Handfuls on Purpose
by James Smith, 1943
SEVEN STEPS IN THE CONSECRATED LIFE.
John was a man sent from God. All God-sent men honor Christ, and feel most keenly their own unworthiness in His presence. "I must decrease, He must increase." This little portion is one of those garden plots so common in Mark's Gospel, and fragrant with many a precious flower. Let us follow the footsteps of the Master. He was—
I. Decided. "In those days Jesus came and was baptized of John" (v. 9). What did this step involve for Him? Was He only following as one of the crowd who flocked to the desert preacher? It was the most decisive and important step in the life of our Lord. It implied the forsaking of all the earthly ties of human relationship, the perfect surrender of Himself to the will of His Father as His Son, the public declaration of His character as a teacher come from God, and as the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. From Nazareth to Jordan was a solemn journey for Jesus. Have we taken this step? Have we yielded ourselves unto God that His will may be done in us? Is it the burning desire of your heart that your life should glorify the Father?
II. Accepted. "And immediately He saw the heavens opened" (v. 10). He offered Himself, and was immediately accepted of the Father, through the opened heavens. As sinners, we yield ourselves to be saved; as sons, we yield ourselves to Him for service. Every unsurrendered son is robbing God of the fruit of his life. Don't say your life is not worth offering when it has been redeemed by the precious blood of God's Son. If you wish the heavens to open above you, present yourselves unto God.
III. Anointed. "The Spirit, like a dove, descended upon Him" (v. 10). The holy anointing for service is sure to come when the life has been wholly devoted to God. All Christ's words and works were spoken and wrought in the power of the Spirit. This same baptism every serving Son of God needs and may have (Acts 1:8; 19:2).
IV. Assured. "There came a voice from Heaven, saying, You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (v. 11). Like Enoch, He walked with God, and also had this testimony that He pleased God. This is another blessing that belongs to the path of the consecrated. The anointing of the Holy Spirit always brings with it the comforting voice of God, the sweetest assurance in the soul that the life is accepted and sanctified, and pleasing to Him. Without faith this is impossible.
V. Impelled. "Immediately the Spirit drives Him into the wilderness" (v. 12). This word "drives" is very strong, it is the same word used in John 2:15, "He drove them all out of the Temple." The leading of the Spirit in the consecrated life is an inscrutable but mighty controlling impulse. It is not a fancy, but the sovereign, governmental authority of God in the soul. As the wind impels the sailship, so does the Holy Spirit drive on the life that has been launched in the ocean of God's will. Driven of the Spirit. What a driver! Who holds the reins of your life? The Holy Spirit of God, or the spirit that works in the hearts of the children of disobedience?
VI. Tested. "He was in the wilderness tempted of Satan" (v. 13). It was not until Christ was anointed with the Holy Spirit that the tempter came. This is most suggestive to us. The kingdom of Satan is not in much danger by us until we are baptized with the Spirit of Power. The real warfare against "the principalities and powers" can only begin when we are lifted into the heavenlies, where the forces of evil have their stronghold (Ephesians 6:12). "Greater is He who is in us than all that can be against us" (1 John 4:4).
VII. He Testified. "Jesus came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God" (v. 14). Luke tells us, "He returned in the power of the Spirit." He came from the conflict a victor, through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and began to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. Here, too, we may follow in His footsteps. If the power of the Holy Spirit has come upon us, it is that we might be witnesses unto Him. The early disciples filled Jerusalem with their doctrine. Go and preach the Gospel.
THE UNCLEAN SPIRIT.
Jesus had gone into Capernaum. On the quiet Sabbath day He makes His way to the synagogue, that He might declare the will of His Father in Heaven. Every opportunity of doing good is immediately accepted by our Lord. Instant in season. May His Holy Spirit work this good work in our hearts! Guided by the Holy Spirit, Jesus is brought into contact with an unclean spirit. It is a day of grace for the poor demon-possessed man. Notice His—
I. Character. "A man with an unclean spirit," or we may read it, "A man in, or being controlled by, an unclean spirit. "A man in an unclean spirit is of course an unclean man. It is quite possible, then, for a man to be entirely possessed by an evil spirit. There is a spirit that now works in the hearts of the children of disobedience. The God of this world still blinds the minds of the on-believing. If the spirit is unclean the whole man is corrupt.
II. Position. "In their synagogue" on the Sabbath day. An unclean man keeping the Sabbath and reverencing the sanctuary. A religious devil. A man's outward acts do not always determine his moral character. It is possible to have the form of godliness while denying the power. Unclean spirits may go regularly to the house of God.
III. Question. "What have we to do with You, You Jesus of Nazareth?" Just so. These unclean worshipers have nothing to do with Jesus. This evil spirit cries out, "What have we to do with You?" The man and the unclean spirit are as one. We are one with the spirit which possesses us, whether it be the Spirit of God or an evil spirit. "His you are to whom you yield yourselves" (Romans 6:16).
IV. Confession. "I know You who You are, the Holy One of God." Why does he not say we know You? This demon speaks for himself, and betrays a knowledge Far superior to the poor devil-driven man. Observe carefully his language, "Are You come to destroy us; I know You." Jesus came not to destroy, but to save. This confession is like that of many a modern unclean spirit, it is a confession without faith. Remember Judas (Acts 3:14).
V. Request. "Let us alone." Although these words do not appear in the Revised Version, they doubtless express the deep-rooted desire of every unclean spirit. Every sin-loving sinner wishes to be let alone by the Holy One of God. They love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil. Well, if Jesus should let the unclean alone, what then? Just this, they will abide forever under the damning power of sin and Satan, cast out with the devil and his angels. Abide You with us.
VI. Power. "When the unclean spirit had torn him he cried." Beware of sin, it first cries, "Let alone," then tears in pieces. It has power to pollute and to destroy. Self is one of the most dangerous of all the seducing spirits. In the work of God it often is as a fly in the ointment. The spirit of impurity has torn the minds, hearts, lives, and hopes of many to pieces, and would tear the very Word of God out of our hands.
VII. Overcomer. Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Hold your peace, and come out of him." He gagged him and cast him out. The unclean need to be rebuked, even when they talk religiously, saying, "You are the Holy One of God." It is easy for an unclean spirit to overcome an unholy man, but the presence and power of the Holy One is sufficient to silence and to separate. If sin is to be gagged and overcome within, the Holy Spirit must be allowed and trusted to exercise His mighty authority in the soul, for with authority commands He the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.
PETER'S WIFE'S MOTHER.
In verses 21-34 we have the brief record of what must have been a very busy day for the Lord, and a very blessed day for those who were with Him. In the morning of this Sabbath day He entered into the synagogue and taught, and cast out an unclean spirit; in the afternoon He goes to Peter's house with James and John and heals Peter's wife's mother of sickness and fever; in the evening He healed many that were sick of divers disease and cast out many devils. Yet He did not seem to feel what some preachers call "Mondayish" the next day, for verse 35 says, "In the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out and departed into a solitary place and there prayed." We must be laboring in the energy of the flesh if our work unfits us for secret prayer. Let us note her—
I. Relationship. "Simon's wife's mother" (v. 30). Then Simon Peter must have had a wife. If he were the first Pope, as Papists affirm, where do they get their authority for their dogma of celibacy?
II. Sad Condition. "She lay sick of a fever" (v. 30). Fever and sickness always bring helplessness. "She lay." She was perfectly unfit for work. The fever of worldly excitement brings to many the sickness of spiritual inability. Our Churches are more like hospitals than camps of armed and able-bodied men. Why is so and so not as active as he used to be in the service of Christ? Oh, he is offended, or she is growing cold. Yes, "sick of a fever," and "good for nothing," like savorless salt.
III. Importunate Intercessors. "Anon they tell Him of her" (v. 30). This is a blessed work, making continual intercession for the weak and needy. The Lord is not offended with our continual coming to Him. The condition of our friends and sick and fevered professors may give us many an errand to Christ. "Anon" is the secret of prevailing prayer. Tell Him. Tell Him again and again. Not that He is dull of hearing, or slow to understand our need, but He does love to see in us persistent faith. "Be not weary in well-doing, for in due season you shall reap" (Galatians 6:9).
IV. Great Deliverance. "He took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her" (v. 31). It is so easy for Him to do a great thing. There was: (1) A personal contact. "He took her by the hand." How tenderly He deals with the sick ones. (2) An uplifting power. "He lifted her up." Every contact with Christ in prayer or fellowship implies an uplifting. The lifting power is His. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). (3) An immediate cure. "Immediately the fever left her." How could it be otherwise? The personal Christ is the remedy for all.
V. Willing Service. "She ministered unto Him" (v. 31). What could be more natural than that the saved should serve. It becomes the redeemed not only to say so, but to do so. In serving Him she was only using for Him the strength He Himself had imparted to her. "Will a man rob God?" (Malachi 3:8). Yes. And he does it when he withholds from the service of Christ that which Christ claims as His own. The ministry of Peter's mother-in-law, like all true service, was willing, spontaneous, and hearty. "Him serve with mirth, His praise forth tell." "Worthy is the Lamb" (Rev. 5:12).
CONFESSION, COMPASSION, CLEANSING.
Jesus had been preaching throughout all Galilee, and healing "all manner of sickness and all manner of disease" (Matthew 4:23). This poor leper doubtless heard of the great and various cures wrought by the Lord. Good tidings of great joy to him, cold water to a thirsty soul. Would he not long in his inmost heart for an opportunity of getting within reach of such a Physician? How could he refrain from accepting the chance when it did come? Oh! that you had known in this, your day. Look at—
I. The Need. "There came a leper to Him" (v. 40). Oh, the significance of the terrible word "leper," and its synonymy "sinner," in the light of the presence of the Holy One! Every such leper was shut out from the place of the holy, separated from the fellowship of the pure, and compelled by their own character to keep company with the vile and the outcasts. He was—
1. A Need Deeply Felt. He knew he was a leper. He made no attempt to justify himself or conceal his true state. This is not a comfortable feeling. When a sinner is convicted of sin it is an awakening shock, a self-loathing revelation.
2. A Need No Human Help Could Meet. His cry was "unclean," his prospects were dark and hopeless, his disease was incurable. Sin as a plague in the heart cannot be touched with the plaster of outward reformation "Vain is the help of man" (Psalm 60:11).
3. A Need that Drove Him to Jesus. "There came a leper to Him." Hunger often constrains a child to come home. When the prodigal began to be in want he said, "I will arise and go to my father" (Luke 15:18). Blessed sadness that leads us, though with a rope round our necks, to the overcoming feet of Jesus. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4).
II. The Manner in which he Came. He came—
1. Earnestly. "Beseeching Him" (v. 40). He has a spirit within that is clamoring for emancipation. This cry now reaches his lips and falls on the ear of the Almighty Deliverer. It is easy to be in earnest when the need is keenly felt.
2. Humbly. "Kneeling down to Him" (v. 40). A thorough consciousness of our guilt, impurity, and helplessness is enough to bend the stiffened knees and to make "kneeling down" a glad and precious privilege. This poor leper does not need to ask the Lord "to pour contempt on all his pride."
3. Believingly. "If You will You can make me clean" (v. 40). He was quite confident that if the Lord was willing He was abundantly able to save. "Is anything too hard for God?" (Genesis 18:14). He wills not the death of any.
III. The Reception. Infinite holiness and power alone can deal with the pressing and awful need of guilty man, and these flow out and through the channel of compassion.
1. His Heart was Moved. "Jesus, moved with compassion." The earnest, humble, believing cry of need moved the deep waters of sympathy in the soul of the Savior. His love moved Him from Heaven to earth, and from the manger to the accursed tree. "A high priest touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Hebrews 4:15). "Jesus wept" (John 11:35).
2. His Hand was Moved. "He put forth His hand and touched him" (v. 41). When the heart moves the hand is sure to be put forth to help. This is the first kindly touch the lonely outcast has felt since the day he became a leper. None can touch the aching heart or soothe the sorrowing soul like Him. He has touched humanity by His incarnation, that we might through faith be made partakers of His divine nature. His heart is tender. Come to Him. His hand is mighty—trust in Him. His arm is not shortened that it cannot save.
IV. The Result. "I will, be you clean" (v. 41). He was—
1. Made Free. "The leprosy departed from him." The disease, being in his very blood, he could not shake it off. No earthly surgeon's knife can separate between you and your sins, the word of the Heavenly Physician is enough. "He who believes on the Son is not condemned" (John 3:18). "All that believe are justified from all things" (Acts 13:39).
2. Made Clean. "He was cleansed" (v. 42). To be delivered from the dominion of sin is to be saved from its polluting power. The word of Christ, heard and believed, was the means of the leper's full and perfect salvation. "He spoke, and it was done." "Now are you clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." "You have purified your souls in obeying the truth" (1 Peter 1:22).
3. Made Clean Immediately. "As soon as He had spoken, immediately" (v. 42). We are justified the moment we believe. There is no interval between the striking of a light and its shining. Growth must be gradual and progressive, but life as a quickening principle comes instantaneously in answer to the soul's look of trust (John 3:14, 15). Look and live!
THE SICK PARALYTIC.
When Jesus was in the house it was noised abroad. The house perhaps was Peter's, where He had been before (chapter 1:29). In the house or in the heart He cannot be hid. Wherever His saving and healing power are being manifested "many will be gathered together." It is not always a sign that Jesus is in the house when "many were turned away." "Hundreds turned away" is a big advertisement in these days. He will not send the hungry empty away. Here is a picture of—
I. Human Helplessness. "Sick of a palsy" (v. 3). He was—
1. Sick. Sickness unfits one for the enjoyment of those things which are even indispensable to life and health. Sin sickens the soul at the sweet mercies of our God; love of the world vitiates the appetite for the bread from Heaven. "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick" (Matthew 9:12).
2. Sick of a Palsy. That is, he was helplessly sick, deprived of the power of action, his energies withered, unable to do anything for himself. His sickness deprived him of all right desires, his palsy deprived him of all ability to act. Such is the true condition of all who are without Christ. "The heart is deceitful" (Jeremiah 17:9). Their works, their ways, and their thoughts are displeasing to God (Proverbs 15:8, 9, 26). When this is realized it is enough to give a paralytic shock to all pride and self-confidence. "When we were without strength Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6).
II. Brotherly Kindness. "He was borne of four" (v. 3). These four men carrying the sick and helpless one to Jesus show us what united effort can do. One might have said, "I can do nothing for him," but the four say, "We can carry him." How many perishing souls are cruelly neglected for the lack of united effort among the Lord's people. These four nameless friends of the helpless are worth looking at.
1. See their Faith. "Jesus saw their faith" (v. 5). To Him this was a lovely sight, four noble, trusting hearts. They believed that Jesus had, and was willing to give, what this poor, half-dead brother needed. They carry him like an empty pitcher to the fountain. They bring the benumbed and frozen one into the warmth of the Sun of Righteousness. They did their part believingly, and their faith was rewarded. According to your faith so shall it be. It takes four to carry a soul out of the darkness of sin into the light of salvation.
(1) The love of the Father.
(2) The blood of the Son.
(3) The power of the Spirit.
(4) The faith of the Christian. The first three are mighties, but the fourth? Ah, me, "Little faith."
2. See their Courage. "When they could not come near for the press they uncovered the roof" (v. 4). They did not give up because there were a crowd of difficulties in the way. Wait for a more convenient season? No! Where there is a will to go to Jesus there is a way, if it should be down through the roof. Their method of taking a man to Christ caused a good deal of dust and confusion, and doubtless a good lot of unfavorable criticism, but the Lord never finds fault with the way we come, if we only come believing.
III. Divine Power. When we come to Jesus we are at once convinced that we have come into the presence of the Almighty. "The Word was God." In verse 8 we see His power to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. All things are naked before Him. But see His—
1. Power to Forgive. "Son, your sins are forgiven you" (v. 5). This was spoken "when He saw their faith." This is the Gospel of Christ which is the power of God to every one that believes. Is the Gospel to you an "I hope so," or "I know so." Don't expect forgiveness at the judgment when it is written, "The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" (v. 10).
2. Power to Heal. "Arise, take up your bed and walk" (v. 9). He forgives all your iniquities and heals all your diseases. "Bless the Lord, O my soul" (Psalm 103:1, 2). He does not cleanse us from the pollution without delivering us from the power of sin. The salt of His saving grace is cast into the fountain—the spring of the life. In Christ we not only have the forgiveness of the past, but also the renewing of the Holy Spirit. Made new creatures in Christ Jesus.
IV. Conclusive Evidence. When a man has been saved by the Lord it must be seen in the changed life. He—
1. Arose. "Arise, and immediately he arose" (v. 12). The bed that bore him he now joyfully carries. Jesus can easily make the troubles that bring us sorrowfully to Him to be taken up and borne gladly for Him. There is a real rising up of our true manhood when we come in our weakness to the feet of Jesus. As soon as we are quickened we are raised up (Ephesians 2:5, 6).
2. Went Forth. When he went forth before them all they were amazed, and glorified God, saying, "We never saw it in this fashion" (v. 12). No! this was a new fashion that did not come from the prince of earth, but from the King of Glory." "All power is given unto Me in Heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). Go you forth as one forgiven and healed after this new heavenly fashion, bearing witness to Him and praying that others may follow this fashion.
JESUS IN THE HOUSE.
Jesus does not always get into the house. There are some houses where the door is shut in His face (Rev. 3:20). Sometimes He comes in uninvited (Luke 24:36), but He always accepts the invitation to come in (Luke 24:29). "If any man open the door I will come in" (Rev. 3:20). As the air rushes in to fill the empty space, so does the grace of Christ press in at every opening in our hearts. "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it." We note some fresh lessons here, that—
1. Jesus condescends to come into the house (v. 1). "Behold I stand at the door and knock." "He who inhabits eternity dwells with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit" (Isaiah 57:15). The mighty God seeks an entrance into our hearts that we might "sup with Him." He who was laid in a manger will not pass by the poor and needy.
2. Jesus fills the house when He comes in. "There was no room" (v. 2). There is no need for worldly entertainments to attract when Jesus comes in. When He comes in He brings a great company of new friends with Him. When the glory came into the temple it filled the house. He who is the fullness of the Godhead can surely fill up every desire and longing of the heart. Filled with the fullness of God.
3. When Jesus is in the house His presence cannot be hid (v. 1). We cannot separate influence from the presence of Christ any more than we can have the rose without its fragrance, gold without color, or the sun without light. If Christ dwells in our hearts the love of Christ will flow abroad. When Jesus comes in He leaves the door open for others to follow, and that His words may be heard without.
4. Those who come to Jesus may meet with difficulties (v. 4). There was a crowd of hearers around the door. Hearers often stand in the way of seekers. Some are so stiff and selfish that they will not move an inch out of the old rut to allow a sinner to get to Christ. They are never out of their pew on Sunday, but they will not lift their little finger to save a soul. They will not enter themselves, nor suffer those who would.
5. Those who bring others to Jesus must not be afraid of new methods (v. 4). If you can't get them in as others have come, let them down through the roof. If you can't get them out at the gate, let them down over the wall in a basket. If they don't understand the word "believe," try the word "come." If they will not come in go out to them. But what would they say? Well, let them say. Although they should call you a roof-breaking fanatic, what of that if sin-sick souls are saved. This is the new fashion.
6. Some will never come to Christ unless they are brought (v. 3). If this sick man had not been carried to Jesus he certainly never would have been healed by Him. It takes four to bring a sinner to Jesus: (1) The Law of God. (2) The Spirit of God. (3) The Word of God. (4) The Servant of God.
7. When a man is really anxious to be saved he will not be ashamed to be helped. How often we have seen people blush and fidget when talked to about their need of salvation in the presence of others. It was like offering to run for a doctor to a man who believed himself in good health. The man of Ethiopia was glad of direction because his soul was in deep concern (Acts 8:31), so was the jailer (Acts 16:30).
8. When a man is healed his life will show it (v. 12). No man can ever remain the same after coming into contact with Jesus Christ. The sun either softens or hardens, revives or withers. The bed on his back was evidence enough that a great change had been wrought. All whose sins are forgiven are called upon to glorify God in their body.
9. Christ is all sufficient for all who come to Him. He was all sufficient for the sick and palsied, all sufficient for the faith of those who brought him, all sufficient to read the hearts of the reasoning onlookers. "God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8). "Him that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). Is Jesus in your house?
THE CALL OF LEVI.
Levi is also called Matthew in the first Gospel. Matthew means God's gift, a beautiful name for a publican hired by the Romans to act as a tax gatherer. Perhaps he coveted this despised trade because of his greed of gain. For such evident backsliding his friends may have all disowned him. They looked upon such business as we would look on a temperance advocate starting a whisky shop, or as a Christian becoming a hawker of infidel books. The poor tax-gatherer's conscience may have been often goaded. His soul may have been at times sick of the whole affair, but what could he do? His opportunity comes—
I. Where he Got the Call. "While sitting at the receipt of custom" (v. 14). While busy at his work. It was a sudden call. Jesus knows where to find those who in their hearts are longing to throw off the bondage of sin. In the midst of all the activities of a questionable business the call may come, or it may be while in the field, the workshop, the office, or the mill that the still small voice of a passing Savior is heard.
II. When the Call Came. "As He passed by" (v. 14). There is something pathetic about this. Jesus came near, He spoke, He passed by. What an opportunity! What a privilege! How unexpectedly it came, how quickly it passes! How short the time to decide, how momentous the consequences! It was a passing offer of salvation, it was the now of the accepted time for him. Jesus of Nazareth passes by. He may be passing and calling you just now, or has He called and you refused? Are these things hid from your eyes? "Oh, that you had known in this, your day" (Luke 19:42).
III. The Nature of the Call. "Follow Me" (v. 14). He needed Christ, and Christ needed him. Did he not see the unexpressed yearning of his soul? Was it not the call of infinite love to come and partake of His infinite fullness? Jesus knew what Matthew needed, and that He was able to meet that need. It was a call to follow, to a life of constant obedience. All His calls are to higher experiences of grace and usefulness. "Come and see."
IV. The Response Made. "He arose and followed Him" (v. 14). This was an effectual call. Effectual not only because it was the Lord's call, but because his heart had been prepared and made ready for it. The seed fell into prepared soil. So "all God's biddings are enablings." God's call always means separation from everything that conscience condemns. He could not take his toll-booth with him. It is worthy of note that the voice of God in the Word is always in harmony with the work of the Spirit within. The outward call of Christ comes in answer to the inward voice of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit convicts, the Savior invites.
V. The Change Evidenced. "Jesus sat at meat in his house" (v. 15). Luke says, "Levi made Him a great feast." He had opened the door; now the Lord comes in and sups with him. Yes, communion and fellowship always follow whole-hearted obedience. Some of the publicans, his old companions, are invited to meet with Jesus. This great feast declares that already he has been cured of his covetousness, and that he is now anxious to see others blessed. These are the signs which follow the follower of Jesus.
VI. The Great Question. "The scribes and Pharisees said, How is it that He eats with publicans and sinners?" (v. 16). We feel much obliged to them for raising this question. It is a far reaching one; it touches the infinitude of the grace of God. How is it? Only the Lord Jesus Christ Himself can answer it. The questioners, of course, have no sympathy for sinners, so they judge Him by their own miserable standard. How dark and hardened are the hearts that see this only fault! He loves the sinner. "Behold what love!"
VII. The Straight Answer. "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (v. 17). Have we not a proof in this that Levi felt himself a needy sinner. Because he was sick he needed a physician. The righteous by their righteousness exclude themselves from His healing and saving power. A beautiful window in one of our English Cathedrals was made of rejected pieces of glass by an unpopular workman. Our despised and rejected Lord is building for Himself a glorious Church with such good-for-nothing stuff as publicans and sinners, even the devil's castaways. "Him that comes unto Me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37).
Another question, "Why do the disciples fast not." There are always those who have got the goggle-eye for differences and difficulties. The Spirit of truth and power is not determined by outward forms. It is always easy to point out what the disciples of the Lord Jesus don't do, while the many good things they are doing are unheeded as if they were not. But this calls forth from the Lord a new revelation of Himself in the character of a Bridegroom.
I. The Character of Christ. "The Bridegroom is with them" (v. 19). The literal meaning of bridegroom is "the bride's man." The Church is the Bride, Christ is her Man. "The children of the bride chamber" are those who have access into the Bridegroom's presence, acquainted with His will and purposes, sharers of His secrets, and one in their sympathies and desires. The connection between the Lord and His people is expressed by two of the closest human relationships, children and bride, or wife; the same thought that we have in the Song of Solomon, "You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse" (chapter 4:9). The first relationship is by birth, the second is by mutual choice and agreement. "You must be born again" (John 3:3). "Choose this day whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15).
II. The Influence of His Presence. "Can the children of the bride chamber fast while the Bridegroom is tenth them?" (v. 19). Can the lover be sad in the presence of her sweetheart? Lamps are not needed in daylight. Those who, like the disciples of John and of the Pharisees, are under the law seeking to be justified by their works have need to fast. The disciples of Jesus are not under the law, but under grace, and the God of all grace is with them, making His grace sufficient for them. "Lo, I am with you." "Eat, O friends, and drink abundantly, O beloved" (Song of Songs 5:1). As long as they have the Bridegroom with them they cannot fast.
III. The Effect of His Absence. "When the Bridegroom is taken away then shall they fast" (v. 20). This they did for three days after Christ was crucified, and again while they waited in the upper room for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is time to fast when the presence of Christ is taken away from our hearts, then we may be sure that some sin has come in between and separated our fellowship. Here is a solemn thought for the unsaved. The Bridegroom with the Bride will be taken away, their day of grace will be gone, then shall they fast, for these things will be forever hid from their eyes. The rich man lifted up his eyes in Hell, being in torment (Luke 16:23). He had entered upon the final and eternal fast.
IV. The Nature of His Work. The work of Christ, or the grace of God which has come to us through Him, is represented here by two new things.
1. It is like New Cloth. New, or raw cloth, is not at all suitable for mending an old garment. "The rent is made worse." There has been a rent. The old garment of human righteousness is in rags. "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). The new cloth of grace has not been given to patch up the old garment of works. When the prodigal came home he did not get his ragged coat repaired with new cloth. "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him" (Luke 15:22). The work of Christ can never be used as a patch, our own works and His will never fit together in making for us a robe of righteousness. The righteousness of God which is upon all them that believe is a new and perfect thing. "By grace are you saved, that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).
2. It is like New Wine. New wine will not abide in the old skin bottles that have already been stretched out to their utmost capacity by the process of fermentation. The law of grace is that "new wine" must be put into "new bottles," else both will be wasted. The new wine of the kingdom needs the new heart as a vessel. "The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:14; John 14:17). The old bottle, fallen human nature, can never adapt itself to the receiving and preserving of the things of God. The new wine can only be the ruin of the old bottle. Crucify the flesh with its lusts, receive you the Holy Spirit. If we would be filled with the Spirit (new wine), we must be made new creatures in Christ Jesus. "New wine is put into new bottles, and both are preserved" (Matthew 9:17). Preserved unto His coming and kingdom.
THE WITHERED HAND.
I. Where the Savior Was. He was in the synagogue, the public place of worship. What is the house of prayer if Jesus is not there? A mere recitation hall. When Jesus is present there is sure to be an interest. He loves to frequent the house of prayer. So do all that are like Him. Do you love the prayer meeting, or is it to you a dry, meaningless ceremony? If the latter, you must be a stranger to the loving Jesus. Those who have no desire to commune with Him can have no fitness to dwell with Him. Now notice—
II. Whom the Savior Met.
1. A Man with a Withered Hand. Luke says it was his right hand, the hand we stretch out to receive. This may be taken to represent the faith by which the soul takes hold of the promises of God. How many withered hands there are still to be found at prayer meetings, how little taking hold of God? Friend, is your hand withered? Perhaps you are a backslider, and can remember the time when your hand of faith was healthy and strong. But now you have only the withered and helpless form.
2. Men with Withered Hearts. Those who "watched to accuse" (v. 2). This class is not yet ceased out of the house of God. Besides the sleepy indifference there is often the watchful faultfinder. Is your heart so withered that you have no love to Jesus and no sympathy with His work? To find fault with the all-wise Son of God and His infallible Word and working is surely the height of human arrogance. Remember, the eyes of the Almighty are watching you. Now hear—
III. What the Savior Said.
1. To the Man with the Withered Hand. "Arise, stand in the midst" (margin). This would not be very pleasant exercise for one that desired to conceal his need. He who covers his sins shall not prosper. You cannot be in a fit state to be saved so long as you are ashamed to confess your need. The Lord could have cured this man sitting as easily as standing, and in his own house as readily as in the synagogue; but in all likelihood if he had remained at his own fireside he never would have been healed. If your backsliding and unbelief are to be healed you must confess them; and if you confess, He is "faithful and just to forgive" (1 John 1:9).
2. To those with the Withered Hearts, the fault-finders, He said, "Is it lawful to do good or evil, to save or to kill?" (v. 4). Not to do good when you can is to do evil; not to save when you might is to kill. "They held their peace." Ah, yes! one word from His lips and the accusers are speechless. Are you among those who would rather hold a certain form of religion that kills than give it up for the reality that gives life? The letter withers, binds, kills. The Spirit revives, liberates, gives life. Is yours, then, the religion of joyous liberty, or formal, miserable bondage?
IV. What the Savior Felt. He—
1. Was Angry. "He looked round about on them with anger." In the Old Testament much is said about "the anger of the Lord." In the New much is said about "the love of the Lord." But remember, this is one Lord. "The wrath of the Lamb" is as holy as "the blood of the Lamb." Oh! poor, self-righteous, fault-finding sinner, beware! If you do not confess your sins, and seek His mercy, and receive His forgiveness now, the awful look that renders speechless, and the awful wrath that makes eternal misery, will be yours. Despise His love, and you shall be despised. But more—
2. Was Grieved "at the blindness (margin) of their hearts." While He is justly angry at man's presumption, He is sadly grieved at man's ignorance. He was not grieved because He was watched and misunderstood and maligned. He says, "Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and your children" (Luke 23:28), for well the Savior knows what your end will be if you refuse Him. If you have never grieved over your own ignorance and hardness of heart, just think of the merciful Savior's grief over you.
V. What the Savior Did. He—
1. Restored the Withered Hand. Nothing is impossible with Him. When this man "stood forth" at the word of Jesus, he no doubt expected that Jesus would heal him. So if you make full and honest confession of sin you may confidently expect forgiveness. Adam put forth his hand and took forbidden fruit, and immediately his spiritual hand was withered. All his sons are born with a withered hand. They can receive nothing unless it be given them of God. But when the hand is restored they can lay hold on eternal life. Is your hand withered? Jesus only can restore it.
2. Withdrew Himself (v. 7). There are three classes from whom Jesus withdraws Himself: the faultfinding, as we see here; the curious (John 12:21-36); and the unwilling (Luke 8:37). How sad when He who is the Light of the world turns His back upon those in blindness! Take care how you treat the gentle Lamb of God. Say unto Him, "Come," and He comes; but say, "Go," and at last He goes.
Here is your Solemn Choice: Restoration or withdrawal. Will you be made whole, or must He depart?
THE SECRET SEED.
The history of the kingdom is very briefly portrayed in these few pithy words. The Church as a heavenly principle is planted, it grows, and apart from the fact that it is divine in its nature, who can explain its growth? The earth has a power to make the seed spring up that we cannot explain, invisible but mighty. The Holy Spirit is this mysterious, life-giving, invisible energy in the world. Christ has gone into His rest, but still the seed grows. The world wonders, but the believing rejoice. The withering frosts of unbelief, the sweeping storms of persecution, have not hurt the blade, neither will they injure the ear nor lessen the fruit. Secret power gave it life, mysterious influence nurtured it. Now the reaping time comes, and the separating sickle passes over the field, and the harvest is translated (caught up) into the more immediate presence of the owner before the winter of judgment and desolation comes upon the earth. But we have here also practical lessons for the sowers of the Word. Notice then—
I. The Committal of the Seed. "Cast into the ground" (v. 26). This is the first step toward a harvest. Gathering seed may be pleasant, but scattering it is profitable. There are those who are so taken up with searching the Word that they neglect to preach the Word. It is good to learn, but we must learn to do. There are others who sow, sow, sow, at least they go through the form, whether they have any seed or not. But the form without "the Word" can never bring a harvest. Seed is either for eating or for sowing. Don't sow that which you ought to eat. Let your own soul first be fed, but don't keep that which you ought to cast forth.
II. The Attitude of Faith. "Sleep, and rise night and day" (v. 27). Having sowed the seed he rests; he does not fret and worry himself about the results. But this is not the sleep of idleness. He rises night and day and pursues his needful work, but the seed is left where it should be and as it should be. How much dreaming and anxiety there is in the minds of some Christian workers about the seed sown, how little they rest in faith! He sowed the tares and went his way, no doubt confident that they would spring up. He had faith in his seed. If we sow the good seed we may be confident that it will grow, it is incorruptible. But it will grow none the better through our sleeplessness and painful staring at the field. Put in the seed, have faith in God, and go on rejoicing in the hope of a harvest.
III. The Mystery of Life. It springs and grows "he knows not how" (v. 27). The sower believes the seed will grow, not because he understands the hidden mystery of life, but because he believes in God's wonderful arrangement in nature. All life in the earth is a mystery, but how much more the life of God in the human soul. But no sower need be discouraged because he cannot exactly explain the mystery of the second birth, the good seed sown will grow all the same. In the wonderful arrangement of the Triune God it is so. It is the Spirit that quickens. "Born again by the incorruptible Word of God" (1 Peter 1:25). This is the mysterious life of the kingdom of grace, and even the subjects of it "knows not how." But though life, as such, is a mystery, yet it is a great undeniable fact. It proves itself. Every springtime is a revival. So the new life in the soul will manifest its own existence like Aaron's rod (Numbers 17).
IV. The Revelation of Earth. "The earth brings forth fruit of herself" (v. 28). It is the nature of the earth to manifest that which it receives in a more fruitful form. Everything hid shall be revealed, that which was buried in secret shall come abroad (v. 22). It is the light of Heaven that draws the hidden things to light. There is a solemn heart-searching principle here. Nothing shall be hid from the face of God. The light of the Great White Throne will bring the hidden and the secret seeds of man's sowing to light. The good and the bad must all appear, and that in their most fruitful form. They that "sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind" (Hos. 8:7). The earth may hide for a time, but yield it must. Even the dead committed to its dark, cold bosom must come forth at the brightness of His rising. Oh! what shall the harvest be? Just what the sowing has been. What man casts in, the earth casts forth, some thirty, some sixty, some a hundredfold.
V. The Degrees of Growth. "The blade, the ear, and the full corn" (v. 28). The blade is the first manifestation of life. There was life before it was visible, but it was wholly earthly, until now it was judged as dead. True, the work was going on, as the Word acts in the heart. We might look on—
1. The Blade as the tongue of outward profession. It makes a show openly, and declares its intention of bearing fruit. But every blade does not blossom into the full corn in the ear. There is the worm, the bird, and the weather, the world, the flesh, and the devil, by which many a hopeful blade is blasted.
2. The Ear may represent that preparedness and readiness to receive without which there can be no fruit. Before the soul comes into this hopeful state many a cold night and many a trying day has to be endured, but when through suffering the soul is made meet for Himself, then the fruit will be found. An open ear to Heaven will soon be abundantly satisfied.
3. The Full Corn. Here we see the soul filled with all the fullness of God. Now there is the full ear bending under the weight of precious treasure, the soul satisfied and bowing in lowliness in the breath of Heaven, in the atmosphere of the Holy Spirit. Waiting on the Lord, and showing forth His praise until He come.
VI. The Sickle of Death. "He puts in the sickle" (v. 29). The sickle does not in any way destroy the grain, but only separates it from the earth, and separation is the only way to security. The action of the sickle is but the parting stroke. How beautiful that while one hand wields the sickle there is another hand which immediately grasps the falling corn. That is the hand of Him who saves. Why should we fear death when it cuts our connection with the earth, where we were bound and exposed to the nights of chill and days of scorching, and liberates us from all that is earthly and fits us for the Father's house of shelter and repose. The ripened grain dreads not the sickle, but can say, "0 death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55). Why should I dread Him who comes to break my fetters and send me home to my Father's house. But awfully solemn thought to the tares, the sickle means the fire, it is separation from all the present, without a fitness for the garner, and only fit for the place of burning.
LET US PASS OVER.
The circumstances are well known. But might we not use this incident as a parable of the whole Christian life. When Christ comes into our hearts, as He came into the disciples' hearts, does He not in a spiritual sense just say to us what He said to them as He cast His eye on the other side of the sea, "Let us pass over unto the other side." So with Him we turn our eyes Heavenward, and make for the shore. We will look then at the Christian life as—
I. A Voyage. "Let us pass over" (v. 35). Death is sometimes spoken of as a "passing over to the great majority." Every day we are passing over the waters of life to the other side. The sea is a fit emblem of life, or rather the varied circumstances that go to make up a human life. There go the ships, "not painted ships upon a painted ocean," but immortal souls rising and falling upon the billows of time, and disappearing one by one, as they pass beyond the horizon of mortality where earth and sky meet.
II. A Voyage fraught with Trial. "There arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship" (v. 37). The believers' trials and difficulties spring from two sources. The wind of circumstances without, and the waves of doubt and fear within. As long as the waves are kept out of the boat the storm will do little damage. Into the tempest of sorrow and affliction we must often go; even the presence of Christ with us does not save us from these, but His presence assures safety in the midst of them. Following Christ always implies cross-bearing (Acts 9:16).
III. A Voyage Accompanied with Christ. "Let us pass over.... He was in the hinder part of the ship" (v. 38). Lo, I am with you, He has said, "I will never leave you" (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus was silent, but His presence should have comforted their hearts. We may be sweetly conscious that a friend is in the room with us, although there is silence as though both are differently engaged. Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. No storm in itself can ever disturb the calm repose of the soul of Christ. His faith casts out all fear.
IV. A Voyage Signaled with Miraculous Deliverances. "He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm" (v. 39). Thus their sore trouble was the occasion of the manifestation of His great power. Who would choose to escape the storm when such wondrous grace is given. In the fiery furnace the reality of His preserving power is felt and known. "No chastening for the present seems joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterwards it yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11). God is able. God is with us.
V. A Voyage that Should be without Fearfulness.
Jesus said, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" (v. 40). They were fearful because their faith in Him was faulty. Fearfulness, like a rank weed, springs up out of the soil of weak faith. Why are you fearful?
1. Christ is in the Boat of the Heart. "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). "Greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). Can the boat sink when the Son of God is in it? Let the oarsmen—thoughts, feelings, and affections—cheer up. None perish that trust Him. "Why are you fearful?"
2. Christ is in the Boat of the Church. "God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved" (Psalm 46:5). God shall help her. He walks "in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" (Rev. 2:1). "The Lord your God is in the midst of your camp" (Deuteronomy 23:14). She will be brought safe to the other side. Not one passenger wanting. Though now greatly tossed with tempest, and the waves of worldliness beating into the ship, He will come in His great glory and deliver from all her fears. "Why are you fearful?"
3. Christ is in the Boat of the Scriptures. His Word is settled in Heaven, and can never be broken. All the winds and waves of criticism will never swamp this holy craft. "They testify of Me" (John 5:39). With one word He can hush the overwhelming storm and calm the rage of the invading breakers. He speaks, and it is done. "Why are you fearful?"
4. Christ is in the Boat of Providence. We don't trust providence, but the God who rules over all and in all. "All things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8.. 28). By Him all things consist or are upheld. Then Christ who is with us has all in His own hand. "All power in Heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18), therefore fear not, little flock. Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. "Why are you fearful?" "Be not afraid, only believe" (Mark 5:36).
THE CRY OF THE PERISHING.
Although Christ be in the ship it is not always smooth sailing, but it is safe. Those in company with Him are as safe as Himself. We can easily see in this incident a picture of the Great Salvation. Christ's acts are parables as well as His words.
I. Those Ready to Perish. "The waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full" (v. 37). The boat was waterlogged, and at the point of sinking. The cause was twofold. There was—
1. The Storm Without. Circumstances had changed, all things seem to be against them. The wind of adversity comes from different quarters. Business may fail, a member of the family may have gone astray, disease may have fastened like a viper on some beloved one, death may have visited the home, and Jesus seems to sleep, no help seems near. Or, perhaps it is—
2. The Waves Within that fills with dread and alarm. A ship in the sea may weather the storm, but when the sea is in the ship this is hopeless. When the elements of sin and iniquity flood the soul, then all prospect of safety is cut off. All the oars and pumps of human effort are unavailing. Cease your struggling and call upon the Lord.
II. The Great Question. "Care You not that we perish" (v. 38). Only when the ship began to fill did they begin to cry. It is surely time to call upon God when we find that the more we try to keep afloat the deeper we sink into the sea of iniquity and failure. There is something startlingly harsh about this cry, "Care You not." Did He care not? Did He sleep the sleep of indifference? His undisturbed composure might have rebuked their fears and unbelief. If He could afford to take it easy so well might they. "Care You not that we perish?" Let His humiliation, suffering, and death on the Cross be the answer. "He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7; 2 Peter 3:9). "Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you."
III. The Divine Response. "He arose and rebuked the wind and the sea" (v. 39). When He arises to the help of the needy it is Almighty help He gives. All the resources of Heaven and earth, of God and eternity, center in Him (Colossians 1:17). He rose again for our justification.
Jesus Christ fully answers the cry of the perishing by—
1. His Rebuking Word. "He rebuked the wind" (v. 39). It is not—blessed be His Name—the cry of the needy that He rebukes, but the cause of their distress. He rebukes the stormy power of sin that lashes its waves of sorrow and fear into the sinking soul. By His rising from the dead the tempest of God's righteous wrath has been rebuked for every believer. There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus. He has delivered us from the wrath to come.
2. His Peace-speaking Word. "He said unto the sea, Peace, be still" (v. 39). He not only removes the cause, but also heals the effect. He not only saves from wrath, but from the power of sin. He not only saves from fear, but fills the soul with the peace of God. These disciples could not get this peace apart from His Word, no more can you. It was His peace. He "has made peace through the blood of His Cross" (Colossians 1:20). "My peace I give unto you" (John 14:27). Believe Him, and enter into His rest.
IV. The Amazing Effect. There was—
1. Instant Obedience. "The wind ceased" (v. 39). They called, He spoke, and it was done. His Word was with power. Oh, the divinity that may be sleeping at our side like the great forces in nature that have just lately been awakened to the help of man! Do we really know what "God with us" means? The wind and the waves obey His will. He shall take vengeance on "them that obey not" (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
2. A Great Calm. The calm of Christ is always as great as the storm of sin. "He makes the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still" (Psalm 107:29). The sacrifice of Christ has a mighty stilling effect upon the judgments of God, and upon the restless waves of doubt in the human soul. "Great peace have they that love Your law" (Psalm 119:165). This is a calm the storms of life or the billows of death cannot disturb. Our heavenly Jonah was cast forth into the sea of sin and suffering, and for us "the sea ceased from her raging" (Jonah 1:15). May His "peace be still" still be our peace.
3. A Trembling Astonishment. "They feared exceedingly, saying, What manner of man is this? or, Who then is this?" (r. v. ). Their fearfulness and unbelief is rebuked by this gracious manifestation of His care and conquering power. "Who then is this?" Shall we ever know all that Jesus Christ is able to be to us and do for us? When we shall see Him as He is in the glory of His Father, then may we say with a still deeper meaning, "What manner of man is this?" (Rev. 1:13-18).
THE TERRIBLE DEMONIAC.
Christ had just calmed the sea and made the furious billows to sleep at His feet. At the other side He is again face to face with a perishing soul caught in a hurricane of wicked spirits. This soul, like the disciples' ship, was now full, but He who cares for the perishing has come to seek and to save. The character of an unclean spirit comes out in the acts of this man. He—
I. Dwelt Among the Tombs (v. 3). What took him there? Like draws to like. An unclean spirit will always choose an unclean place. There is nothing in the man to contradict or resist this foul passion. The evil spirit within is his master. He is the helpless instrument in the hand of the devil. "By their fruits you shall know them" (Matthew 7:20). Figs never grow on thistles.
II. Wandered Among the Mountains (v. 5). The path of his daily walk was a very uneven one. The ways of transgressors are hard. Those driven by the spirit of impurity will have many a stumble upon the dark mountains of remorse and despair. These are the paths of ravenous beasts, loathsome things, and treacherous pitfalls. Darkness within and darkness without, and no friendly hand or guiding star to lead. Oh, Christless soul, this is you! (Ephesians 2:12).
III. Could not be Restrained. He had been "often bound," but the chains and fetters he had "broken in pieces" (v. 4). Now they have to confess that "no man could tame him." Humanly speaking his case is utterly hopeless. What a picture of a man possessed by the drink fiend or the lust of impurity! No temperance pledge or human restraint will ever be able to tame an ungodly man sufficiently to live the life of a Christian. The wicked, selfish, unbelieving spirits of darkness must be cast out. Moral suasion has not much effect on a demoniac. Regeneration is the only remedy (John 3:3). The chains of social propriety are but rotten straws to the unprincipled dupes of the devil.
IV. Cried and Gut Himself with Stones (v. 5).
"Crying and cutting" themselves describe the feelings and actions of many who are the servants of sin. Cutting themselves at night with the sharp stones of lust and drunkenness, and crying in the morning with the pain of remorse or physical prostration. Self-inflicted misery characterizes the demon possessed. They serve a hard master, one who cruelly compels, with their own consent, to work out their own destruction.
V. Was Afraid of Jesus. He cried, "What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the most high God?" (v. 7). Those possessed by an unclean devil look upon the holy Son of God as an enemy to their lives. The light is blamed because it reveals the corruption within. "What have I to do with You?" Just what guilt has to do with mercy, or abject poverty with infinite sufficiency. Every one must have to do with Him. Sin takes such a grip of the spirit of man that it makes him even afraid of Him who came to save.
VI. Prayed for the Devils. "He besought Him that He would not send them away out of the country" (v. 10). The unity of interests between the man and the unclean spirit is awfully real. When the ungodly justify themselves they are advocating the cause of Satan. If there is no separation of interests now there, will be no separation of punishments hereafter (Matthew 25:41). A man is justifying the devil when he seeks to be safe in his sin instead of from it, when he seeks peace without forgiveness.
VII. Sat at Jesus' Feet (v. 15). What a change now! What a mercy that Jesus knows how utterly helpless a demon-possessed soul is, and that He is able and willing to deliver even when there is nothing but dread and alarm at His Name. He was—
1. Sitting. The poor devil-driven man who wandered "day and night in the mountains" has now found a resting-place at the feet of Jesus. No man could bind or tame him, but the grace of God was sufficient for him. He breathes freely now, being delivered "from the kingdom of Satan and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son" (Colossians 1:13).
2. Clothed. Luke says that he "wore no clothes." The servants of Satan are all naked madmen in the sight of God. A new robe is put upon this returned prodigal, the righteousness of God which is unto all and upon all them that believe.
3. In His Right Mind. It is an evidence of insanity when a man prefers the tombs of the dead to the fellowship of the living. No one is in their right mind who has not the mind of Christ.
VIII. He Witnessed for Jesus. "He began to publish what great things Jesus had done for him" (v. 20). He was now animated by a new spirit, the evidence of being a new creature. Witness-bearing is the natural result of the joy of salvation (Psalm 51:12, 13; Isaiah 38:9-19; John 1:40-42).
Mark 5:22-24, 35-43.
"Behold there comes one Jairus by name." Jairus means a diffuser of light. As was his name, so was his nature. May the light of his life, as brought before us here, be diffused in our hearts. In this incident we have much food for thought. See the—
I. Blessed Result of Affliction. "He came and fell at His feet" (v. 22). His daughter's dangerous illness drove him to Jesus. If we have any light in us at all we will flee to Him in the day of trouble. In a godless home there was one lying at the point of death. A neighbor said to the mother, "You should send for the minister." "Ah, me, has it come to that?" was the reply. Why should the appeal to God be always the last?
II. Readiness of Christ to Help. "And Jesus went with him" (v. 24). He may have had a heavy heart in coming to Jesus, but now the burden is lightened when Jesus is with him. It is always much easier facing the difficulties when He is with us. None dare doubt or despair in His presence. "If Your presence go not with us, carry us not up hence" (Exod. 33:15). It is one of the blessed wonders of grace that each troubled believer may have Jesus all to himself. Christ in me. "I will never leave you." "The Lord is my Shepherd."
III. Trial of Faith. "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble you the Master any further?" (v. 35). This would have been a fatal blow to staggering faith. Still here was a new difficulty. It was disease before, now it is death that Jesus had to face. Is Jesus sufficient still to satisfy all the desires of his heart? Those who would walk with Him will have their faith severely tested. But the trial of your faith is precious. "Why trouble the Master any further?" These words reveal the limit of their faith and expectations. It is possible to honor Him with the life—calling Him Master—while the heart's confidence is far away. How far are we prepared, through faith, to let the Master go with us into the human impossibilities that are ever before us? Or have we ceased to trouble Him about the dead that are around us?
IV. Master's Encouragement. "He said unto the ruler, Be not afraid, only believe" (v. 36). This word was given "as soon as He heard the word that was spoken." He knows how to speak a word in season to him that is weary. He means to meet and satisfy the trust reposed in Himself. With Him nothing shall be impossible. "If you would believe you should see the glory of God" (John 11:40). The formal professor with his outward reverence and inward distrust has no faith in the miraculous; but to the simple, trustful heart Jesus whispers, "Be not afraid, only believe" (v. 36). "Look unto Me, for I am God."
V. Rebuking Power of His Presence. "Why make you this ado" (vv. 38, 39). It is altogether unfitting to make an ado when the presence of Him who is the resurrection and the life is with us. But these hypocritical mourners (hired ones) had no faith in Jesus, and so went on with their howling until His word of power fell on their ears, and turned their weeping into mocking. Christ as the Truth and the Son of Righteousness always pours His withering influence upon the hypocritical and unreal (Matthew 23:23; Mark 11:13, 14).
VI. Place of the Unbelieving. "They laughed Him to scorn, but He put them all out" (v. 40). Even He, who came to give His life a ransom for us, finds it needful to turn some outside before He manifests the glory of His power. "The wicked shall be turned into Hell." The good seed will only be fruitful in a good and honest heart. Man by his persistent unbelief renders himself unfit even to see the glory of His saving grace. "All liars," and the "unbelieving," "shall have their place in the lake of fire." When these sneering hypocrites were put out they no doubt would be justifying themselves, but they did not taste of the supper. The Lord could get on perfectly well without them. The foolish virgins were shut out.
VII. Awakening Call. "He took the damsel by the hand, and said, I say unto you, arise, and immediately she arose and walked" (vv. 41, 42). It was as easy for Him to raise the damsel out of the state of death as to put the mockers out of the house. Christ does His mightiest work as easily as He does the most simple and natural act. He can still the storm or raise the dead with the same ease that He brushed the locks of His hair off His brow with His fingers. Is not this the call that still comes through His Word to sleeping saints and dead sinners, "I say unto you, arise, for the day is far spent, and the night is at hand?" (Romans 13:11, 12).
THE HELPLESS WOMAN.
Like nature, Jesus works without fuss or difficulty. He scatters profusely His gracious deeds of mercy without any thought of the praise of men. While on the way to raise the dead daughter of Jairus, virtue flows out of Him and revives this drooping, trusting spirit. What an inspiration this episode would be to Jairus, a handful on purpose. Notice her—
I. Disease. "She had an issue of blood twelve years" (v. 25). Her very life was slowly ebbing away—the life is in the blood. In this condition she was: (1) Weak; (2) Unclean; (3) Miserable. Such are the effects of sin. The love of sin is a cancer in the soul. No mere external application can touch it, the wisdom of man has never yet found a remedy for it. She has been twelve years in the process of dying. We must die to live.
II. Effort. "She had spent all that she had" (v. 26). She knew that she was diseased, and was willing to give, and did give, her all that she might secure deliverance from her misery. There is hope for a soul when it comes to this. No shamming or scheming, no pretense of being good enough, no self-justification. She was earnest enough, but she went to the wrong source. Her cure was not to be purchased, she was spending her "money for that which was not bread" (Isaiah 55:1, 2).
III. Failure. "Nothing bettered, but rather grew worse" (v. 26). Worse than ever, and all her means gone. She is now "without hope" as far as her own resources are concerned. Her physicians were all of no value. Neither Dr. False-peace, Dr. Good-enough, nor Dr. Do-better can touch the sore of sin. The prodigal did not earn the best robe. The thirst can only grow worse when water is sought at broken cisterns (Romans 4:5).
IV. Faith. "She said, If I may but touch His clothes, I shall be whole" (v. 28). She had evidently heard of Jesus, and believed what she heard. Faith comes by hearing. Her faith was simple, yet, O so great. She is poor, has nothing to give, she expects no medicine from Him, yet she believes that a touch of the fringe of His garment will bring instant salvation. Jesus was to her the source and center of almighty fullness. Weak faith may touch a great Savior. "Believe and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31).
V. Victory. "Immediately she felt that she was healed" (v. 29). According to your faith, so shall it be unto you. She did not say, "If I touch I shall be healed," and sit still, hoping to have another chance some future day. Her faith brought her into personal contact with the Lord. The faith that does not do this is no faith.
1. Her cure was sudden. "Immediately." Immediately Christ answers the cry of trust and fills the hand of faith.
2. Her cure was complete. "Dried up." The very fountain of her trouble was dried up. His remedy goes to the root. "Convalescent" does not belong to the vocabulary of the Great Physician. Perfectly whole.
3. Her cure was consciously enjoyed. "She felt." She could not feel better until she was better. We cannot feel saved until we are saved.
VI. Confession. "She came and told Him all the truth" (v. 33). The question of Jesus, "Who touched My clothes," was designed to bring her to a public acknowledgment of the blessing received. He would not have her go away with the uncomfortable feeling that she had stolen the cure, or with the unconsciousness that it was (he gift of God. This healing virtue went forth in answer to her faith and according to His will. She had believed with the heart, now she must "confess with the mouth" (Romans 10:10). We may be healed by the touch of trust, but we are strengthened in our trust by confession with the lips. "Whoever is ashamed of Me and My Word, of him will I be ashamed" (Mark 8:38).
VII. Assurance. "Daughter, your faith has made you whole, go in peace" (v. 34). She would not have had this comforting word had she not made open confession. She was saved by faith, and assured by His word. If she had gone away without this promise she might have been in constant dread of the terrible disease returning; but now she not only feels well, but she has His word for it that she has been made whole of her plague. There are many who lack the joy of salvation because they do not in their lives confess Christ before men (1 John 4:15).
HEROD; OR, THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN.
The struggle of darkness and light was never more apparent than in the case of Herod and John Baptist. Here the purity of Heaven comes into contact with the foulness of Hell. The herald of Christ and the ambassador of Satan face to face. Such a meeting is sure to be a crisis in the lives of both. But it is with Herod we wish specially now to deal. Let us try and set his terrible downgrade experiences in order See him—
I. Warned of His Sin. "John said unto Herod, It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife" (v. 18). The heavenly searchlight is made to flash into the dark, hidden parts of his life. His besetting sin is pointed out, his unlawful life exposed (Leviticus 20:21). This was the day of his merciful visitation if he had only known it. The light of deep conviction is often like the glare of the bull's-eye lamp, it blinds to everything else. Saul kicked against the pricks, but the goad was in the hand of his Redeemer.
II. Reforming through Fear. "Herod feared John, and did many things" (v. 20). He seems now on the fair way to work out his own salvation. This is the usual course with those animated only by the "pride of life." The sense of sin is frequently followed with attempts at reformation. But with Herod, as with many, the power of his darling sin remained unbroken and unchecked. One thing was needful. "Let the wicked forsake his ways" (Isaiah 55:7).
III. Enslaved by the Opinions of Others. "He laid hold on John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake" (v. 17). The voice of lust gets the victory over the voice of conscience and of God. By one rash act he quenches the light of the Heaven-sent message. In pleasing Herodias he turns away from, and sets at naught, the divine warning. It may be that the fear of others is even now hindering you from acting up to the measure of light you have. What about companions, your own opinions, or worldly pleasures and associations? Are they bond-slaves or masters? For whose sake is your life fashioned?
IV. Pleased with a Passing Show. "The daughter of Herodias danced and pleased Herod" (v. 22). The moral passage from hearing John gladly down to being pleased with the dance of a strumpet is very short. When the cup of salvation has been deliberately rejected with what nervous greed men grasp the poisonous cup of sinful pleasure. "As soon as Judas had received the sop he went out, and it was night" (John 13:30).
V. Surrendering His Dignity. "Whatever you shall ask of me I will give it you, unto the half of my kingdom" (v. 23). Sin first interests, then excites, then captivates. Where are thousands of young men and young women today? They have allowed the God of pleasure to dance so long before their eyes, and their passions to be so inflamed, that all that goes to dignify their natures have been rashly sacrificed to this God. "The God of this world has blinded their minds." Yielding to temptation leads to being "led captive by the devil at his will."
VI. Driven by Compulsion. "The king was exceeding sorry, yet for the oath's sake he would not reject her" (v. 26). Herod was rather startled when she asked the "head of John the Baptist. "He had sold himself, now he is the slave of another. Sin's pleasures ripen into terrible demands. The pleasant tippling often leads to the drunkard's crave. "Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death" (James 1:15).
VII. Remembering the Past. "When Herod heard thereof he said, It is John whom I beheaded" (v. 16). The words and works of Christ revive his guilty conscience. If John had not risen from the dead a sense of his guilt and crime had. There is no grave of man's making deep enough to bury sin. Oh, unsaved one, will you be constrained to say in that day when Christ shall come again, "It is Jesus whom I crucified, therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in Him." "What will you do in the solemn day?" (John 13:30).
THE MYSTERIOUS FEAST.
In following Jesus we may sometimes be led into what many would call "a desert place," but such places are made to blossom like the rose when His presence is with us. Our desert places shut us up to faith in Him, and afford Him an opportunity of showing forth the glory of His power. The lion's den was a desert place for Daniel, but it proved, through the grace of God, a place of marvelous blessing and triumph. In the tedious and lonesome hours of trial and bereavement the Christian has a meat to eat that the world knows nothing of. See here—
I. The Scheme of Human Reasoning. "The disciples said, Send them away, that they may buy themselves bread " (v. 36). Go and help yourselves; do as well as you can. This is all the Gospel any man can preach who is yet a stranger to the infinite grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. "Send them away." He never sends the hungry empty away. Send them away! Away where? Away from the Fountain to seek water; away from the Living Bread to buy for themselves? Their reasons are: Because—
1. They Had Nothing to Eat (v. 36). They had nothing of their own whereby to satisfy themselves (who has?). So they must go and seek it elsewhere, but not in Christ. Such is the Gospel of carnal wisdom, a wisdom which is foolishness with God.
2. This is a Desert Place (v. 35). Yes, this world is a desert place, and apart from Christ there is no satisfaction in it. Perplexity is sure to overtake those who trust more in circumstances than in the Lord. If while following Him we have been led into the "desert place," we may be sure that even here His grace will be made sufficient for us.
3. The Time is Far Passed (v. 35). According to their seasonings the longer they continued with Jesus the more hopeless did their case become. "Send them away." Although the present dispensation is far spent, although your own lifetime is far spent, and the night of old age fast settling down, you need not depart. "My God shall supply all your need" (Philippians 4:19).
II. The Language of Divine Compassion. "Jesus was moved with compassion" (v. 34). Human need appeals to the heart of Christ, and not it vain, for He is moved. "We have not an High Priest who cannot be touched" (Hebrews 4:15). His compassion being moved. His almighty power is ready to act. But meanwhile He says—
1. "Give You Them to Eat." In so saying He reveals His desire toward the hungry that they might be fed, and brings out their utter helplessness that they might have faith in Him. He says, "Feed My sheep," that we might say, "Lord, evermore give us this bread."
2. "How Many Loaves Have You?" He asks no more than we have. If His wonder-working power is to be seen through us as His servants we must give Him what we have. "Bring them to Me." The gifts may be small, the talents may be few, but in His hands they will be made sufficient to accomplish the purposes of His grace concerning us. Even the two hundred pennyworth of man's natural wisdom and effort will be insufficient without Him.
3. "Make Them All Sit Down." The disciples would send the tired and the starving away, but Jesus says to such, "Sit down." Your strength, exhausted one, is to sit still, not to sit down in despair, but to rest in faith, looking unto Jesus.
III. The Attitudes of Almighty Grace. His actions are as weighty as His words. He—
1. Looked Up. Those who have hungry souls to feed will need often to look up. This bread must come down from Heaven (Matthew 4:4).
2. Blessed. We will have good cause for thanksgiving if we have exercised the look up of faith. The disciples could see nothing worthy of such special thanks, but He believed that having asked He had received (see Mark 11:24).
3. Gave. He who, in this sense, looks and blesses, will surely have something to give. He gave, He did not sell. The Lord of life does not deal out His blessings in pennyworths. The disciples were here taught that in giving it would be given them. He gives "to all liberally" (Romans 6:23).
IV. The Provision of Infinite Love (Philippians 4:19). It was—
1. Suitable. "They did all eat." It suited their poverty, it was free. It suited their perplexity, it was given them just where they were. There is a beautiful and exact fitness in the salvation of God. "Eat, O friends!"
2. Satisfying. "They all did eat, and were filled." "He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness" (Psalm 107:9). The world can only give stones for bread to those who seek to glorify God. Hungry soul O take the bread of God.
3. Sufficient. "They took up twelve baskets of fragments." If any one went away dissatisfied these fragments which were left testified that it was not Christ's fault. In the atonement of Jesus, the Son of God, there is ample provision for every creature under Heaven. If you are not saved it is not because there is not enough for all. The twelve baskets left will be a swift witness against the unbeliever. Why will you die?
THE IMPEDIMENTS REMOVED.
In Christ there was an all-sufficiency for all times. The holy anointing was upon Him, so that He could preach the Gospel by His mighty saving acts as well as by His comforting words. Our words are plentiful, but how much Gospel has been found in our deeds?
I. The Sorrowing Subject.
1. He was Deaf. The most joyful tidings met with no response in his soul, this avenue was closed. But although he could not hear the words of love, he could see an act of grace. Like many more who are deaf to the preached Word but not blind to the acted Word.
2. He had an Impediment in his Speech. Those deaf to God's words will never be able to speak freely for Him. A dull ear makes a stammering tongue. His promise is, "When I speak with you I will open your mouth" (Ezekiel 3:27).
3. He was Brought to Jesus. This is better than trying to argue with him. If our friends are deaf to the call of God let us take them to the Lord in prayer. His virtue can adapt itself to the need of all (Luke 8:46).
II. The Saving Acts of Jesus.
1. He Took Him Aside. The first step into the liberty and joy of His salvation is to get alone with Jesus. Let us turn aside, like Moses, "and see this great sight" (Exod. 3:3). Enter into your closet, and in the sanctuary of your soul hear Him.
2. He Put His Fingers Into His Ears. It is often the din of the world that deafens the ear to the voice of God. Yes, when alone with Him His fingers are sure to find out the hidden cause of every impediment. Has it not been so in our experience? Have we not been constrained to say again and again, "This is the finger of God" (Exod. 8:19).
3. He Spit. This common act may deem unworthy of the Son of God. But there is nothing insignificant in the doings of Christ. Out of His mouth comes the healing balm (Mark 8:23). "He sent His Word, and healed them" (Psalm 107:20).
4. He Touched His Tongue. When the ear is opened the tongue is loosed. Those who have really heard what God the Lord has spoken "cannot but speak the things which they have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). A dumb tongue indicates a deaf ear.
5. He Looked Up to Heaven. The source of all grace and blessing is in the heart of the Father. Every good gift is "from above." All who would follow His steps in doing the works of God must be conscious of the need of "looking up."
6. He Sighed. What a spontaneous expression of the depth and reality of His sorrow and sympathy! Blessed sigh that betrays the secret, sacred, suffering soul of the Savior. He can be touched with a feeling of our infirmities. "Set a mark on those that sigh" (Ezekiel 9:4).
7. He Said, "Be Opened." He spoke, and it was done. His Word shall not return void. His Word was with power (Luke 4:32) Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved. With equal authority He, by the Holy Spirit, has said, "Be filled with the Spirit." Be opened, be saved, be filled.
III. The Sudden Change. Immediately his ears were opened The Word of God is intended to, and always does, and always will, take immediate effect when spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit.
1. His Ears were Opened. The need was great, the will was yielded, the work was done And it was all His doing. Opened ears and honest hearts to hear and receive the Word of God form the channel through which the fullness and power of God flows.
2. His Tongue was Loosed. How could he speak of Him of whom he had not heard} A draught of the new wine from Heaven was a wonderful power in loosening the tongue (Acts 2 1-13). The tongue can no man tame, but the Holy Spirit can both tame it, and tune it, and make it a weapon mighty for God.
3. He Spoke Plain. A man usually speaks plain when he thoroughly knows what he is talking about, and feels the power of it in his own soul Abraham declared plainly, because he was persuaded of the promises, and had embraced them (Hebrews 11:13-14), We believe and therefore speak. If Pentecost means anything it means plain speaking, because it implies definite and powerful conviction.
THE SATISFYING POWER OF JESUS.
From whence has the lowly Jesus this fascinating influence that constrains a hungry multitude to follow Him into the wilderness, and in spite of their physical weakness to hang on the words of His mouth? In Him are the springs of life and eternal blessedness. Blessed are all they who have made this soul-ravishing discovery. Like Abraham, they will go out, although they know not where they are going. When, like Elisha, the mantle of His prophetic influence is cast over us we cannot but follow. It was so with Moses and David, with Matthew and Saul, with all who have come within the Spirit's constraining power, the called of God, as was Aaron.
I. A Picture of Need. "The multitude have nothing to eat" (v. 2). They were in the wilderness, a barren place, in circumstances that could by no means afford satisfaction. Nothing to eat. How expressive of an awakening soul, still a stranger to the covenants of promise, having no hope. In His mercy He leads us into such desolate places that we might see His saving power.
II. A Revelation of Love. "I have compassion on the multitude" (v. 2). They had been with Him for three days. The Lord not only counted the days, but also measured the depths of their need. Their poverty and helplessness moves His heart, and stirs up His soul into tenderest compassion and practical sympathy. "I have compassion." Hungry soul, look up, here is a door of entrance into the fullness of God. It is said of the prodigal that "no man gave unto him" (Luke 15), but the father had compassion. This was enough.
III. A Consideration of Grace. "If I send them away fasting they will faint by the way" (v. 3). Yes, if He sends us away there is nothing before us but fainting and perishing. If He cannot satisfy the longing soul with good, who can? If He sends the hungry empty away to whom can they go? But "we have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with a feeling of our infirmities" (Hebrews 4:15, 16).
IV. A Question of Helplessness. "From whence can a man satisfy these with bread here in the wilderness?" (v. 4). Those disciples who are really anxious to satisfy the multitude with bread will be deeply conscious of their own inability. Vain is the help of man. Instead of seeking to satisfy them with bread, how many there are who seek merely to entertain and amuse them, endeavoring to get them to forget their hunger. Miserable comforters! It is not in man to satisfy these. But one is near who is able to supply all their need, the Man Christ Jesus.
V. An Attitude of Trust. "He commanded the people to sit down" (v. 6). Jesus asks, "How many loaves have you?" They said, "Seven." He said, "Sit down." In sitting down doubtless their expectation would be awakened. Their faith could not rest on the seven loaves, but on the compassionate and almighty Savior Himself. It does take a measure of faith to "sit down" in circumstances like these. Would you see the salvation of God? Sit down and look up. Rest at His bidding and leave it all to Him.
VI. A Manifestation of Power. "He took the loaves and gave thanks, and brake and gave to His disciples, and commanded to set them also before them" (vv. 6, 7). They gave Him what they had, and He through their little wrought the all-satisfying work. Your faith may be little, but if it is in Him He will prove Himself sufficient for you. How the few loaves gave place to the miraculous bread no one could tell. It was enough for them that they got what they needed. How our simple trust in Him brings the divine and miraculous life within our souls we cannot tell, but we praise God that He does satisfy us with His own life, and that we know that we are born of God.
VII. A Superabundance of Supply. "They took up of the broken meat that was left, seven baskets" (v. 8). The provision made was such as would condemn any who went hungry away. In the salvation of Christ there is enough for every fainting soul. When the day of salvation has gone there will be virtue enough left in the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ to condemn those who have condemned themselves by their not believing in the sufficiency of Christ's atoning work for them. He made provision for all. It is an awful thing to pass into eternity with a hunger gnawing at the heart that can never be satisfied. Those who have eaten and axe full bless the Lord their God (Deuteronomy 8:10).
JESUS LEADING AND HEALING.
Why seek you the living among the dead? An old author says, "We ought not to look for that in the law, which can only be found in the Gospel; nor look for that in ourselves which can only be found in Christ; nor to look for that in the creature which can only be found in the Creator; nor to look for that on earth which can only be found in Heaven." "Look unto Me, and be you saved" (Isaiah 45:22). We observe here—
I. A Merciful Work. "They bring a blind man unto Him" (v. 22). Their names are not given, but their work will never be forgotten.
1. Whom They Brought. "A blind man." A man utterly helpless to find the way for himself. A man deprived of the very capacity of discerning Him who alone could deliver. Such are the spiritually blind. "Eyes have they, but they see not" (Psalm 115:5). Minds blinded by Satan. Even when awakened to a sense of their danger and need can only grope after the door of salvation like the blind men of Sodom.
2. Where They Brought Him. "They bring him to Jesus." His Name is called Immanuel, God with us. What a privilege! Is there anything too hard for Him? Have we proved His grace and power by bringing our needy friends to Him. Oh, how much the blind ones do need our help!
3. Why They Brought Him to Jesus. Because they believed in Him. And they backed up their kindly act by an earnest prayer. They "besought Him to touch him." What an object lesson to Christian workers! Let us show our sympathy for the perishing and our faith in Christ by bringing them to Him individually and beseeching Him on their behalf.
II. A Wonderful Healer. It is most interesting to note how the Lord dealt with this poor blind one. We must remember that His actions are as eloquent of divine meaning as His words. When they brought him to Jesus, observe that they left him entirely in His hands. He does not deal with all in the same way. His manifold wisdom and grace is seen in His manifold manner of dealing with individual souls. Note the process—
1. "He Took Him by the Hand." Here was personal contact. The grip of Christ's hand must have sent a thrill of hope through the poor man's soul. Our first contact with Jesus is a memorable experience. When we felt the grip of His truth in our hearts, and knew that we had got into personal touch with the Son of God.
2. He Led Him Out of the Town. He took him away from everything that would hinder him from feeling that he was alone with his Savior. His operating hand requires the concentration of the heart. The town, with all its excitement and attractions, still hinders multitudes from getting alone with the redeeming Lord. Are you willing to have your affections led out of the town and centered in Jesus Himself?
3. "He Spit on His Eyes." This was rather a humbling treatment, but it is always so when salvation is in prospect. The spittle of Jesus on the sightless eyeballs indicates the virtue of Christ personally applied by Him to the sin-blinded hearts of men. His spittle, given with a purpose, is of more value than the blood of others. "To you that believe He is precious" (1 Peter 2:7).
4. "He Put His Hands Upon Him." If His spittle was humbling, His hands would be comforting. Those blessed hands, so full of power and blessing, how assuring to the soul, to feel that they are on us. The Lord in mercy suits Himself to the need of each. If this anxious blind man could not see Him, He makes him feel His presence near.
5. He Questioned Him. "He asked him if he saw anything" (v. 23). It is good to make confession, and to be honest with it, not pretending to see more than we really do. He said, "I see men as trees, walking." A man's eyes are not very clear when he only sees men as irresponsible trees. This is not the full light of His revelation, but the day is dawning, and He who has begun the good work will perfect it.
6. He Enlarged the Blessing. "He put His hands again upon his eyes and made him look up" (v. 25). A perfect cure because the perfect One. It is no honor to Him that our eyes should only be so far enlightened as to enable us to form false opinions. When He made him look up "he was restored, and saw every man clearly." It is a great revelation to see "every man clearly." To see who he is, what he is, and where he is going; to see the character and destiny of every man clearly as in the sight of God. Perfect restoration means a clear sight of human need. It is a solemn responsibility to have our eyes open to see "every man clearly."
7. He Commissioned Him. "He sent him away to his house" (v. 26). Doubtless there were in his house those who needed to hear his testimony to the saving power of Jesus Christ. The man's life would henceforth be a constant witness for the Lord. Have your eyes been so opened as to change the whole manner of your life?
THE DEVIL-POSSESSED SON.
On the platform of this narrative we see the characteristics of Heaven, earth, and Hell. (1) Compassion and power; (2) Doubt and weakness; (3) Hate and misery. But the power of the compassionate Christ can overcome the weakness of His disciples and the work of the devil. We have here—
I. Satanic Influence. The Lord Jesus Christ believed in personal wicked spirits. We think lightly of them, but He had to face them and overcome. This evil influence had—
1. An Early Beginning. "Of a child" (v. 21). Being born in sin, the natural soil of the heart is at once favorable to the seeds of evil. The Psalmist says, "We go astray as soon as we be born" (Psalm 58:3), and we keep going astray like lost sheep until we are born again.
2. An Overpowering Mastery. "He tears him, and oft-times casts him into the fire, and into the waters" (vv. 18, 22). He was simply led captive by this devil, having no power at all to resist him. His purpose was to kill and to destroy. Such is the power of sin. Has sin dominion (mastery) over you? Are you dominated by principles you know to be contrary to your conscience and your God? Are you under law or grace? (Romans 6:14).
3. A Fearful Effect. Mark's pen is graphic here. What a terrible catalogue of evils, "Tears, foams, gnashes, pines, wallowing, foaming, cast him into the fire, into the water, and rent him sore" (v. 20). Just one thing awanting, the awful "forever," to make his Hell complete. Those under the power of the devil, if they escape the tearing, the gnashing, the wallowing, and fire in this life, will not escape in the next (Matthew 13:40-42; Rev. 20:15).
II. Disciples' Failure. "I spoke to Your disciples that they should cast him out, but they could not" (v. 18). Great things are expected from those who belong to Christ, and justly so (Philippians 4:13). Peter and John said to the lame man, "Look on us" (Acts 3:4). They knew what possibilities were within their reach through faith in the risen Savior.
They could not because of—
1. Failure in Faith. The Lord rebuked them with, "O faithless generation, all things are possible to him that believes" (v. 23). Their lack of faith brought dishonor upon the Name of their Master. "Abraham was strong in faith, giving God the glory" (Romans 4:20). Yes, strong faith glorifies God. Our unbelief is a stumbling-block in the way of others. "Have faith in God" (Mark 11:22).
2. Failure in Prayer. "This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting" (v. 29). Prayer means communion with God; communion means power for service. Those who have only fixed times for prayer may be often caught napping in weakness and inability. The spirit of prayer is better than seasons of prayer.
3. Failure in Fasting (v. 29). Prayer and fasting forms the two-edged sword that gets the victory. It is questionable if we really pray as we ought, unless we esteem it better than our daily food. If preaching and feasting would cast out devils, then there would be a general exodus. This overcoming power does not belong to us merely as disciples. There are many powerless disciples. This Christ-honoring authority can only abide with those who abide in fellowship with Him by continual prayer and hearty self-denial for His sake. This is one of the things that are hidden from the worldly-wise, but revealed to the humble, trustful babes.
III. Christ's Victory. The disciples having failed him, the young man's father carried his request to Jesus Himself, saying, "If you can do anything, have compassion and help us." If the followers of Christ have disappointed you, try the Lord Himself. Don't be discouraged by the powerlessness of His professing people. He who wept over Jerusalem will compassionate your case Notice the order of deliverance—
1. The Invitation. "Bring him unto Me." "Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). Let there be an entire yielding up of ourselves in all our helplessness and misery into His hands. As a physician He had never failed. Is there anything tearing your heart and causing your life to pine away? Bring it to Him. Any wayward son possessed with a deaf and dumb spirit toward God and the things of eternity? "Bring him to Me," says the Redeemer of men.
2. The Word of Power. Jesus said, "You dumb and deaf spirit, I charge you, come out of him, and enter no more into him" (v. 25). He speaks and it is done. He sent His Word and healed them. The deliverance was complete, the evil spirit must enter no more into him. In obeying His invitation we shall find His Word to be with power. He can separate between you and your sins. He can give us the victory over all our enemies.
3. The Uplifting Hand. "Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up" (v. 27). When the veil is cast out we are lifted up into newness of life. Made a new creation by Christ, Jesus. The Word and the hand of Christ work together for the salvation of those who flee to Him for refuge. The Word of grace, the hand of power, both moved by a heart of love.
THE CHILDREN FOR CHRIST.
We are not told who brought the young children to Jesus, but most likely the mothers. Blessed are those mothers who have so believed in Jesus as to bring their children to Him. In Belgium boys are taught to run up to religious teachers and ask them to sign them with the sign of the Cross. Are we anxious that the sign of the Cross should be impressed upon the lives of our offspring. If so, let us bring them to Jesus. A mother's influence casts the longest shadow over the lives of the children. It was the patient, gentle influence of Monica which turned her gifted son Augustine from a profligate to a saint. George Washington confessed that he owed his character to the influence of his mother. A dying infidel prayed, "God of my mother, have mercy on me." Children are to be pitied whose mothers pray not. Jesus loves the children, and will readily hear a mother's cry on their behalf.
I. Children Need the Touch of Jesus. "They brought them to Him that He should touch them" (v. 13). None are so innocent as not to need the touch of His atoning power. His redeeming blood alone is the ground of acceptance before God. There is "none other Name."
II. Children are Welcome to the Arms of Jesus.
"Suffer them to come unto Me" (v. 14). The Wonderful, the Counselor, the Mighty God is the children's Savior. Weakness in the arms of Omnipotence. Parents, suffer your children to come to Jesus by your precepts and example. How awful to be a hinderer!
III. Children should be Brought to Jesus. "They brought young children to Him" (v. 13). This we can do by prayer and dedication Claiming the promise, "Which is unto you and to your children" (Acts 2:39). Christian parents should not rest in the general belief that all children are saved through the grace of God in Christ, but must definitely bring them to Christ, and by faith rest assured that He does bless them.
IV. Children should not be Hindered by Disciples.
"His disciples rebuked those that brought them" (v. 13). The Lord has still many bachelor disciples who hinder the little ones by their cruel indifference to their spiritual well-being. Those who stand in the way of children don't know the love of Jesus, and are in heart out of sympathy with Him in His great saving grace. Children are often hindered by long sour faces and bombastic phrases about the Gospel of Christ. Don't rebuke them by your unchristlike life. May the love of Christ constrain them through us!
V. Children are Fit Subjects for the Kingdom of God.
"Of such is the kingdom of God" (v. 14). It is suggestive to note that when Jesus entered the house of Zacchaeus He said, "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10); but when He speaks about the little ones, He adds, "For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost" (Matthew 18:11). Leaving out the word seek, as if the little ones are not yet reckoned among those who have deliberately gone astray (Matthew 18:3-5).
VI. Children are Examples to Others. "Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein" (v. 15). Little children receive the kingdom of God without doubt or questioning, with an honest, simple heart. "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings You have perfected praise" (Matthew 21:16)
VI. Children are Accepted and Blessed by Jesus.
"He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them" (v. 16). These words indicate a threefold blessing.
1. Safety. "He took them up in His arms."
2. Fellowship. "He put His hands upon them."
3. Sufficiency. "He blessed them." His blessing is no empty form, but the imparting of grace sufficient for their need. "The blessing of the Lord it makes rich" (Proverbs 10:22). Who would not be a child to enter into such an inheritance? "In malice, be you children" (1 Corinthians 14:20).
LOVED, YET LACKING.
"Can gold calm passion, or make reason shine? Can we dig peace or wisdom from the mine? Wisdom to gold prefer, for 'tis much less To make our fortune than our happiness; That happiness which great ones often see, With rage and wonder in a low degree, themselves unblessed." —Edward Young.
This was a critical point in this young man's life. It is always so when we come face to face with Jesus Christ. By a flood of earnest emotion he was lifted to the very feet of the Savior. But this spring time of privilege passed without receiving the seed of the Word, which would have sprung up into eternal life and fruitfulness, so he passed into the desolate winter of a hopeless future. Young men, "Behold, now is the day of salvation."
I. The Love of Jesus. "Jesus beholding him, loved him" (v. 21). There is something heart-melting about this calm, careful, pitiful "beholding him" of Jesus. This is not a superficial glance at his attitudes, but a divinely compassionate weighing of the inner motives of his heart. He beheld—
1. His Earnestness. "He came running."
2. His Humility. "He kneeled to Him."
3. His Important Request. "What shall I do?"
4. His Moral Goodness. "All these have I observed from my youth."
He beheld it all with eyes moistened with infinite love. There is much that is lovable about all this, but observe that it was not his earnestness, his humility, nor his moral goodness that He loved, it was him. The love of Jesus goes deeper down than the mere garnishings of a human life. It goes down to the individual spirit within. "Jesus beholding him, loved him." "The Lord looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). "He loved me, and gave Himself lot me" (Galatians 2:20). Precious love!
II. The Startling Statement. "One thing you lack" (v. 21). There were many things he did not lack. He did not lack desire, earnestness, nor wisdom to go to the right source. There was no lack in his creed; he was quite orthodox and well taught. But the Lord saw that there was one fly that spoiled the ointment of his life. A statue may be perfect in every part, but it is only a statue, because it lacks the one thing—life. His life was like a sundial without its gnomon, there was no finger of decision pointing heavenward. A compass may be otherwise perfect, but if it lacks the needle it is valueless. The great Physician put His finger on the spot. One thing lacking, the love of God which constrains to self-sacrifice. It is said that Whitefield once stayed in a house where they were so kind that he did not like to speak to them about their souls, but he wrote on a pane of his bedroom window, "One thing you lack," which proved the message of God to the family. May it be written on the window of your soul if you have not yet surrendered all to Christ!
III. The Testing Call. "Go and sell whatever you have" (v. 21). It was—
1. Severe. "The Word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12). Put yourselves in his place, and think of how you would stand the test. A deep seated disease needs a severe remedy.
2. Needful. He needed to be convinced of his own self-satisfied condition. We are so insensible to the pride of our own hearts that nothing but deep cutting will touch the disease. The Lord is too faithful to heal the disease slightly, but if the wound is great, so is the plaster offered. "You shall have treasure in Heaven."
IV. The Sorrowful Departure. "He was sad at that saying, and went away grieved" (v. 21). Where did he go? Where would he find a grave for his grief? Would his possessions be as precious to him now as before? What a choice: treasure on earth, but not rich towards God. Convicted, but not converted. Not far from the kingdom, but he stepped back into the darkness of a selfish life, preferring the things which are seen and temporal to the things which are unseen and eternal. How different with Moses (Hebrews 11:24-26). If you turn away from the demands of Christ you turn into the paths of sin and death, yet He loves you.
THE CUP AND THE BAPTISM.
"When earth has nothing to bestow,
And every flower is dead below,
I look to You alone."
So said James G. Percival, and such has been the expression of multitudes in every age. When the things of earth and time have failed to meet the deeper cravings of the inmost heart, the languid eye has been lifted to the Lord of life, and heavenly and eternal things besought. Perhaps some such feeling possessed the hearts of James and John when they uttered the prayer recorded here.
I. The Bold Request. "Master, we would that You should grant unto us that we may sit, one on Your right hand, and the other on Your left, in Your glory." Here there is much, perhaps, for both blame and praise. Blame, in that this prayer reveals—
1. Great Selfishness. An intense desire for preeminence in the coming glory. They certainly coveted earnestly the best gifts. But perhaps their motives were to get the chief seats, and to be exalted above their brethren But it also reveals—
2. Great Faith. They believed Him to be a King, and that He will come in great power and glory, so they ventured to offer this great petition. Let us not condemn them, but let us rather condemn ourselves, that we ask and expect so little.
II. The Gentle Rebuke. Jesus said, "You know not; or, Do you know what you ask?" He did not upbraid them for their pride and selfishness, but calmly asked them if they knew what the way to such places of honor meant, as if He said, "To reach My place of honor and glory you must go My way." The conditions are still the same. "If we suffer we shall also reign with Him" (2 Timothy 2:12). Now let us look at—
III. The Searching Question. Jesus said, "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (v. 38, R.V.). We must tread with gentle step here, as the truth suggested is both deep and solemn. Let all criticism be laid aside, and also the shoes from off our feet. Does the cup and the baptism not indicate two definite experiences that we must have if we would rise to a prominent place in the kingdom of glory. The cup is something deliberately accepted, the baptism is something graciously imparted.
1. The Significance of the Cup. The cup that Christ drank of was the cup of His Father's will (Psalm 40:8; John 4:34); the cup of patient suffering at the hands of men (1 Peter 2:21-25; Hebrews 12:3); the cup of obedience unto death (Philippians 2:8). "Are you able to drink of the cup that I drink of?"(Matthew 26:42).
2. The Significance of the Baptism. The baptism of Christ implied: (1) Humiliation. "Suffer it to be so now," He said, as He submitted to the baptism of John. We must also humble ourselves under the mighty hand of His purpose. (2) Consecration. At His baptism He made entire surrender of Himself to do the will of God in the presence of the people. Are you able to be baptized with this baptism? (3) Anointing. At His baptism the Holy Spirit came upon Him, so that He was divinely fitted as a man for all the work the Father had given Him to do. The baptism of anointing comes after the cup of obedience and submission.
IV. The Ready Reply. "They said unto Him, We are able" (v. 39, r. v. ). See their—
1. Faith in the Possibility of It. Yes, we are able to follow Your steps. By Your grace we can. We are able to drink of Your cup and to receive Your baptism. The cup and the baptism are the solemn symbols of a Christlike life, the badges of a candidate for nearness to Him in the glory.
2. Willingness to Possess It. They said at once, "We are able," as if they were prepared to suffer anything rather than lose distinction in eternity. Does not our very ability lie in our willingness. Can we say that "we are able?"
V. The Assuring Answer. When they said, "We are able," Jesus immediately adds, "You shall indeed," and they did. They received of His baptism at Pentecost, and in their sufferings and martyrdoms they did indeed drink of the cup that He drank of. (1) James was the first martyr, (2) John was the last, and who suffered a living martyrdom on the isle of Patmos. Both glorified God, and will no doubt occupy a place of honor in the kingdom of His glory. What is this cup and this baptism to you? Do you dread them or covet them? Our relation to them determines our present character as Christians, whether or not we are glorifying God in our bodies and spirits which are His, and may also determine our position in the world to come. "Are you able?"
THE BLIND BEGGAR.
This poor man seems to have dwelt in Jericho, the city that was under the curse (John 6:26). Where dwell you? Under the curse of the broken law, or in the secret places of the Most High? The beautiful, but wretched, Jericho was visited by the Son of God. The visit was but brief. "He came to Jericho, and went out of Jericho." But it was a day of grace to one poor benighted soul. Here let us see—
I. Mercy Needed. Sin-blinded man has many needs, but his chief need is mercy. As all light comes from the sun, so the mercy he needs is the mercy of God, the mercy that acts in help and healing. He was—
1. Blind. The blind are to be pitied, because they can neither see themselves nor others. They cannot enjoy the light, and are ignorant of what the light reveals. Those whose minds axe blinded by the God of this world can neither see their own deformity and filthiness, nor the beauty and preciousness of the Savior.
2. Poor. "He sat by the wayside begging." A man must surely be conscious of his poverty before he sets to begging. Those who think they have need of nothing are not likely to frequent the prayer meeting. Alas, for the poor rich (Rev. 3:17).
3. Hopeless. He could not expect to receive his sight except through a miracle wrought by a divine hand. In all likelihood he had expected to die in his blindness. None but Christ could deliver him, and, praise be to God, the saving Christ had come within reach, and was actually passing by. "Behold, now is the accepted time." "Call upon Him while He is near."
II. Mercy Asked. "When he heard it was Jesus he began to cry out," and when others rebuked him, "he cried the more a good deal." It is not easy to still a hungry man where bread may be had for nothing. This is deep need calling unto the deep of Divine mercy, and not in vain. He cried—
1. For the Right Thing. "Have mercy on me." If he finds mercy, he knows that he will find all else that he needs. Many, when they become conscious of their need, cry for peace, for joy, or for consolation. Mercy is the first necessity. "God be merciful to me."
2. To the Right One. "Jesus, you Son of David." Oh! how sweet the Name of Jesus sounds in the ear of this blind believer! All his hopes are centered on Him. "There is none other Name under Heaven whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). If He fails him there is nothing left for him but despair and the blackness of darkness. "To whom can we go." "Let your requests be made known unto Him" (Psalm 60:1-3).
3. At the Right Time. Jesus was passing by (Luke 18:37). He did not wait for a more convenient season. He knew the danger of delay. Take care that you are not letting your last opportunity slip past without a cry for help.
"There is a line, by us unseen,
That crosses every path;
The hidden boundary between
God's patience and His wrath."
III. Mercy Offered. He who hears the cry of the raven will not turn a deaf ear to the cry of a needy, trusting soul.
1. He Stood. "Jesus stood still." The goal of prayer is the ear of God. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him. He stood that he might give Himself to the help of this believing but destitute beggar. To every such soul Jesus gives Himself.
2. He Called. "Be of good comfort, He calls you." This was indeed the Gospel of Christ to the blind petitioner. See how quickly he obeys the call. Casting away his outer garment in his haste. Vain will be your cry if you refuse to obey His call. "Rise, He calls you" (v. 49).
3. He Offered. "What will you that I should do unto you?" When Jesus said this He was laying all the riches of His grace at this anxious pauper's feet. Oh, unfathomable mercy, let me plunge into you, and let your deep and tender billows bear me into the light and joy of your saving presence! All of grace
IV. Mercy Enjoyed. Jesus will not send the hungry empty away.
1. He Believed. "Go your way, your faith has made you whole." "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6). "By grace are you saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8). It is the prayer of faith that saves.
2. He Received. "And immediately he received his sight." Sight was offered him, and he accepted the gift by faith. Those who believe on Him will not need to walk in darkness. The power and grace of Christ are all-sufficient for all who trust.
3. He Followed. "He followed Jesus in the way." The Lord by His grace spoiled his begging business. He has no desire nor capacity for it now that he has met the Lord and got his life renewed. His love for Christ now constrains him to follow Him in the way. His back is turned on Jericho the cursed, and his face is set toward Jerusalem the blessed. Following Jesus is the evidence of being blessed by Him. Blind men cannot follow. Are you a follower of the Lamb?
THE BARREN FIG-TREE.
Mark 11:12-14, 20-22.
It is a sorrowful discovery to make that our years of privilege and opportunity, through sin and indifference, are only carrying us farther and farther from God. It was so with the Jewish nation, represented here by the fruitless fig-tree, of which Christ had to say, "I was hungry, and you gave me no meat." Is the Lord making this lament over your life? Or in answer to His "I thirst," are you offering Him vinegar to drink?
I. The Search. "He came if haply he might find anything thereon" (v. 13).
1. Who is the Seeker? The hungry, saving Son of God (v. 12). Think of how much He had done for the tree; its very existence depended on His goodness. Think of all that had been done for Israel as a nation, and how little He had received at their hands, when "last of all God sent His Son, saying, They will reverence Him when they see Him" (Matthew 21:37). What is He receiving of your life? This same Jesus is seeking from you that which will satisfy His soul.
2. Where He Seeks. From "A fig-tree." He does not seek figs from thistles; He does not look for that which would satisfy His hunger from the thorns and briars of infidels and unbelievers. This tree had the name of a fruit-bearer, but was a deception. If we bear the Name of Christ He looks for the fruits of Christian life. In the fig-tree the fruit appears before the leaves, so that where there are the leaves of profession there ought to be the satisfying fruit. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace" (Galatians 5:22).
II. The Discovery. "He found nothing but leaves" (v. 13). There was—
1. Abundant Profession. It had the appearance of abundance of life. There was a great display of activity and attractiveness lent. "One thing you lack." So with our lives, we may be full of vigor., and our character morally beautiful and attractive, but if there is no recognition of the claims of Christ we are only as painted Jezebels, clouds without water, barren fig-trees, whited sepulchers. A name to live, but are dead (Rev. 3:1).
2. Perfect Destitution. "Nothing but leaves." Much for itself, but nothing for Christ. A picture of those who spend all their strength and time merely for their own selfish aggrandizement. Christ's desires are unheeded (Rev. 3:17). But note, that show and profession will not deceive Him. He looks, and takes time to look carefully, beneath the leaves. God judges the heart. A show of leaves, fresh and green, may hide your nakedness from the eye of man, but not from the all-searching eye of the searching Son of God. "Search me, O God, and try me" (Psalm 139:23). Adam tried the covering of leaves, but God did not acknowledge such, looking upon him still as one naked. "Nothing but leaves—the Spirit grieves." "By their fruit you shall know them."
III. The Judgment. "The tree which you cursed is withered away" (v. 21). "Woe unto you hypocrites, how shall you escape the damnation of Hell" (Matthew 23:33). It was cursed because it was useless. What is the value of a creed, a Church connection, a hope, or a life, if there is naught to satisfy the living, yearning soul of Jesus? Its day of grace is now passed, it was accursed at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 16:22). When He comes it is not to make us fruitful, but to seek fruit. We note that—
1. The Curse Affected the Roots. "It was dried up from the roots" (v. 20). With His withering word went forth the power that kept back the sap of the earth from the roots of the tree. He who has not (fruit), from him shall be taken away even that which he has (sap). When He withdraws the means of grace immediately the withering process of death and destruction begins. It was so in the days of Noah and in the days of Lot, and will be so when the Church is caught up (2. Thessalonians 1:7-10). If the talent of privilege is not used it will be taken away. If the sap of God's Word in your heart is not allowed to become fruitful in your life it will be dried up, and your barren life will become like the cursed fig-tree, only fit for the fire.
2. The Curse Affected the Leaves. "It withered away." The sin of the fig-tree was the sin of omission. Alas, for its beautiful appearance, its plentiful leaves of profession, what can they do for it now? All withered away. Scribes and Pharisees beware! Moral and religious professors take warning! That beautiful, honest, upright, man-pleasing, but Christ-grieving life of yours will one day, when you come face to face with Jesus, wither away, dried up from the root, and nothing on earth, in Heaven, or in Hell, will prevent it (see John 15:1-8).
A SPECIAL COMMISSION.
The dark shadow of the Cross was already falling heavily across the pathway of the Lord Jesus. Just four days, then the Crucifixion. Yet how calm the Lord is, how careful about every detail concerning His entry into the holy yet deceitful city! Yes, that the Scripture might be fulfilled (Zechariah 9:9). What lessons have we here—
I. The Lord's Commission. "He sent forth two of His disciples, saying, Go your way into the village" (v. 2). This simple commission, like the great one mentioned in Matthew 28:18, 19, is a revelation of his character. How full of meaning His words are. Does these words not reveal—
1. His Faith. "You shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat." How could He know except by faith. He reckoned on the fulfillment of the prophetic Word (John 12:14, 15). Was it not the confession of His enemies that "He trusted in God?" (Matthew 27:43). True, He was God, but we are to remember that He emptied Himself, and "took upon Him the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). Oh, for such an honest, simple, expectant faith!
2. His Obedience. "Say you that the Lord has need of him." He must needs enter Jerusalem riding on the foal of an donkey, because He knew that it was the will of His Father. It may be humbling to Him, but it was honoring to God and His Word, and perhaps His physical weakness intensifies this need. Blessed weakness that makes us more fit for the accomplishing of the Father's will.
3. His Assuring Confidence. "And immediately he will send him hither." He encouraged His disciples to act on His Word, just as He Himself was acting on the Father's Word. Believe and you shall see.
II. The Disciples' Acceptance of the Commission. Observe—
1. Their Obedience. "They went their way." They stepped forth on the strange errand by faith in His Word. His promise was all they had; it was all they needed. Peter walked on the water at the simple bidding of Jesus. They did not reason with one another, they obeyed from the heart. What a precious lesson on the life of faith!
2. Their Experience. "They went their way, and found even as He had said unto them" (Luke 19:32). It is not always so? When we venture out on His Word, do we not find it just as He said? Is it not so with salvation (John 3:36)? He promises salvation to those who believe on Him. Trust Him, and you will find it even as He said. Is it not so with the deeper life of consecration? Rest on His Word, and it will be fulfilled in your experience.
3. Their Testimony. When they were asked, "What do you, loosing the colt? they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded." Their commission was from the Lord, so they must use His Name and declare His will. As ambassadors for Christ we don't seek colts (souls) for ourselves, but for Jesus. We have, like these two disciples, to make known His will, depending on His power to give the willing mind. Not seeking our own honor, but His who sent us.
III. The Result which Followed. His word was fulfilled, His will done, and—
1. His Coming was Honored. "Many spread their garments in the way." This is a small matter when we consider how the Lord stripped Himself for us. He who was rich, for our sakes became poor. Jonathan stripped himself for David. Let us lay the garments of our glory in the dust and crown Him Lord of all.
2. His Name was Praised. They cried, "Hosanna! blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord." Hosanna means, "Save, I beseech you." Such prayer and praise go well together. Well may He be praised, for He has come, not to be ministered unto, "but to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). In the Name of the Lord He has come, and he will finish the work the Father has given Him to do. "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29).
3. His Kingdom is Acknowledged. "Blessed be the kingdom of our father David." "Blessed be the King that comes" (Luke 19:38). The kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. The foundation was laid at Calvary. The characteristics of it are imparted to us through faith in His Name. As the King of Israel He was put to death, so just now His kingdom is not of this world. "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). Has this humble, royal Savior had such an entrance into your heart and life as He had into Jerusalem, or are you among those who once cried "Hosanna!" but now are gone with the course of this world, and are by your heartless indifference crying, though inaudibly, "Away with Him, we will not have this Man to rule over us?"
WHY DO YOU TEMPT ME?
The Lord had just spoken a parable that cut some of them to the quick (v. 12). So they sent a few picked Pharisees to "catch Him in His words," but they themselves are caught. The Word of God is quick and powerful, even to catch word-catchers. It is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Observe here that even in scorn the truth may be spoken.
1. A truthful confession. These faultfinders unconsciously said what was true as to—
1. His character. "We know that You are true?" (v. 14). His words were true. His heart was true. His motives were as pure as light. He is the truth. When Pilate asked, What is truth? the answer might have been given: The life and testimony of Christ. But they loved the darkness (John 3:19).
2. His courage. "You care for no man, and regard not the person of men" (v. 14). He cared not for the power or threatenings of man, but He loved their souls, and cared for the poor, humble, needy. The many waters of hatred and opposition could not quench His zeal to do the will of His Father in Heaven. May such holy boldness be ours.
3. His mission. "You teach the way of God in truth" (v. 14). Nicodemus confessed that He was a Teacher come from God (John 3:2). He came from God to teach us the way to God. Never man spoke like this Man. His way is God's way, and there is no other. "I am the Way, no man comes to the Father but by Me." Coming any other way is coming to shame and confusion and disappointment, but not to the Father.
2. A critical question. "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" (v. 14). This was perhaps the most puzzling question that they in their wisdom and hate could devise. If He answers yes, then they will charge Him as a traitor to His nation. If He says no, then they will report Him at once to the Roman tribune as a teacher of sedition. How glad some people would be to get the Lord in a dilemma, but the spirit of wisdom in Christ Jesus is able to quench all the subtle darts of the evil one. It is not you that speak, but the spirit of your Father which is in yon. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
3. A discerning mind. "But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt you Me?" (v. 15). The eyes of Christ are as Heaven's searchlights, before which nothing can be hid. In coming to Christ as they did, with words of flattery on their lips, they only proved their ignorance of Him whom they professed to know. Had they known that they were standing before the heart-searcher they would certainly have preferred the darkness to such piercing light. Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Let your prayers be honest before Him, or they will prove self-condemning. "The Lord looks upon the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).
4. A suggestive request. "Bring Me a penny that I may see it." If He, who was rich, but for our sakes became poor, had had a penny in His own possession He would not likely have asked them to bring Him a penny. A penniless Savior, yet making many rich. This is not after the fashion of the world, but there is a world of consolation in the thought. We may be rich in faith, bringing glory to God, even when we cannot show a penny.
5. A conclusive answer. "Whose is this image and superscription?" They said, Caesar's. Jesus answered, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (vs.. 16, 17). The image of Caesar on the coin was evidence enough that it was connected with Caesar. Likeness proves relationship. Those who have the image of the world and the devil stamped upon their lives declare that they belong to the world and the devil, and are rendering themselves to such. Has the image of Christ been stamped upon your soul? Then render to God the things which are God's. This is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1).
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT.
The love of God is stronger than death, and as calm and steady as the mountains that are round about Jerusalem. The Pharisees had come to catch Him in His word (v. 13), then came the Sadducees to entangle Him in His teaching of the resurrection (v. 18), then this lawyer comes with the disputed question as to which was the chief among all the commandments. We certainly are much obliged to them for their questions, for each one gives the Savior a fresh occasion to emphasize some things which we all need to know. In this answer we are forcibly reminded that love is the fulfilling of the law.
1. The question asked. "Which is the first commandment of all?" It betrays—
1. Some curiosity. It seems to have been a disputed point among the scribes as to which of the commandments was the most important. Although it looked like asking which of the ten links of a chain, or which member of the body is of chief consequence, yet how graciously the Lord deals with even such.
2. Some anxiety. Beneath the mere cavil the Master seems to see in the scribe an earnest desire after truth, which brought him to the very door of the kingdom (v. 34). Deal tenderly with questioners. The Holy Spirit may be at work.
2. The answer given. All the Lord's answers to questions are polished shafts from the quiver of the Almighty. In this reply we have a call to—
1. Attention. "Hear, O Israel" (v. 29). The answer is not for this scribe alone, but for all professed seekers after truth. Well may we hear when He speaks, who can meet and answer the deepest longings of the human soul. "Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat you that which is good" (Isaiah 55:2).
2. Faith in the unity of God. "The Lord our God is one Lord" (v. 29). The great mystery of the Trinity is clearly revealed, but never explained (2 Corinthians 13:14). Like the mystical union of the Church, and of the individual believer with Himself, it is received by faith. All one in Christ.
3. Perfect surrender. "You shall love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and with all your strength" (v. 3). This is a demand made upon: 1, The whole of our affections, "all your heart." 2, The whole life, "all your soul." 3, The whole realm of thought, "all your mind." 4, The whole energy of our being, "all your strength." A whole burnt-offering unto God. This, the first commandment, is fulfilled in one word: Love. That love of God in our hearts that constrains us to yield ourselves completely unto Him (1 John 5:3).
4. Brotherly kindness. "The second is like, You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (v. 31). It is very significant that our Lord links the first and second together, making them one commandment of equal importance. The love of God, and love to God, must manifest itself in love to others (1 John 4:11, 12). If a man love not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20; Ephesians 4:32).
3. The effect produced. There was—
1. Acquiescence. "The scribes said, Well, Master, You have said the truth" (v. 32). It is quite possible to admire the wisdom and character of Christ and yet not to enter into the power and blessedness of His life. A mere mental assent to the truth taught by the Savior is not salvation.
2. Commendation. "When Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, He said unto him, You are not far from the kingdom of God" (v. 34). He evidently had an intellectual apprehension of the meaning of the Lord's words. His teaching was so far understood that he had in thought come to the very threshold of the kingdom of God, theoretically near, but experimentally outside. His reason and conscience were both on the side of the truth.
3. A coming short. "Not far from the kingdom." These are encouraging, yet O how mournful the words! "Not far," but not near enough to be inside. The mind enlightened, but the heart unyielded; the conscience convicted, the reason convinced, but the will still stubborn and unsubdued. You will not come to Me that you might have life. He will have a willing people in the day of His power. Not far from the cities of refuge was no guarantee of safety.
THINGS TO COME.
As Jesus went out of the temple, one of the disciples could not help, as he passed, commenting on the greatness of the stones and of the buildings. The Master answered, See you these buildings, there shall not be left one stone upon another. And immediately it would seem that the thoughts of the Master went out to other great stones and to other buildings in connection with God's great purposes in the ages to come. Stones more costly and a building more wonderful, from which no stone will ever be thrown down. You are God's building, fitly framed together, growing into a holy temple in the Lord. While the disciples sat with Him in the mount having a private talk, they asked these two questions: When shall these things be? What shall be the sign? While the remarks about the temple originated these queries, the answers of Christ stretch far beyond the destruction of Jerusalem to the coming of the Son of Man with great power and glory (v. 28). It is impossible to believe that all the signs mentioned here were given before the sack of the city by the Romans (vs. 10, 24-27). The teaching of Christ in this chapter may be taken as a reply to these two questions, When shall these things be? and, What shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? (v. 4).
1. What are the signs? Christ speaks of them as one continued unbroken sign, extending from the time He spoke right down until the day of His appearing again the second time. There will be—
1. False prophets (vs. 5, 6). Men who will seek to deceive with vain words (Ephesians 5:6). Messengers of Satan.
2. Wars and rumors of wars (v. 7). These we assuredly have always with us, they are a testimony that the King of kings and Prince of Peace is not yet seated on the throne of David.
3. Hated for His sake (vs. 9-13). This hatred to the Lord's people, that leads to imprisonment and terrible trial, is ascribed to the work of the devil (Rev. 2:10). The Millennium is not yet.
4. Natural affection perverted (v. 12). A man's enemies shall be those of his own household (Micah 7:6). Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold (Matthew 24:10, 11).
5. Unparalleled affliction (v. 19). This same time of awful trial is predicted in Daniel 12:1, repeated in Joel 2:2, and explained more fully in Luke 21:24-28.
6. Deceitful wonder-workers (v. 22). Demon-possessed men, claiming the homage of Christ, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, captivating them that perish (1 Thessalonians 2:9, 10). The presence of antichrists declare the absence of Christ.
7. Changes in the natural Heavens (v. 24). There will be darkness and gloominess, clouds and thick darkness, distress and desolation (Zephaniah 1:14, 15). These are the infallible signs given by Him who is the Truth.
2. When shall these things be? We would note that—
1. The exact day cannot be known (v. 32). As it was in the days of Noah, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be. The fact of the coming flood was revealed, but the moment the door would be shut no man could tell.
2. The certainty of His coming cannot be denied (vs. 30, 31). He will come again, and the generation of the Jewish people shall not pass away as a distinct nationality until all these things be fulfilled. "You are My witnesses."
3. The Gospel is to be first preached unto all nations (v. 10). It is to be preached unto all nations for a witness (Matthew 24:14). It would seem that even in the apostles' day this was accomplished (Romans 10:18; Colossians 1:6-23).
4. The abomination of desolation will be set up (v. 14). This prediction is found in Daniel 9:25-27, and must be fulfilled before His appearing.
5. The fig tree must first blossom (vs. 28, 29). The fig tree doubtless denotes the Jewish nation, who are showing remarkable activity in the so-called "Zion movement."
6. The great crisis is His personal appearing. "Then shall you see the Son of Man" (vs. 26, 27). This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go (Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Rev. 1:7).
3. What is to be our present attitude? Here the language of the Master is very urgent, condemning thereby the apathy, indifference, and unbelief of many with respect to His coming again. We are to be—
1. Trustful. "Take heed, behold I have foretold you all things" (v. 23). Is it possible for a Christian to continue growing in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, who willfully ignores this solemn and timely warning?
2. Watchful. This is urged three times over in verses 33-37. How many are fast asleep with regard to His coming. Watching keeps awake in sleepy times.
3. Prayerful. "Take heed, watch and pray" (v. 33). The watcher will surely become an intercessor. Faith in His coming will have a wholesome effect on the life.
THE MASTER AND HIS SERVANTS.
"Many men seek themselves in seeking God,
And serve Him, that they may serve themselves of Him."—Venning.
The subtleness of self is almost fathomless. Our Lord in closing this outline of coming events sums it up in a little parable concerning Himself, which reveals the present relationship that exists between Him and His servants in view of His coming again. Observe—
1. What He HAS done.
1. Taken a far journey (v. 34). This journey is His going into Heaven. "If I go away I will come again." It was a far journey in that it was from weakness and shame to power and glory, from humiliation and death to glorification and resurrection life, from a God-hating earth to a God-honoring Heaven.
2. Left His house. The temple was the recognized house of God, but the people know not the day of His visitation. They cast Him out; now He could say, "Your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:38).
3. Given authority to His servants. This the Master did when He sent down the Holy Spirit from the presence of the Father upon His waiting servants in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. This power every servant must have if he would speak with authority, and not like the self-ordained scribes.
4. Given to every man his work. Every son of God should be a servant, and every servant may have his work from the Master. To every man his work. Is every man doing his Christ-appointed work? If you don't do your God-given work it will remain undone through all eternity, and may be to you an everlasting reproach. "What will You have me to do?" (Acts 9:6).
5. Commanded the porter to watch. The porter is the Holy Spirit, who opens the door to Jesus as the Shepherd of the sheep, by resting upon Him when baptized in Jordan (John 10:2, 3). He is watching the interests of Jesus Christ on earth, and looking and longing for His coming. "The Spirit and the Bride say, Come" (Rev. 22:16, 17).
2. What He WILL do.
1. Come again (v. 35). He has left His house, but it is only for an indefinite season. "If I go I will come again." As servants we are occupying until He come. At the Lord's Supper we show forth His death until He come.
2. Come as Lord (v. 35, r. v. ). Not in the lowly humiliation of His first coming, but as King of kings and Lord of lords, to reward His faithful servants, and take vengeance on them who obey not the Gospel.
3. Come suddenly. "You know not when the Master comes" (v. 35). The very uncertainty of the time of His coming is surely intended to keep our eyes awake and our faces heavenward (Hebrews 12:3).
3. What His servants are EXPECTED to do.
1. Watch. "Watch you therefore." The meaning is, be wakeful. Be alive and all alive, be awake and wide awake, for the good of His cause and the honor of His Name. Watch for souls, and watch for the coming of "His Son from Heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
2. Pray. "Take heed, watch and pray" (v. 33). The manner of our Lord while in this world is a soul-stirring example of the purpose, power, and privilege of prayer. Looking for His coming will revive the spirit of pleading in us. Looking at persons and things around us, in the light of His coining, will surely humble us at His feet, and keep us near the blood-sprinkled throne of grace.
3. Work. "He gave to every man his work" (v. 34). Watching and praying will all the more fit us for the work given us to do. Work while it is day. In connection with our individual task let us keep in mind that this is the work of God, that you believe in Him. Let it be the work of faith, and then it will be the labor of love, and when He does come may we hear His well done, good and faithful servant.
SHE HAS DONE WHAT SHE COULD.
While the chief priests and scribes were seeking to take Jesus by craft and put Him to death, there was a loving woman seeking a chance to honor Him by pouring the precious spikenard upon His head. In the house of Simon the leper she found this opportunity, and she did what she could, and did it at a time and in a manner which shows her deep insight into the character and purposes of her Lord. Perhaps this great work is the result of her sitting at His feet and learning of Him (Luke 10:39). All powerful testimony for God has its origin in secret communion.
1. The good work. "She has wrought a good work on Me." It was—
1. A work of love. The emptying of the liquid perfume upon the head of Jesus was an expression of the affection of her heart freely poured out on Him. What is the value of our service if our hearts are not in it? The first commandment is, You shall love the Lord.
2. A work of sacrifice. "Very precious." The cost of the ointment in our money might be about 9. She did not give to Christ what cost her nothing. We have never really done what we could for Him if our service has not been costly to us. Spare moments and odd coppers are the expressions of a heartless, thankless soul.
3. A work of faith. "She is come aforehand to anoint My body to the burying." How did she know that He was so near His death and burial? She had doubtless believed that the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. May the Lord the Spirit work in us this Christ-refreshing faith. "I will show you my faith by my works."
4. A work in season. Jesus said, "Me you have not always." She embraced the present passing opportunity. She will be eternally glad that she did so. You may honor Christ now by serving Him, but the brief day of privilege will soon be past. How sad to meet the Lord without ever having made one single sacrifice for the glory of His Name! Shall you? Shall I?
2. The different results. There was—
1. The indignation of some. Some had indignation, and said, "Why this waste?" This is the language of blind greed and self-interest. In the eyes of such everything is wasted that is given to Christ and His cause, only that which is given to themselves is put to a proper use. Small doubting souls reckon it only waste of time to wait on God, but they may be heard sometimes singing:
"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all."
2. The approval of Christ. "She has done what she could."
(1). He accepted the offering. He said, "She has wrought a good work on Me" (v. 6). Done for Him, it is acceptable to Him.
(2). He justifies the offerer. "Let her alone." It is God who justifies; who is he that condemns? The Lord is our defense in the time of trouble. He cares for you.
(3). He rewards the good work. "Throughout the whole world this that she has done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her" (v. 9). The fragrance of that self-sacrificing act has been felt all down the ages. Everything done for Christ in such a spirit will have an enduring influence. Palestine is called "the glory of all lands" just because of its connection with Him who glorifies all that is associated with Him. In union with Him there is salvation for the sinner, sanctification for the saved, and eternal reward for the self-sacrificing servant.
THE BREAD AND THE CUP.
The acts of Jesus are as significant as His words, especially those acts in the upper room, while handling the symbols of His own body and Blood the day before His crucifixion. As a dying man Ha here calls His friends together while He makes His last will and testament.
1. The bread a symbol of His body. "Jesus took bread, and said, This is My body." The symbol is beautiful, for bread is not more indispensable than the sufferings of Christ for the life and salvation of man. "Except you eat His flesh, and drink His Blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53).
1. He took it. It was His own voluntary act. He took on Him the likeness of sinful flesh. He was God manifest in the flesh. In taking a visible body He was taking that which was to be "life for the world." This He did at His incarnation, a humbling but God-glorifying act.
2. He blessed it. That is, in the taking of it He sanctified it and made it holy. His body became a holy thing, fit to be offered as a sacrifice unto God. It was blessed by the Holy indwelling Spirit in a life of blameless service to God. Blessed with infinite blessing.
3. He brake it. This also was His own doing. Although with wicked hands they crucified Him, yet He could say no man takes My life from Me, I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again, this authority I received of My Father. He gave Himself for us. Yes, the breaking of His body was by His own willing consent. This gives additional virtue to His sacrifice.
4. He gave it. In giving the broken bread to His believing disciples He thus indicated that the bestowing of the saving virtue of His broken body is in His own hands. "I give unto My sheep eternal life." There is none other Name under Heaven. This is My body which is broken for you. Substitution is here clearly taught.
2. The cup a symbol of His Blood. The life is in the Blood. In pouring out His Blood He was pouring out His soul unto death.
1. He took the cup. The cup of sorrow and suffering put into His hand by His loving and righteous Father. What it all meant when He said, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Your be done," we cannot tell; into such profound depths we cannot go. This cup meant for Christ infinitely more than it can mean to us; He tasted death for every man.
2. He gave thanks for it. Selah! Let us pause and think. He gave thanks for the cup that was His own appointed symbol of His agony and awful death. O the depths of His grace! Thanking the Father for the privilege of suffering and dying in the sinner's stead. What love! Herein is love. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.
3. He gave it to them. Paul tells us that it was after He had supped that He said "This do you" (1 Corinthians 11:25). After His atoning death comes the gift of life. The giving of the cup also suggests His desire that we should enter into "the fellowship of His suffering, and be made conformable unto His death" (Philippians 3:10). "Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of? "
4. They all drank of it. "You shall drink of the cup that I drink of" (Mark 10:39). And they did by becoming martyrs for His sake. If any man follow Me, let him take up his cross. He who loses his life for My sake, and the Gospel's, shall save it. To drink of this cup is to bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in the body (2 Corinthians 4:10). I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. The partakers of Christ's sufferings will be made glad when His glory shall be revealed (1 Peter 4:13).
In observing the Lord's Supper we are not called upon to remember Him as a Teacher, nor as an Example, but as our Sacrifice, to show forth His death until He come. This is My body broken for you, take, eat. O you guilty sons of men, take this great atoning work and divide it among yourselves (Luke 22:17).
BETWEEN THE CUP OF BLESSING AND THE TRAITOR'S KISS.
The experiences of our Lord and Savior between the giving of the cup (v. 23) and the getting of the kiss (v. 45) were numerous, varied, and well defined. A close examination of them reveals the awful intenseness of His life in its closing hours. We select the above portion of Scripture only as an example of how the last days of Christ's life might be studied. Within the compass of these few verses we have the Lord Jesus—
1. Singing. "They sang a hymn" (v. 26). Jesus sang, although the thorn of the cross was at His breast. What if it were the twenty-third Psalm, "Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."
2. Predicting. "All you shall be offended because of Me this night" (v. 27). What a sudden change. In a few hours the clear sky of communion will be thick with the dark, ominous clouds of desertion. While He was singing He knew that the Shepherd was about to be smitten and the sheep scattered. The sword was about to awake against the Man that was God's fellow (Zechariah 13:7). This sword now sleeps for us.
3. Suffering. "He began to be sore amazed and very heavy" (v. 33). The iniquities of us all were beginning to meet on Him (Isaiah 53:6, margin). Was He amazed at the number of them, while He felt the awful burden very heavy! May we, like these disciples, "sit here," and see the salvation of God.
4. Sorrowing "My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death" (v. 34). The bearing of our sins by the Holy Son of God was no heartless mechanical process. He could not come into contact with sin and guilt without His spotless soul becoming "exceeding sorrowful." In bearing our sins He also experienced the indescribable agony incurred by the guilt of them in His own soul. "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him, He has put Him to grief." Be still my soul.
5. Praying. "He went forward and fell on the ground and prayed" (v. 35). What a prayer! We have never been deep enough in the fires of an agonizing abhorrence at sin to know what it all means. It was not possible this hour and cup could pass from Him if guilty men were to be saved by the grace of God. Still His prayers with strong crying and tears were heard (Hebrews 5:7, 8).
6. Yielding. "Nevertheless not what I will, but what You will" (v. 36). I came down from Heaven not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me (John 5:30). Why did He shrink from the cup? Would He have been true as a Son if He accepted without any expression of dislike that which would break up His fellowship with His Father and turn His Father's "Beloved" into a curse? Nevertheless He yielded to be made a curse for us, and became obedient unto death.
7. Exhorting. "Watch and pray" (vs. 37, 38). Given at such a time and in such an agony of spirit, we may truly learn our need of this. O how tenderly His sorrowful soul deals with His drowsy disciples! "The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak." He knows the frailty of our frames, He can be touched with a feeling of our infirmities.
8. Confessing. "Behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners" (v. 41). What a confession for this Mighty One to make, who could call legions of angels from Heaven. Betrayed by a professed disciple. He knew what was in man. Had He not been already entirely abandoned to the suffering of death He never could have been betrayed. He gave His life a ransom for all.
9. Commanding. "Rise up, let us go" (v. 42). But, alas, how far off did they follow Him. "Let us go." Are we ready to go to death with Him? Is crucifixion not as needful for us as for Him if we would know the fellowship of His sufferings. "I am crucified with Christ." He must be crucified that the body of sin might be put away for us. Our old man must be crucified that the body of sin might be destroyed in us (Romans 6:6). O that a sleepy, worldly Church could hear this call, "Rise up, let us go."
THE STEPS IN PETER'S DOWNFALL.
Backsliding is a process. Eve first saw, then desired, then took, then eat before she gave to Adam. Falling away out of the company and fellowship of Christ is the result of an inward disease preying upon the vitals of our spiritual being. That disease is self-will. Let us follow Peter in his downgrade march step by step. There was—
1. Self-confidence. Peter said, "Although all shall be offended, yet will not I" (v. 29). The "I" here is very self-assertive, comparing himself with the others he believes himself more trustworthy than any. Yet it was written that "He that trusts in his own heart is a fool" (Proverbs 28:26). "Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
2. Proud boasting. "If I should die with You, I will not deny You in any wise" (v. 31). So said they all, but Peter spoke vehemently. Peter was as yet unbelieving and ignorant of his own weakness. Had not the Lord said unto him, "Where I go you cannot follow Me now?" (John 13:36). All self-boasting is a contradiction to His Word.
3. Unwatchfulness. He said unto Peter, "Simon, sleep you?" (v. 37). Pride and self-confidence are sure to lead to unwatchfulness. It is the consciously weak ones who lean hard. Sleepy souls are easily tempted (v. 38). By his sleep he became insensible to the sufferings of Christ. The next step down is—
4. Ashamedness. "Peter followed Him afar off" (v. 54). Jesus is not so popular now with the multitude. Peter follows; but far enough off as not to be identified with Him. A professing Christian is indeed afar off when he is ashamed of Him and His Word. At this stage the Word of God is neglected, prayer given up, and the company of those who testify for Christ forsaken.
5. Worldliness. "Peter sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire" (v. 54). Having fallen out of company with Christ, he now finds his company among those who know him not, and warms himself at the enemy's fire. While the prodigal was spending his all in the far country he was just seeking to warm himself with the coals of the enemy's fire. This is what the backslider is doing in seeking to find pleasure and comfort in the ways and things of the ungodly. A Christian must be cold indeed when he turns to the crackling thorns of worldly delights for heart warmth.
6. Denial. While he was warming himself he was charged with having been with Jesus. But he denied, saying, "I know not" (vs. 67, 68). When a man has gone the length of finding warmth among the Lord's enemies we are prepared for the next sad step—denial. This is often done, if not by lip yet by wicked works. The Lord has uttered a solemn warning to such in Matthew 10:33.
7. Recklessness. "He began to curse and to swear saying, I know not this Man" (v. 71). He had said, "Though all shall be offended, yet will not I," yet he becomes more easily offended than any, and now staggers into the ditch of open profanity. If a backslider be not restored before he goes the length of shameless lip denial the likelihood is that he will soon be found in the ranks of the reckless, the drunken, or some other open sin.
8. Repentance. Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, and when he thought thereon he wept (v. 72). The Lord had not prayed for Judas that his faith fail not, and he went out and hanged himself. It was when the prodigal son thought of his father's house that he said, "I will arise and go to my father." It is usually by some word of Christ that the backslider is brought to think of his ways, and to weep the bitter tears of repentance.
PILATE AND JESUS.
"The waves of the world's sea may surge,
But the blue sky above is calm."
The life and character of Jesus is like the calm blue of Heaven compared with this restless world of troubled human spirits. The calmness of Jesus in the presence of the excited and bewildered Pilate is full of deep significance. A witness to the majesty of truth. Small men are fussy. "Still waters run deep." Pilate's treatment of Jesus is an example of how multitudes today treat the Gospel of Christ. Note that he—
1. Had Jesus given to him. "They delivered Him to Pilate" (v. 1). Now was Pilate's opportunity of justifying himself by justifying Jesus. When the Gospel is preached in the power of the spirit it is as it were a delivering up of Jesus for the acceptance or rejection of the hearer. How often has He been brought within your reach? What a solemn privilege!
2. Ascertains His character. "Pilate asked Him, Are You the King of the Jews? He answered, You say it" (v. 2). "To this end was I born" (John 18:37). He has Christ's own testimony as to His kingly character, although He was of no reputation. Gospel hearer, you know the claims of Jesus, you too are familiar with His poverty and His dignity; yes, more, with His death and resurrection, with His power to save and keep.
3. Marvels at Him. When Jesus answered nothing to the many things charged against Him, Pilate marveled (v. 5). He whose Name is "Wonderful" must in His manner be marvelous to many. The silent submission of Jesus to such false accusations (for He knew that for envy they had delivered Him) was a revelation. Gospel hearer, have you never been led to marvel at the uniqueness of His character, the profundity of His teaching, or the richness of His grace?
4. Was inclined to favor Him (vs. 9, 10). He found no fault in Him, and was disposed to release Him. Gospel hearer, you must surely confess that you have no fault to find with Jesus. Does not your deeper convictions tell you that He is the Truth? Have you not at times felt inclined to believe Him, and release Him by confessing Him before men? Have you not also, like Pilate's wife. "suffered many things because of Him?"
5. Submits his will to the people regarding Him. "Pilate said, What will you that I shall do unto Him?" (v. 12). His vacillating spirit would deal with Jesus according to the fickle and perverted will of the multitude. Gospel hearer, are you treating Christ according to your better convictions, or in a manner only to please the Christ-hating world? Is the will of the ungodly to be your guide as to what you shall do with Jesus? If you judge Christ by the opinions of His enemies you will be truly guilty of the Blood of God's Son.
6. Questions the justice of their judgment concerning Him. "They cried out, Crucify Him. Pilate said, Why, what evil has He done?" (vs. 13, 14). Self-righteous priests and a willfully ignorant and prejudiced people have no need of the Christ, and nothing to give Him but a cross. Gospel hearer, have you not thought that it was unjust and grossly wicked to cast out and crucify the meek and lowly Jesus? Yet by your refusing to receive Him you are deliberately casting Him out of your life, and virtually saying by your unbelief, "Away with Him, I will not have this Man to rule over me."
7. Scourged Him (v. 15). The barbarous thongs, tipped with bones and lead, in the hands of a heathen, ploughed His back and made deep their furrows, making His very bones to stare out. Yet he found no fault in the Man. Gospel hearer, are you scourging the soul of Him, whom you know to be faultless, by your love of the world, your indifference to His redeeming Blood, and your unwillingness to submit yourself to Him?
8. Delivered Him up to be crucified. "Pilate, willing to content the people, delivered Jesus" (v. 15). He handed Him over as one who wished to have no more to do with Him. But Pilate shall meet Him again at another tribunal. Gospel hearer, Jesus has been delivered up by God for you, and in His Word to you. Are you, like Pilate, anxious to get quit of Him, or, like Mary, anxious to have Him? Pilate, with all his great privileges in having Jesus brought near to him, profited nothing, but augmented his guilt. What have you profited by many similar opportunities? What shall you then do with Jesus?
THE ATTITUDE OF UNBELIEF.
"A cross without a Christ; the heavens dumb;
Oh, who may dare the mystery to plumb?
Or who to such a God will longer come?"
"Throned upon the awful tree" is how John Ellerton puts it. The crucifixion was the coronation of the Son of God as our Substitute. The immeasurable soul-exalting power of it lies in the fathomless depths of the humiliation of it. This is foolishness in the eyes of men, but it is the wisdom of God. "Let Christ descend from the Cross that we may see and believe" (v. 32). Like modern rationalists, they would prefer a crossless Christ. It was not the nails that held Him to the tree, but His love for the perishing and His determination to finish the work given Him to do. The—
1. Titles given Him. "Christ the King of Israel" (v. 32). This they said in mockery, because they knew He claimed to be—
1. The Christ. The Messiah, the Lord's Anointed. They spoke the truth nevertheless. When Jesus said, "Whom say you that I am?" Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16).
2. The King of Israel. It was hard for human reason to believe that this despised and rejected One was God's appointed Ruler of His ancient people. Wise men, inspired by the message of God, come saying, "Where is He who is born King of the Jews?" Yes, this is His true title.
2. Place appointed Him was a place of—
1. Shame and suffering. "They crucify Him, and with Him two thieves." The chosen and anointed One, the One preferred by God above all others, because of His holy devotedness, is classed by religious men with the vilest of the vile. What place has He now, even among so-called Christian men?
2. Derision and death. "They that passed by railed on Him, and they that were crucified with Him reviled Him" (vs. 29-32; Psalm 22:7, 8). Yet this is He who cried with a loud voice "Lazarus, come forth," and he who was dead came forth. He who of old "spoke and it was done."
3. Proposal made to Him. "Descend from the Cross that we may see and believe" (v. 32). They might as well say let God change His character and purposes that they might see and believe. This presumptuous God-dethroning we. "That we might see." Why, He could not descend from the Cross because—
1. He could not disobey His Father. He had already said "Not My will, but Your be done." To die was the will of Him that sent Him.
2. The Scriptures could not be broken. The prophet Daniel had said, "The Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself" (chapter 9:26). Isaiah also by the same Spirit declared that "He would make His grave with the wicked, and be numbered with transgressors" (chapter 53). If He came down from the Cross the Scriptures, as the pillar of truth, would be broken.
3. He could not suffer man to perish. Without shedding of His Blood there was no remission of sin and guilt for us. His love constrained Him to give His life a ransom for many.
4. He could not be untrue to Himself. The Cross is the evidence of His truthfulness, to His own inner consciousness, as the Redeemer of men, the Savior of the world. What a revelation of the hidden man of His heart! He abides faithful.
4. Reasons why some prefer a crossless Christ.
1. The Cross reveals their guilt. It is the manifestation of man's inert hatred to holiness and God-likeness. To have no personal dealings with the Son of God any more than with the dead in their graves is just another way of appointing Christ to the place of death.
2. It is God's only way of life. The Cross reveals the need of a Substitute, the need of an atonement by the Blood of His Cross, and the only possible way of access unto the Father (John 14:6; Hebrews 10:19, 20). That we can only be saved as sinners through the Blood of His Cross is rather humbling to the pride of man's self-confident and deceitful heart. A crossless Christ can only make life to be a Christless cross.
TAUGHT IN THE SEPULCHER.
"When brighter suns and milder skies
Proclaim the opening year,
What various sounds of joy arise,
What prospects bright appear!
Thus like the morning calm and clear,
That saw the Savior rise;
The spring of Heaven's eternal year
Shall dawn on earth and skies."
Very early in the morning the two Marys came to the sepulcher at the rising of the sun, but the Son of God had already risen. He who was before all things rose from the dead before sunrise.
1. Whom they sought. "You seek Jesus," said the messenger from Heaven to them. They sought Him that they might anoint Him (vs. 1-6). But the living Christ is never found among the dead. Anxious sinners often seek Him where He cannot be found, among their own dead works or in their own unregenerate hearts. He is not here.
2. When they came. "Very early in the morning, the first day of the week" (v. 2). Although they did not find Him where, and as they expected, yet they found Him (John 20:18). "They that seek Me early shall find Me." Seek Him early in the morning of life, early in the morning of each day, especially the first day of the week. This first day of the week was the first new Sabbath of the new creation.
3. Where they went. "And entering into the sepulcher" (v. 5). It would appear that they stooped down and went right into the grave (John 20:11). In this place of death they had this great revelation of His resurrection power. Where else can we learn it as an experience but by stooping down into His grave? It is by being made "conformable unto His death" that we are made to know the "power of His resurrection" (Philippians 3:10). We must stoop down to be crucified with Christ if the risen One is to live in us (Colossians 3:1-3). We stoop to conquer.
4. What they received. They found precious treasure in the tomb of Jesus. It is not death to enter here, but life for evermore. Here they pass from the natural life of sense into the spiritual life of faith. By faith enter the grave of Christ as crucified for you, and you shall be quickened by resurrection life. They received—
1. A vision of the Heavenly One. "They saw a young man sitting, clothed in a long white garment" (v. 5). Here in this new tomb, where the Lord Jesus was the only one that ever lay, are they brought into fellowship with a sent one from Heaven. As the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because that Jesus Christ was not yet glorified, may we not suppose that this young man came as a timely and temporary substitute to take the things of Christ and show them to these early seekers? It is still true that when we put self and self-wisdom in the place of death we shall be taught of God.
2. A word of comfort. "He said, Be not affrighted" (v. 6). There is nothing to fear in the grave of your Redeemer, There is a living One there, the ever youthful Spirit of God, waiting to comfort the sorrowful seeker.
3. A proof of heavenly sympathy. "You seek Jesus of Nazareth." It must have been a relief to them that this God-sent messenger knew the deeper yearnings of their soul, and was at one with them in their interest. The Holy Spirit is all this and much more to us. "He helps our infirmities and makes intercession according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26, 27)
4. The assurance of victory. "He says unto them, He is risen." This was exceeding abundantly above all that they asked or thought. He is not stolen; He is risen. He died for our sins and rose again for our justification. This young man, sitting in the place where Jesus was laid, acts the part of a forerunner of the Holy Spirit in bringing the assurance of life to the hearts of these Savior-loving women. Peter tells what effect this renewed hope had (1 Peter 1:3).
5. An evidence of resurrection. "He is not here; behold the place where they laid Him." The place where they laid Him was empty. The clothes were there, and perhaps lying folded (not doubled up), just as they were when He was in them. The position of the linen clothes and the napkin evidently astonished the disciples (John 20:6-8). Who could doubt the resurrection who have themselves passed from death into life, and "know Him and the power of His resurrection" (Philippians 3:10).
6. A great commission. "Go your way, and tell." Testimony for Christ must follow the reviving influence of His resurrection life. They received their commission from an angel from Heaven. The Holy Spirit said, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (Acts 13:2). "You shall be witnesses unto Me... to the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
7. A precious promise. "He goes before you into Galilee, there you shall see Him." Blessed prospect that is ever before them that go in His Name. You shall see Him, and be made like Him (1 John 3:2). Having been sent "they went out quickly." They were not disobedient to the heavenly vision. Go you and do likewise, and in the doing of His will there you shall see Him.
This first day of the week was full of new things for the disciples of the Lord. A new order of things was now being established. When a soul passes from the old natural life into the new resurrection life in Christ it is a new creature entering into a new kingdom, where all things are made new. It is to such the first day of the first month of the year of their eternal life. There are here what might be called some incidental revelations connected with His resurrection worthy of notice. We have a—
1. Revelation of His power. "Jesus was risen" (v. 9). He had said "I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again." He had now taken again that which He had freely given up for us all. The taking again proves how completely His life had been given away. Having power to take it, He has now power to bestow it in its fullness to all who believe.
2. Revelation of grace. He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven devils. She who was the greatest sinner among His followers receives first of His resurrection favors. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. The mighty, pitying Savior favors the humble, thankful, trustful follower.
3. Revelation of deep sorrow. "Them that had been with Him mourned and wept" (v. 10). The curtain is lifted, and we get a glimpse of how those that had been with Him felt and regarded the crucifixion, they mourned and wept. They were like a young motherless family, suddenly bereaved of their wise and loving father, their only real friend on earth. Their tears, though partly caused by unbelief, showed at least the place He had in their affections. Did not the enemies of the Cross make Paul weep? (Philippians 3:18).
4. Revelation of unbelief. "When they heard that He was alive and had been seen of her they believed not" (v. 11). We don't wonder so much at them not believing Mary as at their failure to remember or believe the words spoken to them by the Lord (see John 16:20-22). Unbelief always brings disappointment and sorrow. Tears mingled with distrust may be but the tears of wounded pride.
5. Revelation of Divine adaptation. "After that, He appeared in another form" (v. 12). The same Savior in a different form. O the depths of His wisdom and riches. He appeared to Stephen as the glorified One, but to Saul as the persecuted One (Acts 7:55; 9:5). It does not matter what our circumstances or condition may be, when He appears it is always as such a One as we need. His grace is always made suitable and sufficient.
6. Revelation of His faithfulness. "He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart" (v. 14). While they mourned and wept they did not look like those who were unbelieving and hard at heart. But the Lord looks deeper down than groans and tears, and like a wise and true Physician He lays His finger upon the diseased spot, and tells them plainly what is wrong. This is why many professing Christians are afraid to get into very close quarters with Jesus, lest these hidden things should be revealed, lest the real man of the heart should be unveiled. If we do come near to Him He will be faithful with us.
7. Revelation of the responsibility resting on His witnesses. "He upbraided them, because they believed not them which had seen Him" (v. 14). The Lord expected that the testimony of those to whom He had revealed Himself would be believed. Those only can be witnesses for Him to whom He has manifested His saving grace and resurrection power, and those who hear such witness-bearing and yet do not believe are charged with unbelief and hardness of heart. In our Lord's great priestly prayer, recorded in John 17, He prayed for them who shall believe through their word. If the Lord believes and expects that men will believe in Him through our word, how is it that we don't look for immediate results when the Word is spoken? Lord, increase our faith.
THE GREAT COMMISSION.
A well known authority on missions has said, "Christianity is the only religion that is missionary." This call, like a stream of light, has come down through the ages, beckoning weary souls to the harbor of rest.
1. The need. This is summed up in one word, "World." "Go into all the world." The world of—
1. Sinful self within. This is the devil's nursery, where every evil in the world is germinated, and afterwards transplanted by actual deeds. Into this world the power of Christ must come.
2. Fashion and pleasures around. That which ministers to the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. That world of custom and habit and godless living.
3. Heathen darkness beyond. A world of perishing, yet immortal souls. A world loved by God, and for which Christ died (John 3:16). The whole world lies in wickedness. The need is great.
2. The provision. "The Gospel." "Preach the Gospel to every creature." Just as there are different elements in air and water, so are there in the Gospel. It contains good tidings of great joy. There is in it—
1. The incarnation of the Son of God. God manifest in the flesh. His Name shall be called Emmanuel. "God with us." God with us seeking to save the lost, in the form of a servant. What news!
2. Atoning sacrifice by the Blood of God. "The Church of God, which He has purchased with His own Blood" (Acts 20:28). "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 2:2). The Blood of His Son is God's great covering for sin. This has been provided, this is offered.
3. Regeneration by the Spirit of God. This is a recreation of the human spirit after the likeness of God. Made new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17).
4. Justification by the faith of God (Mark 11:22, margin). "Have the faith of God" is the literal meaning. It seems a strong expression. But every one who exercises faith in Jesus Christ is having the faith that God has in Him. As David showed the kindness of God to Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9:3).
5. Sanctification by the Word of God. Your Word was found, and I did eat it. Now are you clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you. He has given us exceeding great and precious promises that by these we might be made partakers of the Divine nature. All the promises of God are in Christ for the support of faith and the strengthening and growth of the new life.
6. Resurrection by the power of God. He shall come in great power and glory. The dead in Christ shall rise first. The mortal shall put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:38).
7. Glorification by the presence of God. The "Great God, our Savior, shall appear," and we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. These seven elements belong to the glorious Gospel of the blessed God, which is His alone remedy for the manifold need of a perishing world.
3. The commission. "Go you into all the world." Clear, simple, definite.
1. Who? "You." You who have believed, and have known the reviving power of His resurrection (1 Peter 1:3).
2. What? "Go." "As My Father sent Me, so send I you" (John 17:18). Go. Don't sit down and theorize about it. Go, and make this the chief business of your life.
3. Where? "Into all the world." The world loved by God (John 3:16); the world atoned for by the Son (1 John 2:2). If you cannot go here or there in person, go in your love and prayers and practical sympathy (Psalm 126:5, 6).
4. The promise. Lo, I am with you always. "In My Name shall they cast out devils" (vs. 17, 18).
His presence with us is the pledge of—
1. Continual fellowship. If His sanctifying, soul-soothing presence is not realized or enjoyed, it is not that His promise has failed, but that self or sin has grieved the Holy Spirit, who makes His presence a reality and a power.
2. Continual victory. Moses said, "If Your presence go not with us, carry us not up hence." There can be no victory over the enemies of God if His presence is not with us (see Numbers 14:42-45). If devils are to be cast out it must be by the power of His Name (v. 17). His Name implies all that He is.
5. The fulfillment. "They went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them" (v. 20).
1. They were obedient. "They went forth." They went forth like Abraham, leaning on His Word. Not waiting until they were burned out, like Lot in Sodom. In the light of this urgent commission, does it not seem to savor of unbelief to be still saying, "What will You have me to do? "
2. They were successful. "The Lord working with them, and confirming the Word with signs following." If the Lord is not working with us our labor is in vain. If the Word preached is not confirmed with signs there is no evidence of the Lord's presence. The Lord will work with us if we, like them, are wholly yielded to the doing of His will, preaching the Gospel to every creature.