Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” pp. 214-227.
Our Lord now starts on His last journey, leaving Galilee for the borders of Judea and the other side98 of the Jordan.102 When crowds resort to Him, He, as He was wont, again taught. And full of moral value and Divine light His teaching is. May our souls weigh it well! We are apt to be one-sided. If we seize the special manifestation of God’s grace, we are apt to over look, neglect, or enfeeble the great and unchanging principles of good and evil; if we keep hold of that which abides from first to last, the danger is that we leave not adequate room for His sovereign action at particular times. In Christ, the truth, this was never so. All the ways of God had their place: no one thing was sacrificed to another, yet this, too, without a levelling sameness, for even in God, while all is perfect and all harmonious, each attribute has not equal place, but there is that which is pre-eminent. Jesus, the Son and Servant of God, maintains on every side the truth of God in the face of sin and confusion.
First, He vindicates, according to the unstained light and tender goodness of God, the marriage relation. It is the most momentous step of human life, and the pillar of the social fabric. How thankful should we be to have the Lord of glory pronouncing on it in His passage through this world! The need was great. For even in the Holy Land, and among those who stood high for their sanctity, with the law of God before their eyes and its precepts, rightly or wrongly interpreted, continually on their tongues, how low and loose was the theory! how basely selfish the practice! He was here on His errand of love with its eternal issues, yet would He stop in His course, and cause the light of heaven to shine even across the path of dark, designing men, recalling them to hear how God made man to live, as well as removing the veil which hindered disciples from seeing how He who was God would die.
“And Pharisees99 came to Him, and asked Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away [his] wife? tempting Him. But He answered and said to them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorce, and to put away. And Jesus answered and said to them, In view of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this commandment. But from [the] beginning of [the] creation God100 made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be united to his wife;101 and the two shall be one flesh: so that they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (verses 2-9). It is only the facts recorded by historians or the researches of men of learning into the Rabbinical remains which betray the excessive levity of the Jews as to marriage.103 The true obligations of the tie were unknown, and a wife’s place had no more stability than a servant’s — if so much, indeed. He asks what Moses commanded: they answer what Moses allowed; whereas our Lord shows how evidently it was in respect of their hard-heartedness he so wrote. In truth, the law made nothing perfect. Not the Gospel only, but the beginning of creation, bore its witness to the true thought of God, who made them male and female. How admirably the Lord applies, not only the fact of Gen. 1, but the words of Gen. 2:24! All other obligations of nature, even the filial, must give place, as their own Pentateuch proved in principle as well as history; and the new relationship from the first was abstractedly indissoluble. They were no longer two, but one flesh, even if not kindred in spirit. This was not merely Adam’s language, but God’s deed; and if He united, let not man put asunder. Such was the Lord’s bright and beautiful unfolding of the law to those who took advantage of what was permitted for a season. Grace and truth ever adorn what the legal spirit perverts to self-righteousness on the one hand or self-indulgence on the other.
To the disciples (in the house, as only Mark here tells us) the Lord gives the stringent reply that, “Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her; and if a woman put away her husband and marry another, she committeth adultery.”104 Here is the dark converse of sin in this relationship: no licence of man can consecrate the annulling that tie while in the flesh.
Matt. 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17.
The next incident is equally full of moral loveliness and Divine grace — full of instruction too, as here we have, not Pharisees, but disciples in painful collision with the mind of the Master. “And they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them. But the disciples rebuked those that brought [them]. But when Jesus saw [it], he was indignant, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto Me; forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive105 the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein. And He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them.” Our Evangelist specially marks the deep displeasure of the Lord. And no wonder! Indeed, it was part of His perfectness. For it was not only that they betrayed their own Rabbi-like self-importance, which makes much of ceremony, much also of knowledge, and overlooks the power of grace and the manifestation of Divine affections; but, besides, they took His place, falsified Him and the God of all grace that sent Him, and the essential character of that kingdom which He was about to establish. Suffer not little children, babes, to come to Him! Hinder them! Why, not only of such is the kingdom of God, but whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a babe shall not enter therein. Such is the Lord’s solemn sentence. To be nothing for Jesus to receive is just the condition of entrance. May we too have faith to put our babes with ourselves before Him, and count on His sure blessing!
Matt. 9:16-22: Luke 18:18-23.
The Lord had vindicated marriage according to its beginning from God against the Pharisees. He had blessed babes in spite of rebuking, but now rebuked disciples. We have Him next eagerly sought out by the rich young ruler. “And as He went forth into the way, one ran up and kneeled to him, and asked Him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit life eternal?”106 There was no lack of moral integrity here, no failure in reverence to One who was instinctively felt to be superior, no indolence that avoided trouble; but earnestness was there, honest respect for that righteous man, and a sincere desire to learn a new lesson and take a fresh step in well-doing. It was nature doing its best, yet fundamentally at fault; for his question assumed that man was good and could do good — man as he is. His very salutation of honour to Jesus proved that His person was unknown, and therefore the truth unknown both as to God and man. Had the young ruler believed Him to be the Son of the living God, he would not have accosted Him with “Good Teacher” — a style suitable enough to a respected and honoured teacher, but both needless and improper in addressing One who was equal with God and was God. But the evil of man he had never realised — the total, hopeless sin and ruin of the heart in God’s sight. Hence the need of such a One as Jesus was unfelt — of One who, God and man, came down to the depths of sin in Divine love, and is raised up to the throne of God in Divine righteousness; who suffered all on earth from God on behalf of guilty man, that He might have man redeemed, reconciled, justified, glorified, by and with Himself in heaven, and in both, as in all things, God glorified through Jesus Christ.
Our Blessed Lord therefore refuses the honour which ignored the only just foundation for it, jealous for the truth as well as for God’s glory, as, indeed, it is the only real love to man. If not God, Christ was not good; if good, He is God.107 “And Jesus said to him, Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but one [that is], God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said to Him, Teacher, all these have I observed from my youth. And Jesus beholding him loved him.” It is striking to observe these two things following — the comparative severity of our Lord’s answer, and the express assertion that He looked upon him and loved him. The one showed how He dealt with amiable nature, intruding into what it knows not; the other, how no curtness of rebuke for spiritual blindness, no consciousness that the young man was faithless and would depart sorrowful at His word, hindered the Saviour’s love for that which was sweet and attractive in human nature. Our Lord gave its full value to his honouring of the commandments, which He does not contradict; but He meets him on the ground he had chosen, not of a broken-hearted, convicted sinner asking what he must do to be saved, but of a blameless man who was conscious of nothing wrong in his life, but who felt desires after a more excellent way from One so pre-eminently excellent in his eyes as Jesus, who accordingly “said to him, One thing thou lackest: go, sell whatever thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me, [taking up the cross].”102 Jesus had done infinitely more; for, “though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich.” But this ruler knew not the grace of our Lord, though he could not but see His ineffable moral beauty; he knew not His grace, for His glory was unknown to him. Little did he think even when he kneeled to Jesus that there stood before him One who, “subsisting in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be on equality with God, but emptied Himself and took upon Him the form of a bondman, and was made in the likeness of men; and having been found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” It was not, then, that He who repudiated all good save in One, save God, shrank from that test which He represented to the good-seeking ruler; yet the one thing the young and ardent Jew lacked was, oh! how incomparably short of the path of Jesus both in life and death. Still, it was far too great a demand on the loveliest sample of humanity which, as far as we read, crossed the path of the Lord; and it made plain in his sad, departing footsteps to others, if it did not discover to his own conscience, the covetousness of his heart, the value he set upon his possessions the trust he had in riches, the little heart he had for treasure in heaven, care for himself rather than for others, even for the poor, of whom the Lord ever thought much, and, above all, that so taking up the cross and following Christ was harder measure than he was prepared for. What is man? Wherein is he to be accounted of? Well may we worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. “There is none good but One [that is], God.” How true, and how blessed for us that so it is! “Verily every man, [even] the high placed is altogether vanity” (Ps. 39:5). Jesus had but disclosed the shadow, and not the very image, of Divine goodness in Himself; yet did the beauty of the amiable devotee consume away like a moth. “But he, sad at the word, went away grieved: for he had large possessions.”108 Surely every man is vanity.
Matt. 9:23-26; Luke 18:24-27.
The great Prophet, the perfect Minister of grace and truth, turns the incident to the good of His own. “And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto His disciples, With what difficulty shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” Even the disciples understood not, but were astonished at His words. They, too, knew not there is no good thing in man, or in the advantages of the world, for the kingdom of God. “And Jesus answers again, and says to them, Children, how difficult it is for those who trust in riches103 to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. And they were exceedingly astonished, saying to one another, And who can be saved? But Jesus looking on them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Thus Jesus softens in no respect the rigour of the truth. The very blessings, as men speak, of the flesh and of the world turn out hindrances in Divine things. With men, then, salvation is impossible. It is a question here, too, of God; but, blessed be His name, all things are possible with Him.
Matt. 9:27-30; Luke 18:28-30.
What hearts are ours that even the solemn circumstance of the ruler, and the still more solemn sentence of the Lord which fell upon the amazed ears of the disciples, drew forth a self-complacent inquiry from him who seemed to be somewhat — yea, a pillar among those nearest to Jesus! “Peter began to say to Him, Lo, it is we who have left all, and have followed Thee. Jesus answered104 and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man who hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother [or wife],105 or children, or lands, for My sake, and the Gospel’s,109 that shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the coming age life eternal.110 But many first shall be last; and the last first.” It is much to be noted that the Lord speaks but of abandoning nature for His own sake (and the Gospel’s, as is added most appropriately in this Gospel only), even as Peter speaks of their leaving all and following Him. To leave for the reward would be worthless, and, moreover, never stands. Christ is the only efficacious attraction, the motive that governs a renewed heart. There is pasture for the sheep, there is the flock also; but the sheep follow Christ, for they know His voice. Rewards will follow by-and-by, but saints follow not the rewards, but the Lord. As our Evangelist speaks of the Gospel’s sake, so he shows that the faithful sufferer receives a hundredfold now in this time for what he has left, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. “But,” says the Lord (and if it was a significant word to Peter, is it not for us all?), “many first shall be last, and the last first.” Righteous judgment will in the long-run reverse many a thought founded on that which meets the eye. It is the end of the race that tells, not the start, though God is unrighteous to no person and to no act. It is well, therefore, here, as before, to trust in God and His grace. “There is none good but One [that is], God.”
Matt. 20:17-19; Luke 18:31-34; John 11:16-55.
They were now on the road to Jerusalem, where the disciples well knew enmity to their Master was most deadly. Hence, when Jesus went before them, “they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid.” They were not more astonished at His calm facing the danger than they shrank from their own exposure to it. They were still attached to earthly life, though they would have liked to have spent it under Messiah’s reign, sitting every man under his vine and under his fig-tree, with none to make them afraid. But to follow the path which led through persecution to death was far as yet from being a privilege and honour in their eyes. Even Christ they knew after the flesh: the glory of His death and resurrection was wholly unfelt as yet. Hence the Lord Jesus “took again the Twelve, and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered up to the chief priests, and to the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him up to the nations, and they shall mock Him, and shall scourge Him, and shall spit upon Him, and shall kill Him; and after three days106 He shall rise again.” Thus the fullest testimony was given, not indiscriminately, but to chosen witnesses, though complete for the purposes of God among men. Matthew alone singles out, as was suitable, that form of death, the cross, which stumbled the natural mind of the Jew, while Luke, as his manner is, draws attention to the accomplishment of the Scriptures, not in specific detail like Matthew, but as a whole, adding to it the non-intelligence of the disciples.
Matt. 20:20-28; Luke 22:24-28.
Then come the sons of Zebedee, James, and John” (with their mother, as we know from Matthew), “saying [to him],107 Teacher, we would that Thou shouldst do for us whatsoever we may ask Thee.108 And He said to them, What would ye that I should do for you? And they said unto Him, Grant us that we may sit, one on Thy right hand and one on Thy left hand, in thy glory.” How often the carnal mind betrays itself in the faithful, even in the domain of faith! How weak as yet were those destined to be pillars! How the Master shines in presence even of the most blessed among His servants! They knew not what they asked. This was no question for the suffering Son of man on His way to the cross; but, rather, Could they drink of what it was His to drink? could they be baptized with the baptism that was before Him? Alas! ambition even in the things of the kingdom is soon followed by confidence in self: “We are able.” What an answer! Need we wonder that these two also forsook Jesus and fled in the hour of the cross? Nevertheless, the Lord seals their answer with His promise of His own bitter portion, inward and outward; but lets them know that those high places around Himself in glory were not His to give, but for those for whom it is prepared. He refuses to depart from that morally highest place in such a world as this — God’s servant among men. But if the two sons of Zebedee thus betrayed their ignorance of Christ’s moral glory, how did the rest carry themselves? Not with sorrow of heart for their brethren. “When the ten heard it, they began to be indignant about James, and John.” How often our fleshly resentment at the pride of another makes manifest the pride which dwells in our own hearts, and breaks out in an indignation as unseemly as the evil which provokes it! “But Jesus called them unto Him, and saith unto them, Ye know that those who are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is109 not so among you: but whosoever would be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever would be first of you, shall be bondman of all. For also the Son of man did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
This is love which serves, not flesh which seeks to be served. It is the animating motive and spirit, and not a question of position, ecclesiastic or ministerial; for I doubt not he who was not a whit behind the very chiefest of the Apostles was the one who was most of all imbued with the mind which was in Christ Jesus, and this not only in his own soul, but also in his service. Paul was bondsman of all. “His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain, but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” (2 Cor. 11:23-29). It was for the Son of man alone not only to minister, but to give His life a ransom for many.
Matt. 20:29-34; Luke 18:35-43.
A new division of our Gospel here opens. It is the Lord’s final presentation of Himself to the nation as Messiah. His ministerial work was closed. Here He is viewed as Son of David.
“And they came to Jericho.” That city which first opposed itself to the entrance of Israel into the land of promise, but fell by the mighty power of God, when His people submitted themselves to, His word by Joshua; that city which brought the predicted curse on him and his sons who reared it again; that city whose waters were healed, and from whose land barrenness was taken away in grace by the prophet, is the scene of a remarkable display of beneficent power, in answer to the faith that owned the promised Seed and King.
“And as He went out of Jericho, with His disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the wayside begging.” I do not doubt that it is the same incident which is recorded in Matt. 20 and in Luke 18. But the differences are so great as to have occasioned doubts of this in some.111 The truth is that each is perfect. Matthew gives the double cure — true to his habit (see Matt. 8) and the exigency of Jewish witness. Luke so states it that the careless might infer that the cure took place as the Lord went into (instead of as He came out of) Jericho. His moral order required the juxtaposition of the tale of Zacchaeus and the parable of the nobleman, as illustrating the scope of the two advents, and hence displaced of necessity the story of the blind man. But Luke takes care to say, not “as he was come nigh unto Jericho” (as the English Bible and others), but “as He was nigh to Jericho,”
ἐν τῳ ἐγγίζειν αὐτὸν εἰς
Ἰεριχώ, without saying whether it was His coming or His going.”‘ He was in that neighbourhood. Some manuscripts give “the son of Timeus, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, sat,” etc. The Sinai copy has “blind and a beggar.”110 As usual, our Evangelist relates the facts and even names with characteristic precision. “And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazaraean,111 he began to cry out, and say, Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me.” No expression of unbelief on the part of others could stifle his own cry of faith. It was, no doubt, in keeping with his wants to call on Him to whom Isaiah of old testified, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened” (Isa. 35:5). Others knew this Scripture as well as Bartimaeus, but he claimed the blessing from the despised Nazarene. They said they saw, and therefore their sin remained. As for him, he was confessedly miserable, poor, and blind; naked, too, he was content to be, if he might the more readily cast himself on the Lord. The multitude, not feeling their own need, had no sympathy with one who felt his, and sought to drown his importunity. But it was God who had laid it on the heart of the blind beggar — God who, in his appeal to the rejected Messiah, rebuked the incredulity of His people, as miserable and poor and blind as he — yea, more so, incomparably more, because they felt it not, and owned not their King. For them He was but Jesus of Nazareth. “And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried out the more a great deal, Son of David, have mercy on me.
The application of this title is the more strikingly in place and season here, because it is the first occurrence and, one may say, the only instance in Mark, common as it is from the first to the corresponding chapter of Matthew. The nearest approach is in the Lord’s reference to Ps. 110 in chapter 12. This, as well as Mark 11:9, 10, may show how truly guided of God Bartimaeus was - the type, doubtless, of the remnant of the latter day, whose eyes will be opened of the Messiah before He is in publicly recognised relationship with Jerusalem.
But let us turn to the foreshadowing of the “mercy that endureth for ever.” No rebuke came from Jesus. On the contrary, He stood still and said, “Call him.112
“And they call the blind man, saying to him, Be of good comfort, rise , He calls for thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose and came to Jesus.” Mark, not Matthew, mentions the cloak cast off in the alacrity113 that hastened at the invitation of Jesus, yet Matthew, not Mark, was an eyewitness.
“And Jesus answered and said to him, What wilt thou that I should do for thee? The blind man said to Him, Rabboni [My Master], that I may recover sight. And Jesus answered and said to him, Go, thy faith hath healed thee. And immediately he recovered sight, and was following Jesus in the way.” Luke alone adds the expressed moral effect on the part both of the blind man and of all the people that saw the miracle: he glorified God, as they gave Him praise. But this is thoroughly the province of Luke, as must have been observed, in fact, by every reader of ordinary attention.
98 “And the other side of (beyond)”: so Edd., with ABC, Memph. D, etc., 1, 13, 69, with Amiat., omit “and”; whilst AE, etc., and 33 have “by the other side,” which is T.R.
99 C, etc., 1, 33, have “the” before “Pharisees,”
which Edd. omit, with ABLΓ, etc., 69, Memph.
100 “God”: so AD, etc., 1, 69, Jerome’s Vulg. Syr. Arm. Goth. AEth. Edd. adopt “He,” with BCL
101 “And shall be united to his wife”: so (AC)D, etc., nearly all cursives, Lat. Syrpesch hcl Memph. AEth. Edd. omit, with B, etc., Syrsin Goth.
102 The words bracketed are found in A(G)N, etc., 1, 13, 69, and Syrsin pesch AEth., Iren. Edd. omit, after BCD
Δ and Old Latin.
103 ”For those who trust in riches”: so ACDN, later uncials, all cursives, most Old Latin, Syr. (including sin.), Arm. Edd. omit, as B
104 “Answered (answering)”: so A, etc., Syrsin pesch, Arm, Goth. Edd. omit, with BD, Memph.
105 [“Or wife”]: as AC and later uncials, 69, most Syrr. Goth. AEth., but omitted by Edd., after BD
Δ, I, Syrsin Memph.
106 “After three days”: so Edd., following BCDL
Δ, Syrhcl mg, Memph. “The third day” is the reading of AN, etc., all cursives, Jerome’s Vulg., Syr sin pesch hcl (t) Arm. AEth., Origen.
107 [“To him”]: so Edd., as BCL
Δ, Memph. The words are not found in AE, etc., 1, 69, and Amiatine.
108 So Edd., with ABC, etc., 1, 69, Memph.; whilst
Γ and others omit.
109 “Is”: so Edd., after BCpmD, etc., Old Latin. The T.R. “shall be” is in ACcorrN, later uncials, most cursives, Arm. Memph. Goth.
Δ and , as stated above; the T.R. follows A, etc.
111 ”Nazaraean”: so AC, etc. Edd. adopt “Nazarene,” after BL
Δ, I, with most Old Latin and Amiatine. See note 112.
112 This is, I doubt not, the true reading (BCL
Δ, a few cursives, Memph.; followed by Edd.), which bears the graphic stamp of Mark’s style. The vulgar text (D, etc., most cursives, Syrpesch AEth, etc.) is here, as elsewhere, due to that love of assimilating the Gospels which in the copyists answers to the love of harmonies among divines, both to the no small marring of the Divine perfection of the Gospels. Compare Luke 18:40, where “He commanded,” etc., is right (B.T.).
113 “Started [sprang] up”: so Edd., after BDL, etc., Memph. Goth.; whilst “rose up” is supported by AC, etc., most cursives, Syr. (including sin.), and other versions. The word
ἀναπηδᾳν is used only here in the New Testament.