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Chapter 11. The Leaven of the Pharisees
"In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples unto Him, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far. And His disciples answered Him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? And He asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. And He commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and He took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to His disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. And they had a few small fishes: and He blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and He sent them away. And straightway He entered into a ship with His disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha. And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with Him, seeking of Him a sign from heaven, tempting Him. And He sighed deeply in His spirit, and saith, "Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. And He left them, and entering into the ship again departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the ship with them more than one loaf. And He charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread. And when Jesus knew it, He saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto Him, Twelve. And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said Seven. And He said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?" Mark 8:1-21.
The Feeding of the Four Thousand.
I am going to omit any extended treatment of the paragraph which describes the feeding of the 4000. The outstanding lessons are mainly identical with those suggested by the feeding of the 5000 (see pp. 50-61). The only noticeable point of difference is this that, while the feeding of the 5000 was not a wort of necessity, but was deliberately performed by our Lord to symbolise His dying and the giving of His flesh to be the food of the world, this later wilderness feast was provided in order to meet an urgent necessity. It found its motive, not in any truth Jesus wished to teach, but in His pitifulness and compassion. The crowd had been with Him three days, and had had nothing to eat, and He would not send them away fasting to their homes, lest they should faint by the way, for many of them had come from far. The presence of 4000 people with Him in the wilderness would seem to show that the popularity lost by the sermon on the Bread of life had to a large extent been recovered.
But Christ was more in love with quietness than popularity. What He wanted most was opportunity for quiet talk with His disciples. And so, when the great feast was over, He entered into the boat with His disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha. Where Dalmanutha was, it is impossible to say, for this is the only place where the name is mentioned. "He came," Matthew says, "into the borders of Magadan" (Matthew 15:39). But that does not help us, as Magadan is as impossible to locate as Dalmanutha, Matthew's account being the only place where the name occurs. Travellers and geographers have suggested identifications with various sites, one or other of which may possibly have been the Dalmanutha mentioned here, though it is by no means certain. The fact seems to be that Dalmanutha and Magadan whether they are two names for one place, or two places adjacent to each other were very obscure places. And it was their obscurity that constituted their attractiveness to our Lord. He made His way to these hidden, out-of-the-way spots, whose very location has passed out of the recollection of men, because they seemed to promise Him an undisturbed retreat, where at length He could enjoy that opportunity for quiet speech with His disciples about Himself and the shameful end He knew was in store for Him an opportunity which hitherto He had sought in vain.
He was, however, again disappointed in His hope. When He passed northwards into the borders of Phœnicia, He could not be hid need, misery discovered Him. Now, when He proceeded eastward to these obscure villages, He could not be hid hate discovered Him.
"And the Pharisees came forth," says Mark Matthew tells us that some Sadducees were also with them a fact we should have gathered from Christ's subsequent conversation with His disciples, even if Matthew had not told us so explicitly. Pharisees and Sadducees were, as a rule, at daggers drawn. They were separated from one another by deep religious and political differences. The Pharisee stood for the strictest orthodoxy; the Sadducee was more or less of a rationalist. The Pharisee was politically an enthusiastic, not to say fanatical, nationalist; the Sadducee was willing to accept foreign rule, and, indeed, to identify the Messianic anticipations of Israel with the Herodian dynasty. But for the time Pharisees and Sadducees had forgotten their mutual antagonism in a common hate of Jesus. They had thwarted and opposed Him before, as we have already seen. Perhaps, when they saw the crowds desert Him after His sermon on the Bread of life, and discovered that He had gone northwards into Phœnicia, they may have flattered themselves that they had finally got rid of Him. But His return, and the crowding out of so many thousands into the wilderness to hear Him, stirred them to renewed activity. He had scarcely reached His retreat before they were on the scene. They had probably come forth from Capernaum, and their object was to ply Christ with captious questions, and, if possible, to "catch Him in His words."
A Sign Demanded. Monuments of Mercy seen.
They began their policy of entangling questions, by reiterating their demand for a "sign." This was a strange demand, was it not? For our Lord's career as a Teacher had been marked by an abundance of "signs." That is what all of our Lord's miracles were they were "signs." That is John's comment, after the first of them, "This beginning of His signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory" (John 2:11). And ever since that first sign, signs the most wonderful and subduing had continued to mark our Lord's course. Wherever He went He left behind Him some monument of His power and grace. When Eleanor, the wife of King Edward, died at Harby, they brought her body to Westminster for burial, and in every town at which her body rested for a night they built a cross; you can trace the route of that funeral procession by the crosses that still remain. So you could trace Christ's progress through Palestine by the healed men and women to be found in every place, monuments to His compassion and love. He went to Jerusalem, and He left His monument there in the person of the impotent man whom He restored to health and strength. He went to Cana, and He left His monument there in the person of the nobleman's son rescued from the very jaws of death. He went to Decapolis, and He left His monument there in him who had had the legion but was clothed and in his right mind. He went into the borders of Phœnicia, and left His monument there in the person of the daughter of the Canaanitish woman, whom He delivered from the tyranny of an unclean spirit. He went to Jericho, and He left His monument there in the person of blind Bartimæus restored to sight. He went to Bethany, and He left His monument there in the person of dead Lazarus called back again to life. And as for Capernaum, from which place these carping Pharisees had come, He had done so many signs in Capernaum that, if He had done the like in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
And yet ignored.
And yet, in spite of all this, these Pharisees and Sadducees came to Him asking for a sign. Other people were awed and subdued, and convinced by what they saw. Nicodemus declared that no one could do such mighty works except God were with him; the multitudes, when they saw the palsied man restored, glorified God, saying, "We never saw it on this fashion"; even the half pagan people of Decapolis, when they saw the deaf and dumb man able to hear and able to speak, declared, "He hath done all things well," and glorified the God of Israel. But these Pharisees and Sadducees affected to be still in doubt; they insinuated that there was room in all these signs for illusion and delusion, and so they come to Him clamouring for a sign about which there should be no controversy or dispute they seek of Him a sign from heaven.
A Sign from Heaven sought.
From heaven, because heaven was supposed to be a place where Satan had no power. In their bitterness and malice they had not hesitated to suggest that some of our Lord's miracles were done by Satan's help and power. But a sign from heaven would prove past dispute the Divineness of Christ's mission. They do not specify what precise sign they want; "that He should stop the sun or rein in the moon, or hurl down thunder or the like," says Chrysostom. Probably they had in mind the manna sent down from heaven in answer to the prayer of Moses, or the fire called down by Elijah, or the thunder and rain called down by Samuel; at any rate, some sign from heaven, that they might see and believe.
The Sorrow of Jesus.
And when He heard this request our Lord "sighed deeply in His spirit," or rather, groaned deeply. What evoked this deep groan from the spirit of Jesus? We saw before that His sigh over the deaf and dumb man was a sigh wrung from Him by the thought of the havoc sin had made in a world which God made "very-good." This deep and vehement groan is a groan over sin itself. If it had been weak faith crying out for succour and confirmation, our Lord, you may depend upon it, would have done or said something to meet its need. But this demand for a sign was not the cry of weak faith. It was the final evidence of callousness and obduracy of heart. Christ had already given signs more than sufficient to men of open and honest heart But these were men who did not want to believe. Their request for a sign from heaven was made, not in the interests of belief, but as an excuse for unbelief. And that was why Christ groaned deeply. Here were men hardening their hearts against the evidences of God's grace, doing despite to the Holy Spirit of God, deliberately sinning against the light. It was over this that Christ sighed. I find that scarcely anything stirred Christ to deeper emotion than the thought of the people's unbelief. It was one of the things over which He is said to have "marvelled." And when He burst into that passion of tears and grief over Jerusalem, the cause lay in the obduracy and unbelief of the people.
A Personal Question.
All of this suggests the question whether Christ has any occasion to sigh over us. For confessedly He accomplishes in our midst the most wonderful "mighty works." He restores the morally blind, He heals the morally leprous, He quickens the morally dead. His Divine Commission would seem to be sufficiently attested; yet multitudes refuse to believe on Him. And their obduracy causes infinite pain and sorrow to His heart He sighs deeply in His spirit. Does He sigh over us?
The Refusal of the Sign.
The reply of Jesus to the demand was, "Why doth this generation seek a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation" (Mark 8:12). Now, why did Jesus refuse these people a sign? Various reasons have been suggested, and there is probably something in every one of them. (1) To begin with, the motive that prompted the request was wholly wrong. As I said, it was not confirmation of a struggling faith that these people wanted, but rather an excuse for unbelief. (2) Then again, as some commentators suggest, even a sign from heaven would have been wasted upon these people. You remember what our Lord said in the parable of Dives and Lazarus, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). An extraordinary preacher, says Jesus, would produce no effect upon men who could remain unmoved under the preaching of Moses and the prophets. And the same principle held good with reference to these Pharisees and Sadducees. Men who could remain untouched and unpersuaded who could convince themselves there was nothing Divine in the healing of the palsied, the feeding of the 5000, the raising of Jairus' daughter would not be persuaded though Christ should give them a sign from heaven. They would try to explain even that away. They did try to explain it away. For when the voice from heaven came saying, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again," those who stood by said it was only thunder.
The Reason for Refusal.
But I think there were other and deeper reasons why Christ refused this "sign from heaven." First of all, as far as I can make out from a study of the Gospels, Christ never performed any miracle from motives of mere display. They were never done for spectacular effect. He never performed a miracle, as far as I can discover, to prove His Deity, or to constrain people to believe on Him. The result of His miracles often was that people did believe on Him, because through them they beheld His glory. But that was never the motive. The motive was always our Lord's pity and kindness and desire to do good. He never performed a useless miracle. He never displayed His power for display's sake. His works were always a revelation of His grace. But such a "sign" as these Pharisees asked for would have been contrary to our Lord's whole method. Every element of mercy, humanity, and instruction would have been banished from it. It would have reduced Christ to the level of the magician, the mere wonder-worker, and He refused to do it. (3) And there is this further fact. Christ, as Mr. Latham points out in his Pastor Pastorum, never overwhelmed the human mind and will by His miracles. Their evidence was never irresistible. That is to say, if men wished to find a loophole for doubt, they could generally find one. It had of necessity to be so; otherwise religion would, as Mr. Latham says, be not a faith, but a science; trust in Christ would cease to be a moral act. There is no moral quality about our belief that two and two make four; we are so made that we must believe it. You can see that if the "signs" which Christ did proved His Divinity in the same mathematical and irresistible way, faith in Him as the Divine Saviour would be as void of moral quality as our belief to-day that two and two make four. It seems a paradox, but in reality it is sober truth to say, that before a genuine faith can be exercised, there must be room for question and doubt. For there is always an element of the venturesome in faith. People crave for certitude. They have a hankering after mathematical proof in the realm of religion. They are hankering after the impossible. The law of religion is, "we walk by faith, not by sight." If Christ had given an absolutely irresistible "sign from heaven" such a sign as left men powerless to disbelieve He would not have created faith, He would have destroyed it. He would have overwhelmed the mind, He would not have convinced it. So He declined this final and irresistible sign. He left room for the exercise of "faith." He has given us "signs" enough to persuade the honest and sincere heart. If men refuse to be persuaded, it is because they have an evil heart of unbelief. And so a man's faith or unfaith becomes an index to his moral nature.
The Leaven of the Pharisees.
"There shall no sign be given unto this generation," Christ said. And having said that He left them, and again entering into the boat, departed to the other side. But though He left them, He could not forget them. While His disciples were busy attending to the boat, Christ brooded over the obduracy and blindness and malignant hate of these people He had just left. And then, as Dr. A. B. Bruce says, "Abruptly, and as one waking out of a reverie, He uttered this solemn warning to His disciples, "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod" (Mark 8:15). I need not refer to the stupid literalism of the disciples, who actually thought at first Christ was warning them against purchasing bread that came from the hands of the Pharisees and Herodians. Their colossal misunderstanding only shows how urgent was their need of that special training Christ was eager to give, how far as yet they were from appreciating the spiritual character of the Kingdom. But I pass all that by. They understood at length, as Matthew puts it, that He "bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:12). Now what was there in the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees that made Christ warn His disciples thus solemnly against it?
Hypocrisy. Formalism. Materialism.
The Pharisees are again and again denounced by Christ as "hypocrites." They made a great show of religion; but it was a case of much cry and little wool. The form was there, without the power. They paid tithes of mint and anise and cummin, and neglected mercy and righteousness and truth. Formality was the besetting sin of the Pharisees. That was the "leaven" against which Christ warned the disciples. For "formalism" is ever the foe of true religion. The man who magnifies the outward and mechanical is always in danger of minimising and neglecting the inward and the spiritual. Formalism in Palestine nineteen centuries ago was so much the foe of religion that it nailed the Lord of life to the tree. And if formalism was the leaven of the Pharisees, materialism was the leaven of Herod. For the Herodians who were mainly Sadducees were people who abandoned their national hopes and ideals, attached themselves to the usurping and half-pagan Herodian dynasty, for the sake of present material advantage. And materialism again is the deadly foe of religion. It is the antithesis, denial of religion. "Love of the world is enmity against God." "Beware," said Jesus, "of these two things." They had stifled out the religion in the hearts of these Pharisees and Herodians. They would stifle out the religion in their hearts, if allowed to enter. Has the warning any pertinency for our day? Surely, my brethren, it has. These are the two most menacing perils of our own day formalism and materialism, the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.
These are not ancient perils. They are perils of to-day. There is no warning more needed by us than this "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." Beware of formalism, the leaven of the Pharisees. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Beware of materialism the leaven of Herod. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (1 John 2:15-17).
Chapter 12. The Healing of the Blind Man at Bethsaida
"And He cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto Him, and besought Him to touch him. And He took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when He had spit on his eyes, and put His hands upon him, He asked him if he saw ought. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that He put His hand again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. And He sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town." Mark 8:22-26.
Christ and the Twelve.
The clue to our Lord's movements at this stage of His career is that desire for quietness, and the opportunity for speech and converse with His disciples which quietness would afford, to which I have already referred more than once. How urgent was the need for instructing and teaching the Twelve the conversation about leaven that took place as they crossed the sea only too plainly revealed. There is a sense of disappointment in Christ's word to them, "Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? do ye not yet perceive, neither understand?... Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?" (Mark 8:17-18). It was saddening to Jesus that, in spite of all their associations with Him, when He talked of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of Herod, they should think that He was talking of bread. It was disheartening that, in spite of the miracle of the 5000, and the subsequent miracle of the 4000, these disciples should get into something like a panic, because they had only with them one loaf. And these were the men upon whom would rest the whole burden of the work when He was gone, and upon whose zeal and understanding (humanly speaking) the future of the Kingdom would depend. In view of all this, you can understand our Lord's anxiety for quietness, wherein to devote Himself to the instruction and the discipline of these disciples. Indeed, it is not too much to say that from this time forth this was the work upon which Christ concentrated His energies. In the first part of His career He gave Himself up to the work of public preaching; in the second part of His career He gave Himself specially to the work of "training the Twelve." In His desire for quiet, in order to be able to undertake this "training" work, He had gone from place to place. But always something intervened. He had gone to the borders of Phœnicia, and the woman with a sick daughter had found Him out; and after that there was no privacy for Him. He had come down into the coasts of Decapolis; but His fame had preceded Him, until soon there was a crowd of 4000 men hanging on His lips for days at a time in the wilderness. He escaped to Dalmanutha; but even in that obscure and out-of-the-way place hate discovered Him, and the Pharisees and Herodians dogged His steps. So once again Jesus moved on.
Leaving Dalmanutha He took ship, sailed to the other side, and came to Bethsaida. This is not the Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter, situated near Capernaum, and so frequently referred to in the Gospel story. This is Bethsaida Julias, once a mere village, but now raised by one of the Herods to the rank of a city, situated on the north-eastern corner of the Sea of Galilee, near the river Jordan. Jesus was really on His way to the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, in the north, for it seemed hopeless to expect privacy anywhere in Galilee. He visited Bethsaida Julias only because it was on His route. But, passing visit though it was, someone recognised Him, and soon He was confronted by a little company of people who brought to Him a man who was blind, and besought Him to touch him. And the five verses that follow tell us of the miracle Christ wrought upon this particular sufferer. I have said that Christ wherever He went left His monument behind Him, in the shape of a household blessed, or a man or woman or child healed. He was only passing through this city of Bethsaida Julias, and yet He left His monument there too, in the person of this blind man restored to sight. It was a case of goodness by the way.
Now this miracle, like that of the healing of the deaf and dumb man which we have already studied together, is peculiar to St Mark. And in several of their details the two are very much alike, and suggest very much the same reflections and lessons. Upon these similarities I shall only very lightly touch, in order that I may have time to emphasize the one or two lessons that are special and peculiar to this narrative.
The Blind Man.
"And they bring to Him a blind man" (Mark 8:22). There is no deprivation more pitiable than that of blindness, and in the East, especially in Egypt and Syria, there is none more common. The conditions of climate and life, the glare of the sun, the dust, account for this. One-tenth of the population of Joppa suffer from ophthalmia. In Cairo, out of a quarter of a million of people, there are 4000 blind. Sightless, blear-eyed, fly-infected, miserable men and women confront travellers in every Syrian town and village to-day, and make one of the most distressing spectacles of Eastern life. I suppose it was the prevalence of this terrible affliction that made the prophet anticipate, as one of the blessings that Messiah would bring with Him, that, "the eyes of the blind shall be opened." So, when John the Baptist sent from prison to ask Jesus if He really were the long-expected Messiah, Jesus bade the messengers go back, and tell John what they had seen and heard, and amongst other things this, that "the blind receive their sight."
Led to Jesus.
It was one of this sorry, afflicted class that was brought to Jesus as He passed through Bethsaida. Some preachers have made a great deal of the word "bring" "they bring to Him a blind man." They have pressed the word, to suggest that the desire and faith were all in the friends of the sufferer, and not in the sufferer himself; some going so far as to make out that the patient was a passive and even unwilling subject. And on this exegesis they have built homilies about the duty of our bringing our friends to Jesus for help and healing. The lesson they teach is admirable enough; the highest service one friend can render to another is to introduce him to Jesus, but the exegesis upon which in this particular instance it is based is quite unwarranted. The word "bring" in this case carries with it no implication of unwillingness; it has reference solely and simply to the man's blindness. Just because he was blind, he had to be brought, led to Jesus. And then Jesus does two things to this blind man, similar to two things He had done in the case of the deaf and dumb man.
First of all, the miracle is performed in privacy. "He took hold of the blind man by the hand, and brought him out of the village" (Mark 8:23). He Himself led him out, upon which Bengel makes the remark, "wondrous humility!" Yea, so it is, but not rare or uncommon in the case of Jesus. That is what He was always doing. Jesus was not like an Eastern monarch, haughty, inaccessible, dispensing favours from a throne. He stooped to become a friend of the poorest. Indeed, this is what He did for the whole race when He took flesh. He took hold upon the seed of Abraham. He took our fallen, guilty, sin-stained race by the hand. He took this blind man by the hand, and I do not think it is fanciful to suppose that there would be something in the warm pressure of our Lord's hand that would assure the sufferer that he was in the company of a friend. Had he been able to look into the Master's face, he would have seen love and kindness shining there; the handclasp was meant to assure him of the love he could not see. "He took hold of the blind man by the hand, and brought him out of the village" (Mark 8:23). He took him aside from the staring and gaping crowd. Partly, no doubt, for the man's own sake. For Christ's best lessons are taught when He can get a man alone. But partly also, as the narrative makes abundantly clear, for His own sake. Jesus was in search of privacy. A great wonder wrought before the eyes of a great crowd would entirely have defeated His object. It would have brought the multitudes about Him. It would have created a dangerous enthusiasm. So He did His act of beneficence by stealth. He took the blind man out of the village, and when He had accomplished His act of healing, He sent him away to his home, saying, "Do not even enter into the village" (Mark 8:26).
Symbolic Action Used.
And secondly, in this case, as in the case of the deaf and dumb man, He used symbolic action. "When He had spit on his eyes,... He laid His hands upon him" (Mark 8:23). Now saliva was supposed to have some healing medicinal quality. And the object Christ had in anointing the blind man's eyes with His saliva was as in the case of boring the deaf man's ears to quicken a spirit of expectancy and faith within him. All of which, says Dr. Alexander Maclaren, is the way in which Christ stoops to the use of material helps, in order to minister to sense-bound natures. The ordinances of worship, the Sacraments, they are great means of grace; but from one point of view they are accommodations to our human weakness. The pure spirits in heaven need no such aids for their worship. "I saw no temple therein." But, composed as we are of flesh and spirit, an absolute and naked spirituality of worship is impossible to us; we need the sacred day and the sacred place, and the sacred symbols of bread and wine. Only let us always remember this that, just as the healing power was not in this saliva with which Jesus anointed the blind man's eyes, but in the Lord Himself, in His will and commanding word, so the grace is not in the ordinance, or in the place, or in the symbols, but in the present living Christ. The holy place is visited in vain, and the worship is shared in in vain, and the bread and wine are partaken of in vain, unless we come into direct and immediate contact with the saving and redeeming Christ.
But now I pass on from these points of similarity, to points which are special and peculiar to this particular miracle.
The Gradual Illumination.
And the first point I want you to notice is that of the gradualness of the cure. Usually in the record of our Lord's miracles, the sick man, whatever his disease might be, was cured at once by a word. But in this case the man was healed not at once, but at twice. After spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on them, Jesus asked the blind man if he could see anything. "And he looked up, and said, I see men; for I behold them as trees, walking" (Mark 8:24). That is to say, he could discern large objects in motion; and though they looked like trees, he concluded that they were men, for the simple reason that they were walking about. So again Jesus "laid His hands upon his eyes; and he looked steadfastly, and was restored, and saw all things clearly" (Mark 8:25).
The Lord's Way with Souls.
The commentators make a great deal of the fact that all this is in closest accord with later scientific discovery. But I confess it is not its truth to scientific discovery, but the broad fact of the gradual nature of the cure, that interests me. For it seems to me that we have in this miracle a symbol, a parable of the way in which Christ works in the matter of the illumination of the soul. Take it on the broadest platform, to begin with. What is the Bible? It is the story of the progressive revelation of God to the human race. But there is a vast difference between the first beginnings of revelation, as we have them in Genesis, let us say, and the full and perfect revelation given to us in Jesus Christ. God, we are assured, spoke "unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners" (Hebrews 1:1). He revealed Himself, the verse seems to suggest, in fragments. These patriarchs of our race saw God, they were vividly and intensely conscious of Him; but you cannot read the Old Testament books without seeing that they did not see God clearly. There is much of error and mistake in their ideas about God. But their knowledge grew from more and more, until at length it was granted unto men to see the full light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ
Progressive Spiritual Vision.
Take it on the narrower platform of the individual life, and there again it is true that our spiritual vision is progressive. We do not see everything clearly at the first touch of Christ. The whole teaching of the New Testament insists upon progression in our apprehension of Christian truth. When Christ first opens our eyes to eternal things, all does not at once become clear. We see things dimly, darkly, indistinctly. The heights and depths of Christian truth are not revealed to us. The lengths and breadths of God's love are not comprehended by us. The meaning and power of the cross of Christ, for instance that is not something that breaks upon us in a flash; it grows upon us more and more. I suppose my own experience is but a sample of that of thousands of others. It was but a poor and imperfect vision of the cross of Christ I had when I started my Christian life. But it has become clearer and clearer to me as the years have rolled by. My study of God's Word, my experience of life, my better acquaintance with the sins and wants of my own heart, all these things have helped me to fuller understanding of the great mystery of Christ's death and passion. I do not say that "I see clearly" even yet; but I see heights and depths, glories and mercies in the cross of Christ to-day that were hidden from me twenty years ago. And this is only an example. The same truth could be illustrated in the matter of prayer and providence, and the person of Christ. We do not see all or know all at once. The knowledge is progressive. And vision grows in clearness as we receive "grace for grace," unceasingly renewed, and enter into the secret of the Lord which is with them that fear Him.
But Contact with Christ.
But notice that a man may have been really touched by Christ, even though his vision may be vague and dim. "I see men," said this sufferer, "for I behold them as trees walking." And yet he had really experienced the touch of Christ. And so there are men and women whose notions of truth may be very crude and ignorant, who yet have come into that direct and immediate contact with Christ which really constitutes the salvation of the soul.
The Perfect Vision.
But while the story teaches the truth that spiritual illumination is gradual, it also brings us the assurance that Christ will not leave His work till He has given us perfect vision. He was not content to leave this man in that condition of imperfect and uncertain sight when men appeared to him as trees walking. Our Lord touched his eyes again, and he was restored, and saw all things clearly. And this is just a parable of what Christ will do for the soul. Before He has finished with us, we too shall see all things clearly. "The path of the righteous is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18). Light, the "shining light." And you have perhaps watched the light of dawn. You have seen it first touch the hills, while the valley lay shrouded in darkness and night; and then gradually creep down the hill-side, sweeping the night before it, until at length it has invaded every nook and cranny, and filled them with sunshine and brightness. The path of the just shall be like that; it shall lead him into fuller and fuller light, until at length it is "perfect day" with him perfect day. I know how hard it is to bear the dim twilight of the dawn. I know how fiercely some of us long to see and to know. How we chafe at the limitations of our vision! I had a letter only a few days ago from a father who had just lost a daughter of fifteen. How that father wants to know! He wrote to me pathetically, asking me questions that are as much hidden from me as from him. But Christ will not leave us for ever in the twilight, with only a groping and uncertain knowledge. He will bring us into the "perfect day." I do not know that the "perfect day" will ever be ours in this life. The skies will grow brighter for us, and the vision clearer year by year, if we really follow on to know the Lord; yet to the end there will be many things that are not plain. But as to the life beyond, "there shall be no night there," no shred of darkness left, sacred high eternal noon, the "perfect day." And then at length we shall "see clearly."
To be attained at the Last.
There were two stages in this man's experience. He saw men as trees, the stage of imperfect vision. He saw all things clearly, the stage of perfect sight. There are two similar stages in our experience. This is how Paul states them: "Now we see in a mirror darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I have been known" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Let us live in hope. Christ will in His own good time complete the work He has begun. He who is the Author is also the Finisher of our faith. He will not leave us in the night; He will bring us at length into the perfect day, when we shall see all things clearly.
Chapter 13. Questions and Answers
"And Jesus went out, and His disciples, into the towns of Cæsarea Philippi: and by the way He asked His disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. And He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto Him, Thou art the Christ. And He charged them that they should tell no man of Him." Mark 8:27-30.
To Cæsarea Philippi.
We come now to what is in many respects the most critical episode in the life of our Lord. I have emphasized the fact that at this particular stage in His career Christ tried to escape the crowds, in order to find opportunity for quiet speech with His disciples. In view of the cross, which He could plainly see looming up on His horizon, He urgently desired to speak with His chosen Twelve about Himself, and about His passion. For this reason He sets His face northwards, to a remote and retired part of the country which He had not yet visited in the course of His ministry. "Jesus went forth, and His disciples, into the villages of Cæsarea Philippi" (ver. 27).
A Pagan City.
This Cæsarea Philippi lay some five-and-twenty miles to the north of the Sea of Galilee. It was named Cæsarea in honour of the Roman Emperor Augustus, and it was called Cæsarea Philippi, "Philip's Cæsaria," after the Herod who had rebuilt it, and made it splendid, and to distinguish it from that other Cæsarea on the sea-coast, where Paul was afterwards imprisoned. This Cæsarea was situated in the grandest and most romantic part of Palestine. Planted on a terrace about 1100 feet above sea-level, at the foot of Lebanon, surrounded by groves of oaks and poplars, with fertile plains stretching westwards, and the snowy mass of Hermon to the north-east, it had a beauty beyond any other town in the land. It was a pagan city. Indeed, its ancient name was Paneas, and it was so called from the Pancivir, a sanctuary of the god Pan, in a deep cavern in the neighbourhood.
As showing the hold this pagan cult had of the district, it is interesting to note that the old name gradually asserted itself, and survives to this day in the name Panias. It was to this pagan and to a large extent foreign city that Jesus now travelled with His disciples. Though apparently even here Jesus did not venture into the city itself. In Cæsarea some one would have been sure to recognise Him. He kept Himself outside, in the country districts. "He went forth, and His disciples, into the villages of Cæsarea Philippi," And there at length He seems to have gained the quietness He needed, and opportunity to speak with the Twelve about the things that lay so near His heart.
A Critical Discourse.
It is one of the conversations that took place between Our Lord and His disciples that we are to consider now. I gather myself, from a study of the various narratives, that our Lord regarded this conversation as a critical and vital one. For from Luke's account we learn that before He asked the question with which the conversation started He spent some time in solitary prayer. That was our Lord's habit, when any specially difficult or delicate task lay before Him. Before, for instance, He went on His first preaching journey through Galilee, He rose up a great while before day, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed. Before He engaged in the delicate and all-important task of choosing His twelve Apostles, He continued all night in prayer to God. And apparently the conversation which He was now about to hold was of such solemn moment and of such vital consequence that our Lord felt constrained to prepare for it by earnest and continued prayer. And what was the subject of this conversation to which our Lord attached such extraordinary importance? In a word, it was a conversation about His own Person.
The Place of Christ in Christianity.
And here I pause just for a moment, to say that evidently Christ attached immense importance to what men thought about Himself. Men are very apt in these days to say it does not matter very much what views we hold about Jesus, so long as we accept His teaching, and obey it. And they dismiss all attempts at defining the Person of Christ, as metaphysical and theological subtleties, which are of no importance for daily life. All I have to say is, that that is not what Jesus Himself thought. He attached the most tremendous importance to the account people gave of Him; the whole future of the Gospel depended in some vital way upon what men thought of Him. Yes, let us be under no delusion. Our Lord regarded the future of Christianity as bound up with a right understanding of His person. Those who tell us it does not matter much what views we hold, and who make that the excuse for holding inadequate and unworthy views, misread the entire Gospel. They reduce the Gospel to a new teaching, a new philosophy, a mere code of morals. But if there is one thing the New Testament makes abundantly clear, it is this that the Christian Gospel is not a teaching merely, or a philosophy merely, or a morality merely; it is, as Dr. Van Dyke says, the Gospel of a Person. It centres not simply in what Jesus says, but in what He was and did. Indeed, that is what differentiates Jesus from every other teacher and prophet the world has ever seen. He insists upon Himself. It sounds very plausible to say, "Let theologians quarrel about the Person of Christ; let us be content to obey His teaching;" but, as a matter of fact, in the light of an incident like this, and the whole trend of the Gospel narrative, there is only one thing to be said about this Christianity without Christ it is another Gospel, which is not another.
The Popular Verdict.
Now, passing from that broad and primary lesson of the significance of Christ's Person, I want you to notice the first question Jesus put to His disciples, and their answer. It was this, "Whom do men say that I am?" (Mark 8:27). Or, perhaps, in order to bring out the exact shade of meaning, the question might be rendered thus, "Who do the people say that I am?" Jesus did not ask what the rulers and the Pharisees thought of Him. They had only too plainly shown what they thought. They had called Him a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners, an agent of Beelzebub. What Christ wanted to know was the opinion of the people at large. For He knew that in every market and at every fireside they had discussed Him, and He wanted to know what the effect of His teaching and wonderful works had upon them, and who they said He was.
A Favourable One.
The disciples answer quite frankly, and say, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but others, One of the prophets" (Mark 8:28). Now you will notice from this answer that, as Dr. A. B. Bruce says, "the opinions prevalent among the masses concerning Jesus were in the main favourable." They did not make the calamitous mistake prejudiced Scribes and Pharisees did, of writing Jesus down as an emissary of Satan. There is nothing like prejudice for distorting the vision and perverting the judgment. The mass of the people, with simple and guileless hearts, recognised that, to say the least, Jesus was a specially inspired man. They felt that no one could speak as He spoke, and no one could do the work that He did, except God were with Him. They did not recognise His essential glory. They did not identify Him as their promised Messiah. And perhaps there is some excuse for them, inasmuch as Jesus was go unlike the Messiah they had been taught to expect. But they did recognise that Christ was inspired of God in an altogether unique way, and so they classed Him with the great prophets who were the glory and pride of their race. They said that He was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or One of the prophets.
Christ and the Prophets.
Will you notice further, as that same great scholar and thinker points out, that the very variety of opinion about Jesus the fact that one saw John the Baptist in Him, another Elijah, and another Jeremiah, and another this prophet or that is in itself proof that Jesus was greater than any of the prophets to whom they compared Him? I daresay the people themselves did not feel the force of this, but quite obviously it is so. Each of the prophets was identified in the popular mind with some one striking and predominant quality. John was remembered for his stern and strenuous call to repentance; Jeremiah was remembered for his melting tenderness and compassion. Ezekiel and Daniel for their parabolic discourses. But here was some One far greater than John, greater than Jeremiah, greater than Ezekiel, greater than Daniel; for He united John and Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, all in Himself. I think I could construct an argument for the Divinity of Christ out of the opinions of the multitude, confessedly imperfect though they are. The very diversity of them, when you think of it, is proof that Jesus was more than man.
But possibly, as some commentators suggest, the first question was only asked in order to open the conversation. The second was the all-important one.
The Disciples Faith.
"But who say ye that I am?" Jesus asked (Mark 8:29). It is not the opinion of the crowd He is asking about now, but the faith of these twelve men whom He had called to be with Him, whom He had admitted to His closest intimacy, who had seen Him at close quarters. "Ye, my chosen ones, who say ye that I am?" I need not point out to any of my readers how absolutely critical this question was. For on the answer to it depended the success or failure of His work. To a large extent He had failed with the populace. Not one of them had recognised the glory. If He had failed also with the Twelve, if He were no more than a prophet to them, then He had failed utterly. Humanly speaking, if these disciples had not recognised His Messiahship, there would never have been a Christian faith or a Christendom.
But Simon's answer soon dispelled all fears. In the name of the Twelve, without hesitation or doubt, Simon replied, "Thou art the Christ." These disciples were very slow scholars, as we have had occasion to note over and over again. They had their mistakes and their misunderstandings. But let us do them fair play and bare justice, and let this be set down to their infinite credit that, while Pharisees and Scribes denounced Jesus as having a devil, and the populace in their most exalted guesses never thought of Him as more than a great man, these humble Galileans "beheld His glory," and beneath His lowly state recognised the majesty of the only begotten Son of God. "Thou art the Christ," says Peter. God hid the glorious truth from the wise and prudent, and revealed it unto babes.
The Force of this Profession.
I do not say that this is a confession of the Divinity of Christ, in the sense in which the Nicene Creed is. But again, as Dr. A. B. Bruce puts it, it is a clear recognition that Jesus was more than man. "Thou art the Messiah, God's anointed One"; that is what Peter said. That is to say, he recognised in his Master that Great One who was the hope of the Jewish nation, of whom the prophets had spoken and psalmists had sung. He applied to Jesus all the splendid predictions of the Old Testament. Jesus was a prophet like unto Moses; the promised Deliverer who would set at liberty them that are bruised, and preach the acceptable year of the Lord. He was Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace. He was the King whose kingdom was to be an everlasting kingdom, and whose name was to endure throughout all generations. All these magnificent and glowing prophecies pointed to Jesus, and found their fulfilment in Jesus. "Thou art the Christ," said Peter. It was a noble confession. Christ had not failed. His words, His miracles, His life had not been wasted upon these disciples. This answer is the proof of it. They beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
And its Reception. The Significance of the Episode.
And Jesus was satisfied with their confession. With characteristic modesty, Peter omits from his account the great eulogy which our Lord, in the overflowing gratitude of His soul, pronounced upon him. But the other Evangelists have preserved it for us. "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:17-18). Here let us note (1) that with any confession falling short of this great confession of Peter, our Lord is not satisfied. The popular verdict classed Jesus with the prophets, with the very greatest of them. It put Him on a level with the most inspired and gifted of men. It ranked Him with Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist. But Jesus declined to be so classed. He claimed a higher place. He was not Elijah's or John's or Jeremiah's equal. He was their Lord. This has its special pertinency for our own day. The Person of Christ has once again become the subject of debate. And I do not think I am doing the "new theology" movement any injustice when I say that it is the view of the populace it gives as to the person of Christ, and not the belief of Peter. It is numbering Jesus Christ once more among the "prophets." It is whittling away the difference between Jesus and the rest of humanity, and assuring us that we are all "potential Christs." All I have to say about it is, that Christ repudiates the classification. He is not satisfied to be greeted as Teacher, Prophet, not even as the greatest of Teachers, and the greatest of Prophets. He is in a class by Himself. He is unapproached, unapproachable. Jesus is not the fine flower of the race. He is the gift of God. And no view of His Person satisfies Him until, like Peter, we are ready to say, not "One of the prophets," but, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
A Personal Question.
But (2), after all, the important question is the personal one. I do not make light of the views and opinions the people at large hold about Christ. They are most of them hopelessly inadequate. Just at present the favourite view seems to be that Christ was principally a Social Reformer. But the important and vital question for you and me is, not what the people think, but our own answer to the Lord's question. There must be no hesitation about our reply. There are some beliefs held and cherished by our fathers which we can, perhaps, surrender without loss. But belief in the Divinity of Christ is of the very essence of our faith. Degrade Him to a "prophet," and you destroy the Gospel. Count Him simply as one amongst others, and upon a faith, or rather want of faith, like that Christ cannot build His Church. And so I am glad that we are confronted with this question, "Whom say ye that I am?"
For my own part, I am ready with my answer. Are you ready with yours? And will it be such an answer as will fill Him with confidence about the future of His Church? My prayer is that our studies in the life of Christ may help to stablish our faith, so that, amid all the present upheaval and distress, we may answer with quiet and settled confidence, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
Chapter 14. Pointing to the Cross
And He began to teach them, that the Son of man must sutler many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He spake that saying openly. And Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned about and looked on His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men." Mark 8:31-33.
A Turning-Point. From Veiled Speech.
Peter's confession led on to an announcement by our Lord that filled His disciples' hearts with desolation and sorrow. "And He began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31). "And He began to teach them" this marks the occasion, as Dr. Salmond says, as being in important turning-point in Christ's work. Hitherto our Lord had never spoken in plain and unmistakable terms about His death. Not that He was unaware that the cross lay at the end of His earthly life. I differ in toto from those scholars and critics who tell us that it was the failure of our Lord's work, as far as the leaders of the nation were concerned, that first made Him realise that a violent death would be the end of it all. I believe Holman Hunt's picture is far nearer the truth. I believe that the "Shadow of the Cross" lay over our Lord's life from the first. He knew all along that He must be delivered up into the hands of men. But up to this point all His allusions to His death were more or less veiled. They were of the nature of riddles, Dr. Bruce says, whose meaning became clear after the event, but which at the time, although they may have chilled the heart with a momentary fear, no one clearly understood. He had spoken, for instance, of a temple which was to be destroyed, and rebuilt in three days; He had said that, as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up; He had forewarned His disciples of a time when the Bridegroom would be taken away from them, and when therefore they might well weep and fast; He had spoken in strange and mystic language about giving His flesh for the life of the world. After our Lord's Passion the disciples understood these things, but at the time they were uttered, though they may have created a passing vague alarm, their meaning escaped them.
To Plain Intimation of the Passage.
But after Peter's confession our Lord dropped hints and suggestions and parables and began to speak of His approaching death in a perfectly direct, matter-of-fact, unmistakable way. "He spake the saying openly," He left them in no manner of doubt. This was the end towards which He was marching rejection and death. Now the Evangelist clearly wishes us to understand that there is a connection between Peter's confession and this first announcement of the cross. It was because Peter, speaking in the name of the Twelve, confessed Him as the Messiah, that Christ "began to teach them, that He must suffer many-things... and be killed."
The Time was come.
Can we see what the connection was? Can we understand why it was Jesus took this occasion to speak the saying openly? I think we can. (1) To begin with, no doubt, as Dr. Bruce suggests, the circumstances were such as to make it advisable to tell the disciples what the end would be. For the signs were growing ominous. Storm-clouds were gathering in our Lord's sky. In the hate of the Pharisees there could be recognised the first mutterings of that tempest that broke in all its fury upon our Lord's head in the judgment hall and on Calvary's hill. If Christ had allowed His death to come upon Him without a word of warning to His disciples, it would completely have shattered their faith. Even as it was, it went far towards doing it. But He told them all about it before it came to pass, so that when it did come to pass they might believe.
The Hearers Ready.
(2) It was not only natural, but Peter's confession also told Him that now it was safe. That is why it was at this precise point that Jesus began to teach them that He must suffer many things. Christ always reveals His truth to men as they are able to bear it. It would not have been safe to tell the disciples right away at the beginning that the cross was going to be the end. They had been bred to believe that the Messiah's career was to end in a throne, so that if Jesus had spoken of a cross at the very start, they would obstinately have refused to believe He was the Messiah at all. First, Jesus taught the disciples to believe in Himself then He spoke to them about His end. First, He revealed to them the glory of His Person; then He began to speak about His sacrifice. Now that their faith in Him as God's Christ was established; now that they were persuaded He was the Son of the living God, our Lord knew that they were prepared to bear the announcement of the cross, that their faith would stand the strain of it. And so He began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected, and be killed.
The Fact of Importance
(3) And I think there was yet another reason why Jesus took this particular occasion to announce His coming death and passion, and that was because His Messiahship was intimately and inseparably associated with the cross. He could not have been God's Messiah to the world without the cross. The idea most closely identified with Messiahship was that of redemption and deliverance. But the Jews interpreted these ideas wrongly. The redemption they looked for was redemption from political servitude; the deliverance they expected was national deliverance. And so they looked for a Messiah who would wield a sword, and march to a throne. But the redemption God's Messiah came to accomplish was the redemption of the soul; and the deliverance He came to achieve was deliverance from sin. This redemption could only be achieved by dying; and this deliverance could only be effected through the cross. And so when Peter said, "Thou art the Christ," when he proclaimed Jesus as Messiah, our Lord began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things. As if to say, "You are right, Peter; I am the Messiah of God; and to accomplish My Messianic deliverance I must suffer many things, be rejected, and die." It was the Messiahship that necessitated the cross. Christ might have evaded the cross, perhaps; but if He had done so He could not have been Messiah.
The two things Messiahship and the suffering of death were inseparable. It behoved the Christ to suffer. And that was why the confession of His Messiahship was followed immediately by the announcement of His passion.
The Surprising Sequence.
"Peter answereth and saith unto Him, Thou art the Christ.... And He began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things" (Mark 8:29, Mark 8:31). What a strange, and at first sight disappointing and confusing, sequence that is! It is not at all what we should have expected. This is the kind of reply they would have expected: "Flesh and blood have not revealed this unto thee, Simon, but My Father Who is in heaven; and because I am the Son of God, all My enemies shall be confounded, priests and elders shall be put to shame, and My cause shall prosper." But how tragically different the sequence is! "Thou art the Christ," said Peter. "And Jesus began to teach them, that He must suffer, and be killed." As if He should say, "Yes, I am the Son of God, and because I am the Son of God I shall be slain." The sequence, I repeat, is staggering. To the disciples it was absolutely bewildering. And yet, when you look at it a little more closely, how pathetic, how beautiful, how subduing it is! And what a light it casts upon what is after all the essential glory of God! The attribute which was most closely identified with the idea of God in the minds of these disciples was that of power. That Jesus was the Son of God meant to them that He would trample all His foes beneath His feet.
And the Divine Revelation.
But there are things infinitely more beautiful and Divine than power, and they are, pity and sympathy and love. And it is the pity and sympathy and Jove of God that shine forth in this sequence. For the "must" in this sequence was just the "must" of our Lord's pity and sympathy and sacrificial love. He had power enough to avoid the cross, had He wished. Did He not say to His captors that at a word He could summon to His aid ten thousand legions of angels? did He not tell Pilate that He could have no power against Him, except it was given from above? But I love Christ the more that He left His power unused, and for love and pity's sake meekly consented to die. "If Thou art the Son of God," said mocking and taunting Jews, "come down from the cross" (Matthew 27:40). But He showed Himself Son of God in far more effective fashion by refusing to come down to save Himself, and enduring it, that He might save others. "And He began to teach them that He must suffer." It was a disappointing, almost a heart-breaking sequence to the disciples at the time. But it has brought infinite comfort to a sinning world. For it has taught us to associate with our conception of God the ideas of mercy and love and self-sacrifice. It would have been human, if Jesus had used His power to escape death. By this we know He was the Son of God indeed that having the power to live, He yet for love's sake chose to die.
But to Peter and the rest the announcement was a bitter disappointment. Because Christ was the Messiah, they had pictured a glowing future both for Himself and them. They looked forward to a day of splendid triumph, when Christ should sit on His throne, and they too should sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. They never dreamed of associating ideas of suffering and death with Messiah. And so when Jesus talked about suffering, and rejection, and death, the thing seemed absolutely monstrous to them. And Peter, warm-hearted and impulsive Peter, took His Master aside, and began to rebuke Him for cherishing any such notion, and said, "God forbid; this shall not be unto Thee." No doubt the remonstrance sprang from the Apostle's warm-hearted affection for his Lord; but it was presumptuous, nevertheless. It was disrespectful and irreverent. He tried to overbear and contradict and even bully his Master into putting away from His mind these gloomy forebodings of coming ill. And it was punished by the sternest and most scathing rebuke that ever fell from our Lord's lips. "Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men" (Mark 8:33). What a swift and sudden change we have here! The most unstinted of eulogies is followed by the sharpest of rebukes. The same man who a few moments before was acclaimed by Jesus as speaking by inspiration of God, is now denounced as the mouthpiece of Satan. The same man who was declared by Jesus to be the rock on which He would build His Church, is now stigmatised as a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. "Verily," said John Bunyan, "there is a way to hell from the very gate of heaven"; and this man Peter, lifted to heaven by our Lord's eulogy, is brought down to hell by our Lord's censure and rebuke.
For Doing Satan's Work.
"Get thee behind Me, Satan," said Jesus. And He said it with vehemence, and almost with passion. It seems mercilessly severe. But the rebuke was deserved, and even that hard word Satan, which, as Dr. Bruce says, is the sting of the speech, is in its proper place. For that is exactly what Peter was doing. He was doing Satan's work for him. Luke says that when the devil left Jesus in the wilderness, it was only for a season. He came back again, Luke implies, and renewed the temptation. And one of the times he came back and renewed the temptation was this time, when Peter rebuked the Lord at the bare mention of the cross, and said, "God forbid; this shall not be unto Thee." For this was the wilderness over again. Peter here tried to do for his Lord what the devil tried to do then. For, strip the struggle in the wilderness of everything that is merely incidental, and what did the temptation amount to? It was a temptation to take an easier way to the throne than the way of the cross. "Why tread that bitter way, when you can have the world on easier terms?" said Satan. Why sacrifice yourself and die? And Peter, the first and prince of the Twelve, tempted his Lord now in exactly the same way. And Jesus recognised his old adversary. He thrust the temptation from Him with horror, "Get thee behind Me, Satan."
An Unholy Office.
And so one of Christ's fiercest temptations came from one of His nearest friends. "Satan fashioneth himself," Paul says, "into an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). But he is most dangerous of all when he appears in the guise of a friend. Peter was a stumbling-block in his Master's way. He made it hard for Jesus to do the will of God. And still many a friend does the same unholy office for another. When we bid our friends think more of comfort than of duty; when we bid them consider their own interests rather than God's call, we are committing Peter's folly and sin over again. Robert Morrison's friends, for instance, tried every device they knew to shake him out of his resolve to go to China as a missionary. Do you remember what Mr. Worldly Wiseman said to Christian, when he met him with the mud of the Slough of Despond upon him. "Hear me," he said, "for I am older than thou; thou art like to meet with in the way which thou goest, wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, and, in a word, death, and what not!" These things are certainly true. And why should a man so carelessly cast himself away? Peter was Christ's Mr. Worldly Wiseman. Why, said he, so carelessly cast thyself away? And we, when we dissuade our friends from the way of sacrifice and the cross, are playing Mr. Worldly Wiseman's wicked part. And you remember Worldly Wiseman's doom. "It were well for him if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble." Let us ask for grace each to be not a Worldly Wiseman, but a Great-heart.
Chapter 15. Discipleship and the Cross
"And when He had called the people unto Him with His disciples also, He said unto them, Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. And He said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." Mark 8:34 to Mark 9:1.
Cross-bearing: A Duty for All.
There is the closest and most vital connection between these verses and those just preceding them. It was Peter's protest against the intimation of the Passion that drew from our Lord this solemn declaration that cross-bearing is the universal and indispensable condition of discipleship. "God forbid!" Peter had said, in his own hot and impulsive way, "this a violent death at the hands of elders and priests and scribes shall never be unto Thee." "Say you so?" Jesus replies in effect (I quote Dr. A. B. Bruce's paraphrase), "I tell you that not only shall I, your Master, be crucified, but ye too, faithfully following Me, shall certainly have your crosses to bear. If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." To lend emphasis to the announcement, to make it quite clear that this was a universal law, Jesus did not say this to the Twelve alone. "He called unto Him the multitude with His disciples." This was not a law for the Apostles merely, it was equally binding upon the humblest believer; not for teachers and leaders only, but for the least and most insignificant of followers as well; not a law for the first Christians only, but for Christians of every age. King Arthur insisted upon conditions before a man could become a Knight of his Round Table. Everyone had to swear to speak no slander, no, nor listen to it; to live sweet lives in purest chastity; to ride abroad redressing human wrongs; to honour his own word as if his God's; to break the heathen, and to uphold the Christ. But here is a law insisted upon by a greater Captain than King Arthur the condition of entrance into a still nobler order of chivalry "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (viii. 34).
Master and Disciple.
The first truth all this suggests to me is that of the correspondency that exists between the Master and the disciple. Christ is not a solitary cross-bearer; every true Christian is a cross-bearer too. Our Lord warned us that His lot and ours was bound to be the same. "A disciple," He said, "is not above his master, nor a servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord" (Matthew 10:24-25). There will be a correspondency, He said, between your fate and Mine. And so it was. As John puts it in his Epistle, "As He is, even so are we in this world" (iv. 17). "So are we;" the lot of the Master was the lot of the disciple also: in this respect among others, that the disciple, like the Master, had to bear a cross.
The Solitary Cross.
But when I talk about the Lord bearing a cross, and the disciple also bearing a cross, I do not want to be misunderstood. I do not say that the Master's cross and the disciples' cross are one and the same. There is a sense in which our Lord's cross is solitary and unshared. In its redemptive aspect Christ's cross stands alone. People talk about a "continuous atonement." I do not know what they mean by it. If they mean that Christ's work on the cross needs to be completed and perfected by some suffering or work of ours, I answer, first, that nothing we can do can possibly add to the atoning work of Jesus. We are sinful men and women; we cannot atone, we need atoning for. And, in the second place, I answer that Christ's sacrifice does not need completing. It is complete. The sacrifice of the cross is a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction. "It is finished." Nothing remains to be done. Christ did it all when He submitted Himself to death and shame. As a redeeming sacrifice the cross of Christ remains for ever unshared.
And the Fellowship of Suffering.
But while the cross from one point of view is a redeeming sacrifice, from another point of view it represents the sacrifice of self, and the pains and penalties Christ endured because of His absolute and complete devotion to the righteous will of God. And in this respect we too must bear the cross as well as Christ. In this respect there is a strict correspondency between Master and disciple. We must enter into the fellowship of His sufferings. "As He is, even so are we in this world." For that is what the Christian life is on its practical side; it is a life of conscious devotion to the holy will of God. And obedience to the will of God inevitably means the cross; for it means the hostility of the world, and the sacrifice of self. It means outward trouble and inward conflict. See what it meant for some of these disciples. If tradition speaks truly, following Christ meant for some of them not persecution only, but death. It meant a scaffold in Jerusalem for James, a cross in Rome for Peter. They drank of their Lord's cup, and were baptised with their Lord's baptism. They had literally to take up their cross and follow Him. And though these killing times are past, it remains true to this day that they who will live godly must suffer persecution.
The Hostility of the World.
The man who makes the will of God his law must make up his mind for the scorn and contempt of men. We can escape it only by cowardice and compromise. Many people refuse to rank themselves among Christ's avowed followers because they are not prepared for this cross. "Nevertheless," says John, "even of the rulers many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue" (John 12:42). That is it, they shrank from the cross. But there can be no compromising between the world and Christ. We must face the world, and defy the world, and break with the world. We must let the world do its worst. If we want to go after Christ, we must take up this cross, and follow Him.
The Surrender of Self.
And in addition to the hostility of the world, there is the sacrifice of self, the surrender of whatever there is in us which is contrary to the will of God, the extermination of those unholy desires and passions of the soul, so dear to the natural man, so alien to the law of God. And what a cross that is! No man can tell what another man's cross is. But we have all a cross of some kind. You have yours. I have mine. They differ from one another; but there is not one of us who does not know that there are things in us to be fought, and repudiated, and torn up by the roots, if we would follow Christ. Do not confine what I am saying to what we speak of as the grosser sins. We can see that the drunkard and the profligate have to say good-bye to their evil habits before they can follow Christ, and we know what agony that means in many cases. But it is not to them alone this demand applies. It applies also to us. For there is not one of us who does not know perfectly well that in our own hearts there are things to be repudiated and put away, if we want to follow Christ.
A Real Crucifixion.
The putting away of these things, the denial of self and sense, what a conflict it is, and what agony it entails! There was no punishment so torturing as crucifixion. But what crucifixion was in the physical realm, that the denial and repudiation of self is in the spiritual. Indeed, crucifixion is the very word Paul uses for the process. "I have been crucified with Christ," he cries (Galatians 2:20). "Our old man," he says in another place, "was crucified with Him" (Romans 6:6). "The world," he says in yet a third place, "hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14). While in another place he states his own experience as a general law, and in the very spirit of this text says, "They that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof" (Galatians 5:24). "The flesh," their own flesh. It is upon themselves they have executed this judgment. It is upon themselves they have inflicted this agony. They have driven the nails through their own quivering affections and lusts. In this respect of the denial of self in obedience to the holy will of God, Christ is but the first cross-bearer of a great host. That was the sign that a Knight had entered for the Crusades, in olden days the cross upon the shoulder. This is the sign that we have entered the service of Jesus the cross in the life, the marks, the stigmata, the nail-prints of Jesus, in the heart. "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 8:34).
Three Reasons for Cross-bearing.
Now I can imagine that, when the disciples heard this law first laid down, many of them may have said in their hearts, "This is a hard saying, who can bear it?" And perhaps some of them may even have contemplated leaving Jesus, and following no more after Him. He was making the price of discipleship so costly. I believe Jesus Himself realised that thoughts like these were arising in their minds, that many listening to Him were asking the question, "Is it worth while?" And so He proceeds to deal with that unexpressed doubt. "It is a heavy price to pay," He says to these doubting and hesitating folk, in effect, "but it is worth while. Discipleship means the cross, but it is worth the cost." And He proceeds to enunciate three reasons, each one of them introduced by a "for," to show that it is worth while to follow Him, even though it means the cross and the daily self-denial. Let us glance briefly at each of the reasons Christ adduces.
(1) The Paradox of Losing and Saving. And the price of Ease.
(1) This is the first "Whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel's shall save it" (viii. 35). To understand this paradox a paradox embodying so much of essential and vital truth that our Lord repeated it on more than one occasion we must bear in mind that the word "life" is used here in a double sense. In the one connection it stands for mere life; in the other it stands for the "good of life," life worthy of the name. It is life on the lower and the higher plane. As Paul would put it, it is life "after the flesh," and life "after the Spirit." So that this saying might be paraphrased thus, "Whosoever will make it his first business to save or preserve his natural life and worldly well-being, shall lose the higher life, the life indeed; and whosoever is willing to lose his natural life for My sake, shall find the true eternal life." And we know by experience that this is true. If we concentrate our thought upon the lower self, upon comfort, and wealth, and sensual indulgence, the higher life suffers. You remember that grim verse in the Psalms, "They lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert" (Psalms 106:14-15), lusted for mere material good, for the flesh-pots of Egypt, "and He gave them their request" they got what they wanted. But at what a price! for "He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul." That is a sequence we see illustrated too sadly often before our very eyes. We see men getting their desires, getting comfort, ease and wealth; we see them pampering their lower self, and we see them paying for it in leanness of soul. On the other hand, when a man dies to self, when he crucifies his flesh, with the affections and lusts thereof, he rises with Christ into a new life, a rich life, an eternal life. Sacrifice of some kind must be made. The only question we have to settle is, which we will sacrifice, the lower or the higher, what the world calls life, or what He calls life. Here there is the first reason for obeying Christ's call, and bearing the cross, by sacrificing self, by crucifying the flesh, by losing the lower life, we gain the life which is life indeed.
(2) The Profit and Loss Sum.
(2) And here is the second reason it follows closely upon the first, and is indeed explanatory of it "For what doth it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? For what should a man give in exchange for his life?" (viii. 36, 37). Here is our Lord's profit and loss sum. He puts the lower life and the higher life in the scales, and weighs them against each other. For the lower life is just the "worldly" life, the life given up to things of time and sense; the life that seeks to satisfy itself with creature comforts and sensual joys. Supposing that a man gains the world, enjoys everything the world can give, is rich and increased with goods, and in need of nothing; like Dives, is clothed in purple and fine linen, and fares sumptuously every day; supposing that he gains the whole world at the cost of the life of his soul, he is a loser by the bargain. On the other hand, the whole world is too small, an utterly inadequate price to pay for the ransom of a soul once lost
An Ever-present Alternative.
Christ's question remains still unanswered. We are all of us confronted by this alternative, the world or the soul. And many of us are tempted to sacrifice the soul to the world. That is specially our peril in these materialistic days. But whoever sacrifices his soul to the world makes a bad bargain. For he is sacrificing the inward and essential to the outward and accidental, the enduring to the transient, the eternal to the temporal. Supposing a man gains the world, he cannot keep it. "The world passeth away." "The rich man died," that is his end. And the man who has made the world his choice loses everything. He is ushered into the next world, poor and miserable and blind and naked. For a man's genuine and permanent wealth does not consist in cash, but in character, not in what he possesses, but in what he is. I know the world measures what a man is worth by the amount of money he has; but the real worth of man is measured by the amount of soul he has, by the amount of faith and hope and love and purity there is in him. And in face of this I want to know what shall it profit a man to gain the world, and lose his real life his soul life? Profit! there is no profit in it, only sheer and utter loss. Indeed, that is the only person Christ describes as "lost," the man who has lost his soul. And supposing a man has "lost" his soul, what can he give to buy it back? What shall a man give in exchange, or rather as an exchange, for his soul? Many a man, coming to the end of his life, would give anything and everything to get his lost soul back. He has got his wealth, perhaps; but face to face with eternity he sees his wealth is mere dust and dross compared to the soul, and he would give all he has to buy it back. But "it cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof" (Job 28:15). It is in view of all this that Christ urged men to crucify the world to themselves, and themselves unto the world, to deny themselves, and follow Him. It may mean poverty, as far as this world is concerned, but they shall be rich unto eternal life.
(3) The Time of Reckoning.
(3) And the third argument for cross-bearing is drawn from the Second Advent. I am not going just now to enter upon any discussion as to what we are to understand by the specific references to the Second Coming in the Gospel, and even in this particular passage. There is no doubt the disciples expected that coming to take place speedily. Indeed, the words that follow this verse, words which naturally belong to it (ix. 1), seem to promise that it shall take place within the lifetime of some who were then standing by our Lord and listening to His words. It may be that our Lord spoke of two comings, one near at hand, and another at the end of the world, and that these two got more or less confused in the recollections of the disciples. But be that as it may, one fact is quite clear: our Lord spoke of a day of triumph, when He should appear invested with the manifest glory of Messiah, and attended with a mighty host of ministering spirits His reward for bearing His cross of ignominy and shame. And in that day of the Lord's triumph those who have borne the cross and followed Him shall triumph too. Those who have suffered with Him shall also be glorified together. Those who have fought His battles shall wear the crown. "For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also shall be ashamed of him, when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (viii. 38). In the great and awful day of judgment and searching and sifting, the one thing worth having will be the life-giving recognition and smile of the Lord; but if we have never enlisted in His army, if we do not bear the "marks" of the cross, what can He say but this, "I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity?"
A Searching Call.
"If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me"; it is a stern and searching call. And yet it is a reasonable call. For, just as Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame for the joy that was set before Him, so too, if we remember the "joy" set before us, we shall have strength to bear our cross. And let us remember this, farther. When we bear our cross we are in the blessed fellowship of Jesus. He marches at the head with His great and heavy cross. We follow after. And our crosses are light compared with His. "Shall Jesus thus suffer, and shall we refuse?" "Who shall dream of shrinking, by our Captain led?" "We will not shrink!" "Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest" (Matthew 8:19).
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Jones, J.D. "Commentary on Mark 8". Jones' Commentary on the Book of Mark. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20