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The Material and the Spiritual
It stands out clearly in our story that Jesus did not care for the Titanic stones on which the Jewish Temple rested. They were crying out to the disciples of man's power over matter, and the disciples were full of wonder at it, but Jesus did not care for it. There was a higher, fuller power of man, another conquest of the world which these men had missed, and, because of their missing that, this mere material triumph did not interest or move Him. He prophesied how transitory it was all to prove, and so passed on and left it.
I. We need to know that that is always true. It is something which we who call ourselves the servants of Jesus Christ have no right ever to forget that He never is impressed by merely material success or power any more than He was when He saw them in Jerusalem. It was not what He came into the world to bring to pass.
II. Christ does value the material, but always with an outlook beyond it to the spiritual. If we keep this in view, I think we may believe, with the profoundest reverence, that there is no work upon material things faithfully done by man which God does not look upon with pleasure. Thoroughness and beauty are the two excellent qualities of man's work upon material things. God is the Creator, and if in the creation we can read anything of the Creator, these two dispositions, thoroughness and beauty, must lie at the very centre of His Being; for they everywhere pervade the world that He has made.
No man can read the Gospels and not catch the tone of such a sympathy as proves that wherever the eye of Christ fell upon any man in Palestine who in those days was doing thorough or beautiful work in any department of activity, the Man of men honoured him for it and rejoiced in it. Do not think of Him who brought our nature to its best as being totally estranged from those things which ninety-nine-hundredths of our race are doing all the time. Think of Him as caring for it all, as caring for what they did and for what you are doing; but always as being preserved from the slavery of material things by two principles which were absolutely despotic and invariable with Him the principle that no material thing was entirely satisfactory unless it could reveal some spiritual usefulness, and the principle that if any material thing, however beautiful, hindered any spirituality, there should be no hesitation about sacrificing it. Look at those two principles. See if they did not both absolutely rule in Christ, and see if they are not just what we need to save us from the tyranny of material things.
III. How shall one reach that freedom? It is only by entering into the higher anxieties of Jesus that one is freed from the lower anxieties of men. You must care with all your soul that God should be glorified and that men should be saved. And you can do that only by letting God first glorify Himself in you by saving you. Let Christ be your Saviour. Then, tasting His salvation, your one great wish will be that all men may be saved, and, wishing that intensely, you will be free from every other wish that does not harmonize with that.
Phillips Brooks, The Law of Growth, p. 150.
Let every dawn of morning be to you as the beginning of life, and every setting sun be to you as its close; then let every one of these short lives leave its sure record of some kindly thing done for others, some goodly strength or knowledge gained for yourselves; so, from day to day, and strength to strength, you shall build up indeed, by art, by thought, and by just will, an Ecclesia of England, of which it shall not be said, 'See what manner of stones are here!' but, 'See what manner of men'.
Ruskin, Lectures on Art, Iv.
References. XIII. 1. Phillips Brooks, The Law of Growth, p. 150. XIII. 6. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Marie IX.-XVI. p. 151.
The great thing is not to be discouraged by seeming reverse or relapse. The victory is to endurance, and there would be no endurance if we were always gaining. So we shall endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and be sure of success.
Dr. John Ker's Letters.
Reference. XIII. 13. Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. 1896, p. 10.
Each people has its own periods of national life, with their own characters. The period which is now ending for England is that which began when, after the sensuous tumult of the Renaissance, Catholicism being discredited and gone, a serious nation desired, as had been foretold, to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and did not see it; but men said to them See here or See there, and they went after the blind guides and followed the false direction; and the actual civilization of England and of America is the result.
M. Arnold, in 1882.
All things are moral and in their boundless changes have an unceasing reference to spiritual nature. Therefore is nature glorious with form, colour, and motion, that every globe in the remotest heaven; every chemical change from the rudest crystal up to the laws of life; every change of vegetation from the first principle of growth in the eye of a leaf, to the tropical forest and antediluvian gold-mine; every animal function from the sponge up to Hercules, shall hint or thunder to man the laws of right and wrong, and echo the Ten Commandments. Therefore is nature ever the ally of religion: lends all her pomp and riches to the religious sentiment Prophet and priest, David, Isaiah, Jesus have drawn deeply from this source.
'One of the strongest pieces of objective evidence in favour of Christianity is not sufficiently enforced by apologists. Indeed, I am not aware that I have ever seen it mentioned. It is the absence from the biography of Christ of any doctrines which the subsequent growth of human knowledge whether in natural science, ethics, political economy, or elsewhere has had to discount. This negative argument is really almost as strong as is the positive one from what Christ did teach. For when we consider what a large number of sayings are recorded of or at least attributed to Him, it becomes most remarkable that in literal truth there is no reason why any of His words should ever pass away in the sense of becoming obsolete. "Not even now could it be easy," says John Stuart Mill, "even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete, than to endeavour so to live that Christ would approve our life." Contrast Jesus Christ in this respect with other thinkers of like antiquity' Mr. G. J. Romanes, from whom these words are quoted, goes on to instance Plato, in whose dialogues there occur errors 'reaching even to absurdity in respect of reason, and to sayings shocking to the moral sense'.
The Incarnate Son of God
I. God became man. The Incarnation of our Lord is a mystery which, like that of the creation of all things, or that of the immanency of the great Creator in His works, can never be comprehended by human thought. The will of God is a will to love, to seek and to save the lost, and for such reasons God became man.
II. How far were the limitations of the Lord's manhood affected by its union with the Godhead? We affirm in the person of Christ two perfect natures the human and the Divine. If we admit the true and limited humanity of our Lord, how are we to reconcile His Divine omniscience therewith? I cannot understand what transcends my finite capacity, but neither will I deny this mysterious truth. The same difficulty is presented by the uniformity of nature and the freedom of the human will. I believe that the eternal Son of God had during His human life so emptied Himself of all those Divine attributes which would have interfered with the reality of His manhood that He was really affected by human sorrow, that He really felt the seductive strain of temptation, that when He quoted passages from the Old Testament He might have no more knowledge of their age and actual authors than that which was current in His own time.
Bishop Moorhouse, The Sermon Year Book, 1891, p. 349.
Reference. XIII. 32. R. J. Campbell, Sermons Addressed to Individuals, p. 277.
He watches for Christ who has a sensitive, eager, apprehensive mind; who is awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in seeking and honouring Him; who looks out tor Him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, if he found that He was coming at once.
J. H. Newman.
References. XIII. 33. Sir G. R. Fetherston, The Shortness of Time, Sermons, 1842-79. XIII. 33, 34. Henry Housman, Seven Sermon Stories, p. 97.
Our Work for Christ
The Lord Jesus is Himself the great Worker. He is the Head of the body, the Church; and He needs members, as the medium through which He may convey His purposes of grace and power towards the world.
Note a few hints which may be of assistance to Christian workers.
I. Work from Pure Motives. Legends tell us that when the Emperor Justinian had built the Byzantine Church with a view to his own aggrandizement and glory, on the day of dedication he looked in vain for his own name on the memorial stone. Angel hands had obliterated it, and substituted for it that of the widow, Euphrasia whose only merit was, that out of pure devotion she had strewn a little straw in front of the beasts that drew the heavily-laden trucks of marble from the quarry to the sacred pile. His motive was so ignoble that heaven ignored his gift; hers was so pure and lovely that she received credit for the whole.
II. Work on God's Plan. One of the most suggestive texts in the Bible, far-reaching in its many applications, is that in which God says to Moses, 'See that thou make all things according to the pattern showed thee in the Mount'. Not a stake, or a curtain, or an atom of fragrant spice was left to the genius of the artificer, or the fancy of the lawgiver. All was unfolded to Moses in elaborate detail; and all he had to do was to produce that plan in careful and exact obedience, until at last it stood complete before the wondering host of Israel.
III. Work as Those Freshly Cleansed. The priests must wash in the laver before they perform the service of the sanctuary. They must be clean who bear the vessels of the Lord.
In our hospitals the instruments used in operations are constantly kept in carbolic acid, that they may not carry the slightest contagion to the open wound; and we cannot touch the open and festering wounds which sin has caused without injury to ourselves and others, unless we are ever in the flow of the Blood and Water of which St. John speaks.
IV. Work in God's Strength. He does not want our strength it is often a hindrance to Him; because we are so apt to rely on it, to the exclusion of Himself. He wants our weakness, our infirmities, our nothingness 'that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us'.
And there is no way so good of getting God's strength as being diligent students of His precious Word.
V. Work in Believing Expectancy. In this, as in all other spiritual work, we are governed by one unchanging law: according to your faith be it done unto you. 'Only be thou strong and very courageous.'
F. B. Meyer, Christian Living, p. 114.
The Call to Work and Watch
The text reminds us of the state in which Christ has left, during His absence, what He is graciously pleased to call 'His house,' i.e. His Church. He has not left His Church without giving most express and definite instructions what everybody is to do while He is away. The household of the Church ought to be, according to the intention of its Lord, a system of beautiful order and arrangement, as long as He is away from it. And yet, if He were to come Today, would He find it as He left it?
Three things Christ appointed to His servants: an authority a work and a watch.
I. The Authority. First, then, we have to look at the Church's authority; and remark that this authority is given expressly to servants 'He gave authority to His servants'. The more we serve and the lowlier the place we take, the more is the authority given. For what is authority? Not position, not office, but a certain moral power: the power of truth, the power of the affections, the power of virtue over vice, the power of the true over the false, the power of faith over sight, the essential power of the great Head delegated to all His members, which is ultimately to command the universe. Let a man be deeply convinced of the truth of the Gospel by the best of all evidences, the experience of his own soul i.e. in other words, let him really be a member of the household of faith, and immediately that man carries with him an authority. He has a commission, and a power by which that commission is to be fulfilled the commission is to glorify Christ by extending His kingdom, and the power is the Holy Ghost, given to him for this very end.
II. The Work. And now what is the work? for authority is never given in the Church of Christ for any other end but work. And here again 1 note that every man's work is special. The authority was general the work is specific; for He says 'he gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work'. There is scarcely anything more important that any Christian has to do than to pray that he may see, and not rest till he has found out, what the particular work is which God has assigned him to do in this present life. And when he has once found it, do not let him wheedle and destroy it by trying to do everybody's work besides; but let him do his own with fixedness and wholeheartedness.
III. The Watch. There are two ways of watching. There is a watching against a thing we fear; and there is a watching for a thing we love. Most persons when they are told to watch, think chiefly of what they are to watch against; but I conceive it was far more in our Saviour's mind to bid us to be full of what we are to watch for. For, if we watch against sin, is it not for this very reason because we are watching for Christ? Watch, therefore, for the second advent, and you will be sure to be vigilant against slothfulness and sin. In all, therefore, you do, and in all you suffer, you are to be in the spirit of a man who, expecting a dear friend, has taken his stand at the gate to meet him when he arrives.
References. XIII. 34. John Ker, Sermons, p. 139. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 157. XIII. 35-37. C. Parsons Reichel, Sermons, p. 162. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 243. XIII. 36. R. T. Davidson, Promise and Fulfilment, p. 21. XIII. 37. T. McCrie, Sermons, p. 205. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 8. Washington Gladden, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. p. 227. J. Stalker, ibid. vol. lviii. 1900, p. 390. J. Addison Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 262. J. Fraser, University Sermons, p. 41. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part iv. p. 237. XIV. 1-11. J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 161. XIV. 1-41. W. H. Bennett, The Life of Christ According to St. Mark, p. 212. XIV. S. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 158. F. F. Shannon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxvii. 1905, p. 238.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Mark 13". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13