(1, 2) Now, the feast of unleavened bread . . .—See Notes on Matthew 26:1-5; Mark 14:1-2. St. Luke’s way of giving a preliminary explanation of the Jews’ Passover is characteristic of the Gentile Evangelist.
(3-6) Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot.—See Notes on Matthew 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11. St. Luke stands alone in the first three Gospels as thus describing the origin of the Traitor’s guilt. John 13:27 shows, however, that such a way of speaking had become common, though he places the “entrance” at a later stage. The use of the name Satan for the devil, as the author of the many forms of human evil, is, it need hardly be said, a prominent feature in St. Paul’s writings (1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Corinthians 12:7. et al.). Compare also St. Peter’s speech in Acts 5:3, where Satan appears as instigating the sin of Ananias and Sapphira.
(4) Chief priests and captains.—The latter term is used by St. Luke, and by him only in the New Testament, of the officers who presided over the Levite guardians of the Temple. Here and in Luke 22:52 it is used in the plural. In Acts 4:1; Acts 5:24, we read of “the captain of the Temple,” presumably the chief officer in command. Such was in earlier times Pashur, the “governor of the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 20:1). As watchmen the Levite sentinels carried clubs, and would use them freely against any sacrilegious intruder. The attempt to seize our Lord, recorded in John 7:32, shows why Judas applied to these officers as well as to the priests.
(6) In the absence of the multitude.—The marginal reading, without a tumult, is perhaps nearer to the meaning of the original.
(7-13) Then came the day of unleavened bread.—See Notes on Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16. St. Luke, like St. Mark, writing for Gentiles, adds the explanatory note, “when the Passover must be killed,” or, better, sacrificed. (Comp. “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us,” in 1 Corinthians 5:7.)
(8) He sent Peter and John.—St. Luke’s is the only Gospel that gives the names of the two disciples. They were together now, as they were afterwards in John 20:3; John 21:20; Acts 3:1. We may, perhaps, recognise the purpose of a loving insight in the act which thus brought the two disciples together at a time when our Lord foresaw how much one would need the love and sympathy of the other.
(10) A man . . . bearing a pitcher of water.—The signal is one of the details common to St. Mark and St. Luke. (See Note on Mark 14:13.)
(11) The Master.—Literally, the Teacher—i.e., the Rabbi whom the man acknowledged. The narrative agrees almost verbally with St. Mark’s.
(14-18) And when the hour was come.—See Notes on Matthew 26:20; Mark 14:17. The other Gospels name “the evening.” St. Luke uses simply “the hour” as referring to the appointed time, “in the evening” (literally, between the two evenings, i.e., the close of twilight; see Exodus 12:6), for the “killing,” the lamb being eaten afterwards as soon as it was roasted. It is characteristic of the comparatively late date of St. Luke’s narrative that he speaks of “the twelve Apostles,” while the other two reports speak of “the disciples.” (Comp. Luke 9:10; Luke 17:5; Luke 24:10.)
(15) With desire I have desired.—The peculiar mode of expressing intensity by the use of a cognate noun with the verb of action, though found sometimes in other languages, is an idiom characteristically Hebrew (comp. “thou shalt surely die” for “dying thou shalt die,” in Genesis 2:17), and its use here suggests the thought that St. Luke heard what he reports from some one who repeated the very words which our Lord had spoken in Aramaic. The whole passage is peculiar to him, and implies that he had sought to fill up the gaps in the current oral teaching which is reproduced in St. Matthew and St. Mark. It was natural that in so doing he might feel some uncertainty as to the precise position of these supplementary incidents, and hence the difficulties, of no great importance, which present themselves on a comparison of the three narratives. The words now before us bear obviously the impression of having been spoken at the beginning of the Feast. The Master yearned, if we may so speak, for a last Passover with His “friends,” as we yearn for a last Communion with ours; all the more so, we may believe, because it was in His purpose to perfect the former by transfiguring it into the latter. The words have been thought to confirm the view that our Lord was anticipating by twenty-four hours the strictly legal time of the Passover. It must be admitted, however, that they-do not in themselves suggest that thought. All that can be said is that they fall in with it, if proved on independent evidence.
(16) Until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.—The words are obviously the expression of the same thought as those in Matthew 26:29, where see Note. Here the word “fulfilled” presents a new depth of meaning. The “Passover” was fulfilled in the kingdom of God: (1) in the sacrifice on the cross; (2) in every commemoration of that sacrifice by the acts which He appointed. Every such act was one of Communion, not only of the disciples with each other, but with Him, and in it He is, as it were, joining in the feast with them. Hereafter, as in the promise of Revelation 3:20, “I will sup with him, and he with Me,” there will be a yet fuller consummation. (Comp. Luke 22:18.)
(17) Take this, and divide it among yourselves.—The cup was probably the first of the three cups of wine, or wine mingled with water, which Jewish custom had added to the ritual of the Passover. As being a distinct act from that of Luke 22:20, it is natural to infer that it had a distinct symbolic meaning. Looking to the fact that wine is partly the symbol, partly the antithesis, of spiritual energy in its highest form (comp. Zechariah 9:17; Acts 2:13; Ephesians 5:18), and to the re-appearance of the same somewhat exceptional word for “divide,” in the tongues “parted, or divided, or distributed” (“cloven” is a mistranslation), in Acts 2:3, we may see in this cup the symbol of the bestowal of the spiritual powers which each of the disciples was to receive, according to the gift of the self-same Spirit, who “divideth to every man severally as He will” (the Greek word in 1 Corinthians 12:11 is, however, different, though expressing the same thought), just as the second was the pledge of a yet closer fellowship with His own divine life.
(18) I will not drink of the fruit of the vine.—Better, of the product. (See Notes on Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25.) Here the words precede, in the other Gospels they follow, the institution of the Lord’s Supper. It is not probable that the same words were repeated both before and after. The position which it occupies here, as standing parallel to what had before been said of the Passover, seems on the whole in favour of St. Luke’s arrangement. On the other hand, it is noticeable, whatever explanation may be given of it, that St. Matthew and St. Mark omit (in the best MSS.) the word “new” as connected with the “covenant,” and emphasise it as connected with “the fruit of the vine,” while he omits in the latter case, and emphasises it in the former. It is, perhaps, allowable to think of him as taught by St. Paul, and possibly by Apollos, to embrace more fully than they did, in all its importance, the idea of the New Covenant as set forth in Galatians 3, 4, and Hebrews 7-10.
This do in remembrance of me.—Luke 22:19.
1. There are many ways in which we may think of the Holy Communion. For it is many-sided and rich in meaning. There are at least five aspects in which it may be profitably regarded.
(1) It is a command.—It is something that we are bidden to do. “This do.” We obey our Lord’s explicit command in meeting and celebrating the Holy Communion, by partaking of bread and wine together in memory of Him. There can be no sort of doubt that He did command His disciples to do this; and they have obeyed His command from the very beginning down to the present day. Whatever are its benefits, whatever other purpose it serves, it is an act of obedience, and as such it makes appeal to us.
(2) It is a commemoration.—We do this “in remembrance” of Christ. This is the aspect of the Holy Communion most strongly and prominently brought out in the Prayer-Book. It is the Lord’s Supper; this is its first title. We remind ourselves in the consecration prayer that our Lord “instituted, and in His holy gospel commanded us to continue a perpetual memory of His precious death.” When the bread is given to each one, he is bidden to take and eat in remembrance that Christ died for him. When the wine is given he is bidden to drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for him. And as a commemoration it keeps ever before us the life and death of our Lord, it reminds us of His teaching, of His words, of His example, of His work for us.
(3) It is a thanksgiving.—This is expressed in the name Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. Our Lord in instituting this Sacrament began by giving thanks. “He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it.” So from the very beginning we read that they brake bread, and “did take their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God.” By the very earliest writers outside the New Testament, if not in the New Testament itself, this service is called “the Thanksgiving,” the Eucharist.
(4) It is a fellowship.—This is implied in the very name Holy Communion. It ought to be to us a constant reminder that our Christian life is an association, not an isolated life; that some day the whole world shall be bound together with one heart and one mind, and jealousies, rivalries and competitions shall utterly cease. Every Christian congregation, and most of all its communicants, pledge themselves to strive to realize this temper, crushing out all the little quarrels and huffs and coldnesses and alienations that so often mar the peace of a congregation, merging minor differences of opinion in the grand unity of love and worship of Christ.
(5) There is also another fellowship.—“We have,” says St. John, “a fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” This fellowship or communion with God through Jesus Christ is by no means limited to the Holy Communion. Over and over again it is spoken of independently of that rite. The communion with God through Christ Jesus is having the same mind in us which was also in Christ Jesus. He is the Vine, and we are the branches; He is the Head, and we are the members. When we are called to be Christians, we are called into the fellowship of Christ; we are incorporated into Him. This union with God through Christ is a spiritual state, the slowly won result of prayer and self-denial, and of the love and following of Christ. But it is equally plainly taught that this fellowship with God is specially realized in the Holy Communion.
I do believe that you have partly misunderstood the meaning of the Holy Communion. Certainly it should be, it must come to be, the most intimate act of love between man and God; but it has also, surely, two other aspects at least for which one should cling to it through years even of uncertainty. First, it is offered to us as the vehicle of a spiritual Presence coming to work in us and for us, bound by no laws save those of Spirit, and so able to act as mysteriously as love (which indeed it is). It is not merely laid upon us as a duty, but let down to us as a hope; in it God meets us while we are yet a great way off, and teaches and changes us in ways we do not stop to notice and could not, perhaps, understand. And, secondly, it is the great means whereby we all realize our unity and fellowship one with another, in which we try to put aside for a little while our own special needs and difficulties and peculiarities, and throw ourselves into the wide stream of life with which the world is moving towards God. For these two uses I would cling, I believe, to the Eucharist, by God’s grace, through the loss of almost all else, even though mists and doubts were thick about me.1 [Note: Bishop Paget, in Life by S. Paget and J. M. Crum, 66.]
2. It is the second of these five ways of regarding the Supper that we are to consider at present. The Holy Communion is a commemoration. It is done “in remembrance.”
The desire to be remembered after death is almost universal in human nature. There may be some who can say—
Thus let me live unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
Or like Howard, who said, “place a sun dial on my grave, and let me be forgotten.” But nearly all men have the wish to live, after they are gone, in the thoughts and memories of others. They would fain have some kindly remembrances of themselves in some human bosoms, would fain know that those they leave behind think of them and remember them with some regret and esteem. There are few who
To dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e’er resigned,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing, lingering look behind.
On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires,
Ev’n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries.2 [Note: R. Stephen, Divine and Human Influence, ii. 65.]
In being conscious of the greatness of His act He differed, says Carlyle, from all other men in the world. “How true also, once more, it is that no man or Nation of men, conscious of doing a great thing, was ever, in that thing, doing other than a small one! O Champ-de-Mars Federation, with three hundred drummers, twelve hundred wind-musicians, and artillery planted on height after height to boom the tidings of the revolution all over France, in few minutes! Could no Atheist-Naigeon contrive to discern, eighteen centuries off, those Thirteen most poor mean-dressed men, at frugal Supper, in a mean Jewish dwelling, with no symbol but hearts god-initiated into the ‘Divine depth of Sorrow,’ and a ‘Do this in remembrance of me’;—and so cease that small difficult crowing of his, if he were not doomed to it?”1 [Note: Carlyle, French Revolution, ii. bk. i. ch. ix.]
Let us remember Him (1) for what He has been, (2) for what He has done, and (3) for what He is.
For what He has Been
1. First of all, and in its simplest aspect, His memory is the memory of One who lived, among men, a human life like their own, and yet a life such as none else had ever lived before, or has ever lived since. Of that life the Sacrament is a memorial. It is a memorial of One who, at a time when the world was full of darkness and unrest, came into it saying that He came from God, and had a message from God for all whose hearts were weary, whose minds were dark, whose souls were full of doubts and fears; One who seemed to prove, by the very nature of His life, that what He said of Himself was true, for it was a life which shed a brightness and gladness around it, as from a light shining in a dark place. The little children came gladly to His side. The humble household brightened as He came, and bestirred itself to give Him heartiest welcome. Sickness and disease disappeared at His gracious presence; the blind eyes were opened to behold Him; the deaf ears were unstopped, so that their first sound of human speech should be His kindly words. Even the dead arose at His command, and re-entered the homes that they had left lonely, and went out and in among those whom their loss had made desolate and afflicted. His life was one that gladdened other lives, and bore about with it one living message of peace on earth and goodwill towards men.
When you recall the memory of the dead, it is their life you chiefly recall—all they were, how they looked and worked, what they said, and what they did, and what they were, all the incidents connected with them during the years you were together, the happy times you had in each other’s company, the sweet intercourse you enjoyed, the bright scenes and seasons of communion and pleasure, or the sad sorrowful times of suffering in your histories, all your hours of joy, or your hours of sadness and sorrow, all they did for you, all their ministries of thoughtfulness and kindness for your comfort and happiness, all that made them helpful to you, all that made them dear to you, all their gentleness and sweetness and tenderness, all their love, all their affection, all about them that made them lovable and beloved, and endeared and bound them to your heart.
Thus marvellous has been the power and influence of the memory of His life over men and the world. Down through eighteen hundred years, it has been the loftiest inspiration, and the greatest hope and comfort for human souls. The world has been made wiser and better and richer and nobler by it, for it has enlightened it, and reformed its laws and its institutions and its manners. Men and women have been made holier and purer by it, for it has exerted a transforming power over their whole-natures. The inner life it has cleansed, and the outward it has adorned. It has entered into and purified men’s hearts and feelings and desires and thoughts and tempers and dispositions. It has put down pride and vanity, and envy and jealousy, expelled impurity, and made untruth ashamed. It has cast out evil, and enthroned beauty and goodness in the soul, and made harsh and rugged and unseemly natures sweet and lovely with gentleness and meekness and patience and kindness and charity. It has sweetened enjoyments and brightened and given a new zest to pleasures. It has sanctified and glorified common work and duties. It has given patience and fortitude to endure persecutions and sufferings and martyrdom and death in all its awful forms. It has cheered men amidst struggles, and upheld them in difficulties and depressions. It has soothed in pain and sickness and weakness, and in agony of body and mind. It has sustained and calmed human nature in the bitterest and most heartrending sorrows. It has consoled amid disappointments and failures and baffled hopes, and given relief amid racking cares and anxieties. It has brightened the terrible separations of death with the hope and promise of immortality. In all the worst anguish of life it has been the power, and the only one, to save from despair; and in the last struggles of death it has taken out death’s sting, given solace and calmness and hope and peace, and made the night of mortality radiant with the splendours of redeeming love.
2. It is not simply that Christ is about to die and desires to be remembered. He has a great Messianic purpose in saying “This do in remembrance of me.” The law of the Passover had run, “This day shall be unto you for a memorial”; and our Lord simply puts Himself or His death in the place of the Passover and bids His followers remember Him. The confidence with which He does so is nothing short of majestic, Divine. In the popular mind He is a failure. His enemies consider that they have defeated Him and extinguished His pretensions and His hopes. His best friends are nervous and trembling with forebodings. In His own mind alone is there a clear perception of the actual state of matters; in Him alone is there neither misgiving nor hesitation. Far from hiding from His followers the ignominious end that awaits Him, He speaks of it freely. He knows they will in a few hours be scattered. He tells them so; and yet, so far from apologizing for leading them into difficult and discreditable circumstances, so far from bidding them forgive and forget Him, He actually bids them set aside the event which was most memorable to them as Jews, and remember Him instead. His death is to be more to them than their emancipation from slavery in Egypt. By their connexion with Him they were to have so complete and all-sufficing a life that they, prouder of their nationality than any other people, might forget they were Jews. The Passover had done its work and served its purpose, and now it was to give place and make way for the celebration of the real deliverance of the race. Picture Him standing there on the eve of His death, knowing that His influence on the world in all time to come depended on His being remembered by these half-enlightened, incompetent, timorous men, and you see that nothing short of a Divine confidence could have enabled Him to put aside the very core and symbol of the Jewish religion and present Himself as the hope of the world.
When I muse upon the Blest
Who have left me for their rest,
When the solitary heart
Weeps within itself apart,
When all thoughts and longings fail
E’en to touch the dark thin veil
Hanging motionless to screen
That fair place we have not seen;
Then I bless the Friend who left,
For the traveller bereft,
First, the Promise to His own,
“Thou shalt be where I am gone;
Thou, when I return to reign,
Shalt be brought with me again”;
Then, the sacramental Seal
Of their present, endless weal;
Of Himself, the living Bond
’Twixt us here and them beyond;
And of all the joys that burn
Round the hope of His Return:
’Tis the Feast of Heaven and Home—
“Do ye this, until He come.”1 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, In the House of the Pilgrimage, 64.]
3. But the memory of Christ is the memory of more than His beautiful and gracious human life. It is the memory of One who through that life revealed God; of One, who said, “I do not stand before you alone, and speak to you by My own wisdom merely. One is with Me—one whom you know not—even God, God whom you must know, whom you must love, through knowledge and love of whom your souls must live; and whom, that you may know Him, I have come to reveal to you, and that you may love Him, I have come to reveal to you as your Father who loves you, who forgives all your trespasses, who calls you into fellowship with Himself.” His memory is the memory of One who brought these glad tidings to men. They are glad tidings, in the knowledge of which we have been so trained, within the sound of which we have so habitually lived, that we cannot understand their fresh full life for those to whom they were a new revelation.
We live and move amid the glory and beauty of God’s fair world—in the clear air of heaven and the bright shining of the sun on high, and we never think of the priceless blessings of the blowing wind and the joyous sunshine, or of the loss that would be ours were we to be shut up from these in silence and darkness. But bring out the captive from the dungeon, where the air is thick and the light pale, and set him on the mountain’s brow, and he is unconscious almost of all else, save the glory and freedom of the wind and light. And so, could we whom use has hardened but transport ourselves for one hour from the society of men whose life, whether they will or not, is moulded by the principles of the revelation of Christ—from the atmosphere of a Christian land, from the knowledge of all Christian truth, from the offices of all Christian charity, from the neighbourhood of all Christian law, and custom, and culture—to a land where the name of Christ has never been heard, where the principles of His Church have never had even the feeblest recognition, where the Christian idea of God is utterly unknown, we should be able, in some sort, to realize the sense of light and liberty and confidence which must have filled the hearts of those who, waking from “the foul dream of heathen night,” or quitting the oppressive rites and ordinances of the Jewish Law, came into the presence of the Messenger of God, who said, “God is your Father. He is in Me, and I am in Him. You see Him revealed in Me. He loves you with an everlasting love. Believe this, and your soul shall live.”1 [Note: R. H. Story, Creed and Conduct, 114.]
4. How then are we to keep alive the remembrance of Christ? There is only one way that is entirely worthy, and that is to illustrate the noble spirit of the Sacrament in loving service. The best way to honour the memory of those we love is to live lives which they would approve. We are to interpret to the world the sacrifice of Christ by giving ourselves for others in some such way as He gave Himself for us. We best honour the memory of our dead soldiers by making the noblest use of the heritage which they purchased with their blood. Our praise would be hollow if we were false to our country and made merchandise of liberty and patriotism. We best honour the memory of Christ by exemplifying His spirit in our daily conduct.
Our Master was most human in the Upper Room, and with His last wish suggests irresistibly a mother’s farewell. She does not remind her children that she has done all things for them at sore cost, for this was her joy. Nor does she make demands of hard service now any more than in the past. But one thing the mother hungereth and thirsteth for, and desireth not with words only but with her eyes as she looketh round on those she can no longer serve, but will ever love. “Do not forget me”—how few and short the words, how full and strong are they written out at large. “Live as I would wish, believe as I have believed; meet me where I go.”1 [Note: John Watson, The Upper Room, 78.]
When I forget Thee, like a sun-parched land
Which neither rain nor dew from heaven hath wet,
So my soul withers, and I understand
Wherefore Thou gavest me this high command
Not to forget.
When I forget the death which is my life,
How weak I am! how full of fear and fret!
How my heart wavers in a constant strife
With mists and clouds that gather round me rife,
When I forget!
Ah, how can I forget? And yet my heart
By dull oblivious thought is hard beset,
Bred in the street, the meadow, or the mart:
Yet Thou my strength and life and glory art,
Though I forget.
I will remember all Thy Love divine;
Oh meet Thou with me where Thy saints are met,
Revive me with the holy bread and wine,
And may my love, O God, lay hold on Thine,
And ne’er forget.
And not to-day alone, but evermore
Oh let me feel the burden of the debt—
The load of sorrow that the Master bore,
The load of goodness that He keeps in store,
And not forget!2 [Note: Walter C. Smith, Poetical Works, 494.]
For what He has Done
The memory of Christ is the memory of One who closed His perfect life by the sacrifice of Himself; who sealed His testimony with His blood. It is indeed this, more than aught else, that the symbols which we use in this Sacrament bring home to us. It is to this that the words Christ uttered at His last supper chiefly point. “This,” said He, “is my body which is given for you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” A death for us, a body wounded, blood poured forth—this is what we are especially reminded of here. “Why was that body wounded? Why was that blood shed?” Does any one ask? He who asks will find plenty of excellent doctrines to give him abundant answer: but what appears always as the living centre of truth within all doctrine, and far above all, is the simple fact that that death was endured, that that sacrifice was offered; the simple fact that He who lived the perfect life and brought to us the saving message of a Father’s love knew that it was needful for our salvation that He should bow His head and die; knew that, without that death, sin in us could not be conquered, and death for us could not be overcome, and that therefore out of His true love to us He was content to die, that we through Him might live, that we, believing in His love and truth and seeing these to be stronger than even death itself, might thereby be rescued from the love and power of our sins, and might be reconciled to the Father, of whose love the Son’s self-sacrifice was the Divine expression.
It happened once that a family had a father who was a benefactor to the State and did such service that after his death a statue was erected in a public place to his memory, and on the pedestal his virtues were engraven that all might read his name and revere his memory. His children mingled with the people as they stood in that square and listened to their father’s praise with pride. But their eyes were dry. This figure with civic robes, cut in stone, was not the man they knew and loved. Within the home were other memorials more intimate, more dear, more living—a portrait, a packet of letters, a Bible. As the family looked on such sacred possessions, they remembered him who had laboured for them, had trained them from first years, had counselled, comforted, protected them. All he had done for the big world was as nothing to what he had done for his own. When they gathered round the hearth he built, on certain occasions they spoke of him with gentler voices, with softened eyes while the strangers pass on the street. This Father is Jesus, and we are His children whom He has loved unto death.1 [Note: John Watson, The Upper Room, 84.]
1. We commemorate His death.—He gives us as a remembrance of Him that which inevitably recalls Him as He died. It is His body broken, His blood poured out, that He sets before us. He does not give us a picture of Himself as He is now and as John saw Him in vision. He does not appeal to our imagination by setting before us symbols of unearthly majesty. He desires to be remembered as He was upon earth and in the hour of His deepest humiliation. And it is obvious why He does so. It is because in His death His nearness to us and His actual involvement in our life and in all our matters is most distinctly seen. It is because that is His most characteristic action; the action in which He uttered most of Himself, all that was deepest in Him and all that it most concerned men to know. And as we prize that portrait of a friend which brings out the best points in his character, even though it is old and he has changed much since it was taken, so do all the friends and followers of Christ think of Him as He was in His death. They believe He is alive now, and that now He is clothed with such manifest dignity and beauty as must attract boundless regard and admiration; but yet it is to the humble, self-sacrificing, bleeding Christ their thoughts persistently turn. It is there they find most to humble, most to encourage, most to win, most to purify, most to bind them to their Lord.
Those who have seen the Russian Pilgrims at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem have been impressed with the fervour with which they kiss the marble slab of anointing and other sacred objects connected with the Cross and Passion of our Saviour. So also in the shrines and churches at Moscow hundreds of peasants and ordinary business people can be seen at all hours of the day turning in to kneel for a few minutes and kiss some icon or picture of our Lord.1 [Note: F. S. Webster.]
2. We commemorate His death as the supreme act of His whole work of salvation.—The Supper is the symbol of Christ giving up His life for us not only as the highest expression of self-sacrificing love, but in a far deeper sense as the ground upon which our sins can be forgiven and the Divine life imparted to the soul. Christ’s suffering for us differs from our suffering for one another by the whole diameter of human experience. No amount or degree of mere human suffering can atone for sin. Christ’s suffering was unique in that it was redemptive. Like ours it was an example, but unlike ours it was a dynamic. Christ did not die for the world to show His love for it in the dramatic and useless way that Portia stabbed herself to show her love for Brutus; Christ died to save the world as none other ever did or could. We cannot fathom the depth of the mystery of Christ’s death for sin, but this we know, that by it our sins are forgiven and we are brought into oneness with God.
What was Christ’s death? It was a willing surrender of Himself into the hands of the Father, knowing at the same time that it was the Father’s pleasure to bruise Him. It was a willing pouring out of all the hopes of the flesh founded on the idea of the continuance of present things; it was an acknowledgment of the righteousness of the judgment of sorrow and death, which, on account of transgression, God had laid on the flesh of which He had become a partaker. And at the same time, while it was a surrender of Himself in filial confidence into His Father’s hands, it was also in full assurance that He was to be gloriously rewarded, by being raised triumphantly from the dead as the New Head and Fountain of life to the Race, by taking hold of whom every child of Adam might be saved.1 [Note: Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, i. 250.]
Only to be as the dust that His wounded feet trod,
Only to know and to hear
His love, like the deep-throbbing pulse in the bosom of God,
Slaying my sorrow and fear!
Lord, I remember the sins and the shadows, and yet
I remember the light of Thy face.
Let me but die at Thy feet, and the black trembling horror forget,
And only remember Thy grace—
Forgetting the darkness that walked with me all the way,
The shadow that froze me to see,
Only remembering the joy of the breaking of day
When my soul found Thee.2 [Note: L. Maclean Watt, The Communion Table, 16.]
3. We remember Him for what He has done in bringing us home to God.—In the Sacrament there is a meeting between God and the soul, and the soul is taught to find its satisfaction in God. It is taught to look out of itself, beyond itself, for all that can change, and bless, and exalt, and ennoble it, and give it happiness. It is not taught to depend upon its own feelings, its earnestness of faith, its power of hope, its strength of love, or even its utter abnegation of self. It is not left to imagine that it can raise itself from its fallen state, and effect its own union with God. No, it is presented as in a state of hunger in this mysterious feast, craving for God, longing for the powers that are in God to be exercised upon it, and depending upon God’s own act to unite Himself to the soul. And the soul knows that this union is possible, that it can be made one with God through God the Son having been made man, and having died, and risen, through the working of His life in itself. The faith of the communicant may be expressed in one single sentence, “Christ in me, the hope of glory.”
Jesus, in Browning’s beautiful phrase, “calls the glory from the grey”; from the heart of death itself He plucks the promise of life abounding. They shall come to see that His Body has been given “for them,” that His Blood has been the seal of a new friendship formed between them and their Father in heaven. In that holy feast they shall eat the one, and drink the other. Faith in Him will never die, while they do that.1 [Note: H. L. Goudge, The Holy Eucharist, 14.]
“He that dwelleth in me and I in him, eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood,” that is, becomes Christ Himself, is a faithful repetition of His life and spirit in another and individual personality, is so transformed into His spiritual image that he can say with St. Paul, “It is not I that live, but Christ that liveth in me.” This is no mysterious, magical statement, but one in deep accordance with the experience of the human heart. No one who has loved another, or lost one he loved, who has felt the profound intertransference that passion makes, but will understand and value it. It gives a real force, a natural meaning to St. Paul’s words, “the communion of the body of Christ.” The observance of the Lord’s Supper does not make that communion. It is the form among many others in which the idea of that communion is most visibly enshrined. But in enshrining that idea it enshrines another and a higher one—communion with God.2 [Note: Stopford A. Brooke, Sunshine and Shadow, 214.]
For what He Is
1. The mode of remembrance appointed by our Lord reminds us that it is to the same kind of personal connexion with Him as the first disciples enjoyed that we are invited. We have the same symbol of our connexion with Him as they had. We are no more remote from His love, no more out of reach of His influence. All that He was to them He can be to us, and means to be to us. Our outward circumstances are very different from theirs, but the inward significance of Christ’s work and His power to save remain as they were.
As, when our Blessed Lord made Mary Magdalene feel and know that He was really present with her, she poured out her whole heart in the burning fervour of that acknowledgment, “Rabboni.”—my Master, my Lord, my All—so by our every act and word we try to express to the Blessed Jesus what He is to us. Our whole soul fastens on Him. Our spirit has no eye for any one, or anything else. Our gaze is fixed on Him. He is with us, and we are with Him. We know what He is in Himself, how pure, how fair, how holy, how perfect. We know what He has been to us, how loving, how tender, how compassionate, how full of healing, and pardon, and peace. And so every hymn is full of His praises; and every gesture is an act of loving reverence to Him; and every sacred rite speaks of Him. We are in His court, and under His eye, and there is an interchange of love between Him and us. On our side there is the love of reverence. On His side there is the love of a gentle, fostering, soothing protection.
Above all, it was necessary for a right understanding, not only of Dr. Arnold’s religious opinions, but of his whole character to enter into the peculiar feeling of love and adoration which he entertained towards our Lord Jesus Christ—peculiar in the distinctness and intensity which, as it characterized almost all his common impressions, so in this case gave additional strength and meaning to those feelings with which he regarded not only His work of Redemption but Himself, as a living Friend and Master. “In that unknown world in which our thoughts become instantly lost,” it was (as he says in his third volume of sermons) his real support and delight to remember that “still there is one object on which our thoughts and imaginations may fasten, no less than our affections; that amidst the light, dark from excess of brilliance, which surrounds the throne of God, we may yet discern the gracious form of the Son of Man.”1 [Note: A. P. Stanley, Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, i. 32.]
2. Again, He bids us “Do this,” to remind us that we must daily renew our connexion with Him. He desires to be remembered under the symbol of food, of that which we must continually take by our own appetite, choice, and acceptance. We do not gather at the Lord’s Table to look at a crown, the symbol of a king who governs by delegates and laws and a crowd of officials, and with whom we have no direct connexion. We do not assemble to view the portrait of a father, who gave us life, but of whom we are now independent. We do not come to garland a tomb which contains the mortal part of one who was dear to us and who once saved our life. But we come to renew our connexion with One who seeks to enter into the closest relations with us, to win our love, to purify our nature, to influence our will. It is by maintaining this connexion with Him that we maintain spiritual life; by taking Him as truly into our spirit by our affections, by our choice, and by our faith as we take bread into our body.
Soon, all too soon, from this blest Sacrament
Back to the glare of day our feet are bent;
Soon wakes the week-day sun, and brings along
The cares and clamours of our human throng;
The world’s loud laughter, threats, or whisper’d spells,
Life’s battles, burthens, weeping, songs, and knells.
But we who from that Paschal Chamber come
Still in its shadows find our quiet home,
Safe in its precincts, near our Master’s heart,
’Midst all the stress of travel, school, and mart.
And still that Cross goes with us on our way;
We feast on that great Sacrifice all day.
The sealing Symbol comes but then and there;
The Truth is ever ours, and everywhere;
Faith needs but stretch her hand and lift her eyes,
And ready still for use her Banquet always lies.2 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, In the House of the Pilgrimage, 68.]
3. And the Holy Supper had its heavenly counterpart. The Jews were wont to picture the felicity of the Kingdom of Heaven under the image of a glad feast. “This world,” said the Rabbi Jacob, “is like a vestibule before the world to come: prepare thyself in the vestibule that thou mayest be admitted into the festal chamber.” And it is written: “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.” “Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are they which are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And the feast of the Passover was a foreshadowing of that heavenly banquet. It commemorated the exodus from the land of bondage, but it was more than a commemoration. It was a prophecy, and when the worshippers sat at the holy table, they thought not merely of the ancient deliverance but of the final home-gathering.
It is an ancient and abiding thought that the visible world is the shadow of the invisible, and everything which it contains has its eternal counterpart. This thought runs all through the Holy Scriptures. It finds its highest expression in the teaching of our Blessed Lord. In His eyes earth was a symbol of Heaven. He pointed to human fatherhood and said: See there an image of the Fatherhood of God. “If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” And each familiar thing—the lamp, the net, the seed, the flowers, the birds, the wandering sheep—served Him as a parable.
For, nowise else,
Taught He the people; since a light is set
Safest in lanterns; and the things of earth
Are copies of the things in Heaven, more close,
More clear, more intricately linked,
More subtly than men guess. Mysterious,—
Finger on lip,—whispering to wistful ears,—
Nature doth shadow Spirit.1 [Note: D. Smith, The Feast of the Covenant, 177.]
From Mentone, where he spent the first winter of his illness, Dr. Robertson wrote to his congregation at home:—
“By the time this may be read to you, your Spring Communion will be over. Again, from the hands of the officiating elders, or rather, as I trust, from Christ’s own pierced hand, you will have received the symbols of His sacrifice, and said, as you received Himself afresh into your hearts, ‘This we do in remembrance of Thee.’ Again, the Great High Priest, King of Righteousness, and therefore also King of Peace, has brought down the bread and wine from the altar of His atonement to feed you, returning, weary from the battle, but I trust victorious over the evil; and in the strength of that meat may you go onward, conquering the evil, and battling for the right, and good and true, so as at last to have an entrance administered to you abundantly into the Kingdom, as part of the victorious ‘Sacramental host of God’s Elect.’”1 [Note: A. Guthrie, Robertson of Irvine, 287.]
Armstrong (R. A.), Memoir with Sermons, 259.
Baring-Gould (S.), Our Parish Church, 153.
Coote (C.), At His Table, 7.
Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women and Children, ii. 52.
Dawson (G.), Sermons on Disputed Points, 117.
Dods (M.), Christ and Man, 107.
Goudge (H. L.), The Holy Eucharist, 11.
Greenhough (J. G.), in Eden and Gethsemane, 115.
Grimley (H. N.), The Temple of Humanity, 213.
Hankey (W. B.), The Church and the Saints, 78.
Hannan (F. W.), in Drew Sermons for 1910, 265.
Hepworth (G. H.), in Sermons for Boys and Girls, ii. 347.
Horton (R. F.), The Commandments of Jesus, 297.
Hutton (R. E.), The Crown of Christ, ii. 343.
Ingram (A. F. W.), The Call of the Father, 230.
Ives (E. J.), The Pledges of His Love, 47.
Jeffrey (R. T.), Visits to Calvary, 1.
Jerdan (C.), For the Lord’s Table, 95. 135.
Macaskill (M.), A Highland Pulpit, 1.
McKim (R. H.), The Gospel in the Christian Year, 309.
Maclaren (A.), Sermons Preached in Manchester, i. 13.
Maclaren (A.), A Year’s Ministry, i. 99.
Macleod (D.), The Child Jesus, 83.
Mortimer (A. G.), Meditations on the Passion, i. 50.
Moule (H. C. G.), The Pledges of His Love, i. 79.
Randall (R. W.), Life in the Catholic Church, 186.
Smith (D.), The Feast of the Covenant, 173.
Smith (G. A.), The Forgiveness of Sins, 254.
Stephen (R.), Divine and Human Influence, ii. 65.
Story (R. H.), Creed and Conduct, 108.
Walpole (G. H. S.), Vital Religion, 101.
Watson (J.), The Upper Room, 77.
Watt (L. M.), The Communion Table, 13, 51.
Webster (F. S.), In Remembrance of Me, 1.
Wilson (J. M.), Truths New and Old, 94.
Woodward (H.), Sermons, 281, 293.
(19, 20) He took bread, and gave thanks.—See Notes on Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25. The other two reports give “He blessed,” instead of “He gave thanks.” There is, of course, no real difference between them. Thanksgiving and blessing both entered into what we may call the Jewish “Grace,” and were so far convertible terms. It is noticeable that St. Paul’s account, in 1 Corinthians 11:23, agrees on this point with St. Luke’s.
Which is given for you.—Literally, which is now in the act of being given. The sacrifice was already inchoate in will. St. Paul’s report omits the participle.
This do in remembrance of me.—Literally, as My memorial, or, as your memorial of Me. The words are common to St. Luke and St. Paul, but are not found in the other two reports. The word for “remembrance” occurs, in the New Testament, only here and in Hebrews 10:3. In the Greek version of the Old Testament it is applied to the shew-bread (Leviticus 24:7), to the blowing of trumpets (Numbers 10:10), in the titles of Psalms 38:1 (“to bring to remembrance,”) and Psalms 70:1. The word had thus acquired the associations connected with a religious memorial, and might be applied to a sacrifice as commemorative, though it did not in itself involve the idea of sacrificing. The fact that our Lord and His disciples had been eating of a sacrifice which was also a memorial, gives a special force to the words thus used. In time to come, they were to remember Him as having given Himself, sacrificed Himself, for them, and this was to be the memorial in which memory was to express itself, and by which it was to be quickened. It may be noted that the early Liturgies, as a rule, follow St. Luke’s report, attaching the word “memorial” sometimes to the bread, sometimes to the cup, sometimes to both.
(20) This cup is the new testament in my blood.—Better, New Covenant. The adjective is, in the best MSS., peculiar to St. Luke, as also is the “shed for you” instead of “shed for many.” The participle is in the present tense, which is being shed, like the being given, in Luke 22:19. St. Paul and St. Luke agree in placing the giving of the cup “after they had supped.” (See Note on Matthew 26:28.)
(21-23) But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me . . .—See Notes on Matthew 26:21; Matthew 26:25; Mark 14:18; Mark 14:21; John 13:21; John 13:35. St. Luke’s account is here the briefest, St. John’s by far the fullest. There is again a slight discrepancy in the order of facts, St. Luke placing the mention of the Betrayal after, St. Matthew and St. Mark before, the institution of the memorial. St. John, who makes no mention of the institution, leaves the question open. On the whole, the order of the first two Gospels seems here the most probable. and agrees better with the fourth. The date before us do not enable us to say with certainty whether Judas partook of the memorial; but, if we follow the first two Gospels, it would seem probable that he did not.
(22) As it was determined.—The word is eminently characteristic of St. Luke. (Comp. Acts 2:23; Acts 10:42; Acts 17:26; Acts 17:31.)
Woe unto that man . . .—As occurring in all the first three Gospels, the words must be noted as among those that had made an indelible impression on those who heard them, and were therefore reproduced verbatim in the midst of many variations on other points of the narrative.
(24) And there was also a strife among them.—The incident that follows is peculiar to St. Luke. The noun which he uses for “strife” does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, but the corresponding adjective meets us in the “contentious” of 1 Corinthians 11:16. The dispute was apparently the sequel of many previous debates of the same kind, as, e.g., in Luke 9:46; Matthew 18:1; Mark 9:34; and the prayer of the two sons of Zebedee (Matthew 20:23; Mark 10:37). What had just passed probably led to its revival. Who was greatest? Was it Peter, to whom had been promised the keys of the kingdom, or John, who reclined on the Master’s bosom, or Andrew, who had been first-called? Even the disciples who were in the second group of the Twelve, might have cherished the hope that those who had been thus rebuked for their ambition or their want of faith had left a place vacant to which they might now hopefully aspire.
(25) The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them.—See Notes on Matthew 20:25; Mark 10:42. The repetition of the same words that had then been spoken in answer to the petition of the sons of Zebedee, suggests the probability that they were again prominent in the strife for pre-eminence.
Are called benefactors.—This takes the place of “their great ones exercise authority upon them,” in St. Matthew and St. Mark. Antiochus VII. of Syria, and Ptolemy III. of Egypt, were examples of kings who had borne the title of Euergetes, or benefactor. There is apparently an emphasis on “are called” as contrasted with “let him become,” in the next verse. The world gave the title of “benefactor” to those who were great in power only. In Christ’s kingdom true greatness was to be attained by benefiting others in the humblest services.
(26) He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger.—The latter word naturally carried with it, as in the old monastic rule, juniores ad labores, the idea of service. In Acts 5:6, “the young men” appear as a distinct body in the society of disciples, with functions like those of the later deacons or sextons; and the same sense is, perhaps, traceable in 1 Timothy 5:1; Titus 2:6; 1 Peter 5:5.
He that is chief.—Here again the Greek word came to have a half-technical sense as equivalent, or nearly so, to bishop or presbyter. So in Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 13:24, where it is rendered “they that have the rule over you.”
He that doth serve.—The verb is the same as that from which the word “deacon” is derived, and, with Matthew 23:11, Mark 10:43, probably suggested the ecclesiastical use of the word. It is noticeable that the first recorded example of that use is in the salutation to “the bishops and deacons” of Philippi (Philippians 1:1), the Church which more than any other was under St. Luke’s influence. The “seven” of Acts 6:3; Acts 6:5, of whom we commonly speak as the first deacons, are never so named in the New Testament.
(27) I am among you as he that serveth.—An obviously undesigned coincidence presents itself on a comparison of the words with the narrative of John 13:1-16, where see Notes. The Lord had actually on that very evening been among them, “as he that serveth,” girded, like a slave, with the linen towel, and washing the feet of the disciples. He had seen, at the beginning of the feast, the latent germs of rivalry, the later development of which not even that example had been able to check.
(28) Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations.—We trace a kind of loving tenderness in this recognition of faithfulness following upon the words of rebuke. The “temptations” cannot, it is clear, be those of which we commonly speak as the Temptation of the Christ, for that had been encountered in absolute solitude. The word must, accordingly be taken in its wider sense of “trials,” as in 1 Corinthians 10:13; James 1:2; James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:6, and probably referred to the crises in our Lord’s ministry (such, e.g., as those in Matthew 12:14; Matthew 12:46; John 6:60; John 6:68; John 12:43) when the enmity of scribes and rulers was most bitter, and many disciples had proved faithless and faint-hearted.
(29) And I appoint unto you a kingdom.—As being the verb from which is formed the noun for “covenant,” or “testament,” the Greek for “appoint,” has a force which we lose in the English. This was part of the New Covenant with them. They were to be sharers in His glory, as they had been in His afflictions. The latter clause, “as the Father hath appointed unto Me,” conveys the thought that His throne also was bestowed on the fulfilment of like conditions. The “sufferings” came first, and then the glory (1 Peter 1:11). He was to endure the cross before He entered into joy (Hebrews 12:2). The Name that is above every name was the crowning reward of obedient humility (Philippians 2:8-9).
(30) That ye may eat and drink at my table.—The promise is the same as that implied in what had been already said in Luke 22:16.
And sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.—See Note on Matthew 19:28. The repetition of the promise at the moment when apparent failure was close at hand, is significant as carrying the words into a higher region of symbolic meaning. Not on any thrones of earth were those disciples to sit, any more than the Master was to sit on the throne of His father David in an earthly Jerusalem.
(31) And the Lord said, Simon, Simon.—The first three Gospels agree in placing the warning to Peter after the institution of the Lord’s Supper. The two-fold utterance of the name, as in the case of Martha (Luke 10:41), is significant of the emphasis of sadness.
Satan hath desired to have you.—Both this verb, and the “I have prayed,” are in the Greek tense which indicates an act thought of as belonging entirely to the past. The Lord speaks as though He had taken part in some scene like that in the opening of Job (Job 1:6-12; Job 2:1-6), or that which had come in vision before the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 3:1-5), and had prevailed by His intercession against the Tempter and Accuser.
That he may sift you as wheat.—The word and the figure are peculiar to St. Luke’s record. The main idea is, however, the same as that of the winnowing fan in Matthew 3:12; the word for “sift” implying a like process working on a smaller scale. The word for “you” is plural. The fiery trial by which the wheat was to be separated from the chaff was to embrace the whole company of the disciples as a body. There is a latent encouragement in the very word chosen. They were “to be sifted as wheat.” The good grain was there. They were not altogether as the chaff.
Sifted as Wheat
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: but I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not: and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, stablish thy brethren.—Luke 22:31-32.
1. Our Lord has just been speaking words of large and cordial praise of the steadfastness with which His friends had continued with Him in His temptations, and it is the very contrast between that continuance and the prevision of the cowardly desertion of the Apostle that occasioned the abrupt transition to this solemn appeal to him, which indicates how the forecast pained Christ’s heart. He does not let the foresight of Peter’s desertion chill His praise of Peter’s past faithfulness as one of the Twelve. He does not let the remembrance of Peter’s faithfulness modify His rebuke for Peter’s intended and future desertion. He speaks to him, with significant and emphatic reiteration of the old name of Simon that suggests weakness, unsanctified and unhelped: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat.”
2. The imagery of the passage is borrowed from the Old Testament. There was a day, says the author of the Book of Job, when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. Like them, he has his petition. He has cast a malignant eye, in his going to and fro in the earth, upon the prosperity and the integrity of one righteous man. He is well assured that the two things are one. The integrity is bound up in the prosperity. God has made a hedge about him, so that no evil comes nigh his dwelling. Let his prosperity be touched, and the integrity will go with it. He desires to have him. And God says, Behold, he is in thine hand. Such is the figure. He is to be tried. He is to be tempted. Satan begs him of God, that he may sift him as wheat.
Now, about a week or fortnight after this, I was much followed by this Scripture, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you.” And sometimes it would sound so loud within me, yea, and as it were call so strongly after me, that once above all the rest, I turned my head over my shoulder, thinking verily that some man had, behind me, called me: being at a great distance, methought he called so loud. It came, as I have thought since, to have stirred me up to prayer and to watchfulness; it came to acquaint me that a cloud and storm was coming down upon me; but I understood it not.1 [Note: Bunyan, Grace Abounding.]
The Lord’s words, addressed specially to Simon, give to the whole circle of the disciples an indication of—
“Behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat.”
1. All the disciples were in danger. The Saviour here forewarns the whole band of Apostles that Satan had asked to have them, that he might sift them as wheat. Hitherto he had only been permitted to sift them with a gentle agitation. Now he sought permission to shake them violently, as wheat is shaken in the sieve; to toss them to and fro with sharp and sudden temptations; to distract their minds with dismal forebodings and apprehensions, in the hope that they would be induced to let go their fast hold of Faith, and take refuge in utter and irretrievable defection. Our Lord states this plainly, because it was important for them to know the full extent of their danger, in order that they might be on their guard. He does not tell them so plainly how far Satan’s assault upon them would be attended with success. His disclosure stops short just where it would appear to be most interesting to His hearers. And this is generally the case with the Divine communications. Vain man would always like to be told more than it is good for him to know. But God draws the line, not with reference to our curiosity, but with reference to His own gracious purposes for our well-being. The Saviour warns His disciples of their danger, to induce them to watch and pray. If He had told them more—if He had revealed to them all that was to happen within the next twenty-four hours—they would have considered their fate as sealed, and would have given way to utter despair. But, while withholding this information, He told them something else which, instead of harming, was calculated to encourage and help them. Having excited their fears, by telling them what their adversary purposed against them, He threw into the opposite scale the cheering intelligence of what He would do and had already done for them. He told them, that He had chosen one of them, whom He would take under His special protection—not for the sake of that individual alone, but in order that his preservation might be the means of saving them all.
Satan desires us, great and small,
As wheat to sift us, and we all
Not one, however rich or great,
Is by his station or estate
No house so safely guarded is
But he, by some device of his,
No heart hath armour so complete
But he can pierce with arrows fleet
For all at last the cock will crow,
Who hear the warning voice, but go
Till thrice and more they have denied
The Man of Sorrows, crucified
One look of that pale suffering face
Will make us feel the deep disgrace
We shall be sifted till the strength
Of self-conceit be changed at length
Wounds of the soul, though healed, will ache;
The reddening scars remain, and make
Lost innocence returns no more;
We are not what we were before
But noble souls, through dust and heat,
Rise from disaster and defeat
And conscious still of the divine
Within them, lie on earth supine
No longer.1 [Note: H. W. Longfellow, The Sifting of Peter.]
(1) The devil has not only sought them; he has obtained them, that he may sift them as wheat. The words are even stronger than the Authorized Version renders them; it is not only “Satan hath desired,” but “Satan hath obtained his desire.” We might even translate them, “Satan hath got hold of you.” And the pronoun is plural; it was not only Peter, but all the twelve, that Satan had desired, and had for a space obtained. The one who was always the ready spokesman for the rest, and who, through his impetuous rashness, was to thrust himself into the fire of temptation, was to give the most flagrant proof of Satan’s possession, in that he would deny with cursings his Master and his discipleship; but all were to be overtaken and to be found wanting, in that they would forsake their Lord in His dire extremity, and would leave Him in the hands of His foes. Satan had desired and had gained them all.
Twice in the New Testament this figure of sifting or winnowing is brought before us, and, strange to say, the sifter or winnower in the one case is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and in the second case the wicked tempter. St. John the Baptist, when speaking of the coming Messiah, says, “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor,” etc. And here we have that very Messiah speaking of the devil sifting even His Apostles. By “sifting” is meant testing, shaking those to whom the process is applied in such a way that part will fall through and part will remain.
The sifting of wheat is a most hard and thorough, but a most necessary, process. The wheat, as it has grown, has become associated with the protecting chaff, which it is necessary should be blown away, and with the foreign substances taken from the earth and from the air, which must be separated. Before the wheat is ready for use it must be sifted or winnowed; no pains must be spared to make the process as thorough as possible. Only an enemy to the wheat, or a disbeliever in its true powers, would desire to spare it such an ordeal. As it falls, after such a process, solid and clean, into the receptacle which has been prepared for it, its value is greatly enhanced. There is now no doubt about its true nature and the work to which it should be put. It carries out all the points of the analogy to notice that Peter is not promised that he shall be saved from the sifting process; no hand is put forth to hold him securely sheltered; no cloud wraps him away from danger. Peter is too valuable to be thus treated. If he is wheat, he must be sifted.
When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its corner-stone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward—in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing—the historic Christian Church—was founded upon a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.1 [Note: G. K. Chesterton, Heretics.]
(2) The devil will do his best to scatter the wheat, and keep the chaff. Throughout the ages the Spirit of Evil reveals a cynical distrust of goodness. Between the time of ancient Job and the self-confident Peter, the Spirit of Evil had not changed in character or method. Now he has asked to have Simon that he may sift him, sure that his character is unsound, and that all his professions are chaff. His failure with a hundred Jobs meantime has not given him any confidence in goodness. Evil never can believe in good. Still is this Satan hurrying to and fro throughout the earth, peering into every keyhole of character to find baseness there, sneaking into every corner of the soul to catch it in its depravity. Years after this sifting of Simon, in which the Spirit of Evil repeated the work upon Job, to whom he came as he said, “from hurrying to and fro in the earth,” the sifted Peter speaks of Satan, in his first letter (v. 8) as the “peripatetic, a wandering, roaring lion, intent on finding prey.” That is the history of evil, and in nothing has it a surer manifestation than in its scepticism concerning goodness.
Milton, in his most masterly manner, has delineated the sneering diabolism of distrust in that “archangel ruined.” Evil begins its infernal career in its utter lack of faith in goodness; and its Satanic spirit is most manifest when virtue appears to have a blackened heart, righteousness to have been insincere, and truth to be only a concealed falsehood. Here is the very profession of evil.
But of this be sure,
To do aught good never will be our task,
But ever to do ill our sole delight,
As being the contrary to His high will
Whom we resist. If then His providence
Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,
Our labour must be to pervert that end,
And out of good still to find means of evil;
Which oft times may succeed, so as perhaps
Shall grieve Him.1 [Note: Milton, Paradise Lost, i. 158.]
Watts painted his Miltonic Satan with the face averted from the light of the Creator with whom he talked. For title, these words were used: “And the Lord said unto Satan, whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” The Satan the painter conceived is a mighty power ruling over the evils which were unconnected with sin.2 [Note: M. S. Watts, George Frederic Watts, i. 97.]
2. The disciples had brought the peril upon themselves. They gave, as it were, an invitation to Satan to come into their company. They had evidently not paid any great regard to Christ’s teachings concerning love and humility. The evil spirit of envy and ambition which they had harboured among themselves was the scent which attracted Satan to that particular upper room. These men, by their angry strife or calculating worldliness, lit, as it were, a beacon which brought the Spirit of Evil to the battle. If these Apostles had had more of the spirit of true prayer, if their spirits had been more humble, if their hearts had been more guileless, and their characters attuned by discipline to the teachings of the Lord, the devil would never have been attracted to that upper room, his eye had never shone with triumph at their bickerings, nor had they stood in such danger of an awful overthrow.
There was in Peter in particular one great defect—a large amount of self-confidence, which made him quick at speaking and acting; and self-confidence in the New Testament is always treated in one way, as that which shuts out confidence in God. It is the enemy of faith. Faith is insight, and self-confidence is a blinding influence. Again and again there is pressed upon us the necessity of a lowly estimate of self; “Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted”; God who dwells “in the high and holy place,” dwells also with him who is of a humble spirit. If God was to dwell in Peter, if the Divine was really to take up His abode in him and rule him, if the impulsive and vehement strength of the man was to be made a steadfast and certain fire, and to be hallowed by the Divine indwelling, so that he might lead the Apostles during those critical times which were coming, then clearly his self-confidence must be purged out of him, he must be sifted as wheat, the grain must be separated from the chaff.
But the others were not less guilty than Peter. It is not the case that he, who should have been a pattern to the rest, proved the weakest of all, and the first to fly. When the chief priests came with a band of soldiers to take Jesus, Peter was the only one of the Apostles who made even a show of resistance. Peter and one other were the only two who followed Jesus into the palace of the High Priest. Peter’s failure, when it did happen, was owing to a train of circumstances from which his brethren, by their more hasty and precipitous failure, were exempt. Satan on his first sifting, shook out all the other Apostles; but it required a stronger temptation, a more violent agitation of the sieve, to unfix the faith of Peter. And as Peter was the last to fall, he was also the first to rise and put together again the fragments of his shattered faith. From that hour he was an altered man. He added to his zeal, steadfastness; he exchanged his confident boasting for humility and dependence upon God. In this blessed recovery, do we not plainly see the influence of Divine grace? Are we not reminded immediately of the Saviour’s words—“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not.”
My feelings being easily excited to good as well as bad, I am apt to mistake an excited state of the feelings for a holy state of the heart; and so sure am I of the deception that, when in an excited state regarding eternal things, I tremble, knowing it is the symptom of a fall, and that I must be more earnest in prayer. Self-confidence is my ruin.1 [Note: Norman Macleod, in Memoir, i. 129.]
3. Peter and the others were unconscious of peril. There they recline, rising now and then to emphasize their angry words. Their minds are occupied only with thoughts of place and power in some fancied coming kingdom. The strife grows keen, and all forgetful of their Master’s loving words, humility is banished from the room, and self-assertiveness speaks loud with its imperious voice. All unconscious of the tempter’s presence, these men dispute among themselves, and it was not till afterwards that Peter was informed by Christ that the devil’s eye had been intently set on him, and that, whilst he had been claiming to be greatest, Satan had almost claimed him for his own.
When it was once said to him, “I would fain know what the devil is like in shape and character,” Doctor Martin said, “If you would see the true image and form of the devil, and what his character is, give good heed to all the commandments of God, one after another, and represent to yourself a suspicious, shameful, lying, despairing, abandoned, godless, calumnious man, whose mind and thoughts are all set on opposing God in every possible way, and working woe and harm to men.” The devil seeks high things; looks to that which is great and high; scorns what is lowly. But the eternal, merciful God, reverses this, and looks on what is lowly. “I look on him who is poor and of a broken heart.” But what is lifted up, He lets go; for it is an abomination to Him.2 [Note: Luther, Table-talk (ed. Förstemann), i. 140.]
4. But the power of Satan is strictly limited. God reigns though Satan sifts. The powers of evil are in God’s holy hands. Evil is not altogether its own master, and cannot therefore be the master of the world. “Over all” is now “God blest forever!” “And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand, only spare his life.” So God permitted Job’s trial and stood behind the demoniac forces which racked the sufferer, restraining and checking them. Then look at this case. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, stablish thy brethren.” So said his Master when the incarnate God permitted Simon’s trial. So He has always intimated that He “stands within the shadow keeping watch above his own.”
Alas! we live in the kingdom of the devil ab extra; therefore we cannot hear or see any good ab extra. But we live in the blessed kingdom of Christ ab intra. There we see, though as in a glass darkly, the exceeding, unutterable riches of the grace and glory of God. Therefore, in the name of the Lord let us break through, press forward, and fight our way through praise and blame, through evil report and good report, through hatred and love, until we come into the blessed kingdom of our dear Father, which Christ the Lord has prepared for us before the beginning of the world. There only shall we find joy. Amen.1 [Note: Luther, Letters, v. 684.]
It is a strange thing that so fine a spirit as Satan is let loose to do so much mischief, but he is only “the prince of the power of the air,” not of the power of the spirit. I believe there may be more devils than men. They are legion, and go in companies, so far as we can gather from the hints of Scripture. I think each temptation that assails a man may be from a separate devil. And they are not far off; probably our atmosphere was the place of their original banishment. And there they live—air-princes. But mark, they have no power over the innermost spirit; nay, they can have no knowledge of the secrets of the heart of man. No single heart-secret is known to any single devil. These are known only to the Searcher of the hearts, who is also their Maker. Some good Christians disquiet themselves by forgetting this. I would say that our adversary can look and hear, see and listen, and make inferences. He has only a phenomenal knowledge, and that not perfect. He is but a creature, and cannot know the secrets of the universe. It ought to comfort all men that only our Maker knows our constitution.2 [Note: John Duncan, Colloquia Peripatetica, 181.]
“But I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not.”
1. Our Lord anticipates the devil. His intercession precedes the tempter’s attack. He presents Himself as the Antagonist, the confident and victorious Antagonist, of whatsoever mysterious, malignant might may lie beyond the confines of sense, and He says, “My prayer puts the hook in leviathan’s nose, and the malevolent desire to sift, in order that not the chaff but the wheat may disappear, comes all to nothing by the side of My prayer.”
“Intercession,” it has been said, is “the divinest gift of friendship.” Somebody may be thinking of a child far away upon the frontiers of the Empire. Ah! severance is the penalty of Empire, and what a pain it is—what a deep wound—in a parent’s heart! You have not seen that absent child for many a year. You almost dread meeting him again, lest you should not recognize him or he you. He writes to you not quite so frequently or intimately as he used to write; absence and distances soon or late chill the warmest hearts, and you and he are moving slowly apart, like ships bound for different ports on the infinite deep. What can you do for him? One thing only,—you can pray. Prayer is the wireless spiritual telegraphy transcending time and space. You are near him, if ever, in your prayers.
Or your child may be drifting into sin. He has gone like the prodigal into the far country. He has not yet like the prodigal “come to himself.” He has ceased to visit you, even to answer your letters. He is dead—all but dead to you—while he lives. Oh! it is only prayer that, if God will, may help you to help him. Some day perhaps he will arise and come to his father; and you will welcome him; and the past will be no more. It will be the answer to your prayer. “I have made supplication for thee,” said the Saviour, “that thy faith fail not.”1 [Note: J. E. C. Welldon, The School of Faith, 100.]
2. The prayer of our Lord was personal. It was a particular supplication for Peter. The precise terms in which Jesus prayed for Peter we do not know; for the prayer on behalf of the one disciple has not, like that for the whole eleven, been recorded. But the drift of these special intercessions is plain, from the account given of them by Jesus to Peter. The Master had prayed that His disciple’s faith might not fail. He had not prayed that he might be exempt from Satan’s sifting process, or even kept from falling; for He knew that a fall was necessary, to show the self-confident disciple his own weakness. He had prayed that Peter’s fall might not be ruinous; that his grievous sin might be followed by godly sorrow, not by hardening of heart, or, as in the case of the traitor, by the sorrow of the world, which worketh death: the remorse of a guilty conscience, which, like the furies, drives the sinner headlong to damnation.
In the first parish where I laboured lived a man who was not only agnostic in his attitude towards things religious, but even derided them, and was wont to chaff his wife on her devotion to her church. The wife, however, went on her quiet but earnest way, living out her religion in the home. One morning very early the husband awoke and discovered his wife beside his bed absorbed in whispered prayer. Her pale, upturned face was fixed with intensity upon the Invisible, and her warm hand was resting upon his own, she supposing him to be asleep. As the husband’s eyes opened on the unexpected scene, the suggestion came like a flash to his soul, “My wife’s God is more real to her than her husband is. If she is so earnest for my welfare as to rise at such an hour and pray alone for me, it is time I had some care for my own soul”; and he instantly arose from his bed, knelt beside her and added his own prayer to hers. He gave his heart to God on the spot, and that very morning came to the early meeting at the church and announced his change of heart; the next Sabbath he united with the church. The conviction of reality in the wife’s intimacy with God was what roused and brought him; the wife had something to impart, which of itself wrought to open the husband’s soul.1 [Note: H. C. Mabie, Method in Soul-Winning, 20.]
(1) Peter needed special prayer because of the pre-eminent position that he occupied. Those who play the hero on great occasions will at other times act very unworthily. Many men conceal and belie their convictions at the dinner-table, who would boldly proclaim their sentiments from the pulpit or the platform. Standing in the place where Christ’s servants are expected to speak the truth, they draw their swords bravely in defence of their Lord; but mixing in society on equal terms, they too often say in effect, “I know not the man.” Peter’s offence, therefore, if grave, is certainly not uncommon. It is committed virtually, if not formally, by multitudes who are utterly incapable of public deliberate treason against truth and God. The erring disciple was much more singular in his repentance than in his sin. Of all who in mere acts of weakness virtually deny Christ, how few, like him, go out and weep bitterly!
(2) There was something in the temperament of Peter that called for special intercession. Of all the disciples who were to be sifted, or brought under temptation, it was to Peter alone that Christ’s heart went out in urgent entreaty. But why for Peter rather than for the others? Why should the merciful feelings of His heart be concentrated on him? Was it because he was nearer and dearer, and more amiable than the others; more equable in disposition, more exemplary and mild? No, for he was the reverse of this. Peter’s eminence among the disciples at this time was not of this kind. He was hot-headed, rash, and egotistical, unstable and inconsistent. At one moment he was brave as a lion, heroic in all his impulses, and tense in all his purposes; the next he was timid, vacillating, and cowardly. You see him at one moment sword in hand, foremost to defend his Master; the next he stands by the fire in the court-yard stamping and swearing, denying with oaths that he knew any such man as Jesus. But why should Christ pray for such a man? one is naturally led to inquire. Why did His love go out so warmly and tenderly towards one capable of so much treachery and falsehood, one so selfish and unreliable? Why select him from the other disciples, and lavish upon him so much tender solicitude and prayer?
(3) Judas needed special intercession as well as Peter, but he put himself beyond the reach of grace. Judas sins and falls to his utter ruin: Peter falls and is restored. What accounts for this difference? Is it entirely because Christ prayed for the one disciple and never prayed for the other? None of us, surely, would say that it is. We are compelled to look at the matter in the light of their character. Judas is cool, crafty, calculating, selfish; Peter at heart loves that which is holy and just and true, and hates that which is wrong and vile. He may fall into sin by his rashness, but he hates it when once he sees it; and he knows how to repent and seek forgiveness and restoration. His heart is tender and true. His tears of penitence are genuine. He is such an one as may be prayed for. There is material in him to work upon. The life of the soul is not extinct. The Divine breath will fan it into a flame again.
He weeps, and bitter are his tears,
As bitter as his words were base,
As urgent as the sudden fears
Which even love refused to face.
O, love so false and yet so true,
O, love so eager yet so weak,
In these sad waters born anew
Thy tongue shall yet in triumph speak.
Thou livest, and the boaster dies,
Dies with the night that wrought his shame;
Thou livest, and these tears baptize—
Simon, now Peter is thy name.
A rock, upon Himself the Rock
Christ places thee this awful day;
Him waves assault with direful shock,
And cover thee with maddening spray.
But safe art thou, for strong is He:
Eternal Love all love will keep:
The sweet shall as the bitter be;
Thou shalt rejoice as thou dost weep.1 [Note: T. T. Lynch, The Rivulet, 132.]
3. Our Lord did not ask for Peter that he might be exempted from temptation, but simply that his faith should not fail. Faith meant everything to Peter. It was the foundation on which all that was good and noble in his character was built up. And the trial went to strengthen his faith. Peter’s vanity was sifted out of him, his self-confidence was sifted out of him, his rash presumption was sifted out of him, his impulsive readiness to blurt out the first thought that came into his head was sifted out of him, and so his unreliableness and changeableness were largely sifted out of him, and he became what Christ said he had in him the makings of being—“Cephas”—“a rock,” or, as the Apostle Paul, who was never unwilling to praise the others, said, a man “who looked like a pillar.” He “strengthened his brethren,” and to many generations the story of the Apostle who denied the Lord he loved has ministered comfort.
4. In Peter’s case, good came out of evil. The sifting time formed a turning-point in his spiritual history: the sifting process had for its result a second conversion, more thorough than the first—a turning from sin, not merely in general, but in detail: from besetting sins, in better informed if not more fervant repentance, and with a purpose of new obedience, less self-reliant, but just on that account more reliable. A child hitherto—a child of God indeed, yet only a child—Peter became a man strong in grace, and fit to bear the burden of the week.
The bone that is broken is stronger, they tell us, at the point of junction, when it heals and grows again, than it ever was before. And it may well be that a faith that has made experience of falling and restoration has learned a depth of self-distrust, a firmness of confidence in Christ, a warmth of grateful love which it would never otherwise have experienced.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
“Do thou, when once thou hast turned again, stablish thy brethern.”
Our Lord’s meaning was that a new power of personal helpfulness was to come to Peter through his sad experience, which he should use in strengthening others to meet temptation. Then, when he had passed through that terrible night, when he had been lifted up again, when he had crept back to the feet of his risen Lord and had been forgiven and reinstated, he had double cause for gratitude—that he himself had been saved from hopeless wreck and restored, and, still more, that he was now a better man, prepared, in a higher sense than before, to be an apostle and a patient, helpful friend to others in similar trial.
1. Peter had now the qualifications for strengthening the brethren. He has known by experience the unforgetting, rescuing love of the Christ—the grace of God. O, what a reality it comes to be when a man has lost the chaff of himself and feels that he himself is freer to be and to grow! Pentecost rings yet with the eloquence of that once broken heart of Peter. Hope in Christ? What a certainty did it have to him! His first latter is called “the epistle of hope”; God has always been making hopefulness in this way. Jacob the supplanter had been made Israel—Prince of God; and now Peter was sifted out of Simon—sifted out with an experience which made him a ceaseless strengthener of men.
When Peter sank into the depths, his self-confidence was broken. At the moment of his lowest fall, while oaths were on his lips, “the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” There was an expression in the Master’s face which made that look the truning-point in Peter’s life. He did not speak. There are times when words are not wanted—times, perhaps, when real feeling cannot speak. Christ simply looked at Peter—a look which told of real sorrow and real love, and had in it something of the reproach that a great love, when deeply wounded, must feel. It was enough. It brought to Peter’s mind all that had been so piteously forgotten; it brought back the real Peter; and “he went out and wept bitterly.” They were tears, I doubt not, terribly to witness—the tears of a strong man in deep agony; of a man broken down by remorse, a man who must shun his fellows, and creep away anywhere out of everybody’s sight, that no one may remind him of his shame. So he went for those three days, we know not whither, into solitude, till John found him and brought him to the tomb on Easter morning; but in those silent hours the work was done. His mind went back over the old story. He came to himself. The past lived again, as it does in such moments. How often he had been betrayed by his self-confident temper; how again and again it had led him into sin and shame; how ling before he had boldly cast himself into the lake, only to fail, at the critical moment, in showing any real faith. And so he would be brought to feel that which marks a real stage in a man’s development—when he pieces his life together, and sees that his weakness and error had early roots—that he had not to mourn a single faithlessness out of harmony with his real self, but that his denial was but the crowning catastrophe of a long story of self-confidence which was always poisoning his good, and plunging him deeper into sin and shame.
2. Peter took up the task laid upon him and justified to the full his Master’s confidence. He was a tower of strength to the Church, and warned all against the machinations of the Evil One, “who, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Indeed, Peter’s fall, so far from damaging the cause of Christianity, was to be made an instrument for promoting its success. How strange! When a number of men are joined together in carrying on an enterprise of this sort, any weakness or wavering on the part of their leader is commonly fatal to the whole undertaking. Here the very contrary was to happen. Peter’s fall was to be the means of his brethren’s recovery from their worse fall. Such is God’s way of working in things spiritual. A pious man who has been betrayed into a great fall cannot recover himself in such a manner as to place himself only in the same situation as before he fell. He will be more earnest, more zealous, more watchful over himself, more anxious for the honour of God, than ever before. He will feel a desire, especially if his offence has been public and notorious, to make amends, humanly speaking, for the scandal he has brought upon religion. And not only is he disposed to promote the glory of God by stablishing or strengthening his brethren; he is also more qualified to do so. He has learnt another lesson, in addition to his former experience, of the deceitfulness of man’s heart and the deceits of man’s ghostly enemy. So it was with Peter. He did not rest satisfied with strengthening and entrenching his own position; he made it the great object of his life and labours to warn, to admonish, to exhort, and to stablish his brethren. We can see the evidence of this in his speeches, as recorded in the Book of Acts; we can see it also in his two Epistles, which we may regard as his legacy to the Church, his testamentary reparation for the scandal of his fall.
It was remarked by an old minister whom William Peebles used to hear, that the devil is just the believer’s fencing-master; for by trials and temptations he teaches him how to fight himself.1 [Note: A. Philip, The Evangel in Gowrie, 265.]
From the time of which I speak the whole character, current and outlook of my life changed. The Scriptures lighted up, Christian joy displaced depression, passion for souls ensued, courage triumphed over fear in public religious exercises. Other people also recognized the realness of the change, and the whole providential course of life since has corroborated the divineness of the vision of that night. About that time the college was broken up through the occurrence of a case of smallpox among the students, and I went home. Calling on my pastor the next morning, and reporting the great change which had occurred in me, with quick sympathy he replied, “The Lord has sent you home in this frame just at the time when we most need you. The state of religion is low among us: the young people’s meeting has died out: you are the means to revive it.” Then taking a note-book and pencil he wrote down the names of about two hundred young people in the town, and putting it in my hands said, “There, go and bring them in. Lead them to Christ. That’s your work.” Encouraged by such a proposal, I set about it. The first visit I made was characterized by a soul-contest of hours resulting in the conversion of a young woman. That led to another and that to others until an entire Bible class of influential young persons surrendered to Christ. From that the work so spread that ere the summer was over nearly all the persons named in my note-book were converted and added to the several churches of the town.1 [Note: H. C. Mabie, Method in Soul-Winning, 16.]
3. One more turning there was to be in Peter’s life. He was in Rome—so the story runs—in the Neronian persecution. His faith failed. He fled from the city. But at the gate of the city he met the sacred form of his Master. He said to Him, Domine, quo vadis?—“Lord, whither goest thou?” And the Lord made answer, “I go to Rome, to be crucified.” St. Peter understood the words. He, too, turned back. He entered the city again. He was martyred there. That was his last, his supreme conversion. And by it he “strengthened his brethren.”
O Jesu, gone so far apart
Only my heart can follow Thee,
That look which pierced St. Peter’s heart
Turn now on me.
Thou who dost search me thro’ and thro’
And mark the crooked ways I went,
Look on me, Lord, and make me too
Thy penitent.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]
Sifted as Wheat
Arnold (T.), Sermons, iii. 114.
Benson (R. M.), The Final Passover, ii. (pt. i.) 207.
Broade (G. E.), The Sixfold Trial of our Lord, 53.
Bruce (A. B.), The Training of the Twelve, 476.
Burrows (H. W.), Parochial Sermons, 91.
Cuyler (T. L.), Stirring the Eagle’s Nest, 143.
Eyton (R.), The True Life, 281.
Farrar (F. W.), Ephphatha, 45.
Gunsaulus (F. W.), Paths to Power, 210.
Howatt (J. R.), Jesus the Poet, 253.
Hughes (H. P.), Ethical Christianity, 131.
Hyde (T. D.), Sermon Pictures, ii. 266.
Jerdan (C.), For the Lambs of the Flock, 74.
Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year: Saints’ Days, 296.
Laird (J.), Memorials, 209.
Lilley (A. L.), Nature and Supernature, 167.
Mabie (H. C.), Method in Soul-Winning, 11.
Macgregor (G. H. C.), The All-sufficient Saviour, 32.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Luke 13–24., 240.
Murray (W. H. H.), in The American Pulpit, iii. 305.
Nicholson (M.), Redeeming the Time, 268.
Parker (J.), The Cavendish Pulpit, 17.
Shepherd (Ambrose), The Gospel and Social Questions, 147.
Vaughan (C. J.), Counsels to Young Students, 65.
Welldon (J. E. C.), The School of Faith, 107.
Westcott (B. F.), Village Sermons, 92.
Christian World Pulpit, xxxviii. 172 (W. Hubbard); lxxviii. 317 (L. H. Burrows).
Church of England Pulpit, xxxi. 185 (W. McEndoo).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Holy Week, vi. 438 (A. Brooks).
Contemporary Pulpit, v. 270 (H. M. Butler).
Good Words, 1871, p. 722 (J. S. Howson).
Homiletic Review, New Ser., xxxix. 341 (W. S. Jerome).
(32) I have prayed for thee.—The individualising pronoun is significant as indicating to the Apostle, who was most confident, it may be, of his claim to greatness, that he, of the whole company of the Twelve, was in the greatest danger. In the Greek the other pronoun also is emphatic. “It was I who prayed for thee.” The prayer was answered, and the words that follow assume the answer as certain. In one sense “faith” did “fail” when the disciple denied his Lord; but repentance came after it, and a new power was gained through that weakness to make others strong. The word for “strengthen” does not meet us in the other Gospels, but is used frequently by St. Paul (Romans 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:2, et al.), and twice by St. Peter himself (1 Peter 5:10; 2 Peter 1:12).
(33) Lord, I am ready to go with thee.—There is something like a latent tone of indignation as well as devotion. The disciple half-resented the thought that a special prayer should be necessary for him. Here, again, the Greek order of the words is more emphatic than the English, “With Thee am I ready . . .”
(34) I tell thee, Peter.—See Notes on Matthew 26:34-35; Mark 14:30-31,
(35) When I sent you without purse, and scrip.—The words refer specially to the command given to the disciples in Luke 10:4; Matthew 10:9-10. The whole incident is peculiar to St. Luke. The appeal to their past experience is interesting as showing that on their first mission they were welcomed by those who heard them, and received food and shelter that met all their wants.
(36) He that hath a purse, let him take it.—The word for “purse” is the same as in Luke 10:4, where see Note. On “scrip,” see Note on Matthew 10:10. If the words had stopped short of the “sword,” we could have received their literal meaning without difficulty. They would have seemed to counsel the prudence which provides for want, instead of a simple trust, as before, in the providence of God, and so would have sanctioned all equitable forms of Church organisation and endowment. The mention of the “sword,” however, introduces a new element of thought. Our Lord’s words to Peter (Matthew 26:52) show that the disciples were not meant to use it in His defence. It is not likely that He would teach them to use it in their own, as they preached the gospel of the Kingdom. True teachers felt afterwards that the weapons of their warfare were not carnal (2 Corinthians 10:4). What follows supplies a probable explanation. The Master knew that two of the disciples (Peter and another) had brought swords with them, and with that acceptance of the thoughts of others which we have so often traced, He sadly, and yet, as it were, with the gentle sympathy with which a man speaks to those who are children in age or character, conveyed His warnings in the form which met their fears and hopes. If they meant to trust in swords, a time was coming when they would sorely need them.
(37) And he was reckoned among the transgressors.—Literally, the lawless ones, or, breakers of the law. The distinct reference to the words of Isaiah 53:12 is remarkable as showing that the picture of the righteous sufferer in that chapter had all along been present, if we may so speak, to our Lord’s thoughts as that which He Himself had to realise. It was, as it were, a hint given to the disciples before the Passion, that they might learn, when it came, that it was part of the divine purpose that the Christ should so suffer; not singled out for the honour of a martyr’s death, but hurried as a malefactor, with other malefactors, to the death of the rebel or the robber.
(38) Behold, here are two swords.—Peter, we find, had one (John 18:10); we can only conjecture who had the other. Possibly, Andrew; possibly, one of “the sons of thunder.”
It is enough.—Here again there is a touch of grave irony. The “two swords” were enough, and more than enough, for Him who did not mean them to use the swords at all. The word for “enough” may be noted as used far more often by St. Luke than in the other Gospels. The mystical interpretation which sees in the two swords the symbol of the spiritual and temporal authority committed to St. Peter, and to the Pope as his successor, stands on a level with that which finds the relations of the Church and the State foreshadowed in the “two great lights” of Genesis 1:16. Both are simply the dreams of a diseased fancy, and find their fit home at last in the limbo of vanities.
(39) And went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives.—The words agree with the previous statement in Luke 21:37, and with John 18:2. Here, as in the parallel passage of Matthew 26:30 (where see Note), we have to insert the discourses of John 14-17.
(40-46) When he was at the place.—See Notes on Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-38. It is noticeable that St. Luke neither gives the name Gethsemane, nor describes it as “a garden.” It is with him simply “the place” to which our Lord was wont to resort.
Pray that ye enter not into temptation.—The words are suggestive (1) as throwing light on the meaning of the “temptation” clause in the Lord’s Prayer, which the disciples were now to use in all the fulness of its meaning; (2) as indicating that our Lord was Himself about to enter on a time of temptation, to which He was called, and from which He would not shrink. And yet even He, too, as the sequel shows, could utter a prayer which was in substance identical with that which He taught the disciples to use.
(41) About a stone’s cast.—The descriptive touch, implying a report coming directly or indirectly from an eye-witness, is peculiar to St. Luke.
Kneeled down, and prayed.—Literally, and was praying. The tense of the latter verb implies continuous and sustained prayer.
(42) Not my will, but thine, be done.—See Notes on Matthew 26:39. Here there is a more distinct echo of the prayer which He had taught His disciples. He, too, could say, “Lead us not into temptation,” but that prayer was subject, now explicitly, as at all times implicitly, to the antecedent condition that it was in harmony with “Thy will be done.”
(43) There appeared an angel unto him from heaven.—This and the following verses are omitted by not a few of the best MSS., but the balance of evidence is, on the whole, in their favour. Assuming their truth as part of the Gospel, we ask—(1) How came the fact to be known to St. Luke, when St. Matthew and St. Mark had made no mention of it? and (2) What is the precise nature of the fact narrated? As regards (2), it may be noted that the angel is said to have “appeared to him,” to our Lord only, and not to the disciples. He was conscious of a new strength to endure even to the end. And that strength would show itself to others, to disciples who watched Him afar off, in a new expression and look, flashes of victorious strength and joy alternating with throbs and spasms of anguish. Whence could that strength come but from the messengers of His Father, in Whose presence, and in communion with Whom He habitually lived (Matthew 4:11; John 1:51). The ministrations which had been with Him in His first temptation were now with Him in the last (Matthew 4:11). As to (1) we may think of one of the disciples who were present having reported to the “devout women,” from whom St. Luke probably, as we have seen, derived so much of the materials for his Gospel (see Introduction), that he had thus seen what seemed to him to admit of no other explanation.
(44) And being in an agony.—The Greek noun primarily describes a “conflict” or “struggle,” rather than mere physical pain. The phenomenon described is obviously one which would have a special interest for one of St. Luke’s calling, and the four words which he uses for “agony,” “drops,” “sweat,” “more earnestly” (literally, more intensely), though not exclusively technical, are yet such as a medical writer would naturally use. They do not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The form of the expression, “as it were, great drops (better, clots) of blood,” leaves us uncertain, as the same Greek word does in “descending like a dove,” in Matthew 3:16, whether it applies to manner or to visible appearance. On the latter, and generally received view, the phenomenon is not unparalleled, both in ancient and modern times. (Comp. the very term, “bloody sweat,” noted as a symptom of extreme exhaustion in Aristotle, Hist. Anim. iii.19, and Medical Gazette for December, 1848, quoted by Alford.) If we ask who were St. Luke’s informants, we may think either, as before, of one of the disciples, or, possibly, one of the women from whom, as above, he manifestly derived so much that he records. That “bloody sweat” must have left its traces upon the tunic that our Lord wore, and when the soldiers cast lots for it (Matthew 27:35; John 19:24), Mary Magdalene, who stood by the cross, may have seen and noticed the fact (John 19:25), nor could it well have escaped the notice of Nicodemus and Joseph when they embalmed the body (John 19:40).
(45) He found them sleeping for sorrow.—It is, perhaps, again characteristic of St. Luke, that while the other Gospels state simply the fact that the disciples slept, he assigns it psychologically and physiologically to its cause. Prolonged sorrow has, at last, a numbing and narcotising effect. (See Note on “believing not for joy,” Luke 24:41.)
(46) Why sleep ye?—St. Luke is here briefer than the other two records, and omits the three-fold prayer and warning, and the words, half-permissive and half of veiled reproof, which bade the disciples at last to “sleep on and take their rest.”
(47-49) And while he yet spake.—See Notes on Matthew 26:47-50; Mark 14:43-46.
Went before them.—The tense implies, not that Judas then left those with whom he had walked before, but that he was seen walking, as he had been all along, in advance of the others. He was “guide to them that took Jesus” (Acts 1:16).
(48) Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man?—The first three Gospels all record the Traitor’s kiss. St. Luke alone reports the question. In our Lord’s use of the words, “the Son of Man,” we may trace a two-fold purpose. It was the old familiar title by which He had been wont to speak of Himself in converse with the disciples, and so it appealed to memory and conscience. It was the name which was specially connected with His office as Judge and King (Daniel 7:13), and so it came as a warning of the terrible retribution which the Traitor was preparing for himself.
(49) When they which were about him.—The phrase is apparently chosen as more accurate than “the disciples” would have been. Those who spoke were probably the three that had been nearest to Him, and possibly one or two others who had rushed forward.
(50-53) And one of them.—See Notes on Matthew 27:52-56; Mark 14:47-49. It will be remembered that all the four Gospels relate the incident, but that St. John alone gives the name of the disciple. It is possibly characteristic of St. Luke’s technical accuracy that he uses the diminutive form of “ear,” as if part only were cut off. In Deuteronomy 15:17 it seems to be applied specially to the fleshy lobe of the ear.
(51) Suffer ye thus far.—The words and the incident are peculiar to St. Luke. We are. not told to whom the words were spoken. If to the disciples, they were a command to be patient, and to let things take their course. If, as is possible, to the servants and officers, they were a plea for His disciples—“Do not visit them with punishment for this one act.” The immediate healing of the ear is in favour of the latter view, as tending to conciliation.
(52) Then Jesus said unto the chief priests.—St. Luke stands alone in recording the presence of the men of higher rank with the officers and multitude. On the “captains of the Temple,” see Note on Luke 22:4.
As against a thief, with swords and staves.—Better, as against a robber, and with swords and clubs. (See Note on Matthew 26:55.)
(53) This is your hour, and the power of darkness.—The words are peculiar to St. Luke in this connection, but they present a point of coincidence, (1) as regards the phrase, with St. Paul (Colossians 1:13); and (2) as regards the thought, with St. John (John 14:30). In identifying the power that worked through human instruments against Him with darkness, our Lord virtually claims to be Himself the Light (John 8:12).
(54-62) Then took they him.—See Notes on Matthew 26:57-58; Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:53-72. Peter’s following “afar off” may be noted as a feature common to the first three Gospels.
(55) When they had kindled a fire.—The fire is mentioned by St. Luke in common with St. Mark and St. John.
Of the hall.—Better, of the court-yard—“hall” with us conveying the idea of a covered space inside the house.
(56) As he sat by the fire.—Literally, by the light, or blaze, as in Mark 14:54.
Earnestly looked upon him.—The verb and adverb are both expressed by St. Luke’s characteristic word. (See Note on Luke 4:20.)
This man was also with him.—Minute as the coincidence is, it is interesting to note that it is through St. John’s narrative that we get the explanation of the “also.” St. John had been already seen and known as a disciple of Jesus (John 18:15).
(58) Man.—The noun so used in the vocative always implies a certain touch of anger or impatience. (See Note on Luke 12:14.)
(59) About the space of one hour after.—Literally, about one hour having intervened, the verb so rendered being peculiar to St. Luke in the New Testament (Luke 24:51; Acts 27:28).
Confidently affirmed.—This word also is peculiar to St. Luke (Acts 12:15).
(61) And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter.—The glance which was thus the turning point of Peter’s life, is mentioned only by St. Luke. As he was sitting in the porch, our Lord must have looked on the disciple as He was being led from Annas to the more public trial before the Sanhedrin. The form in which the fact is narrated, “the Lord turned,” points, probably, as in other instances, to its having been gathered by St. Luke from his informants at a time when that mode of naming Him had become habitual; and possibly in answer to inquiries, natural in one who sought to analyse the motives that led to action, as to what had brought about the change that led Peter, as in a moment, from the curses of denial to the tears of penitence.
(63-73) And the men that held Jesus . . .—See Notes on Matthew 26:59-68; Mark 14:55-65. The verbs “mocked” and “smote” are both in the tense that implies continued action.
(64) Prophesy, who is it that smote thee?—On the popular view of the lower form of Judaism that identified prophecy with clairvoyance, see Note. on Matthew 26:68.
(66-71) And as soon as it was day.—See Notes on Matthew 27:11-14; Mark 15:2-5. The special mention of the hour, though agreeing with what is implied in the other Gospels, is peculiar to St. Luke.
The elders of the people.—Literally, the presbytery of the people. St. Luke uses here, and in Acts 22:5, the collective singular noun, instead of the masculine plural. St. Paul uses it of the assembly of the elders of the Church, in 1 Timothy 4:14.
(67) Art thou the Christ?—St. Luke passes over the earlier stages of the trial, the false-witnesses that did not agree, the charge of threatening to destroy the Temple, and the silence of Jesus until solemnly adjured.
If I tell you, ye will not believe.—The answer is reported only by St. Luke. It is interpreted by what we find in St. John. Our Lord had told them (John 8:58; John 10:30), and they had not believed.
(68) Ye will not answer me, nor let me go.—The last clause is omitted by the best MSS. The first clearly refers to the question which He had so recently put to priests and scribes, whether the Christ was the son of David only, or also the Lord of David; and which they had been unable to answer (Matthew 22:41-46). The words were accordingly an indirect protest against their claim to question Him. when they had proved themselves impotent to solve a primary problem as to the being and character of the Messiah.
(69) Hereafter shall the Son of man sit.—Literally, From this time forth shall the Son of Man be sitting. In St. Luke’s shorter record the immediate sequence of this confession upon an apparent refusal to answer seems hardly consistent. The narrative of St. Matthew shows that the change of purpose or of action was caused by the solemn adjuration of the high priest, which no longer left Him the alternative of silence. The form of the answer, too, is somewhat altered. Not “ye shall see,” but simply “shall be sitting,” as though the dominant thought in St. Luke’s mind in reporting the words was that even in the agony and death that were so soon to come on Him, our Lord found Himself glorified (John 12:23). The Cross was-His Throne, and while hanging on it, He was in spirit sitting at the right hand of the Father.
(70) Ye say that I am.—The question, as asked by the whole company of priests and elders, is given only by St. Luke. It apparently followed, as a spontaneous cry of indignant horror, on the answer which had been made to the adjuration of the high priest. The answer is complete in itself; but it implies, as in the less ambiguous forms in St. Matthew and St. Mark, the confession that He actually was what they had asked Him. The “I am” has something of the same significance as in John 7:24-25; John 8:58 (where see Notes).
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Luke 22". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany