As we open this chapter, we see the Pharisees and scribes attempting
to confine the actions of the disciples, and then also the gracious
power of the Lord, within the limits of the Jewish sabbath, as they
were accustomed to enforce it. This illustrates His teaching at the
close of chapter 5, and in result the "bottle" of the Jewish sabbath
burst, and grace flows forth in spite of them.
The words, "The second sabbath after the first," refer we believe to
Leviticus 23: 9-14, and are intended to show us that the "wave-sheaf"
had already been offered, and hence there was no objection to the
action of the disciples except the Pharisees' own strict enforcement of
the sabbath. The Lord's answer to their objection was twofold: first,
His position; second, His Person.
His position was analogous to that of David when he went into the
house of God and took the shewbread. David was God's anointed king and
yet rejected, and it was not the mind of God that His anointed with his
followers should starve in order to uphold small technicalities of the
law. The whole system of Israel was out of course by the refusal of the
king, and it was no time for concentrating upon the smaller details of
the law. So here, the Pharisees were concerned about trivialities
whilst rejecting the Christ.
Verse 5 emphasizes His Person. Man, as originally created, was made
lord over the earthly creation. The Son of Man is Lord over a far wider
sphere. He was not bound by the sabbath, the sabbath was at His
disposal. Who then is this Son of Man? That was what the Pharisees did
not know, but the Lord indicated His greatness by this claim which He
The incident concerning the man with the withered hand follows in
verses 6-11. Here again the sabbath question came up, and the Pharisees
would have pushed their technical objections to the length of
forbidding the exercise of mercy on that day. Here we see, not the
assertion of the Lord's position, nor of His Person, but of His power.
He had power to heal in grace, and that power He exercised whether they
liked it or not. He accepted their challenge, and making the man stand
forth in the midst, He healed him in the most public way possible. The
lords of the Philistines attempted to tie the hands of Samson with
"seven green withs," but they tried in vain. The lords of Israel were
trying to make cords from the law of the sabbath, wherewith to tie the
gracious hands of Jesus, and they also tried in vain.
Failing to do it, they were filled with madness, and they began to
plot His death. In the face of their rising hatred Jesus retired into
the solitude of communion with God. In the last chapter we saw Him
retiring for prayer when multitudes thronged Him and success seemed to
be His. He does just the same when dark clouds of opposition seem to
surround Him. In all circumstances prayer was the resource of the
It is significant further that what followed this night of prayer
was the selection of the twelve men who were to be sent forth as
Apostles. Amongst the twelve was Judas Iscariot, and why he should have
been included appears to us mysterious. The Lord chose him however, and
thus his selection was right. No mistake was made after that night of
From verse 17 to the end of the chapter we get a record of the
instruction which He gave to His disciples, and especially to these
twelve men. We may give a general summary of His utterances by saying
that He instructed them as to the character that would be produced in
them by the grace of God that He was making known. The discourse much
resembles the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5-7, but the occasion
appears to have been different. No doubt the Lord again and again said
very similar things to varying crowds of people.
On this occasion the Lord addressed His disciples personally. In
Matthew He described a certain class, and says that theirs is the
kingdom. Here He says, "yours is the kingdom," identifying that class
with the disciples. His disciples were the poor, the hungry, the
weepers, those hated and reproached. A description such as this shows
that already He was treating His own rejection as a certainty, and the
succeeding verses (24-26) show that He was dividing the people into two
classes. There were those identified with Himself, sharing His sorrows,
and those who were of the world and sharing its transient joys. Upon
the head of the one class He called down a blessing: upon the head of
the other a woe. This of course involved a tremendous paradox. The sad
and rejected are the blessed: the glad and the popular are under
judgment. But the one follow in the footsteps of the Son of Man and
suffer for His sake: the other follow in the way of the false prophets.
Having thus pronounced a blessing upon His disciples, He gives them
instructions which, if carried out, would mean that they reflected His
own spirit of grace. He does not actually send them for the moment, but
He instructs them in view of their going out to represent Him and to
serve His interests. The spirit of grace is specially marked in verses
27-38. The love that can go forth and even embrace an enemy is not
human but Divine; whereas any sinner can love the one who loves him.
The disciple of Jesus is to be a lover, a blesser, a giver; and on the
other hand he is not to be one who judges and condemns. This does not
mean that a disciple is to have no powers of sound judgment and
discrimination, but it does mean that he is not to be characterized by
the censorious spirit that is quick to impute wrong motives and thus
judge other people.
These instructions were exactly fitted to those who were called to
follow Christ during His sojourn upon earth. The spirit of them equally
applies to those called to follow Him during His absence in heaven.
This is the day of grace, in which the Gospel of grace is being
preached, and it is therefore of the utmost importance that we should
be marked by the spirit of grace. How often, alas, has our conduct
belied the cause with which we are identified. A great deal of gracious
preaching can be totally nullified by a little ungracious practising on
the part of the preacher or his friends. By the manifestation of love
we prove ourselves to be the true children of God-the God who is "kind
to the unthankful and to the evil."
It is not so easy to discern the sequence of the teaching contained
in verses 39-49, but a sequence there undoubtedly is. These disciples
were to be sent forth as apostles before long, so they must be seeing
persons themselves. If they were to be seeing they must be taught; and
for that they must take the humble place at the feet of their Master.
They were not above Him: He was above them, and the goal set before
them was to be like Him. He was perfection, and when their "college
course" was completed they would be as He is.
That this might be so, a spirit of self-judgment is to be
cultivated. Our natural tendency is to judge others and perceive their
smallest faults. If we judge ourselves we may discover some very
substantial faults. And faith fully judging ourselves we may be able
eventually to help others.
From verse 43 the outward profession of discipleship is
contemplated. The Lord may have had such an one as Judas specially in
view, in speaking thus. Amongst those who took the place of being His
disciples there might be found "an evil man," as well as "a good man."
They are to be discerned by their fruits, seen in both speech and
action. Nature is revealed in fruit. We cannot penetrate the secrets of
nature either in a tree or in a man, but we can easily and correctly
deduce the nature from the fruit.
This leads to the consideration that mere profession counts for
nothing. Men may repeatedly call Jesus their Lord, but if there is no
obedience to His word, there is no discipleship that He acknowledges.
The kind of foundation that cannot be shaken under the testings is only
laid by obedience. The mere hearing of His word apart from obedience
may erect an edifice which looks like the real thing; but it means
disaster in the day of testing.
Let us all bring ourselves under the searching power of this word.
The truest believer needs to face it, and not one of us can escape it.
It applies to the whole circle of truth. Nothing is really and solidly
ours until we yield to it the obedience of faith-not only the assent of
faith, but the OBEDIENCE of faith. Then, and only then, we become
established in it, in such a way that we are "founded upon a rock."
These words of our Lord uncover for us, without a doubt, the secret
of many a tragic collapse as regards their testimony, on the part of
true believers; as also collapse and abandonment of the profession of
discipleship on the part of those who have taken it up without any
Reality is that, which above all things, the Lord must have.