The opening of this chapter brings us near to the closing scenes of
the Lord's life. He was on the farther side of Jordan but near the
borders of Judaea, and the Pharisees appeared, opposing Him by tempting
Him. By raising questions as to marriage and divorce, they expected to
entangle Him in some contradiction of the things that Moses had
commanded, and so find a point of attack. The Lord did not contradict
Moses, but He went behind him to God's original thought in the creation
of man and woman. The Pharisees were great sticklers for the law of
Moses, but He showed them that in this instance the law did not enforce
God's original thought. It is important to notice this, for it supplies
us with one reason why the law is not made the rule of life for the
The law fell below the height of God's thought, but Christ did not:
He fully maintained it. Verse 9 lifts the whole matter of marriage from
the level of man and human expediency to the level of God and His
action. It is a divine institution and not a human arrangement, and
therefore is not to be tampered with by men. If God joins, man is not
to put asunder.
This verse states a great principle which is true universally. The
converse also would be true-man is not to join what God has put
asunder. It is a sad fact that ever since sin came in man has been
consumed with a desire to undo what God has done. It is so in natural
things, and many of the ills we suffer come from our tampering with
things given of God, even in matters of food, etc., and generally
upsetting the balance of things which He established. It certainly is
so in things spiritual. Many a difficulty and much needless soul
trouble springs from misunderstanding as to things which God has joined
together in His Word, or things which He has sundered.
Having set marriage before them in the right light, the Lord deals,
in verses 13-16, with children. As to these, the disciples share the
ordinary thoughts of the world, which fall far below the thoughts of
God. The disciples judged them to be too insignificant for the Master's
attention, but He thought far otherwise. He received them gladly, took
them up in His arms, put His hands upon them and blessed them. He also
showed that the only way of entrance into the kingdom of God is by
having the spirit and mind of the little child. If anyone approaches
that kingdom as a significant somebody he finds the entrance barred. If he comes as an insignificant nobody he may enter.
Then, verses 17-27, we get the Lord's teaching in regard to
possessions. It is striking how marriage, children and possessions
follow one another in this chapter, for so much of our lives in this
world is occupied with these three things. All three are perverted and
abused in the hands of sinful men; and all three are put in their right
place in the teachings of our Lord.
The one who came running to Jesus exhibited many commendable
features. Matthew tells us he was young, and Luke that he was a ruler.
He was earnest and reverent and recognized in Him a great Rabbi, who
could direct men to eternal life. He took it for granted that the life
was to be obtained by human doings, according to the law. Evidently he
had no idea of the Deity of Jesus, and hence the Lord's words in verse
18. He repudiated goodness apart from His being God, saying in effect,
"If I am not God, I am not good."
As the young man asked his question with the law in his mind, the
Lord referred him to the law, particularly to the commandments dealing
with man's duty to his neighbour. He could claim to have observed
these, at least as regards his acts, and Jesus beholding him loved him.
This shows that his claim to correct observance of these things which
the law enjoined was a true one. He was an exceptionally fine
character, with features which in themselves were pleasing to God. The
Lord did not belittle these pleasing features. He admitted them, and
looked upon him with eyes of love.
Yet He tested him. One thing he lacked, and that was the God-given
faith, which would have seized who Jesus was, and led him to take up
the cross and follow Him; the faith which would have made treasure in
heaven preferable to treasure on earth. He expected the Lord to direct
him to some work of the law by which life should be reached; instead he was directed to a work of faith. Sad
at heart he went away. He did not possess the faith, so it was
impossible for him to show his faith by his works. The same test comes
to us. How have we answered to it?
This is a tremendous question. How slow we all are to give up
law-keeping for Christ and earth for heaven! No wonder the Lord speaks
of the difficulty with which the rich enter the kingdom. Verse 23
speaks of them "that have riches," and verse 24 of "them that trust in
riches." The fact is, of course, that it is very difficult to have them
without trusting in them. We naturally cling to riches and earth.
Christ offers the Cross and heaven.
The disciples, accustomed to regard riches as a sign of God's
favour, were very astonished at these words; they felt that they cut
the ground away completely from under our feet. So, indeed, they do.
"Who then can be saved?" is a momentous question. Verse 27 gives a
definite answer. Salvation is impossible with men, though possible with
God. In other words it was as though the Lord said, "If it is a
question of what man can do, nobody can be saved: but if a question of what God can do, anybody can be saved."
We emphasize that word. Salvation with men is not improbable, but
IMPOSSIBLE. The door, as regards our own efforts is barred against us.
God has opened another door however, but that is by death and
resurrection, to which the Lord was now turning the thoughts of His
Though death and resurrection were before the mind of the Lord,
earthly glory was still before the mind of Peter, and he betrayed it by
his remark recorded in verse 28. He referred of course to the test
which the Lord had just presented to the rich young ruler. Peter felt
that, though the ruler had failed before the test, he and his
fellow-disciples had not: indeed, he actually added, as Matthew
records, "What shall we have therefore?" His mind, enquiring and
impetuous, wished to anticipate the good things to come. The Lord's
answer indicated that in the present age there should be great gain,
though with persecutions, and in the coming age eternal life.
This saying of our Lord is illustrated by Paul's life of service, as
seen in such scriptures as, Acts 16: 15; Acts 18: 3; Acts 21: 8; Romans
16: 3, 4, 23; 1 Corinthians 16: 17; Philippians 4: 18; Philemon 22.
Houses were at his disposal in many a city, and many counted it an
honour to fulfil the part of brother, sister, mother or child toward
him. Persecutions certainly were his. Eternal life in the world to come
lies before him. Such is the lot of those who follow and serve this
perfect Servant of God.
Verse 31 was evidently uttered as a warning and corrective to Peter.
Forwardness here may not mean the first place there. All depends upon
the motive underlying the service. If Peter wished to drive a
bargain-so much following for so much reward-that alone would show
defective motive. Still it does not say that all that are first shall be last, and all last
first. Paul went ahead of all in his day, and who can challenge the
purity of his motive, or the reality of his devotion to his Lord?
The thing that Peter and the rest greatly needed was to realize and
understand the fast approaching death and resurrection of their Master.
There is nothing that we today, nineteen centuries after the event,
more deeply need to realise and understand. Not only is it the basis of
all our blessing but it imparts its own character to all Christian life
and service. No intelligent service can be rendered save in the light
Verses 32 to 34 give us the fourth occasion on which the Lord
instructed His disciples in regard to it; and the request of James and
John, recorded in verse 37, furnished the Lord with a fifth occasion.
Their minds were still filled with expectations concerning a glorious
kingdom on earth, and they wished to advance their own interests in
that kingdom. Now the Lord Jesus was here as the perfect Servant of the
will of God, and this involved for Him the cup of suffering and the
baptism of death. Places of honour in the coming kingdom will be
apportioned to those who have served this wonderful Servant, according
to the measure in which they had accepted suffering and death on His
behalf. Yet, even so, He does not apportion these places of
distinction. All that is at the discretion of the Father, for He
remains true to the place of Servant which He has taken. Except we
remain true to the place in which we are set, the place of
identification with our rejected Lord, we cannot expect any place of
special recognition in the glory of the kingdom.
This unblushing place-hunting on the part of James and John might
incline us to blame them above the rest, were it not for verse 41,
which shows that the same selfish desires were entertained by all, and
that they objected, not because of the request the two had made, but
because they had been forestalled in the way the two made it. Their
annoyance however only gave further occasion for the display of the
perfect grace of their Lord.
How easy it was, and is, for the disciples of Jesus to accept and
adopt the standards and customs of the world that surrounds them, to
take for granted that, because everybody seems to be doing it, it is
the right thing to do. Again and again our Lord would say to us, "But
so shall it not be among you." The nations have their great men, who
exercise their authority in a lordly way. Amongst disciples of the Lord
greatness is manifested in an entirely different way. There true
greatness is displayed in taking the lowly place of service to
others-serving the Lord in serving them.
The Son of Man Himself is the shining example of service of this
kind. Who so great as He in His original estate? Then "thousand
thousands ministered unto Him" (Dan. 7: 10). Who took so lowly a place,
ministering to others? Who carried service to such a length as "to give
His life a ransom for many"? For this reason alone, apart from other
considerations, the place of pre-eminence must be His. They, who follow
Him most closely in lowly service in this day, will be chiefest in that
In verse 45, the Lord not only brings His death before His disciples
for the fifth time, but He explains its significance. Previously He had
emphasized the fact of His death, so that the minds of the disciples
might no longer be obsessed by expectations of a coming visible
kingdom. Now the meaning of the fact appears. He would die to pay the ransom price for
many. Here then we have a plain statement as to the substitutionary and
atoning character of His death from His own lips. It is "many" here,
for the actual, realized effect of His ransoming death is the point. In
1 Timothy 2: 6, where the bearing and scope of it is in question, the
word is "all."
These dealings with His disciples took place "in the way going up to
Jerusalem" (verse 32). In verse 46 they arrive in Jericho, and the
closing scenes of His life begin. Bartimaeus, the blind beggar,
furnished Him with a striking opportunity of setting forth the mercy of
God. Mercy was what the blind man craved, though the people, who did
not understand mercy of a divine sort, would have silenced him. Mercy
however he got, and it went beyond his thoughts, for it not only gave
him sight but enlisted him as a follower of the One
who extended the mercy. The faith of Bartimaeus was shown in that he
addressed Jesus as the Son of David though others spoke of Him only as
Jesus of Nazareth. His may only have been little faith, for he did not
rise to the height of calling Him Son of God; yet little faith receives
an abundant answer as surely as great faith does. Let us be thankful