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CHILDREN AND CHILDLIKE MEN
Mar_10:13 - Mar_10:15 .
It was natural that the parents should have wanted Christ’s blessing, so that they might tell their children in later days that His hand had been laid on their heads, and that He had prayed for them. And Christ did not think of it as a mere superstition. The disciples were not so akin to the children as He was, and they were a great deal more tender of His dignity than He. They thought of this as an interruption disturbing their high intercourse with Christ. ‘These children are always in the way, this is tiresome,’ etc.
I. Christ blessing children.
It is a beautiful picture: the great Messiah with a child in His arms. We could not think of Moses or of Paul in such an attitude. Without it, we should have wanted one of the sweetest, gentlest, most human traits in His character; and how world-wide in its effect that act has been! How many a mother has bent over her child with deeper love; how many a parent has felt the sacredness of the trust more vividly; how many a mother has been drawn nearer to Christ; and how many a little child has had childlike love to Him awakened by it; how much of practical benevolence and of noble sacrifice for children’s welfare, how many great institutions, have really sprung from this one deed! And, if we turn from its effects to its meaning, it reveals Christ’s love for children:-in its human side, as part of His character as man; in its deeper aspect as a revelation of the divine nature. It corrects dogmatic errors by making plain that, prior to all ceremonies or to repentance and faith, little children are loved and blessed by Him. Unconscious infants as these were folded in His arms and love. It puts away all gloomy and horrible thoughts which men have had about the standing of little children.
This is an act of Christ to infants expressive of His love to them, His care over them, their share in His salvation. Baptism is an act of man’s, a symbol of his repentance and dying to sin and rising to a new life in Christ, a profession of his faith, an act of obedience to his Lord. It teaches nothing as to the relation of infants to the love of Jesus or to salvation. It does not follow that because that love is most sure and precious, baptism must needs be a sign of it. The question, what does baptism mean, must be determined by examination of texts which speak about baptism; not by a side-light from a text which speaks about something else. There is no more reason for making baptism proclaim that Jesus Christ loves children than for making it proclaim that two and two make four.
II. The child’s nearness to Christ.
‘Of such is the kingdom.’ ‘Except ye be converted and become like little children,’ etc. Now this does not refer to innocence; for, as a matter of fact, children are not innocent, as all schoolmasters and nurses know, whatever sentimental poets may say. Innocence is not a qualification for admission to the kingdom. And yet it is true that ‘heaven lies about us in our infancy,’ and that we are further off from it than when we were children. Nor does it mean that children are naturally the subjects of the kingdom, but only that the characteristics of the child are those which the man must have, in order to enter the kingdom; that their natural disposition is such as Christ requires to be directed to Him; or, in other words, that childhood has a special adaptation to Christianity. For instance, take dependence, trust, simplicity, unconsciousness, and docility.
These are the very characteristics of childhood, and these are the very emotions of mind and heart which Christianity requires. Add the child’s strong faculty of imagination and its implicit belief; making the form of Christianity as the story of a life so easy to them. And we may add too: the absence of intellectual pride; the absence of the habit of dallying with moral truth. Everybody is to the child either a ‘good’ man or a ‘bad.’ They have an intense realisation of the unseen; an absence of developed vices and hard worldliness; a faculty of living in the present, free from anxious care and worldly hearts. But while thus they have special adaptation for receiving, they too need to come to Christ. These characteristics do not make Christians. They are to be directed to Christ. ‘Suffer them to come unto Me,’ the youngest child needs to, can, ought to, come to Christ. And how beautiful their piety is, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise.’ Their fresh, unworn trebles struck on Christ’s ear. Children ought to grow up in Christian households, ‘innocent from much transgression.’ We ought to expect them to grow up Christian.
III. The child and the Church.
The child is a pattern to us men. We are to learn of them as well as teach them; what they are naturally, we are to strive to become, not childish but childlike. ‘Even as a weaned child’ see Psa_131:1 - Psa_131:3. The child-spirit is glorified in manhood. It is possible for us to retain it, and lose none of the manhood. ‘In malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.’ The spirit of the kingdom is that of immortal youth.
The children are committed to our care.
The end of all training and care is that they should by voluntary act draw near to Him. This should be the aim in Sunday schools, for instance, and in families, and in all that we do for the poor around us.
See that we do not hinder their coming. This is a wide principle, viz., not to do anything which may interfere with those who are weaker and lower than we are finding their way to Jesus. The Church, and we as individual Christians, too often hinder this ‘coming.’
Do not hinder by the presentation of the Gospel in a repellent form, either hardly dogmatic or sour.
Do not hinder by the requirement of such piety as is unnatural to a child.
Do not hinder by inconsistencies. This is a warning for Christian parents in particular.
Do not hinder by neglect. ‘ Despise not one of these little ones.’
ALMOST A DISCIPLE
Mar_10:17 - Mar_10:27 .
There were courage, earnestness, and humility in this young ruler’s impulsive casting of himself at Christ’s feet in the way, with such a question. He was not afraid to recognise a teacher in Him whom his class scorned and hated; he was deeply sincere in his wish to possess eternal life, and in his belief that he was ready to do whatever was necessary for that end; he bowed himself as truly as he bent his knees before Jesus, and the noble enthusiasm of youth breathed in his desires, his words, and his gesture.
But his question betrayed the defect which poisoned the much that was right and lovable in him. He had but a shallow notion of what was ‘good,’ as is indicated by his careless ascription of goodness to one of whom he knew so little as he did of Jesus, and by his conception that it was a matter of deeds. He is too sure of himself; for he thinks that he is ready and able to do all good deeds, if only they are pointed out to him.
How little he understood the resistance of ‘the mind of the flesh’ to discerned duty! Probably he had had no very strong inclinations to contend against, in living the respectable life that had been his. It is only when we row against the stream that we find out how fast it runs. He was wrong about the connection of good deeds and eternal life, for he thought of them as done by himself, and so of buying it by his own efforts. Fatal errors could not have been condensed in briefer compass, or presented in conjunction with more that is admirable, than in his eager question, asked so modestly and yet so presumptuously.
Our Lord answers with a coldness which startles; but it was meant to rouse, like a dash of icy water flung in the face. ‘Why callest thou Me good?’ is more than a waving aside of a compliment, or a lesson in accuracy of speech. It rebukes the young man’s shallow conception of goodness, as shown by the facility with which he bestowed the epithet. ‘None is good save one, even God,’ cuts up by the roots his notion of the possibility of self-achieved goodness, since it traces all human goodness to its source in God. If He is the only good, then we cannot perform good acts by our own power, but must receive power from Him. How, then, can any man ‘inherit eternal life’ by good deeds, which he is only able to do because God has poured some of His own goodness into him? Jesus shatters the young man’s whole theory, as expressed in his question, at one stroke.
But while His reply bears directly on the errors in the question, it has a wider significance. Either Jesus is here repudiating the notion of His own sinlessness, and acknowledging, in contradiction to every other disclosure of His self-consciousness, that He too was not through and through good, or else He is claiming to be filled with God, the source of all goodness, in a wholly unique manner. It is a tremendous alternative, but one which has to be faced. While one is thankful if men even imperfectly apprehend the character and nature of Jesus, one cannot but feel that the question may fairly be put to the many who extol the beauty of His life, and deny His divinity, ‘Why callest thou Me good?’ Either He is ‘God manifest in the flesh,’ or He is not ‘good.’
The remainder of Christ’s answer tends to deepen the dawning conviction of the impossibility of meriting eternal life by acts of goodness, apart from dependence on God. He refers to the second half of the Decalogue only, not as if the first were less important, but because the breaches of the second are more easily brought to consciousness. In thus answering, Jesus takes the standpoint of the law, but for the purpose of bringing to the very opposite conviction from that which the young ruler expresses in reply. He declares that he has kept them all from his youth. Jesus would have had him confess that in them was a code too high to be fully obeyed. ‘By the law is the knowledge of sin,’ but it had not done its work in this young man. His shallow notion of goodness besets and blinds him still. He is evidently thinking about external deeds, and is an utter stranger to the depths of his own heart. It was an answer betraying great shallowness in his conception of duty and in his self-knowledge.
It is one which is often repeated still. How many of us are there who, if ever we cast a careless glance over our lives, are quite satisfied with their external respectability! As long as the chambers that look to the street are fairly clean, many think that all is right. But what is there rotting and festering down in the cellars? Do we ever go down there with the ‘candle of the Lord’ in our hands? If we do, the ruler’s boast, ‘All these have I kept,’ will falter into ‘All these have I broken.’
But let us be thankful for the love that shone in Christ’s eyes as He looked on him. We may blame; He loved. Jesus saw the fault, but He saw the longing to be better. The dim sense of insufficiency which had driven this questioner to Him was clear to that all-knowing and all-loving heart. Do not let us harshly judge the mistakes of those who would fain be taught, nor regard the professions of innocence, which come from defective perception, as if they were the proud utterances of a Pharisee.
But Christ’s love is firm, and can be severe. It never pares down His requirements to make discipleship easier. Rather it attracts by heightening them, and insisting most strenuously on the most difficult surrender. That is the explanation of the stringent demand next made by Him. He touched the poisonous swelling as with a sharp lancet when He called for surrender of wealth. We may be sure that it was this man’s money which stood between him and eternal life. If something else had been his chief temptation, that something would have been signalised as needful to be given up. There is no general principle of conduct laid down here, but a specific injunction determined by the individual’s character. All diseases are not treated with the same medicines. The command is but Christ’s application of His broad requirement, ‘If thine eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out.’ The principle involved is, surrender what hinders entire following of Jesus. When that sacrifice is made, we shall be in contact with the fountain of goodness, and have eternal life, not as payment, but as a gift.
‘His countenance fell,’ or, according to Mark’s picturesque word, ‘became lowering,’ like a summer sky when thunder-clouds gather. The hope went out of his heart, and the light faded from his eager face. The prick of the sharp spear had burst the bubble of his superficial earnestness. He had probably never had anything like so repugnant a duty forced upon him, and he cannot bring himself to yield. Like so many of us, he says, ‘I desire eternal life,’ but when it comes to giving up the dearest thing he recoils. ‘Anything else, Lord, thou shalt have, and welcome, but not that.’ And Christ says, ‘That, and nothing else, I must have, if thou art to have Me.’ So this man ‘went away sorrowful.’ His earnestness evaporated; he kept his possessions, and he lost Christ. A prudent bargain! But we may hope that, since ‘he went away sorrowful,’ he felt the ache of something lacking, that the old longings came back, and that he screwed up his resolution to make ‘the great surrender,’ and counted his wealth ‘but dung, that he might win Christ.’
What a world of sad and disappointed love there would be in that look of Jesus to the disciples, as the young ruler went away with bowed head! How graciously He anticipates their probable censure, and turns their thoughts rather on themselves, by the acknowledgment that the failure was intelligible, since the condition was hard! How pityingly His thoughts go after the retreating figure! How universal the application of His words! Riches may become a hindrance to entering the kingdom. They do so when they take the first place in the affections and in the estimates of good. That danger besets those who have them and those who have them not. Many a poor man is as much caught in the toils of the love of money as the rich are. Jesus modifies the form of His saying when He repeats it in the shape of ‘How hardly shall they that trust in riches,’ etc. It is difficult to have, and not to trust in them. Rich men’s disadvantages as to living a self-sacrificing Christian life are great. To Christ’s eyes, their position was one to be dreaded rather than to be envied.
So opposed to current ideas was such a thought, that the disciples, accustomed to think that wealth meant happiness, were amazed. If the same doctrine were proclaimed in any great commercial centre to-day, it would excite no less astonishment. At least, many Christians and others live as if the opposite were true. Wealth possessed, and not trusted in, but used aright, may become a help towards eternal life; but wealth as commonly regarded and employed by its possessors, and as looked longingly after by others, is a real, and in many cases an insuperable, obstacle to entering the strait gate. As soon drive a camel, humps and load and all, through ‘a needle’s eye,’ as get a man who trusts in the uncertainty of riches squeezed through that portal. No communities need this lesson more than our great cities.
No wonder that the disciples thought that, if the road was so difficult for rich men, it must be hard indeed. Christ goes even farther. He declares that it is not only hard, but ‘impossible,’ for a man by his own power to tread it. That was exactly what the young man had thought that he could do, if only he were directed.
So our Lord’s closing words in this context apply, not only to the immediately preceding question by the disciples, but may be taken as the great truth conveyed by the whole incident, Man’s efforts can never put him in possession of eternal life. He must have God’s power flowing into him if he is to be such as can enter the kingdom. It is the germ of the subsequent teaching of Paul; ‘The gift of God is eternal life.’ What we cannot do, Christ has done for us, and does in us. We must yield ourselves to Him, and surrender ourselves, and abandon what stands between us and Him, and then eternal life will enter into us here, and we shall enter into its perfect possession hereafter.
CHRIST ON THE ROAD TO THE CROSS
We learn from John’s Gospel that the resurrection of Lazarus precipitated the determination of the Jewish authorities to put Christ to death; and that immediately thereafter there was held the council at which, by the advice of Caiaphas, the formal decision was come to. Thereupon our Lord withdrew Himself into the wilderness which stretches south and east of Jerusalem; and remained there for an unknown period, preparing Himself for the Cross. Then, full of calm resolve, He came forth to die. This is the crisis in our Lord’s history to which my text refers. The graphic narrative of this Evangelist sets before us the little company on the steep rocky mountain road that leads up from Jericho to Jerusalem; our Lord, far in advance of His followers, with a fixed purpose stamped upon His face, and something of haste in His stride, and that in His whole demeanour which shed a strange astonishment and awe over the group of silent and uncomprehending disciples.
That picture has not attracted the attention that it deserves. I think if we ponder it with sympathetic imagination helping us, we may get from it some very great lessons and glimpses of our Lord’s inmost heart in the prospect of His Cross. And I desire simply to set forth two or three of the aspects of Christ’s character which these words seem to me to suggest.
I. We have here, then, first, what, for want of a better name, I would call the heroic Christ.
I use the word to express simply strength of will brought to bear in the resistance to antagonism; and although that is a side of the Lord’s character which is not often made prominent, it is there, and ought to have its due importance.
We speak of Him, and delight to think of Him, as the embodiment of all loving, gracious, gentle virtues, but Jesus Christ as the ideal man unites in Himself what men are in the habit, somewhat superciliously, of calling the masculine virtues, as well as those which they somewhat contemptuously designate the feminine. I doubt very much whether that is a correct distinction. I think that the heroism of endurance, at all events, is far more an attribute of a woman than of a man. But be that as it may, we are to look to Jesus Christ as presenting before us the very type of all which men call heroism in the sense that I have explained, of an iron will, incapable of deflection by any antagonism, and which coerces the whole nature to obedience to its behests.
There is nothing to be done in life without such a will. ‘To be weak is to be miserable, doing or suffering.’ And our Master has set us the example of this; that unless there run through a man’s life, like the iron framework on the top of the spire of Antwerp Cathedral, on which graceful fancies are strung in stone, the rigid bar of an iron purpose that nothing can bend, the life will be nought and the man will be a failure. Christ is the pattern of heroic endurance, and reads to us the lesson to resist and persist, whatever stands between us and our goal.
So here, the Cross before Him flung out no repelling influence towards Him, but rather drew Him to itself. There is no reason that I can find for believing the modern theory of the rationalists’ school that our Lord, in the course of His mission, altered His plan, or gradually had dawning upon His mind the conviction that to carry out His purposes He must be a martyr. That seems to me to be an entire misreading of the Gospel narrative which sets before us much rather this, that from the beginning of our Lord’s public career there stood unmistakably before Him the Cross as the goal. He entertained no illusions as to His reception. He did not come to do certain work, and, finding that He could not do it, accepted the martyr’s death ; but He came for the twofold purpose of serving by His life, and of redeeming by His death. ‘He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for the many.’ And this purpose stood clear before Him, drawing Him to itself all through His career.
But, further, Christ’s character teaches us what is the highest form of such strength and tenacity, viz., gentleness. There is no need to be brusque, obstinate, angular, self-absorbed, harsh, because we are fixed and determined in our course. These things are the caricatures and the diminutions, not the true forms nor the increase, of strength. The most tenacious steel is the most flexible, and he that has the most fixed and definite resolve may be the man that has his heart most open to all human sympathies, and is strong with the almightiness of gentleness, and not with the less close-knit strength of roughness and of hardness. Christ, because He is perfect love, is perfect power, and His will is fixed because it is love that fixes it. So let us take the lesson that the highest type of strength is strength in meekness, and that the Master who, I was going to say, kept His strength of will under, but I more correctly say, manifested His strength of will through, His gentleness, is the pattern for us.
II. Then again, we see here not only the heroic, but what I may call the self-sacrificing Christ.
We have not only to consider the fixed will which this incident reveals, but to remember the purpose on which it was fixed, and that He was hastening to His Cross. The very fact of our Lord’s going back to Jerusalem, with that decree of the Sanhedrim still in force, was tantamount to His surrender of Himself to death. It was as if, in the old days, some excommunicated man with the decree of the Inquisition pronounced against him had gone into Rome and planted himself in the front of the piazza before the buildings of the Holy Office, and lifted up his testimony there. So Christ, knowing that this council has been held, that this decree stands, goes back, investing of set purpose His return with all the publicity that He can bring to bear upon it. For this once He seems to determine that He will ‘cause His voice to be heard in the streets’; He makes as much of a demonstration as the circumstances will allow, and so acts in a manner opposite to all the rest of His life. Why? Because He had determined to bring the controversy to an end. Why? Was He flinging away His life in mere despair? Was He sinfully neglecting precautions? Was the same fanaticism of martyrdom which has often told upon men, acting upon Him? Were these His reasons? No, but He recognised that now that ‘hour’ of which He spoke so much had come, and of His own loving will offered Himself as our Sacrifice.
It is all-important to keep in view that Christ’s death was His own voluntary act. Whatever external forces were brought to bear in the accomplishment of it, He died because He chose to die. The ‘cords’ which bound this sacrifice to the horns of the altar were cords woven by Himself.
So I point to the incident of my text, as linking in along with the whole series of incidents marking the last days of our Lord’s life, in order to stamp upon His death unmistakably this signature, that it was His own act. Therefore the publicity that was given to His entry; therefore His appearance in the Temple; therefore the increased sharpness and unmistakableness of His denunciations of the ruling classes, the Pharisees and the scribes. Therefore the whole history of the Passion, all culminating in leaving this one conviction, that He had ‘power to lay down His life,’ that neither Caiaphas nor Annas, nor Judas, nor the band, nor priests, nor the Council, nor Pilate, nor Herod, nor soldiers, nor nails, nor cross, nor all together, killed Jesus, but that Jesus died because He would. The self-sacrifice of the Lord was not the flinging away of the life that He ought to have preserved, nor carelessness, nor the fanaticism of a martyr, nor the enthusiasm of a hero and a champion, but it was the voluntary death of Him who of His own will became in His death the ‘oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.’ Love to us, and obedience to the Father whose will He made His own, were the cords that bound Christ to the Cross on which He died. His sacrifice was voluntary; witness this fact that when He saw the Cross at hand He strode before His followers to reach that, the goal of His mission.
III. I venture to regard the incident as giving us a little glimpse of what I may call the shrinking Christ.
Do we not see here a trace of something that we all know? May not part of the reason for Christ’s haste have been that desire which we all have, when some inevitable grief or pain lies before us, to get it over soon, and to abbreviate the moments that lie between us and it? Was there not something of that feeling in our Lord’s sensitive nature when He said, for instance, ‘I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished’? ‘I am come to send fire upon the earth, and O! how I wish that it were already kindled!’ Was there not something of the same feeling, which we cannot call impatient, but which we may call shrinking from the Cross, and therefore seeking to draw the Cross nearer, and have done with it, in the words which He addressed to the betrayer, ‘That thou doest, do quickly,’ as if He were making a last appeal to the man’s humanity, and in effect saying to him, ‘If you have a heart at all, shorten these painful hours, and let us have it over’? And may we not see, in that swift advance in front of the lagging disciples, some trace of the same feeling which we recognise to be so truly human? Christ did shrink from His Cross. Let us never forget that He recoiled from it, with the simple, instinctive, human shrinking from pain and death which is a matter of the physical nervous system, and has nothing to do with the will at all. If there had been no shrinking from it there had been no fixed will. If there had been no natural instinctive drawing back of the physical nature and its connections from the prospect of pain and death, there had been none of the heroism of which I am speaking. Though it does not become us to dogmatise about matters of which we know so little, I think we may fairly say that that shrinking never rose up into the regions of Christ’s will; never became a desire; never became a purpose. Howsoever the ship might be tossed by the waves, the will always kept its level equilibrium. Howsoever the physical nature might incline to this side or to that, the will always kept parallel with the great underlying divine will, the Father’s purpose which He had come to effect. There was shrinking which was instinctive and human, but it never disturbed the fixed purpose to die. It had so much power over Him as to make Him march a little faster to the Cross, but it never made Him turn from it. And so He stands before us as the Conqueror in a real conflict, as having yielded Himself up by a real surrender, as having overcome a real difficulty, ‘for the joy that was set before Him, having endured the Cross, despising the shame.’
IV. So, lastly, I would see here the lonely Christ.
In front of His followers, absorbed in the thought of what was drawing so near, gathering together His powers in order to be ready for the struggle, with His heart full of the love and the pity which impelled Him, He is surrounded as with a cloud which shuts Him ‘out from their sight,’ as afterwards the cloud of glory ‘received Him.’
What a gulf there was between them and Him, between their thoughts and His, as He passed up that rocky way! What were they thinking about? ‘By the way they had disputed amongst themselves which of them should be the greatest.’ So far did they sympathise with the Master! So far did they understand Him! Talk about men with unappreciated aims, heroes that have lived through a lifetime of misunderstanding and never have had any one to sympathise with them! There never was such a lonely man in the world as Jesus Christ. Never was there one that carried so deep In His heart so great a purpose and so great a love, which none cared a rush about. And those that were nearest Him, and loved Him best, loved Him so blunderingly and so blindly that their love must often have been quite as much of a pain as of a joy.
In His Passion that solitude reached the point of agony. How touching in its unconscious pathos is His pleading request, ‘Tarry ye here, and watch with Me!’ How touching in their revelation of a subsidiary but yet very real addition to His pains are His words, ‘All ye shall be offended because of Me this night.’ Oh, dear brethren! every human soul has to go down into the darkness alone, however close may be the clasping love which accompanies us to the portal; but the loneliness of death was realised by Jesus Christ in a very unique and solemn manner. For round Him there gathered the clouds of a mysterious agony, only faintly typified by the darkness of eclipse which hid the material sun in the universe, what time He died.
And all this solitude, the solitude of unappreciated aims, and unshared purposes, and misunderstood sorrow during life, and the solitude of death with its elements ineffable of atonement;-all this solitude was borne that no human soul, living or dying, might ever be lonely any more. ‘Lo! I,’ whom you all left alone, ‘am with you,’ who left Me alone, ‘even till the end of the world.’
So, dear brethren, ponder that picture that I have been trying very feebly to set before you, of the heroic, self-sacrificing, shrinking, solitary Saviour. Take Him as your Saviour, your Sacrifice, your Pattern; and hear Him saying, ‘If any man serve Me, let him follow Me, and where I am there shall also My servant be.’
An old ecclesiastical legend conies into my mind at the moment, which tells how an emperor won the true Cross in battle from a pagan king, and brought it back, with great pomp, to Jerusalem; but found the gate walled up, and an angel standing before it, who said, ‘Thou bringest back the Cross with pomp and splendour. He that died upon it had shame for His companion; and carried it on His back, barefooted, to Calvary.’ Then, says the chronicler, the emperor dismounted from his steed, cast off his robes, lifted the sacred Rood on his shoulders, and with bare feet advanced to the gate, which opened of itself, and he entered in.
We have to go up the steep rocky road that leads from the plain where the Dead Sea is, to Jerusalem. Let us follow the Master, as He strides before us, the Forerunner and the Captain of our salvation.
DIGNITY AND SERVICE
Mar_10:35 - Mar_10:45 .
How lonely Jesus was! While He strode before the Twelve, absorbed in thoughts of the Cross to which He was pressing, they, as they followed, ‘amazed’ and ‘afraid,’ were thinking not of what He would suffer, but of what they might gain. He saw the Cross. They understood little of it, but supposed that somehow it would bring in the kingdom, and they dimly saw thrones for themselves. Hence James and John try to secure the foremost places, and hence the others’ anger at what they thought an unfair attempt to push in front of them. What a contrast between Jesus, striding on ahead with ‘set’ face, and the Twelve unsympathetic and self-seeking, lagging behind to squabble about pre-eminence! We have in this incident two parts: the request and its answer, the indignation of the Ten and its rebuke. The one sets forth the qualifications for the highest place in the kingdom; the other, the paradox that pre-eminence there is service.
James and John were members of the group of original disciples who stood nearest to Jesus, and of the group of three whom He kept specially at His side. Their present place might well lead them to expect pre-eminence in the kingdom, but their trick was mean, as being an underhand attempt to forestall Peter, the remaining one of the three, as putting forward their mother as spokeswoman, and as endeavouring to entrap Jesus into promising before the disclosure of what was desired. Matthew tells that the mother was brought in order to make the request, and that Jesus brushed her aside by directing His answer to her sons ‘Ye know not what ye ask’. The attempt to get Jesus’ promise without telling what was desired betrayed the consciousness that the wish was wrong. His guarded counter-question would chill them and make their disclosure somewhat hesitating.
Note the strangely blended good and evil of the request. The gold was mingled with clay; selfishness and love delighting in being near Him had both place in it. We may well recognise our own likenesses in these two with their love spotted with self-regard, and be grateful for the gentle answer which did not blame the desire for pre-eminence, but sought to test the love. It was not only to teach them, that He brought them back to think of the Cross which must precede the glory, but because His own mind was so filled with it that He saw that glory only as through the darkness which had to be traversed to reach it. But for us all the question is solemn and heart-searching.
Was not the answer, ‘We are able,’ too bold? They knew neither what they asked nor what they promised; but just as their ignorant question was partly redeemed by its love, their ignorant vow was ennobled by its very rashness, as well as by the unfaltering love in it. They did not know what they were promising, but they knew that they loved Him so well that to share anything with Him would be blessed. So it was not in their own strength that the swift answer rushed to their lips, but in the strength of a love that makes heroes out of cowards. And they nobly redeemed their pledge. We, too, if we are Christ’s, have the same question put to us, and, weak and timid as we are, may venture to give the same answer, trusting to His strength.
The full declaration of what had been only implied in the previous question follows. Jesus tells the two, and us all, that there are degrees in nearness to Him and in dignity in that future, but that the highest places are not given by favouritism, but attained by fitness. He does not deny that He gives, but only that He gives without regard to qualification. Paul expected the crown from ‘the righteous Judge,’ and one of these two brethren was chosen to record His promise of giving a seat on His throne to all that overcome. ‘Those for whom it is prepared’ are those who are prepared for it, and the preparation lies in ‘being made conformable to His death,’ and being so joined to Him that in spirit and mind we are partakers of His sufferings, whether we are called to partake of them in outward form or not.
The two had had their lesson, and next the Ten were to have theirs. The conversation with the former had been private, for it was hearing of it that made the others so angry. We can imagine the hot words among them as they marched behind Jesus, and how they felt ashamed already when ‘He called them.’ What they were to be now taught was not so much the qualifications for pre-eminence in the kingdom, whether here or hereafter, as the meaning of preeminence and the service to which it binds. In the world, the higher men are, the more they are served; in Christ’s kingdom, both in its imperfect earthly and in its perfect heavenly form, the higher men are, the more they serve. So-called ‘Christian’ nations are organised on the former un-Christian basis still. But wherever pre-eminence is not used for the general good, there authority rests on slippery foundations, and there will never be social wellbeing or national tranquillity until Christ’s law of dignity for service and dignity by service shapes and sweetens society. ‘But it is not so among you’ laid down the constitution for earth, and not only for some remote heaven; and every infraction of it, sooner or later, brings a Nemesis.
The highest is to be the lowest; for He who is ‘higher than the highest’ has shown that such is the law which He obeys. The point in the heaven that is highest above our heads is in twelve hours deepest beneath our feet. Fellowship in Christ’s sufferings was declared to be the qualification for our sharing in His dignity. His lowly service and sacrificial death are now declared to be the pattern for our use of dignity. Still the thought of the Cross looms large before Jesus, and He is not content with presenting Himself as the pattern of service only, but calls on His disciples to take Him as the pattern of utter self-surrender also. We cannot enter on the great teaching of these words, but can only beseech all who hear them to note how Jesus sets forth His death as the climax of His work, without which even that life of ministering were incomplete; how He ascribes to it the power of ransoming men from bondage and buying them back to God; and of how He presents even these unparalleled sufferings, which bear or need no repetition as long as the world lasts, as yet being the example to which our lives must be conformed. So His lesson to the angry Ten merges into that to the self-seeking two, and declares to each of us that, if we are ever to win a place at His right hand in His glory, we must here take a place with Him in imitating His life of service and His death of self-surrender for men’s good. ‘If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.’
The narrative of this miracle is contained in all the Synoptical Gospels, but the accounts differ in two respects-as to the number of men restored to sight, and as to the scene of the miracle. Matthew tells us that there were two men healed, and agrees with Mark in placing the miracle as Jesus was leaving Jericho. Mark says that there was one, and that the place was outside the gate in departing. Luke, on the other hand, agrees with Matthew as to the number, and differs from him and Mark as to the place, which he sets at the entrance into the city. The first of these two discrepancies may very easily be put aside. The greater includes the less; silence is not contradiction. To say that there was one does not deny that there were two. And if Bartimaeus was a Christian, and known to Mark’s readers, as is probable from the mention of his name, it is easily intelligible how he, being also the chief actor and spokesman, should have had Mark’s attention concentrated on him. As to the other discrepancy, many attempts have been made to remove it. None of them are altogether satisfactory. But what does it matter? The apparent contradiction may affect theories as to the characteristics of inspired books, but it has nothing to do with the credibility of the narratives, or with their value for us.
Mark’s account is evidently that of an eye-witness. It is full of little particulars which testify thereto. Whether Bartimaeus had a companion or not, he was obviously the chief actor and spokesman. And the whole story seems to me to lend itself to the enforcement of some very important lessons, which I will try to draw from it.
I. Notice the beggar’s petition and the attempts to silence it.
Remember that Jesus was now on His last journey to Jerusalem. That night He would sleep at Bethany; Calvary was but a week off. He had paused to win Zacchaeus, and now He has resumed His march to His Cross. Popular enthusiasm is surging round Him, and for the first time He does not try to repress it. A shouting multitude are escorting Him out of the city. They have just passed the gates, and are in the act of turning towards the mountain gorge through which runs the Jerusalem road. A long file of beggars is sitting, as beggars do still in Eastern cities, outside the gate, well accustomed to lift their monotonous wail at the sound of passing footsteps. Bartimaeus is amongst them. He asks, according to Luke, what is the cause of the bustle, and is told that ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ The name wakes strange hopes in him, which can only be accounted for by his knowledge of Christ’s miracles done elsewhere. It is a witness to their notoriety that they had filtered down to be the talk of beggars at city gates. And so, true to his trade, he cries, ‘Jesus . . . have mercy upon me!’
Now, note two or three things about that cry. The first is the clear insight into Christ’s place and dignity. The multitude said to him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.’ That was all they cared for or knew. He cried, ‘Jesus, thou Son of David,’ distinctly recognising our Lord’s Messianic character, His power and authority, and on that power and authority he built a confidence; for he says not as some other suppliants had done, either ‘If Thou wilt Thou canst,’ or ‘If Thou canst do anything, have compassion on us.’ He is sure of both the power and the will.
Now, it is interesting to notice that this same clear insight other blind men in the Evangelist’s story are also represented as having had. Blindness has its compensations. It leads to a certain steadfast brooding upon thoughts, free from disturbing influences. Seeing Jesus did not produce faith; not seeing Him seems to have helped it. It left imagination to work undisturbed, and He was all the loftier to these blind men, because the conceptions of their minds were not limited by the vision of their eyes. At all events, here is a distinct piece of insight into Christ’s dignity, power, and will, to which the seeing multitudes were blind.
Note, further, how in the cry there throbs the sense of need, deep and urgent. And note how in it there is also the realisation of the possibility that the widely-flowing blessings of which Bartimaeus had heard might be concentrated and poured, in their full flood, upon himself. He individualises himself, his need, Christ’s power and willingness to help him. And because he has heard of so many who have, in like manner, received His healing touch, he comes with the cry, ‘Have mercy upon me.’
All this is upon the low level of physical blessings needed and desired. But let us lift it higher. It is a mirror in which we may see ourselves, our necessities, and the example of what our desire ought to be. Ah! brethren, the deep consciousness of impotence, need, emptiness, blindness, lies at the bottom of all true crying to Jesus Christ. If you have never gone to Him, knowing yourself to be a sinful man, in peril, present and future, from your sin, and stained and marred by reason of it, you never have gone to Him in any deep and adequate sense at all. Only when I thus know myself am I driven to cry, ‘Jesus! have mercy on me.’ And I ask you not to answer to me, but to press the question on your own consciences-’Have I any experience of such a sense of need; or am I groping in the darkness and saying, I see? am I weak as water, and saying I am strong?’ ‘Thou knowest not that thou art poor, and naked, and blind’; and so that Jesus of Nazareth should be passing by has never moved thy tongue to call, ‘Son of David, have mercy upon me!’
Again, this man’s cry expressed a clear insight into something at least of our Lord’s unique character and power. Brethren, unless we know Him to be all that is involved in that august title, ‘the Son of David,’ I do not think our cries to Him will ever be very earnest. It seems to me that they will only be so when, on the one hand, we recognise our need of a Saviour, and, on the other hand, behold in Him the Saviour whom we need. I can quite understand-and we may see plenty of illustrations of it all round us-a kind of Christianity real as far as it goes, but in my judgment very superficial, which has no adequate conception of what sin means, in its depth, in its power upon the victim of it, or in its consequences here and hereafter; and, that sense being lacking, the whole scale of Christianity, as it were, is lowered, and Christ comes to be, not, as I think the New Testament tells us that He is, the Incarnate Word of God, who for us men and for our salvation ‘bare our sins in His own body on the tree,’ and ‘was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him,’ but an Example, a Teacher, or a pure Model, or a social Reformer, or the like. If men think of Him only as such, they will never cry to Him, ‘Have mercy upon me!’
Dear friends, I pray you, whether you begin with looking into your own hearts and recognising the crawling evils that have made their home there, and thence pass to the thought of the sort of Redeemer that you need and find in Christ-or whether you begin at the other side, and, looking upon the revealed Christ in all the fulness in which He is represented to us in the Gospels, from thence go back to ask yourselves the question, ‘What sort of man must I be, if that is the kind of Saviour that I need?’-I pray you ever to blend these two things together, the consciousness of your own need of redemption in His blood and the assurance that by His death we are redeemed, and then to cry, ‘Lord! have mercy upon me,’ and claim your individual share in the wide-flowing blessing. Turn all the generalities of His grace into the particularity of your own possession of it. We have to go one by one to His cross, and one by one to pass through the wicket gate. We have not cried to Him as we ought, if our cry is only ‘Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us.’ We must be alone with Him, that into our own hearts we may receive all the fulness of His blessing; and our petition must be ‘Thou Son of David! have mercy upon me.’ Have you cried that? Notice, further, the attempts to stifle the cry. No doubt it was in defence of the Master’s dignity, as they construed it, that the people sought to silence the persistent, strident voice piercing through their hosannas. Ah! they did not know that the cry of wretchedness was far sweeter to Him than their shallow hallelujahs. Christian people of all churches, and of some stiffened churches very especially, have been a great deal more careful of Christ’s dignity than He is, and have felt that their formal worship was indecorously disturbed when by chance some earnest voice forced its way through it with the cry of need and desire. But this man had been accustomed for many a day, sitting outside the gate, to reiterate his petition when it was unattended to, and to make it heard amidst the noise of passers-by. So he was persistently bold and importunate and shameless, as the shallow critics thought, in his crying. The more they silenced him, the more a great deal he cried. Would God that we had more crying like that; and that Christ’s servants did not so often seek to suppress it, as some of them do! If there are any of you who, by reason of companions, or cares, or habits, or sorrows, or a feeble conception of your own need or a doubtful recognition of Christ’s power and mercy, have been tempted to stop your supplications, do like Bartimaeus, and the more these, your enemies, seek to silence the deepest voice that is in you, the more let it speak.
II. So, notice Christ’s call and the suppliant’s response.
‘He stood still, and commanded him to be called.’ Remember that He was on His road to His Cross, and that the tension of spirit which the Evangelists notice as attaching to Him then, and which filled the disciples with awe as they followed Him, absorbed Him, no doubt, at that hour, so that He heard but little of the people’s shouts. But He did hear the blind beggar’s cry, and He arrested His march in order to attend to it.
Now, dear friends, I am not merely twisting a Biblical incident round to an interpretation which it does not bear, but am stating a plain un-rhetorical truth when I say that it is so still. Jesus Christ is no dead Christ who is to be remembered only. He is a living Christ who, at this moment, is all that He ever was, and is doing in loftier fashion all the gracious things that He did upon earth. That pause of the King is repeated now, and the quick ear which discerned the difference between the unreal shouts of the crowd, and the agony of sincerity in the cry of the beggar, is still open. He is in the heavens, surrounded by its glories, and, as I think Scripture teaches us, wielding providence and administering the affairs of the universe. He does not need to pause in order to hear you and me. If He did, He would-if I may venture upon such an impossible supposition-bid the hallelujahs of heaven hush themselves, and suspend the operations of His providence if need were, rather than that you or I, or any poor man who cries to Him, should be unheard and unhelped. The living Christ is as tender a friend, has as quick an ear, is as ready to help at once, to-day, as He was when outside the gate of Jericho; and every one of us may lift his or her poor, thin voice, and it will go straight up to the throne, and not be lost in the clamour of the hallelujahs that echo round His seat. Christ still hears and answers the cry of need. Send you it up, and you will find that true.
Notice the suppliant’s response. That is a very characteristic right-about-face of the crowd, who one moment were saying, ‘Hold your tongue and do not disturb Him,’ and the next moment were all eager to encumber him with help, and to say, ‘Rise up, be of good cheer; He calleth thee.’ No thanks to them that He did. And what did the man do? Sprang to his feet-as the word rightly rendered would be-and flung away the frowsy rags that he had wrapped round him for warmth and softness of seat, as he waited at the gate; ‘and he came to Jesus.’ Brethren, ‘casting aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset us, let us run’ to the same Refuge. You have to abandon something if you are to go to Christ to be healed. I dare say you know well enough what it is. I do not; but certainly there is something that entangles your legs and keeps you from finding your way to Him. If there is nothing else, there is yourself and your trust in self, and that is to be put away. Cast away the ‘garment spotted with the flesh’ and go to Christ, and you will receive succour.
III. Notice the question of all-granting love, and the answer of conscious need.
‘What wilt Thou that I should do unto thee?’ A very few hours before He had put the same question with an entirely different significance, when the sons of Zebedee came to Him, and tried to get Him to walk blindfold into a promise. He upset their scheme with the simple question, ‘What is it that you want?’ which meant, ‘I must know and judge before I commit Myself,’ But when He said the same thing to Bartimaeus He meant exactly the opposite. It was putting the key of the treasure-house into the beggar’s hand. It was the implicit pledge that whatever he desired he should receive. He knew that the thing this man wanted was the thing that He delighted to give.
But the tenderness of these words, and the gracious promise that is hived in them, must not make us forget the singular authority that speaks in them. Think of a man doing as Jesus Christ did-standing before another and saying, ‘I will give you anything that you want.’ He must be either a madman or a blasphemer, or ‘God manifest in the flesh’; Almighty power guided by infinite love.
And what said the man? He had no doubt what he wanted most-the opening of these blind eyes of his. And, dear brother, if we knew ourselves as well as Bartimaeus knew his blindness, we should have as little doubt what it is that we need most. Suppose you had this wishing-cap that Christ put on Bartimaeus’s head put on yours: what would you ask? It is a penetrating question if men will answer it honestly. Think what you consider to be your chief need. Suppose Jesus Christ stood where I stand, and spoke to you: ‘What wilt thou that I should do for you?’ If you are a wise man, if you know yourself and Him, your answer will come as swiftly as the beggar’s-’Lord! heal me of my blindness, and take away my sin, and give me Thy salvation.’ There is no doubt about what it is that every one of us needs most. And there should be no doubt as to what each of us would ask first.
The supposition that I have been making is realised. That gracious Lord is here, and is ready to give you the satisfaction of your deepest need, if you know what it is, and will go to Him for it. ‘Ask! and ye shall receive.’
IV. Lastly, notice, sight given, and the Giver followed.
Bartimaeus had scarcely ended speaking when Christ began. He was blind at the beginning of Christ’s little sentence; he saw at the end of it. ‘Go thy way; thy faith hath saved thee.’ The answer came instantly, and the cure was as immediate as the movement of Christ’s heart in answer.
I am here to proclaim the possibility of an immediate passage from darkness to light. Some folk look askance at us when we talk about sudden conversions, but these are perfectly reasonable; and the experience of thousands asserts that they are actual. As soon as we desire, we have, and as soon as we have, we see. Whenever the lungs are opened the air rushes in; sometimes the air opens the lungs that it may. The desire is all but contemporaneous with the fulfilment, in Christ’s dealing with men. The message is flashed along the wire from earth to heaven, in an incalculably brief space of time, and the answer comes, swift as thought and swifter than light. So, dear friends, there is no reason whatever why a similar instantaneous change should not pass over any man who hears the Good News. He may be unsaved when his hearing of it begins, and saved when his hearing of it ends. It is for himself to settle whether it shall be so or not.
Here we have a clear statement of the path by which Christ’s mercy rushes into a man’s soul. ‘Thy faith hath saved thee.’ But it was Christ’s power that saved him. Yes, it was; but it was faith that made it possible for Christ’s power to make him whole. Physical miracles indeed did not always require trust in Christ, as a preceding condition, but the possession of Christ’s salvation does, and cannot but do so. There must be trust in Him, in order that we may partake of the salvation which is owing solely to His power, His love, His work upon the Cross. The condition is for us; the power comes from Him. My faith is the hand that grasps His; it is His hand, not mine, that holds me up. My faith lays hold of the rope; it is the rope and the Person above who holds it, that lift me out of the ‘horrible pit and the miry clay.’ My faith flees for refuge to the city; it is the city that keeps me safe from the avenger of blood. Brother! exercise that faith, and you will receive a better sight than was poured into Bartimaeus’s eyes.
Now, all this story should be the story of each one of us. One modification we have to make upon it, for we do not need to cry persistently for mercy, but to trust in, and to take, the mercy that is offered. One other difference there is between Bartimaeus and many of my hearers. He knew what he needed, and some of you do not. But Christ is calling us all, and my business now is to say to each of you what the crowd said to the beggar, ‘Rise! be of good cheer; He calleth thee.’ If you will fling away your hindrances, and grope your path to His feet, and fall down before Him, knowing your deep necessity, and trusting to Him to supply it, He will save you. Your new sight will gaze upon your Redeemer, and you will follow Him in the way of loving trust and glad obedience.
Jesus Christ was passing by. He was never to be in Jericho any more. If Bartimaeus did not get His sight then, he would be blind all his days. Christ and His salvation are offered to thee, my brother, now. Perhaps if you let Him pass, you will never hear Him call again, and may abide in the darkness for ever. Do not run the risk of such a fate.
AN EAGER COMING
Mark’s vivid picture-long wail of the man, crowd silencing him, but wheeling round when Christ calls him-and the quick energy of the beggar, flinging away his cloak, springing to his feet-and blind as he was, groping his way.
I. What we mean by coming to Jesus:-faith, communion, occupation of mind, heart, and will.
II. How eagerly we shall come when we are conscious of need. This man wanted his eyesight: do we not want too?
III. We must throw off our hindrances if we would come to Him.
Impediments of various kinds. ‘Lay aside every weight’-not only sins, but even right things that hinder. Occupations, pursuits, affections, possessions, sometimes have to be put away altogether; sometimes but to be minimised and kept in restraint. There is no virtue in self-denial except as it helps us to come nearer Him.
IV. We must do it with quick, glad energy.
Bartimaeus springs to his feet at once with a bound. So we should leap to meet Jesus, our sight-giver. How slothful and languid we often are. We do not put half as much heart into our Christian life as people do into common things. Far more pains are taken by a ballet-dancer to learn her posturing than by most Christians to keep near Christ.
Mar_10:51 . - Act_9:6 .
Christ asks the first question of a petitioner, and the answer is a prayer for sight. Saul asks the second question of Jesus, and the answer is a command. Different as they are, we may bring them together. The one is the voice of love, desiring to be besought in order that it may bestow; the other is the voice of love, desiring to be commanded in order that it may obey.
Love delights in knowing, expressing, and fulfilling the beloved’s wishes.
I. The communion of Love delights on both sides in knowing the beloved’s wishes.
Christ delights in knowing ours. He encourages us to speak though He knows, because it is pleasant to Him to hear, and good for us to tell. His children delight in knowing His will.
II. It delights in expressing wishes-His commandments are the utterance of His Love:
His Providences are His loving ways of telling us what He desires of us, and if we love Him as we ought, both commandments and providences will be received by us as lovers do gifts that have ‘with my love’ written on them.
On the other hand, our love will delight in telling Him what we wish, and to speak all our hearts to Jesus will be our instinct in the measure of our love to Him.
III. It delights in fulfilling wishes-puts key of treasure-house into our hands.
He refused John and James. Be sure that He does still delight to give us our desires, and so be sure that when any of these are not granted there must be some loving reason for refusal.
Our delight should be in obedience, and only when our wills are submitted to His does He say to us, ‘What wilt thou?’ ‘If ye abide in Me and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you.’
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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Mark 10". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany