of God, who sees all that goes on in the heart. True holiness shews itself in the practical walk; one may fail, but the soul sustained by grace only seeks the approbation of God; it has the consciousness of failure, and rejoices in God, for it is He who dwells in the soul, and keeps it humble. But the Pharisees and Sadducees amongst the Jews profited by their reputation and position to induce the pious to give many gifts to God, whom they represented. Thus duties towards parents were slighted, and God’s law countermanded. They honoured God with their lips, but their heart was far from Him. They drew near to Him with their mouth, but not with their heart; this was full of covetousness and iniquity. God refuses altogether this kind of honour. “In vain do they worship me,” says the prophet Isaiah, and the Lord repeats it. God wants a pure heart sanctified by the Spirit and by the truth; and He wants a worship which is to be rendered in spirit and in truth: the Father seeketh such to worship Him. He wants grace, but the truth is required to be able to draw near to God, a heart where the divine life exists. All this human religion, outward, Pharisaical, priestly, is judged of the Lord once and for all times. God demands a pure heart and true obedience. Men put on this kind of religion, giving honour in it to antiquity and to the traditions of their ancestors, to which man’s imagination attributes great value. All that is seen through the shades of antiquity is imposing enough; but with God it is a question of the heart, and it was the same then as it is now with us: we are before God, and He sees us just as we are. Man’s actual state is the question.
But what are these poor hearts in their natural state? This is the second question the Lord takes up. He has already torn the veil of the hypocrisy by which the Pharisees and priests tried to conceal the impurity of their hearts, and to turn to their own account the external piety which they taught; the motives of their hearts are manifested, and the efforts which they make to cover the impurity and avarice of their heart appear; their hypocrisy is manifest. The Lord does not only rend the veil of hypocrisy, but discovers also that which the heart produces. This is what God does; He searches our hearts and manifests them, and then reveals His own. This is the uncovering not merely of the hearts of the Pharisees, but of the hearts of all men; that which goes out of the mouth defiles the man, because it proceeds from the heart. What a picture! The product of the human heart consists of malice, corruption, envy, … in a word, of nothing but vices.
Was the Lord wanting in benevolence or love toward man? His coming is the proof of God’s love. Did He wish to hide the good that might be found in man? Was He the only one capable of discovering the evil? Could He wish to slander the being He had come to bless, to save, and to whom He would give a place with Himself? Impossible: this could not be. But instead, knowing man’s heart, He was obliged to say the truth. It was love which discloses the utter perversity of the human heart, in order that man may not remain in this, state. It is indeed better that it should be disclosed now in the presence of grace than in the day of judgment, when all that is manifested will be punished, and man condemned.
Observe also that, when practical holiness and obedience are no longer to be found in the life of the leaders, a religion founded by God becomes the power of sin and of hypocrisy, and tends always to pervert the mind, to destroy the conscience and uprightness in all; because that which is looked upon as God’s authority encourages hypocrisy and iniquity, and also tends to produce unbelief, because men see that religion attaches itself to that which even the natural conscience condemns. Oh how sad a story is that of the human heart and of the church of God, such as men have made it! Observe also the influence of the corrupt religious authority to blind men and to destroy spiritual intelligence. What can be clearer than that which the Lord says? But the natural conscience does not recognise the truth that it is not that which entereth into a man’s mouth that defileth the man, but that which comes out of it, for it proceeds from the heart. The thing is simple enough.
The disciples do not understand, and ask for an explanation of it; their natural intelligence had been blinded by the tradition of the elders. The manner of reasoning acquired by the authority of the latter had spoilt their understanding. And indeed, do we not find many who believe that that which entereth into a man’s mouth defileth him? And yet they are sincere souls; and not only so, they believe also that to eat a certain kind of food one day denies, and that another day it does not: and this because of the tradition of the elders. This really is what the disciples did substantially; and the Lord reproves them, saying, “Are ye so without understanding also?” Here we see the judgment of the Lord against many things which keep many souls in bondage, and sincere souls even, like those of the disciples.
But let us turn to the precious display of God’s love in the words of the Lord to the poor woman. We find that all the privileges of the Jews are recognised first; but we find also the truth of God which rises far above such privileges to manifest grace and love wherever a need may be found; not indeed where there is a right to the promises, but towards an accursed race, towards a woman from a country notorious for its hardened state. God manifested Himself in rising above all the barriers that man’s iniquity and the exclusive system of Judaism had set up, even the system which He had Himself established, which was shewn to be abolished by the rejection of Christ.
The Lord goes into the borders of Tyre and Sidon; He wishes to be quiet, but goodness joined with power are too rare in the world to remain unnoticed; and the need felt awakens the soul and makes it clear-sighted. A poor woman had a daughter subject to the power of an unclean spirit; feeling her own wretchedness and believing in Jesus’ power, she goes to seek Him. The weight of misery that oppressed her made her hope in His goodness. The Lord keeps to the promises made by God to the Jews, and in His answer puts forward the rights of God’s people; He could not take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs. Observe that the woman herself was of the accursed race; if we look at the ways of God in the midst of Israel, there was not a single promise for her; and she had no right belonging to her in common with the people of God. According to the Jews and the legal economy, she was nothing more than a dog: but present needs were there, and the power of God, always employed as it is for His own good purposes, was there too, and this inspires her confidence.
It is always thus; need and faith in the goodness and power of the Lord give perseverance, as in the case of those who carried the paralytic man when the crowd pressed around Jesus. But there is something in the woman’s heart besides confidence which grace had produced there. She recognises the rights of the Jews as God’s people; she owns that she is but a dog with regard to them; but she insists upon her demand, because she feels that, even though she be but a dog, the grace of God is sufficient for those who had no rights. “Even the dogs,” she says, “eat of the children’s crumbs “; she recognises what she is, but also what God is. She believes in His love towards those who have neither rights nor promises; and in the manifestation of God in Jesus outside of and above all dispensations. God is good, and the fact of being in misery is a claim with Him: could Christ say, “No, God is not good as thou dost suppose?” He could not say this: it would not have been the truth.
This is great faith, faith which recognises our own wretchedness, that we have right to nothing; but faith which believes in the love of God clearly revealed in Jesus, without any promise, yet fully revealed. God cannot deny Himself and say, “No I am not love.” We have no right to expect the exercise of this love towards us, but we can be sure that coming to Christ, impelled by our wants, we shall find perfect goodness, love that heals us, and the healing itself. Let us remember that true need perseveres because it cannot do without the aid of the power which was manifested in Christ; nor without the salvation which He has brought; nor is there salvation without the help which is to be found in Him for our weakness. And that which is in God is the source of our hope and of our faith; and if asked how we know what is in God’s heart, we can answer, “It is revealed perfectly in Christ.” Who put it into God’s heart to send His own Son to save us? Who put it into the Son’s heart to come and suffer everything for us? Not man. God’s heart is its source. We believe in this love, and in the value of that which Christ has done and accomplished upon the cross, to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Besides He does all things well, He makes both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.
The grace of God was fully shewn towards the poor woman, who had no right to any blessing, nor to any promise; she was a daughter of the accursed Canaan; but faith reaches even to the heart of God manifested in Jesus, and in like manner the eye of God reaches to the bottom of man’s heart. Thus God’s heart and man’s heart meet, in the consciousness that man is altogether bad, that he has not a single right; indeed he owns truly this state, and in it gives himself up to the perfect goodness of God. But the Jewish people, who pretended to possess righteousness and right to the promises, is set on one side; and, as to the old covenant, is shut out from God’s favour. Only Jesus opens the eyes and the ears of the remnant brought to Him in faith. And it was not only the Jewish people which was to be set aside (and as to the first covenant for ever), but man also was set aside on the ground of righteousness, which is the principle of the first covenant.
Then the Lord leaves again the borders of Tyre and Sidon and returns to the country of Galilee; where He found Himself in the midst of the people of Israel. But, as we have said, He was virtually rejected by the people. Jesus has the consciousness that the beloved people is lost, and all that He does is to expect its ruin. They bring to Him a man who was deaf with an impediment in his speech, and beseech Him to put His hand upon him to heal him. Then Jesus takes the man and leads him aside from the crowd: and then puts His fingers in his ears, and, having spit, touches his tongue. Then He looks toward heaven: power is always present in Him, but sorrow oppresses His heart, because the people were really deaf to the voice of the Good Shepherd; their tongue was tied and incapable of praising God. The Lord’s sighs are the expression of this feeling; inasmuch as the state of the poor man represented the state of the beloved people. Nevertheless they were happy in that the love of Him whose counsels never change rested, in spite of all, upon them. And indeed the Lord was there, and worked according to this love and these sighs; He looked up to heaven, the source of love and of power, and never grew weary until the people in favour of whom He exercised this power, would no longer support His presence. It is true they would not have been able to put Him to death, if He had not given Himself up of His own free will, but the time would come in which He would give Himself up to accomplish redemption; and until that moment arrive, He shews Himself always as the God of goodness towards the afflicted, and for all people’s need.
In verse 33 we see that He separates Himself from the mass of the people in healing the deaf man. In chapter 8:23, we have the same thing; He leads the blind man out of the town, but He heals him; only there the state of His disciples is shewn. It is touching to see this look that the Lord gives toward heaven, and the sigh of His heart as He sees the people deaf to God’s voice, and incapable of blessing His name; and to see the Lord’s heart for hardened men, and how this heart was in harmony with the heaven which He always manifested. There He found the certainty of this love that man rejected; and rested in the same feelings that reign in heaven, and of which He was the expression upon this ungrateful earth. The Lord’s power shewed itself the very moment; the ears were opened, and the tongue was loosed. The people could not hold their peace, but published everywhere that which Jesus had done, saying, “He hath done all things well; he maketh both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.” The Lord’s work opens the ears, and gives cause to humble hearts to praise God, and to recognize His love. But alas! how many remain deaf to the voice of God’s love! “They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; which will not listen to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.”
The Lord continues to manifest divine goodness. It is the chief thing to be noticed in this part of the Gospel. He had already given the hungry people to eat, a manifest sign of Jehovah’s presence, as we have before remarked—a sign that should accompany His presence. Here it is more simply the divine power, without alluding to the kingdom which was to come. The number seven is the expression of perfection in spiritual things. The Lord’s compassion makes Him think of the needs of the poor, whilst the disciples think only of human and visible means to satisfy themselves. This is the case only too often with real believers.
Then the Lord leaves the crowd, and goes into the parts of Dalmanutha. There the Pharisees ask for a sign from heaven, although they had already seen enough; but unbelief is never satisfied. But now the time of trial was passed, it was too late; the Lord leaves them. But observe the Lord’s spirit towards the perverse generation; He sighed deeply in His spirit, saying, “Why doth this generation seek after a sign? There shall no sign be given to it.” The end had come morally; it was useless to give proofs to hearts who had resolved not to believe. Perfect patience, love, deep pity, and sorrow in thinking of the unbelief of the leaders of the people were all there in Him, and manifested themselves all the more clearly as their hearts were hardened; and signs were useless for hearts who would not believe, and also it was not suited to God’s majesty to give any to men who would not receive Him. It would be casting pearls before swine.
Now we find that the disciples themselves were really blind, not wilfully, but in fact. The Lord warns the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod. The disciples had forgotten to take any bread, and alas! also the power of Jesus manifested in the miracles, by which He had fed thousands of people with a few loaves. The Lord reproves them, saying, “Perceive ye not, neither understand? Have ye your heart yet hardened?” They were, as it were, hardened at seeing so many miracles, and had understood nothing of Jesus’ miracles in the multiplying of the loaves.
But the fact which follows shews the state of the disciples in contrast with the people. The latter did not see anything at all, and would not receive the light; the disciples saw indistinctly; they saw men as trees walking. They really loved the Lord, but Jewish habits prevented them from grasping fully His glory. They believed indeed that He was the Messiah, but the Messiah for their hearts was something else than the Christ of God, the Saviour of the world. They had attached themselves by grace to the person of the Lord, but they did not understand that divine glory which was, as it were, hid in that person, which revealed itself in His words and works. They had left all to follow the Lord; intelligence was wanting, not faith, however small it might be. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak, as we have already remarked. The Lord leads the blind man out of the city, separating him from Israel. First of all the man only sees partially: men seemed to him like trees walking. But the Lord’s patience, as great as His power, gives a picture of the state of the disciples’ heart, and also a picture of His untiring goodness, which does not leave the blind man until he sees clearly. Thus He did to the disciples, only here He does not speak of the means: when Jesus had ascended to heaven and had sat down at the right hand of God, He sent the Holy Ghost who led them into all truth. Then they saw clearly.
But the Lord forbids the blind man to enter into the town, or to tell it to anyone in the town, not only because He did not seek the vain glory of men, but also because He wished to avoid a large concourse of curious persons who were but an obstacle to His real work in consciences and hearts; and also because He wished to shew that the time of testimony in Israel was at an end. Rejected by the world, He commands the man who has been delivered from the power of the devils to return to his house, and there to proclaim that which God had done for him. The disciples would have done that— would have proclaimed His work—when Christ should have left this world; but here it was a question of Israel who had rejected the Lord, and God’s testimony had no longer any place in their midst.
The Lord’s discourse which follows touches upon this in the question which He asks His disciples, “Whom do men say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist; but some, Elias; and others one of the prophets”: different opinions, but no faith. Then He asks them, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter answers, “Thou art the Christ”; and the Lord forbids the disciples to tell it to any man, in the most positive manner. This is the clearest proof that the testimony in the midst of the people was entirely at an end. He was nevertheless the Christ, but He was rejected by the people, which shewed itself to be its own enemy in rejecting the wondrous grace of God. Now He begins to teach His disciples openly that He must suffer as Son of man: a much greater position and title, both as regards the extent of His power, and the greatness of the dominion which belonged to Him; for all things will be subjected to the sway of the Son of man. But in order that the Son of man might take His place in glory, He must first suffer, be put to death and rise again; it was necessary that redemption should be accomplished, and that man should enter into a new position, into an entirely new state, in which he had never been even when innocent. Christ’s position as Messiah was now set aside for this time, and He enters into one greater where old things are left behind beyond death, and all that is founded upon Christ’s work, upon His death—enters upon a state altogether new and eternal.
Here the subject is treated more with regard to His sufferings; He puts the cross before the disciples, but He always speaks of death and resurrection. “And he spake that saying openly.” This was a stumbling stone for Peter who did not wish that his Master should be despised in the eyes of the crowd; but the cross is the portion of those who wish to follow the Saviour. Peter in saying this placed a stumbling block on the disciples’ path; the Lord thinks of this, and, turning about and looking upon His disciples, He reproves Peter, who had confessed Him but a moment ago, by the grace of God, and says to him, “Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou savourest not of the things that be of God, but of the things that be of men.” We have here an important lesson, indeed, more than one lesson. First, the Christian needs to understand well that the way of salvation, the way which leads to glory and to heaven, the way in which Christ Himself walked, and in which He wishes us to follow Him, is a way in which we must deny ourselves, suffer, and conquer. Secondly, let us learn that a Christian can have true faith, and be taught of God, as in Peter’s case here, without having the flesh in him judged so as to render him capable of walking in the way into which this truth brings him. It is important to remember this; sincerity may exist without knowing oneself. The new position of Christ, that of Son of man which embraced the heavenly glory of man in Him, and the supremacy over everything, rendered the cross absolutely necessary. But Peter’s heart was not ready for the cross; when the Lord announces its practical effect, he cannot bear it.
How many hearts there are in this state! Sincere, no doubt; but they have not the spiritual courage to accept the consequences of the truth they believe. See the difference in Paul, made strong by the presence of the Holy Ghost and by faith. He says in the presence of death, “To know him [Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and the communion of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death,” Phil. 3:10. But there was in him the power of the Holy Ghost, and he bore always in his body the dying of Jesus in order that the life of Jesus should manifest itself in his body. Happy man! always willing to suffer everything, rather than not follow fully the Lord Jesus, and to confess His name whatever the consequence might be; and, having walked faithfully, by grace to obtain at last the prize of his heavenly calling.
But the Lord does not conceal the consequence, nor does He wish to do so. He warns the crowd, and He warns us also that if we wish to be with Him, if we wish to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross. Let us receive the Lord’s words: if we wish to be with Him for ever, we must follow Him, and if we follow Him, we shall find upon the road that which He found. Of course it is not a question of expiatory sufferings, of that which He suffered from God’s hand for sin, but of His sufferings from man, the contradiction of sinners, the opposition of men, abuse and even death. We know but little what it is to suffer for the name of Jesus; but remember, Christians, that which the Lord says first, “Let him deny himself”; you can always do this by grace. It is by doing this that we learn to suffer with Him, if God should call us to it. And what shall we give in exchange for our soul? This leads us to a third lesson, which requires a little more development.
That which nourishes the flesh and self-love is the great system which is called the world. Man wishes to be something in his own eyes; he would like to forget God, and make himself happy, if possible, without Him. Thus Cain, when he was driven out from God’s presence, after Abel’s death, went away from before His face, judged in such a manner by God, that he could not hope to be admitted again into His presence to enjoy communion with Him; for God had made him to be a vagabond and a wanderer on the earth (a striking type of the Jews at this time, after having put to death the Lord Jesus, who had become, so to speak, their brother). But Cain was not willing to remain a poor vagabond; at all events he did not wish to leave his family in such a state; he wished it to escape his own proper lot; and to this end he built a city in the land of Nod (“Nod “is the Hebrew word translated vagabond in the first instance); he desired that his family should be estabhshed in the country where God had made him a vagabond. He names the city after his son, as do the great people of this world. There is to be found the father (that is, the inventor) of music, the father of them that work in brass and iron; there the riches of this present age were heaped together, much cattle. This is the world!
Man’s heart, alienated from God, tries to make the earth, where he was set at a distance from God, as pleasing to himself as possible; and, in order to accomplish this, he uses God’s gifts and creatures to be able to do without Him. It is said that there is no harm in these things:—this is true, but this is not the question. They are good as being created things; it is said (as a figure) that there will be music in heaven also; but in heaven it will not be employed in order to divert the mind without God. It is a question of the use we make of these things. For instance, there is no harm in strength, but in the manner of employing it; with it one does harm to one’s neighbour. Is it not true that the world which knows not God uses all kinds of pleasures to enjoy itself without Him? The heart which has not God in it endeavours to amuse itself, and for this it employs all the things which are seen, heard, and invented; as for instance, the theatre, music, and every kind of thing, because it is empty and sad and cannot satisfy itself; and after a few years, during which it has kept up its natural spirits, it finds itself tired and weary, even of trying everything, and says with Solomon after having essayed all, “All is vanity and vexation of spirit.” God is neglected, and the soul lost.
For the Christian too, amusements only lead him away to a distance from God, and destroy his communion with Him. All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father but of the world. The world and its lust pass away, but he that does the will of God abides for ever. The prince of this world is Satan, who seduced Eve with these things, having first of all destroyed her confidence in God; and it was with these things that he tried to seduce the Lord also, although, thank God, in vain. But with little trouble he succeeds but too often to seduce the hearts of men and of Christians; and to cause the pleasures of the world to have more power upon the soul than Christ Himself, than the love of a dying Saviour.
It was thus with poor Peter! It is true, he had not yet received the Holy Ghost, but this does not change the nature of his desires. He wished for this world’s glory, and that under the appearance of love for the Lord. Notice here too the Lord’s love for His disciples and how great is His tender care for them; He turns round and sees how great a stumbling-block Peter’s words may be for the other disciples, and reproves him as severely as his words deserved. Then the Lord puts two principles before the disciples, first, the soul is worth more than everything, it is not to be exchanged for anything; secondly, the Lord is about to come in glory, and whosoever shall be ashamed of Him in this corrupt world where He is rejected, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when He shall come in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.
Now the Lord finds the occasion to manifest this personal glory of His to establish the disciples’ faith, and also to shew that His presence in grace as Messiah, in the midst of Israel, was soon to come to an end; and that the new glory of the Son of man with His own was soon to be inaugurated, although it would be necessary to await the time when all the co-heirs should be gathered together. “Verily I say unto you,” says the Lord, “There be some of them that stand here which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” Six days afterwards the Lord went up into a mountain with Peter, James, and John, and was transfigured before them; His raiment became shining and exceeding white as snow; Elias and Moses appeared with Him glorified in like manner, speaking with Him. We know that this apparition was the manifestation of Christ’s glorious reign over the earth.
We read in 2 Peter 1-16, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his Majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’; and this voice which came from heaven we heard when we were with him in the holy mount.” These are the words of the apostle Peter when he relates that which happened to him when he saw the wonderful vision of the mountain of the transfiguration. From this we learn what the kingdom is as regards its manifestation upon earth, for they were upon earth. The bright cloud which covered them was the Father’s dwelling-place, whence the voice came and into which, according to Luke, they had entered.
What a privilege for poor mortals, for sinners to have been able to gaze upon the Son of God in glory, and to have been manifested with Him in the same glory upon earth; to be His companions, to converse with Him; to possess the testimony that they have been loved as He has been loved (John 17:23); to be with Him, and like Him in everything as Man, for His own glory; wonderful proof of the value of the redemption He has accomplished! And the nearer we shall be to Him, the more shall we adore Him, being with Him as we shall be in the Father’s house. But here our evangelist does not speak of their entering; comparing however Luke 9 we find it nevertheless true that they entered into the cloud out of which came the Father’s voice.
It was according to God’s counsel that we should be with Christ, the second Man, the last Adam, and in the same glory with Him. We are predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son in order that He may be the first-born among many brethren. It is for this that He became man: He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one, for which cause He is not ashamed to call us brethren. What would a Redeemer be without His redeemed? It is most certainly a far better thing to be a companion of the Lord Jesus in the Father’s house, than co-heir of His glory before the world: yet both the one diing and the other are wonderful for poor creatures like ourselves. Elias and Moses are in the same glory; and we shall be like Him when He shall appear.
But the Lord’s personal glory is always maintained; Peter wishes to make three tabernacles, putting Christ, Moses, and Ellas upon the same footing—the three grand characters of Israel’s history. But Moses and Elias disappear immediately, and the Father’s voice recognises Jesus as His beloved Son; it is to Jesus’ testimony that we must listen. All that Moses and Elias said is the truth, God’s word, and by their means we learn God’s thoughts; but they give testimony to Christ, not with Him. It is from Him alone that we learn fully the will of God, and His truth fully revealed. Jesus is the truth, and grace and truth came by Him. The death of Christ, His resurrection and completed redemption have put everything upon a new footing for men.
The believers who lived before the Lord’s coming, believed in the promises and prophecies which announced His arrival; and they were accepted by faith; their sins committed during the time of God’s patience, and which He bore with because He knew what He would do later on, are forgiven; and God’s righteousness in forgiving them is manifested, now that Christ has died. But now God’s righteousness is manifested, and the power of divine life is shewn forth in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All is new in our relationship with God; the veil is rent, and we enter freely into the holiest. “The righteousness of God without law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” Behold Moses and Elias; but the glory in which both Moses and Elias appeared is the fruit, not of the law nor of the prophets, but of the work of Jesus Christ; and one can only possess it in the resurrection state. The Lord’s resurrection too was absolutely necessary, as being the power of life beyond death, and as a proof that God had accepted the death of Christ as having answered to the question of sin. The glory belonged to another world, gained for those who believe by the sacrifice of Christ, the Son of God, although this had to be fulfilled in this world. It belongs, therefore, to the state into which Christ, the second Adam, has entered by resurrection, and is based upon accomplished redemption.
Thus, although this was well-suited to strengthen the faith and increase the intelligence of these three, columns of the future church, it was not to be talked about before the Lord’s resurrection, and Jesus forbade the disciples to tell the things they had seen until the Son of man should be raised from among the dead. Notice the expression, “The disciples kept these words to themselves, asking one another what the rising from the dead should mean.” This indeed throws quite a new light upon the resurrection. Christ rose alone from amongst the dead, and left all the others in the grave; and His resurrection is a proof that the God of righteousness has accepted His work—His sacrifice—as a full and entire satisfaction given to His righteousness and His holiness; and the man who believes in Him is accepted according to the value of Christ’s sacrifice.
The resurrection of the faithful also takes place, because God is fully satisfied as to them because of Christ’s work. These alone will be raised when the Lord comes, to be for ever with Him. All the disciples believed in the resurrection of the dead, having been taught thus by the Pharisees; they were not like the Sadducees, but believed that all the Jews would be raised at once; and they did not understand the meaning of a resurrection which should separate the good from the bad, and should leave the latter behind for a certain time. Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the saints, not of the wicked. Those who are Christ’s shall rise at His coming, and their vile body shall be changed and made like unto His glorious body. There are many Christians who, like the disciples, do not understand the Lord’s words. One finds many Christians who have a faith like that of the Pharisees; they believe indeed that there will be a resurrection, and, like Martha, that all will rise at the last day. The only difference is that Martha and the Jews believed in the resurrection of the Jews only; and these Christians believe in a resurrection where good and bad will be raised together.
It is quite true that all will rise, but true faith in Christ (notice, dear reader), true faith makes the distinction already. The unbeliever remains in his sins, and will rise for the judgment, and the true believer will rise for the resurrection of life; he will rise (as we find in 1 Cor. 15) in glory. When the Lord comes, He will change our vile body and fashion it like unto His glorious body. Christ is the first-fruits of the resurrection, but certainly not of the wicked: in no part of the word do we find a common resurrection of good and bad: we find in Luke 14:14, a resurrection of the just, and again (20:35), “they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from among the dead.” Thus we find expressly in 1 Corinthians 15, “Every man in his own order, Christ the first-fruits, afterwards they that are Christ’s at his coming.”
Thus also in 1 Thessalonians 4, “The dead in Christ shall rise first”: it is always thus. People quote Matthew 25, but in that chapter it is no question of resurrection, nor of raised bodies; it is not a universal judgment, but a judgment of Gentiles upon the earth, of those to whom the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14 had been sent at the end of the age. There are not two classes only here, but three; the sheep, the goats, and the brethren of the Judge. The principle of the judgment here is not the principle of a universal judgment. It is just according to the manner in which they have received and esteemed the Judge’s brethren; that is, the messengers of the everlasting gospel, called in Matthew 24:14, “this gospel of the kingdom.”
The principles of the general judgment of the nations are explained in Romans 1 and 2; these are quite different. I speak of Matthew 25 because it is the only passage that is quoted as a reply to the uniform testimony of the Holy Scriptures to a distinct resurrection of believers, according to the declaration of John 5:24: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment; but is passed from death unto life.” We shall all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, certainly, and every one will give account of himself to God. But when the believers shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, they will have been glorified already, raised in glory, and made like unto the glory of Christ, as man. “When he shall appear, we shall be like him” —it is for this that “every one who hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
The first coming of Christ put away sin as regards judgment; for believers He will appear the second time unto perfect salvation to receive them to Himself, to glorify them. Their spirits are with Him in heaven, whilst they await this hour— the resurrection of their bodies will take place when He shall return, and then we shall all be for ever with the Lord. When glorified however, we shall give account of everything; we shall know as we have been known. There is thus a resurrection from among the dead.
The difficulty of which the scribes talked (that Elias ought to come before the Messiah) presents itself to the disciples. Now the scribes still exercised great influence over the disciples. And in truth, this is to be found in Malachi’s prophecy; it will be surely fulfilled, whatever the manner of fulfilment may be, before the Lord’s coming in glory. But He came first in humiliation, and hidden, as it were, as to His external glory; He entered by the door as the shepherd of the sheep, in order that faith seeing through the darkness of His position and of His daily life, might discern not merely a Messiah, come to Israel according to the promises, but the love and power of God Himself—and might find itself in the presence of His holiness.
The Jews would have received with joy a Messiah who should liberate them from the Roman yoke; but the presence of God is unsupportable for men, even when He appears amongst them in goodness. To the coming which is still future, the Lord alludes when He says in Matthew 10:23, “For I tell you ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel until the Son of man be come.” But now He appears in humility, made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death; that is, in order to be able to suffer. Thus also John the Baptist comes in the spirit and power of Elias, according to Isaiah 11 and Malachi 3, to prepare the way of the Lord. Thus the Lord answers; John must come; the scribes are right; John shall come and restore all things. But it was necessary too that the Son of man should suffer, and that He should be thoroughly despised. “But I tell you that Elias hath already come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed.”
But if the Lord was manifested in His glory before the disciples’ eyes in the transfiguration, He occupies Himself now with the misery of the earth; and that which took place is very remarkable for the display of His patience, and of the ways of God. When He comes down from the mountain, He finds a great crowd, and the scribes reasoning with His disciples. It is blessed to notice that if the Lord is recognised as Son of God, and will be manifested in glory, and we with Him, He nevertheless comes down into this world—as He does still by His Spirit—and meets with the crowd and the power of Satan for us; and again (it is well for us to notice it) He speaks as intimately with His disciples as He does with Moses and Elias. Oh, how great is His grace! But the exercise of this grace develops the position and state of man and of the disciples.
A poor father has recourse to the Lord for his suffering son, who is possessed of an evil spirit, and cannot speak. He tells the Lord that he had brought him to the disciples, and that they could not cast out the unclean spirit. This is their position; not only does the Lord encounter unbelief, but although divine power be in the earth, believers even do not know how to use it; it was in vain then that the Lord was present in the world. He could work miracles, but man did not know how to profit by this, or to use it by faith. It was a faithless generation; and He could not stay down here. It was not the presence or the power of the devils that drove Him away, for indeed it was this that brought Him down here; but when His own do not know how to profit by the power and the blessing which He has brought into the world and placed in their midst, the dispensation characterised by these gifts must be drawing to its close. And this, not because there is unbelief in the world, but because He own cannot realise the power placed at their disposal; and in consequence the testimony of God falls to the ground destroyed, instead of being established; since the followers of this testimony meet with the power of the enemy and cannot do anything—the enemy is too strong for them.
“O faithless generation,” says the Lord, “how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? “His service upon earth was finished. But see the patience and goodness of the Lord; He cannot deny Himself. All the time He is down here upon earth He works according to His power and grace, and that notwithstanding the unbelief of His own. He finishes the sentence in which He reproves their unbelief in this manner— “Bring him to me.” Faith, however small it be, is never left without an answer from the Lord. What a consolation! whatever be the unbelief, not only of the world, but of Christians—if only one solitary person were left in the world who had faith in the goodness and power of the Lord Jesus, he could not come to Him with a real need and simple belief without finding His heart ready and His power sufficient.
The church may be in ruins, as was Israel, but the Head is sufficient for everything, knows the state of His own, and will not fail to supply their needs. The child’s state was very dangerous, and the devil had possessed him from his infancy. The father’s faith was feeble, but sincere; he says to the Lord, “If thou canst do anything, have pity upon us, and help us.” The Lord’s reply is remarkable: “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” Power connects itself with faith; the difficulty is not in Christ’s power, but in man’s believing; all things were possible if he could believe. This is an important principle; Christ’s power never fails to accomplish all that is good for man; faith, alas! may be wanting in us to profit by it. However the Lord is full of goodness; the poor father says with tears, “I believe, help thou mine unbelief”: sincere words from a moved heart in which the Lord had already awakened faith. It was the anxiety for his son that weakened this faith.
Now the Lord, avoiding the empty curiosity of the people, thinking rather of the needs of the father and son, commands the unclean spirit with authority to come out and not to enter again into the child. And he comes out of him, shewing at the same time his power (tearing the child, so as to leave him as dead), but absolutely subject to the Lord’s authority. It is very beautiful to see that the Lord upon leaving the glory went to meet the unbelief of the world and of His own, and the weakness of the faith of those who have need of it, and that too in the presence of the enemy’s great power. The Lord does not keep at a distance from us, He takes part in our sorrows, He encourages our weak faith, and with a single word drives away all the power of the enemy. Neither His own glorious state, nor the unbelief of the world which rejected Him, prevented Him from being the refuge and the remedy for the poorest faith. He interests Himself in us, thinks of us, and helps us.
Although the Lord be placed in glory according to His rights, these do not weaken His love for poor human-kind. But again we find an important lesson at the end of this history. Energetic faith which works (whether the miracles which happened at that time or the great things of the kingdom of God) is sustained by intimate communion with God, by prayer and fasting. The heart comes out from God’s presence to drive away the enemy’s power; but whatever might be the Lord’s grace, whatever His power, a greater work had to be accomplished, a great work for the Lord Himself, a work of which He alone was capable—difficult indeed for the heart of man to learn, but absolutely necessary for the glory of God and for our redemption and salvation: a lesson which one must learn in order to walk in the Lord’s ways. This is the work of the cross; and the wholesome lesson it teaches us is this—that we must bear our own cross.
Now that the future glory, the glory of the kingdom, has been revealed;—now that the Lord has shewn forth His power and His perfect goodness in spite of the unbelief of the world, and of His departure after having been rejected by the world—He takes His disciples aside, passing through Galilee to make them understand that the Son of man would be given into the hands of men who would put Him to death. He speaks of His title as Son of man, because He could not any longer remain upon earth as the promised Messiah, but He must accomplish the work of redemption. However after that He should have been put to death, He would rise again on the third day. Behold then redemption completed and everything made new: man is put upon an entirely new footing, at least the believer in Jesus.
Risen man does not stand upon the same footing as Adam in his innocence. I do not speak now of the lost, although it be true for them, but it is quite a different thing. Adam was in the natural blessing of a creature, but his faithfulness was put to the proof, a proof in which he failed. True enough the sinner is not in the condition of the redeemed; but in Adam’s case all depended upon his responsibility. In Christ risen man had been fully tried and shewn to be perfect, proved even unto death, where He glorified God Himself. Further, He bore our sins and put them away for ever; He submitted to death, but has conquered it, and has come forth out of it; He has borne the stroke of God’s judgment against sin. Satan had already employed all his power as the prince of this world, in the death of Jesus, although it was not possible that He should be holden of death: so that instead of being under trial where He had placed Himself in His love for us and in order to glorify His Father, Jesus risen (and we in Him by faith and by the hope which the Holy Ghost who unites us to Jesus inspires) is beyond the reach of all these things.
Death, to which Adam subjected himself through sin, is conquered, our sins are abolished before God; we are perfected for ever as to our conscience; a new state of life has begun for us, a life which is entirely new and heavenly; and heavenly glory at the end, already realised for Christ there where He was with the Father before the foundation of the world. “As He is,” says John, “so are we in this world “(that is, as in the presence of God’s judgment)—and we await the resurrection of the body. But Christ’s position as a glorified man, is the fruit of having fully glorified God; and we, sharing His life by the operation of the Holy Spirit, participate in the fruit of His work already at this present time, as to our position before God; and later we shall be like unto Him perfectly. Adam’s state when innocent was happy, but it depended upon his obedience. Christ’s state as man is the fruit of an obedience perfectly complete, after it had been proved even to the point of drinking the cup of death and of malediction, when He was made sin for us.
The first state was exposed to change, and complete ruin came in by the fall; the other remains unchangeable, established upon a work that can never lose its value. We are already brought, by participating in the life of Jesus, into the relationships into which He introduces us with the Father. “I ascend,” said He after His resurrection, “to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.” Only in order to accomplish all this it was necessary for Him to pass through death, to bear the cross, in order to drink the sup which His Father had given Him. He engages them then with the cross, and teaches them to expect it. But what a thing man is! We learn it in what follows.
The Lord, having the consciousness of His glory in which the Father had recognised Him a little while ago as His beloved Son, and knowing at the same time that this glory made the cross absolutely necessary to bring many sons to glory, speaks of it to His disciples; He insists that it will be necessary for them to carry it. Such was the path of the glory of which His own death was the foundation. The Lord’s heart was full of the thought of the sufferings which accompanied it; of the cup He had to drink, and of the necessity of His disciples’ understanding this path, and of taking up their cross. But of what were the disciples’ hearts full? They were thinking who should be the greatest. Alas, how incapable our heart is to receive God’s thoughts, to think of a Saviour humbled unto death for us! It is true that the Spirit of God puts in contrast here the reign of Messiah which the Jews expected, and the glorious heavenly reign which the Lord was establishing, and for which His death was necessary; but the contrast comes out strongly thus in the heart of man. He would like to be great in a kingdom established according to man’s glory and man’s power; he esteems it a good thing that God should condescend to this; but that His glory should be morally exalted and established, and the vain glory of man brought to nought, the manifestation of what man is; the love, holiness, and justice of God brought to light—all this is what man neither seeks nor desires; and when the Lord’s heart, full of these solemn truths and of the sufferings by which He must needs pass to fulfil them, speaks of them to His disciples, the latter dispute as to who shall be greatest. How poor and wretched a thing is man’s heart!
What incapacity to understand God’s thoughts, and to feel the tenderness and faithfulness of the heart of Jesus, and the thoughts passing through it; divine love manifesting itself in the heart of a Man, and as a Man in the midst of men, in which is found a moral incapacity to enter into His thoughts; but this opens the way at the same time to the manifestation of our thoughts which are in full contrast with those of Jesus. May God grant us in His grace to hold the flesh so entirely subject, that the Holy Spirit may be the source of all our thoughts and of the movements of our hearts. Nevertheless the conscience does not keep silence if the Lord’s word touches us: we know well that the desire of vain glory is a bad thing, that it is not meet for Christ, for Him who speaks, and we are ashamed. The disciples are silent because their conscience speaks.
Now the patient love of the Lord sets itself to teach them; He sits down (v. 35), and calls the twelve: He always thinks of us. He then teaches several principles, in which we see the consequences of the world’s opposition to Christ, and the introduction of a new relationship with God in Christ risen; these principles demand some explanation. The important point here, the foundation of ail the Lord’s exhortations, and of all He says is this, that the glory of the kingdom to come has been revealed, and with this revelation comes the cross. It is the end of all the relationships between God and Israel, and indeed between God and man, except indeed that of sovereign grace, and the principle of a new and heavenly relationship by faith. But Christ, the Messiah according to the promises in Israel, God manifest in flesh, the last hope for man as he was upon earth, was rejected. The relationship between God and man was broken. Could one seek glory upon an earth of this kind? What kind of disposition is fitting for a disciple of Christ? Humility: he who would be first shall be the last and servant of all. Then He takes a child and declares that he who receives such an one in His name receives Christ; and he who receives Christ receives the Father who sent Him. The name of Christ is the touch-stone, the only thing upon earth really great by faith.
Then we find a reproof for a thing which in itself was love, though rough and coarse, but which dresses itself in very deceitful forms, and seems to consider Christ’s glory; for love in itself is not upright: it is quite disposed to maintain the glory of Christ’s name, if it can attach itself to this glory. “We saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us, and we forbade him because he followeth not us.” See here the word “us” betrays the most subtle love of self: subtle, it is true, but none the less dangerous. But the Lord’s answer shews how absolute is His rejection: “He who is not against us is on our part,” because the whole world in its natural state was against Christ, and is still against Him; and no one could perform miracles in His name and at the same time speak evil or lightly of Him. The name of Christ is everything. Let us avoid this wretched “us,” and hold fast to Christ.
Verse 41 shews how the name of Christ is everything in a world which has rejected Him.
But what a testimony to man’s state, and to his inward opposition to God revealed in Christ! If any one was not against Him, he was for Him, otherwise he was completely God’s enemy. Some important consequences follow this state: first of all the least manifestation of love for Him, which interested itself in Him, having the power of His name at heart, should not be forgotten before God. What a picture of the state of things and of the patience of Christ, who humbled Himself even to being rejected and despised, yet does not forget the least token of affection for Him, and of desire for His glory! Now we see another consequence of this position. The Lord does not wish that a little child who believes in Him should be despised; He esteems these, because their hearts recognise His name, believe in Him; and hence they have a great value before God. Woe be to him who despises them and who places a stone of stumbling before their feet; it would have been better for such an one to have been drowned in the depth of the sea. And nevertheless, as regards themselves, all depends upon the faithfulness of Christ; and on this account they need free themselves from all the things which tend to separate from Christ, which lead into sin, and bring on apostasy in the heart as well as outward apostasy. God will keep His own, I believe, but He will keep them in making them obedient to His word.
However much it may cost us, if it should be an eye that offends us, we must pluck it out; if a hand, we must cut it off; in a word, the most valuable thing possible; for an eternity of blessing with Christ is better than to keep a right hand and to find oneself in eternal torments, “where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.” Besides this, God puts all to the proof: the fire of His judgment is applied to all, both to saints and sinners. In the saints, it consumes the dross, in order that the pure gold may shine in its true lustre; in the case of sinners, the fire of God and the eternal pains according to His just judgment, fire that is not quenched. “Every sacrifice must be salted with salt”; this refers to Leviticus 2:13. The salt represents the power of the Holy Spirit, not exactly to produce grace alone, but to keep us from all that is impure, and to produce holiness in a heart devoted to God, and which introduces God into its path; and in the heart there is a link with Himself which keeps us from all corruption. We are called to keep this in the heart, and to apply the sense of His presence to all that passes within us, and to judge by this means all that is within us.
But observe that the believer is the true sacrifice offered to God. “I beseech you,” says the apostle in Romans 12, “then, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” Here we see the true sacrifice, a reasonable service: and besides, this holy grace, which keeps us from all that is evil and impure, makes good its influence within us; and the Christian filled with practical holiness is a witness in the world. This indeed is the true state of Christians in this world; a witness in the midst of the world of a power which not only purifies but which keeps from the corruption in it. Salt influences other things and is apt to produce this effect; but if the salt itself lose its savour, wherewithal can it be seasoned? If Christians lose their practical holiness, what can they be good for? “Have salt in yourselves,” said the Lord. He wishes us to exorcise diligence in order that our souls, in our walk, may be thus sanctified before God, and then manifest themselves before the world; that we should judge in ourselves all that might diminish in us the clearness and purity of our testimony; and that we should walk with others in peace, governed by the spirit of peace in our relationships with them.
We find some important principles in this chapter, which terminates the history of Christ’s life. In the first three Gospels the account of the circumstances attending His death begins with the healing of the blind man near Jericho, which we find in verse 46 of this chapter. The first principle we find here is the corruption and ruin of that which God created down here; and in the relationships which He has established sin has entered and exercises its pernicious influence. The very law of Moses was obliged to permit things in the relationships of life down here, which are not according to the thoughts and the actual will of God, for the hardness of the heart of man.
But if God bears with men, incapable as they are to live up to the height of their relationships with Him, in things which are not according to His will and the perfection of the relationships which He has established, He does not condemn them, nor does He ever cease to recognise them as being that which He had established in the beginning. That which was established from the beginning by God Himself always holds good, and He maintains these relationships by His authority. Creation itself is good, but man has corrupted it; nevertheless God recognises that which He has made, and the relationships in which He has placed man, who is responsible in maintaining their obligations. It is true that God has brought in a power after the death of Christ which is not of this creation (that is, the Holy Spirit); and by means of this power, a man may live outside all the relationships of the old creation, if God calls him to this: but then he will respect the relationships where they exist.
The Pharisees, drawing near, ask Jesus if it is permitted that a husband should put away his wife. The Lord takes the occasion to insist upon this truth, that that which God had established from the beginning of the creation was always valid in itself. Moses had allowed a man to put away his wife in the law; but this was only the patience of God with the hardness of man’s heart; but it was not according to God’s own heart and will. In the creation at the beginning God made that which was good—weak, but good. He allowed other things when He ordered provisionally the state of His people, of fallen man; but He had made things differently when He created them. God had united husband and wife, and man had no right to separate them. The bond is not to be broken.
Again they bring little children unto Him;. and the disciples forbid those who bring them. But Jesus is displeased at this. Although the root of sin be found in the children, nevertheless they were the expression of simplicity, of confidence, and of the absence of the craftiness and of the corruption caused by the knowledge of the world, of the depravity of nature. They present to the heart the simplicity of uncorrupted nature, which has not learned the deceit of the world. And the Lord being a stranger in the world recognises in them that which His Father has created.
Now is there really any good in man? The remains of what God created are found in that which is purely creature; that which is beautiful and pleasant; that which comes from God’s hand is often beautiful and should be recognised as coming from Him. Nature around us is beautiful; it is God who created it, although thorns and thistles be found in it. We find that which is lovely sometimes in a man’s character and also even in the disposition of an animal. But it is a question of man’s heart, of his will, of what he is toward God— and not of what is natural, the fruit of creation: there dwelleth in him no good thing. There is nothing for God; but all is against Him; and this was manifested in the rejection of Christ.
This is the lesson we learn in the account which follows of the young man who runs and kneels at Jesus’ feet, asking Him, “Good master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He was amiable, well disposed, and ready to learn that which is good; he had witnessed the excellence of the life and works of Jesus, and his heart was touched at what he had seen. He had all the fine ardour of youth, he was not depraved by the habit of sin, for sin depraves the heart. Outwardly he had kept the law, and believed that Jesus could teach him the highest precepts of the law; for the Jews even believed that some commandments were of greater value than others.
The young man neither knew himself, nor the state in which man really was before God. He was under the law; and Jesus sets forth the law first as the rule of life, given by God as the measure of righteousness for the sons of Adam. The young man does not ask how he may be saved, but how he may inherit eternal life. The Lord does not speak of eternal life, but takes up the young man at the point where he places himself; the law said, “Do these things, and thou shalt live.” The young man declares that he has kept all these things from his youth up: the Lord neither denies nor disputes it; and we read that He looked upon him, and loved him. We see here that which is amiable and loved of the Lord. But what is the true state of this young man? The Lord draws the veil, and man stands before God in his nakedness; and God stands before man in His holiness. Doing anything is out of the question: how to be saved is another thing.
Let us examine what the Lord says about the state of man. The young man addressed the Lord not as Son of God, but as a rabbi, that is, as a teacher in Israel: he calls Him “Good master.” The Lord will not admit that man is good; not one righteous man can be found amongst men—no, not one. He says, “Why callest thou me good? No one is good except one: that is God.” Certainly Christ was good, but He was God, although He made Himself man in His perfect love. He was always God, and God became man without ceasing to be, or being able to cease being, God; only He had hidden His divinity in human nature (at least His glory) in order to come nigh unto us; for by faith divine power and love are more clearly manifested than ever. But here the young man comes as to a human teacher, a rabbi; and the Lord answers him in the same manner as he asks; but He establishes this important principle, that no one amongst the sons of fallen Adam is good; it is a humiliating truth, but one of immense weight. We cannot now find a man who is good by nature; we have seen that certain qualities remain of the first creation; but that which God had created good and declared to be good has been corrupted by the fall. Man goes in quest of his own pleasures, of his own interests, and not of God and His glory; he may seek these things honestly or dishonestly in the quagmire of sin, but he always seeks to satisfy his own will; he has lost God, and looks after himself.
Then the Lord, after having presented to him the commandments of the law, in which a man has life whilst he keeps them, adds in an exhortation the commandment which made Paul feel what the law produced, in the state in which man was—in death. “One thing thou lackest,” says the Lord: “Go, sell that thou hast, and come and follow me.” Here we see the lust of the heart exposed, the young man’s true state laid bare by the Lord’s powerful but simple word, which knows and tries the heart. The fine flowers of the wild tree are worth nothing; the fruits are those of a heart alienated from God: the sap is the sap of a bad tree. The love of riches ruled this young man’s heart, interesting as it was as to his natural disposition: the base desire of gold lay at the bottom of his heart; it was the mainspring of his will, the true measure of his moral state. If he goes away grieved and leaves the Lord, it is because he prefers money to God manifested in love and grace.
How solemn a thing it is to find oneself in the presence of Him who searcheth the heart! But the thing that governs the heart, its motive is the true measure of man’s moral state, and not the qualities which he possesses by birth, however pleasing these may be. Good qualities are to be found even in animals; they are to be esteemed, but they do not at all reveal the moral state of the heart. A man who has a hard and perverse nature, who tries to control his bad disposition by grace, and to be amiable to others and pleasing to God, is more moral and better before Him than a man who, amiable naturally, seeks to enjoy himself with others in a pleasant way, but without conscience before God; that is, without thinking of Him; loved by men, but displeasing to the God whom he forgets. That which gives moral character to a man is the object of his heart; and it is this the Lord shews here in so powerful a manner, that it touches to the quick the pride of the human heart.
But then the Lord goes father; the disciples, who thought that men could do something to gain eternal life, like all the Pharisees of every age, and that man ought to gain heaven for himself, although they recognised the need of God’s help, were astonished. What! a rich man of a very good disposition, who had kept the law, and who only sought to know what was the most excellent commandment from their Master in order to perform it—could such an one be far from the kingdom of God? Could it be extremely difficult for such an one to enter into it? If we do not understand that we are lost already, that we need to be saved, that it is a question of the state of the heart, that all hearts are naturally at a distance from God, and that they seek an object, the object of their own desire far from Him, that they do not wish Him to be present, because the conscience feels that His presence would hinder the heart in following this object; if we do not learn this truth by grace, we are altogether blind.
At the moment at which we have arrived in this passage, it was too late to keep concealed from man (at least from the disciples) the true state of his heart. This state had been manifested; man had been unwilling to receive the Son of God. Thus it had been proved that with the best natural disposition, man, even whilst preserving outward morality, preferred to follow the object of his desire, rather than the God of love present upon earth, or a master whom he had recognised as having the highest knowledge of the will of God. Man was lost; he had shewn this fact in rejecting the Son of God; and he must learn it, and that with all his most excellent qualities he cannot save himself. “Who then can be saved? “The Lord does not hide the truth: “With men it is impossible.” Solemn words, pronounced by the Lord, pronounced by Him who came to save us. He knew that man could not save himself, that he could not emerge from the state into which he had fallen, without the help of God. With men it is impossible; but then God comes in His boundless love to save us, not to conceal our state, and the need of this free salvation.
We must know our state; it is not a thing to be lightly esteemed that the glorious Son of God should have made Himself of no reputation, and have died upon the cross: the only means of redeeming and saving lost man. We must know ourselves, and know that we are condemned, in our hearts, in order to be able to understand that Christ has borne this condemnation in our place, and that He has accomplished the work of our salvation, according to God’s glory: let the state of condemnation and sin be proved, and let the love, the perfect righteousness, and the holiness of a God who cannot tolerate the sight of sin (however patient He may be) be brought out clearly and glorified. “With men it is impossible … with God all things are possible.” By the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by this work alone, a work which the angels desire to look into, all this can be done; salvation is obtained by faith—by faith, because all is accomplished. To God be the praise! The Lord is glorified as man in heaven, because this work has been done, and because God has recognised its perfection; it is on this account that He has placed Christ at His right hand, because everything has been done. God is satisfied, glorified, in the work of Christ.
With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. But what an immense grace which shews us what we are and what God is! “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Think of this, brethren. This means that we must expect a cross in this world. Be ready to receive the Lord’s words, to take up the cross, in order to have the true knowledge of yourselves; that is, that you are lost in sin, that salvation is purely of grace, impossible for man; but that the work of salvation is perfect and complete, and the righteousness of God is upon all men who believe in Him who has accomplished it. In no part of scripture is the fundamental truth of the need of God’s salvation and of man’s state more clearly stated.
Now the Lord adds His teaching about the path of the cross, and the promises which accompany it: let us look at these. It is easy to see how much this story resembles that of the apostle Paul; only grace had changed everything in him. As to the righteousness which is by law, he was blameless; but when the spirituality of the law had operated in his heart, lust was discovered. Then he found out that in him, that is, in his flesh, there dwelt no good thing. But being convinced of sin, God revealed His Son in him, and then he understood that what was impossible with man was possible with God; God had done for him that which he could not do himself (that is, to gain a righteousness according to the law); and this sin in the flesh is found to be condemned in the cross of Christ, and a sacrifice for sin accomplished by Him. Instead of finding himself to be lost in this state of sin, he becomes a new man.
But the young man remains in his former state, and abandons the Lord in order to keep his riches; whilst in Paul’s case the things which he counted gain he counted but loss for Christ. “Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” See here the difference between the effect of grace and human nature. There was wisdom to be found in Paul; and, notice, he did not only count all things as dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ from the outset, when first Christ was revealed in him, but he continued, whilst walking in communion with Him, to count all things as dung for Him.
Now follow the promises made to those who have walked thus, and the path itself, as the Lord Himself represents it. Peter suggests that they had left all in order to follow Him, as He had proposed to the young men: what should they have? The Lord declares in His answer that no man who had left house, or brethren, or sisters, etc., for His sake and the gospel’s, but should receive an hundredfold such in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting. They should enjoy much more than the wretched things of this life, but with persecutions; and thus they have the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come; not of riches, perhaps, but the true enjoyment of all that is in the world according to God’s will, and as gifts from God; but they will have to do with the opposition of a world that does not know God. But those who were the first in Judaism shall be the last amongst Christians.
The Lord now sets Himself in the way going up to Jerusalem. The heart of the disciples was full of presentiments of the danger which awaited them in this city. They followed the Lord in fear and trembling, because the flesh fears the malice of a world, which, if it cannot do anything against God, can persecute those who serve Him down here. Here again we see the difference of the effect of grace in Paul, who, having given up everything for the love of Christ, rejoices in the thought of the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death, knowing and wishing to know the power of His resurrection. This the disciples did not know, and the flesh can never understand. But the Lord does not wish to hide the truth; He wishes the disciples to understand the place He was just going to take, and which they would have to take. He begins to tell them the things that should happen to Him, and what should be the lot of the Son of man. He should be given into the hands of the priests, condemned, and delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, who would treat Him with the greatest ignominy, and would put Him to death; but the third day He would rise again. Thus ends the story of the Son of man amongst men. His own people were the first to condemn Him; and the Gentiles, by their indifference, were ready to complete the terrible act of the Saviour’s rejection in this world. The people of God (the Jews) joined with sinful man to cast out the Son of God, come down here in grace. It was important for the disciples to know what should be their Master’s end. The Son of man must die. This is the teaching, the foundation, of all blessing; but it was a foundation which destroyed all the hopes and all the expectations of the disciples; which shewed also that man was bad, and God infinitely good.
Now these thoughts of the disciples manifest themselves at once, and are put in contrast with that which the Saviour solemnly announces. Indeed the disciples seemed to be impenetrable to the truth up to the last; by grace they loved the Saviour, they rejoiced in the thought that Jesus possessed the words of eternal life (for even the Pharisees’ system spoke of eternal life). Now all this was not enough to drive away thoughts of a kingdom which they believed would be established upon earth, nor a carnal desire of a high position close to the Lord’s person in this kingdom. The Lord could not find a single person who could understand Him, who could enter into the thoughts of His heart, and could be touched by His sufferings; or could comprehend what He was explaining to His disciples about His death at Jerusalem, when He had led them by themselves apart.
James and John ask to sit, one at His right hand, and the other at His left, in His glory. There was faith in this, for they believed that He would reign; but the desire of the flesh was always at work. But the answer of the Lord, who is always full of goodness for His own, turns the fleshly question into an occasion for instruction for His disciples. He was not the only one who was to bear the cross. He alone could accomplish redemption by the offering of Himself: the Son of God who gave Himself in His love to be the Lamb of God. But as to the path, it was necessary that the disciples should enter into the same path in which He was going, if they wished to be with Him. Here the Lord shews His deep humility and submission to the place He had taken. He had made Himself of no reputation; and He accepts this place with a willing heart, not insensible to the humiliation and the sufferings of the cross, but accepting everything from the hand of His Father, and submitting to all that should be found upon this path.
“To sit at my right hand and my left is not for me to give, but for those for whom it is prepared.” He does not possess the right of preferment in His kingdom. He leaves to the Father the right of choosing, and gives the special glory appointed to special work to those for whom it is prepared, and whom grace has prepared for this glory. His portion is the cross; and the cross can give the glory, if any one will follow Him as His disciple: this is now the lesson which His people must learn. He was subject to His Father, and received from His hand all that was prepared for Him according to His will; and if the disciples wished to follow Him, they must take up the cross which was in this path, and which is always in it. Besides, to follow the Lord Jesus, the disciple must humble himself like the Lord; not to be like the great of this world, which makes itself great apart from God, but to be the servant of all in love, as the blessed Saviour was, although by right the Lord of all. Love is the most powerful of all things, and loves to minister, not to be ministered to. It is thus that God manifested Himself, in the Man Jesus, in this path: it is our duty to follow Him. He who is smallest in his own eyes is the greatest.
Here ends the history of the Saviour’s life upon earth: the account of the events attending His death begins. He presents Himself again, and for the last time, at Jerusalem both as Son of David, the object of the promises made to Israel, and also in order to be received by His people, and by the beloved city: but in fact to be rejected, and put to death. Up to this time (v. 45) He spoke of “the Son of man who had come to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” But now He presents Himself in the only relationship in which He could be with His people according to the prophecies.
He enters by Jericho, the cursed city, but He enters it according to the grace which surpasses the curse; indeed He was going to bear it Himself. The Son of David comes in grace, with divine power, able to accomplish all things, but in humility and lowliness. He answers, therefore, to this name of Son of David, shewing forth His power in grace in healing the blind man. The crowd accompanying Him does not wish Him to be disturbed, but He stops and listens to the needs of His people in His grace. He orders Bartimaeus to be brought, who runs to Him with joy. His felt needs make him run to Christ, who is just the One to meet his needs, and to apply an effective remedy.
The blind man was a speaking picture of the dark state of the Jews; but in that which took place we see the Lord’s work in producing by His grace the feeling of need in the heart of a Jew at that time. No doubt it is true for every time, but especially in this case, of the Jews in their state at that moment. The crowd, when Bartimaeus asked what the noise was, said to him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. This was a name which did not convey any idea to the Jews; Nazareth was rather a name with which reproach was connected. But there was faith to be found in the blind man’s heart, according to the place that Jesus took with regard to His people: the man says, “Son of David.” He recognises the truth that Jesus of Nazareth had the right to that title. Jesus responds to his faith, and heals the blind man. He receives his sight, and follows Jesus in the way.
This is a touching picture of Israel’s position, and of the work which was going on in the midst of this people. The Son of God, the Son of David according to the flesh, the fulfilment of the promises was come in grace, and was able to heal Israel. There, in the place where the Son of David was recognised, the power which He brought with Him, and which was in Him, took away blindness. Israel was totally blind; but divine power was present to heal; and if there was faith enough to recognise the Son of David in Jesus, the blindness vanished. It is beautiful to see grace enter there where the curse had fallen; but it is grace which works there where Jesus is recognised as Son of David; grace which opened the eyes of the blind man, from henceforth made His disciple.
We have already seen that the Lord assumes here the title of Son of David, a name which spoke of the accomplishment of the promises and constituted Him true king of Israel. The name which He took habitually and by preference was that of Son of man. This name had a much wider signification and announced the right to a power and a lordship much more extensive than those of the Son of David; it put Christ into strict relationship with all men, but asserted His right to all the glory that belonged to the Son of man according to the counsels of God. In Psalm 2 we find the two titles, of the Son of God—the one which was given to Jesus as born down here in this world, and that of King of Israel, though in rejection. Then in Psalm 8 (after shewing forth the state of His people in Psalms 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) we see His glory, the extent of His power, as Son of man, who is set over all things. In Daniel 7 we find again the Son of man brought before the Ancient of Days, from whose hand He receives dominion over all nations.
In chapters 11 and 12 of the Gospel by John, Christ being rejected by man, God wills that a full testimony should be rendered to Him in the three characters of Son of God, Son of David, and Son of man. The first is the resurrection of Lazarus; the second at the entry into Jerusalem, seated upon the ass; the third when the Greeks come to ask to see Jesus: then the Lord says, “The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fallen into the ground die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” In order to take possession of these titles, He must have His co-heirs with Him;—He must die.
In our chapter He takes the second title, and presents Himself to the Jewish nation for the last time upon earth according to the prophecy of Zechariah. He will present Himself later in the glory and take possession of the throne of His father David; but now all He does is to present Himself to His people as the One who fulfils all the promises made to them. He knew well what would be the result, and that He was about to take the larger title of Son of man; and this in order to have His co-heirs with Himself; when, according to His Father’s counsels, He should take His great power and reign. But it was necessary that this last testimony should be rendered to the people on the one hand, and to the Lord on the other, on God’s part; that is, by the mouth of little children and sucklings He would take His glory, anticipating thus the establishment of the kingdom in power.
Now this king was Emmanuel, the Lord Himself, and Jesus acts here in this character. He sends His disciples to bring an ass’ colt from a neighbouring village, and when its owners asked what the disciples were doing in taking it, they answered according to the Lord’s command: “The Lord hath need of him”; and the man sent him at once. All was done in order that the word of the prophet might be fulfilled; because in this Gospel we have always facts presented not only as the effects of sovereign grace, as indeed they were, but as the accomplishment of the promises made to His people. Notice that a part of the verse quoted is left out; that is, two expressions which have to do with the Lord’s coming in power to take possession of His kingdom. These are the words, “just” and “having salvation”; as the “just,” Christ will execute vengeance upon His enemies: as Saviour, He will deliver the remnant; it was not yet time for these two things.
The disciples therefore brought the colt to Hun; and then the Lord Jesus entered into Jerusalem as king. A very great multitude, moved by the power of God, having also seen His miracles, and especially the resurrection of Lazarus, go before and surround Him, spreading their garments in the way, and cutting down branches from the trees in order to cast them upon His path, giving Him the place and glory of a king, and in fact recognising Him as the royal Messiah. An admirable scene in which it is not the cold reasoning of man’s intellect which is in question—nor is it merely the effect of His miraculous deeds, although a fruit of this—but the mighty working of God upon the minds of the crowd, compelling it to give testimony for a short time to the despised Son of God. The testimony also of Psalm 118 is cited; a remarkable prophecy of the last days in Israel, often quoted. The Lord Himself spoke of the verses which precede those which God put into the mouth of the crowd, “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner.”
There the crowd used the verse which announced the recognition of the Son of David by the remnant of the people Israel: “Hosannah!” (a Hebrew word meaning “Save now!” which becomes a kind of formula for asking the Lord’s help when the true Christ or Messiah is recognised), “Hosannah to the Son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; hosannah in the highest.” Now this cry recognised Jesus as the Son of David, the Messiah. Such was the will of God; that His Son should not be left without this testimony, without being honoured in this manner. Now He acts in Jerusalem according to this position.
All the city was moved, asking who this could be; and the crowds said that He, Jesus of Nazareth, was the prophet who was to come. Jesus enters the temple, and purifies it with the actual authority of Jehovah, driving out those who profaned it. He judges the nation and its rulers, saying, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.” But if He is Jehovah present in the temple, He is always Jehovah present in grace for all the needs of His people: He heals the blind and the lame. But no testimony is sufficient to penetrate the hard covering of unbelief which envelopes the hearts of the chief of the people, when they see the miracles. Hearing the children crying “Hosannah!” they become indignant. The Lord teaches here that the time for convincing them is past, and appeals to the testimony of Psalm 8 as to this. God had foreseen and foretold these things: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained praise.” If the people refused Him, God took care that He should have the praise which became Him.
But all is over for the people, until the sovereign grace of God shall act to awaken a part of it in the midst of the tribulation which its unbelief will have brought upon it; and this remnant, awakened to repentance, will cry like the children, “Hosannah to the Son of David!” but then all will be grace.
According to man’s responsibility all was over, and the people judged: and this is what the Lord shews in the incident which follows. He will not stay in rebellious and unbelieving Jerusalem, but goes to Bethany where the power of the resurrection had been manifested; where He can find an object and a refuge for His heart amongst men, after that His people have rejected Him.
Then when He returns to the city, He is an hungred, and seeing a fig-tree upon the roadside, He seeks fruit but finds none at all upon it—nothing but leaves. He curses the tree, saying, “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever”; and the fig-tree is dried up at once. This is Israel according to the old covenant, man according to the flesh; this is man in the place where God has spent all His care and employed all His means—man for whom God could give up even His only-begotten Son, in order to get some good from his heart, and to reach him to gain him over to that which is good, and to Himself. All was in vain; He had spared the tree this year also, upon the intercession of the dresser of the vineyard (Luke 13); He had digged about it and dunged it, but it had produced no fruit. What could He have done to His vineyard which He had not done? It is not all that we are sinners; we are still sinners after that God has done all that is possible to gain man’s heart. This shews us the importance of Israel’s history, and our history as told by God, and that of His patience and of all His ways, except that we have afterwards the supreme testimony of His love in the death of Christ, so that we are still more guilty. Plenty of leaves, but no fruit; pretence to piety—religious forms, but the true fruit according to God’s heart, that which He seeks in His own, is not to be found in man.
Israel according to the old covenant, that is, man according to the flesh, cultivated by God’s care and set aside for ever, will never bear fruit for God. It has shewn itself to be useless and to have been unable to repay all the care God bestowed upon it. Man, naturally, is condemned to everlasting barrenness. This miracle is all the more remarkable, as all Christ’s miracles were not only signs of power but a witness of the love of God. Divine power was there, but to heal, to cure, to free from the power of Satan and from death, to destroy all the effects of sin in this world. But all this did not change man’s heart; on the contrary, by the manifestation of God’s presence, it awakened the enmity of his heart against Him—too often hid from man himself in the depths of his heart. Here only do we find a miracle which bears the character of judgment.
Now all is brought out clearly; man can be born again, can receive the life of the second Adam. Israel can be restored by grace according to the new covenant; but man in himself, man in the flesh who is judged, after all that has been done to bring forth fruit, is shewn to be incapable of bearing anything good. God saves men, God gives them eternal life. Man in receiving Christ receives a life which brings forth fruit; the tree is grafted, and God seeks fruit on the grafted branch; but He has done with man in the flesh, except as concerns the judgment which must come upon him for his sins; and thanks be to God, He is free to liberate him from this state by grace, to save him by the blood of Jesus Christ, to beget him again, to reconcile him with Himself, to adopt him as His child, and make him the first-fruits of His creatures. Israel is left, and man judged; but the grace of God remains, and Christ is the Saviour of all those who believe in Him.
But what a scene is this in which Christ, the Messiah, the Son of David, Emmanuel upon earth, enters His house, there with His holy eyes looks upon all that which man does in it, and shews His indignation against the sacrilege which had made it a den of thieves. He vindicates the glory and the authority of Jehovah in driving out those who desecrate the temple. Then He finds Himself face to face with all His adversaries, who come, one set after another, to condemn Him: but they find the light and wisdom which shew clearly their position; so that, in wishing to condemn, they find themselves all condemned; and the Saviour is left free to follow up His work of grace and redemption in the presence of His adversaries now reduced to silence. But before judging them by His answers, each class of the people shews forth the fundamental principle which would give His disciples the power to overcome the obstacles which these condemned classes of Jews would bring up against them; since outwardly the power and established order were in their hands.
“Have faith in God,” says the Saviour, when Peter wonders that the fig-tree is so soon dried up. All the power which presented itself to the weakness of the disciples would vanish before faith. A most important principle in a Christian’s walk and service: only this faith must be exercised without any doubt at all, bringing God into the scene; and must not be the motion of the will, but the consciousness of the presence and of the intervention of God. Thus it happens that, where faith is found, and that requests are made by faith, the effect follows surely. Yet with all this, the presence of God is the presence of a God of love; and when we pray asking that our desire may be accomplished, we must be in communion with Him, and then we realise His power in answer to faith, and then the spirit of forgiveness towards others is found in the heart. For example, if I were to cherish revenge upon my enemies, I could not hope that my prayers should be answered; and even if I were heard, I should be punished. God would not intervene in this manner, for He would refuse such an evil desire; or even if He found it well to answer the prayer, we should draw down the chastisement upon ourselves. For God in His government always acts according to His character.49
Now He enters again into Jerusalem; He will not lodge in the city now given up by God. Here He begins to pass in review, to examine all the heads of the people, of which I have spoken; and first of all we find the examination of the authority which sets itself up against His own. He walks in the temple, where the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders come, and ask Him by what authority He does these things, and who has given Him this authority. Thus we see them set one against the other; the authority of either is questioned. The official authority, that which is outward, was in the hands of the priests; the truth and obedience to God were in Jesus. If His power had been manifested already, it shewed no sign of avenging itself at present: it was useless to shew any more signs of power; they were already condemned; having seen sign after sign, and having hardened themselves in unbelief, it was now high time for judgment, not indeed of its execution, but of moral judgment; they were left without an answer.
The heads of the people ask by what authority He had purified the temple. There was no zeal for the holiness of God to be found in them, plenty of zeal for their own authority; and this is characteristic of prelates—they think about their own authority and not about God. The Lord Jesus thought only about the authority of God; and that which He did was the effect of it. If the conscience of the rulers had not been hardened, even though they had not been pleased with that which the Lord had done, they would have kept silence, ashamed of the state in which the temple was found to be whilst under their care. Having rejected the Lord, they could not recognise His authority; proofs were useless, from this time forth. But the Lord’s divine wisdom makes them recognise their own incapacity to resolve questions relating to authority and divine testimony.
He asks if John the Baptist’s mission were divine. If they said, Yes, then John had witnessed to Jesus; if no, their authority was compromised before the people. Where was their right to ask, “What is the truth?” They knew it; yet they were glad enough to have the honour, long lost, of having a prophet in the midst of Israel. To own their sins did not suit them; and so the light was soon put out for their hearts; but the people always accounted John to be a prophet. Thus they dared say neither Yes nor No. This was their confession, that they were not able to judge of the claims of a man who professed to have a mission from God; because they could not say whether John was a prophet or not. If this was the case, Jesus need not answer them, nor satisfy them about His mission, as persons armed with God’s authority, to which one is bound to tell the truth.
The incapacity and incompetency of the governors among the Jews is clearly shewn forth. They had pretended to judge the Lord, but the word of divine wisdom in His mouth had judged them and compelled them to confess their incompetency. Now the Lord begins in His turn to shew all the classes of the Jews the state in which they were, and first that of all the people. Israel had been Jehovah’s vineyard; He had let it out to certain husbandmen in order to receive its fruit in due season. He had done all He could for His vineyard; it was impossible to do more than He had done. Israel enjoyed all the privileges which a nation could enjoy. At fruit-time, the Master sends His servant to receive the fruit of the husbandmen.
The prophets sought these fruits from the people on God’s part, for He was Master of the vineyard; but the husbandmen took one servant and beat him, they killed another, and rejected all of them. Thus Israel treated all God’s servants sent by Him to call them back to their duty. At last, having yet one Son, His well-beloved, He sent Him also to them, saying, “They will reverence my Son.” But they took Him, killed Him, and cast Him out of the vineyard. They wanted to take possession of the vineyard by killing the rightful heir.
Let us look a little into this parable. With what dignity and calmness the Lord exposes the past conduct of the people of Israel, and also their conduct at that very moment! He was ready to suffer, He had come to die; but His enemies’ acts must be clearly shewn forth; they filled up the measure of their iniquity with their eyes open. Poor Jews! God in His sovereign grace will have compassion upon them, and will restore His people (by a new covenant) to its place of the people of God owned by Him. Mark always narrates everything rapidly. The consequence of Israel’s sin is shewn; but we know from the other Gospels that the Jews in their answer were obliged to pronounce their own sentence; and that they understood well what the parable meant. Here the simple fact of their ruin is told, and that of the rejection of the Christ, the Son of God. The Master of the vineyard, the Lord of Hosts, would come and destroy the wicked husbandmen and would give His vineyard to others.
Then He quotes once more Psalm 118, and asks the chief of the people (a question which applied directly to Himself), “Have ye not read this scripture?—The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.” What a plain prophetic declaration of the position of Israel and its consequences! All Israel’s history, presented in brief, perfectly described in a few verses: all their conduct from Moses’ time till the cross set forth in a few words; their sin towards Jehovah, towards Christ, towards the prophets, and the fearful consequences for the nation, and God’s ways towards it. God takes away all its privileges, and gives over His vineyard (where He would seek for fruit) to others. Thus with this great fact of man’s sin and Jewish unbelief—that is, with the rejection and crucifixion of the Lord—He would be exalted to the right hand of God, and would become the head of the corner. Here also we have the key of Old Testament scripture by prophecy; for with a single glance we see all God’s ways communicated to spiritual intelligence. It is only divine wisdom and divine revelation which can reveal to us God’s thoughts and man’s deeds, and which can announce them to us.
We have seen that all classes of the Jews come, one after the other, to judge the Lord; but in fact to be judged. The Pharisees and Herodians present themselves first to catch Him in His words. They did not dare to lay hands upon Him, although they would willingly have done so, because they had fully understood that the parable of the vineyard and husbandmen had been spoken against them; but the people were still under the influence of His words and His works. The rulers feared the people, slaves not merely to their own passions and unbelief but to the people itself; and they feared still more to do anything against the Lord, believing that the people would favour Him, since they had neither the power of faith, nor the freedom which is the result of uprightness; but they were dependent on the favour of the people.
The Lord’s hour was not yet come. They sent certain spies to catch Him in His words. The Pharisees, rilled with pride as to the privileges of the people, and ever ready to stir up it against the Romans, flattered its passions. They were subjected to the Gentile yoke on account of their sins, and were no longer recognised as God’s people. The promised Messiah had been sent in the person of the Lord, and they had not been willing to receive Him, because He manifested God upon earth, and their hardened heart did not wish for God; they wished to possess the glory of being God’s people, but not to receive God and submit themselves to Him. The rebellion of their heart against God was united to the rebellion of their national pride against the Gentiles.
The Herodians, on the contrary, accepted the Roman authority, and did not trouble themselves about Israel’s privileges: but they were ready at all costs to seek the good favour of that powerful people, who held the people Israel under its heavy yoke by God’s judgment. Now if the Lord had said that they ought not to pay tribute, He would shew Himself hostile to the Romans sway, and the Herodians would be ready to accuse Him; if He said that they ought to pay, He was not the Messiah who should free His people from the hated Roman yoke. They did not think of any other deliverance: and hence He would have lost the favour of the people. The Herodians and Pharisees were reconciled for the purpose of getting rid of the Lord: but divine wisdom answers to every difficulty.
The Jews ought to have submitted to the yoke which God Himself had placed upon their neck until the time when grace should free them, and they should receive the Deliverer who should come according to God’s promises; and until these should be fulfilled they must humbly render to God His due, always accepting their chastisement at His hands. But they did neither the one thing nor the other; they were hypocrites before God, and rebellious towards men. The Lord asks them to give Him a coin with the Emperor’s head upon it, and asks, “Whose image and superscription is this?” The Jews reply, “Caesar’s”: and Jesus says, “Render to Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and to God the things which be God’s.” And the Jews go away astonished. A just reply, which not only answered their accusation, but which recognised at the same time Israel’s true state and the judgment of God.
Next come the Sadducees, another sect of the Jews, which did not believe in the invisible world, nor in angels, nor in the resurrection: God had given a law to His people Israel, that was all. Accustomed to the arguments of men, they did not expect to meet with divine wisdom, nor the irresistible force of the word of God. They present a case which (supposing that to be true which their folly imagined) rendered the resurrection ridiculous and impossible: for they suppose that the relationships and state of this world continue in the other. This is what men do: they mix up their thoughts with God’s word, and since these thoughts do not agree with it, they think it unintelligible and reject it. But in this case a vital and fundamental truth is in question: and the Lord not only reduces His enemies to silence by the wisdom of His answer, discovering their hypocrisy, but clearly reveals the truth itself which is taught in a hidden manner in the Old Testament, and furnishes it with His own authority.
Everything depends upon this truth; it is the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God, and that God has accepted His sacrifice. It is the victory over death: all that belongs to man’s wretched condition is left behind; it is the entry into man’s new estate according to God’s counsels; the introduction into the eternal state of glory and full conformity of Christ. It is true that the wicked will be raised for judgment, but the Lord looks upon His own and their state, as also does 1 Corinthians 15. The Lord means to say that the Old Testament contains the revelation of this truth. As to His person it is clearly taught in Psalm 16; but it is said that the Sadducees only received the law of Moses; now this law first of all has to do with that which God had established upon earth for His earthly people: and life and incorruptibility have been brought to light by the gospel and by the resurrection of the Lord Himself. And although this light was clouded in Old Testament times, nevertheless it was not wanting to those who, pilgrims and strangers upon earth, sought a better country and a heavenly city. The immediate teaching referred to God’s government upon earth, but by faith the hearts of the faithful could amply find in it that which they needed to point them towards an eternal and heavenly country.
The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, and, as to this, they had the understanding of the truth; but the Lord wished to shew that if the Sadducees only received the law, the law itself, God had at all times given that which was enough to lead the spiritual understanding to expect better things than the earthly, and by faith to bring it into closer relationship with God than could be enjoyed in His government either of the world or of His people, however real this government might be. The Lord then condemns the Sadducees entirely; they were quite ignorant of the scriptures and of the power of God. The Lord first reveals the truth; as soon as a person is raised from the dead, he is like the angels and it is no longer a question of marrying or giving in marriage. Then he shews that in its first elements the first expression of the relationships of God with men (when God spoke to Moses) contained a life beyond death, and consequently the resurrection; since man consists of body and soul, according to God’s counsels. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been dead a long time, but God was always their God; and yet they were still alive; and they would not consequently remain always under the power of death, but would rise again.
The Sadducees, who only believed in the law, needed a clear proof of the truth taken from the law itself. And whatever may be the truth as to the Sadducees, it is important for us to understand that from the beginning, when God enters into relationship with man, sin and death having entered, God always takes resurrection ground. There is no other true foundation of blessing. The very promises made to Israel are founded upon this truth; at least the fulfilment of them (Acts 13:34). Thus the first thing which the gospel reveals is rooted in the first distinct manifestation of God in relationship with men, a relationship founded upon redemption (an external thing in Israel, it is true, but eternally accomplished in Christ). But as the great truth of Christianity, the new state of man, is established by the Lord’s word, so also the perfection of the law, as the standard of man’s duty, is brought into fight.
One of the scribes, who had heard the Lord’s reasoning with the Sadducees and perceived that He had answered with true and divine wisdom, drew near and asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” The scribes believed that the commandments differed in value, and that some were worth more than others to make up the sum of righteousness to which a man ought to attain. The Lord answers again in this instance without turning back the question upon those who asked it to their confusion, but He establishes the two great pillars of man’s responsibility: the unity of God, and man’s duty towards Him and towards his neighbour. This was Israel’s faith, and his duty towards all. The Lord does not quote the ten commandments, but the great principles of the law as to the whole duty of man. The Lord knew how to bring them out, divinely hidden as they are in the books of Moses; Deut. 6:4, 5; 10:12; Lev. 19:18.
The sense of duty was perfect in Him, as also grace and divine love; One greater than these. It is beautiful to see this perfection in the Lord: the grace and the love of God were manifested in all His life; we have seen them. But here we find also the perfect rule of walk and of the duty of man upon earth according to the law; not that which was evident to ail men (that is, the ten commandments, which are the first thing to come to mind), but principles scattered here and there throughout the books of the Old Testament, which shone out everywhere for Him—for a heart which understood and possessed the perfection of manhood before God; for He shewed forth divine perfection before men. His heart saw the one, and understood it, whilst the expression of the other sprang naturally from the same heart. The conscience and heart of the scribe are touched; he gives testimony to the perfection of the Lord’s reply, adding that to do thus was worth more than sacrifices and burnt-offerings. He was not far from the kingdom of God. A heart which understands God’s thoughts about man loves that which God loves; the moral difference of that which is good is far removed from the capacity of receiving that which God reveals for the blessing of His people. Now from this time forth they durst ask Him no question. The Lord’s wisdom was too great for their hearts.
But the Lord in His turn asks them a question, and all the truth relating to His and to their own position depended upon its answer: “Whose son is Christ?” The Jews said, “David’s.” It was true, but then the Lord said, “How then doth David call him his Lord if he is his son?” Jesus was the Son of David, but He must sit upon the right hand of God as Lord in man’s nature. This was the key to the situation. But the Lord’s relationships with the Jews were at an end; each class had presented itself before Him and had been judged.
Verses 31-40. Here the Lord denounces the scribes who corrupted the word of God which they pretended to explain; they took the form of godliness, and sought their own glory and other people’s money, even that of widows, to whom they obtained access under the pretext of piety. For this cause their judgment would be all the more terrible; but God does not forget His own in the midst of the hypocrisy of the seeming religious. They may make mistakes: perhaps the widow’s mite helped to pay Judas; but it was given to the Lord, and the widow’s heart which was occupied about the mite did not escape the Lord’s eyes, nor the notice of His love. The rich had given much, but the widow offered herself as a living sacrifice to the Lord; she gave all her substance. Perhaps she might have employed better means, but she gave her mite from the bottom of her heart to the Lord, and it was received on His part: we should think of this.
We have seen the people judged, each class brought by God’s hand into the Lord’s presence to receive their judgment; we have seen them morally condemned by the word of God and by the blessed Lord’s wisdom. But the iniquity which drew forth the execution itself must cause many difficulties to the disciples. They would have to walk in a way full of dangers, and they are warned themselves here how they may escape the judgment which was about to fall upon the beloved people for their sins. The Lord would no longer be present to guide them; but His heart could not leave them in ignorance either as to the path or as to the difficulties they would have to encounter. And the testimony which Jesus gave of it would make the difficulties and dangers a proof of the truth of His words, and an encouragement for their hearts when they should find themselves in the trouble.
But the Lord does not stop at the fulfilment of the judgment soon to be realised, but opens up the ways of God up to His coming, when Israel shall be blessed again after having passed through such a judgment that a little remnant only of the people will be left; and the power of the beasts (that is, of the Gentile empires) will be destroyed, Satan bound, and the world will rest in peace. Nevertheless it is more as a warning to His disciples that the Lord speaks here than as an announcement of the peace and rest of the world after the execution of judgment.
The disciples, accustomed to see in the temple the house of God and the glorious centre of their religion, full of wonder, point out to the Lord the beauty of the buildings and the size of the stones, and, as often happened, they give to the Lord the opportunity to communicate God’s thoughts to them about the times and the state of the guilty nation. He announces to them clearly the destruction of the temple as a certain fact; but when the disciples asked when that should happen, He speaks of the people’s state up to His coming, as far as this history has to do with the service of His disciples. In general that which is said is similar to that contained in Matthew’s Gospel; but the Holy Spirit here presents the Lord to us as being more occupied with teaching His disciples.
As in Matthew we have general teaching here, which goes on to the end of the period of the proclamation of grace; then the especial sign of the final ruin of Jerusalem, which immediately precedes the Lord’s coming in glory. This interest in the disciples as to their testimony and service answers to the character of this Gospel, which gives us a history of the service of the Lord Himself. The Lord does not immediately answer the disciples’ question, but warns them of the dangers they would encounter in their service, after His departure. Satan would raise up false Christs to deceive the Jews, and many should be deceived. They would have to be on their guard. Wars and rumours of wars would take place, but they were not to be troubled about this; these things must happen, but the end should not be yet. These were the beginning of sorrows, but not the end.
He does not speak of the mission of the apostle Paul, but of that of the twelve in the midst of the Jews; only the gospel must be preached to all the nations before the end. The fact is asserted, without its being said how it ought to be fulfilled. We know that it will be the gospel of the kingdom, as it might have been preached during the Lord’s lifetime. Here is the simple announcement of a testimony of the gospel sent to the nation before the end should come. But the consequence of this testimony, as far as the disciples were concerned, would be persecution; they would be beaten in the synagogues and accused before kings and governors for a testimony to them. This is the means which the Lord uses to carry the gospel to kings and to the great of the earth. The preachers are not the great of the earth, and His disciples would have always to preserve their true character; in this they would appear before kings and rulers as prisoners to give an account of their faith.
Thus the apostle Paul appeared before the Jewish council, before Festus, Agrippa, and finally before Caesar. But the possible result of the preaching of the gospel was not all. The revelation of God in the person of Christ, or in the preached word, awakens the enmity of the human heart. So long as God is not revealed, everything is tolerated; but when He is revealed, man’s will rises up against His authority, and against the pressure which this revelation exerts upon a conscience not at rest; and the closer the relations are, the greater is the hatred. This hatred breaks all the ties of nature: brother would give up brother to death, and the father his son; the children would rise up against their parents and would put them to death; and the disciples would be hated of all men for the Saviour’s name.
What a testimony to the state of man’s heart! If one speaks of the name of Jesus and of His love, of the love of Him who came to save us, the hatred of man’s heart breaks all barriers; it refuses to recognise and tramples down all natural affections. But the time of deliverance will come, and here it is an earthly deliverance that is in question. It is still better for us; if we are killed, we go to be with the Lord; if He comes, we shall be glorified with Him. But here the Lord speaks of the testimony and service of the apostles in the midst of the Jews. In whatever way we look at it, there remaineth a rest for the people of God. But there is more; God would be with them in the way. When the disciples should be in the presence of the magistrates, they were not to meditate upon that which they ought to say; it would not be necessary to prepare discourses; the Holy Spirit would be with them; and it should be given them what to say at that very moment.
Here is the picture that the Lord draws of the service of His people in the midst of the Jews up to the end; He adds that the gospel shall be preached to the ends of the earth. But now in verse 14 He comes to a more precise and definite notice of the events which should happen in Jerusalem at the end. “When,” He says, “ye shall see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not (let him that readeth understand), then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains.” Here we must look at Daniel’s prophecy which speaks of this abomination: we find it in chapter 12. The word “abomination “simply means idol; and it is called abomination of desolation because it is the cause of the desolation of Jerusalem and of the Jewish people.
The Jews will receive the Antichrist. The Lord said, “I have come in my Father’s name, and ye have not received me; if another come in his own name, him will ye receive.” Then under the influence of Antichrist they will turn to idolatry again. The unclean spirit which came out of them after the Babylonish captivity will enter into them again with seven spirits worse than itself, and the last state will be worse than the first; Matt. 12:43-45. They will then set up an idol in the most holy place, where it ought not to be placed, and God’s judgment will fall upon the people and city. The desolation will be complete: “There shall be trouble such as never was.” And Daniel says, “At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people, and there shall be a time of trouble such as never was…” This trouble must last for a time, times and a half, that is, three and a half Jewish years, or 1,260 days, or 42 months. Then those who are written in God’s book shall be saved—those who shall have endured to the end in spite of the difficulties, sufferings, and the oppression of the Antichrist and Gentiles as the Lord had foretold.
In the meantime, during the time of their general service, the Holy Ghost would give them all wisdom, and even the very words they would need. The Lord’s goodness here is very remarkable; we find the Lord thinking even of the weather in the midst of this terrible judgment, so terrible indeed that nothing like it has been known in the world’s history. He tells them to pray that their flight be not in the winter. He does not speak here as in Matthew of the sabbath, because Jewish things are not so much in view here as in that Gospel. He thinks of those who are with child and of those who give suck in those days. Ah! how great is the Saviour’s compassion; nothing escapes His gracious memory. Whilst warning His disciples of the most terrible judgment, He thinks of all the difficulties they would meet upon the road He teaches them to take.
But the Lord has shortened these days, or no flesh could be saved; but He has shortened them for His own elect’s sake. Then to give a hope of deliverance and of escape from sufferings, false Christs and false prophets would arise and would perform miracles and signs (so great is Satan’s power when God permits) to seduce if possible the very elect. But they had been warned; and now after this unparalleled tribulation which should come upon Jerusalem, the end of the dispensation would come; all established authority should be overturned by God’s judgment. The order which He had established for the government of the earth shall be thrown into confusion. The signs of His judgment appear.
Then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. The Lord appears to take possession of the earth, which He not only has created, but which He has acquired as His own as Son of man by His death. But that which is specially announced here is that He will send His angels to gather together His elect from all parts of the world. It is always a question here of the land and of Israel: the blessing of the Gentiles and of the whole world will take place, but it is not the question here. Our place is a far higher one: when Christ shall appear, we shall appear with Him; Col. 3:4. The Lord will have already gathered us to Himself in the air, He will have glorified us already and made us like Himself, according to His boundless grace which has acquired this glory for us according to the eternal counsels of a just God; we shall be like His Son and with Him for ever, the firstborn among many brethren; but here He speaks of the elect in the midst of Israel, dispersed amongst the Gentiles.
All here has to do with the earthly people. “This generation,” of which verse 31 speaks, is the perverse and unbeheving generation of the Jews, which indeed remains even to our day a race separated from all the others. They dwell amongst the nations, but they remain ever a separate people, kept for the fulfilment of the counsels of God. We find this fact and the force of the word “generation “in Deuteronomy 32:5-20: “It is a perverse and crooked generation.” And as regards the judgment under which the nation lies, after that the Lord has pronounced these words, it is said in verse 20, “I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom there is no faith.”
The three times and a half make up the time which the goodness and mercy of God have shortened, the last half-week of Daniel which remains still unfulfilled. After that the abomination shall have been set up in the most holy place, where it ought not to be, there shall be three years and a half; and after that, some days to purify the temple. Thus the remnant of the Jews will have the consolation of knowing in the midst of the great tribulation that it will only be for a short time. But we are quite ignorant as to when this solemn moment will come; it is not revealed; God alone knows when it will be. The Lord sends out the disciples in connection with the Jews; and when they should see that these events were beginning to be fulfilled, then should they know that the time was drawing near.
“Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away.” The destruction of Jerusalem under Titus the Roman emperor was something like this, but the Lord’s prophecy was in no wise accomplished. First of all, the Lord did not come after this event; then also that about which Daniel had spoken had not come to pass. Whether we count 1,260 days or 1,260 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, nothing happened at that time; and then there cannot be two tribulations “such as never were.” In Luke’s Gospel we find first of all the destruction of Jerusalem and the present state of the Jews; nevertheless he does not speak of the abomination of desolation; but he distinguishes very clearly the siege under Titus from the coming of the Lord much later on. Mark’s Gospel speaks first of all the disciples’ service up to the end, and then of the final tribulation, beginning with the fact of the setting up of the abomination of the desolation where it ought not to be; this begins at verse 14.
We find this time of tribulation in Jeremiah 30:7; but in the trouble which came upon the nation at the destruction under Titus the Jews were not saved. In Daniel 12 we find again deliverance and the intervention of God by means of Michael; and this will happen at Christ’s second coming. The only passages which speak of the great tribulation such as never was are Jeremiah 30:7, Daniel 12:1, Matthew 24, and Mark 13; all these refer to the last days terminated by the manifestation of Christ.
Lastly the Lord exhorts them to watch and pray, for they know not the hour when this time should come. He was like unto a man going upon a journey, who left His house (we see that the earth and Jerusalem are in question), and who gave authority to His servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. This is a picture of the manner in which the Lord has left His disciples in the midst of the Jews. But that which He said unto them He says unto all, Watch. This is the exhortation for us; we are called to wait for the Lord, not knowing when He will come back, lest He find us sleeping. May grace work in our hearts, so that we may be expecting His coming with real desire to see Him; may we walk in such a manner as to be able to rejoice always at the thought of His coming! May it never be too soon for us!
Let us go back to the history of the Lord’s life, and to the last days of this blessed life. Two days after was the passover, and the chiefs of the Jews sought to kill Him; nevertheless they feared to stir up a tumult amongst the people, because they felt that His doctrine and miracles had produced a powerful effect in their hearts; they said, “Not on the feast day, lest there be a tumult among the people.” This was their opinion, but not God’s. The Lord must die as a true paschal lamb slain for us. Besides, He must die the very day of the passover, to surpass the sacrifice of the law, which commemorated the deliverance from Egppt, and which prefigured an infinitely more precious deliverance; that is, the deliverance from guilt before God, and from the dominion of sin.
The Saviour’s death drew near, and feelings of affection and of iniquity developed themselves on one side and the other. Here we see Mary, who used to sit at Jesus’ feet to listen to Him and to understand His words. There her heart had drunk in the instruction which flowed from Jesus’ heart; and Jesus, the source of all blessings, was the object which had fixed her heart, and she had felt it in her affections. The grace and love of Jesus had produced love for Him, and His word had produced spiritual intelligence. Now this love for the Saviour made her sensible of the increasing hatred of the Jews. The disciples knew that these sought to kill Him, but Mary felt it; not that she was a prophetess, but her heart felt the presentiment of that which man’s hatred desired, and she did what she could as a witness of her contrary sentiment; and the Lord makes this act of love speak wherever the gospel is announced in the world.
It is sweet to enter into the house where this family dwelt (here this was done in the house of Simon the leper), this family beloved of the Lord, for it was the refuge of His heart when, rejected by the people, He could no longer recognise the city which He had loved so long: He was accustomed to live with this beloved family. Martha, who seems to have been the eldest of the sisters, occupied with much serving, faithful and beloved of the Lord, but not very spiritually-minded, understood but little of that which filled His heart. Mary used to sit at His feet to hear His teaching; and the Lord had raised from the dead their brother Lazarus. Thus Mary’s heart attached itself to the Lord, and became the expression of the little remnant which, united to Jesus Himself, followed the progress of God’s ways; it did not stop at the hopes or thoughts of the Jews, but although the intelligence which the Holy Spirit would give was still wanting, it followed the Lord closely, and thus was ready to receive all when the revelation should be made.
It has been remarked that this Mary was not at the sepulchre seeking a living Saviour among the dead. It is always thus; hearts attached to Jesus for the love of being near Him receive from Himself the revelation of His wisdom and glory, when the time comes for it. It is blessed to remark also that the Lord, although He were God Himself (all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Him) was really a man, perfect and holy in everything, and in every thought: nay, He was the source of every good thought. He was not on this account insensible to these intimate affections; there was the disciple whom Jesus loved, and He loved to speak of it; the Lord loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and their house gave a rest to His heart when an ungrateful world and a rebellious people had rejected Him. A fruit of His grace without doubt, but none the less dear to His heart on that account.
But alas! that which is a savour of life unto life is a savour of death unto death. That which Mary expended in love to the Lord awoke the avarice of Judas, for it was a loss to him. Others also fell under Judas’s influence, led away by his evil thoughts; but the Lord justifies the woman. “She hath done what she could,” says the Lord, full of grace; and her devoted-ness to the Lord should be recognised in all ages. When the Lord in His divine love gave Himself, she by grace did all that a heart consecrated to Him could do, and her name must accompany the Lord’s in the act which is the most powerful testimony to His eternal love. Although that which she could do were but little, a little is never forgotten of the Lord when the heart is faithful.
Verses 10-12. Now all hastens on to the end. Judas, urged on perhaps by the force of the bribe, but in reality urged on by the devil, goes away to betray the Lord. Good and evil are accomplished; they are accomplished at the cross. No conscience, no fear of God arrests the chiefs of the Jews on their way of iniquity and opposition to the Lord of glory; they consent together with Judas to give him money to betray the Lord. He seeks occasion to give up the Lord into the hands of the priests without too much noise—a wretched employment truly!
Verses 12-16. But in the meantime the Saviour must explain to His followers the manner in which He gave Himself for them, and He institutes the precious memorial of His death, in order that we may always think of it; and that not only we may believe in the efficiency of this sacrifice accomplished once and for ever for us upon the cross, but that our hearts may be attached to the Saviour who loved us and gave Himself for us; thinking of Him and shewing forth His precious death till He come. We Christians are placed between the cross and the Lord’s coming, securely founded upon the finished work of the former, and looking forward always anxiously to the moment when the latter shall take place.
Although the Lord had now arrived at the time of His deepest humiliation, the glory of His person and His rights over all things remained always the same. He tells His disciples to enter into the city, where they should find a man bearing a pitcher full of water. In the house where he would enter, they would find a heart prepared by grace to receive the Lord. To him they should say, “The Master saith, Where is the chamber where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?” He knows all circumstances and all hearts: the disciples find the man as He had told them, and prepare the passover.
Verses 17-21. The Lord, when it was evening, came with the twelve. It was the commemoration of the deliverance of the people out of Egypt; but the Lord was going to accomplish a better redemption, and He institutes an infinitely more excellent memorial. But for this He must die. They were all at the table together, and the Lord Jesus, full of love, looking upon His disciples felt deeply the fact that one of them who had lived in His holy presence should betray Him. He knew well who would be the traitor, but He expresses the anguish of His heart when He says, “one of you shall betray me.” He wished to prove their hearts again and to bring to light that which was within. They believed the Lord’s words, and each one full of trust in Him and of holy distrust of himself said, “Lord, is it I?” A fine testimony of upright and tried hearts thinking of the fact and of the possibility of such a crime with more confidence in Jesus’ word than in themselves.
But the Lord must suffer all these sorrows—He does not proudly hide them, but desires to lay His sorrows as a Man in human hearts; love counts upon love. There were sorrows which could not be poured into the hearts of men, and nevertheless it was God’s will (blessed be His name for ever!) that we should know the sufferings of His Son; which, although beyond our reach, are nevertheless presented to our hearts. Thus we hear the Lord crying, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And if we cannot reach the depths of His sufferings, we can understand that they were infinite. Now at the table the Lord announces to them His departure from the world according to the scriptures and the terrible judgment of Judas; for the accomplishment of God’s counsels does not take away the iniquity of those who fulfil them; otherwise how could God judge the world? For all work together to accomplish His counsels. Men’s evil will too is always active in doing evil. The Lord’s object, as we find written in this gospel, is not to point out the person who should commit the crime, but to make them feel that it was one of the twelve who should do it.
Verse 22. Now the Lord institutes the supper, a precious sign and memorial of His love and of His death. Up to that time, the passover had been the commemoration of the deliverance of the people out of the captivity in Egypt, when the blood of the Lamb was put upon the doors of the houses where the Israelites were. Now the blood of a more excellent Lamb has been sprinkled upon the mercy-seat in heaven, before the eye of God; when Christ, the Lamb of God, accomplished everything for the glory of God and for the salvation of all believers. The work has been done “. in the sacrifice of the cross Jesus drank the cup of malediction and cannot drink it again; He perfectly glorified God about sin; it is impossible to add anything, as though anything were wanting to complete the perfection of this work. He has borne the sins of many, and can never bear them again; He cannot offer Himself again, He is for ever seated at the right hand of God; Heb. 9:24-26. He would have had to surfer often, if His one offering upon the cross had not taken away for ever all the sins of all believers; without shedding of blood there is no remission.
The forgiveness of sins for believers is full, perfect, and eternal through the work of Christ. If we sin after having received the forgiveness of our sins, Christ prays for us and is our Advocate in virtue of this propitiation and appears in God’s presence for us, as our righteousness (1 John 2:1, 2); and the effect of His intercession for us, is that the Holy Ghost works in our hearts; we are humbled, we confess our faults to God, and our communion is re-established with the Father and the Son. But the sin is not imputed as a crime, for Christ has already borne it—it has been imputed to Him. As was the case in the passover in Egypt; God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” The blood of Christ is ever before the eye of God, ever present to His memory. Thus Christ washes our feet with the water of the word, as He has saved us by His blood, when by grace we have believed. But if God does not ever forget the blood of Christ shed once for ever, He does not wish us to forget it. The Lord Jesus in His boundless grace wishes us to think of Him, to remember Him. Precious manifestation of love for us, that the Saviour should delight in our remembrance of Him, and that He has left us a touching memorial of Himself and His love. Oh, happy thought that Jesus wishes us to think of Him, because He loves us! The sacrifice cannot be repeated, but its value is ever the same before God; and Jesus is seated at God’s right hand awaiting the time when His enemies shall be set as a footstool beneath His feet; and we await Him until He come to take us with Him to the Father’s house; and in the supper we shew forth His death till He comes.
It is important to remark that there is no sacrifice in the present time, and that the Lord is not personally present in the bread and wine. The church of Rome says that the Lord’s supper (or rather the mass, as they call it) is the same sacrifice as that which was accomplished upon the cross. But when the Lord said, “This is my body … do this in remembrance of me,” He was not yet upon the cross. His blood was not yet shed, and when He broke the bread He did not hold Himself in His hands, still less Himself crucified, for He was not yet upon the cross. There is no such thing now as a crucified Christ; He is seated at God’s right hand, and there is no shedding of blood now. It is a blessed fact that there is a sign, a commemoration of this, but that it should be so really and substantially is impossible; there is no such thing now as a dead Christ.
We shew forth in the supper His death and His blood shed for us: but a glorified Christ cannot be a sacrifice; cannot come down from heaven to die; and if the bread be changed into His body, and there be a soul in it, it must be another soul; this is absurd. They say that the Godhead is everywhere, and that the substance of the body is there; but the soul is individual: this lives, feels, loves, is a single individual soul. According to Romish teaching the soul of the Lord Jesus leaves heaven; but it cannot be the same soul, and if it is another, it is absurd. The Lord says in Luke, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood”:—that is, it represents the blood—for the cup itself is not the new covenant. Thus the bread presents to us in the most striking way the body of the Lord crucified upon the cross, and the wine His blood shed for us.
Lastly, the Lord gives to His disciples of the fruit of the vine to drink; and it is called this after that the Lord had said in verse 24, “This is my blood of the new covenant.” It is quite clear that when he says, “I will drink no more of it,” He speaks of wine in its natural sense. After Supper they sing a hymn, the Lord being perfectly calm in spirit. They go out to go to the Mount of Olives. The Lord warns His disciples that this night they shall all be offended because of Him, and that they would leave Him according to Zechariah’s prophecy, “I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” But He announces to them His resurrection, and that “after he is risen, he will go before them into Galilee.” We find a difference between the Lord’s appearing in Galilee and in Bethany: the latter is related in Luke’s gospel. It was from Bethany that He ascended to heaven. In Galilee the Lord is always looked upon as being on the earth, although risen from the dead; and He gives to His disciples the commission to preach the gospel to, and baptize all nations. This service was not accomplished by the apostles—later on they left it to Paul (that is, the preaching the gospel to the nations) having recognised the Lord’s election and sending out for this work.
We see that the commission in Mark is still different; it is connected with the Lord’s heavenly power. The Lord’s own work was done chiefly in Galilee; and the Jewish remnant is recognised as gathered together and accepted; then it is sent out to bring the Gentiles into the blessings which were expected from God. The announcing of heavenly blessings, salvation revealed by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven when Christ ascended there, is quite another thing. But whether the blessings be earthly or heavenly they cannot be brought in by the first man; the second Man is the only possible foundation of everything.
Now the Saviour must be quite alone in His work and sufferings, and man must shew what he is when he is not kept by God. The disciples were warned, but Peter, full of confidence in his faithfulness (and he was sincere), trusting to his own strength, would not believe the Lord’s words. But the flesh cannot resist the power of Satan. The Lord would find Himself abandoned and denied; and man, however sincere he might be, would have to recognise his utter weakness: a humbling lesson, but a very useful one, and one which makes the Lord’s grace and patience shine out. It is very important to recollect—and we learn it clearly here, that sincerity is not enough to keep us right; it is quite a human quality! and we need as well the Lord’s strength against the wiles of the devil, and the fear of the world. If the Lord be not there, a young girl can upset an apostle. The fear of man is a dreadful snare for the soul; and this fear worked mightily in Peter’s heart. Even when he had received the Holy Spirit, he dissembled at Antioch, when some Jewish believers had come from Jerusalem.
Remark how the Lord prepared the two greatest apostles for His work! Paul tried to destroy the name of Christ from off the earth, and Peter denied Him openly after having known Him, and after having done miracles in His name. Thus it was not possible for them to talk of anything but grace: and all the false confidence in self was destroyed in their hearts. They could strengthen others by the consciousness of the Lord’s grace which had borne with them and forgiven them; also they had learnt by experience what the evil of the human heart is, and how weak man is, even the Christian, without the help of divine grace. Thus the Lord says to Peter, “When thou art converted [that is, repented of thy fault], strengthen thy brethren.” He failed again afterwards in such a manner that Paul had to resist him to the face; and Paul himself had to have a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to buffet him, lest he should be exalted. The flesh is never improved: how necessary then is it for weak Christians to watch, to have ever present the consciousness of their weakness, and to seek that strength which is made perfect in weakness, that precious grace of the Lord which is sufficient for us. It is not necessary that we should fall, for God is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted above that we are able; but we must watch, that we enter not into temptation.
In the scene before us, whilst the Lord was praying in agony, Peter was sleeping; when the Lord submitted Himself like a lamb which before her shearers is dumb, Peter used the sword to strike; when the Lord confesses the truth calmly and firmly before His enemies, Peter denies Him. This is what the flesh is, and the fruit of false confidence in self! Peter, too, had been fully warned. The Lord had said for the second time that, before the cock should crow twice, he would deny Him thrice. But Peter trusts in himself: “If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise.” We know that Satan’s wiles were there, for Satan wanted to sift Peter like wheat; but the Holy Ghost here directs our attention to the false confidence of the flesh of the human heart. But let us turn our attention towards the blessed Lord, the example of perfect faithfulness, just as Peter was that of false confidence and of the weakness of the flesh. We see in Jesus a true Man, although divine power were necessary in order that the human nature should endure all that He suffered without failing.
The Lord desires three disciples (those who were especially with Him and who were to be pillars in the church later on) to be with Him, and to watch while He prays. The anticipation of the cup which He was to drink, weighed upon His spirit; death, the expression of the judgment of God against sin, was before His eyes, and Satan made all this to lie heavily upon Him in order to prevent His accomplishing the work of salvation, if it were possible. The Lord felt all, and was faithful in everything; He began to be sore amazed and to be very heavy. There was no agony in Stephen’s death; it was a triumph full of peace and love; he goes to his Lord who was expecting him at the right hand of God in heaven, praying all the while, like his Lord, for his enemies. The Lord is full of anguish at the prospect of death; and here we see what death was for Him; the reality of His work, when He bore our sins in His body upon the cross. At this moment (in the garden of Gethsemane) He was not yet bearing them, but the feeling of that which was before Him weighed upon His heart; the weight of sin and of the curse was being felt by His spirit with God, for He was still in communion with His Father. He must not only submit Himself to the righteousness of God as made sin for us before Him, and bear the penalty of it; but also He had to suffer “for His piety,” in that the anticipation of the penalty weighed upon Him before He bore it. He offered Himself willingly but in obedience, for the glory of His Father, and for us in grace; He was obedient unto death. His name be praised! and it shall be eternally praised.
Stephen rejoiced, because Christ had suffered and had opened the way into heaven for him by bearing the judicial punishment of death for him; and He has done so for us also. We can understand the value of His death in the eyes of God, and we can look up to Him as Stephen did when full of the Holy Ghost, looking steadfastly into heaven.
The Lord had left the disciples, except Peter, James and John, at the entrance into the garden; but He had taken these three with Him, and told them to watch whilst He prayed. He prays that the hour may pass from Him, if it be possible. He had borne all the cups of suffering from the hand of sinners without complaining of them. His Father’s favour was sufficient for Him! But this cup, was the being made a curse; the just One made sin, the finding Himself (who had always been in the Father’s bosom the object of an infinite love) forsaken of God. On account of His piety, He wished to draw back from this if possible. But if we were to escape the penalty of sin, He must bear it for us.
This penalty, however, was but an occasion and a proof for the Saviour of perfect submission and obedience. But still He says, “Not that which I will, but that which thou wilt.” He felt all, He lays everything before His Father, so that He goes through all as a trial in perfect submission to His Father. As a trial, all was over: the will of God was manifested, and the Lord’s obedience was perfect, although the work itself was still to be accomplished. The disciples were unable to cross even the shadow of the trial; and all men His enemies. Satan was there in all his power, and above all, there was the curse to be borne for sin, before Him. All was trial, but He, in subjection to His Father’s will, shewed forth His love to Him.
We are allowed to witness the exercise of heart of the Saviour, and to take part, in our weakness, in the anguish of His heart, although He was alone in the trial itself: immense grace! In the work He must be quite alone: and here too He is alone, but with adoring hearts we can listen to the Saviour’s cry when He opens His heart to the Father about His sufferings. Ah! may our hearts be kept watchfully attentive by the Holy Spirit to the holy sighs of the Saviour! We are invited to look upon Him, to understand what He has done for us, to enjoy the feelings of His human heart and His perfection, as a true Man for us. Thus, in John 17 we are permitted to hear Him when He presents Himself to the Father, placing us in His own position of favour before Him, and of testimony before men. If the peace which we possess belonging to this new position founded upon His finished work is so great, the privilege of hearing His cry of anguish is no less so.
Remark with what gentle words the Lord reproves His disciples. He shews Peter in the kindest way the difference between fervent courage when the enemy was not present, and the incapacity to watch one hour with his agonized Master; and He excuses the disciples with loving words— “the spirit is ready but the flesh is weak.” At the same time being full of the solemnity of the moment, He warns them also to watch and to pray lest they enter into temptation. We never find the Lord’s own sufferings preventing Him from thinking of others. On the cross He can think of the thief, just as though He were not suffering Himself: If He had not time to eat, still He always had time enough to announce the truth to the crowd which followed Him; tired at Jacob’s well, His heart does not grow weary of speaking of the living water, nor of looking into the poor Samaritan woman’s conscience. He was never tired of doing good; and He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
But the time was come: the last time He finds them sleeping like the other times. He must experience that moral solitude in which He found Himself amongst men even in the midst of His own disciples. There is a solitude in the which one is quite alone morally, although others be there actually. The traitor was coming near; “Sleep on now,” says the Lord. “Rise up, let us go, he that betrayeth me is at hand.” The Lord must receive the last witness to the weakness of man’s heart when left to itself, and hardened by Satan. Judas betrays Him with a kiss, so terrible is the hardness of his heart! “Take him,” says he, “and lead him away safely.” But the Lord, who had gone through all in His soul with God, is in perfect peace before men in these unparalleled circumstances. He speaks to the crowd which had come out to seize Him: He had been with them daily in the temple, and they had not taken Him—but the scripture must be fulfilled. The Lord wishes to bear witness to the authority of the scriptures; if these announced His death, He must die. The scriptures are the revelation of God’s counsels and purpose as well as of all His thoughts. The Lord too, as a man upon earth, took them as the rule and motive of all that He did and said, although He was always in unspeakable communion with His Father. They are the revelation of God’s thoughts for the earth and for man upon the earth; and they reveal too, his heavenly destination, and what heavenly things are. What an immense blessing to possess them!
The disciples all forsake Him, and flee. Later on, Peter followed Him afar off, and was brought into the high priest’s palace. The Lord submits in perfect calmness; all had been weighed already in His Father’s presence; His will made everything simple for the Lord; but no one could follow Him into the valley of death, nor stand up before the enemy’s power, except the faithful Saviour Himself. It was the hour when the wicked one was allowed to have power, that the Lord might give Himself into the hands of the impious for us. The disciples fled, a young man wished to follow Him, but the more the will ventures in this path, the more it is obliged to retreat with shame. They wished to lay hold of the young man, and he fled naked. Poor Peter went further, to fall still lower, learning at the same time for his own good, what we all are. It is a good thing to think of the Lord’s anguish before God, when He opens all His heart to His Father; and we see His deep sufferings, His perfect calmness before men, the fruit of His perfect submission: men counted as nothing in it; Satan could do nothing—for the Lord had taken the cup from His Father’s hands. This is most important teaching for us.
We must understand that the Lord’s condemnation was a determined thing: the chiefs of the Jews sought but the means to consummate iniquity and murder under the show of justice. They sought witness against Him to put Him to death; but it was false, and the witnesses did not agree together. Many were ready to give witness, but their testimony availed nothing: the Lord must be condemned upon His own witness. It is grievous to look upon the enmity of the human heart against the Lord, who had never done anything but good to men; who had healed the sick, given the hungry to eat, raised the dead, cast out devils, and manifested divine power in doing good.
When the Son of man came, divine power, which was sufficient to drive out all the consequences of sin upon earth even to death itself, was manifested; Christ worked according to this power: He bound the strong man in the wilderness, and plundered his house: there was a power upon earth sufficient to drive away all the effects of sin; for the power of God manifested itself in goodness. But this only awakened the natural enmity of the human heart against Him: there was no motive for the death of Jesus: this enmity was the only cause. That which took away the grievous effects of sin, did not take away the sin itself from man’s heart, but manifested God enough to awaken the natural enmity of the heart, and thus to shew what this heart is.
In Luke it is said also (chap. 4:13), that “the devil departed from him for a season”; but then he comes back again as the prince of this world; he had nothing in the Lord, but that the world might know that He loved the Father, and as the Father gave Him commandment, even so He did; John 14:30, 31. The devil could say to Jesus, ‘If thou dost persevere in sustaining the cause of men, I have the right of death against thee.’ Indeed the curse of God weighed down upon them, and the Lord must pass through death, and drink the cup of God’s curse upon sin, if He is to liberate man. Did He draw back from this terrible penalty of death and the curse? He felt it, but He drank it for love to His Father and us, and in perfect obedience. He entered where we were in sin and disobedience, in obedience and grace; He who knew no sin was made sin for us; the Lamb without blemish offered Himself to God for us.
Here in this chapter we find the Lord as a lamb who is dumb before her shearers. He does not answer to the accusation of His enemies; they were there with the intention of putting Him to death and He knew it; and He was there in order to give His life a ransom for many. He does not answer the accusations full of malice and falsehood, but when the chief priest asks Him if He is the Christ the Son of the Blessed, He gives full testimony to the truth. He is rejected and crucified for His own witness to the truth; but although He recognises the truth according to the high priest’s question, nevertheless He does not go beyond His position of Messiah amongst the Jews.
He added again His testimony to His position as Son of man, the position He was just going to assume at that time. We have seen that He had forbidden His disciples to say that He was the Christ, telling them that the Son of man must suffer. Now we find the fulfilment of this, for Christ is recognised as the Son of God according to Psalm 2, but from this time forward He takes the new position of Son of man according to Psalm 8. They should see—no longer the promised Christ amongst them in grace, rejected as He is in Psalm 2, but—the Son of man sitting at the right hand of God, coming in the clouds of heaven, and manifesting His power in judgment. Only He waits, seated at God’s right hand according to Psalm no, until His enemies be placed under His feet as a footstool.
We now see Him in heaven, having accomplished the work which the Father gave Him to do; we see Him at God’s right hand, our sins abolished, waiting until His enemies shall be made His footstool.
The Lord confesses the truth when superior authority demands it, He is absolute perfection—the truth itself. Satan can do nothing in this case, except indeed to bring the truth into evidence in the Lord’s mouth, and to be the instrument of accomplishing the work of redemption which God wished to be done: eternal thanks be to Him! As to men, the Lord is held to be guilty of death because He speaks the truth, and the truth as to the work of God’s love in the sending of the Son. God’s truth, as well as the person of the Son of God, and God Himself are the objects of hatred of man’s heart; but the truth came by Jesus Christ, and grace in the sovereign power and wisdom of God was fulfilled by means of this hatred, a hatred in which man shewed himself to be a slave of Satan. What a contrast between religious, ecclesiastical man, and the truth and grace of God!
But let us think of the blessed Saviour who submits as a sheep which is dumb before her shearers, to the outrages which men heap upon Him without offering any resistance; He might have had twelve legions of angels, but He did not use His power. He was in a state of patient love and obedience. The most painful thing for Him was to find Himself denied by His disciple, and this was far more so than the outrages heaped upon Him by brutal and ignorant men. But whatever His suffering might have been, the weak disciple’s failure did but draw down upon him the Lord’s look to encourage his faith, to sustain his confidence in Him, and to produce in his heart tears of repentance instead of despair. The Lord’s sufferings, however great they were, did not hinder the action of His wondrous heart. May His name be eternally blessed!
The Gospel by Mark relates very briefly the circumstances of the Lord’s condemnation: this is an important fact. As soon as He has been rejected by the Jews, Mark speaks of that which took place before Pilate, to relate again that which is necessary, and to shew that the Lord is condemned here too for the testimony which He bore Himself to the truth (although it was really through the malice of the principal Jews); for indeed Pilate strove to set Him at liberty, but having no moral strength, and despising the Jews and all that belonged to them, he gives the Lord up to their will without conscience. When Pilate asks, “Art thou the king of the Jews? “Jesus answers, “Thou sayest.” To the accusations of the chief priests, He answers nothing: His testimony had been given.
The Lord Jesus was soon to be a victim. All these accusations were nothing, and Pilate knew it; but the Jews must manifest the spirit which animated them. Pilate tried to get rid of Jesus and of the difficulty, by a custom which seems to have been introduced at that time, to set free a prisoner at the Passover, to please the Jews. He also sought, in making this appeal to the people, to ward off the blow of envy and malice of the priests: but in vain, for the Lord must suffer and die. The priests incited the people to ask that Barabbas should be released, and the Lord crucified. Pilate tries again to save Him, but to satisfy the people he gives Him up.
In all this the Jews are guilty; of course the Roman governor ought to have been firm, and to have acted justly, and not to have left the Lord exposed to the priests’ hatred; he was careless and without conscience, and despised a poor Jew who had no friends; also it was important for him to satisfy the turbulent populace. In Mark’s Gospel however, all the hatred and animosity against the Lord are found in the priests; they are always and everywhere the enemies of the truth and of Him who is Himself the truth personally. Pilate’s resistance had no effect; it was God’s will that Jesus should suffer: He had come for this, and it was for this that He gave His life a ransom for many. In that which follows we find the story of the brutality of the heart of man which finds its pleasure in outraging those who are given up to its will without being able to defend themselves. Besides, the Lord must be despised and rejected of men, both by the Jews and Gentiles. This proves that man would not have God in His goodness.
Again, the Jewish nation had to be humbled—and the soldiers mocked the whole nation in mocking its King. The Lord was dressed in purple as a king, smitten and mocked with pretended honours, and then led away to be crucified. Upon the cross was written “King of the Jews”; the Lord was numbered too amongst the transgressors. What is especially brought out here is the humiliation of the king of Israel. “Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross,” say the chief priests, “and we will believe.” Those who were crucified with Him railed upon Him: we know that one of them was converted afterwards, and that he confessed Jesus to be the Lord.
Up to verse 33 we see the Lord’s humiliation and the apparent triumph of evil. Man generally, and Israel as a nation, shew their joy in being able to get rid of God’s faithful witness, of His presence, and of the true King of Israel: but they lowered themselves in trying to degrade the Lord, whose love continued to accomplish the work which the Father had given Him to do, in the midst of the outrages, the blindness, the folly, and the wickedness of men and of His people Israel, which alas! filled up the measure of its iniquity. The Saviour’s love was stronger than man’s perverse hatred—blessed be His name for it! But from verse 33 we find a deeper work than the Lord’s outward sufferings, however real and profound they were to Him. He was left alone; there was no one to have compassion upon Him; we find nothing but desertion and cruelty. But there is a great difference between the cruelty of man, and the penalty of sin executed by God.
At the same hour all the country (or perhaps the earth) is covered with darkness. Christ is alone with God, hidden from things visible, in order to be entirely with God. He bears the penalty of our sin, He drinks the cup of malediction for us; He who knew no sin is made sin for us. In Psalm 22 we see that the Lord, feeling fully the pressure of man’s hatred and malice, turns to God; He had foreseen what was to happen, and His sweat had become, as it were, drops of blood in thinking of it. He turns to God and says, “Be not thou far from me!” but to the anguish of His soul He is forsaken of God. And never was He more precious to God—He who was eternally precious to Him—than in His perfect obedience! But this obedience was fulfilled in His being made sin for us. Never had He so glorified His Father in His righteousness and love; but being made a sin-offering, and feeling in the depth of His soul that which God is against sin, He bore the penalty of it.
Thus God had to hide His face from Him who was made sin for us. This was necessary for the glory and majesty of God, as well as for our salvation. But who can sound the depths of the Saviour’s suffering? He who had always been the object of the Father’s delight is now forsaken of Him! He who was holiness itself finds Himself made sin before God! But all is over, all God’s will about the work which He had given to Jesus to do has been accomplished. Blessed thought! the more He has suffered, the more He is precious to us: and we love Him as we think of His own perfect love, and of the perfection of His person. All suffering was over for Him at His death; and in His resurrection all is new for us! all our sins are forgiven, and we are with Him in God’s presence, and when He comes we shall be like Him in glory. But though He died it was not because His vital force was exhausted. He cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost. All was over, and He gave up His spirit into the Father’s hands; He really died for us. He offered Himself without spot unto God, and God laid upon Him the sins of many. He must die, but no one took away His life; He had the power to lay it down, and to take it again! He gave it up Himself when all had been accomplished.
Then the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and here we see the way of the holiest opened to all the believers who were under the law. The curtain between the holy and most holy places signified that man could not enter into God’s presence (Heb. 9); the death of Christ has opened a way of entry into the holiest by His blood; Heb. 10:19, 20. Immense difference and precious privilege! By this blood we can enter into God’s presence without fear, as white as snow, to rejoice in the love which has brought us into this place. Christ has made peace by the blood of His cross, and has brought us to God Himself—He, the just One, who died for us unjust ones.
And again by one offering He hath for ever purified them that are sanctified; He cannot offer Himself again: if all our sins had not been cancelled by this one offering, they could never be, for Christ cannot die again. It is not a question of sprinkling— “Without shedding of blood there is no remission.” The apostle demonstrates this solemn truth, saying, “Otherwise he must often have suffered since the foundation of the world, but now once in the end of the world he hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself,” Heb. 9:26. When a man believes, he enters into the possession of this blessing, and he is for ever perfected in Christ before God: sin cannot be imputed to Him, because Christ, who has borne and expiated it, is always in God’s presence for him, a witness that his sins are already put away; and that he who comes to God through the Saviour is accepted in Him.
People say, “Then we may live in sin.” This was the objection which was made to the gospel which the apostle Paul preached: the answer to it is found in Romans 6. If we really have faith in Christ, we are born again, we have a new nature, we have put off the old man and put on the new one, we are dead to sin, dead with Christ by faith; crucified with Him, so that we live no more, but Christ liveth in us. We are new creatures: there is a divine work in us, as well as a work for us. If Christ is our righteousness, He is also our life, and then the Holy Spirit is given to us, and we are responsible to walk as Christ walked; but this does not interfere with the work of Christ for us—a perfect work, accepted of God, in consequence of which He sits at God’s right hand as a man in that glory which He had as Son with the Father before the world was. Before Christ came, God did not shew Himself, and man could not enter into His presence. Now God has come out and come to us in love, and man has entered into His presence according to righteousness in Christ.
Then the centurion’s conscience speaks, whilst all stand afar off (v. 39); all, except the disciplb who have fled, are enemies. But the loud voice of the Lord without the least sign of weakness, and the fact that He gives up the ghost to the Father at once, act powerfully upon this man’s soul, and he recognises in the dying Jesus the Son of God. Now the work is finished, and God takes care that if His death has been with the transgressors, He should be with the rich in His burial, honoured and treated with all reverence. The women who followed Him occupied themselves with Him, looking upon Him afar off when He was crucified: and some of them, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the mother of Joses, saw the place where His body was laid in the sepulchre. For Joseph of Arimathea had gone to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus: more courageous at His death than during His life. This often happens; the greatness of the evil forces faith to shew itself.
But the women, notice it well, have a more blessed position still; they had followed him “from Galilee, and had ministered to Him of their substance; and we find them near the Lord when His disciples had left Him. They had not been sent to preach: but their devotedness to the Lord, their faithfulness and constant love for Him when dangers present themselves, shine forth in the Lord’s history. We find another proof that the Lord gave up His life, and that it was not taken from Him, in that Pilate wondered that He was already dead, and that he called the centurion to assure himself of the fact. When he knew it, he gave the body to Joseph, who put it in his own new tomb till the sabbath should be past.
The history of the resurrection in Mark is very short and simple. There is no doubt that more than one troop of those women who followed the Lord visited the sepulchre, one after the other. It is clear that Mary Magdalene arrived before the others, and that the other Mary and Salome were together; then came the others. Each Gospel gives us what is necessary for our faith, and that according to the special teaching which God desires to be presented in that Gospel. For instance, in John’s Gospel we have the story of Mary Magdalene, and that beautiful story is fitted to the doctrine of that Gospel. Verse 9 of this chapter speaks of it also; she came whilst it was yet dark; here in Mark we see her at sunrise. Other women had bought spices to embalm the Lord; perhaps they had already bought some before the sabbath began, in order to rest during the sabbath day; and certainly after the sabbath was over, that is, at six o’clock, they waited till the morning to embalm Him.
But when Mary Magdalene came to the sepulchre, the stone, which was very large, had been already rolled away from its mouth by an angel come down from heaven; and the Lord was no longer there. He was risen, in divine power, in perfect calmness; all the grave-clothes which were left in good order in the sepulchre. That which God did to awaken men’s attention is related in Matthew 28:2-4; but Jesus was not there. The great stone did not present any obstacle to the Lord’s egress; the divine power which raised Him from the dead and the spiritual body which He then possessed, made His disappearance from the sepulchre easy.
Mark only speaks of Mary Magdalene’s first visit to the sepulchre in verse 9; in verse 2, the other Mary and Salome are spoken of. Mary Magdalene had already gone away from the sepulchre to announce to Peter and John the fact of the sepulchre’s being empty. These enter into the sepulchre, finding the stone rolled away from its mouth; they find an angel seated on the right hand of the place where Jesus lay, who encourages these timid but faithful women, “Fear not, ye seek Jesus… he is not here…” and then he shews them the place where He had been. It is blessed to see the goodness of God: there was still some unbelief in the women, for they ought to have understood that Jesus was risen; the angel had told them so. But this was too much for their faith; they believed in His person, and that He was the Son of God, but His resurrection was as yet too glorious a truth for their faith. Their heart was sincere, but they sought the living amongst the dead: and here the grace of God, full of compassion, reassures them.
These women did not find Jesus dead, but the blessed testimony that the beloved Saviour was alive. They are made the messengers to the disciples of the word of the Lord from the mouth of the angel. It is the consecration of the heart to the Lord that brings light and intelligence to the soul, if we are seeking the truth and Jesus Himself. Mary Magdalene shews more consecration of the heart to Christ than the others; and this is why she is seen at the sepulchre before sunrise, and is the first of all of them to see the Lord. Moreover, a more excellent message is confided to her; she was to go to the apostles themselves to announce to them our more excellent position, our higher privilege. The Lord says to her, “Go to my brethren and tell them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God.” The disciples are here called the brethren of Christ for the first time, brethren of the risen Christ. His God is our God; His Father is our Father.
These women, although honoured of the Lord, have not yet so great a privilege; another message is confided to them. The risen Christ assumes two characters: His relationship with the remnant of Israel, and His new position as a glorified Man before the Father. In the first He appears to His disciples in Galilee, where He used to be with them habitually; in the second relationship He ascends to heaven from Bethany. The mission of the disciples too is different. Matthew presents to us the first; and, in consequence, we do not find there the history of the ascension; Luke gives us the second, where the Lord ascends and is received into heaven. The message to the disciples is given to Mary and Salome; they are commanded not to depart from Galilee. That which happened there is not told here: the women go away afraid.
Then this Gospel gives a summing up of the other part of the story of Jesus risen, of that which is found in John’s and Luke’s Gospels; of Mary Magdalene’s case, and of the two disciples who went to Emmaus; after that, the general mission of the apostles, who were to go and preach to the whole world. Whoever should believe and make public confession of Christ should be saved. Miracles should be performed, not only by the apostles, but also by those who should believe by their means; they should manifest, by the wonders they should perform, the power of Him in whom they believed.
Finally the Lord is received up into heaven, and sits at God’s right hand. The apostles go out to preach in the world, and the Lord works with them, confirming the word with the signs which accompanied it. Salvation depended upon faith and the confession of Christ, and the Lord, when the word had been planted, bore witness to His truth by powerful signs; this facilitated faith, and left unbelievers without excuse.
49 As this thought may be a little obscure for some, it may be presented thus in other terms: “Faith, which finds an answer to its prayer, must have found God, and be in the enjoyment of communion with Him; but then God is love; and in order to realise His power to get the answer, one must know what it is to be in His presence, which faith has discovered; but this communion cannot be known if there is no love. Consequently, when we present ourselves in faith to ask for the fulfilment of our desire we must forgive our brother that which we may have against him; otherwise, we are in God’s presence as regards His government and thus subject to the effect of our sins.”