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A great epoch was exhausted, and passing away to give place to another, the first utterances of which had already been heard in the north, and which awaited but the Initiator, to be revealed.
He came. The soul the most full of love, the most sacredly virtuous, the most deeply inspired by God and the future, that men have yet seen on earth Jesus. He bent over the corpse of the dead world, and whispered a word of faith. Over the clay that had lost all of man but the movement and the form, He uttered words until then unknown: Love, Sacrifice, a heavenly origin. And the dead arose, a new life circulated through the clay, which philosophy had tried in vain to reanimate. From that corpse arose the Christian world, the world of liberty and equality. From that clay arose the true Man, the image of God, the precursor of humanity.
Christ expired. All He had asked of mankind was wherewith to save them says Lamennais was a cross whereon to die. But ere He died, He had announced the glad tidings to the people. To those who asked of Him from whence He had received it, He answered, from God the Father. From the height of His cross He had invoked Him twice. Therefore upon the cross did His victory begin, and still does it endure.
Mazzini, Faith and the Future.
References. I. 1. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 1. Archbishop Alexander, The Leading Ideas of the Gospels, p. 36. J. Addison Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 7. G. Campbell Morgan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxv. 1904, p. 371. H. Scott Holland, ibid. vol. lxxvii. p. 17. I. 1-11. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 13. I. 1-13. W. H. Bennett, The Life of Christ According to St. Mark, p. 1. I. 8. R. Glover, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. 1898, p. 139. I. 9. T. Vincent Tymms, ibid. vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 149.
Temptations of the Spirit
People actually wonder how Jesus Christ, if He were what we believe Him to have been, could possibly be subject to temptation. They talk as if the Divine Sonship would make everything easy, and would render impossible the strain and anxiety which are the notes of our real humanity. The Sonship creates the conditions of temptation.
What have we to do, we may ask, with temptation such as His? We have to do with it just so far as we are religious and spiritual persons, and no farther.
I. We all, for instance, if we have made the slightest effort to be religious, know that swift, secret, sinister appearance of egotism inside our religion, which was the note of our Lord's first temptation. He was tempted to let His spiritual force be turned aside from His dedication to God in order to play round His own self-consciousness, and satisfy His wants, and increase His own self-importance. If He is Son of God, why not feed Himself? 'Self,' it is always self. Self whispering to us out of our prayers, in our sacraments, through our best intentions, in our very efforts, perhaps, of watching and praying and fasting.
We are so full of spiritual concerns, and yet, are we all the time doing anything else but turning stones into bread, feeding our own satisfactions?
II. And then, our vanity, our silliness. Religious people are so silly. Our unreality, our insincerity! We are always tossing ourselves off some pinnacle of the temple, in freaks of impulse, weak loss of control, in insolent desire to surprise, in stupid disregard of real, honest, working facts.
III. The terrible third temptation haunts the very best, with its readiness to make use of doubtful and dangerous means in order to secure a good end. The better the end, the sharper the temptation. And if the end be God's kingdom on earth, the temptation is at its strongest. For the end is so high that it seems to justify almost anything.
Do such faults as these seem small and unimportant infirmities to us? Yet, it was in this type of sin that our Lord detected the heart of evil.
When at any time you find yourself tempted to think these swerves of the will to be slight and unimportant, remember that lone Figure in the wilderness with the wild beasts, warring hard against the pressure of evil until He is faint and hungry.
H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. p. 72.
References. I. 11, 12. W. Morrison, Passio Christi, p. 40. I. 11-13. J. Martineau, Hours of Thought, vol. ii. p. 33. I. 12. G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, p. 97.
Christ with the Wild Beasts
This was the sudden perception of a soul in stress of conflict. Relaxing one moment from its tense agony, it saw gathered round the wild beasts of the desert. It remembered them in its after-thoughts on the deadly struggle with more terrible foes.
I. Can we recall experiences like this in our own life battle? At night, in a great suspense, when the soul is sick, blind, helpless, and the forces of being are waning with one another, there has come a momentary change of mood. The carving of some picture-frame, a face hung on the wall, the blazonry on some book, the chance phrase on an open page trifles like these fasten themselves on our minds. We turn dully from them, but the impression is ineffaceable. Even when the memory of the trial grows dim, it is they that keep it living.
Or we have sought under a sudden blow to escape from 'the world's grey soul to the green world'. On the hillside or the moor we have sat with bowed heads and downcast eyes. It seemed as if we had outlived all loves, buried all hopes. Yet through some chink the flower at our feet enters into the heart, mingles with our thought, and strangely belies our misery. The cup passes from us, and again, again we live. These hours change us, but their memory clings round that single thing: the flower which we never see without the whole sorrow and relief returning.
II. There must be more in the words than this. Was not the presence of the wild beasts an element in our Lord's temptation?
Did He not see in their eyes an appeal from their misery? Was He not quick to behold the earnest expectation of the creatures waiting for the manifestation of the Son of God? Did He not long for the day which Esaias saw in vision, when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, when the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and the sucking-child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child put his hand on the basilisk's den, and they shall not hurt nor destroy in all God's holy mountain, that day when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea? We cannot tell; but surely the wild beasts were to Him as they will be to all in the regeneration. Even yet some men exercise strange powers over them; and when He, the creating Word, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, beheld them in His dumb agony, did they not cease one moment to groan and travail, as if they saw their hope in His grief?
III. For 'all creatures can be tamed'. The beasts share in our punishment, but not in our guilt. They can be won, but man resists. His heart is evil, restless, full of deadly poison. It was to win and purge that heart the Son of God descended, and the arch-temptation was to gain this victory by a shorter and swifter way than the dolorous path. 'All the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them,' if He had these (so the whisper ran), deliverance would come sooner. These mute appeals, these lowly claims of the wild beasts reinforced the Tempter. But He drove the temptation from Him. The kingdom of glory could not be hastened so. The good day would come in God's time and in God's way; the reign of evil would be undone. So, in compassion for all His travailing creation, His soul went on to travail.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 65.
References. 1.13. H. Rose Rae, Christian World Pulpit vol. xliii. 1893, p. 69. F. R. Brunskill, ibid. vol. lxix. 1906, p. 139. J. Farquhar, The Schools and Schoolmasters of Christ, p. 115. A. Morris Stewart, The Temptation of Jesus, p. 16. I. 14. A. M. Fairbairn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 305. L. D. Bevan, ibid. vol. lxxi. 1907, p. 348. R. W. Church, Advent Sermons, 1885, pp. 29, 58. I. 14,15. J. Foxley, People, Places, and Peoples in Relation to the Kingdom of Christ, p. 24. W. J. Knox-Little, The Light of Life, p. 65. 1. 14; III. 9. W. H. Bennett, The Life of Christ According to St. Mark, p. 11. I. 14-35. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. lii. No. 2980. I. 15. D. Brook, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. 1901, p. 121. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 460.
We will not stand motionless like veiled statues on the shore of the torrent which threatens the foundations of the temple, detaching the stones one by one, and hurling them confusedly among the ruins of things doomed to pass away the hut of the peasant, the palace of the noble, and the throne of the king! Let all who have the things of eternity at heart arise with us! Let all who love God and man with all their heart and soul, and count all else as naught, join their voices and their hearts to ours. Why disturb ourselves if many refuse to unite in action with us? Shall we consume the energy of our hearts in idle tears for this? Faith demands action, not tears; it demands of us the power of sacrifice sole origin of our salvation; it seeks Christians capable of looking down upon the world from on high, and facing its fatigues without fear; Christians capable of saying, We will die for this; above all, Christians capable of saying, We will live for this.
Lamennais, Affaires de Rome.
References. I. 16-21. J. H. Rigg, Scenes and Studies in the Ministry of Our Lord, p. 43.
Fishers of Men
It is service, not status, that distinguishes one disciple from another.
I. The Maker of the Workers. The maker of the workers is the Lord. 'I will make you to become fishers of men'; a living Christianity is one that is dealing with a living Christ. It is in touch with an unseen personality, who is moulding natures, through whom the mind and heart of God bear upon us. We cannot make Christians, Christ does it; and we cannot make fishers of men, Christ does it; and we cannot make successful workers, Christ does it.
The one thing Christ prescribes is companionship with Himself: 'Come ye after Me'. 'He chose twelve that they might be with Him.' Is there any preparation different from the following of Christ here? Is not the following itself the preparation Christ points to? The conditions of successful service are inseparable from the work of preparation wrought by Christ upon us.
II. Following Christ. Inquiry into the conditions of successful Christian work resolves itself in effect into asking what following Christ means.
It begins in contact Salvation is effected now as it was in the days of Christ's flesh by the touching of two natures. As many as touch Him are made perfectly whole. Consciousness of His healing presence is the note of all effectual saving work still.
III. Christ's Work Through us. He becomes to us the Way and Life. Enfranchized we can preach liberty; seeing Jesus we can point men to Him. Religion is not a devout retrospect. It is following the Christ of the Spirit. Our service becomes no longer a series of isolated activities. It is an outflow from a controlled personality.
Following Christ must mean as much as this: communion with His intensity of soul. It means the incoming upon the life of a Christian of a new passion for service. It means an overwhelming sense of the value of spiritual redemption. It means the life, because of this, set and kept loose to the things of time.
This following of Christ that is to qualify for gaining men for God will mean fellowship in the pain inseparable from the work of human saviourhood. For the task is very great and difficult to change character. It is perfectly easy to understand what is meant by the demand for unselfishness which reforms require, and quite impossible without the regeneration of the Holy Ghost to fulfil it.
J. T. Forbes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. 1907, p. 251.
References. I. 17. C. S. Robinson, Simon Peter, p. 161. I. 21-28. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1765. W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 73. John Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 146. I. 21-34. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 22.
The man on whom the soul descends, through whom the soul speaks, alone can teach. Courage, piety, love, wisdom can teach; every man can open his door to these angels, and they shall bring him the gift of tongues. But the man who aims to speak as books enable, as synods use, as the fashion guides, and as interest commands, babbles. Let him hush.
See Clough's lines on 'What went ye out for to see?'
References. I. 22. S. D. McConnell, A Year's Sermons, p. 104. William Knight, The Dundee Pulpit, 1872, p. 145.
The Plea of Evil
I. We consider, first, the plea of evil. 'Let us alone.' This is the standing plea of evil; it demands that it shall not be meddled with, that no effort shall be made to restrict or dispossess it.
1. It is the plea of personal evil. The poor demoniac treated his Saviour as if He had been his tormentor, and in all generations those who are possessed by the spirit of evil resent criticism and interference; they demand toleration and immunity.
And this is the attitude of evil when we come to deal with it in our own heart; confronted by good, it boldly claims right and privilege.
2. It is the plea of public evil. The moment reformers attempt to deal with any social wrong, any pernicious institution, or custom, or trade, or law, they are challenged after this fashion. It is so when idolatry is attacked.
And when evil dare not claim absolute immunity, it pleads for toleration and delay.
II. Note some characteristics of the plea of evil.
1. The plea is specious. The demoniac regarded Christ as an enemy; and so Today, when Christ comes to save men from their sins, they commonly regard His intervention as an attack on their interests, pleasures, liberty, progress. 'Art Thou come to destroy us?' So blinded are the minds of them that believe not, that they regard an attack on the devil's kingdom as an invasion of their own rights, a confiscation of their own riches.
2. This plea is impudent. At the first glance ft seems modest, almost pathetic. 'Let us alone.' Can anyone ask for less? Nevertheless, the claim is impudent. When men ask to be let alone in any place, in any course, it is presumed that they have some right to be where they are, to do what they seek to do. Observe these two things:
First, this world is not the devil's world. It is God's world, and goodness, holiness, beauty, felicity, have no need to apologize for their presence in it.
Secondly, in the development of this world the devil plays no essential part. The Master acknowledged no sort of partnership with these spirits of the night. They claimed no partnership with Him. 'What have we to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth?' They had nothing to do with Him. He had nothing to do with them. The disavowal of complicity was distinct and emphatic on both sides. Christ never recognized any necessity for evil in His own personal development.
3. The plea is cruel. Under all its speciousness sin is awfully cruel, and to let it alone involves men and nations in the deepest guilt and misery.
III. We contemplate Christ's rejection of the plea of evil. Christ always speaks of evil with severe revealing simplicity.
1. We learn that evil is to be cast out of humanity. Evil may cry out with a loud voice; it may rage and threaten and tear; but it must go when we cast ourselves at the Redeemer's feet And in the same almighty grace it shall be expelled from society.
2. We learn that evil is to be wholly cast out. The simple, radical, decisive manner in which Christ rejects the plea of evil is full of instruction. Christ did not restrain the infernal power, the evil spirits were to go out; judgment was not deferred, they were to go out at once; the expulsion was total, they were all to go not one left of all the legion, not a little one. There is not the most distant suspicion of compromise in Christ's treatment of evil.
3. We learn that evil is cast out in Christ. Christ set Himself against the demoniac power, and proved Himself its master. However men may explain it, the only force in the world that is really wrestling with and casting out the fierce, deep, chronic wickedness of the human heart is the truth and love that are in Christ Jesus.
W. L. Watkinson, The Transfigured Sackcloth, p. 90.
References. I. 23-25. C. Brown, God and Man, p. 174; Bee also Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxvii. 1905, p. 70. I. 23-26. Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 191. I. 24. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 214. I. 27. C. E. Jefferson, The Character of Jesus, p. 43. I. 29-31. W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 86. Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 194. I. 29-33. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1236. I. 29-34. J. Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 156.
Among the four Gospels that of St. Mark became my favourite, from the sudden, direct manner in which it at once brings Christ into contact with a suffering world.
Dora Greenwell, Colloquia Crucis, p. 23.
References. I. 30, 31. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-III. p. 32. B. D. Johns, Pulpit Notes, p. 49. I. 31. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. lii. No. 2980. I. 32, 33. W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 98.
In his last sermon Henri Perreyve spoke thus of Christianity as a social power: 'Let us beware,' he cried, 'of being mere humanitarians, who, losing sight of the soul, aim at naught save material progress. The inefficiency of all such blind benefactors of mankind is too notorious to need demonstration. But, on the other hand, let us beware of that subtle refinement which affects to ignore all save that which is spiritual, and which disdains to care for the physical sufferings of our brethren. Such was not the mind of Christ. Wheresoever Jesus met with human suffering, He paused to give it a heedful pity.... Do not aim at being more loosed from earthly ties, more spiritual than the son of God. In this day it seems to me that no intelligent, independent Christian man should suffer himself to be outstripped in the study and practical application of the social sciences. The Christian should not tolerate that the world be better able to deal than ourselves with those great questions which are so powerfully, so inevitably at work amongst us, questions which the Gospel alone has called forth; I mean such as pauperism, labour, family ties, refuges, and asylums, the labour of women and children.'
So, cherish your soul; expel companions; set your habits to a life of solitude; there will the faculties rise fair and full within, like forest trees and field flowers; you will have results which, when you meet your fellow-men, you can communicate, and they will gladly receive.
He who has the fountain of prayer in him will not complain of hazards. Prayer is the recognition of laws; the soul's exercise and source of strength; its thread of conjunction with them.
References. I. 35. W. H. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 408. Bishop Percival, Sermons at Rugby, p. 64. I. 35-39. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1769. I. 37. W. L. Watkinson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlii. 1892, p. 405. I. 39. A. B. Bruce, ibid. vol. xlix. 1896, p. 172.
A Parable in a Miracle
The parabolic aspect of the miracle is obvious in the case before us. It was taken as an emblem of sin.
I. Notice the Leper's Cry. Mark's vivid narrative shows him to us flinging himself down before the Lord, and, without waiting for question or pause, interrupting whatever was going on with his piteous cry. Misery and wretchedness make short work of conventional politeness.
1. Note the keen sense of misery that impels to the passionate desire for relief. The parallel fails us there. The emblem is all-sufficient, for here is the very misery of our deepest misery, that we are unconscious of it, and sometimes even come to love it.
2. Note this man's confidence in Christ's power: 'Thou canst make me clean'.
Sin dominates men by two opposite lies. The lie that we are pure is the first; the lie that we are too black to be purified is the second. Christ's blood atones for all past sin, and has power to bring forgiveness to every one.
3. Note the leper's hesitation. 'If Thou wilt.' He had no right to presume on Christ's goodwill. But his hesitation is quite as much entreaty as hesitation. He, as it were, throws the responsibility for his health or disease upon Christ's shoulders, and thereby makes the strongest appeal to that loving heart.
We stand on another level. The leper's hesitation is our certainty. We know that if any men are not healed, it is not because Christ will not, but because they will not.
II. Notice the Lord's Answer. 'Jesus, moved with compassion' a clause which occurs only in Mark's account 'put forth His hand and touched him, and said, I will; be thou clean.'
Note three things the compassion, the touch, the word.
1. It is a true revelation of the heart of Jesus Christ Simple pity is its very core. Nor let us forget that it is this swift shoot of pity which underlies all that follows the touch, the word, and the cure, Christ does not wait to be moved by the prayers that come from those leprous lips, but He is moved by the leprous lips themselves.
2. The Lord's touch. With swift obedience to the impulse of His pity, Christ thrusts forth His hand and touches the leper. Our Lord thereby does one of two things either He asserts His authority as overriding that of Moses and all his regulations, or He asserts His sacerdotal character. Either way there is a great claim in the act.
Further, we may take that touch of Christ's as being a parable of His whole work His touch of the leper symbolizes His identifying of Himself with mankind, the foulest and the most degraded, and in this connexion there is a profound meaning in one of the ordinarily trivial legends of the Rabbis, who, founding upon a word of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, tell us that when Messias comes He will be found sitting amongst the lepers at the gate of the city.
3. Note the Lord's word, 'I will; be thou clean'. If His word can tell as a force on material things, what is the conclusion? He who 'speaks and it is done' is Almighty and Divine.
III. Note the Immediate Cure. Mark tells, with his favourite word, 'straightway,' how as soon as Christ had spoken, the leprosy departed from him. And to turn from the symbol to the fact, the same sudden and complete cleansing is possible for us.
A. Maclaren, The Unchanging Christ, p. 291.
References. I. 40-42. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 39. S. Cox, Expositions, p. 119. I. 40-45. W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 110. Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 175. I. 41. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark I.-VIII. p. 50. I. 43-45. S. Cox, Expositions, p. 33. I. 45. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1298. II. Ibid. vol. lii. No. 3016.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Mark 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany