Tuesday, June 6th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Ironside's Notes on Selected Books Ironside's Notes
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Luke 9". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ isn/ luke-9.html. 1914.
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Luke 9". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
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The Mission Of The Twelve -- Luke 9:1-17
“Then He called His twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And He sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. And He said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece. And whatsoever house ye enter into, there abide, and thence depart. And whosoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them. And they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing everywhere. Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by Him: and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead; and of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again. And Herod said, John have I beheaded: but who is this, of whom I hear such things? And he desired to see Him. And the apostles, when they were returned, told Him all that they had done. And He took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. And the people, when they knew it, followed Him: and He received them, and spake unto them of the Kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing. And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto Him, Send the multitude away, that may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. But He said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they said, We have no more but five loaves and two fishes; except we should go and buy meat for all this people. For they were about five thousand men. And He said to His disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company. And they did so, and made them all sit down. Then He took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets”- Luke 9:1-17.
We have four sections to consider in these seventeen verses: First, the mission of the twelve; secondly, Herod’s reaction to the ministry of our Lord Jesus; thirdly, the return of the twelve; and lastly, the feeding of the multitude. All are so closely linked that we will consider them together.
It is important to notice the difference in the commissions which the Lord gave while He was still here on earth, and that which He gave after He had been raised from the dead. He came as the promised King of Israel, the Anointed One of Jehovah. He presented Himself to the people of Israel in that way: “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He was there ready to set up the kingdom if they were ready for it. But the people who had waited for the Messiah for so long were not prepared to receive Him. They rejected Him, but He did not reject them. He called seventy disciples to Him and sent them out. Later He called the twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure all diseases. They had no such power in themselves, He gave it to them-the power that belonged to Him. The disciples were to announce that God was calling on all men to recognize the rightful King, and they were to authenticate their message by healing the sick. Notice now the instruction Jesus gave to them: “Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece. And whatsoever house ye enter into, there abide, and thence depart. And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.” You see there was a special reason why He instructed His disciples in this way: They were going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He had come as the Shepherd of Israel. They were to announce His coming and to call on all to open their hearts to Him. It was seemly that they should be cared for and fed by those to whom they went. We who preach the gospel today would be on very wrong ground indeed if we went forth without money to pay our expenses or without an extra suit of clothes, counting on gifts from our hearers, because we have no right to expect the world to support us and minister to us. In Third John we read of the disciples who went forth “taking nothing of the Gentiles.” Paul refused to take anything from the Gentile world, and turned aside and went to tent-making, when necessary, to supply his needs. He would not be a debtor to the world. You see, it was not to the “world,” in the sense that we use the word today, that the twelve were sent on this occasion. They went out to the nation of Israel-those who were expectantly looking for the Messiah. The disciples would be received if the hearts of these people were right with God, and they would provide for the disciples. So the Lord commanded the twelve not to take extra clothing, but to go and proclaim the kingdom of heaven at hand. So they went forth. Where they were received, one can imagine the blessed fellowship that they had when they told about Jesus and His birth of a virgin mother, and how He was ready now to establish the kingdom if the nation was prepared to receive Him. On the other hand, if the disciples were not welcomed but told to leave, then they were to “shake off the very dust from their feet for a testimony against them.” They were to depart and go on to other towns and preach the kingdom. Everywhere they went they authenticated their message by healing the sick. This is very different to the testimony of servants of God today, who act more on the great commission which is given at the end of each of the Synoptic Gospels.
In the second section of our chapter we have Herod’s reaction to the word that came to his ears. He had rejected and beheaded John the Baptist. Here we have him disturbed. “Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by Him: and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead; and of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again.” But while our Lord Himself identified John the Baptist with Elias, yet Herod was terrified as he thought of that mighty prophet who had wrought such signs and wonders in the day of Ahab, and wondered if he had come back to earth. “And Herod said, John have I beheaded: but who is this, of whom I hear such things? And he desired to see Him.” He did not send for Him nor invite Him to come. He had sent for John the Baptist again and again, and as long as John dealt with kingdom subjects, all was well, but when he pointed directly to Herod’s consort, Herodias, whom he had stolen from his brother, Herod became indignant and put John in prison, and Herodias herself had him put to death. Herod never sent for Jesus nor saw Him until our Lord was about to be crucified: Pilate sent Him to Herod. Though Herod had the opportunity to listen to one greater than all the prophets in the past, as our Lord designated John the Baptist, he went out directly into a lost eternity to face forever his sin. What a warning this is to those who persist in sin and turn from Jesus!
We read in Luke 9:10, “And the apostles, when they were returned, told Him all that they had done.” They came back happy and told Him what had resulted from their mission. In many places they had evidently been treated wonderfully. Given authority over all diseases, they had delivered many from sickness and demon power. And so they came back triumphantly. “And He took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.” In the Gospel of Mark, we have something added which is most interesting: He turned to them and said, “Come ye yourselves apart,… and rest awhile.” The Lord Jesus saw that His servants were somewhat overwrought and needed quiet rest. It would be well, I think, if we today would heed His word and come apart and rest for a while. I fancy that there are many of His servants who are working far beyond their strength and take little time to rest at the feet of Jesus. That is why so many are losing their health, having nervous breakdowns, and other frailties. If we would listen to Him and spend more time in His presence, it would be much better for us. It is sometimes said that it is better to burn out than to rust out. That is true, but it is still better to work and then rest, as He commanded. David the Psalmist said, “He maketh me to lie down.” The Lord’s sheep do not seem to have that much sense! They need to “come apart and rest a while.” Sheep will do that very thing.
The place where this incident occurred was not the Bethsaida on the west shore of the lake; this was Bethsaida on the eastern side, and this is where they went to enjoy a little time of rest.
In the last section we read, “The people, when they knew it, followed Him: and He received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.” In another Gospel we are told that “He could not be hid,” for word got out that Jesus was there, and when the people heard it, though the Saviour had taken the twelve away for a little rest, they followed Him, eager to see the works that He performed and to listen to the message that He had to bring. “And He received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.”
He spoke unto them of the kingdom of God! Of course it involved the evident setting up of a literal kingdom here on the earth, but in order to be fit for that kingdom there must be regeneration. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” We may be sure that He not only spoke of this to Nicodemus, that He also stressed that very thing to all. So He proclaimed the message of the kingdom of God, and He healed them that had need of healing. “And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto Him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place.” Evidently the people had been so stirred that they had not thought about their own need; neither had they made provision for food, nor lodgment for the night. Many of them were far from home and night was coming on. This is like many people today-far from home, and hungry. I wonder if I am addressing any like that today, far from home and away from God, and hungry, and the night is coming on. Thank God, the blessed Lord Himself makes provision for you. The disciples did not understand, for they said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. But He said unto them, Give ye them to eat.” His command, “Give ye them to eat,” is a word for everyone who has partaken of the Bread of Life. We are responsible to pass it on to others. That is the reason we are preaching the gospel and calling men and women to listen to the Word of God. We realize that men are dying in their sins and that they are hungry. Our blessed Lord has provided for daily need, and He has sent us out to tell the multitude. “Give ye them to eat,” is what Jesus said to them. “And they said, We have no more but five loves and two fishes; except we should go and buy meat for all this people.” We are told in another Gospel that the disciples had figured it all out and told the Master that it would take a whole year’s wages to provide for all these people. The word translated “penny” is denarius: a day’s wages for a working-man. The disciples said, “Why, Master, it would take two hundred denarii in order to provide food for all this multitude, and there is nothing here but five loaves and two fishes.” Where did they get the loaves and fishes? Andrew had been scouting around and found a boy with five loaves and two fishes. No doubt it was the lad’s own lunch. Possibly his mother had packed it for him when he left to go after Jesus. He had been so absorbed that he had not thought of his lunch and so he gave it to Andrew. It was a small offering, but in the hands of the Saviour it could meet the needs of all those people. What do you have in your hand that you might give to the Lord which He might bless for others? I read of a missionary offering, and the money was coming in so slowly that a dear little crippled girl gave all that she had to give: she handed her little crutch to the usher to give to the pastor for Jesus, and said, “Sell it, and use the money for missions.” The speaker held it up and told the story, and asked, “Who will buy little Mary’s crutch?” Hundreds of dollars came in, and then they gave the crutch back to the little girl. So often a little gift may be multiplied when it is given to the Lord. “They were about five thousand men. And He said to the disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company.” One hundred companies of fifty each! There they were gathered all about, and the Lord took the five loaves and two fishes and blessed them and began to break, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. I can imagine the first folks eagerly reaching for the food, and the people behind saying, “Oh my! there will not be enough for us.” But when Jesus sets the table, there is always plenty. “And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets.” How many basketfuls were there? Twelve! And I can imagine each of the twelve disciples carrying a basket away. You never give anything to the Lord but that He gives more to you.
Now our Lord took all this and gave it a spiritual application. He explained that the real Bread that satisfies the soul is not natural bread, for man does not live by bread alone. The Bread of God is He who came down from heaven to give life to the world. He is calling men and women today to receive Him who gave Himself for them. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.”
Peter's Confession And True Discipleship -- Luke 9:18-26
“And it came to pass, as He was alone praying, His disciples were with Him: and He asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am? They answering said, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others say, that one of the old prophets is risen again. He said unto them, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God. And He straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing; saying, The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. And He said to them all, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of my words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels”- Luke 9:18-26.
We have two sections to the portion we are now to consider. The first is Peter’s confession, and then the price of discipleship. Once more we are reminded of the true humanity of our Lord Jesus which is emphasized in the Gospel of Luke. We notice that each of the Gospels presents Christ in a different aspect: Matthew presents Him as King; Mark as the Servant; John as the Son of God become flesh; and Luke as Man in all perfection. So in this Gospel, again and again we find our Lord in prayer. People have asked to whom the Lord prayed if He was God Himself. He was both God and Man, and as Man He took the place of dependence, and as the Son He enjoyed constant fellowship with His Father. As recorded in this Gospel, He makes no important move without going to God in prayer. He spent whole nights in prayer. On this occasion He was alone praying, and His disciples drew near to Him. He had led them to the far northern border, to the land looking out upon the great Gentile world, conscious of the fact that His own people, Israel, whom He had come to deliver, refused to recognize Him. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” It was with the blessing of the Gentile world in view that He asked the disciples, “Whom say the people that I am? They answering said, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others say, that one of the old prophets is risen again.” Herod and others said that He was John the Baptist risen from the dead. They did not know of the incident when Jesus came and was baptized by John the Baptist. Others said He was Elias, as prophesied in Malachi 4:0. They were looking expectantly for the coming of Elias, and did not realize that John had come in his spirit and power. So some of them thought possibly Jesus was he. Others thought that He was one of the old prophets risen again. Jesus said unto them, “But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God.” After having walked with Him all these months, after having observed His ministry and mighty works, after having listened to the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth, Peter was assured He was the Christ of God. He spoke for them all. “The Christ” is synonymous with “the Messiah,” and means “the Anointed”-the One promised by the prophets of old. In Matthew’s Gospel we read, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It was a wonderful confession, because, so far as the record goes, Jesus had never said that this was the truth, but they had deduced it from what they had seen and heard. “And He straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing.” Why, you would have expected that He should have told them to spread the word around all over, and tell people everywhere just who He was! But it is too late for that. His ministry has been rejected. The hearts of the majority of the people are set upon their own way. They are not prepared to receive His testimony. Israel will receive Him as the Christ of God when He returns the second time. In the meantime they must reap the sad results of their unbelief. That was why He commanded the disciples not to say anything about it then, for He was going down to Jerusalem to die. He had to be who He is in order to do what He did. Many tell us He was the most wonderful prophet and teacher that the world has ever known; they say He knew more of God and manifested more divinity in humanity than anyone else has ever done, but yet they stop short of what Peter in this confession says, “Thou art the Christ of God.” Nothing less than that will ever satisfy the Father. He called upon the angels to worship Him. He said, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” In heaven, every tongue confesses Him as the Christ of God. Jesus is God the Son, who came in grace into this world and assumed our humanity in order that He might go to the cross and give His life a ransom on our behalf. He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Every blessing for time and eternity is linked up with that confession of the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Luke’s account of this confession, nothing is said of what is recorded in Matthew as to the special blessing the Lord bestowed on Peter. He passes that over and immediately proceeds with the test of discipleship. Jesus tells them, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.” He was as truly Man as He was God; God and Man in one blessed and adorable Person. Nothing took Him by surprise; He knew all that was before Him. When He came from glory down to the manger in Bethlehem, He knew what was going to take place. He came to die. He said, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many,” in order that He might be the sacrifice for sinners. As a result of this sacrifice our sins are forever put away. He knew that He was to die and that on the third day He was to be raised again. Now in view of all this-the revelation of His Person and the revelation of the work He was to perform-He speaks to His disciples, as He does to us. He said to them, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Let us be clear as to that of which He was speaking. He is not telling us how we may obtain forgiveness of our sins; we are told that elsewhere. He is not telling us here how we may obtain eternal life; He makes that clear elsewhere: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” What is it that He is speaking of here? It is the place that His disciples are to take in this world, the place of identification with Him in His rejection-they are to follow Him. But observe: no one was ever saved through following Jesus. If you and I could be saved by following Jesus, then salvation would be the result of human efforts. We cannot be saved by imitating our blessed Lord. We are not told that we are saved by taking up our cross. But after we know that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life, we are called upon to follow Him. If you profess to have believed in Him and trusted Him as your Saviour, you are called upon to follow in His steps. You are not left to choose your own path. He has marked out the way that you are to go. It is to such that He says, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” What does it mean to deny oneself? What did it mean for Peter to deny our Lord? They came to Peter and said, “You are one of His disciples.” Peter said, “I am not!” They said unto him again, “Of a truth this fellow also was with Him: for he is a Galilean. And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest.” Challenged a third time, Peter, with an oath, denied that he was one of Jesus’ disciples. He refused to own Christ in any way. What does it mean when Jesus said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me?” You are to refuse to know yourself in order that He may have His way with you on this earth. I am no longer to seek my own interest, but I am to seek that which will glorify Him. I am to say, “I know not this man, but I do know that Man, and for Him I will gladly surrender everything.”
If you had been living when this Gospel was written and you had seen a man bearing a cross as he walked along the road, you would have known that that man was going out to die. That was what it meant. Jesus, when He carried the cross, was going out to die. So to take up my cross and follow Jesus, means to take the place of death to self, and to be prepared to die for Him. The Apostle Paul said, “I die daily.” The consistent disciple says, “I am ready to die to all carnal hopes and selfish interests. I am no longer to be dominated by fleshly desires, but I am to live unto God.” Tested by words like these, how little most of us know of real discipleship! “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Let him refuse to know himself and take the place of death. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.” What does He mean by that? All down through the centuries there have been those who have said that it costs too much to follow Christ and to yield oneself to His allegiance. It means the loss of the good opinion of loved ones, the loss of friends, and fame, and profit; sometimes it means leaving loved ones and friends and going to another country to preach the gospel. Listen, my dear friends, if the Lord is calling you to some particular path, you cannot afford not to hear and follow Him. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.”
I have always been thankful for a little incident that might have seemed trivial at the time. It took place after I had been converted, when I was only a lad, at a Saturday-night meeting on the street-corner, in which I was participating. Along came some of my schoolmates, and they were dumbfounded at seeing me in this meeting, and they listened in amazement when I witnessed for Christ. On Monday when I came to school, they greeted me derisively, shouting “Hallelujah.” I said, “Praise the Lord.” Then they said, “Praise the Lord.” I replied, “Amen.” Some who were kind to me said, “Harry, what do you mean by turning religious? You are throwing your life away.” Why; that is just what I intended to do! And it came to me so clearly, and I am thanking God that He in His grace started me that way. I wouldn’t exchange these fifty-three years of service for the Lord Jesus Christ for any career that the world might offer me. It may seem that you are losing grand opportunities for advancement if you deny yourself and follow Jesus, but He has said, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.” Think of the noble army of martyrs down through the ages. Think of those who have literally given their lives rather than deny the Lord Jesus. How thankful they are today that they counted all things but loss, even life itself, to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t hesitate, young Christians, to make your decision, to dedicate yourself to the One who gave His life for you. Say from the heart:
“Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee;
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou, from hence, my all shall be!
Perish every fond ambition,
All I’ve sought, and hoped, and known;
Yet how rich is my condition,
God and heaven are still my own!”
In the verses that follow, the Lord has a message not only for His disciples, but for the world at large. “For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world and lose himself, or be cast away?” What is a man advantaged if he gain all that the world has to offer, if he piles up a lot of wealth, if he be honored and recognized by his country and even by other countries, what advantage if at last he goes out into a lost eternity? What advantage is this? What advantage to gain the whole world if one be lost himself, or be a castaway eternally? Oh, that we might learn to put first things first, and be right with God before everything else. Trust in God first as your Saviour and then own Him as Lord of your life.
Jesus added this challenge to His disciples, “For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” Will you notice first the way in which our blessed Lord speaks of His coming to this earth? The order would be very strange indeed if He were anyone else than the One who Peter said He was. He came once before, but He is coming back again. The world has not seen the last of Jesus. When He returns He “shall come in His own glory.” What glory is that?-the glory of His Eternal Sonship - and in His Father’s, and the holy angels’. If He had been any less than equal with the Father, He would have had to say, “In His Father’s glory,” then, “in His own glory.” But He was not wrong when, in speaking of His return, He put Himself first, then the Father. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are One. Do you not want Him to own you then? Will you not want to be numbered among those who are His followers? Then listen, “For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” If you have not confessed Him as Saviour and Lord, why not do so now?
The Kingdom In Embryo -- Luke 9:27-36
“But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God. And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw His glory and the two men that stood with Him. And it came to pass, as they departed from Him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud saying, This is My beloved Son: hear Him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen”- Luke 9:27-36.
Jesus is speaking here. He has been putting before the disciples the cost of following Him. He made it clear that to be His follower often costs a great deal. Then to encourage their hearts, He said, “But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.” By the term “the kingdom of God” we are to understand the authority of God as established over this earth, and necessarily, therefore, in the hearts of men and women. In the Old Testament it was predicted that the kingdom of God should be fully manifested in due time. This has not yet taken place. Satan is still the prince of the power of the air and of the god of this age. The world is in its present evil condition because it has rejected God’s King; He alone can bring in the age of righteousness.
In Luke 2:0 we read, “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” He came to bring peace to the earth, to manifest God’s good will toward men. But they rejected the Prince of peace; and so before the Lord Jesus went away He said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” God has not changed His plans because men were not ready to receive the kingdom; His kingdom is yet to be set up in this world. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.” We are told in the next verse how this came to pass: “About an eight day after these sayings, He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.” This was probably Mount Hermon. When the Lord ascended that mountain with the disciples it was that they might have a picture of the kingdom which was to come. We know that, because Peter tells us (2 Peter 1:16), “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount.” Peter tells us here that what took place on the mount of transfiguration was really a vision of the coming glory, the kingdom of God in minature.
So with this before us, we look somewhat carefully at what is recorded concerning it. When we ponder Luke’s account we find our Lord in prayer as on many other occasions. Sometimes people are perplexed about this, and ask, “How could He be God, and yet feel the need of prayer?” They forget that though He was God from all eternity, yet He chose to become Man, and as Man, He was dependent upon the Father. Prayer was to Him the expression of sweetest communion with the Father; it was the acknowledging of His manhood looking up to heaven for the strength to do the Father’s will.
“And as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering.” We may know something of this in our own lives, for as we pray we are transformed. Oh, how many times we have known people who are sinful, wicked, crude, uncultured, and uncouth, who came to know the Lord and trusted Him as their Saviour; and then as they communed with Him, even while they prayed, the fashion of their countenance was altered! Many people who were once so unruly and dishonorable have made the most devoted witnesses. As Christians, we cannot afford to neglect prayer. One reason many of us make so little progress in our Christian life is that we do not pray enough. We pray in the time of distress, but when all goes well we do not take time to wait on God and have blessed communion with Him. If we would do this, we would become more like Him, and manifest more of His grace and tenderness and compassion for sinners. We would be less likely to criticize and be unkind to other people if we would pray more. We become more like Christ as we spend time in fellowship with Him. In John’s Gospel we read, “The Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us… full of grace and truth.” The body of our Lord Jesus Christ is there likened to the tabernacle which Moses set up in the wilderness. In the Holiest, God’s presence was manifested as the Shekinah shining between the cherubim. In the blessed body of our Lord Jesus Christ was hidden the glory of His deity, for “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” That glory shone forth in the things that He did; it was manifested in His restoring grace to those who had wandered. Here in a very special way it was seen as He communed with God on the mount, “His raiment was white and glistering.” The glory from within shone out, and He appeared as we shall yet see Him when He comes the second time in the glory of His Father and His own glory and in the glory of the angels.
“And, behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias.” Moses, the lawgiver, was the representative of the saints of the legal dispensation. Elias was the one sent from God to restore the people to God. These two Old Testament characters appeared with Jesus in the mount and talked with Him. Of what did they speak? What was the theme? Oh, the wonder of it! They were speaking with Him of that which will be our theme all through eternity as we recall what He did for us-suffering and dying for us. “Who appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” They had come from God in heaven to spend that little time up there on the mount with the Lord Jesus, to talk with Him of what He would do on the cross of Calvary. It must have been a wonder indeed to the angels and to the saints in heaven, when He came from the throne of glory down to the manger in Bethlehem. They must have asked themselves why He did it. They watched His life on earth, and must have listened earnestly to His words when He said, “The Son of Man… must be slain and be raised on the third day.” These two men were interested in Him, and they were talking about His death so soon to take place. We speak of it yet, and we should. If He had not done this for us, we would long since have been cast into eternal perdition. His death for us is the most important event of which we read in the Word of God. Listen to the redeemed in heaven as they bow before the throne and sing, “Thou art worthy… and Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God.” That is what they sing up there. That is the theme that thrills their hearts. Oh, my friends, I must pause here and ask: Does it mean anything to you-the death of Christ? Has it ever spoken to your heart? Does it mean anything to you that Christ laid down His life for you? I may be speaking today to many who have scarcely given a thought to the death of Christ on the cross. Have you never reflected over this solemn and glorious thing, and said, “The death He died was for me; the agony He suffered was for me, that I might enjoy the blessedness of being with Him forever?”
But we turn again to consider this transfiguration scene. Our Lord Jesus intimated that it was a picture of the coming kingdom. The kingdoms of this world will never become the kingdom of our God and His Christ until the Lord returns again to this earth. He is not coming again as He came before. He will not come in lowliness and poverty; He is coming the second time in power and great glory. Then we read that all the earth shall wail because of Him. All shall bow before His feet.
We have a little picture of the glory which will be His when He comes again. Notice again the two men who appear with Him in His glory. How significant it is that it should be these particular two! First, there was Moses, the man who had died 1500 years before, and whose body God had hidden away so that Satan the corrupter could not touch it. We read that God “buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” Moses appeared in a physical body shining with the same glory as Jesus Christ. That reminds us that when the Lord comes to set up His kingdom, He will bring those who have died in Him. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.”
Then consider the other man, Elias-the man who had never died at all, the man who, in his discouragement, prayed that he might die. He cried, “Lord, let me die.” The Lord, as it were, said, “No, Elias; I am not going to answer that prayer; I am going to take you to Myself without dying.” So Elias was caught up into glory, and centuries later he appears as we read in these verses. He represents another group-that one of which the apostle Paul speaks in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Then He will bring in the kingdom, and our Lord will reign. Oh, how this world needs the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our hearts join in the prayer, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
This is the picture then of the coming King. “But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw His glory, and the two men that stood with Him.” Sometimes when the Lord has the most wonderful things to reveal to us, we are not in condition to receive them. The apostles might have heard more of that conversation between the Lord and Moses and Elias, but they went off to sleep. When they awoke they saw His glory and the two men that stood with Him. Then Peter exclaimed, “Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said.” Poor Peter! He was always speaking out of turn because he felt he had to say something. Sometimes it is better just to look on and say nothing; but Peter, moved by what he had seen and heard, proposed that booths should be erected in honor of the three who were seen in glory-Jesus, Moses, and Elias. “While he thus spake, there came a cloud and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.” They dreaded the next experience, as we often do. But there was nothing to fear. “There came a voice out of the cloud saying, This is My beloved Son: hear Him.” God will not have anyone put on the same level with His Son, Jesus Christ. If people would bow before Moses, Moses must go. The same for Elias. Peter never forgot this voice. When he wrote his second epistle just before he died, he was still thinking of it. “And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.” The reason for that was the leaders and the people had definitely put themselves on record as rejecting the Saviour, and had refused to accept Him as their Messiah; and this was revealed only to His disciples for their encouragement in the days to come. Now it can all be told.
Jesus takes the highest station, and His people bow before Him and acknowledge Him in praise and adoration. Soon He will return and the kingdom will come in all its splendor, when He shall reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.
At The Foot Of The Mount -- Luke 9:37-50
“And it came to pass, that on the next day, when they were come down from the hill, much people met Him. And, behold, a man of the company cried out, saying, Master, I beseech Thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child. And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him. And I besought Thy disciples to cast him out; and they could not. And Jesus answering said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you? Bring thy son hither. And as he was yet a coming, the devil threw him down, and tare him. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father. And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God, but while they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did, He said unto His disciples, Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of Man shall be delivered into the hands of men. But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask Him of that saying. Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by Him. And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in My name receiveth Me: and whosoever shall receive Me receiveth Him that sent Me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great. And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name: and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us”- Luke 9:37-50.
It would be a wondertul thing if we might always remain on the mountain with Christ. A mountain in Scripture speaks of a plaee of special and exalted privilege. It was on the mountain that the disciples witnessed the marvelous transfiguration of our blessed Lord. They would have gladly remained there with Him and with the Old Testament worthies who appeared in glory, speaking of His decease which He was to accomplish on Calvary; but the time came when they had to leave that place of blessing and go down to the foot of the mount to rejoin the rest of the apostles, and to meet the multitudes in their sin and need. Many of us have known similar experiences. It has been our happy privilege on various occasions to enter into most wonderful and precious communion with the Lord, far apart from the ordinary cares and responsibilities of daily life. On the mount of blessing we were free to be occupied with Christ alone. How gladly would we have remained there and never again taken an interest in mundane affairs. But this could not be. We may not always be in the enjoyment of mountain-top experiences. We have to descend to the plains to participate in the ordinary affairs of life. The fact is that the mountain-top experiences are intended by God to fit us for our part in ministering to those who do not know our Lord; or to those who know Him, yet have very little understanding of the precious truths He delights to reveal to us.
And so we read, “It came to pass, that on the next day, when they were come down from the hill, much people met Him.” In the throng was a poor, troubled father who had with him a demon-possessed son. The father immediately sought out Jesus, pushing his way through the crowd and looking up to Him earnestly, he exclaimed, “Master, I beseech Thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child. And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him.” Evidently, satanic power had so controlled this poor lad that he was suffering from something very much akin to epilepsy, but back of it all was demon power. We can well understand the anguish of the father’s heart. There is something so pathetic and so gripping in those words, “He is mine only child!” How many parents have known somewhat similar circumstances-an only son or daughter under the power of Satan, and apparently no ability on their part or on the part of others to deliver them. But when we go to the Lord we go to the right Person. Our cries are never unheeded by Him; He is never indifferent to our exercises. He may not instantly heal bodily ailments, He may not immediately save from Satan’s power, but we can always be sure of a loving and sympathetic hearing; and we may be certain of this: in God’s due time the prayer of faith will be answered.
Oftentimes in our distress we go to fellow-believers, seeking help from them, sometimes to be bitterly disappointed. This poor father said, “I besought Thy disciples to cast him out; and they could not.” Now we know that the Lord had given His disciples authority over unclean spirits, and on other occasions that power had been manifested in a marvelous way, but in this particular instance they seemed utterly helpless. Why? Well, the Lord Himself makes it clear. He said, “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” They were confronted with a problem which they could not solve. Undoubtedly one reason was that they had become occupied with ideas of advancement in the coming kingdom, and so they were out of touch with the Lord. They might go through the ordinary motions of laying their hands upon the demon-possessed, commanding the unclean spirit to go out of him; but there were no results because the disciples were out of fellowship with God who has said to His own, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.”
It is so easy for Christ’s servants to become professional, or semi-professional, to become self-centered and to give way to pride and self-interest. When this is so, prayer will be neglected and the study of the Word will no longer occupy us; and we will have little power when it comes to personal work and seeking to deliver people from the dominion of the devil. In fact, a believer out of touch with God has no power at all; he becomes the laughing-stock of Satan. He may call upon the demon to depart from his victim, but the evil spirit will refuse to do so; and the poor, unhappy demoniac will find no deliverance. If one is to be in the position where God can use him, there must be self-judgment and confession, daily feeding upon the Word, and he must continue instant in prayer. In this case the disciples could do nothing for this poor, distracted father, and so he turns to Jesus for help. The Lord Jesus rebuked the disciples, saying, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you?” Then He said to the father, “Bring thy son hither.” As the poor boy-was brought into the Lord’s presence, we are told that the demon cast him down and he lay writhing upon the ground and foaming at the mouth. It was a pitiful sight, and the compassionate heart of Christ was deeply touched. He said to the father, “How long is it ago since this came unto him?” He did not ask the question because He did not know, but He wanted to draw out that father’s heart and lead him to confide fully in the only One who could give him the help that was needed. The father replied that this had come upon his son when he was but a little child, and that at times while under this awful demon power, he had been cast into the fire and badly burned, and at other times he had been thrown into the waters where he was in danger of drowning. The father, after telling of these sad experiences, exclaimed, “If Thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us;” and at once, we are told, “Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father.” Oh, the joy that must have welled up in that father’s heart when he realized that his boy was free and that the demon’s power was broken!
Thank God the Saviour has the same power today. No matter how Satan may have afflicted poor lost sinners; no matter how terrible the bondage under which they have lived for years, when they come to Him who died to redeem them, they can be delivered, set free from the chains that have bound them, and He will give them the joy of His salvation.
It is not always His will now in this dispensation of grace to deliver from bodily affliction. God had promised the people of Israel that if they would walk with Him they would be free from sickness. He has not promised this to those who belong to the Body of Christ; but He has promised something even better-namely, grace to endure. Paul found this out, He suffered from a severe physical affliction, and he besought the Lord thrice for deliverance from it. God did not answer in the way His dear servant at first desired, but said to him, as it were, “No, Paul; I am not going to free you from this affliction, but I am going to do something better for you; I am going to give you grace to bear it.” Paul exclaimed, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
When the people saw how the boy was delivered from the spirit that had controlled him for so long, we read, “They were all amazed at the mighty power of God.” While they were looking on with wonder at the mighty works which Jesus did, He took occasion to tell His disciples that the day was drawing near when He Himself would be delivered into the hands of men. Then, indeed, they would need faith to believe that He was truly the Christ of God. He said to them, “Let these sayings sink down into your ears.” When the time actually came they forgot His warning, and so they were in great perplexity. Had they only borne in mind what He had told them, they would not have been so troubled when He was delivered into the hands of men to be crucified. He said to them, as it were, “Do not forget what you have seen and heard, for the day is coming when you will need to call these things to mind, when you see Me led out to die, and apparently left alone and forsaken upon a cross of shame. You will be in danger then of thinking that I have been a deceiver, but remember these things when the hour comes that I am taken from you.” They did not understand, however, for it was hid from them, we are told, and “they perceived it not: and they feared to ask Him of that saying.” Had they been in more intimate communion with Him, they would have doubtless turned to Him and asked for fuller information, and He would have given it gladly. We notice as we go on through these records that there were times when there seemed to be no restraint, and the Lord was able to speak to them freely of what was in His heart; at other times, when He spoke of His death and resurrection, there seemed to be a barrier between Him-and them. They were perplexed. The root-cause of their lack of faith and of understanding is seen in the incident that follows. We read, “Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by Him, and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in My name receiveth Me: and whosoever shall receive Me receiveth Him that sent Me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.” How this brings out the distrustfulness, worthlessness. the unreliability of the human heart, even in those who really knew and loved their Lord. The disciples were His own. They were surely among the best in Israel, and yet they were remarkably human, and seemed to forget so easily what was expected of them as followers of the meek and lowly Saviour. He has been speaking of His death, and here they are striving among themselves as to who will be greatest. Think of it! These men who had been with Jesus for so long, and had never seen Him do a selfish thing, nor heard Him say a word that would indicate a proud or haughty spirit, and yet they are so unlike their Master that they are actually quareling among themselves as to who will have the highest place in the coming kingdom. What a lesson for all of us as we realize that “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.” Note the lovely picture which Jesus put before the disciples. He took a little child and set him by Him and said, “Whosoever shall receive this child in My name receiveth Me.” The child is the ideal convert: simple, trustful, confiding, ready to receive because of faith in the person who speaks to it. The little one trusted Jesus and was not afraid of Him, and therefore remained at His side in perfect confidence.
Did the disciples get the lesson? Did they understand that it is the spirit of the little child which the Lord desires to see manifested in His own? Do we realize it today? Do we see Jesus, as it were, in every little child? As we look into those innocent little faces, do we behold Him; and do we say in our hearts, “We must do unto this little child as we would do unto Him”? To receive the child in His name is to receive Him, and to receive Him is to receive the Father who sent Him.
The Lord adds, “He that is least among you all, the same shall be great.” Advancement, then, in the kingdom of God comes by taking the lowest place.
In the next verses we have the Lord’s rebuke of sectarianism. It is quite possible to be intensely jealous of one’s ecclesiastical position while actually out of touch with the Lord Himself. John manifested this when he spoke up and said, “Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name: and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.” Evidently this man whom they had seen was one who believed in Jesus and in the power of His name, and he undertook to seek to exorcise demons in the name of Jesus, and evidently the demons came out. But this gave no joy to the heart of John or the other disciples. They were indignant that anyone should be using the name of their Master in this way if he did not actually belong to their little company. How much of that spirit we see among Christians who are so obsessed with the idea that they alone constitute the elect of God, that they find no pleasure in the work which others are doing for Christ who do not belong to their particular sect or group. What a rebuke are the words of the Lord, not only to those disciples of old, but to us: “Forbid him not: he that is not against us is for us.” Elsewhere Jesus said that “He that is not for us is against us.” Both are true. There is no such thing as neutrality in respect to Christ. We are either for Him or against Him. If for Him, we are not against Him; if not against Him, we must be for Him. If we could ever keep this in mind it would prevent a lot of unhappiness among professed Christians. Just because people do not agree with us in every detail does not mean they are necessarily against Christ. Many would die for His name’s sake who might not see with us as to some minor point of doctrine or church order. We may say we do not see why the Lord should use certain people when they do not belong to us, but He continues to use them just the same. Precious souls are being won to Christ through many with whom we might not fellowship.
There are indeed many important lessons to be learned at the foot of the mountain. There the difficulties of life are to be faced. We discover that only by prayer and fasting can we have power to deliver others from satanic influences. Only as we live in fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ and desire nothing for ourselves, will we be able to understand and enjoy the precious truth of God and to maintain a right attitude toward others. We are slow to learn, but may God give to each one of us His grace to bow in contrition at our Saviour’s feet and receive the instruction that He is so ready to give.
Intolerance Rebuked; Faithfulness Enjoined -- Luke 9:51-62
“And it came to pass, when the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for Him. And they did not receive Him, because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But He turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village. And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto Him, Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head. And He said unto another, Follow Me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow Thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”- Luke 9:51-62.
This portion readily divides into two sections. In Luke 9:51-56 we have our Lord’s solemn and stern rebuke of the spirit of intolerance. Then in Luke 9:57-62 He lays down certain principles of discipleship which we who profess to love Him need to keep in mind.
We are told that “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” He left Galilee knowing exactly what awaited Him in Judea. He had been there before. They had tried to put Him to death then, but, we are told, His hour had not yet come. They could not do a thing to harm Him physically until He voluntarily put Himself into their hands. He could say, “No man taketh My life from Me, I lay it down of Myself.” But now the hour was drawing nigh when the purpose for which He came to earth should be fulfilled. Jesus had come to give Himself a ransom for all; so with this in view, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. Nothing could turn Him aside. When He spoke of the cross on which He was to be crucified, even Peter remonstrated with Him, saying, “Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Jesus did not allow anyone or anything to turn Him aside from the great purpose He had come to fulfil.
With His face set as a flint to go to Jerusalem, as He passed with His disciples through a part of Samaria, He sent messengers ahead into a near-by village to make preparations for their night’s lodging. We know there was intense hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews, neither wishing to have any dealings with the other. These Samaritans were a kind of mongral race of people, partly of Israelitish extraction and partly decended from the mixed races which the king of Assyria had brought into the land after carrying away the ten tribes. These had intermarried with the remaining Israelites, and a mixed sort of worship had developed among them, based to some extent upon the five books of Moses; but the Samaritans refused to accept all other parts of the Old Testament. They had their own temple on Mount Gerizim, and they looked with suspicion and indignation upon the Jews because of their claim of being the chosen people of the Lord. The Jews, on the other hand, returned the compliment by detesting the Samaritans, whom they looked upon as the followers of a pseudo-religion which had no scriptural basis. As the little company journeyed on through Samaria, the people of the village where they had hoped to spend the night refused to receive them because the face of Jesus was set as though He would go to Jerusalem. Realizing that He was not going to settle down among them as their teacher, but was extending His ministry to those whom the Samaritans hated, they in turn vented their spite upon Him by refusing Him entertainment. Had He come specially to them they might have received Him and His message, but for the time being He was interested in another people.
There is nothing, I suppose, that is more characterized by bitterness than religious intolerance. One group of religious people looks with suspicion upon those of another group; and often the closer they are together, the more intense is the ill-feeling between them. This was clearly manifested in the case of the Jews and Samaritans.
James and John were so indignant because of the way their Master was treated on this occasion that they were ready to go to all lengths to take vengeance upon them. They said to Jesus, “Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Ellas did?” We generally think of James and John as being two very gracious and devoted young men; but gracious and devoted men can become exceedingly hard and bitter when it comes to dealing with others in regard to differences. These disciples whom Jesus named “Boanerges,” that is, “sons of thunder,” here answer to their name, and thought they were manifesting their faithfulness to Christ by seeking to emulate Elijah and to destroy the Samaritans. They appeared to think that if they did call for fire to come down from heaven, God would answer and blot out the city that had refused to harbor Jesus and His followers for the night; and so they would enjoy seeing their religious enemies completely annihilated.
How awful is such a spirit, and yet how frequently has it been manifested down through the centuries! History tells us how Churches have fought Churches, and Christians have contended with other Christians, using bitterest invective of speech and even going so far as to put one another to death. Our hearts are filled with horror as we think of the myriads of the early Christians who were martyred at the command of the pagan emperors of Rome. But the amazing thing is that during the centuries following the destruction of paganism, we find professing Christians arrayed against others who also bore the Christian name; and Mystery Babylon was responsible for the deaths of far more than pagan Rome ever destroyed. Even in Protestantism during the centuries that followed the Reformation, what unholy strife has often existed; and how sadly have believers failed to walk together in holy fellowship! When at last we all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, there to give an account of the deeds done in the body, how ashamed we will be if we have ever been guilty of manifesting the spirit that characterized James and John when they would have destroyed that Samaritan village because its people did not understand, and therefore did not receive the Saviour as He was journeying on to Jerusalem.
The compassionate heart of Christ spurned the suggestion of the two energetic disciples, and instead of giving them liberty to do as they desired, He rebuked them and said, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not yet come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” These two disciples must have felt this stern reprimand keenly, and doubtless they learned a lesson through it which they did not soon forget.
Now let us carefully consider for a few minutes the words of our Lord, for they embody a wondrous truth: “The Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Elsewhere He said that He “came not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” “God,” we are told, “was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” The Lord Jesus was on His way to the cross to bear the judgment due to sinners; therefore He could say to a poor, lost woman, “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.” It is precious indeed to realize that:
“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea:
There’s a kindness in His justice,
That is more than liberty.
“For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.”
God looks with tender compassion upon men. Even though they have trampled upon His love and rejected His blessed Son, still His heart is going out to them; He is waiting for them to repent, and longing to save them. He is “not willing that any should perish,” but that all should turn to Him and live. Oh, the wonder of His grace! To think that some of the worst enemies of the cross of Christ have been arrested by divine power and gloriously converted, and afterwards have become the greatest advocates of the salvation which the Lord Jesus has wrought out on Calvary. We think of Saul of Tarsus persecuting the Church of God, hailing believers to prison and condemning them to death; and yet at last stopped by the risen Christ on the way to Damascus, and his heart completely won for the Saviour whom he had rejected so long.
But there is something more here, I believe, in these words-“The Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them”-which is not involved in the deliverance from judgment. Many people have the idea that becoming a Christian means to lose all the joy of living, and to go on through the rest of one’s days in a melancholy, gloomy kind of existence, afraid of this and afraid of that and, therefore, in constant distress of mind. This is but a caricature of real Christianity. When people think of following Christ as involving a life of constant struggle and repression, they fail to understand the blessedness of the new birth. No one enters into life in reality until he knows Christ. The unsaved may talk of “seeing life” but actually they are but courting death. Only the one who has trusted Christ enjoys life at its best. It is in this sense that Jesus speaks when He said He came not to destroy men’s lives. He did not come to take away from us all joy and happiness; He did not come to make His followers gloomy recluses, afraid to enjoy the good things that divine providence lavishes upon us. He came to give us to realize that it is only as we know God revealed in Christ that we get the best out of life.
“Heaven above is softer blue;
Earth beneath is sweeter green:
Something lives in every hue,
Christless eyes have never seen.
“Birds with sweeter songs o’erflow;
Flowers with newer beauty shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His and He is mine.”
Thus one of our Christian poets taught us to sing. No one is so prepared to enjoy the good things of this life as the man who knows what it is to be right with God. We are told in John’s First Epistle that “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” And with this divine, eternal life which is given freely to all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, there comes the capacity to enjoy all God’s gifts and to recognize that they come down from Him, a loving Heavenly Father who is deeply interested in everything that concerns the welfare of His own. When one comes to know Christ, the things that once seemed of value he discerns to be very unimportant; where as things that at one time he shrank from he now learns to appreciate to the fullest possible way.
In the next section we have our Lord once more laying down principles of discipleship which are applicable throughout the entire period until He returns again in power and glory. We read, “It came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto Him, Lord, I will follow Thee withersoever Thou goest.” Here was a man who was evidently attracted by the grace of Christ. He came to Jesus apparently of his own accord, and declared his readiness to be identified with Him, but the Lord Jesus immediately tested him by saying, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” It is as though He would say to this professed disciple, “If you follow Me you must not expect earthly gain; I do not promise an easy time down here; I do not guarantee temporal comforts. I have no home Myself-I, who came from heaven- I am walking through this scene as a stranger and I have no certain dwelling-place, nor have I earthly riches to bestow upon My disciples; so if you are going to follow Me, it means a life of self-denial, of self-abnegation all the way.
Does this nullify what we have been noticing in connection with the previous verses? Not at all! For there is no happier life in this world than the life into which one enters when he takes his place in fellowship with Christ and goes through this scene as a stranger and a pilgrim.
Conditions of discipleship have not changed, they are still the same as of old. To follow Christ does not insure one a life of comfort and ease. Savonarola well said, “A Christian life consists in doing good and suffering evil.” The more faithful we are to Christ the more we may have to suffer from the world, but we can go through this in fellowship with our rejected Lord, and find a joy in sharing His rejection that the soul can never find in the enjoyment of the world’s favor. In this instance we do not know whether the man went on with the Lord or whether he turned disappointedly away.
To another Jesus said, “Follow Me,” and the one addressed replied, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus, as it were, said, “You must not put anything first. My claims are paramount to every other.” This man said, as it were, “Yes, Lord; I love You, and I will be ready to follow You some day; but I have an aged father, and I cannot leave him until he passes away and I bury him; and when that takes place I will be prepared to follow you.” The Lord answered, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.” In otherwords, it is as if He had said, “If My message has touched your heart and soul; if I have won your trust and confidence; if you feel a divine call to represent Me in Israel, do not wait until family circumstances change. Begin immediately to tell others what God has done for you and what He can do for them.”
I am afraid sometimes many of us have answered the Lord the way this man did. We have allowed the claims of kindred to come between us and the work of Christ; but it must be Christ first, then everything else will follow in its right place.
A third man came up and said, “Lord, I will follow Thee; but…” Stop there for just a moment. This little word of three letters has robbed many of their souls and hindered them from giving their lives to Christ. Is it hindering you? What is the “but” you have in mind? “I will follow Thee; but” -I cannot give up this, or that, or something else. Is that it? “I will follow Thee; but”-I cannot yield wholly to Thee on some particular point. What is the “but” that is hindering you? This man said, “Lord, I will follow Thee; but”-I must return and settle things up with the folks at home; I am not ready to follow You yet; I must go and talk it over with them first. He had to learn that the claims of Christ were paramount to every other. Jesus said to him, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Oh, that we might all realize this more and more, and that Christ might ever have the preeminent place in our hearts and lives!