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Chapter 1. The Beginning of the Gospel
"The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Mark 1:1.
"The Gospel of Jesus Christ"
The commentators tell us that the phrase "the Gospel of Jesus Christ" may mean one of two things, (a) It may mean the Gospel which Jesus Christ Preached, (b) It may mean also the Gospel of which Jesus Christ is the subject.
The Gospel He was.
It is in this latter sense Mark uses the phrase here. He is thinking not so much of the Gospel Jesus preached, as of the Gospel He was. He is about to tell us the good news about Jesus, and man of action as he is he finds the "beginning" of it in our Lord's first public appearance and definite entrance upon the work of His ministry. And that, of course, was a very real beginning. As far as the great world was concerned, it was the beginning, for it knew nothing of the Gospel, the Gospel had no existence for it, until Jesus came teaching and preaching. But, as Dr. Morison says, "Mark might have gone further back, and found other fountains, the feeders of the fountains at which he pauses." That is to say, there are other "beginnings of the Gospel," carrying us further back than this "beginning" of St Mark. Let us think for a moment of some of these other "beginnings."
Other "Beginnings" of the Gospel: St Matthew's and St Luke's.
(1) I turn to the Gospels by St Matthew and St Luke, and I find they "begin" with Bethlehem. The birth of the little Child "all amid the winter's snow" was to them the "beginning of the Gospel." That was how the angel announced His birth, "Behold, I bring you Gospel... there is born to you this day a Saviour" (Luke 2:10-42.2.11). And was it not true? Did not new hope and joy come into the world with the coming of that little Child? Trace back the pity and compassion and love that enrich the world to-day; you will find they have their fountain in Bethlehem! Indeed, the world dates its life from the birthday of Jesus. We put a.d. 1913 on our letters, as if the years before Christ came were scarcely worth the counting, and could not be reckoned as true life at all. Yes, it was the "beginning of the Gospel" for the world, when the Son of God emptied Himself, "took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7).
(2) But I turn to the Gospel by St John, and I find that for his "beginning" he goes further back than Bethlehem. He travels beyond the region of time into the region of eternity. "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1), he writes, and at once transports to the glory which the Son had with the Father before the world began. And back to that eternity where John starts from we shall have to travel, if we want to discover the absolute "beginning of the Gospel."
So we are led ever further back in our search for "the beginning:" from the Baptism first of all to the Birth, and then from the Birth to the Promises, and then from the Promises to the Eternal Purpose of God. For Jesus was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8), or, as Peter states it still more strikingly, He was "pre-known from before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20). That is where the Gospel finds its real ultimate beginning, in "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God," and who shall attempt to fix a date for that?
In the Individual Soul.
(3) And there is yet one other "beginning of the Gospel," viz., the beginning it has in the individual soul. The Gospel has a new beginning when, as Paul would say, "Christ is formed" in a human heart. The Gospel began for Zacchæus the day Christ lodged in his house. It began for Saul the day he heard the Lord's voice on the way to Damascus. It began for Augustine the day he heard the child sing, "Take and read, take and read." It began for John Wesley the day he felt his heart "strangely warmed" in the little meetinghouse in Aldersgate Street.
Every time Christ is born in a man's heart, the Gospel has a new beginning. And every other beginning of the Gospel its beginning in the eternal purpose of God, its beginning at Bethlehem, its beginning at the Baptism will be of none effect, as far as you, my reader, and I are concerned, unless it has another "beginning" in you and me.
This is the "beginning" of the Gospel that saves a man when the Christ of history becomes the Christ of the heart; when the infinite love of God to the world in His son ceases to be a story, and becomes an experience.
Chapter 2. The Forerunner
"As it is written in the Prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judæa, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; and preached, saying, There cometh One mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." Mark 1:2-41.1.8.
The preceding chapter dealt with "the beginning of the Gospel." Mark finds his "beginning" in: our Lord's first public appearance at the baptism of John. It is quite natural therefore that he should begin the story of our Lord's life with a brief account of the Forerunner and his work.
John the Baptist.
Let us think together for a short time about that John of whom these verses speak. With his usual habit of going straight to the point, Mark omits what the other Evangelists have to say about John's birth and training, and introduces him to us actually engaged in that stupendous work to which God had called him from the womb.
And what was that work? It was the work of preparing the way for Jesus Christ. The commentators tell us that in the East the roads are usually so wretchedly kept that, whenever a royal personage wishes to visit any part of his dominions, a messenger must first of all be sent forward to make the road fit to travel on. And that is the function which Mark tells us (quoting the words of ancient prophecy) John fulfilled for Jesus. He went before Him to prepare the way. He travelled in advance to make things ready for the King's coming.
Other Preparers of the Way.
We are not to suppose that John was the only one who prepared the way. In a very deep and real sense all history prepared the way for Jesus. The Jewish nation, with its unconquerable hope of a coming Redeemer; the Greek nation, with its incomparable language; the Roman nation, with its system of law and its unifying of the peoples all prepared the way for Jesus. And the preparation that we see on the broad field of world history, we see still more clearly when we concentrate our attention on sacred history. What is the Old Testament? It is just a record of how God had been preparing the way. Begin in Genesis with the first promise of the "seed of the woman" who is to bruise the serpent's head, and read on till you come to Malachi with his announcement, "The Lord... shall suddenly come to His temple" (Malachi 3:1), and you will see how by means of prophet and psalmist and seer, God had been preparing the way. In this respect John only comes at the end of a long line.
And yet John was in a very special sense our Lord's forerunner. John's message was to the very same generation as that to which Christ preached. The men who flocked to John's baptism were the men who subsequently listened to Christ.
How He prepared the Way.
How did John prepare the way for Christ? By preaching the baptism of repentance. John's preaching was terrible preaching. Sin was his theme, and repentance his call. And by this terrible preaching he made straight the way of the Lord. It was sub-soil ploughing. He broke through the hard crust of conventionalism and self-righteousness, and made the ground of the heart soft and ready to receive the good seed of the Kingdom. And it is noticeable that it was from the ranks of those who had been baptised by John that our Lord gathered His first disciples. John had created within them a genuine sorrow for sin, an eager expectation of Messiah, and so when Jesus appeared they were ready to leave all and follow Him.
A Great Work, but only Preparatory.
It was a great work John did but yet it was an imperfect work. It was a preparation, but it was only a preparation. John's call to repentance was no satisfaction to the craving of the soul. It needed the Gospel to perfect and complete it. John was himself conscious of the imperfection of his work, and always pointed on towards a great Another who was to come. "There cometh after me He that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.... He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost" (Mark 1:7-41.1.8, R.V.). The utmost even the best of men can do is point to Jesus.
The Greater One and His Work.
For there is only One who can really cleanse and regenerate the soul "He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire." "With the Holy Ghost" and except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. "And with fire" to burn out all the dross and uncleanness of the heart and to inspire us with flaming zeal. Is not this the baptism we all want? For inward peace and efficiency in service, is not this the baptism we all want? This is the question of questions, Have ye received the Holy Ghost? For this gracious baptism we must look higher than man. We must look to the Greater One.
"'Tis Thine to cleanse the heart,
To sanctify the soul
To pour fresh life in every part,
And new create the whole."
Chapter 3. The Baptism
"And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Mark 1:9-41.1.11.
A Great Event simply told.
How plain and simple and matter-of-fact the language of Mark 1:9 is 1 And yet what a stupendous and altogether amazing event it chronicles! "And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptised of John in Jordan" (Mark 1:9). For what kind of a baptism was John's baptism? It was a baptism of repentance unto remission of sins. It was a baptism in which men made public confession of their sin, and cried to God to purge it away. But Jesus was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). He "did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth" (1 Peter 2:22).
What did Jesus want at a baptism of repentance? According to Matthew's account, John himself made protest against baptising Jesus. We do not read that he hesitated to baptise anyone else. But when Jesus presented Himself he shrank from his office. His baptism was for the sinful, not for the sinless; for the vile, not for the holy. "I have need to be baptised of Thee," he cried, "and comest Thou to me?" (Matthew 3:14). But Jesus gently put John's objection aside, and the holy Lamb of God went down into the water and shared in the baptism of publicans and sinners.
The Meaning of Christ's Baptism.
What is the meaning of our Lord's baptism? Perhaps the best commentary upon it is that deep word of St Paul, "Him Who knew no sin He made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21, R.V.). For Jesus, as for all the rest, it was a "baptism of repentance."
But whose sin could He repent of? For He had no sin. No! He had no sin of His own, but He had ours. He made confession in Jordan of your sin, my reader, and mine. For when Jesus entered our humanity, He so utterly and entirely identified Himself with us that He made our very sin His own. "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses" (Matthew 8:17). He who knew no sin gathered upon His head and His heart all the sin and shame of His brothers and sisters; "He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.... And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:4, Isaiah 53:6).
An Anticipation of Calvary.
If we want to understand the full meaning of the baptism, we must see in it an anticipation of Calvary. The same boundless love which on the cross made our Lord offer sacrifice for sin, at the Jordan constrained Him to make confession of the sin of the race He had come to redeem. That was the central meaning of the baptism for Jesus.
The Descent of the Spirit.
Mark proceeds to mention two significant events that accompanied it, viz., the descent of the Spirit and the Heavenly Voice.
"Straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon Him" (Mark 1:10, R.V.). The baptism marks our Lord's definite entrance upon His Messianic work; in the gift of the Spirit God furnishes Him with the equipment He needed for His high task. God never summons to a duty without supplying the necessary power.
It was so even with His Beloved Son. Up to now Jesus had lived a quiet, normal life at Nazareth; but after the baptism a change is to be noticed. He is equipped with the power of the Spirit. It was in the power of the Spirit He went into the wilderness to battle with Satan; it was in the power of the Spirit He came teaching and preaching in Galilee; it was in the power of the Spirit He healed the sick and cast out devils and did His many mighty works. God summoned Him to a stupendous task. But He also equipped Him for it; "God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him" (John 3:34).
"Like a Dove."
"Like a dove"; what an exquisite symbol! The action of the Spirit is compared in the Scriptures sometimes to the action of purifying and cleansing fire, sometimes to that of the mighty wind, blowing the chaff away. These are figures of violence. But the Spirit descended on Jesus "like a dove." What infinite gentleness and tenderness it suggests! Fit emblem for the Spirit of Him who never broke the bruised reed or quenched the smoking flax, and who was the "friend of publicans and sinners."
The Heavenly Voice.
"And a voice came out of the heavens, Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11, R.V.). What was it evoked this expression of the Divine pleasure? The voluntary humiliation of our Lord. We sometimes make foolish antagonisms between God and Christ, as if wrath characterised the One and love the Other. But God and Christ are one in their passion for the redemption of men. And when Christ at the baptism stooped to bear human sin, God was well pleased.
"He that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11), and it is then we are most truly God's sons, when we share in our Lord's baptism, and take upon our own hearts the burden and shame of human sin.
Chapter 6. The Barren Fig-Tree: Difficulties
"And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when He had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, He went out unto Bethany with the twelve. And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, He was hungry: And seeing a fig-tree afar off having leaves, He came, if haply He might find any thing thereon: and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And His disciples heard it." Mark 11:11-41.11.14.
The Visit to the Temple. Its Import.
Before discussing the difficult passage which tells the story of the barren fig-tree, let us look at Mark 11:11, in which Mark tells us what happened after our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. "And He entered into Jerusalem," says the Evangelist, "into the Temple." "Into the Temple," surely the terminus of the procession is significant. It is significant as to the nature of Christ's Kingdom, and the character of His Kingship. Had it been an earthly kingdom our Lord was set upon establishing, had it been Herod's or Cæsar's throne He wished to occupy, He would have marched, not to the Temple, but to the castle or the procurator's palace. But Jesus had no designs against Cæsar's soldiers; no wish to sit in Pilate's or Herod's room; and so He bent His steps, not to the palace, but to the Temple. The Temple was the shrine and centre of the Jewish religion. By marching on the day on which He was acclaimed as King straight to the Temple, our Lord declared to the world that it was a spiritual kingdom He came to establish, and it was in men's hearts He desired to reign. When He reached the Temple, He "looked round about upon all things." He cast a searching, scrutinising glance upon all that was taking place in the Temple precincts. He saw much that grieved and pained Him, and on the morrow, as we shall see, He took sharp and drastic action. But on the day of His entry He contented Himself with this all-embracing gaze. He "looked round about upon all things."
The Searching Look.
How full of solemn suggestion a little phrase like this is! The Lord still visits His temple! He comes to visit His Father's house. And when He comes nothing escapes His notice. I wonder what it is He sees. He sees no one buying or selling. There are no seats of the moneychangers to be overthrown. And yet He may see things equally incongruous with the purpose of a house of God. His house is a house of prayer. But is it the prayerful and believing spirit Christ always sees? Do we never bring the proud and unforgiving spirit with us? Do not foolish and sometimes foul thoughts go racing through our minds even in a sacred place like this? Are we not often busy with worldly plans and cares, while to outward appearance engaged in worship? And by bringing these things with us into the house of God we desecrate it just as badly as did these Jews who chaffered and haggled in the Temple courts. And whatever we bring with us our Lord sees. The foolish thought, the evil temper, the wandering imagination, the unholy desire, nothing escapes His notice. Every time we gather in church, the Lord is present too, and He "looks round about upon all things." I never think of that solemn, searching, scrutinising gaze without feeling constrained to take the Psalmist's prayer on my lips and to say, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer" (xix. 14). With that solemn and searching glance our Lord contented Himself on the day of His entry; for apparently, as His lowly procession had made its way down Olivet and into Jerusalem, the day had waned; and as it was now eventide, He went out into Bethany out of the reach of His bitter foes, to the restfulness and quiet of Martha and Mary's house.
Returning to Jerusalem.
But Jerusalem was to be the scene of His labours during these last few days. He had a witness to bear, and at all risks and costs it must be borne. So, when the next morning comes, He takes the journey to Jerusalem once more. And on the way He realised He was faint and hungry. It is possible He had risen a great while before day, to seek the Father's face in prayer; and absorbed in communion with God He had clean forgotten His physical necessities. That was often the case with Jesus. Again and again it happened that He had no leisure so much as to eat. But the needs of the body cannot for long be neglected. And so Jesus, lifted in the exaltation of His spirit above any sense of need, suddenly realised that He was going to face a long and trying day in Jerusalem, and He was faint and spent almost before it began.
"He Hungered." The Barren Fig-Tree.
"When they were come out from Bethany He hungered" (Mark 11:12). Does that seem a trivial thing? Does it almost seem derogatory to the dignity of Christ to mention a fact like that? Personally, I am grateful for it. It makes one realise how truly Jesus was man, and how completely He was touched with the feeling of our infirmities. "He hungered." And ahead of Him on the road He saw a fig-tree, which promised the sustenance He needed; for although it was not the regular season of figs, this particular tree was in full leaf, and in the fig-tree, we are told, fruitage precedes leafage. But when Jesus reached it He found that the tree bore nothing but leaves. All that show of foliage was a cheat and a delusion. There was not a fig on the whole tree. And so our Lord "answered" (note the word; it is as if the tree had refused to give fruit), and said unto it, "No man eat fruit from thee henceforward for ever" (Mark 11:14). The disciples heard the sentence; and next morning, as they were making their way again into the city, they saw that the barren fig-tree had withered away.
Difficulties (1) Our Lord's Knowledge.
Now certain obvious difficulties are raised by this story. (1) The first and most obvious is concerned with Christ's knowledge. Did our Lord really expect to find fruit on the tree? Was He really ignorant that it was a barren tree? This was the difficulty that gave most trouble to ancient commentators. To admit ignorance seemed to them equivalent to denying our Lord's perfection. "If He really sought fruit," says Augustine, "He erred." And so they resort to various shifts to reconcile our Lord's pretended ignorance with His honesty. Their explanations amount practically to this that He only feigned to seek the fruit. The whole action, we are told, was symbolic; it was a "wrought" parable. The entire episode was simply meant to teach the lesson that large professions without practice, as illustrated in the case of the Jewish nation, inevitably come under the judgment and condemnation of God. Many prefer, however, the simple explanation of our Lord's conduct in connection with this fig-tree, namely, that He did not know it was barren. It was not the regular season for figs, Mark says. But our Lord inferred from its luxuriant leafage that there were sure to be figs upon it. It is urged that this interpretation in no way detracts from His Divinity (for that rests in the last resort upon His sinless life and His power to impart life to others); but that it does help to make His humanity a more real and genuine thing.
Difficulties: The Tree not a Moral Agent.
(2) A further difficulty is felt by some who hold that a tree, not being a moral agent, not being capable either of good or of evil, ought not to have been punished. But we answer the objection by the language we use of trees. We talk of "good" trees and "bad" trees. We say such and such a tree "ought" to bear well, while another perhaps cannot be "expected" to do much. That is to say, we attribute moral qualities to trees, and ourselves pass judgment upon them. All of which, again, implies that there is a certain analogy between trees and men. Indeed, our Lord more than once employs the analogy. In one familiar parable, for instance, He compares Israel to a barren fig-tree, which is only spared through the importunity of the gardener who begged for another year of grace. So now it was Israel so rich in professions, so poor in practice that He saw symbolised in that barren tree, and when He pronounced judgment upon it, it was Israel that He had in mind. It was a solemn warning to His countrymen of the doom that would surely fall upon them, if they satisfied themselves with empty professions, and brought forth no fruits meet for repentance. The physical injury was intended to teach a great spiritual lesson.
Difficulties: The Severity of our Lord. But He is Judge as well as Saviour.
(3) But behind all this, there lies a feeling that judgment of this kind is alien from the spirit of Christ. The tendency of our own day is to ignore every suggestion of sternness and austerity in the character of our Lord. We emphasise the kindly, gracious aspects of our Lord's character. "Gentle Jesus," we call Him. "A bruised reed He will not break," we say of Him, "and smoking flax He will not quench." We delight to remember that He came to seek and to save the lost, and that He was the friend of publicans and sinners. And all this is, of course, quite true. But there is another aspect of our Lord's character. He is not merely gentle and kind; He is also majestic and austere. He is not only Saviour; He is also Judge. I will admit, if you like, that judgment is strange work, distasteful work to Him. "Curse a fig-tree?" so Dr Halley used to begin a great sermon of His on this incident. "Curse a fig-tree? 'Tisn't like Him." I grant it is not like Him. It is not work in which He takes delight. He came to save men's lives, not to destroy them. But we are blind to whole tracts of the New Testament teaching if we ignore the fact that Christ is Judge as well as Saviour. He does not bear the sword in vain. We are not exalting Christ, we are doing a grave wrong to men, if we induce them to believe that Jesus is mere indulgent good-nature, and that He can view sin and wrong with easy indifference. And I am not sure that our overemphasis on the gentleness and kindness of Jesus has not already inflicted that grave wrong upon men. "No one is afraid of God now," said Dr Dale to Dr Berry one day.
To a large extent Dr Dale's remark remains true. The sense of God's holiness and purity has been lost and submerged in the sense of, I will not say His love, but His good-nature. And the result is that the edge has gone from our sense of sin, and our hatred of it. But the fear of the Lord remains to this day the beginning of wisdom. And an incident like this teaches us that neglected truth of the fear of God. Men may banish the "wrath of the Lamb" from thought and speech. But, in spite of our silence, that "wrath" remains a reality. In parable it is here in the cursing of this barren fig-tree.
God's Goodness and Severity.
"Behold, then," says St Paul, "the goodness and severity of God" (Romans 11:22). The goodness and the severity! We talk much, as a rule, about the goodness, and say nothing about the severity. But, as a matter of fact, there can be no goodness apart from severity. The indulgent father, the father who is never severe, the father who never steels his heart to punish, is not a good father. He is a weak father and a foolish father, and from the child's standpoint, a bad father. In the same way exactly a God who winked at and never punished sin would not be a good God. He would not be good in Himself; for good-nature is not the same as goodness. And He certainly would not be good towards men. I can conceive of nothing more fatal to human souls than that God should allow them to sin on without penalty or rebuke. By ignoring the austere and severe aspects of our Lord's character, we really sacrifice His holiness and perfection. Moreover, paradoxical as it may sound at first, it is a fact that we sacrifice the very kindness and love of Christ, if we ignore His severity. "Thy chastisements are love," says our familiar hymn. So they are. They are the final and consummate proof of love.
A Last Appeal.
Love is seen even m the very seventy of this action. He had already compared Israel to a persistently barren tree. They made loud professions of religion; they had all the outward parade of it; they offered sacrifices and made long prayers, but the genuine effects of religion obedience, mercy, love and truth were conspicuous by their absence. They were like this fig-tree, with a profusion of leafage, but no fruit. And by this act of blighting the barren fig-tree our Lord made a kind of last appeal, and gave a kind of final warning to Israel. He inflicted this act of penal justice upon this tree, that thereby barren Israel might be warned to escape the wrath to come. He destroyed a fig-tree that He might save men's souls.
The Pity of the Lord.
The yearning pity of the Lord shines out of an act like this. There was an intention of saving grace at the very heart of it. This is the one miracle of judgment our Lord ever performed. And when He felt constrained to assert the holiness and righteousness of God, He did not do it, Archbishop Trench remarks, like Moses and Elijah, at the expense of the lives of many men; but only at the cost of a single, unfeeling tree. His miracles of help and healing were numberless, and on men; His miracle of judgment was but one, and on a tree. Behold the "goodness and severity" of the Lord!
And His Solemn Warning.
And yet, though we may assuredly see love and kindness shining through it, the story is a solemn story. Let us not ignore its austere and searching teaching. Christ is Judge as well as Saviour. He is full of patient and seeking love for the sinner, but He burns with a flame of holy wrath against sin. And sooner or later the judgment upon sin will fall. There are limits to the patience even of the patient Christ. The blow fell upon Israel, rebellious and barren Israel, in shattering fashion, some thirty years later, when the Lord they had rejected, by the hand of the Roman power, broke the nation in pieces like a potter's vessel. And the sin that provokes judgment need not be some great and positive offence. It is barrenness that incurs the doom mentioned in the story. "Inasmuch as ye did it not," that was the charge. "Depart from Me," that was the doom. Let us "kiss the son, lest He be angry, and ye perish in the way. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him" (Psalms 2:12).
Chapter 4. The Temptation
"And immediately the Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto Him." Mark 1:12, Mark 1:13.
The Spirit's Compulsion.
"And straightway the Spirit driveth Him forth into the wilderness" (Mark 1:12, R.V.). The Spirit did this! The Spirit which in Jordan had descended upon Him like a dove. The first thing the Spirit did was vehemently and violently to "cast Him forth" into the wilderness.
What strange work for the Spirit to do! It reminds us that there is an austere and bracing side to the Spirit's ministry. We sing, "Gracious Spirit, tender Spirit, dwell with me." But sometimes the Spirit comes as a "stern lawgiver." We read in Scripture of the Spirit hindering, forbidding, binding. It is this austere side of the Spirit's ministry we get here. The Spirit "driveth Him forth into the wilderness."
"The Spirit driveth Him forth." What does this statement imply? Clearly this, there was a Divine necessity for the Temptation. This fierce struggle in the wilderness, just as certainly as the death on the cross, took place by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Can we discover wherein the "must needs" for this terrible experience lay? I think we may.
On the Side of God.
(1) First there was a "must needs" from God's side. Jesus was God's chosen instrument for the redemption of the world and the establishment of His kingdom. But the redemption of the race was to be a costly business. It meant the bitter cross and everything that led up to it. And that was really the question that confronted our Lord in the wilderness. Was He ready to take God's path to the throne? The threefold temptation, as recorded by the other evangelists, was really an appeal to Him to take a short cut to the throne, instead of travelling to it by the weary, rugged, blood-stained via crucis.
In vision it was revealed to our Lord what our redemption would cost. It was revealed to Him that it would mean rejection, scorn, Gethsemane, the cross. And the question was, whether Jesus was willing to do God's will at such a price. It was the Father's testing of the Son's obedience and faith. He showed Him the bitter cup the Redeemer of Souls would have to drink. Privations, sorrows, bitter scorn, the life of toil, the mean abode, the faithless kiss, the crown of thorns these were all ingredients in that bitter cup. And the Father showed them all to His Son in the wilderness, and said, "Art Thou able to drink of the cup?" And our Lord, counting the bitternesses, everyone, knowing all the pain and shame involved, answered His Father, "I am able."
On the Side of Man.
(2) There was a further "must needs" in the Temptation from man's side. For Christ was to be not only God's Messiah, He was also to be our brother and friend. Now an untempted Christ could never be a friend for tempted folk. To be a true and helpful friend, it was necessary that He should be tempted in all points like as we are for temptation plays a large part in every human life.
Queen Victoria, in a letter to Lord Tennyson after the death of his eldest son, wrote, "I say from the depth of a heart which has suffered cruelly and lost almost all it cared for and loved best, I feel for you; I know what you and your dear wife are suffering." The words that make that letter grateful and helpful are the words, "I know," "I feel." And Jesus passed through this struggle in the wilderness that He might be able to sympathise with us in our temptations. "I feel," Jesus cries to every struggling soul, "and I know."
Wild Beasts at Hand and Angels.
"And He was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto Him" (Mark 1:13, R.V.), "Wild beasts angels" what a startling contrast! "Wild beasts," eager to rend and tear and devour, and "angels," sent forth to minister for the sake of them that inherit salvation. They stand for the opposing forces at work in human souls, and in this great world of ours. There are wild beasts abroad. "My soul is among lions," cries the Psalmist (Psalms 57:4). "The devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8), says the apostle.
Here is an extract from a letter about one who had just made a start in the Christian life "She has absolutely no help at home, as her mother will not allow the name of Jesus to be mentioned." Poor soul! She was among the "wild beasts."
But let us not forget that there are also angels about us, always eager to help and succour and save. And they come to us at our need, as they came to Jesus in the wilderness; as they came to Him again in the Garden; as they came to Peter on the eve of what was meant to be his execution; as they came to Paul when threatened with shipwreck. "He shall give His angels charge over Thee" (Psalms 91:11). And after all the angels are mightier than the wild beasts. Where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound.
The Lord's Conflict and Ours.
In the great conflict Jesus overcame. He "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). His victory is prophetic of ours. We too, in the strength of God, may "tread the powers of darkness down, and win the well-fought day."
Chapter 5. John and Jesus
"Now, after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galileo, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." Mark 1:14, Mark 1:15.
John and the Greater than John.
The "delivering up" of John just when he was at the very height of his usefulness and power must have seemed to thousands in Palestine to be mere and sheer tragedy. But it often happens that "when the half gods go, the gods arrive," and so the imprisonment of John was but the signal for the appearance of Jesus.
When Herod shut up John in prison he probably thought he had silenced the one and only brave witness for purity and truth. When the people who loved John and believed in him heard that he had been so shut up, they probably thought that the great work he had begun was bound to come to an end. But Herod's hope and the people's fears were alike disappointed. Though John was silenced, God still had His witness. Though one worker was removed, God had Another ready to carry on the work. "Now after that John was delivered up, Jesus came" (Mark 1:14, R.V.) The silencing of the Baptist opened the lips of Him who spake as never yet man spake.
The Futility of Resistance to God.
How futile it is to try to stifle the truth and fight against the progress of the kingdom! God's work will never be allowed to come to a stand for lack of workers! The Sanhedrin stoned Stephen, but after Stephen came Paul. John Hus was burned in Constance, and Savonarola was gibbeted in Florence, but after Hus and Savonarola came Martin Luther. Mary kindled fires for Protestant confessors: she burned Latimer, Ridley, Hooper, Cranmer, in the hope of burning out Protestantism with them; but God raised one after another to continue their witness, and our free Protestant England is the result. It is ever so; God buries His workmen, but carries on his work. After John comes Jesus.
"Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God" (Mark 1:14, R.V.) Jesus came to carry on John's work, and yet with a great difference.
The Two Messages.
John's message was a stern one. It was his business to do what the old Scottish preachers called "law work," to beget conviction of sin; but the message of Jesus was a Gospel; it was glad tidings, it was good news. It was "the Gospel of God" He preached; the Gospel, that is, which originated with God, or which He received from God. It was a message of "pure mercy and of infinite love."
The Gospel of the Kingdom.
And the mercy and love were specially revealed in the fact that the kingdom of God, long promised and long expected, was about to be established. But how different a kingdom it was from that which the Jews had looked for! "Jesus came preaching!" Preaching! What the Jews looked for was a prince who should come with a sword in his hand. Instead of that Jesus come preaching! He addressed Himself not to the political passions, but to the consciences of men. The kingdom He came to establish was not a kingdom of earthly majesty, it was a kingdom of souls.
Conditions of Entry into the Kingdom: Repentance
What are the conditions of entrance into this kingdom? "Repent ye," said Jesus, "and believe in the Gospel." "Repent" that is John's call taken up and repeated by Christ. And "repent" means more than being sorry for sin, it means the repudiation of it. "Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor" that is repenting. "What things were gain to me, these I counted loss for Christ" that is repenting. "Burn them," said a convert in the Welsh Revival, handing to his minister three gambling-clubs' membership tickets that is repenting. And let us settle it with our hearts, there is no entering the kingdom without repenting.
"Repent and believe." Repentance is incomplete without faith. John left it at "repent." Jesus added a new article, "and believe in the Gospel." John said, "Put your sin away." Jesus added, "and receive into your souls the love and mercy of God."
Believe in the Gospel! Believe in the goodness and the mercy of God. "The Son of God... loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20) believe in that.
The Case of Samuel Johnson.
Do we believe in it? It is a simple and quiet faith in this Gospel that brings peace and joy. Dr. Johnson repented many a time, as his diaries bear witness. He was constantly bemoaning his sins. But it was not till he came to his dying bed that he really found peace.
A clergyman wrote to him as he lay in his last illness to this effect: "I say to you, in the language of the Baptist, 'Behold the Lamb of God.'"
"Does it say so?" murmured Johnson. "Read it again."
And the word about Jesus, the Lamb of God, in love bearing the burden of human sin, brought quiet comfort to his heart; and as we believe in the same glorious Gospel we too shall enter into peace.
Chapter 6. The Call of the First Disciples
"Now as He walked by the sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed Him. And when He had gone a little farther thence, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway He called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after Him." Mark 1:16-41.1.20.
The Master and the first Disciples.
This was by no means the first meeting between Jesus and these two pairs of brothers. This is a case in which, to make the story rational, we must compare Scripture with Scripture. For we cannot conceive of these men leaving their boats and their nets, and in the case of two of them, their father and mother as well, had it been a complete and utter stranger who said to them, "Come ye after Me." At the back of this call of Christ and the unhesitating obedience of the men called, there lies a whole history of the growth and maturing of faith.
The Way by which they were led.
To begin with, they had been disciples of the Baptist. To two of them John had pointed out Jesus as He walked and said, "Behold the Lamb of God," with the result that they followed Jesus; and the effect of their speech with Jesus was that they went in search of their nearest and best, Baying, "We have found Messiah."
Then, in addition to the testimony of John, they had been eye-witnesses of some of Christ's wonderful works. The turning of the water into wine at Cana, the healing of the nobleman's son, the miraculous draught of fishes, are all probably to be dated before this incident. Faith had been for weeks and possibly months maturing in their hearts first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.
A Worthy Leader.
These men followed Christ because they had already discovered that He was worth following. We often make an antithesis between faith and reason. But the faith that makes a man follow Christ is the highest reason. For all the centuries combine to assert that Christ is worthy. The multitude of the redeemed in heaven sing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!" They followed Him through great tribulation, through Gethsemanes and up Calvaries, but they never regretted their obedience. "He is worthy!" they cry.
Whom they followed to the End.
Peter and James and John and Andrew never repented their obedience to Christ's call. Following Christ's call brought James to the scaffold in Jerusalem, and John to exile in Patmos, and Peter to the cross in Rome. But though it entailed upon them a hard life and a bloody death, that is the word they cry to us "He is worthy!" When Professor Elmslie lay a-dying he said to his wife, "Kate, God is love, all love. Kate, we will tell everybody that but especially our own boy." What a testimony from a dying-bed! It was a modern Christian repeating the witness of prophets, saints, and martyrs, and saying, "Christ is worthy!"
Faith in Christ comes commended to us by the testimony of the centuries. He gives joy and peace in life; He gives triumph in death. And no one else and nothing else does. To leave all and follow Christ is not foolishness, it is the supremest reason.
Their new and exalted Calling.
"Come ye after me," said Jesus, "and I will make you to become fishers of men" (Mark 1:17). What an exaltation this is! From fishers to fishers of men. But that is ever Christ's way. He dignifies and exalts our calling. Notice, Christ does not destroy, He converts. He does not destroy the qualities of watchfulness and alertness these men had gained by their business as fishermen. He turns them to higher uses, "Henceforth ye shall catch men."
What is your gift song? You shall sing for Him! Speech? You shall become a preacher of Salvation. Sympathy? You shall minister to his sick and poor. What are you a builder? You shall help to build the temple of God. A soldier? You shall fight the good fight of the faith. A servant? You shall be a bond-servant of Christ. Our Lord never destroys a faculty. He consecrates and exalts it.
"Fishers of Men."
"Fishers of men!" And that is what we all ought to be; we are saved that we may become saviours. Notice how these men at once began to fish for others. Andrew went and called his own brother Simon; John went off and fetched James. Have we begun to fish for men? Have we ever laid hold of a soul for Christ? The joy of "catching a man alive" there is nothing on earth to equal it.
How shall we become "fishers of men?" Not by our own cleverness or skill. "I will make you to become fishers of men," says our Lord. "I will make you" that is the equipment. If we want to be successful fishers of men, we must go to Jesus Christ for the necessary qualifications. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts" (Zechariah 4:6).
Chapter 7. The Authority of Christ
"And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the Sabbath day He entered into the synagogue, and taught. And they were astonished at His doctrine: for He taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.... And immediately His fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee." Mark 1:21-41.1.22, Mark 1:28.
The Manner of Christ's Teaching: with Authority.
This paragraph gives us an account of our Lord's first appearance as a preacher in the synagogue at Capernaum, and also of a mighty work He performed at the close of His sermon. Both the sermon and the miracle produced a profound impression upon the crowd; and the impression produced in each case was the impression of authority. At the close of the sermon "they were astonished," Mark tells us; for "He taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mark 1:22, R.V.). When they saw the demoniac restored to self-possession, "they were all amazed,... saying, What is this? a new teaching! With authority He commandeth even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him" (Mark 1:27, R.V.).
His Authority of Character.
Here, then, we get Jesus Christ as the Authoritative Teacher. What kind of an authority was it Jesus Christ possessed? (1) It was the authority of character. The scribes had the kind of authority that comes from office. But it was not that kind of authority Jesus wielded. He had no office. He had not, as we should say, been trained for the ministry. He had never been ordained. He came straight from the carpenter's shop. And yet when He spoke, men felt there was an authority about His words they never felt in the words of the scribes, their official teachers. It was the authority of character, of a pure and holy personality. In the presence of Jesus men felt themselves instinctively in the presence of a Holy Person. That was why the traffickers in the Temple tumbled out in disordered flight before Him. That was why Pilate feared and trembled before Him. The human spirit is keenly sensitive to moral condition. And the people, as they listened, felt behind the words of Jesus all the tremendous force a holy character wields.
His Authority of Perfect Knowledge.
(2) It was the authority of perfect knowledge. In a sense the scribes had authority, for they were the recognised masters of the Law, and the teachers of Divine truth. But Christ's authority was completely different.
"Not as the scribes." The scribes taught, shall we say, at second hand. They buttressed every statement by quoting the Law and tradition. But Jesus never quotes the Law and the Prophets in support of His statements. He abrogates, alters, amends, enlarges the law of Moses on the strength of His own ipse dixit. He lays down laws declares truth with the assurance of intimate and first-hand knowledge. He speaks on the tremendous themes of God and the soul, of duty and destiny, with the authority of One who knew.
There is never a "perhaps" or "it may be"; there is never a guess or surmise in the speech of Christ. All is calm, authoritative, sure. He moves amongst the great problems of the soul as one who is perfectly at home. "I say unto you" that is His formula. "He spoke as having authority" it was the authority of perfect knowledge.
His Authority of Power.
But it was not authoritative speech alone the people discovered in Jesus, but (3) authoritative power as well. At a word from Him "the unclean spirit, tearing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him" (Mark 1:26, R.V.). If the sermon revealed Him as the Authoritative Teacher, the miracle revealed Him as the Almighty Deliverer. He has authority over every evil spirit. He can break every chain of evil. He can release every prisoner in Satan's bondage held. This is a revelation every whit as welcome as the former. For man is not simply in the dark, and longs to see; he is bound, and wants to be freed.
A Provision for Our Needs.
This double aspect of Christ's authority exactly meets our human need. Our two great desires are these: certitude in the realm of truth, and deliverance from the thraldom of evil. Men crave to know; they want certitude; they long to be sure. And to them Christ presents Himself as the Truth, God's Everlasting Yea, the answer to all their questioning. And they crave to be delivered. And to them Christ presents Himself as One who has authority over every unclean spirit. Does a man cry in his bitter bondage, "Who shall deliver me"? We can answer with the apostle, "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Chapter 8. Christ in the Home
"And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. But Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell Him of her. And He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them." Mark 1:29-41.1.31.
A Word of Significance.
"And straightway"; so our brief paragraph begins in the Revised Version. And that word "straightway" at once arrests and interests me.
The commentators tell us the word is characteristic of St Mark's eager and vivid literary style. But it is really much more than an indication of St Mark's active and bustling mind; it is a revelation of the ceaseless activity of our Lord's life.
He had just been teaching in the synagogue, giving them an illustration of His power that left the people dumb with amazement; and "straightway" in Simon's house He performs another mighty deed, and gives another proof of His mercy and grace. In our Lord's life one miracle follows another; one great deed treads upon the heels of another.
The Master's Life.
This word "straightway" illustrates, shall I say, the "pace" of our Lord's life. He had no slack time; He had no intervals of ease; He had no holidays from service. Our Lord had an abiding sense of the urgency and pressure of life. "I have a baptism to be baptised with," He said once, "and how am I straitened till it be accomplished" (Luke 12:50). "How am I straitened!" what a tremendous urgency the phrase implies! And so He gave Himself to service with a devotion that filled all who beheld Him with wonder and awe.
Its Example to us.
What an example our Lord sets to us! We are slow, and slack, and listless. We sit at ease in Zion. We let opportunity slip, instead of buying it up. Here is the motto for the Christian "straightway." John Ruskin had on his desk, confronting him whenever he stood by it, the words, "Do it now." The Christian might grave this word "straightway" on the tables of his heart. Now is always the accepted time; now is always the day of salvation.
Christ in the Home.
"And straightway, when they were come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew" (Mark 1:29, R.V.). What a privilege was Simon's! How we envy the opportunities that fell to the lot of Simon and Zacchæus and the sisters of Bethany! And yet why envy them? For the same happy privilege may be ours. "If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him" (John 14:23). They came into Simon's house, and in Simon's house our Lord continued His ministry
His Bounty there.
"Now Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever; and straightway they tell Him of her: and He came and took her by the hand, and raised her up; and the fever left her" (Mark 1:30-41.1.31, R.V.). It is Matthew Henry who says, commenting on this story, that, "Whenever Christ comes, He comes to do good, and will be sure to pay richly for His entertainment." And that is quite true. But never does He pay so richly as when a guest in a house of grief. Simon's house was such a house that day. And immediately upon our Lord's entry they tell Him their trouble. And they had no sooner told it to Him than He removed it "He came and took her by the hand; and the fever left her."
Simon one day talked a little boastfully about the sacrifices he and his friends made when they followed Christ. And our Lord replied that there was no one who had left houses or mother or brethren or sisters or children or lands, who would not receive a hundredfold. Simon was receiving some of the hundredfold that day!
Christ in the Homes of Grief.
All our homes at some time or another become homes of grief. But if Jesus is a guest, how richly He pays for His entertainment! For when we tell Him, somehow or other the burden is lifted. Not that the sickness, or whatever be the particular cause of anxiety, is at once removed, but the pain and grief are assuaged, and a blessed peace fills the soul.
How can the effect be better expressed than in the words the evangelist uses about Peter's wife's mother "the fever left her"? That is exactly it! In the midst of our troubles and grief, when we feel the healing, cooling touch of Christ, the fever the ache, the pain passes out of our souls.
"Saved to Serve."
"The fever left her, and straightway she ministered unto them." The first use she made of her newly-recovered strength was to minister to Jesus and His disciples. This is an illustration of what ought to be a universal rule. We are "saved to serve." Healing and life are given to us that we may use them in the holy service of Christ.
One commentator suggests that the serving on the part of Simon's wife's mother is the proof of the reality and completeness of the healing. If service is the proof evidence of healing, how does it stand with us? Are we serving? If not, is it certain that we have been healed? "We know," says St John, "that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14, R.V.).
Chapter 9. The Balanced Life
"And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto Him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew Him. And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." Mark 1:32-41.1.35.
Service and Supplication.
One of the most difficult things in the religious life is to keep the balance true as between service and devotion, between work and prayer. Instances of failure to preserve the true balance quickly suggest themselves. On the one hand there is the monk, who spends his days in the cloistered cell, who has sacrificed service to devotion. His is an ill-balanced life in the one direction. Then on the other hand there is the man who is so occupied with his manifold activities and philanthropies that he is too busy to pray. His is an ill-balanced life in the opposite direction.
The Balanced Life of Christ.
But what a beautifully-balanced life these verses reveal 1 Mark 1:32-41.1.33 and Mark 1:34 show Christ to us in the midst of His activities; Mark 1:35 shows Him to us in the midst of His devotions. In the evening He is busy with the crowd; in the morning before the dawn He is alone with God. Christ's piety issued in practical service. His practical service was nourished and sustained by His piety. In our Lord's life, service and communion, work and prayer, each had its due and proper place. His was a perfectly "balanced" life.
A Crowded Day.
Here we have, to begin with, a picture of Christ in the midst of His activities. What a Sabbath this was in the history of Christ! How crowded with work! First of all He preached in the synagogue; and let us never forget Christ's life-blood was in every sermon He preached. Then He cast the evil spirit out of the demoniac. Then after leaving the synagogue yet another call had been made on His compassion, and He had healed Simon's wife's mother. And let us never forget that what is true of Christ's sermons is also true of Christ's miracles they cost. Power, one of the evangelists tells us, went forth from Him (Luke 8:46, R.V.). Every act of healing was a drain upon His vitality. It cost Him life to restore life to others.
A Wearied Toiler and New Labours.
Now if that be so He must have been a tired Christ that Sabbath evening. The day had cost Him much in desire and compassion and sympathy, and He might fairly claim to have earned His rest. But it is not of rest we read, but of new and costly activities. "At even, when the sun did set, they brought unto Him all that were sick, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door," (Mark 1:32-41.1.33, R.V.).
All the city at the door, and within a tired Christ! But he makes no mention of weariness. Out of Simon's house into the midst of that pathetic crowd He passes, carrying healing and blessing with Him. What tireless activity is this! Christ spent Himself in the service of men. He lived under the constraint of a great urgency. "We must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work" (John 9:4, R.V.).
The Worker at Prayer.
And side by side with this picture of Christ in the midst of His activities, we have a picture of Christ in the midst of His devotions. "In the morning, a great while before day, He rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed" (Mark 1:35, R.V.). There is the most close and intimate connexion between the one picture and the other.
I was once taken through the engineering shops in the Devonport dockyard. I saw innumerable machines busy at various kinds of work, most of them making considerable noise in the process. Then my conductor took me to a room which by contrast was almost silent, where a great engine was working smoothly and quietly.
"This," said he, "is the power-room." In that quiet room I found the secret of the multifarious activities of the machines in the various shops. In Mark 1:32-41.1.34, Mark has been showing us our Lord's various activities. In Mark 1:35 he takes us to the "power-room." Back of all the activities of the synagogue and the street lay a life of secret prayer. In communion with His Father, Jesus refreshed and renewed Himself for further labour and toil amongst men. "A great while before day" Jesus made time for prayer! He snatched it from His sleep.
An Example for us.
What an object-lesson as to the indispensable necessity of prayer! We realise the obligation of service in these days, and consequently we have become very "busy." But are we neglecting the "power-room"? We must keep the balance true. We must never become too busy to pray.
"This kind," said our Lord, "can come out by nothing, save by prayer" (Mark 9:29, R.V.).
Chapter 10. The Philanthropy of Jesus
"And Simon and they that were with him followed after Him. And when they had found Him, they said unto Him, All men seek for Thee. And He said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth. And He preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils." Mark 1:36-41.1.39.
In search of the Healer.
Our Lord had, according to Mark 1:35, "risen up a great while before day," and had departed into a desert place to pray. He had stolen out while His disciples were asleep. It was only when, with the dawning of the day, those who had sick folk in the city, and who had not received Christ's healing grace on the previous evening, began to knock at the door and inquire for Him, that the disciples discovered He was not there. And then they pursued that is the Greek word in hot haste after Jesus.
Incidentally let us notice what a tribute there is here to the character of Jesus. These four disciples knew exactly where to look for Him. They had already become acquainted with His prayer habits. They knew His love for quiet and solitary communion. And so when He was missing, they went straight to the place of prayer to look for Him.
Retirement hardly found.
"They pursued after Him." What an illustration this is of the difficulties of communion! "Scarcely can we turn aside," our hymn says, "for one brief hour of prayer." Jesus could "scarcely turn aside." It was with difficulty He found His "quiet time." Something or other the clamour of the multitude, the cares of the world was always following Him even into the desert place. We know this difficulty too. What between the claims of business and family, social and church duties, we have no leisure for the "quiet time." Every hour we are "pursued" by something or other, nevertheless, we must make time for prayer. Meal times and prayer times, as the old saying puts it, are not lost times.
A Great Truth Expressed.
"All men are seeking Thee," said Peter, half petulantly and reproachfully. And by that he meant that the people of Capernaum wanted to hear more of the wonderful Teacher, and to see more of the wonderful Healer who had so astonished them the day before. But Peter spoke better than he knew.
"All men are seeking Thee." Does not this express the attitude of the wide world? Is it not Christ the world is wanting? Men are not able always to interpret their own needs, but is it not true that
"Far and wide, though all unknowing,
Pants for Thee each mortal breast;
Human tears for Thee are flowing,
Human hearts in Thee would rest"?
I read in John's Gospel of certain Greeks who came to Philip saying, "Sir, we would see Jesus" (John 12:21). I read in Henry Drummond's biography that the message the Japanese gave him to bring over to England was this, "Give us your Christ." "All men are seeking Thee." Christ is the common and universal need.
"All are seeking Thee," said Peter; but Jesus did not promptly return with them to Capernaum, all seething with expectancy and excitement.
Our Lord's Reply.
"Let us go," was His reply, "elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also" (Mark 1:38, R.V.). "Behold," says one old commentator, remarking on this answer of our Lord, "the philanthropy of Christ."
The old commentator is quite right. That is what shines out of this answer, the philanthropy the broad and all-embracing love for men that filled Christ's heart. Peter's appeal was a selfish appeal. He would have confined Christ's ministrations to Capernaum. But Christ had a larger heart and a broader sympathy and a wider outlook than His disciple. "Let us go elsewhere," He said.
The Wider Fields.
Our Lord was always thinking of the "elsewhere." When the minds of His disciples are full of Capernaum, He is thinking of the "elsewhere" of Galilee. When their minds are full of Judæa, He is thinking of the "elsewhere" of Samaria. And when they have taken in the "elsewhere" of Samaria, He journeys with them to Tyre and Sidon, to remind them of the "elsewhere" of the wide world. "Other sheep," He said, "I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring" (John 10:16).
For us also.
"Let us go elsewhere." In His larger sympathies the Master wants His disciples to share. A young missionary came home invalided. His friends thought that under the circumstances a home pastorate would be the best thing for him, but he himself longed and fretted to get back.
"Why do you wish to return?" said one of them to him.
"Because," was the reply, "I can't sleep for thinking of them." He felt the call and the pull and the appeal of the "elsewhere." Do we? Do we share in the philanthropy of Christ? Christ is ever on the march to the regions beyond, to the "elsewhere," and if we would enjoy His company we must keep step with Him.
Chapter 11. The Healing of the Leper
"And there came a leper to Him, beseeching Him, and kneeling down to Him, and saying unto Him, If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. And He straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away; And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to Him from every quarter." Mark 1:40-41.1.45.
A Manifestation of Power.
What a revelation, not simply of the power but of the exquisite tenderness of Christ, this story gives us! With a superb and daring faith the leper cried, "If Thou wilt (or wiliest), Thou canst make me clean," and in response our Lord said, "I will; be thou made clean" (Mark 1:40-41.1.41, R.V.). But that was not all He did. It would have been sufficient, we know. Our Lord could with a word and at a distance have cleansed this man of his loathsome plague. That would have showed His power. But He did more than that. "Being moved with compassion, He stretched forth His hand, and touched him;" and that showed His love (Mark 1:41, R.V.).
The Touch of Love.
All the evangelists make special note of the "touch." It is in the "touch" that the real glory of Christ is seen. It is in the "touch" His compassion shines forth. Our Lord could have kept this man at a distance. He could have flung the gift of healing to him, as we fling a bone to a dog; and by so doing He might have hurt the man's soul while healing his body. But that is never Christ's way. "Moved with compassion, He stretched forth His hand, and touched him," and by that touch He brought healing to his soul as well as cleansing to his body. It showed the leper that he had in Jesus not simply a Healer but a Lover of his soul.
It is Dr. Dale who calls attention to this fact that it is not in the words of Christ we find the fuller and deeper revelation of the divine compassion, but in His deeds. "I doubt," Dr. Dale says, "whether Christ ever said anything about the divine compassion more perfectly beautiful or more pathetic than had been said by the writer of the 103rd Psalm 'Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.'" But new wonders of compassion, infinite reaches and depths of compassion, are revealed in our Lord's deeds. And amongst the actions of Christ that disclose the wealth of His compassion is this, "He stretched forth His hand, and touched him." Him! that poor, loathsome, abject creature, who had not felt the pressure of a clean hand upon him for years. Yet it was he whom Jesus stretched forth His hand and touched. It was not necessary for the healing of his body; no, this was love for the enriching and gladdening of his soul.
The One Undefiled.
"He stretched forth His hand, and touched him." But did not the Law say that contact with a leper caused defilement? Yes, it did. But Jesus touches corruption, and yet contracts no taint. We have an old proverb to the effect that a man cannot touch pitch without being defiled. And Paul quotes a saying, to much the same purpose, from an old Greek play when telling the Corinthians that "evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33). And yet Jesus was constantly touching what men would call "pitch" without defilement. Look at him here. He lays His hand on the leper's loathsome flesh and contracts no taint; instead of that, the leper receives cleansing from His purity.
The Miracle an Acted Parable.
Indeed, this is a parable of what Jesus was doing all through His life. He was continually; "touching the leper." What was His Incarnation? It was a case of "touching the leper." He "took hold" upon the seed of Abraham. He was found in the likeness of sinful flesh. And yet He contracted no defilement. He dwelt amongst men, "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." And all through His earthly career, was He not continually and deliberately "touching the leper"? He went and sat at meat with publicans and sinners; what is that but "touching the leper"? "Zacchæus, make haste and come down, for to-day I must abide at thy house;" what was that but "touching the leper"? And yet Jesus never brought a smudge or a stain upon His perfect purity. Instead of that His purity cleansed the sinners and lepers whom he touched.
The Master and the Servant
Can we not understand how it was Jesus was able not only to touch the sinner without defilement, but by His very purity uplifted and saved him? He came to be the Lamb without spot and without blemish; to live for, to die for others. God gave not the Spirit "by measure unto Him" (John 3:34). And we, too, if we be filled with the Spirit, may live even in Sardis and not "defile our garments."
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Jones, J.D. "Commentary on Mark 1". Jones' Commentary on the Book of Mark. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany