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The consecration of our Lord in his baptism was immediately followed by what is known as his temptation. It is, perhaps, the most mysterious and least understood of any of the scenes of the public ministry related by the evangelists.
It is related at some length by SS. Matthew and Luke, with very slight difference of detail, the principal one being the order in which the three great temptations occurred. In St. Mark the notice of this strange episode in the life is very short, but harmonizes perfectly with the longer accounts of SS. Matthew and Luke. St John omits it altogether; first, because, with the earlier written Gospels before him, he was aware that the Church of his Master already possessed ample details of the occurrence; and secondly, the story and lessons of the temptation did not enter into the plan which St. John had before him when he composed his history of his Lord's teaching.
What, now, was the temptation? Did the evil one appear to Jesus actually in a bodily form? Did his feet really press some elevation, such as the summit of snowy Hermon, or the still more inaccessible peak of Ararat? and did the far-reaching prospect of sea and land, mountain and valley, bathed in the noonday glory of an Eastern sun, represent to him the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them? Did be in very truth stand on the summit of the great temple-roof, and from that dizzy height gaze on the crowds below, crawling like ants across the sacred court, or toiling along the Jerusalem streets?
So generally thought the ancients, and so it would appear, on first thoughts, from St. Matthew's account, where we read (Matthew 4:3), "The tempter came to him.;" and the vivid realistic imagery of St. Mark would rather help us to the same conclusion. Some expositors and students of the Word have imagined—for it comes to little more—that the devil manifested himself to Jesus under the guise of an angel of light; others prove supposed the tempter came to him as a wayfaring man; others, as a priest, as one of the Sanhedrin council.
But on further consideration all this seems highly improbable. No appearance of the devil, or of any evil angel, is ever related in the Bible records. The mountain whence the view of the world's kingdoms was obtained after all is fanciful, and any realistic interpretation is thoroughly unsatisfactory and improbable. The greater of the modern scholars of different countries—the Germans Olshausen and Neander, the Dutch Van Oosterzee, the Frenchman Pressense, the Swiss Godet, Farrar and Plumptre in our own land—reject altogether the idea of a presence of the tempter visible to the eye of sense. The whole transaction lay in the spiritual region of the life of Christ, but on that account it was not the less real and true.
Nor is it by any means a solitary experience, this living, beholding, listening, and even speaking in the Spirit, narrated by the evangelist in this place as a circumstance in the Lord's life. Centuries before, Ezekiel, when in his exile by the banks of Chebar in Chaldea, was lifted up and borne by the Spirit to far-distant Jerusalem, that he might see the secret sins done in the temple of the Lord (Ezekiel 8:3). Isaiah again, in the year that King Uzziah died, saw the Lord on his throne, surrounded by seraphim; in this vision the prophet speaks, and hears the Lord speak, and a burning coal from off the altar is laid on his mouth (Isaiah 6:1-23.6.11). To pass over the several visions of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and others, in which the transactions lay altogether in the spiritual region of their lives, we would instance from the New Testament St. Paul's account of himself caught up into paradise, "whether in the body or out of the body" he could not tell (2 Corinthians 12:1-47.12.4). And still more to the point, St. John's words prefacing his Revelation, how he was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day," when he heard the voice behind him, and saw his glorified Master. On that day and in that hour he heard and saw what he relates in his twenty-two chapters of the Revelation.
In language very slightly different, the temptation of the blessed Son of God is related by the evangelists, when they preface the history of the event with the words, "Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost … was led by the Spirit into the wilderness" (see, too, Matthew 4:1).
We conclude, then, with some confidence, that the devil did not appear to Jesus in a bodily form, but that, in a higher sphere than that of matter, the Redeemer met and encountered—with the result we know so well—that spiritual being of superhuman but yet of limited power, who tempts men to evil, and accuses them before the throne of God when they have yielded to the temptation. "We believe"—to use Godet's words here—"that had he been observed by any spectator whilst the temptation was going on, he would have appeared all through it motionless upon the soil of the desert. But though the conflict did not pass out of the spiritual sphere, it was none the less real, and the value of the victory was none the less incalculable and decisive."
And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness; more accurately translated, in the Spirit. The question of the nature of the temptation has been discussed in the above note. The words, "full of the Holy Ghost," and "was led by the Spirit," lead us irresistibly to the conclusion that the Lord, during this strange solemn time—like Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah, and, later, Paul and John the beloved apostle—was especially under the influence of the Holy Spirit; that his eyes were open to see visions and sights not usually visible to mortal eye; and that his ears were unlocked to hear voices not audible to ordinary mortal ears. Tradition has fixed upon a hill district bordering on the road which leads up from Jericho to Jerusalem, as the scene of the temptation. The hill itself, from being the supposed spot where the Lord spent these forty days, is named Quarantania. The rocks in this neighborhood contain many caves.
Being forty days tempted of the devil. For some reason unknown to us, the number forty seems to possess some mystic significance. Moses was forty days alone with the Divine Presence on Horeb. Elijah fasted forty days in the wilderness before the vision and the voice came to him. Forty years was the period, too, of the wanderings of the chosen people. The existence of an evil power has been a favorite subject of discussion in those schools of thought who more or less question the authoritative teaching of the canonical books of the two Testaments. Keim, quoted by Godet, well and fairly sums up the present state of opinion of the more moderate and thoughtful schools of free-thought: "We regard the question of an existence of an evil power as altogether an open question for science." Those, however, who recognize the Gospel narratives as the faithful expression of Jesus Christ's teaching, must accept the repeated declarations of the Master that an evil being of superhuman power does exist, and has a great, though a limited, influence over the thoughts and works of men. Whatever men may feel with regard to the famous clause in the Lord's Prayer, which the Revisers of the Authorized Version render, "deliver us from the evil one," they must agree at least with the conclusion of the Revisers, that, in the Christian Church, a large majority of the ancients understood the Master's words in his great prayer as asking deliverance, not from "evil" in the abstract, as the English Authorized Version seems to prefer, but deliverance from the power of some mighty evil being. And in those days he did eat nothing. In this state of ecstasy, when the body was completely subordinate to the Spirit, the ordinary bodily wants seem to have been suspended. There is no difficulty in accepting this supposition, if the signification of the words, "in the Spirit," above suggested, be adopted. The whole transaction belongs to the miraculous. We, who receive as God's Word these Gospel narratives, find no difficulty in recognizing God's power to suspend, when he pleases, what men regard as fixed natural laws. We believe, too, that on certain occasions in the world's history it has pleased him to put this power into operation. He afterward hungered. Although still in the Spirit, in order to provide a field for the exercise of the peculiar typical temptation about to be dwelt upon, some of the bodily functions, which during the trance or the ecstasy had been temporarily suspended, were allowed again to play their usual part in the life, as in the ease Of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Paul, and John.
And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. It has been quaintly said of the tempter "that he had sped so successfully to his own mind by a temptation about a matter of eating with the first Adam, that he practiced the old manner of his trading with the second." These diabolical promptings have been spoken of already in this Commentary as "typical." They represent, indeed, some of the principal temptations to which different classes of men and women in all ages are subject; the hard task of bread-winning, after all, suggests very many of the evil thoughts and imaginings to which men are subject, though, perhaps, they suspect it not. Weakened and exhausted by long abstinence from food, the temptation to supply his wants by this easy means at once was great. Still, had he consented to the tempter's suggestion, Jesus was aware that he would have broken the conditions of that human existence to which, in his deep love for us fallen beings, he had voluntarily consented and submitted himself. Should he, then, use his miraculous power for his own advantage? Then, re-membering his own late experience, the long fast from all human food, and yet life enduring through it all; calling to mind the miraculous supply of manna in the old desert days, the preservation of Elijah's life through a similar fast,—Jesus, all faint and weary, exclaims in reply, "Man shall not live by bread alone."
And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. This temptation was something more than "offering to One who had lived as a village carpenter the throne of the world." It appealed to his ambition certainly, but in Jesus' case it was a high, pure, sinless ambition. This much he certainly knew already, that he was destined to rule over men from pole to pole. It was for him a righteous longing, this desire to have the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth as his possession. No false ambition was this in Jesus, this desire to realize the glorious Messianic hope. Again, how typical a temptation! All ranks and orders are often soon tempted here. A noble end as they think, and in the beauty of the goal they forget that the road leading to it is paved with evil and wrong.
If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. Dr. Morrison, on Matthew 4:9, has well caught the thought here. The arch-tempter "as it were said to Jesus, 'I am indeed the prince and god of this world. Its kingdoms and their glory are at my disposal. I could at once open up thy way to the highest honors that a universal conqueror and a universal sovereign could desire. I could gather at once around thee a host of devoted Jewish troops; I could pave their way for victory after victory, until at no distant period the whole Roman empire, and indeed the whole world, should be subject to thy sway. Only abandon the wild chimera of putting down sin and making all men fanatical and holy; fall in with my way of things; let the morals of the world alone, more especially its morals in reference to God; work with me and under me, and all will go well. But if thou refuse this offer, look out for determined opposition, for incessant persecution, for the most miserable poverty, and for every species of woe.'"
Get thee behind me, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Jesus repelled the offer with stern indignation. He would receive the splendid inheritance which he felt was his at no other hands than his Father's; he would win all and more than the tempter offered him, but it would be by a slow and painful process—by self-denial, self-sacrifice, self-surrender; the glorious consummation would only be attained at the end of a long vista of centuries. The words, "Get thee behind me, Satan," do not occur in the older manuscripts containing St. Luke's Gospel. These are evidently a later addition from the parallel passage in St. Matthew.
And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple. In St. Matthew Jerusalem is here called "the holy city," a name still preserved in the East, where it is still termed El-Khuds, the holy. Pinnacle; literally, "wing" of the temple. "Pinnacle" comes from the Vulgate translation, pinnaculum. The part of the great building evidently referred to hero was that magnificent southern wing of the Lord's house constructed by Herod the Great, which was known as the royal portico. Josephus calls it the most remarkable building under the sun ('Ant.,' 15.11. 5). One who stood on the roof of this portion of the temple would look from a dizzy height into the Valley of the Kidron. Such a spectator, writes Josephus ('Ant.,' 2.5), "would be giddy while his sight could not reach to such an immense depth." To this spot, "whether in the body or out of the body" we cannot tell, Jesus was taken by the evil spirit. "Now," said his tempter, "if you really are what you seem to think, cast thyself down. You know what is written in the Divine writing, how the Eternal would give his angels charge concerning thee, they were to bear thee up, 'lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.' If thou art he of whom all this is written, there will be no risk. You are sure that you are the Son of God: try this once, and see. If you triumphantly come out of this trial, all men will recognize you, and your reign as Messiah will commence forthwith." This temptation was of a more subtle nature than the other two. It appeals again to all ranks of men, and warns them of the sore danger of selfishly courting danger. The angels will ever watch over us with a tender care when, to accomplish a duty or to perform an act of self-denying love, we confront peril; not so when we presumptuously and for our own ends rush into danger.
And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. It is remarkable that in these crowning instances of temptation, which no doubt were originally recounted by the Lord himself to the inner circle of the disciples, and from them passed into the regular course of instruction adopted by the Christian teachers of the first days, the Redeemer, in each of his three answers to the devil, uses words taken from two chapters (the sixth and eighth) of Deuteronomy. It has been suggested that the thoughts and expressions of this book were fresh in the mind of the tempted Christ, as he had probably, specially during his sojourn in the wilderness, used for his own study and meditation a book which told the story of Israel's wanderings in the desert for forty years. It seems, however, more likely that the Lord simply chose to frame his answers from a book with which every Israelite from his earliest yearn had been acquainted. The maxims and precepts of Deuteronomy were used in the education of every Hebrew child. Its devout and beautiful maxims were written on the phylacteries or frontiers which so many pious Jews were in the habit of wearing.
And when the devil had ended all the temptation.
"Thou Spirit, who ledd'st this glorious eremite
Into the desert, his victorious field,
Against the spiritual foe, and brought'st him thence
By proof the undoubted Son of God."
St. Matthew closes the story of the "victorious field" by telling us how, when every hellish suggestion had been made and repelled, the wearied and exhausted Jesus was visited and refreshed by the visible ministry of angels. The words of the Greek original translated "all the temptation" would be more accurately rendered by "every kind of temptation." The three great temptations, related by two of the evangelists in detail, are very varied and comprehensive in character, and appeal to most of the human passions and desires; but from the words with which St. Luke began his recital, "being forty days tempted of the devil," it is clear that Jesus was incessantly tempted the whole time by hellish whispers and suggestions, perhaps of the same kind, though with varied details, as the three we have recorded for us. Besides the uses of the temptation mystery in the development of the humanity of the blessed Son of God, the great scene has its deep lessons for all sorts and conditions of men in all times. Some eminent expositors would seem to wish to limit the area of the teaching of the temptation, and to regard it as mainly an experience preserved for the guidance of the disciples of the Master. They—so say these scholars—were, from this scene in the life of the great Teacher, to learn never to use their miraculous power for their personal advantage (first temptation); never to associate with wicked men for the attainment of good ends (second temptation); never to perform a miracle in an ostentatious spirit (third temptation). All this was doubtless contained in the Lord's story of his awful experience, and the lesson was never forgotten by the twelve and their own immediate followers. But the instruction was not meant to be confined to the little circle of his own; it was, like the whole of the gospel teaching, intended for all sorts and conditions of men. The common everyday lesson which every child may read in this story of his Master's trial, is that from the plain appointed path of duty, which very often too is the path of suffering, no persuasion however skillfully worded, no sophistry however plausible, must be sufficient to turn him. He departed from him for a season; more accurately, till a convenient season. It is evident that all through the two years and a half of the public ministry, which succeeded the events just recorded, Jesus was exposed to the various trials and temptations to which suffering mortal flesh is exposed. So Bonaventura, in his 'Life of Christ,' says, "Many other were the occasions on which he endured temptation." Still there is no doubt but that the "convenient season" here pointedly alluded to referred to that other great epoch of temptation just before the cross, when our Lord prayed in the agony of the garden at the close of his earthly work. There the tempter tried if great suffering was not able to conquer that Sinless One.
THE PREACHING OF JESUS AT NAZARETH, AND ITS RESULT.
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. Between the events of the temptation and the preaching at Nazareth here related, some considerable time had intervened. St. John, in his Gospel, gives a somewhat detailed account of this period which St. Luke omits. Shortly after the temptation, took place the concluding incidents in the Baptist's career, which St. Luke summarized in his brief statement (Luke 3:19, Luke 3:20), when he tells us of the arrest and imprisonment of the fearless preacher by the Tetrarch Herod. St. John tells how the Sanhedrin sent some special envoys to the Baptist, asking him formally who he really was. After this questioning, John in his Gospel mentions the calling of Andrew, Simon, Philip, and Nathanael, and then records the first miracle of Jesus at Cana in Galilee, and how the Lord visited Capernaum. He then proceeds to relate some of the circumstances which took place at the Passover at Jerusalem, and how the Lord drove out the men who profaned his Father's house. He writes down, too, the particulars of Nicodemus the Pharisee's visit to Jesus by night. The Master then proceeded, as is here related by St. Luke, "in the power of the Spirit," who descended on him formally at his baptism, into Galilee, and on his journey thither tarried at Samaria, resting on the well there, and talking with the woman in those memorable words recorded by St. John at length in his fourth chapter (verses 4-42). Rapidly the report of what he had done at Cana, the fame of his marvellous words at Jerusalem, Samaria, and other places, spread through all the central districts of the Holy Land.
And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. His miracles, his words touching and eloquent, perhaps too a dim memory of marvels which had happened years before at his birth, shed round the new Teacher a halo of glory. It was only when, instead of the Messianic hopes of conquest and power which they cherished, a life of brave self-denial and quiet generosity was preached, that the reaction against him set in. The men of Nazareth, with their violent antagonism, which we are about to consider, were only, after all, a few months in advance of the rest of the nation in their rejection of the Messiah.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day. This had been for years his practice in the little synagogue of the village where was his carpenter's shop. Children at the age of five years were admitted into the synagogue, and at thirteen attendance there was part of the legal life of the Jew. These synagogues were the regular places for religious gatherings every sabbath day, and also usually on Mondays and Tuesdays, besides on other special occasions. We hear of them after the return from the Captivity, and probably they existed long before. Some think that in Psalms 74:8 there is a reference to them. And stood up for to read. The holy books were always read standing. The ruler or elder presided over and directed the synagogue service. The priest and Levite had no recognized position in the synagogue. Their functions were confined to the temple and to the duties prescribed in the Law. It was not unusual for the synagogue officials, if any stranger was present who was known to be competent, to ask him to read and to expound a passage in the Law or Prophets. Our Lord was well known in Nazareth, and of late had evidently gained a great reputation as a preacher. It was, therefore, most natural that he should be asked to take a prominent part in the sabbath services.
And there was delivered unto him the Book of the Prophet Esaias. In the sabbath service there were two lessons read. The first was always taken from the Pentateuch (the Law). The five books of Moses were written on parchment, (usually) between two rollers, and the day's lesson was left unrolled for the reader's convenience. The Prophets were on single rollers, no special portion being left open. It has been suggested that the great and famous Messianic passage read by our Lord was the lesson for the day. This is quite uncertain; indeed, it is more probable that Jesus, when the roll of Isaiah was handed to him by the ruler of the synagogue, specially selected the section containing this passage.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. St. Luke here quotes, with a few important variations, from the LXX. of Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 61:2. The clause, "to set at liberty them that are bruised," does not occur the present text of Isaiah. The bright, comforting words of the great prophet the Lord chose as giving a general summary of what he designed to carry out in his ministry. It could be no undesigned coincidence that the opening words of the passage contain a singularly clear mention of the three Persons of the blessed Trinity—the Spirit, the Father, and the Anointed (Messiah). Because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, etc. The common interpretation referred this passage to the state of the people on the return from the Captivity. Nothing, however, that the people had yet experienced in any way satisfied the brilliant picture painted in the great prophecy. A remnant certainly had returned several centuries back from their distant exile, but the large majority of the chosen people were scattered abroad; their own land was crushed under what seemed a hopeless servitude; poverty, ignorance, universal discontent, reigned alike in Jerusalem, garrisoned with Roman legionaries, and in the most distant of the poor upland villages of Galilee. Only could deliverance come and a golden age of prosperity return with the promised Messiah. This was the interpretation which the choicest spirits in Israel applied to the great Isaiah prophecy read that sabbath day in the little synagogue of Nazareth. This was the meaning which Jesus at once gave to it, only he startled his hearers by telling them that in him they saw the promised long-looked-for Deliverer. We only possess, it is evident, the very barest abstract of the words of the Teacher Jesus on this occasion. They must have been singularly eloquent, winning, and powerful to have extorted the wonder and admiration alluded to in the twenty-second verse.
And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. This was the usual position adopted by a Jewish preacher. The chair of the preacher was placed near the spot where the lesson was read. These synagogues were built with the end pointed towards Jerusalem, in which direction the Jew ever loved to turn as he prayed (Daniel 6:10). The men sat on one side of the building, the women on the other. There was always at the end of the chamber an ark of wood, a memory of the sacred ark of the covenant, which once, with its golden mercy-seat, hallowed now and again with the presence of the visible glory, was the chief treasure of the temple ca Mount Zion. In the "ark" were kept the Law (the five books of Moses) and the rolls of the prophets.
And they said, Is not this Joseph's Son? Quickly the preacher caught the mind and feeling of his audience. Surprise and admiration soon gave place to a spirit of unbelief. Is not this who speaks to us such words, bright and eloquent with hope, often with a ring of sure triumph and certain victory in them—is it not the young Carpenter we have known so long in our village?
Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself. "There is something interesting in our finding this proverb in the Gospel of the beloved physician. May we think of him as hearing the proverb casually, tracking out its application, and so coming on this history? It was, probably, so far as is known, a common Jewish proverb; but there is no trace of it in Greek writers, and it was therefore likely to attract his notice" (Dean Plumptre). Whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country. Now, up to this time in Jesus' public career no miracles are recorded as having been done in Capernaum. After the miracle at Cana we know that the Lord resided for some time in Capernaum (John 2:12); the miracles to which these men of Nazarath alluded were no doubt worked then. 'The memory of these early miracles, as Godet well observes, would have been effaced by more remarkable later events, as that at Cana would have been had not John, who required it in the plan of his Gospel, rescued it from oblivion. The Jews of Nazareth, after the first moment of surprise and admiration at Jesus' words, evidently looked at him with scorn and unbelief. That poor Carpenter their glorious expected Messiah! As for the marvellous deeds reported to have been done in Capernaum, they did not believe in them; at least why did he not here, in the neighborhood of his own home, something of the same kind? If they could see with their eyes marvels worked by him, then perhaps they might accept him as Messiah.
And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. But instead of gratifying their curiosity and supplying them with some more empty arguments why they should not listen to his words, the Lord quietly quotes a proverb well known to all people—Farrar calls it a curious psychological fact—the quoting prefaced by the solemn "verily." The Master was evidently looking far beyond the little prejudices of Nazareth. "His own country" meant far more than the narrow circuit bounded by the Nazareth hills. The Speaker was thinking of all the chosen people—of the Jews, who as a nation he knew too well would not accept him. But if Israel would have none of him, he would reign in the hearts of that unnumbered multitude who peopled the isles of the Gentiles.
But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. In support of these assertions, Jesus proceeds to quote two well known incidents in the story of Israel. They must remember God's mercies in past times were not confined to Israel. There were many starving widows among the chosen people, not a few childless, desolate hearths; but their own great Elijah was sent to none of these, but to a despised Phoenician woman in Sarepta, hard by Sidon. Elisha, that loved man of God, who passed by the homes of the people continually, performed his famous miracle of healing on no child of Israel, though many a leper mourned his sad lot among the chosen people; but the one on whom Elisha worked his mighty miracle of mercy was the Syrian leper Naaman, the great foe of Israel.
And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath. The Jews in the synagogue quickly caught the Master's meaning. Thoughts such as "Thou our Messiah, who talkest of Gentile, Syrian, and Zidonian in the same breath with us the chosen and elect of God, who hintest at the possibility of the accursed Gentile sharing in our promised blessings!" flashed through their minds, and as one man the congregation rose, and, seizing the Preacher, dragged him out of the synagogue, and hurried him through the little town to one of the rocky precipices close by.
And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. The place now shown as the scene of the act of violence of the fanatics of Nazareth, known as the Mount of Precipitation, is some two miles from the town. It must be remembered that this happened on a sabbath day; this would therefore be beyond the limits of a sabbath day's journey. There is, however, close to Nazareth a cliff about forty feet high.
But he passing through the midst of them went his way. Not necessarily a miracle. There is nothing hinted here that our Lord rendered himself invisible, or that he smote his enemies with a temporary blindness. He probably quietly overawed these angry men with his calm self-possession, so that they forbore their cruel purpose, and thus he passed through their midst, and left Nazareth—as far as we know—forever. The foregoing is probably the same visit very briefly alluded to by St. Matthew (Matthew 13:54-40.13.58) and by St. Mark (Mark 6:1-41.6.6), in both Gospels related in unchronological order. Most likely they were aware of the incident, but ignorant of the exact place it held among the early events of the Master's life. St. Luke, who gives it with far greater detail, inserts it evidently in its right place. Is it not at least probable that St. Luke derived his accurate knowledge of this Nazareth incident from Mary, or from some of her intimate circle, from whom he procured the information which he embodied in the earlier chapters of his Gospel? She, and others of her friends, would be likely to have preserved some accurate memories of this painful visit of Jesus to his old home.
And came down to Capernaum. Capernaum was the real home of the Master during the two years and a half of his public ministry. He chose this flourishing lakecity partly because his kinsmen and first disciples lived in it or its immediate neighborhood, but more especially on account of its situation. It has been termed the very center of the manufacturing district of Palestine; it lay on the high-road which led from Damascus and the Syrian cities to Tyro, Sidon, and Jerusalem. "It was, in fact, on 'the way of the sea' (Isaiah 9:1), the great caravan-road which led (from the East) to the Mediterranean. It was hence peculiarly fitted to be the center of a far-reaching ministry, of which even Gentiles would hear" (Farrar). The evangelist speaks of "coming down" to the shore of the lake, in contrast with Nazareth, which was placed in the hills. We do not meet with the name Capernaum in the Old Testament; it therefore appears not to have been a city belonging to remote antiquity. Its name is generally interpreted as being compounded of two words, signifying "town of consolations," מיחג רפב—a beautiful and significant derivation. It may, however, originally have taken its name from the Prophet Nahum. Josephus, the historian, tells us. the name originally belonged to a fountain. He dwells also on the mildness of the climate; it would therefore seem as though, in the first place, Capernaum was used as a health resort, and then its admirable situation favored its adoption as a convenient center. The extensive ruins of Tel-Hum, on the lake-shore, are generally believed to be the remains of the once rich and populous Capernaum. And taught them on the sabbath days.
And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power. We have here again a picture which gives a general summary of Jesus' life extending over a considerable period. This is the fifth of these pictures of St. Luke. It represents the Master dwelling quietly at Capernaum, in the midst of his disciples, teaching and preaching; on the sabbath days gathering a considerable concourse drawn from the people at large, and generally surprising the listeners with his earnestness, freshness, and ability, which carried conviction into many a heart, Gentile as well as Jew. Although this period of the life of Jesus was signalized by many miracles, it does not seem that his ordinary preaching and teaching needed any such supernatural testimony to enable it to win its way. St. Luke especially tells us it was with power, and that the crowds heard it amazed and astonished. St. Matthew gives us (Matthew 7:29) one reason, which helps us to understand something of this success which attended his teaching. It was "not as the scribes." In the Talmud we have many a fair specimen of the sacred instruction of the "schools" in the time of our Lord. Frivolous minutiae, hair-splitting of texts, weary repetition of the sayings of the men of old, questions connected with the exact keeping of the sabbath, with the tithing of mint, anise, and cummin, a singular lack of all dealing with the weightier matters of the Law—justice, judgment, truth—were among the characteristics of the scribes' popular instruction. The practical heart-searching words of Jesus were in strong contrast with the curious but useless themes dwelt on by the official teachers of the day. It was with the thirty-first verse of this chapter that the great Gnostic heretic, Marcion (second century) began his Gospel, which, in the early days of Christianity, had a vast circulation. Marcion, while preferring St. Luke's Gospel, as emanating from St. Paul, before putting it out as the authoritative history to be used by his numerous followers, cut out the earlier chapters of our Gospel, which bore on the birth and infancy of the Lord, commencing here—prefixing, however, a note of time, thus: "In the fifteenth year of the government of Tiberius, Jesus went down" "into the town of Galilee named Capernaum."
And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil. After the general picture of Jesus' life and work in Capenaum, St. Luke proceeds to give a detailed account of the way in which one sabbath day was spent, no doubt intending us to understand it as a specimen of the ordinary sabbath-day work of the Master. We meet with here, for the first time in our Gospel, one of those unhappy persons described as either "having a spirit of an unclean devil," or as "possessed with a devil" or "devils," or in similar terms, generally signifying "demoniacs,'' men or women—apparently a class by themselves, directly under the influence of some evil spirit. Who, now, were these unhappy beings with whom Jesus in his ministry of mercy seems often to have come in contact? Many of these "demoniacs" mentioned in the Gospels would nowadays certainly be classed under the ordinary category of the "sick." They seem to have been simply afflicted with disease of one kind or other; for instance, the epileptic child mentioned by St. Luke (Luke 9:39), or dumbness again (Matthew 9:32), blindness (Matthew 12:22), and insanity, among other instances, are ascribed to demoniac agency. Are we, then, simply to regard these cases, not as exceptional displays of diabolical power, but as instances of sickness and disease which still exist among us? and to suppose that our Lord, in speaking of devils possessing these sick ones, accommodated himself to the popular belief, and spoke of these afflicted persons in the way men were able to understand? for it is disputable that Judaism in the days of Jesus of Nazareth ascribed to "demons," or "devils," much of the suffering and woe with which men are afflicted under the common name of disease. The Talmud, which well represents the Jewish teaching of that time, has endless allusions to evil spirits, or devils, who were permitted to work evil and mischief on the bodies and even on the souls of men. Josephus, the contemporary historian, narrates that a lamb grew at Machaerus, the wool of which had the power of expelling devils; and he toils how he was the eye-witness of the cure of a man possessed of a devil by means of a ring containing a root which had similar properties; this, he says, took place in the presence of the Emperor Vespasian ('Ant.,' 8.2, 5; 'Bell. Jud.,' 7.6, 3). Many believed that these demons, or devils, were the souls of the wicked who returned to earth after death, and sought a new home for themselves in the bodies of the living. This popular belief in demoniacal agency is mentioned by Justin Martyr ('Apol.,' 1.), and even seems to have lingered in some parts as late as Chrysostom. But such a theory—which represents Jesus in his miraculous cures accommodating himself to popular belief, and speaking of the sufferers as possessed by devils which really had no existence save in imagination—is not only quite foreign to the transparently truthful character of all the Master's words and works, but is perfectly incompatible with the narratives given us by the evangelists of the cures in question. In these, in several instances, the devils are not only spoken to, but they speak themselves—they answer questions, they even prefer requests. Jesus, too, gives his own power to cast out devils (Luke 9:1), and to tread on all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19). He even, in St. Mark (Mark 9:29), is represented as distinguishing a special class of devils over whom a mastery could be obtained alone through prayer and fasting. Evidently the Holy Spirit, who guided the writers of those memoirs of the apostles we call the Gospels, intended that a marked distinction should be impressed upon the readers of the apostolic memoirs as existing between ordinary maladies of the flesh and those terrible and various scourges which the presence of devils inflicted upon those hapless beings in whose bodies, for some mysterious reason, they had been permitted to take up their habitation. The whole question is fraught with difficulties. Dean Plumptre suggests that perhaps we possess not the data for an absolutely certain and exhaustive answer. It seems, on the whole—while not denying the possible presence of these evil spirits at different times of the world's history occupying the bodies and distracting the souls of men—best to assume that these devils possessed special and peculiar power over men at that period when Jesus walked among us. By this means, as Godet well says, Jesus could be proclaimed externally and visibly as the Conqueror of the enemy of men (and of his legions of evil messengers). That period, when the Lord taught among us, was a time when, it is generally conceded, moral and social evil had reached its highest point of development. Since that age the power of these unhappy spirits of evil has been, if not destroyed, at least restrained by the influence—greater, perhaps, than men choose to acknowledge—of the Master's religion or by the direct command of the Master himself.
Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? This man, with his evil spirit, would have been looked on as unclean, and would not have been admitted within the synagogue walls; he had probably crept in unseen. Something in the nearness to the holy Teacher we know compelled the demon to cry aloud. It is strange, this presence of God causing pain. It is the impossibility of the wounded eye bearing light. The cry rendered, "Let us alone," is scarcely the imperative of ἐάω, but an interjection, possibly the Greek reproduction of the Hebrew הּהָאֲ, ah! woe! There was evidently some deeper degree of misery possible for the unhappy spirit; hence its "Art thou come to destroy us?" The same dread appears in the case of the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 8:31; Matthew 8:29), where the spirits dreaded being driven into the deep, where such spirits await the judgment, that abyss, literally, "the bottomless place;" any doom seemed to these lost ones preferable to that. I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God.
And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace. Jesus at once indignantly refuses this homage. He never allowed devils to proclaim they knew him. There is something very awful in the thought that to this whole class of created beings he is ever pillions. In his dealings with these we never are allowed to catch sight of one ray of the Redeemer's tender pitiful love.
And the fame of him went out; more accurately rendered, and there went out a rumor concerning him.
And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon's house. And Simon's wife's mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her. This abrupt mention of Peter (Simon) for the first time, without any explanatory notice, tells us that when St. Luke wrote his Gospel Peter was well known and honored in all the Churches. The Lord's choice of one who was already married, the subsequent favor showed to him, the high position evidently accorded to him in the Church of the first days, is a perpetual protest against the exaggerated asceticism which later was so earnestly taught in ecclesiastical Christianity. The epithet "great," applied to the fever, was a well-known technical term; it was used by Galen of fevers. There are several expressions in this Gospel which remind us that the author was a trained physician.
Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them. The healing of the "possessed" in the synagogue that morning, followed by the cure of the fever of Simon's wife's mother, we know was rapidly noised abroad, and in great measure accoutered for the crowds who brought their sick to him in the evening. It was evidently in the life of Jesus a notable occasion, and many a sick tortured one had occasion to bless the Master's presence then. It was so memorable an occasion that all the three evangelists notice it; their reports are recorded in almost the same words. No doubt, in the early days of the preaching of the faith, this evening's work was constantly alluded to by the first teachers. The note of time, "when the sun was setting," indicates that the moment in question had been waited for, for sunset ended the sabbath, and then those outside Capernaum and in its outlying suburbs were enabled to bring their sick and afflicted without infringing the strict sabbath rules. "The twilight scene, of Jesus moving about with word and touch of healing among the sick and suffering, the raving and tortured crowd (Matthew 4:24), is one of the most striking in the Gospels, and St. Matthew quotes it as a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4" (Farrar).
Thou art Christ the Son of God. The older authorities omit "Christ," and read simply, "Thou art the Son of God." For they knew that he was Christ; better rendered, that he was the Christ, or Messiah. After the Crucifixion, but not till then, "Christ" became a proper name. It was before simply a title, signifying "the Messiah," "the Anointed One." These words of the evil spirits do not seem to have been prompted by any design, as some have supposed, to excite the people either for or against the fresh Teacher; they are simply a cry of involuntary adoration. They knew who that poor Carpenter-Rabbi was; they had seen him in his Divine glory!
And when it was day, he parted and went into a desert place. For solitude, meditation, and prayer. The night, or at least most of it, must have been spent in these blessed works of mercy. It was very early in the deep, dark dawn that the Redeemer was up again seeking fresh strength from his Father. St. Mark tells us when he left the house "it was still very dark."
The temptation in the wilderness.
One of the most mysterious but most suggestive passages in the history of the Christ. Without attempting to indicate all the points presented for reflection (see homiletics on Matthew 4:1-40.4.25.), observe—
I. THE TEMPTATION IS NECESSARY TO THE PERFECTING OF JESUS AS THE SAVIOR OF SINNERS. He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness—led for the purpose of being tried by the devil. In the solitudes and simplicities of the Nazareth life, he had not known, he could not know, this kind of trial. Now is to come the first distinct experience of the devil's power. God—may we so say?—carried him away from the scene of the baptism and the opened heavens and the Divine voice, and presented him to Satan, the prince of the power of the air: "This is my beloved Son: put forth thine hand, and touch him." Is this strange?
1. It is a very real link of communion between the Lord and the life beset by sin and evil. "By thy fasting and temptation, good Lord, deliver me."
2. See in it a part, and an essential part, in the making of Jesus to us Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption. Let us not overlook that "the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil." Now begins the great pitched battle between the kingdoms of light and of darkness; the wilderness-time is the girding of the sword on the thigh of the most Mighty. Do not think of the temptation as an isolated experience. At the end of all the temptations the devil departed from him only for a season, or until a season. He had been conquered, but he was not done with the Conqueror; he only bided his opportunity. The whole earthly ministry was a conflict with that hell which had all but dominated over the world of man. And the conflict was concluded in victory only when the Head was bowed on the cross. "Through death he destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." Ah! truly there is "an infinite more behind" all that is recorded.
II. TEMPTATION IS NECESSARY TO HUMAN PERFECTING. The hour of the leading into the wilderness is striking. St. Luke amplifies the account given by the earlier evangelist. The latter connects the event with the baptism and that which accompanied it; the former tells us of what is subjective—of the conscious plenitude of life and power. Jesus, being full of the Holy Ghost, is led. When the sense of the mighty force is strong within him, when the chords of the heart are vibrating in response to the voice from heaven, when the soul feels straitened until it enters on the great mission given it; when he is ready, lo! this summons to the wilderness, this forcible taking of the anointed man, with the anointing fresh and full, to the dreary desert place over whose surface the wild beasts roam. But is not this a way of God? Was not Saul of Tarsus, in the morning of his life in Jesus, sent for three years to Arabia? Is not strength gathered, is not character compacted, through contact, direct and personal, with the forces alike of good and evil? He who was "made in all things like to his brethren" must have that in his human history which corresponds to facts and necessities in ours. And the wilderness, with its struggle, its assaults on faith and obedience, its glimpse into the outer darkness, its resistance of the devil, is a necessity in the education of the man as the Son of God.
III. THE TEMPTATIONS OF CHRIST RECORDED ARE A MIRROR OF THE TEMPTATIONS OF HIS BRETHREN Mark the word "recorded." St. Luke tells us that Jesus was led during forty days, tempted of the devil. What the forty days meant remains untold. Probably it could not be expressed in language intelligible to us. It was only at the end that "the Divine event becomes human enough to be made to appear." Until then the lower wants were in a condition of suspense; the hunger is "the first sign of his coming back to us." Then the part of the temptation which we can understand begins. It will be remembered that we are dealing with a narrative of real transactions. It is not a poem, not a parable. Whether the acts were purely subjective, consisting only of suggestions to the inner spiritual sense, is a doubtful point; but that there was a veritable tempting in the manner described, that we are regarding "a chronicle of events," cannot be doubted. Nor is it a mere likeness of temptation that is set before us. The gospel story would be nothing to the heart if we conceived of it as a series of visions which in no distinct way touched the citadel of the Lord's heart, was not to him what temptation is to us—the contact of the soul with some hour and power of darkness. If it be asked—How can this be if Jesus was without sin? let it be recollected that sin does not consist in an impression of what is evil; it consists in yielding to the impression, in receiving it. The sacred writers are careful to note that all suggestions come, not from the soul, but to the soul from a lying spirit outside the personality. When we speak of sinlessness, we do not mean that enticements to sin can never present themselves or be felt as enticements; we mean that they are never yielded to or consented to—that there is a will so perfectly loyal to the Father that the wrong and the unchildlike are never in the purpose of Jesus. Note the three points or regions of the temptation recorded. The order is slightly different in the accounts of St. Matthew and St. Luke. That which is third in the one is second in the other, reminding us that too much stress is not to be laid on the mere sequence of the story. The first trial had reference to the urgent need; it came in the form of the subtle insinuation, "Son of God, you are hungry: why not use your power to satisfy the wants of nature? You have not bread, you cannot buy bread: why not bid these stones become bread?" So plausible, that the lie can scarcely be discerned. It is addressed to the man on the most pressing side of his necessity. And Jesus meets it as man. "Man's only life is not that by bread, but that by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God." God's Word had made the stone a stone. He would not say the stone is a loaf. He must be throughout in harmony with the eternal word and will. Then how subtle is the second attack! Adhering to St. Matthew's order, "Thou art full of confidence in thy God. Thou dost trust him to the uttermost. Put thy faith to the proof. The Jews expect that their Messiah will descend from the clouds. Away to the top of yonder temple. Cast thyself down from thence. Do something striking; thou knowest it is written, 'He shall give his angels charge over thee.'" How plausible the appeal to the Son of God on the side of his faith! And, once more-repelled by the counter-thrust, the counter-Scripture, "Thou shalt not try to the uttermost the Lord thy God, claiming a miraculous help for what is born of human pride and rashness"—mark the tact and the audacity in the final assault which the enemy makes. The love of power—that which is at once the strength and the weakness of every noble mind—shall be the wedge. "Son of God, look down on the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. Thou art seeking the sovereignty of man. I can give it thee. The force is thine; use it at my instigation. The dominion of love is one of toil and pain. Take what I offer. Think what blessings to the world will be at once secured. The sole condition is to fall down and worship me. Am I not the real king of the world?" It is the very climax of devilry. The temptation can go no further. "Then saith Jesus, Get thee behind me, Satan." It is the battle of man that is portrayed in man's Lord. "For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one." Here is the tempter who is tempting us, adapting the form of his solicitations to our tempers, our endowments, our circumstances. Here are the characteristics of his approaches, his doubts, his "ifs" ("if" is a devil-word which more than any other loosens the holdfasts of faith), his quotations from Scripture when it suits his purpose to do so, his three great heads of temptation—that which seeks us through bodily need or fleshly appetite, that which seeks us through even our purer and higher instincts, that which would draw us into the net by stirring up the pride of life. Ah! there is no sleeping with this tempter. "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."
IV. THE VICTORY OF CHRIST IS OUR ENCOURAGEMENT. Blessed is the assurance contained in the words, "Get thee behind me, Satan." The devil is behind Jesus, the Captain of our salvation. What is our position towards our Captain? Apart from him? Ah, we may tremble! With him, in him? He is between us and Satan, and we can do all things through him strengthening. "Be of good cheer: I have overcome.
The visit of Christ to Nazareth.
The Lord is in Galilee, slowly moving from place to place, always in the character of Teacher, and always winning the applause of those who throng the synagogues. It is the period of unbroken popularity, short but, so long as it lasts, complete. His face is towards his native place, foreseeing and, as we are reminded, foretelling that the tide will receive its first check there. The visit is in many ways significant.
I. IT REMINDS US OF A DUTY. "He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up." He had testified, when leaving Samaria, that a prophet is without honor in his own country. But he will not turn from it. He makes it the place for the first unfolding of the blessed Messiah-mission. And, although cast forth from the city, he seems again to have visited Nazareth. "He does not give it up for a first sin, though that sin may have been a grievous one." Is not this a lesson for all? The place of the upbringing, however far we may roam from it, has a claim on our special sympathy. Our own should never be neglected. It is easier sometimes to deal with strangers. We can speak more frankly and openly to them; they meet us often more frankly and openly than do our kindred or those directly related to us. What is far-fetched is frequently more esteemed than what is home-bred. Nevertheless, the duty is to witness for God to the circle which encloses our tenderest associations. Yes, even to repeat and repeat our message, and thus deliver our own soul.
II. IT SPEAKS TO US OF A GOOD HABIT. "As his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read." Here was one, remember, who knew more than the elders. Might he not have said, "Why go to the place of meeting? Can I not worship God, my Father, on mountain-side, or in my dwelling? The synagogue can give me nothing, no increase to my knowledge or to my devotion; nay, my meditation can be more free and sweet when my soul is alone with Heaven." But this he did not say. It was his rule to be where the two or three met in the name of God. The sabbath day was God's ordinance; therefore he kept it holy. Social worship has its authority, not only in the sanction which is implied in God's promises to those who assemble together for his praise, but in the instincts of our common nature. Therefore he kept rank with those who surrounded him, and when the call to the local sanctuary was sounded, he was always responsive. Surely in this he has left an example on which may well be based the rule, "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together." Keep two things in view:
(1) the honoring of God;
(2) our part as members one of another.
And when these things are vivid, there will arise the sense, not merely of benefit to be received by ourselves, but of duty, both to him who made and redeemed us, and to those amongst whom we live and move. No light excuse will then be allowed to interfere with the custom. Each worshipper will feel, "I have my ministry, my place in the congregation; this place vacant, this ministry not rendered, there is a want for which I am responsible." It is the absence of a feeling of responsibility in regard to the services of the sanctuary, it is the presence of a mere self-pleasing spirit, which explains much of the laxity of attendance which prevails. Let Christians ponder the way of the Lord, whose custom was to enter the village sanctuary, and contribute to the instruction of the village folk on the sabbath day.
III. IT SETS BEFORE US A REMARKABLE SERMON. The first of the two lessons for the day has been read; the lesson which remains is from the prophets—it is from Isaiah. Jesus stands up to read it. It is the passage which forms the sixty-first chapter of the book. The opening words of this chapter are his text. He rolls up the parchment, returns it to the attendant, and, as was the manner of the teacher, he sits down. Every eye is fastened on him as slowly and emphatically he declares, "This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears." And there follows the sermon, the substance of which Luke records. Concerning the sermon, note:
1. Its thought and style. The words are "gracious," literally, "words of grace." Divine grace is the theme, and the language befits the theme. It is not in the fashion of ordinary teachers; it shines, and it burns. It is beautiful, winning; "grace is poured into the lips." Such words become the pulpit; no other words become it.
2. Its effect. At first the wonder, the admiration, of the people is excited. If they had only yielded to the teaching, how mighty would have been the work of the day! But, alas! the small, petty feelings of the village prevent the work. The charm of the discourse is soon effaced by the murmurs, "Is not this Joseph's Son? Capernaum may shout in his praise, but he is one of ourselves. We know his parentage and early surroundings. No, no; Joseph's Son is not the Anointed of Jehovah." And soon the countenance changes from wonder into scorn, and from scorn into rage, as the Teacher, reading their thoughts, charges home their guilt, and reminds them that the blessing passes from those who account themselves unworthy of it. Are these Nazarenes sinners above all others because this is their treatment of the Holy One? Have not we prejudices and prepossessions sometimes quite as irrational as were theirs? Has not the oscillation of feeling which we trace in them its counterpart in our own experience? Have not words sometimes seemed gracious to us until some little pride was touched, some demand made on faith against which reason or inclination rebelled, and, in our secret soul, Jesus was cast out? May we not hear his love protesting, "How often would I have gathered you,… and ye would not"?
A sabbath day's work.
"The despised and rejected" of Nazareth comes down to Capernaum, henceforth the center of his labor of love. The evangelist sets before us one of the sabbath days of this early Galilaean period, and bids us note the use made of the sabbath by the Son of man, who was also its Lord. He takes us to the synagogue, no doubt crowded by an expectant throng of fishermen, farmers, masters and workmen of busy Gennesareth. Jesus is the Teacher; and, as the discourse proceeds, we hear the sentence passing from one to another, "What a word!" or, "What is this word!"—so different from the speech to which they are accustomed, so strangely fascinating. Has not the exclamation of these simple folk been repeated, in circles ever widening? Is it not, more than ever, the voice of the day in which we live? Let us look to the incidents of the Capernaum sabbath for three illustrations of the abiding power of the Word of the Lord.
I. THERE IS THE POWER TO INSPIRE. We see this generally and specially. Generally, in the effect produced, on the great body of the people. They had not yet been inflamed against Jesus by the emissaries of the Pharisees; and his preaching arrested the attention. It was not wild and startling, like that of John; it was calm, but intense. The pedantries of the scribes had no place in it; it spoke to the heart; it was the word of One in the light and love of God—the Son of God and the Son of man. "For a season" at least they rejoiced in it. There were responses in the conscience, deep answering "amens" in the soul. The word was with authority. Specially in the attitude of those by whom Jesus was accompanied. We are told by Mark that he is accompanied by Simon and Andrew, James and John. They are the elder sons of his special family. They have heard the word, "Follow me," and, obeying it, have left all to be his disciples. Oh, blessed power—the power of that Spirit who, in the beginning, moved on the face of the waters and said, "Let there be light!" the power to awake the slumbering desire, to interpret the needs and thoughts of the heart, to stir up the longing to be better and nobler, to be the citizens of the kingdom of heaven and the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty! Who of us has felt the life-giving force of this heavenly spring? Such a one will join in the cry, "What a word!"
II. THERE IS THE POWER TO EXORCISE. One of the audience on the first of the Capernaum sabbaths is a miserable demoniac, "a man with the spirit of an unclean demon." Whether, by such an expression, we are to understand only a violent type of mania, there is no need to discuss. The language of the thirty-third and thirty-fourth verses seems to imply more than this. "It is utterly impossible," says Dean Alford, "to understand such a testimony as that of the sick person, still less of the fever or disease." Be this as it may, the multitude, spell-bound, is receiving the word which is with power, when suddenly a great scream is heard. "Ἔα ἔα! Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God." Calmly, firmly, the Preacher rebukes the spirit; there is a paroxysm, a convulsion, and the man rises up, the wildness all gone, a right spirit renewed in him. "What a word! He commandeth the unclean spirits, and they obey him!" Let us believe that this word of command and rebuke is still with us. Unclean spirits, demons in men, alas! are legion, and sore havoc they make in human lives and homes. No demon is ever alone; it is always accompanied by evil powers, by manifold miseries. The only force adequate to the cleansing of the soul thus possessed is that of the Holy One of God. Welcoming all remedial legislation, all forms of philanthropic effort, with a view to raise the fallen, to cast out the devils which afflict society, let us remember that the innermost seat of the evil can be reached only by the gospel of the Holy One. With this gospel, let us never despair. "God is the God of hope; the devil is the spirit of despair."
III. THERE IS THE POWER TO HEAL. The mission of Jesus in Galilee was a great medical mission. The Preacher and the physician represent the two aspects of his ministry. Here is a thought which consecrates the art of the physician; he is a revelation of one side of the abiding power of Christ; it is for him to recognize the Master and acknowledge the supreme authority of the Word of the Lord. And turning to the physician and availing themselves of his skill, the sick and diseased may recall that it is Jesus Christ who maketh whole. This is the true faith-healing. See how the healing power of the words is illustrated. Read Verses 40, 41. What a hospital is before the eye of the Healer when the sun is setting! And not one of the impotent and afflicted is without the touch; not one baffles the skill. For a more particular illustration, read Verses 38, 39. It is "a great fever," and they beseech him for that precious life. He stands over her and "rebukes the fever." Another account is still more touching: "He comes and takes her by the hand, and lifts her up." Is not this a passage which makes all the Christian world kin? How many understand what is meant by the beseeching for one laid low with "the great fever"! Ah! but some will say, "It was not with my beloved as with her in the gospel story. I wept and fasted; I cried, 'Oh, spare my dear one!' but there was no rebuke of the disease. The one for whom I entreated was taken, and I was left, sitting alone and keeping silence." Peace, thou bleeding heart! He allowed his beloved Lazarus to die; but in his own time and way he stood beside the grave and bade Lazarus come forth. He told the sisters that their faith was feeble; that the higher faith would not have been clamorous—it would have felt, "His hand is holding that life; it is lifting it up; whosoever lives and believes in him has been already lifted up, and never dies." So bethink thyself; not according to thy way, but according to his own, he did come; he did take by the hand; he did whisper, "Rise, my love, my fair one, and come; where I am thou shalt be also." In the case of Simon's mother-in-law the answer is visible. Observe, not only is the fever removed, but strength is infused—"immediately she rose up and ministered unto them." A beautiful suggestion, that ministry to Christ always follows the sense of healing by Christ. "What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits toward me?"
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Luke 4:1, Luke 4:2 (first part)
Solitude and struggle.
We are not to suppose, even though we read this statement as given by Matthew (Matthew 4:1), that our Lord was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tempted by the evil one: to take that view would be to mistake the force of the Hebrew idiom. All that is intended is that Jesus was constrained to retire into the solitude of the wilderness where he would have to undergo the temptation which did actually befall him. He was led, by Divine direction, into retirement, and there, by Divine permission, into spiritual struggle.
I. THE DIVINE DIRECTION. As Moses in Midian, as David around Bethlehem, as Elijah at Horeb, as John in the wilderness of Judaea, as (afterwards) Saul in Arabia, so Jesus prepared for his great work in the depth of "the solitary place." There we Can well believe that he held much communion with God; that he looked down into the secret places of his own soul and communed carefully with himself; and that he pondered long on the great work—the Father's business—which lay before him. We may be sure that this period of solitude produced very rich fruit in after-days, not only in the truth which was spoken, but in the life which was lived and the sorrow which was endured. This period should find its Counterpart in our history; if it does not find it by our consent, it may do so without any choice of our own. For:
1. God commends such retirement to us. He does so by the way in which he led the greatest and the wisest of his servants (see above); by the faculties of devotion, introspection, and forecast which he has given us; by the example of our Lord. But:
2. God compels us to such retirement. He does so by his holy providence, when he lays us aside, when he takes us away from the busy scenes of toil, from "the strife of tongues," from the excitements of society, and even from the distractions of the home circle; when he shuts the door upon us and draws round the curtain and leaves us alone with himself. Of that time, if we are wise, we shall make good use. It is a time for spiritual renovation; then we may learn lessons we should never gather even in the sanctuary; then we may enter on an upward path which otherwise we should never take, and so reach a goal we should otherwise never gain. It is a sacred opportunity, inciting to
(2) introspection or self-examination;
including the solemn and determined rededication of our whole selves and our entire future to the service of our Savior.
II. THE DIVINE PERMISSION. By the permission of God the evil one came to our Lord and tempted him (see following homilies). God allows the tempter to assail us even as he did his "beloved Son." There are some temptations which are more likely to beset us in the period of solitude than at any other time—temptations of the wilderness. They are:
1. A morbid sensitiveness as to
(1) our own condition—a disposition to look too much to our own feelings, and to dwell too little on the goodness and the love of God; also as to
(2) our own reputation, and the estimation in which we are held among men.
2. Excessive disappointment and consequent disheartenment concerning
(1) the life we are living before God;
(2) the work we are doing for our fellowmen;
(3) the progress of the kingdom of God.
But though we may pass through these struggles we may come safely out of them. The remedies are these:
(1) An appeal to God for his guidance and inspiration;
(2) a resort to the promises of his Word;
(3) a timely return to the activities of daily work, of public worship, of active usefulness.—C.
The temptation of the flesh.
There can be no question as to the reality of the temptation. Without contending for the strictly literal sense of the passage, we do maintain that the temptation was a very real thing to our Lord. It constituted a serious struggle through which he went, out of which he came forth victorious, by passing through which he was our Exemplar. We cannot afford to lose this aspect of his life, this view of our Lord himself; but we must beware lest we do; for "if we shrink from believing that he really felt the force of temptation … we make that Divine life a mere mimic representation of griefs that were not real, and surprises that were feigned, and sorrows that were theatrical. But thus we lose the Savior." It was a real conflict that is here depicted; and the first stage of it was that through which we have all, in our time, to pass—the stern contest with the temptation of the flesh.
I. THE SEVERITY OF THE TEMPTATION. "He hungered" after long fasting. Hunger, in its severer forms, is unknown to us. In a country like this we have no experience of it. We can only judge of it from the testimony of those who have endured it; and, thus judging, we are sure that it is a very urgent, imperious, almost irresistible craving. The extremities and inhumanities to which it has driven men who are not naturally inhuman tell their own tale with terrible force. Our Master was suffering, we may well believe, from the most severe pangs of want. There were stones of the size and color of such a loaf as he would have given everything (it would be right to give) to obtain. By an easy exertion of his miraculous power he could turn the one into the other. Why not do so? Because to do that would be to take himself out of the hands of that heavenly Father to whose care he was committed, and manifest distrust in his providential goodness. Or because to do so would be to employ his Divine power first on his own behalf, instead of using it, as on the occasion of its first exercise it behoved him to employ it, on behalf of others. Or because to do that would be to give present and bodily cravings precedence of the great concerns of the kingdom of God. For some such reason our Lord thought that it would be wrong or, at any rate, undesirable for him to act on the suggestion, and he forbore. Temptation of the fleshly kind comes to us in the shape of hunger, or thirst, or sexual passion.
1. These trials of our moderation and self-government are more or less severe according to
(1) our temperament and
(2) our circumstances.
2. They may lead us into errors and evils which are
(1) mistakes to be avoided; or
(2) indiscretions to be condemned and regretted, and, of course, forsaken; or
(3) vices and sins which are shameful and deadly,
which stain the conscience, which ruin the reputation, which lead down to swift destruction.
II. THE WAY OF VICTORY. When the hour of conflict comes we must gird ourselves for the fight; and though the peril may be great because the enemy is strong, yet have we great resources, and there is no reason why we should not win the battle. We should call to our help our regard for:
1. The will of God as revealed in his Word; that "sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God," should be at hand with us as it was with our great Leader: "It is written."
2. The penalty of disobedience—a very heavy one in its ultimate issues.
3. The example of our Divine Master, calmly putting aside the false suggestion, preferring to suffer rather than to sin.
4. The consideration that sin excludes us from other and higher blessings. Better far, in the thought of Christ, to rest in bodily hunger, committing himself to the faithfulness of the holy Father. And how much better than any physical enjoyment is the satisfaction of spirit which attends purity and piety! Not the bread of bodily comfort, but the sense of God's abiding favor, the continuance of the friendship of Christ, the cherishing of a heavenly hope,—that is the good thing to prize and to pursue.—C.
Temptation: outward and inward grandeur.
Of course, literal exactness is necessarily excluded here; we must look for, and shall have no difficulty in finding, the sense and spirit of the words. We will look at—
I. THE APPEAL THAT WAS MADE TO OUR LORD, and the corresponding attack that is made on ourselves. Christ was tempted to seize "power and glory" for himself by an act of unholy submission. These were the prize which the worldly minded Jews of his age imagined to be within reach of their Messiah. To one of his humble circumstances but limitless capacity, and also of rightful and honorable ambition, there might very easily be presented a most powerful temptation to aim at a great and glorious supremacy—a throne like that of the Caesar himself, on which imperial power might be exercised and human glory at its topmost height be enjoyed. And the force of this temptation would be very greatly intensified by the fact that such a throne as this would be gained by very different measures from those Jesus had been contemplating in his solitude. The collecting of multitudes by appealing to their national passions, the leading of armies and gaining of victories, the command of great bodies of men, the excitements of political strife,—all this is full of enjoyment to the ambitious soul. A vastly different experience this (and to all that was human in the mind of Jesus Christ immensely more attractive) from that of speaking unappreciated truth, living a life too noble to be understood, suffering from keen and malignant persecution, dying in the pangs and shame of martyrdom! The price to be paid for surrendering the higher for the lower aim, and the distressing for the delightful means, was "worshipping" Satan; in other words, declining the course which he most disliked, and adopting the course which he most desired. The attack which is now made on us, corresponding to this, is the suggestion that we should turn aside from the higher aspiration to the lower ambition. It may come to the Christian minister in his study, to the statesman in his cabinet, to the doctor in his consultingroom, to the author or editor at his table: it is a suggestion to leave the straight line of duty, of faithfulness, of service, of truth, of loyalty to conviction, of moral and spiritual integrity, and take the lower path of popularity, of honor, of temporal success. To do this is to take a course which we may dignify by some fair name, but which, in Scripture language, is worshipping the devil.
II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH IT WAS REPELLED BY HIM, and in which it should be defeated by us. This was one of holy indignation: "Get thee behind me," etc. Our Lord indignantly refused to entertain a suggestion so utterly opposed to his spirit of consecration, so subversive of all his high purposes and lofty hopes. He met it by the quotation of a word which demanded entire obedience to the will of God and full devotedness to his service. In this spirit of holy indignation let us repel the first advances of a temptation to leave the higher and the heavenly road of truth and service for the lower and the earthly one of mere temporal success. To take that lower course would be to play into the hands of the evil one; to lose the commendation of our conscience and to live under the shadow of its rebuke; to lower ourselves and to degrade our life in the estimate of all the true and wise on earth and in heaven; to lose our true and high reward; to break the word and depart from the will of the Lord our God.—C.
Temptation to guilty haste.
One more attempt is made by the evil one on the integrity of our Lord's faithfulness. We note—
I. THE EVIL SUGGESTION. The idea conveyed to the mind of Jesus, now on the point of commencing his ministry, was this (as I understand it): "Here is a glorious opportunity to make a most successful beginning; alighting from this height among the assembled worshippers below, who are all ready to welcome the Messiah, you will gain such a prestige from so brilliant a miracle that the battle of conviction will be almost won by a single blow. There need be no fear; the angels will sustain you," etc. But to act in this way would be to proceed along a line totally unsuited to the kind of work which Jesus came to do. It would be very gratifying, very stimulating, very agreeable to human feeling, but it would not be the right course to pursue. Christ came to build up a vast spiritual empire, and he was to lay its foundations carefully and steadily, and therefore deliberately and slowly, in the minds of men. This victory was not one to be snatched by a sudden impetuous charge; there must be a long and a hard campaign. Everything could not be done by a brilliant stroke, appealing to the imagination; there must be a long, laborious process, by which the judgment and the conscience of mankind would be convinced. There would be fatal folly in an endeavor to force an issue. There would be Divine wisdom in "beginning at the beginning," in gradually working onwards, in toiling upwards amid fatigues and sorrows until the height was reached. Such are the victories before us now—triumphs over ignorance, over vice, over unbelief, over superstition, over indifference, over indecision, over spiritual languor. We should like to be working faster, to be winning the battle at a greater pace. Then cometh the evil one, and he says, "Leave these slow processes; mix a little error with the truth you preach; be more careful to produce an effect than to deliver the Divine message; sacrifice purity to power; introduce into the method's of the kingdom of Christ the principles and the weapons of the kingdom of the world; hasten to the goal and snatch the crown of success, instead of working so hard and waiting so long."
II. THE FIRM REFUSAL. Christ declined to adopt the suggestion; he said that to do so would be "tempting the Lord his God." It would be expecting God to work a miracle in order to gratify his unholy eagerness. We must not try to precipitate the cause of righteousness by an unholy impatience, which is a practical distrust of God's Word. To expect God to bless means which he has not sanctioned, to own and honor methods which are not in accord with the principles he has revealed,—this is to lose his favor and to draw down his condemnation; it is to invite discomfiture. "He that believeth shall not make haste." "Our wisdom as well as our duty, as "workmen together with God," is to
(1) adopt God-given methods;
(2) ask for the Divine help and inspiration;
(3) confidently await the Divine blessing in God's own chosen time and way.—C.
The poor and the gospel.
A most significant fact that the first work of the Messiah should be his "preaching the gospel to the poor." What is the significance of it?
I. BY THE POOR DIVINE TRUTH IS MOST NEEDED. Their life on earth is the hardest; it is often one of unremitting toil; often one of severe privation, almost destitute comfort and enjoyment; often one of serious and hard oppression, in which the strong will of another robs of all liberty of action. The past is sad, the present gloomy, the future dark. There are no pleasures in recollection, and there is no relief in hope. How precious, how necessary, to these are the joys which earth cannot give and cannot steal—the treasures which enrich the heart, the hopes which reach beyond the grave!
II. BY THE POOR, DIVINE TRUTH IS MOST APPRECIATED. "How hardly do they that have riches enter the kingdom of heaven!" Their time is occupied, their minds are filled, with pursuits and pleasures which are on an earthly plane, and things higher and worthier are hidden from view. The poor, though they have indeed their own temptations and their own errors and failings, are yet more likely to see the Divine hand beckoning to them, and to hear the heavenly voice calling them to wisdom and service and eternal joy. And, as a fact, they do. The common people still hear Christ gladly, while the wealthy and the strong and the famous are sitting at the feet of "the world," to learn its wisdom and to seek its favor.
III. TO THE POOR, DIVINE TRUTH IS CLEARLY AND MARKEDLY OFFERED. It was, in fact, a very great thing to say, "To the poor the gospel is preached." It was one of the "watermarks" of Christianity that our Master made his appeal, not, as philosophy and theology had done before him, and as science in our day is doing, to human learning and influence, but to the unlettered and the lowly, to the multitude and the millions among men, to the common human heart. Other systems had tried to reach the lower levels by affecting the heights of society first. The gospel of Jesus Christ "moves upward from below." It teaches, cleanses, raises the people; and so it purifies and exalts the nation. This is the Divine method, and must be ours. It is for the Church of Christ to follow its Divine Master, to see that the signs of truth are about its handiwork, and amongst them this leading sign, that "to the poor the gospel is preached." If this feature should be absent, it will be time for the Church to be considering where it stands—how near to or remote from its Master.—C.
Healing the broken-hearted.
We have a supreme want, but we have a Divine remedy.
I. THE BROKEN HUMAN HEART. There are two things which break hearts:
1. One is intolerable shame; the shame which comes from a crushing sense of sin; it may be of flagrant sin, such as commands the deep indignation and strong censure of our fellowmen, and involves the loss of our own self-respect; or it may be a sense of that common sin of which all the souls of men are guilty in the sight of God—the keeping back from him of all that has been due to him, all the reverence and love of our hearts and all the service of our lives. Under a deep sense of sin, and therefore of condemnation, affected and afflicted with the consciousness of Divine disapproval and the fear of Divine punishment, the heart cries out for refuge.
2. The other is overwhelming sorrow; it may be some crushing disappointment, or it may be some wearing and trying sickness, or it may be some heavy and humiliating loss, or it may be some terrible bereavement and consequent loneliness of heart and life; under one or more of these overwhelming burdens the heart may be bowed down even to breaking.
II. THE ONE DIVINE REFUGE. There is but one availing "Refuge of our soul" to whom we can flee with perfect assurance that in him we shall find what we need. Christ came "to heal the broken-hearted," and he does so by:
1. Offering us the most tender sympathy. He is the High Priest who is "touched with a feeling of our infirmities, having been in all points tried even as we are," and therefore able to enter perfectly into our griefs, whether of mind, body, or estate.
2. Ministering to us Divine comfort. By his Holy Spirit's ministry he comes to us, and dwells within us, and acts powerfully though graciously upon our hearts; thus he lets the gentle dews of his comfort cool the heats of our fevered spirit, making himself known to us as the "God of all comfort," as that "One who comforteth them that are cast down."
3. Granting us effectual help; enlightening our minds, energizing our spirits, making us capable of doing that which has to be done, animating and reviving us, fitting us to take our part and do our work. In proportion as we are reverent and pure of heart in the time of our prosperity and joy, may we look for his indwelling and outworking in the "day of desperate grief" and of heart-brokenness.—C.
Spiritual bondage and Christian freedom.
Who does not pity the captive? Saddening to the sympathetic heart is the thought of the man who is confined within his lonely and dreary cell, shut in from the beauties and melodies of nature, excluded from the haunts of men, debarred from all the activities of busy life, unable to enter his own home, compelled to unwilling solitude and separation from those he loves! There is no prayer that we breathe with a finer or fuller feeling than the petition, "Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee." Yet is there a bondage that is worse than any ever inflicted by stone walls and iron chains. It is—
I. THE BONDAGE OF SIN. Sin is at first a transgression, but it soon becomes a tyranny. It grows into a power; and it becomes a power which holds the soul in its grasp, so that it is practically enslaved; it attempts to rise, to move, to do that which befits it and for which it was created, but it finds that it cannot; it is held down; its way is barred. This is true of sin in all its forms, and it is true in a number of degrees, varying from an objectionable constraint down to an almost hopeless despotism. It applies to:
1. Error, which becomes an inveterate prejudice through which no light will break.
2. Folly, such as that of procrastination, which in no length of time weaves itself round the soul.
3. Vice, such as intemperance, or profanity, or impurity (more especially in some of its forms). There is no bondage more thoroughly deserving the name than this. The victim of vice is, indeed, "holden with the cords of his sins" (Proverbs 5:22); they have him fast in the saddest and most degrading thraldom in which a human being can be held.
4. Vanity. How many a man is a wretched slave to the judgment of other men! The fear of their condemnation, or still oftener of their ridicule, impels him in a direction in which he knows he ought not to be going, ties him to a position from which he is longing to break away.
5. Rebellion against God; disloyalty, estrangement, the withholding of the heart and life from God's service, so long maintained, that, when the soul thinks of repentance and return, it finds itself held to its wrong and sinful state.
II. THE FREEDOM WHICH IS IN CHRIST. The gospel announces "deliverance to the captives." And how does it effect this blessed emancipation?
1. By giving to the sinner a deep sense of his sin, and filling his soul with shame of himself and loathing of his iniquity. When men have come to hate sin they are well on the road toward its conquest.
2. By taking back the penitent to the favor and love of God. Through Christ sin is pardoned and the sinner is restored. As one that loves God, and seeks above all things to enjoy his favor, the man "cannot sin;" he has acquired a reason and motive for purity and integrity which gives him the victory over sin. How can he grieve his heavenly Father, his Divine Redeemer, the Holy Spirit of God?
3. By giving him access to a source of Divine power. God is ready to dwell effectually within, and to work mightily upon the soul that seeks his presence and asks his power. We can do "all things in Christ who strengtheneth us." He makes us to know "the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe," in snapping the bonds that bound us, and investing us with "the glorious liberty of the children of God."—C.
"The recovering of sight to the blind." We think of—
I. THE BADNESS OF BLINDNESS, and its degrees. "It must be very bad to be blind," we say; probably we but faintly realize what it means.
1. It is bad to be physically blind—to look on no scenery, to read no book, to behold no countenance, to recognize no love in a human face, to grope our way in the thick darkness.
2. It is worse to be mentally blind—to see, and not to see; to open the eyes on the beauty and wonder and glory of the universe and to recognize nothing beautiful, wonderful, glorious, there; to be as lonely in a library as in a cell!
3. It is worse still to be morally blind—blind of soul, so that a man can see nothing degraded in drunkenness, nothing shameful in vice, nothing revolting in obscenity and profanity, nothing repelling in selfishness; so that a man can see nothing noble in generosity, nothing beautiful in beneficence, nothing regal in righteousness and duty, nothing sacred in human love.
4. It is worst of all to be spiritually blind—worst, because that is the root and source of all the others; blindness of spirit, a darkness in which the soul fails to see the Highest of all beings, the loftiest of all truths, the greatest of all facts; a darkness in which the soul fails to recognize the essential truth that in God we "live, and move, and have our being," and that to him we are responsible for all we are and have; in which it is blind to our sorrowful state of guilt and condemnation in the sight of God.
II. THE WORST FEATURE OF SPIRITUAL PRIVATION. That which is the best feature in physical is the worst in spiritual blindness. Under the merciful principle of accommodation, the blind became not only submissive, but contented and even cheerful in the darkness in which they dwell. They are able not only to speak of it, but to feel about it that it is "the shadow of God's wing." That is a very happy thing; but that is the very worst feature of spiritual blindness. It is spiritual insensibility that is the most deplorable—the fact that men don't know that they don't see; that they suppose themselves to know everything when they know nothing; that they are not aware what a world of truth and blessedness is around them and is accessible to them. Who shall reveal this to them?
III. CHRIST THE GREAT RESTORER of our spiritual vision. And how does he make us see that to which, but for him, we should have remained blind?
1. By making quite plain and certain that which would have remained shadowy and uncertain. Many truths of vital importance men would, in his absence, have speculated upon and discussed, but they would not have known them. Coming to us from God, the great Teacher has turned these uncertainties into living and sustaining truth. He tells us authoritatively and decisively that God is the one Divine Spirit, the righteous Ruler of all, the Father of souls, condemning them in their sin, pitying them in their estrangement, inviting them to return; that God has determined that when we die we shall live again, shall come forth to a resurrection of condemnation or of life.
2. By bringing the truth close home to the eye of the soul. When our Lord lived on earth he did this himself in his own Person; e.g. in the cases of the woman of Samaria, the rich young ruler, Nicodemus, he brought the truth of the kingdom home to the heart and the conscience. Those lips are closed to us now; Christ speaks not now as he spoke then. But his Spirit is with us still, speaking through his Word and through his faithful servants, and through his providence.
3. By more fully enlightening the minds of those who go in faith to seek and to serve him. Unto all seeking and trusting souls he manifests his truth in ever-enlarging fullness; them he leads "into all the truth" they need to know; and to them it becomes gloriously true that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed him, their Savior, for "the recovering of sight to the blind."—C.
"To set at liberty them that are bruised." And who may they be who are thus characterized? and in what way does Jesus Christ meet their especial need?
I. BRUISED SOULS. We find these in:
1. Those who are chafed with the worries of life; whose disposition is such, or whose circumstances are such, that they are harassed and fretted by a multitude of minor conflicts with men and things; who are in danger of losing or have lost their mental equilibrium as the result of the perpetual strife.
2. Those who are perplexed with the problems of life; who want to be mentally satisfied and to see that their theories agree with the existing facts, and who, finding these two things in frequent antagonism, are troubled thereby in soul;—such men are never fixed in their convictions, but always thinking that these require readjustment.
3. Those who are smitten by the persecutions of life; who are continually coming into collision with men. They may have a combative habit, or they may be placed in human surroundings unfavorable to peace; but, from whatever cause, they are always in conflict, and are perpetually finding themselves the object of attack, of the ribaldry and the scorn of men; they bear a bruised feeling about them.
4. Those that are worn with excessive toil.
5. Those that are wounded by the heavier sorrows of life; from whom health, or reputation, or position, or fortune, or the object of strong and deep affection has been suddenly taken away.
II. THE REFUGE THEY HAVE IN CHRIST. Jesus Christ does not "set at liberty" bruised souls as a deliverer releases bruised prisoners; but he does emancipate them by taking from them their suffering, and giving to them a large measure of spiritual freedom. He blesses these bruised souls, and proves to them a Divine Refuge.
1. By his sympathy. In each one of their distresses they can feel sure of the tender sympathy of their High Priest, "touched with the feeling of their infirmities."
2. By his example. In all points he has been tempted, or tried, even as we are. We bear no cross which he has not carried before us, and his was heavier than ours.
3. By his aid. He is ready, at our appeal, to strengthen us by his indwelling Spirit, and to grant us such strong sustaining grace that, instead of groaning under our blows, we may even glory in them (2 Corinthians 12:9).
4. By his promises; those "exceeding great and precious promises," which not only cover the whole path of life, however long that may prove, but reach on beyond the horizon-line of death into the blessed and eternal future.—C.
The graciousness of the words of Christ.
"The gracious words [words of grace] which proceeded out of his mouth." The "words of the Lord Jesus" were "words of grace" indeed. They were so whether we consider—
I. THEIR SUBSTANCE. They were not, indeed, without seriousness, and at times not without severity. Christ did say, when the occasion required it, things which startled his hearers, things which are well fitted to make us pause and even tremble if we are obnoxious to their severity. He is, as a Divine Teacher and Revealer of God, as far as possible removed from the easy good-naturedness which would represent it as a matter of indifference what men hold and how they live,—the "good God" will make it all right in the end. No man can listen attentively and reverently to Christ and settle down into comfortable unbelief or self-complacent sin. Yet were his words predominantly and pre-eminently "words of grace." By the truths he preached he made known to mankind that:
1. God is accessible to all; the Approachable One, who is always willing to receive his children, and who welcomes back those who have wandered farthest away.
2. That a noble life is open to all; we may be in character and spirit, as well as in name and in position, the children of God (Matthew 5:45-40.5.48); we are to be "the light of the world," "the salt of the earth."
3. That a glorious future is within the reach of all; "in the Father's house are many mansions."
4. That salvation is very near to all; the Scripture is fulfilled; the Redeemer is come; the blind may see; the captives may be delivered; this is "the acceptable year," "the accepted time;" "to-day is the day of salvation." Or whether we consider—
II. THEIR FORM. There is about the gracious words of Christ:
1. An accent of persuasiveness. He does not angrily threaten, he cordially invites us; he says, winningly, "Come unto me … I am meek and lowly;" "Abide in me, and I [will abide] in you;" "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock," etc.
2. A note of considerateness. "Come into a desert place, and rest awhile;" "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now;" "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
3. A touch of tenderness. "I will not leave you comfortless;" "Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart."
(1.) It is perilous to abuse the grace of Christ. There is such a thing as "the wrath of the Lamb."
(2.) It is perfectly safe to trust in his grace. He means everything he says; the worst may obtain his mercy, the most diffident may confide in his redemption of his word.—C.
Luke 4:32, Luke 4:37
Fame and Power.
"His word was with power;" "The fame of him went out." Fame and power are the objects of eager and arduous pursuit; they are supposed to be deserving of the expenditure of our strength, and to reward us for all our anxieties and toils. What is their worth, intrinsic and relative? What were they to our Lord? and what should they be to us?
I. THE WORTHLESSNESS OF FAME.
1. The fame of Jesus Christ, as a man, is remarkable indeed. Born in a little Judaean village, of humble parents, receiving a very scanty education, enjoying no patronage, teaching truths too deep to be understood by the multitude and too broad to be appreciated by the orthodox of his time, arousing the hatred of the powerful, and dying while yet a young man a death of utmost ignominy,—his name has become known, his doctrine has been received, he himself has been honored and even worshipped by countless millions of mankind under every sky. This is fame of the first magnitude; there are very few names "under heaven given among men" that can aspire to stand in the same rank, on the ground of human fame.
2. Jesus Christ shunned rather than sought fame. "Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it" (Matthew 9:30; Mat 8:1-34 : 4; Matthew 12:16; Matthew 17:9). "Great multitudes came together to hear and to be healed … and he withdrew himself into the wilderness" (Luke 5:15, Luke 5:16; see also Verses 42, 43).
3. He appears to have been embarrassed by his fame rather than gratified, and his work seems to have been hindered rather than helped by it (see John 6:15). And it is obvious that, as his great and high purpose was one which was far removed from the superficial and worldly hopes of the people, popularity or fame would not further but rather retard the work he had in hand. It is worth no man's while to be seriously concerned about his fame. To seek for and strive after an honorable reputation is what every man owes to himself, to his family, to his Church, to his Master. But no man need concern himself greatly about the acquisition of fame.
(1) It is obvious that only a very small minority of mankind can attain it; therefore any extensive endeavor after it must end in disappointment.
(2) It is of very slight intrinsic worth; for it is possessed and enjoyed by the bad as well as by the good, by the notorious as well as by the celebrated.
(3) It does not usually crown its hero until he has gone where it will no longer affect him; useless to the martyred patriot himself, however valuable to his country, is the costly tomb, or the splendid monument, or the elaborate elegy contributed to his memory.
(4) Its effect on living men is exceedingly doubtful; it may gladden and stimulate, but it may elate and injure.
II. THE EXCELLENCY OF POWER. "Power belongeth unto God" (Psalms 62:12). And power belonged to the Son of God. "Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit" (Luke 4:14).
1. Christ possessed and exerted power—the power of the prophet, speaking truth; "his word was with power" (Luke 4:32; Matthew 7:28, Matthew 7:29); the power of the Son of God, working miracles; the power of holiness and innocency (John 7:30; John 18:6); the power of love and sympathy, attaching disciples, men and women, to himself with bonds of affection that no dangers or sufferings could break.
2. He aspired after other and still higher power than any he exercised—the power which could only be gained by a sacrificial death. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." That pure and holy aspiration has been and shall be gloriously fulfilled. It is well worth our while to seek after a true, living, spiritual power.
(1) It is attainable by us all; it is within the reach of those who seek it in the fellowship and the service of Christ, and who ask it of the Spirit of God.
(2) It is of real intrinsic worth; it is a Divine, a Christ-like, an angelic thing; it is a source of benefit and blessing to mankind.
(3) It will enlarge our heritage both here and hereafter; for to every man God will give sacred and blessed opportunity of service "according to his several ability."—C.
The healing Savior.
This interesting picture had evidently been impressed upon the minds of the apostolic witnesses, for all the evangelists record the fact that the occurrence took place as the sun was setting, or in the evening of the day. It was, indeed, a sight to be long remembered. Who can imagine the gratitude and joy which filled the hearts of husbands and wives, parents and children, as they that gracious presence and returned to their homes in health and strength?
I. THE SUPREME MALADY. The malady of maladies from which we suffer is sin. For sin is to the soul just what sickness is to the body.
1. Its essential nature. It is the radical disorder of the human spirit. The faculties of the soul, instead of doing that for which they were created, are helpless or are perverted, so that the man himself no longer walks with God, no longer speaks his praise, no longer works in his cause. The soul that was meant to find its life and its heritage in revering, honoring, rejoicing in, serving, glorifying God, is out of all happy relation with him, cannot do his will, may not even know who he is. Everything is in a state of disorder and helplessness.
2. Its various forms. As there are "divers diseases" of the flesh, as the sickness of the body takes a variety of forms—blindness, paralysis, fever, etc.—so does sin in the soul and in the life of man. It may appear as doubt, or disbelief, or even impious denial of God; or as the deliberate and determined rejection of his claims; or as a flagrant violation of his laws; or as a guilty inattention to his voice as he speaks to us in conscience, or in his Word, or in his Son; or as a prolonged and presumptuous procrastination, ever delaying to do what is recognized as the right and the wise thing.
II. THE ONLY CURE. As many of these sick ones knew not what else to do, to whom else they could apply; as they felt that the ordinary remedies and the human skill accessible to them must prove unavailing, and that, if this new and wonderful Healer did not help them, they must bear their burden of pain and helplessness through their future days; so may we feel respecting the supreme malady. Nothing merely human will prove to be a cure. Only a Divine hand can heal these deep wounds, these fatal ills. And how does Jesus Christ prove himself the one Healer of the heart?
1. By showing us our sin in its true light, as a grievous wrong done to our heavenly Father, and thus filling our souls with sorrow and shame concerning it.
2. By offering himself as that Divine One through whom it may be forgiven, and we be restored to the favor and friendship of God.
3. By leading us in every path of holiness and purity, and forming in us a righteous character and an obedient spirit.
III. AN EFFICACIOUS METHOD. "He laid his hands on every one of them." The touch of that Divine hand communicated health to the body, and at the same time hope and joy to the heart. It was not absolutely necessary that he should touch them; he could "speak the word only," and the patient would be healed. But he preferred to do so; it brought him, the Healer, into close and loving contact with those, whom he was healing. We, too, in our way, are healers after Christ. We aspire to move through our life, dispensing health and happiness to them that are sick and sad of soul. If we fail in part to do this, may it not be because we do not get into close enough contact with those whom we are endeavoring to bless? We must learn to be like our Lord, and lay our hands on every one of them, and then shall we be most likely to heal them.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The temptation of Christ.
From the baptism of Jesus we now pass to his temptation. In the baptism he received, as we have seen, three gifts from the Father—the guarantee of a perfect revelation of the Father's will, of a perfect inspiration to do that revealed will, and of an assurance of Sonship during the trying ordeal. We are now to notice three temptations, corresponding very accurately to these three gifts, and so presenting in most artistic fashion the great drama of Messiah's life. But before taking them up as they are here presented by Luke, let us direct our attention to one or two preliminary matters. And first we must notice that Jesus was "led," or, as Mark puts it still more graphically, was "driven" of the Spirit into the wilderness (Mark 1:12). This clearly implies that our Lord did not "court temptation," nor rush with a light heart into it, nor shirk it, but accepted bravely what was forced upon him. It is only in such a spirit that we can hope successfully to resist it. There is no premise of Scripture to sustain any one who rushes madly into temptation. But, secondly, we observe that a great baptism of the Spirit is usually to prepare the recipient for some victoriously-to-be-met temptation. Jesus went to the wilderness filled with the Holy Ghost, and so was enabled to vanquish his tempter. Thirdly, the scene of the temptation is significant. While its exact location is not indicated, its general characteristics are. It was some wilderness, where nature affords no food or sustenance to man. What a contrast to the happy garden where the first Adam was tempted! Messiah meets the tempter in the most trying circumstances, and the tempter's defeat there is promise of his defeat everywhere. Moreover, Mark tells us he was "with the wild beasts" (Mark 1:13). It is a new Daniel braving the lions and subduing them. Fourthly, we must observe that he is here tempted in his public capacity, as Messiah. He had doubtless been tempted previously as a private individual; he had been urged by Satan most probably to leave the privacy of Nazareth for a more public position, and had put away all these temptations manfully. Now that he has dedicated himself as Messiah in the Jordan, he must undergo corresponding temptations.
II. NOTICE THE TEMPTATION THROUGH APPETITE. (Verses 3, 4.) After forty days' fast, during which time he was suffering temptation from Satan, he finds himself famishing. The spectacle in the wilderness and among the wild beasts is, therefore, that of a famishing Messiah. Never was he nearer death than on this occasion, except when death actually came. It is at this juncture that Satan first tempts him through his hunger. He claims to be the Son of God; this assurance was given him in his baptism; and as the Son he believes he possesses, though as yet he has not exercised, miraculous power. Let him, then, use his power for self-preservation, which is the first law of nature, and transform the stones of the wilderness into bread. The fallacy which underlies this temptation is one to which men are now most prone, viz. that "men must live," and then this false principle passes through degrees of comparison, and men say to themselves they must, if possible, live well, and, lastly, they must, if possible, live very well But is it necessary that any of us should live? Who has given us this revelation? May not God's revelation be that the best thing we could do would be to die for truth and righteousness? Hence our Lord, instead of listening to the voice of appetite, declares his resolve to listen to the voice of God, and upon that revelation he will live. "It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." It is surely instructive in these times, when appetite is accepted by many as man's one certain revelation, to have our Lord directing our attention to a higher revelation and a more sustaining voice. Bread cannot sustain the whole man; it can only prop up the physical nature; but the spiritual needs other food and higher help, and finds it in God's Word alone! Amid the fierce struggle for bread, let us listen to him who speaks about the better bread which comes out of the mouth of God!
II. NOTICE THE TEMPTATION THROUGH AMBITION. (Verses 5—8.) Matthew puts this temptation last, instead of here, and in this is probably chronologically more accurate than Luke. But we need not transpose it in order to profit by it. Messiah, then, though famishing, abides by the revelation of God rather than make a miraculous banquet in the wilderness. But of the revelation the Father gave him this was a chief part—that he was to become Conqueror and Ruler of the world! Universal empire was, therefore, his legitimate ambition. It is here that Satan tempts him. Taking him to some mountain-top, he shows him, in some miraculous fashion, all the kingdoms of the inhabited world in a moment of time. Next he claims to be the rightful ruler of these kingdoms, but is willing to make a bargain with the ambitious Messiah that, if he will only acknowledge his sovereignty and pay him the homage due to earthly kings, all the kingdoms shall be made over to him. The temptation here is to gratify ambition at the cheapest rate. No self-denial, no self-sacrifice, no consuming spirit, shall be needful, but simply a little homage paid to the world's prince. It was such a bargain as a worldly mind would have welcomed eagerly. But Jesus refused the terms. He would not acknowledge Satan to be the world's rightful ruler. He regarded him as a usurper whom he had come to depose. Hence, in impatience with the arch-fiend, our Lord exclaimed, "Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." The question in the first temptation was that of revelation, corresponding to the first of the baptismal gifts; the question in this temptation is that of inspiration, the spirit of service, and corresponding to the second of the baptismal gifts. Jesus will not render any homage to the world's betrayer, but will serve God alone! Once more may we see the grand spirit of self-sacrifice which this implies. Jesus will seek and obtain a universal empire, but by making no truce with the world; rather would he himself suffer unto death and be followed by myriads of martyrs, than gratify a poor ambition in Satan's suggested and worldly way.
III. NOTICE THE TEMPTATION TO PRESUMPTION AND OSTENTATION. (Verses 9-12.) As Messiah Jesus must consider what plan would be best for beginning his public work. This must have been with him a distinct subject of thought. And now Satan suggests that if he precipitated himself from the pinnacle of the temple into the court, and did so with impunity as God's Son, the people could not but hail him as the promised Messiah. He should put his Sonship, the tempter suggests, to the test. He should test the promise about angels bearing up the believer and preventing him from dashing his foot against a stone. It was a temptation to carry faith into presumption, and becoming ostentatious in doing so. Our Lord, then, having resolved to live by faith, is as firmly resolved to avoid presumption. He will not tempt his Father by claiming support in ostentatious circumstances. And so he repels the insinuation, and resolves not to presume upon his Sonship. Hence we find that, instead of entering in any such spirit upon his work, he enters upon it publicly when he drives the traffickers from the temple. It was an amazing method of beginning Messianic work, and yet it was the best way. £ These temptations have their little counterparts in our own experience. We are tempted through appetite, through ambition, and through presumption. We must resist the enemy in the Master's spirit. The apt quotations from the Divine Word show where the sword of the Lord lies, and it is for us not to let it rust in a napkin, like Goliath's at the tabernacle, but to have it in constant readiness for active service and faithful resistance.
And now, in conclusion, we have to notice the fact that angels came and ministered unto Jesus when the crisis was past. We know not what they brought to him-ambrosial food, the corn of heaven, perhaps; at all events the most delightful food of which he ever partook. Then, like Elijah, he went in the strength of the food received, not, indeed, to the mount of God and the wilderness, but from the wilderness to the busy haunts of men, and in the power of the Spirit. Satan, meanwhile, having "completed" the temptation, having done his worst to make him fall, leaves him for a season free. It must have been a heaven of happiness to be consciously free from his incessant wiles and snares, and to have won the freedom. So may we in our little measure win some respite from the enemy, if we faithfully follow our Lord in resisting temptation!—R.M.E.
Christ's sermon in Nazareth.
The temptation of Christ strengthened all the graces within him, so that he felt himself prepared, on returning from the wilderness, for public work. Luke does not take us, as John does in his Gospel, back to the Jordan; nor does he take us to the marriage in Cana of Galilee, where the wonderful works began (John 2:1-43.2.13). He prefers to sum up for us his early Galilaean ministry in two verses, before proceeding to a detailed account of his visit to Nazareth and his rejection by his countrymen. Let us consider—
I. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF HIS PUBLIC REPUTATION BEFORE APPEARING IN NAZARETH. (Verses 14, 15.) Had he gone to his own city first without a reputation, he would not have received the attention he did. Jesus knew that a prophet has no honor in his own country; he knew that he need not go among his old companions without having achieved something remarkable; hence he made a name for himself in other parts of Galilee before advancing to the difficult task at his old home. And the method he pursued was significant. He did not create rival institutions to the existing Churches. He went into the synagogues and availed himself of the opportunities they offered. He read the Word, expounded it, and made a reputation for himself as a popular Teacher. Of course, along with his teaching, there was a measure of miracle. But his wonderful works were merely to secure increased attention to his still more wonderful words. His expositions of truth were really the important element to which all else was but subsidiary. It was, therefore, with an established reputation that he advanced to Nazareth to test his countrymen as to their cordiality towards him.
II. LET US NEXT CONSIDER HIS VISIT TO NAZARETH. (Verses 16-21.) We are not informed on what day of the Jewish week he came to Nazareth; but we are told what happened on the first sabbath day after his arrival. We shall notice the significant facts as they are told us by Luke.
1. He shared in the public worship. If any one ever had a right to absent himself on the ground of knowing more than others could tell him, it was surely Jesus. Yet we find him subjecting himself to family training, and putting all honor he could upon social and public worship. Moreover, it was his "custom." The habit of waiting upon God at the sanctuary has thus the highest warrant. In this, as in all else, our Lord is the perfect Example. But:
2. He took part in public worship. The Jews in their synagogues seem to have encouraged greater freedom than Church forms now admit of. They welcomed the help of young men as readers, and took exhortation from strangers when they happened to be present. Our Lord, then, took the place of reader on this occasion, and, as Isaiah's prophecy was handed to him, he selected as his text the notable passage about the mission of Messiah. The Anointed One was sent to "preach the gospel to the poor," etc. And here it is instructive to notice
(1) the class Messiah gathers round him. Not those whom the world would choose, but the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, the blind, the bruised, the imprisoned! What a. policy to inaugurate! Again,
(2) it is significant what treatment he gives them. He gives the gospel, not wealth, to the poor; healing, not freedom from trial, to the broken-hearted; freedom from sin to the captives; the recovering of sight to the blind; liberty to the bruised in spirit; and acceptance and jubilee joy to all imprisoned ones. In short, iris spiritual comfort over and above physical which he brings to them I It is here that the world's wisdom fails. It may do something to alleviate physical distress, but is as helpless as the doctor in Macbeth in "ministering to minds diseased."
3. He embodied and illustrated his text. When he had read the text he gave the book back to the minister and sat down before the congregation, and proceeded to expound the passage. He had to speak of himself. He was the Person referred to in it. No wonder the eyes of all were fastened on him. The Anointed One was in their midst, and he was ready to heal the broken-hearted and to work the wonders in the spiritual realm which were so important. The exposition was really the embodiment of blessing in his own Person. The Healer was there, the great Physician of souls.
III. LET US NEXT CONSIDER THE EFFECT OF HIS SERMON. (Verses 22, 23.) The first effect was wonder and admiration. He had evidently interested them by his spiritual exposition. No such sermon had ever been heard before in Nazareth. It was a case of ministerial joy at the glad reception of a message. £ But if these were the lights of joy in the picture, they were speedily followed by the shadows of ministerial disappointment. Their admiration gave way before familiarity. They began to say, "Is not this Joseph's Son?" They knew his antecedents, and so will put the worst construction possible upon his work. But the contempt of familiarity was not their only danger; they imagined that, as his countrymen, they were entitled to demand such miraculous credentials as he had given elsewhere. He had lived among them for the most of thirty years a sinless life, the greatest of all miracles in a sinful world; but they demand something more, and think that he will have but a sickly reputation if he does not accede to their request. The physician who cannot cure himself will not be in much demand to cure others; so if Jesus will not, by a miraculous display at Nazareth, establish his reputation which familiarity is undermining, they are prepared to say it is because he cannot. The mistake they make is in forgetting that Nazareth had no right to the treatment of Capernaum, since it had thirty years of the sinlessness of Jesus, which the seaside town had not.
IV. CONSIDER OUR LORD'S SOVEREIGN REFUSAL OF THEIR DEMAND. (Verses 24-27.) The notion of the Nazarenes was that they had a right to a miraculous display from Christ. As Jews, and as his own townspeople, they fancied they had a claim which could not be got over. This self-righteous spirit must be put down. Hence our Lord declares, in the first place, that "no prophet is accepted in his own country." To this law of limited influence through familiarity Jesus himself has to bow. It is the principle which secures a missionary enterprise. Men are more influential away from home than they can ever be at home. Better leave the plain of Shinar than wait only to have one's tongue confounded and one's influence gone. But, besides, our Lord from history recalls two illustrations of God in his sovereignty passing all the Jews by and selecting Gentiles and outsiders for blessing. The first case was in Elijah's time, when many an Israelitish widow was famishing for want of bread; but none of them was visited by the prophet, or got her barrel of meal miraculously replenished, as did the heathen widow at Sarepta. Again, there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet, but they were all passed over, and Naaman, the Syrian general, was cured. It was in both instances to show that Jews, as such, had no claim upon God's bounty, who could, if he pleased, pass them all by. This humiliation is one of the great lessons we must all learn if we are to profit by Christ's salvation. Divine sovereignty is to humiliate in order to exalt; but if sovereignty is denied to God, the curse comes instead.
V. CONSIDER THE SAD ISSUE OF THE VISIT. (Verses 28-30.) The Nazarenes are filled with wrath. They will not accept the invitation, but will contend for their rights, so called. So indignant are they as to meditate his destruction. Hence they take him towards the brow of the hill, with the intention of casting him headlong over it. It was a diabolical attempt. It was frustrated, however, by the majestic bearing of the Redeemer. He went through them by simple majesty of bearing, and they dare not touch him. Over the hills he passed in judicial separation from the misguided city. And now we are surely taught by this history not to be surprised if we are apparently unsuccessful in our work. It was the same with the Master. All, in such circumstances, we can do is to lay the truth of God before men's minds, and show them at once their unworthiness to receive it, and their responsibility in rejecting it. Moreover, if old acquaintances do not receive our testimony with that eagerness and respect we imagine it deserves, let us remember that our Master was subject himself to the same law, and accepted the situation. Patience under disappointment is the great lesson of comfort from such a passage.—R.M.E.
Our Lord's labors at Capernaum.
As Nazareth knew not the day of her visitation, and had done her best to make away with Jesus, he had no alternative but to make another place his center. Capernaum, a city situated on the lake of Galilee, and through which the Eastern caravans were accustomed to pass, is selected by him as the most suitable head-quarters for his Galilaean ministry. Accordingly, he came down from the uplands, where Nazareth lay, to this seaport, and there began his missionary enterprise. And here we have—
I. THE CHARACTER OF HIS PREACHING. (Luke 4:31, Luke 4:32.) Entering on the sabbath days into the synagogue, he taught with authority and with success. His teaching was a great contrast to that of the scribes. They seem to have contented themselves with quoting authorities. Unless they could back up their views by some great name, they were not sure about their doctrines. It was a prodigious use of commentators which they indulged in. But Jesus came and preached what he himself knew as a matter of certainty. There was a directness and "dead certainty" about his utterances which struck all the hearers as something new. And surely it is on this line that preachers still will find the path of safety. What we preach ought to be experience, the verities of our own spiritual life. And this preaching of certainties had its due effect in spiritual power. The word went home to the hearers' hearts—they had never heard truth so clearly presented before; and so they were lost in wonder and astonishment. The secret of success lies here. It is not by radiating a series of uncertainties upon men; it is not by bolstering men up in "honest doubt" and leaving them in the haze, that men will be won to what is high and holy. It is by telling them what we have learned ourselves—the glorious certainties of spiritual experience. Like the psalmist, we must gather men around us to tell them what God has done for our souls. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," and speaketh well!
II. OUR LORD DEMONSTRATED HIS POWER OVER DEVILS AS WELL AS OVER MEN. (Luke 4:33-42.4.37.) In the synagogue there happened to be an unfortunate man possessed by what is called an "unclean devil;" his "inspirations" from this unhappy source being perhaps of a lustful and sensual character. The possession of men by demons was a struggle upon the diabolical spirit's part for a physical instrument to bring him into relations with the sensible and material world. The humanity of the man became the slave or hack of the demon, he used the man's voice to utter his unholy thoughts, and reduced the poor subject to utter wretchedness. The presence of the holy Saviour aroused the demon's fears, He saw that his hour of judgment had come; and so, as a last resort, he tried to injure the reputation of Jesus by bearing witness to his holy character. There are some people from whom it is not desirable to hold certificates or receive testimonials. And in this appeal to Jesus he speaks for the man as well as for himself, as if he had a commission to do so. "Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us?" etc. We have thus set before us:
1. The separating power of sin. The fellowship of the holy is not desired.
2. The inherent dread of judgment. The demon felt he deserved destruction.
3. The overweening sense of success in sin. The demon imagined that the poor possessed one would be involved in his own destruction. And now Jesus first silences the spirit, indicating that he desires no such witnesses; and, secondly, commands him to come out of the possessed one. In this way the demon is bidden back to that spiritual realm which he seemed so anxious to escape. There is nothing for it but to obey Christ. In doing so, however, he does his worst upon the poor possessed one; he throws him down, and to all appearance has once more the mastery over his prey. It is a last and unsuccessful effort. The man is found to have come unscathed through the ordeal. The restoration of human nature to freedom from demoniacal temptation is one great object of the Saviour's work. Clothing men in their right mind again, enabling them to think and act for themselves, and to resist the subtle temptations to impurity and sin,—this is a glorious function of the Holy One of God! The result of the miracle was the recognition of Jesus as the Sovereign of that spiritual world below man, from which he is liable to assault. His mighty word not only controlled human hearts, but extended to demons too. They had to obey his commands, no matter how loath they might be to do so. And this should comfort us in our temptations.
III. OUR LORD CARRIES ON IN PETER'S HOUSEHOLD THE HEALING WORK WHICH HE HAD EXERCISED IN THE PUBLIC CONGREGATION. (Luke 4:38, Luke 4:39.) Peter's mother-in-law was ill of a great fever; and when he was come in they besought him for her. We are thus taught that our Lord likes to be asked for the blessings he is so ready to afford. Prayer is the natural cry of need, or of intercession, to One who is able to meet man's difficulties and bless him. And so our Lord, being besought, goes to the patient, rebukes the fever, takes her by the hand, and lo! it leaves her; and she rose to the activities of health again. Her ministration showed the immediate and complete character of the cure, and also the gratitude which should characterize one who is saved by Jesus. And are we not thus taught that we should bring our fevered souls to Jesus as the great Physician? He can take away the fever instantaneously. There is nothing so wonderful as the way in which we regain spiritual health at the throne of grace. But let us see to it that it leads to ministration. He gives us back our health that we may use it for his glory and the benefit of those about us.
IV. OUR LORD IS NEXT SEEN TAKING DISEASES AND POSSESSED ONES BY WHOLESALE, AND HEALING THEM. (Luke 4:40, Luke 4:41.) At sunset, when the sabbath ended, and when under the friendly shades of night the poor sick and deformed ones could conveniently be brought to him, he finds an immense opportunity confronting him. Peter's house is turned into a consulting hospital, and, like famous physicians, he is well-nigh overwhelmed with work. Possessed ones are also brought to him; and the demons adopt the same plan as the one noticed already—they begin to testify to his Messiahship and Sonship. This mass of suffering humanity he takes in hand, and with infallible certainty heals them every one. He accomplishes the healing, too, in the most sympathetic fashion, laying his tender hand on each, and conveying through contact the needful blessing. It was truly "a night much to be remembered" by all these sons and daughters of affliction whom Jesus thus lovingly healed! As for the demons, on the other hand, they receive nothing from him but rebuke. He will not have their testimony to his nature or his mission. At the same time, he shows his sovereignty over them in dooming them to silence and solitude, at least so far as possessing men was concerned.
V. OUR LORD SHOWS US HIS NEED OF RETIREMENT AFTER LABOUR, AND ALSO WHAT HIS GREAT COMMISSION WAS. (Luke 4:42-42.4.44.) After these mighty works he feels the need of retirement to commune with God, and keep his soul in proper tune for further work. If Jesus felt the need of prayer, how presumptuous in minor minds to excuse themselves from it! They seem to have given him an invitation to settle in Capernaum. And if he had, he would have had a famous physician's practice, doors besieged from morning to night, and no time for any other work. Hence he resolved to itinerate rather than settle down. His wandering from place to place secured him from overwork of a purely physical character, and enabled him to be the Missionary he was meant to be. It is an interesting question why he did not make Palestine a healthful land from end to end. He might have organized deputations and sought out all the sick, and made the land free from all disease and suffering. But while he healed all who came or were brought to him, and sent disciples forth on similar errands, he did not undertake this wholesale cure. And two answers may be given in the way of valid reason about it. In the first place, the people did not deserve such a blessing, and would not likely have been the better for it. A world of sinful men would not be improved if they were all made and kept healthy men. Health of soul and perfect health of body are to synchronize in the great future which lies before us. But secondly, if he had undertaken this physical work, he would have lost his opportunities of purely spiritual work, the preaching of the gospel, for which more especially he had come. Hence we must admire his resolve to be an itinerant Missionary rather than a settled and famous Physician. Preaching is really the highest work of man, if it is done conscientiously. The sphere is spiritual, and the results are for evermore. It is well to magnify the office as magnified by the Master.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany