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The Master sends out the twelve on a mission.
Then he called his twelve disciples together. The Galilee ministry was just over; outwardly it had been a triumphant success; vast crowds had been gathered together. The Master was generally welcomed with a positive enthusiasm; the people heard him gladly. Here and there were visible, as in the eases of the woman who touched him and the synagogue ruler who prayed him to heal his little daughter, just related (Luke 8:1-56.), conspicuous examples of a strange or mighty faith; but the success, the Master knew too well, was only on the surface. The crowds who to-day shouted "Hosanna!" and greeted his appearance among them with joy, on the morrow would fall away from him, and on the day following would reappear with the shout "Crucify him!" It was especially to warn his Church in coming ages of this sure result of all earnest devoted preaching and teaching, that he spoke that saddest of parables, "the sower" (Luke 8:1-56.) But before he finally brought this Galilaean ministry to a close, he would gather in some few wavering souls, whose hearts he knew were trembling in the balance between the choice of life and good, and death and evil. To help these he sent out this last mission. The word rendered called together" indicates a solemn gathering. And gave them power, etc. This and the further detail of the next verse (2) roughly describe the work he intended them to do, and the means bestowed on them for its accomplishment. Very extraordinary powers were conferred on them—powers evidently intended to terminate with the short mission on which he now despatched them.
And to heal the sick. St. Mark (Mark 6:13), in his brief notice of this mission of the twelve, mentions the special instrument of their power over sickness—the twelve anointed the sick with oil, and healed them. It is probable that the early Christian custom alluded to by St. James (James 5:14), of anointing the sick with oil, arose from our Lord's direction to his apostles on the occasion of this mission. The practice was continued, or possibly was revived, long after the original power connected with it had ceased to exist. It still survives in the Roman Catholic Church in the sacrament of extreme unction, which, singularly enough, is administered when all hope of the patient's recovery from the sickness is over. Anointing the sick with oil was a favourite practice among the ancient Jews (see Isaiah 1:6 and Luke 10:34). It was to be used by the twelve as an ordinary medicine, possessing, however, in their hands an extraordinary effect, and was to be, during this mission, the visible medium through which the Divine influence and power to heal took effect. We never read of Jesus in his miracles using oil; his usual practice seems to have been simply to have used words. At times he touched the sufferer; on one occasion only we read how he mixed some clay with which he anointed the sightless eyes.
Take nothing for your journey. Dr. Farrar well sums up the various directions of the Master to these his first missionaries: "The general spirit of the instructions merely is, 'Go forth in the simplest, humblest manner, with no hindrances to your movements, and in perfect faith;' and this, as history shows, has always been the method of the most successful missions. At the same time, we must remember that the wants of the twelve were very small, and were secured by the free open hospitality of the East."
And whatsoever house ye enter into, there abide, and thence depart. On entering any new place they were to select, after due and careful inquiry (Matthew 10:11), a family likely and able to assist them in their evangelistic work. This "house" they were to endeavour to make the centre of their efforts in that locality. This rule we find continued in the early years of Christianity. In the history of the first Churches, certain "houses" in the different cities were evidently the centres of the mission work there. We gather this from such expressions in St. Paul's letters as "the Church which is in his house" (comp., too, Acts 16:40, where the house of Lydia was evidently the head-quarters of all missionary work in Philippi and its neighbourhood).
And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very duet from your feet for a testimony against them. It was the custom of the Jews when they returned from foreign (Gentile) lands, as they crossed the frontiers of the Holy Land, to shake the dust from off their feet. This was an act symbolizing that they had broken, now on their return to their own land, all communion with Gentile peoples which a residence among them had necessitated for a season. The hitter hatred and loathing of the Jews, after their return from the Captivity, for all Gentile races can only be understood by the student of the Talmud. So comprehensive and perfect a hatred, enduring, too, for centuries, has never been witnessed in the ease of any other peoples. This accounts in great measure for the retaliative persecution which more or less has been carried on all through the Christian era against this marvellous race. In our day—the day of a liberalism possibly exaggerated and unreal—in many parts of Europe the untrained sense of the masses strangely revolts against this spirit of toleration; and wild excesses, massacres, and bitter persecution—the Judenhetz, hatred of the Jews in Germany and in Russia—are among the curious results of the liberality and universal toleration of the time.
Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by him. This was Herod Antipas; he was a son of Herod the Great; his mother's name was Malthace. After his father's death he became tetrareh or prince-ruler of Galilee, Peraea, and of a fourth part of the Roman province of Syria. His first wife was daughter of Aretas, a famous Arabian sheik spoken of by St. Paul as "king of the Damascenes" (2 Corinthians 11:32). This princess he divorced, and contracted a marriage at once incestuous and adulterous with his niece Herodias, the beautiful wife of his half-brother Philip. Philip was not a sovereign prince, and it was probably from motives of ambition that she deserted Philip for the powerful tetrarch Herod Antipas. It was owing to his fearless remonstrances against this wicked marriage that John the Baptist incurred the enmity of Herodias, who was only satisfied with the head of the daring preacher who presumed to attack her brilliant wicked life. What Herod now heard was the report of the widespread interest suddenly aroused by the mission of the twelve—a mission, we know, supported by miraculous powers, following close upon the Galilaean ministry of the Lord, which, as far as regarded the numbers who thronged his meetings, and the outward interest his words and works excited, had been so successful. Rumours of all this at last reached the court circle, wrapped up in its own selfish and often wanton pleasures and false excitement. Because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead. Herod Antipas was probably inclined to the Sadducee creed, which believed in neither angel nor spirit. But Sadduceeism and the easy doctrines of Epicurus, which no doubt found favour in the luxurious palace of Herod, are but a flimsy protection at best against the ghastly reminiscences and the weird forebodings of a guilty conscience. The murder of John had been, Herod knew, strongly condemned by the public voice. He would not believe it was his old monitor risen, but vet the prince was anxious and perturbed in his mind. The murmur that the great prophet was Elias (Elijah) disquieted him, too. Herod could not help recalling to his mind the lifelong combat of that great and austere servant of God against another wicked sovereign and his queen, Ahab and Jezebel, whose great crime was that they, too, had slain the Lord's prophets. That history, Herod felt, had to some extent been reproduced by himself and Herodias. There was a rooted expectation among the Jews that Elijah would reappear again on earth, and that his appearance would herald the advent of the Messiah. There are numberless references in the Talmud to this looked-for return of the famous Elijah.
One of the old prophets. Jeremiah and also Isaiah, though to a lesser degree than Elijah, were looked for as heralds of the coming Messiah (see 2 Esdr. 2:10, 18, and 2 Macc. 2:4-8; 15:13-16). It was expected that Jeremiah would reveal the hiding-place of the long-lost ark and of the Urim.
And he desired to see him; that is, Jesus. The desire of Herod was gratified, but not then. He saw him the day of the Crucifixion, when Pilate sent him to Herod for judgment; but the tetrarch, weak and wicked though he was, declined the responsibility of shedding that blood, so he sent him back to the Roman governor. Here, in SS. Matthew and Mark, follows the dramatic and vivid account of the death of John the Baptist. St. Luke probably omits it, as his Gospel, or rather Paul's, was derived from what they heard from eyewitnesses and hearers of the Lord. As regards SS. Matthew and Mark, the latter of whom was probably simply the amanuensis of St. Peter, the awful event was woven into their life's story. It was most natural that, in their public preaching and teaching, they should make constant mention of the tragedy which so personally affected Jesus and his little company. St. Luke and his master, Paul, on the other hand, who were not personally present with the Lord when these events took place, would be likely to confine their memoirs as closely as possible to those circumstances in which Jesus alone occupied the prominent place.
The Lord feeds the five thousand.
And the apostles, when they were returned, told him all that they had done. And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. This, perhaps the most famous and oftenest told of the Lord's miracles, was worked directly after the return of the twelve from their mission. He and they were no doubt very weary of the crowds which continually now thronged them. The excitement of the multitude about Jesus was now at its height. Directly after the discourse at Capernaum (John 6:1-71.), which immediately followed the great miracle we are about to discuss, the popular enthusiasm began to wane. Intensely weary, dispirited too at the story of the murder of John the Baptist, which was told the Master by the disciples and the friends of John on their return from their mission, Jesus determined for a brief space to withdraw himself from the public gaze. He crossed the Lake of Gennesaret in one of his friends' fishing-boats to a town lately identified by modern research as Bethsaida Julias, a small city recently beautified by Herod Philip, and named Bethsaida Julias, after the daughter of Augustus. Bethsaida, "house of fish," was a name attached evidently to several of these fishing centres on the shores of the lake. Many of the multitude of whom we read subsequently in the account of the miracle, had watched his departure in the boat for the neighbourhood of Bethsaida Julias, and had gone on foot round the head of the lake to join the popular Teacher again. The distance round the north end of the lake from the point of embarkation, most likely Capernaum, to Bethsaida Julias is not very considerable. The crowd which soon joined him in retirement would be considerably swelled by many of the Passover pilgrims just arrived at Capernaum on their way to Jerusalem to keep the feast. These would be anxious, too, to see and to hear the great Galilaean Prophet, whose name just then was in every mouth. Not very far from Bethsaida Julias there is a secluded plain, El Batihah; thither Jesus no doubt went after leaving his fishing-boat, purposing to spend some time in perfect rest. Soon, however, the usually quiet plain becomes populous with the crowds following after the Galilaean Master. Though longing intensely for repose so necessary for himself and his disciples, he at once, moved by the eagerness of the multitude to hear and see him again, gives them his usual loving welcome, and begins in his old fashion to teach them many things, and to heal their sick.
And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. Simple consideration for the crowds, among whom we know were women and children, probably dictated this remark of the twelve, though it has been with some ingenuity suggested that the advice of the disciples was owing to their fear that, as darkness would soon creep over the scene, some calamity might happen which would give a fresh handle against Jesus to his many enemies.
But he said unto them, Give ye them to eat. Godet here beautifully observes that this reply, and the great miracle that followed, was the result of a loving thought of the Redeemer. "John has disclosed it to us (vi. 4). It was the time of the Passover. He could not visit Jerusalem with his disciples, owing to the virulent hatred of which he had become the object. In this unexpected gathering, resembling that of the nation at Jerusalem, he discerns a signal from on high, and determines to celebrate a feast in the desert as a compensation for the Passover Feast." We have no more but five loaves and two fishes; except we should go and buy meat for all this people. The main lines of this story are the same in each of the four accounts which we possess of this miracle; but each of the four evangelists supplies some little detail wanting in the others. It is clear that there was no original written tradition from which they all copied. St. John tells us it was a little boy who had this small, rough provision. The boy probably was in attendance on the apostles, and this was no doubt the little stock of food they had provided for their own frugal meal. The barley loaves were the ordinary food of the poorest in Palestine, and the two fish were dried, as was the common custom of the country; and such dried fish was usually eaten with the bread.
They were about five thousand men. St. Matthew adds, "besides women and children." The multitude generally had come from a considerable distance, we know; there would not be, comparatively speaking, many women and children among them. These were grouped together apart, and, of course, fed, hut were not counted among the five thousand. And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company. "Jesus has no sooner ascertained that there are five loaves and two fishes, than he is satisfied. He commands them to make the multitude sit down. Just as though he had said, 'I have what I want; the meal is ready; let them be seated!' But he takes care that his banquet shall be conducted with an order worthy of the God who gives it. Everything must be calm and solemn; it is a kind of Passover meal. By the help of the apostles, he seats his guests in rows of fifty each (St.. Matthew), or in double rows of fifty, by hundreds (Mark). This orderly arrangement allowed of the guests being easily counted. St. Mark describes in a dramatic manner the striking spectacle presented by these regularly formed companies, each consisting of two equal ranks, and all arranged upon the slope of the hill. The pastures at that time were in all their spring glory. SS. John and Mark both bring forward the beauty of this natural carpet. 'Much grass' (St. John); 'on the green grass'" (Godet). St. Mark's vivid picturesque details show the observant eve-witness. The words rendered "in ranks" ("they sat down in ranks") literally mean they were like flower-beds set in the green grass. The bright-coloured Eastern robes of these men, as they sat in long rows, suggested the happy comparison.
Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. The blessing was the usual introduction of a pious Jewish family to a meal. It was pronounced by the head of the household. An ordinary formula was, "May God, the Ever-blessed One, bless what he has given us!" The Jewish barley loaves were broad, thin cakes; these were usually broken, not out—hence the expression, "and brake." In SS. Mark and Luke the tense of the verb rendered "gave," in the original Greek, is an imperfect, and signifies, "he gave, and kept on giving." This supplies a hint as to the way of working the miracle. Each disciple kept coming to him for a fresh supply of bread. It was, however, as it has been well said, a miracle of the highest order, one of creative power, and is to us inconceivable. The evangelists make no attempt to explain it. They evidently did not care to ask. They beheld it, and related it to us just as they saw it in its simple grandeur. Neither disciples nor crowds seem at first to have grasped the stupendous nature of the act. St. John tells us of its effect on the crowds, who, when they came to see what had been done, wished to take him by force and make him king. For a brief space they were convinced that in the poor Galilee Rabbi they had found King Messiah—none but he could have done this great thing. They were right.
And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them, twelve baskets. A very impressive lesson from the Creator himself against waste or extravagance. St. John expressly tells us that this order to gather up the fragments of their meal emanated from Jesus himself. Carefulness, thrift, and economy in small things as in great, form part of the teaching of the loving Master. From such passages as Mark 6:37 and John 13:29, it seems probable that the disciples, acting under their Master's direction, were in the habit of distributing, out of their comparative abundance, food to those persons in the villages who were poorer than themselves. It was, no doubt, for some such hallowed object as this that the careful collection of the fragments which filled twelve baskets was made. The "baskets" (cophinus) were usually carried by travelling Jews to keep their food from contracting Levitical pollution in Gentile places. Juvenal, in a well-known passage ('Sat.,' 3.14), writes of the Jews travelling about Italy with no baggage save a little bundle of hay to serve as a pillow, and this cophinus, or basket, for their food. So abundant had been the provision created by Jesus, that the fragments collected far exceeded the original stock of food which the disciples gave to Jesus to bless, to break, and to distribute among the five thousand and upward who were fed that memorable afternoon. This miracle is the only one in the entire Galilaean ministry which is told by all the four evangelists. It evidently had a very prominent place in the teaching of the first days. Rationalizing interpretation in the case of this miracle is singularly at fault. After eighteen centuries of unremitting hostility to the teaching of Jesus Christ, not even a plausible explanation of this miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes has been found by adverse critics. In our own days, Renan, following the ancient interpretation of Paulus, simply suggests that the multitudes were fed by materials provided by themselves. "Every one took his little store of provision from his wallet; they lived on very little"—an explanation, as it has been happily termed, "ludicrously inadequate."
After the relation of the great miracle of feeding the five thousand, St. Luke omits in his Gospel a variety of incidents and several discourses told at greater or lesser length by the other evangelists. For instance, the reverential amazement of the people when the nature of the stupendous miracle in connection with the creation of the loaves and fishes flashed upon them,—they wished to recognize him as King Messiah; the walking on the sea; the long and important discourse on the true Bread at Capernaum, the text of which was the late great miracle of the loaves; the journey among the heathen as far as Tyre and Sidon; the meeting with the Syro-phoenician woman; the feeding of the four thousand, etc. These incidents are related in Matthew 14:1-36.- Matthew 16:12; Mark 6:45-8:30; John 6:1-71. No commentator has satisfactorily explained the reason of this omission of important portions of our Lord's public ministry. The reason for St. Luke's action here probably will never be guessed. We must, however, in all theories which we may form of the composition of these Gospels, never lose sight of this fact, that while SS. Matthew and Peter (Mark) were eyewitnesses of the events of the life, St. Luke, and his master, Paul, simply reproduced what they had heard or read. We may, therefore, suppose that St. Luke exercised larger discretionary powers in dealing with materials derived from others than the other two, who desired, no doubt, to reproduce a fairly general summary of their Divine Master's acts. On such a theory of composition, a gap in the story like the one we are now alluding to, in the more eclectic Gospel of St. Luke, would seem scarcely possible in the first two Gospels. We, of course, make no allusion here to the Fourth Gospel; the whole plan and design of St. John was different to that upon which the first three were modelled.
Jesus' question to his own: Who did they think he was? He tells them of a suffering Messiah, and describes the lot of his own true followers.
And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am? With these abrupt words, St. Luke changes for his readers the time and scene. Since the miracle of feeding the five thousand at Bethsaida Julias, Jesus had preached at Capernaum the famous sermon on the "Bread of life" (reported in John 6:1-71.); he had wandered to the north-east as far as the maritime cities of Tyro and Sidon; had returned again to the Decapolis region for a brief sojourn; and then once more had turned his footsteps north; and it was in the extreme confines of the Holy Land, in the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi, and close to the great fountain, the source of the sacred Jordan, at the foot of the southern ridge of Hermon, where he put the momentous question here chronicled, to his listening disciples. Much had happened since the five thousand were fed. The defection which the Master had foreseen when he commenced his parable-teaching with the sad story of the "sower," had begun. After the great Capernaum sermon (John 6:1-71.), many had fallen away from him; the enthusiasm for his words was rapidly waning; the end was already in sight. "Well," he asks his own, "what are men saying about me? Whom do they think that I am?"
They answering said, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others say, that one of the old prophets is risen again. It was a strange answer, this report of the popular belief concerning Jesus. There had been for a long period among the people expectations more or less defined, that certain of the great national heroes were to reappear again to take up their incomplete work, and to play the part in Israel, of heralds of the looked-for glorious King Messiah. The popular belief respecting Jesus was that he was one of these. Some thought of Elijah. The two miracles of creating the loaves and fishes for a great famishing crowd especially suggested this idea. There was a shadowy, but not an unreal resemblance here to the well-remembered miracle of Elijah, worked for the Sarepta widow and her son, with the cruse of oil and the barrel of meal which failed not (1 Kings 17:14). The words of Malachi (Malachi 4:5) pointed in the same direction. The image of the recently murdered Baptist was present with some. Herod's words, already commented on, point to this, perhaps, widespread belief. Jeremiah would be a likely instance of "one of the old prophets." Tradition had already asserted that the spirit of that great one had passed into Zechariah; surely another similar transmigration was possible. Jeremiah, popular tradition said, had safely hidden the ark and the tabernacle and the altar of incense somewhere in the mountain where Moses died by the "kiss of God." Already had he appeared to the brave and patriotic Judas Maccabaeus in a vision as a man greyhaired and exceeding glorious, as one praying for the people as their guardian-prophet, and had given the gallant Maeeabaean hero a golden sword from God. It was one of these old heroic forms, so loved of Israel, once more in the flesh, that the people believed Jesus to be.
But whom say ye that I am Peter answering said, The Christ of God. And the Master listened, apparently without comment, to this reply, which told him what the people said of him, and then went on, "But you, my disciples, who have been ever with ,he, what say, what think you about me?" Peter, as the representative of the others in that little chosen company, answers, "We believe that thou art more than any prophet or national hero or forerunner of the Messiah; we think that thou art the Messiah himself."' Dr. Morrison very beautifully pictures the disciples' state of mind at this juncture. "No doubt the true light on the subject had often gleamed through the darkness of their minds (see John 1:29, John 1:33, John 1:34, John 1:41, John 1:45, John 1:49, etc.). But, though gleam succeeded gleam, in flashes that revealed the Illimitable, the darkness would ever, more or less, close in again. They could not altogether help it. They were witnesses of a 'humiliation' which they could not reconcile with the notions they had inherited in reference to the power and pomp of the Messiah. And yet it was evident that he was entirely unlike all other rabbis. He was the Master of masters, and a mystery over and above. An inner lustre was continually breaking through. It was glorious; it was unique. His character was transcendently noble and pure. He had not, moreover, obtruded self-assertions on them. He had left them, in a great measure, to observe for themselves; and they had been observing." It was, indeed, on the part of these feeble disciples a pure and lofty expression of the effect produced on their hearts by Jesus Christ's teaching. But though these men, afterwards so great, had attained to this grand conception of their adored Master, though they alone, among the crowds, through the sad coloured veil of his low estate, could see shining the glory of Divinity, yet they could not grasp yet the conception of a suffering Messiah, and in spite of all the teaching of the Master, the cross and the Passion made them unbelievers again. It needed the Resurrection to complete the education of faith.
And he straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing. It would have been no hard task for the disciples to have gone about with an expression of their earnest conviction that the great Prophet was indeed the long looked-for King Messiah, and thus to have raised the excitable crowds to any wild pitch of enthusiasm. It was only a very short time back that, moved by the miracle of the loaves, the multitudes wished to crown him King by force. That was not the kind of homage Jesus sought; besides which, any such enthusiasm thus evoked would quickly have died away, and a hostile reaction would have set in when the high hopes excited by the idea of King Messiah were contradicted by the life of suffering and self-denial which Jesus sternly set himself to live through to its bitter end. This life he sketched out for them in the severe language of the next verse.
Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. "See how," as Riggenbach, quoted by Godet, says, "Jesus was obliged, in the very moment of self-revelation, to veil himself, when he had lighted the fire to cover it again." This dark and terrible prediction came upon the disciples evidently as something new. It was their Master's reply to their confession of faith in him. It said in other words, "You are right in your conception of me and my work. I am the promised King Messiah; but this part of my reign will be made up of affliction and mourning and woe. The great council of the people will reject me, and I shall only enter into my grand Messianic kingdom through the gate of suffering and of death. But do you, my own, be of good cheer. Three days after that death I shall rise again." The enumeration of "elders, chief priests, and scribes" is simply a popular way of describing the great council of the Jewish nation, the Sanhedrin, which was composed of these three important and influential sections of the people.
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. Before sketching out the life which the true disciples of a suffering King Messiah must lead on earth, our Lord seems to have given notice of one of his public discourses. Even though his great popularity was now on the wane, to the last he was evidently listened to by crowds, if not with enthusiasm, certainly with eager and impatient curiosity. The sermon, of which we have the outline in the next five verses, and the subject-matter of which was, "No cross, no crown," was preached evidently to the masses. This is plain from the opening words of Luke 9:23. The sermon was evidently a hard saying, and, no doubt, gave bitter offence to many of the hearers. "If any man will," that is, wishes to, "come after me, to follow me where I am going" (Jesus was going to his kingdom), "let that man be prepared to give up earthly ease and comfort, and be ready to bear the sufferings which will be sure to fall on him if he struggle after holiness." This readiness to give up ease, this willingness to bear suffering, will be a matter, they must remember, of everyday experience. The terrible simile with which the Lord pressed his stern lesson home was, of course, suggested to him by the clear view he had of the fearful end of his own earthly life—an end then so near at hand, though the disciples guessed it not. The cross was no unknown image to the Jews who that day listened to the Master. The gloomy procession of robbers and of rebels against Rome, each condemned one bearing to the place of death the cross on which he was to suffer, was a sadly familiar image then in their unhappy land.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. The Greek word here rendered "life" signifies the natural animal life, of which the main interests are centred in the earth. If a man grasp at this shadowy, quickly passing earthly life, he will assuredly lose the substantial enduring heaven-life. If, on the other hand, he consents, "for my sake," to sacrifice this quickly fading life of earth, he shall surely find it again in heaven, no longer quickly fading, but a life fadeless, eternal, a life infinitely higher than the one he has for righteousness' sake consented to lose here. The same beautiful and comforting truth we find in that fragment, as it is supposed, of a very early Christian hymn, woven into the tapestry of St. Paul's Second Epistle to Timothy—
"If we be dead with him,
We shall also live with him:
If we suffer, We shall also reign."
(2Ti 2:11, 2 Timothy 2:12.)
For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? Godet's comment here is pithy and quaint: "Jesus supposes, in this twenty-fifth verse, the act of saving one's own life accomplished with the most complete success … amounting to a gain of the whole world. But in this very moment, the master of this magnificent domain finds himself condemned to perish! What gain to draw in a lottery a gallery of pictures … and at the same time to become blind!" "O flesh," writes Luther (quoted by Dr. Morrison), "how mighty art thou, that thou canst still throw darkness over those things, even to the minds of the holy!"
For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels. Here follows the punishment in the world to come. It consists in the Judge's solemn award to the man who has succeeded in saving his life in this world. The award is, "Depart from me: I know you not." Of such a selfish soul, who here has loved his own ease, and has declined all self-sacrifice, will the Son of man, in the day of his glory, be justly ashamed. The suffering Messiah thus completed his vivid picture of himself. Not always was he to suffer, or to wear the robe of humiliation. The Despised and Rejected would assuredly return with a glory indescribable, inconceivable. His assertion, advanced here, that he will return as Almighty Judge, is very remarkable. In the parallel passage in St. Matthew (Matthew 16:13) it is put even more clearly. There Jesus asks his disciples, "Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?" In verse 27 Jesus goes on to say, "The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, and then he shall reward every man according to his works." The lesson was very clear. His own might surely be content. Only let them be patient. Lo! in the poor rejected Rabbi now before them, going to his bitter suffering and his death, they were looking really on the awful form of the Almighty Judge of quick and dead. These words, very dimly understood then, in days to come were often recalled by his hearers. They formed the groundwork of many a primitive apostolic sermon.
But I tell you of a truth, there he some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God. This magnificent promise has always been more or less a difficulty to expositors. Two favourite explanations which
(1) in the Transfiguration mystery,
(2) in the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Jewish state,
see the fulfilment of this great prediction, must be put aside as inadequate, as failing utterly to satisfy any idea of the kingdom of God. Concerning (1), it must be borne in mind that the words were addressed, not only to the disciples, but to a mixed multitude; the expression then, "there be some standing here," etc., would seem to point to more than three (Peter, James, anti John were alone present at the Transfiguration) who should, while living, see the kingdom of God. Concerning (2), those who were witnesses of the great catastrophe which resulted in the sack of Jerusalem and the ruin of the Jewish polity, can scarcely be said to have looked on the kingdom of God. It was rather a great and terrible judgment; in no way can it fairly be termed the kingdom, or even its herald; it was simply an awful event in the world's story. But surely the Lord's disciples, the holy women, the still larger outer circle of loving followers of Jesus, who were changed by what happened during the forty days which immediately succeeded the Resurrection morning—changed from simple, loving, fearful, doubting men and women, into the brave resistless preachers and teachers of the new faith—the five hundred who gazed on the risen Lord in the Galilaean mountain,—these may in good earnest be said to have seen, while in life, "the kingdom of God." These five hundred, or at all events many of them, after the Resurrection, not only looked on God, but grasped the meaning of the presence and work of God on earth. The secret of the strange resistless power of these men in a hostile world was that their eyes had gazed on some of the sublime glories, and their ears had heard some of the tremendous secrets of the kingdom of God.
And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. Some eight days after this question asked in the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi, and its reply, and the sermon to the people on the subject of "No cross, no crown," which immediately followed, our Lord summoned the three leading disciples and took them up into a mountain to pray. They had spent the last few days apparently in quiet converse together. SS. Matthew and Mark speak only of six days. St. Luke gives the period in round numbers, counting portions of the first and last days as whole days. We may well imagine that this was a period of intense depression in the little company of Jesus. Their Master's popularity was fast waning among the people. His powerful enemies seemed gathering closer and closer round the Teacher whom they were determined to crush. The late utterances of Jesus, too, whether spoken to them alone, or publicly to the people, all foreshadowed a time of danger and suffering in the immediate future for him and for them—a time which, as far as he was concerned, would close with a violent death. To raise the fainting spirits of his own, to inspire them with greater confidence in himself, seems to have been the immediate purpose of that grand vision of glory known as the Transfiguration. It is true that to only three was vouchsafed the vision, and silence was enjoined on these, but the three were the leading spirits of the twelve. If Peter, James, and John were brave, earnest, and hopeful, there was little doubt that their tone of mind would be quickly reflected in their companions. Tradition, based on the fairly early authority of Cyril of Jerusalem, and of Jerome (fourth century), speaks of the mountain as Tabor, but the solitude evidently necessary for the manifestation would have been sought for in vain on Mount Tabor, a hill which rises abruptly from the Plain of Esdraelon, not very far from Nazareth to the south-east, for the summit of Tabor at that time was crowned with a fortress. The mount,in most probably was one of the lower peaks of Hermon, at no great distance from the fountain source of the Jordan and Caesarea Philippi, in which district we know Jesus and his companions had been teaching only a few days before.
And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, etc. The marvellous change evidently passed over Jesus while he was in prayer, probably because of his intense prayer. Real, close communion with God ever imparts to the countenance of the one who has thus entered into communion with the High and Holy One, a new and strange beauty. Very many have noticed at times this peculiar and lovely change pass over the faces of God's true saints as they prayed—faces perhaps old and withered, grey with years and wrinkled with care. A yet higher degree of transfiguration through communion with God is recorded in the case of Moses, whose face, after he had been with his God-Friend on the mount, shone with so bright a glory that mortal eye could not bear to gaze on it until the radiance began to fade away. A similar change is recorded to have taken place in the case of Stephen when he pleaded his Divine Master's cause in the Sanhedrin hall at Jerusalem with such rapt eloquence that to the by-standers his face then, we read, "was as the face of an angel." Stephen told his audience later on, in the course of that earnest and impassioned pleading, that to him the very heavens were opened, and that his eyes were positively gazing on the beatific vision. Yet a step higher still was this transfiguration of our Lord. St. Luke tells us simply that, "as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered." St. Matthew tells us how it was altered when he writes that "his countenance shone as the sun." And his raiment was white and glistering; literally, lightening forth, as if from some inward source of glorious light. The earthly robes were so beautified by contact with this Divine light that human language is exhausted by the evangelists to find terms and metaphors to picture them. St. Matthew compares these garments of the Blessed One to light; St. Mark, to the snow; St. Luke, to the flashing lightning.
And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias; literally, there were talking. Evidently these two glorified beings had been conversing with Jesus some time before the three apostles, heavy with sleep, had noticed their presence; wearied and tired, slumber had overtaken them; we are not told how long they slept. The glorious light which environed them and the murmur of voices probably roused them, and in after-days they recounted what, after they were awake, they saw, and something of what they heard.
Who appeared in glory. Why were these two chosen as the Lord's companions on that solemn night? Probably
(1) because they were what may be termed the two great representative men of the chosen race of Israel. The one was the human author of the Divine Law which for so many centuries had been the guide and teacher of the covenant people. The other had been the most illustrious of that great order of prophets who, during the centuries of their eventful history as a nation, had, under the commission of the Most Highest, kept alight the torch of the knowledge of the one true God. And
(2) because these men alone of the race of Israel apparently had kept their earthly bodies as the shrines of their immortal spirits. Elijah, we know, was translated alive into the other and the grander world; and as for Moses, God, his heavenly Friend, closed his eyes, and then hid his body from mortal sight, and, the mysterious words of Jude (Jude 1:9) would seem to tell us, from mortal corruption. And spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. Why was this the chosen subject of the august conference between the Lord and the heavenly pair?
(1) In all reverence we may feel that one reason for the visit of these blessed spirits on that solemn night was the strengthening the sinless Sufferer himself. The vista which lay immediately before Jesus, of rejection, desertion, the death of agony, and the dreadful sufferings which preceded it,—all this had been very present before him lately. He had dwelt upon these things, we know, to his own. He had pondered over them, no doubt, often when alone. It was not only in Gethsemane that his "soul was sorrowful even unto death." As in the garden-agony "appeared to him an angel from heaven strengthening him," so here on the mount came to him these glorified spirits for the same blessed purpose of ministering. And
(2) it was to help the three disciples. Their wavering faith would surely be strengthened if the words which they heard from those heavenly visitants dwelt with reverent awe and admiration on the circumstances of their Master's self-sacrificing career of agony and suffering. It must be remembered that a few days earlier they had listened to him, when he spoke to them of these things, with shrink-iv g terror and incredulous amazement. They would now know what was thought of all this in the courts of heaven.
And the two men that stood with him. It has been asked—How did the disciples know the names which those glorified ones had once borne? Three replies are at least probable.
(1) They may have heard their Master address them by their old earthly names.
(2) In subsequent conversations the Lord may have disclosed them to the three.
(3) Is it not a very thinkable thought that the blessed bear upon their spirit-forms their old individuality transfigured and glorified? Were such a vision vouchsafed to us, should we not in a moment recognize a Peter, a Mary, or a Paul?
And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias' not knowing what he said. The three evangelists who relate the Transfiguration scene, with trifling variations repeat this remark of Peter's. It is valuable to us when we remember that the tradition of the marvellous event comes from Peter, James, and John; and that they repeat the strange inconsequent words uttered by one of themselves—their acknowledged spokesman. No thought of self-glorification evidently tinged this strange memory of theirs. They simply wished to record the plain truth just as it happened, and in the course of the narrative they had to repeat their own poor, babbling, meaningless words—for the remark of Peter is nothing else. Their own remark, which immediately follows, is the best comment upon them, "not knowing what he said." There was a deep feeling that in such a company, bathed, too, in that glorious and unearthly light, it was well with them. But they saw the heavenly visitants preparing to leave them. They would stay their departure if they could, so they stammered, "Let us build some shelter; let us erect some temple, however humble, to do honour, Lord, to thee and thy companions."
While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. This luminous cloud, bright though it was, yet veiled the more intolerable brightness within. That such a bright cloud had the power of overshadowing and concealing, is not strange, for light in its utmost intensity hides as effectually as the darkness would do. God dwells in light inaccessible, whom therefore "no man hath seen, nor can see" (1 Timothy 6:16). Milton writes—
"Dark with excess of light."
Philo speaks of the highest light as identical with darkness. Anselm thus understands the cloud here, quoting the words of 1 Timothy 6:16, referred to above, and then the words of Moses, "And Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was" (Exodus 20:21), and then this passage from the Transfiguration, and comments thus: "Illa caligo et ista nubes, atque ilia lux idem sunt" (see Archbishop Trench on "Transfiguration," in 'Studies in the Gospels,' 8). The fear which these eye-witnesses remember as one of their experiences that memorable night was a very natural feeling. As the cloud stole over the mountain ridge, and the glory-light gradually paled and waned, the sensation of intense pleasure and satisfaction, which we may assume to be the natural accompaniment of such a blessed scene, would give place to awe and amazement.
And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. The reading here of the older authorities must be adopted. Instead of the voice out of the cloud saying, "This is my beloved Son," we must substitute," This is my Elect." As SS. Matthew and Mark both read, "my beloved Son," we have here another of the many proofs that each of the three records of the Transfiguration is a distinct and separate memory of itself. The voice was evidently for the disciples—one more help for them in their present and future struggle against the cold and chilling doubts which ever and again would be suggested to them by the enemy of human souls, with a view to marring their present training, their future mighty missionary work.
And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen. The reasons of this silence for the present have been already discussed. The scene, doubtless, had done its work in the education of the three. Without telling their companions what they had seen and heard on the mount, we may assume that the sight of the serene confidence and renewed trust on the part of Peter, James, and John did its effectual work in strengthening their brethren. No doubt directly after the Resurrection, possibly during the days of darkness and gloom which followed the day of the cross, the chosen three related at length their experience of the Transfiguration mystery. The narrative of the Transfiguration and its attendant circumstances, as might have been expected, has been a favourite subject for hostile criticism. It does not, however, lend itself to any probable, or even possible, explanation which refers the story to some exaggerated report of a mistaken natural phenomenon. The whole story, as we have it thrice—with very slight variation in the details—repeated in the synoptical Gospels, must stand as we have it, or else must be wholly rejected as a myth. But, if a myth, whence did it spring? for nothing in the Jewish expectation of Messiah could possibly have suggested the "legend." The strange and even childish interruption of Peter could never have been invented. No one friendly to the apostle would have chronicled such a saying had there been any doubt resting on its authenticity; and a writer hostile to the apostle would scarcely have invented a narrative which treated of the Divine glory of the apostle's adored Master. If it be an invention, whence comes it? in whose interest was it composed? and how did it find its way into the very heart of the three synoptical Gospels? for there we find it woven into that marvellous tapestry of revelation and teaching which has at once charmed and influenced so many millions of men and women now for more than eighteen hundred years. Something of the purpose which the Transfiguration was intended to serve in the education of the twelve has been already discussed in the foregoing notes. Dr. Lange, who has made this difficult passage in the story of Jesus a subject of deep and earnest study, has given us some beautiful thoughts on the real signification of the Lord's transfiguration. This scholar and divine considers that, just at this period of his public ministry, Jesus had reached the zenith of his power. This is indicated by the grandeur of his recent miracles. There was nothing higher and more sublime to be reached by him. From this moment, therefore, earthly existence became too narrow a sphere. There only remained death; but death is, as St. Paul says, the wages of sin. For the sinless Man the issue of life is not the sombre passage of the tomb, rather is it the. royal road of a glorious transformation. Had the hour of this glorification struck for Jesus? and was the Transfiguration the beginning of the heavenly renewal? Gess, quoted by Godet—from whose precis of Lange's note these observations are derived—gives expression to Lange's thoughts in these words: "This event (the Transfiguration) indicates the ripe preparation of Jesus for immediate entrance upon eternity." "Had not Jesus himself," goes on Godet to say, thus con-eluding this very beautiful and suggestive, if somewhat fanciful note, "voluntarily suspended this change which was on the point of being wrought in him, this moment, the moment of his glorious transfiguration would have become the moment of his ascension."
The scene at the foot of the hill of Transfiguration. The healing of the demoniac boy.
On the next day, when they were come down from the hill. The Transfiguration had taken place in the late evening or night. It probably lasted for a much longer period than the brief account, preserved by the eye-witnesses, seems to speak of. How long the three disciples slept is not mentioned. Wearied and exhausted, deep slumber overtook them while the Master was praying. When they awoke, Jesus was bathed in glory, and the two heavenly spirits were conversing with him. They only tell us generally that the subject which occupied the blessed ones was their Master's speedy departure from earth; no mention is made of the time all this consumed. It was morning when they rejoined their company. Much people met him. St. Mark, whose account here is more detailed—evidently Peter preserved a very vivid memory of these events—tells us that the crowds, "when they beheld him, were greatly amazed." Without concluding that any lingering radiance of the last night's glory was still playing about his Person, we may well imagine that a holy joy just then lit up that face over which for some time past a cloud of deep sadness had brooded. The heavenly visitants; the words he had been listening to, which told him of his home of grandeur and of peace, voluntarily left by him that he might work his mighty earthwork;—had no doubt strengthened with a strange strength the Man of sorrows; and when the crowds gazed on his face they marvelled, as St. Mark tells us, at what they saw there.
A man of the company cried out, saying, Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child. The tender sympathy of St. Luke is shown in this little detail. He is the only evangelist who mentions that the poor tormented boy was an only child.
And I besought thy disciples to cast him out; and they could not. This appears to have been a case of the deadliest kind of epileptic lunacy. Our Lord distinctly assumes here that the disease in this case was occasioned by an unclean spirit who had taken possession of the suffering child. The whole question of demoniacal possession, its extent, its cause, whether or no it still survives in some of the many mysterious phases of madness, is very difficult. It has been discussed elsewhere (see notes on Luke 4:33 and following verses).
And Jesus answering said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you?. This grave and mournful expression of the loving but just Master was addressed to the entire crowd, in whose midst he now found himself. The people, swayed hither and thither, now enthusiastic in his favour, when soma sweet promise, or noble sentiment, or marvellous work touched their hearts, now' coldly indifferent or even hostile, when his teaching seemed to exact some painful sacrifice of self at their hands.—these were looking On with quiet indifference at his disciples' failure in the case of the poor possessed child, and listened to their scribes as they wrangled with the Lord's dismayed and perplexed followers. These followers, trying to imitate their Master in his wonder-works, but failing because, after all, their faith in him wavered. The rather of the child, confessing his unbelief, but utterly wretched at the sight of the suffering of his boy. The ghastly spectacle of the insane boy writhing and foaming on the ground, and then lying all bruised and dishevelled, with the pallor of death on the poor, pain-wrung face, and this sorely afflicted one a child, one of those little ones whom Jesus loved so well. Poor child-sufferer, on whose comparatively innocent life the sin of mother and father weighed so heavily! What a contrast for the Lord between the heavenly hours he had just been spending on the mount, and this sad sight of pain and suffering, of jealousy and wrangling, of doubts and indecision, in the midst of which he now stood! ") faithless and perverse," cried the pitiful Lord with a burst of intense sorrow, "how long shall I be with you, and suffer you?" One word, he knew, and for him all this might be exchanged for the scenes of heaven, for the company of angels and of blessed spirits, for the old home of grandeur and of peace; only it was just to heal this bitter curse that he had left his heaven-home. But the contrast between the glory of the Transfiguration mount and the memories which they evoked, and the present scene of pain and woe unutterable, of human passions and weakness, called forth from the Lord this bitter, sorrowful expression.
And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father. A word of the great Master was sufficient, and the spirit which had brought the cruel curse of disease and madness into the boy was cast out, and the strange cure was complete. St. Peter supplied St. Mark with fuller details here, and especially adds one priceless gem of instruction in the Christian life. The Lord told the father of the suffering child that the granting of the boon he craved for his son depended on his own faith. Then the poor father, won by the Divine goodness manifest in every act and word of Jesus, stammered out that pitiful, loving expression, re-echoed since in so many thousand hearts, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." If he accepted and rewarded that trembling, wavering faith in him, will he reject mine?
And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God. But while they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did, he said unto his disciples. Once more were kindled the disciples' hopes of an earthly royalty in the Person of that strange Messiah. For was he not Messiah after all, who with a word worked such stupendous works as the miracle they had just witnessed? But Jesus read their thoughts, and again tells them (in Luke 9:44) of the terrible doom which awaited him. They must remember there was no earthly crown or human sovereignty for him.
And they feared to ask him of that saying. The "saying" was to them so utterly distasteful, perhaps inconceivable. It is possible that they thought this betrayal and death simply veiled for them some bit of teaching to be explained hereafter; it is possible they at once dismissed it from their minds, as men often do painful and mournful forebodings. At all events, they dreaded asking him any questions about this dark future of suffering which he said lay before him.
How the Lord answered the question which arose among the disciples as to which was the greatest.
Luke 9:46, Luke 9:47
Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart. Somewhere on their journey back to the south, between the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi and the old scene of his labours, Capernaum, this dispute must have taken place. Shortly after their arrival at Capernaum, the Master called them together, and gave them the following lesson on human greatness. Took a child, and set him by him. St. Mark mentions that this teaching was "in the house," and commentators have suggested, with some probability, that the house was St. Peter's, and the child one of his. Clement of Alexandria ('Stromata,' 3:448, B) especially mentions that this apostle had children. St. Matthew relates this incident at greater length, and, still dwelling upon the text of "the little one," gives us another and different sketch of the Master's teaching on this occasion. St. Mark tells us how Jesus folded his arms round the little creature in loving fondness. If the child, as above suggested, was Peter's own, such an incident as that embrace would never have been forgotten by the father, and would, of course, find a place in the memoir of his faithful disciple Mark. A (late) tradition of the Eastern Church identifies this child with him who afterwards became the famous Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, a martyr. Ignatius styled himself Theophoros; this, understood in a passive sense, would signify "one who had been carried by God." But in this Father's own writings we find the name used by himself in an active sense, as "one who carries God within himself." And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child. The dispute "which of them should be greatest," which no doubt had taken place among themselves in their last journey from the north of the Holy Land to Capernaum, was still a leading thought in the hearts of the twelve, so little had they really understood their Master's teaching, and especially his later solemn words which pointed the way of the cross as the only way to heaven and to real greatness. The Lord reads these poor sinful hearts; then, calling them together, he takes a child in his arms, and sets him by him. By this action the Lord answers the silent questioning thought of the worldly twelve. "The child stands as the type of the humble and childlike disciple, and (the dispute having been about the comparative greatness of the disciples) such a disciple is the greatest; he is so honoured by God that he stands on earth as the representative of Christ, and of God himself (verse 47), since "he that is [willingly] least among you all, the same shall be [truly] great' (verse 48)" (Meyer).
Whosoever shall receive this child in my Name receiveth me. The general lesson here—and it is one that has gone to the heart more or less of all professing Christians—is that all the followers of Jesus should practise humility before, and show tenderness to, the weak. It is one of the great sayings of the Master which has stirred that practical charity which has ever been one of the great characteristic features of Christianity. But while the general lesson is clear, the particular reminder still claims attention. Singular and touching was the affection of Jesus for children. Several marked instances of this are noted in the Gospels. To this passage, however, and to the sequel as reported in St. Mark (Mark 9:42), may be especially referred the thought which has founded the countless child-homes, schools, and hospitals in all lands in different ages, and in our own time the institution of the Sunday school, not the least beautiful of Christian works done in the Master's Name.
Luke 9:49, Luke 9:50
A question put by John.
And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy Name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. The character of John is a strangely interesting one. With the exception of his forming one of the chosen three who were in a peculiar manner received into their Master's confidence, John seldom appears, during the public ministry of Christ, to have played a prominent part. Many years had to elapse before he attained that unique position of influence in the early Church which no one seems to have disputed. In the mean time, his character was slowly forming. Fiery and impetuous, although reserved and retiring, it seemed in these first days scarcely probable that such a nature would ever deepen or ripen into that John who became the world-teacher of his Master's love. St. Luke here records two circumstances which suggested some of the Master's important teaching, in both of which John plays the prominent part. The question of John was evidently suggested by Jesus' words spoken in connection with his teaching respecting little ones. "Whosoever," said the Master, "shall receive this child in my Name." But John and others had just been sternly rebuking some one not of their company, who had been using, to some effect evidently, that same Master's Name, which possessed, as John saw, wondrous power. Had he and his friends been doing right in rebuking the comparative stranger for using a Name which Jesus, in his words just spoken, seemed to regard as the common property of kindly devout men? Meyer remarks here "that outside the company of disciples of Jesus there were, even then, men in whose hearts, his teaching and acts had evoked a higher and even a supernatural power. Certain sparks which had fallen here and there beyond the little circle of his own, kindled flames occasionally away from the central fire." Those who were ever close to the Master seemed to dread lest, if these were allowed unchecked to teach and to work in the Name, grave error might be disseminated. Some natural jealousy of these outsiders no doubt influenced men like John in their wish to confine the work in the limits of their own circle.
And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us. The older authorities, manuscripts, and the more venerable versions here read for the last clause, "He that is not against you is for you." Exegetically as well as critically this amended reading is to be preferred. The offence of the stranger, if it were an offence, was not against Jesus, whose Name had evidently been used reverently and with faith, but against the disciples, whose rights and privileges were presumably infringed upon. The Master's reply contained a broad and far-reaching truth. No earthly society, however holy, would be able exclusively to claim the Divine powers inseparably connected with a true and faithful use of his Name. This is the grand and massive answer which stretches over a history of eighteen centuries, and which will possibly extend over many yet to come; the answer which gives an ample reason why noble Christian work is done whether emanating from Churches bearing the name of Protestant, or Roman, or Greek.
The So-Called Journeyings Towards Jerusalem.
The great characteristic feature in St. Luke's Gospel, distinguishing it especially from the other two synoptical Gospels of SS. Matthew and Mark, are the events in the public ministry of Jesus dwelt on in the next ten chapters of this Gospel. Many incidents in the succeeding chapters are recorded by this evangelist alone. Two questions suggest themselves.
1. To what period of the Lord's public work does this large and important section of our Gospel refer?
2. (1) Why is this period, comparatively speaking, so little dwelt on by the other two synoptists SS. Matthew and Mark?
(2) Where did St. Luke probably derive his information here?
1. Commentators frequently, and with some accuracy, speak of this great section of St. Luke's work as "the journeyings towards Jerusalem." Three times does this writer especially tell us that this was the object and end of the journeys he was describing; in Luke 9:51, "He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem;" in Luke 13:22, "He went through the cities and villages … journeying toward Jerusalem;" in Luke 17:11, "And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem."
These journeyings to Jerusalem were evidently just before the end. They were the close of the public life. They immediately preceded the last Passover Feast, which all the four evangelists tell us the Lord kept at Jerusalem, and in the course of which he was crucified. They fill up, then, the last six or seven months of his earth-life—that period, roughly speaking, from the Feast of Tabernacles (alluded to in John 7:1-53.), which falls in October, until the Passover Feast in the following spring. These last months were occupied by the Master in a slow progress from Capernaum, through those parts of Galilee hitherto generally unvisited by him, gradually making his way toward the capital, which we know he reached in time for the Passover Feast, during which he was crucified.
In the course of this period it seems, however, likely that, in St. Luke's account of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), we have an allusion to a short visit to Jerusalem of the Lord, undertaken in the course of these journeyings, at the Dedication Feast (John 10:22).
2. (1) In these last journeyings it appears that the Lord was in the habit of constantly sending out by themselves small companies of his disciples as missionaries in the neighbouring districts, thus accustoming his followers, in view of his own approaching death, to act alone and to think alone. It is, therefore, extremely probable that SS. Matthew and Peter were, during this period of our Lord's work, constantly absent from their Master's immediate neighbourhood. These apostles would naturally choose, as the special subjects of their own teaching and preaching, those events at which they personally had been present. Much of what was done and said by the Master during these last six months was done during the temporary absence, on special mission duty, of these two evangelists.
(2) When we consider the probable sources whence St. Luke derived his detailed information concerning this period, we are, of course, landed in conjecture. We know, however, that the whole of his narrative was composed after careful research into well-sifted evidence, supplied generally by eyewitnesses, of the events described.
Thus, in the earlier chapters, we have already discussed the high probability of the Virgin-mother herself having furnished the information; so here there is little doubt that SS. Paul and Luke, in their researches during the composition of the Third Gospel, met with men and women who had formed part of that larger company which had been with Jesus, we know, during those last months of his ministry among us. Nor is it, surely, an unreasonable thought for us to see, in connection with this important portion of our Gospel, the hand of the Holy Spirit, who, unseen, guided the pen of the four evangelists, especially throwing Luke and his master, Paul, into the society of men who had watched the great Teacher closely during that period of his work, when the other two synoptists, SS. Matthew and Peter (Mark), were frequently absent.
From the language employed in this portion of the Gospel, there seems a high probability that many of the notes or documents supplied to SS. Luke and Paul were written or dictated in Aramaic (Hebrew).
The Samaritan insult to the Lord. The Master's reception of it.
And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem. This is a very solemn introduction to this great section of St. Luke's writing. It at once marks off all that now follows as a winding-up of the earthly ministry. The expression, "that he should be received up," is simply the rendering of one Greek word, which signifies "ascension." The Passion, the cross, and the grave are passed over here, and the glorious goal alone is spoken of. What a lesson of comfort is here suggested! The words in the Greek original, "he steadfastly set his face," are evidently literally translated from a well-known Aramaic (Hebrew) expression.
And sent messengers before his face. Probably, as the sequel shows, these were John and James. This was necessary at this period of the Lord's life. A numerous company now usually followed the Lord; it is probable that many of those most devoted to him, both men and women, scarcely ever left him, now that the popular enthusiasm was waning, and the number of his deadly enemies increasing. And they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. These Samaritans were the descendants of a, mixed race brought by Esarhaddon (eighth century b.c.) from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, to replace the ten tribes carried captive to the East. These became worshippers of Jehovah, and, on the return of Judah and Benjamin from captivity, sought to be allowed to share in the rebuilding of the temple, and then to be admitted as Jews to share in the religious privileges of the chosen race. Their wishes, however, were not complied with. They subsequently erected a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, and henceforward were known as a schismatical sect, and continued in a state of deadly enmity with the orthodox Jews. This bitter hatred is noticed in the New Testament (see John 4:9), where it is stated that the Jews "had no dealings with the Samaritans," whom they looked on as worse than heathen. In the synagogues these Samaritans were cursed. The Son of Sirach named them as a people that they abhorred (Ecclesiasticus 1:25, 26); and in the Talmud we read this terrible passage, "Let not the Samaritans have part in the resurrection!" This hatred, however, we know, was not shared in by our Lord, and on more than one occasion we find him dealing gently and lovingly with this race.
And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. Here the kindly overtures were rejected by the inhabitants of the Samaritan village in question. The reason alleged by them was that this Teacher, who wished to come among them, was on his way up to worship at the rival temple at Jerusalem.
And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? The natural fiery temper and burning zeal of these highly favoured and loved brethren—who, we know, received, perhaps in half-playful rebuke from their Master, the epithet Boanerges, sons of thunder-flamed forth at this insult offered to their adored Master in return for his tender, loving consideration for this hated people. Possibly, what these two had lately witnessed on the Transfiguration mount had deepened their veneration for their Lord, and caused them the more bitterly to resent an insult levelled at him. So they prayed him—him whom they had so lately seen radiant with the awful fire of heaven—prayed him to call that fire down, and so wither in a moment those impious despisers of his gracious goodness. The words, "even as Elias did," form a very appropriate historical instance, but they are of doubtful authenticity—the older authorities have them not.
But he turned, and rebuked them. "Christ wrought miracles in every element except fire. Fire is reserved for the consummation of the age" (Bengel). And said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. This entire clause is absent in a large majority of the elder authorities. On every principle of criticism it must be, if not struck out, at least marked as of doubtful authenticity. Commentators are, however, vary loth to part with the words, which breathe, as has been remarked, "a spirit far purer, loftier, and rarer than is usually discernible in ecclesiastical interpolations." They are certainly very old, as old almost as the apostolic age, being found in the Italic and Peshito, the most venerable of versions. Many, therefore, of the contemporaries of apostolic men must have read these words as a genuine utterance of our Lord. And they went to another village. The Greek word translated "another" suggests that our Lord, after the insult offered by the Samaritans, quietly turned his steps to a Jewish community.
Three would-be disciples. The Lord, in plain terms, tells them what is required of men who seek his service. The first two of these incidents in the life of Jesus are related by St. Matthew (Matthew 7:19-22), but he places them in an earlier period. They evidently did not occur together, but most probably they took place about this time in the ministry. They are placed in one group as examples of the way in which the Master replied to numerous offers of service made to him under different conditions.
Luke 9:57, Luke 9:58
Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. St. Matthew tells us that the "certain man" who made this offer of service was a scribe. This detail is useful, as showing that those who were attracted by our Lord's teaching were by no means confined to the peasant and artisan class. If we look a little below the surface of the gospel story, we find numberless indications of this. In the Master's reply it is probable that the depression, naturally the result of the churlish refusal of the Samaritan villagers to receive him (verse 53), coloured the sad but true reflection. The wise Master distrusted the too-ready enthusiasm of his would-be disciple. He saw it would never stand the test of the severe privation or the painful self-sacrifice which would be the sure lot of any one, especially at that juncture, really faithful to him.
Luke 9:59, Luke 9:60
And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. In this case the Master was the Summoner. Something he read in this man's heart, or words he had heard him speak, moved the Redeemer's great love, so he gave him a special call. This was a very different character from the last. Whereas that seeker for work from Jesus was impulsive, and even thoughtless in his enthusiasm, one who would begin to act without counting the cost, this one was overcautious, cold and calculating to an ungenerous excess; yet there was evidently sterling stuff in the character, for Jesus argues and remonstrates with him; there was, too, much gold mingled with the earth of that man's disposition, for the Lord lightly to let it go. It is thus that the Spirit pleads still with the selfishness which disfigures many a noble and devoted servant of high God. He seems to say, "My call is too imperative to yield to any home duties, however orderly and respectable." During the official days of mourning (in the case of a funeral, these were seven) the impression now made by his summoning words would have worn off. It is noticeable that the home duties, which Jesus suggested should give place to other and more imperative claims, were in connection with the dead. It was not the living father who was to be left to hirelings, only the inanimate corpse. It was rather a society call than a home or family duty which was to give place to work for the Master. St. Chrysostom makes some quaint, but strikingly practical, remarks here. "He might need, if he went to the funeral, to proceed, after the burial, to make inquiry about the will, and then about the distribution of the inheritance, and all the other things that followed thereupon; and thus waves after waves of things coming in upon him in succession might bear him very far away from the harbour of truth. For this cause, doubtless, the Saviour draws him, and fastens him to himself."
Luke 9:61, Luke 9:62
And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. There is an implied reproach in our Lord s reply to what, on first thoughts, would seem a reasonable request. The offer in this case came from the man himself. It would appear that this would-be disciple, on thinking the matter over, considered it might be desirable to hear what his family and friends thought about his project. At all events, one thing is clear his first ardour was cooled, his first love left. The Master, in his pithy but striking comment, shows when such is the case, that there is little or no hope of any real noble work being carried out. The simile is drawn from agricultural imagery. Jesus was evidently very familiar with all the little details of rural life. We find a similar saying in Hesiod, "He who would plough straight furrows, must not look about him" ('Works and Days,' 2:60).
(See afterwards in connection with Luke 10:1-42.)
The life saved, and the life lost.
The martyr, then, is the type of the true Christian. Christ (Luke 9:22) predicts his own fate. And immediately afterwards (Luke 9:23) he announces to all that whosoever will come after him must, through the gate of suffering, pass into glory; must "deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow him." This is the essence of martyrdom. The martyr is not necessarily one who is burned at the stake, or slain by the sword, or left to rot in damp prison-cells; he is one who, in will, surrenders the life to God, and daily bears the cross of Jesus. Let not the variations of the meaning attached to the words "save" and "lose" be overlooked. In the first clause, "Whosoever wills to save shall lose;" i.e. whosoever is bent on preserving the life may in a sense preserve it, but, in the nobler sense, he shall lose his real being, or as in the verse following, "he shall lose himself." In the second clause, "Whosoever wills to lose his life for Christ's sake"—to subordinate all considerations merely personal to the command of a supreme affection—may incur shame, may suffer many things, but, in the nobler sense, he shall realize the truth of his existence, he shall receive the crown of his life. Ah! wonderfully suggestive are the sharp antitheses of Jesus' saying. What, then, is the abiding reality of the Christian type of manhood? of the true martyr-life? Shall we say that the abiding reality is a capacity of self-forgetfulness? Undoubtedly, there is this capacity. We recognize the man of genuine goodness at once. With him there is no part-acting. He is not one who stands before mirrors, studying attitudes and effects; in what he does there is the absence of the feeling of self. "Whither the spirit that is in him is to go, he goes straight forward." A great enthusiasm always removes the action, if not from the shadow, at least from "the corrosive power," of selfishness. Certainly, Christ looked forward to a love that could hold the closest affections as only second to it; that could sacrifice all in which the self is most bound up; that, as against the very pleadings of nature, would close with a higher vision, "Here am I; send me." And, more or less, this is always a characteristic of the martyred soul. "If," says Thomas a Kempis, "a man should give all his substance, yet is it nothing. And if he should practise great repentance, still it is little. And if he should attain to all knowledge, he is still afar off. And if he should be of great virtue, and of fervent devotion, yet there is much wanting; especially one thing which is most necessary for him. And what is that? That leaving all, he forsake himself, and go wholly from himself, and retain nothing out of self-love." But, when we speak of self-forgetfulness, we speak of only half the truth. The question remains—Whence the inward pressure which causes this self-forgetting spirit? We cannot be self-denying by the mere resolution to be so. We may subject ourselves to the most rigid of disciplines, and the result only be that we assert self in one aspect to deny self in another aspect. There must be some force in the soul, some obligation which, once discerned, becomes an irresistible spiritual power. Take, e.g., one of the purest forms of self-devotion. The mother's love is not an affair of reasoning. There is no calculation of quantity in it. When the child is stricken with sickness she watches by the bed and ministers to the wants of the sufferer, denying herself by day and night, and never stopping to ask what is the limit to be observed. The action is the consequence of an obligation inlaid in the relation of mother to child. This relation takes her out of self. She "goes wholly from herself, and retains nothing out of self-love." She loses her life in the child. And thus with self-sacrifice, through its diversity of forms. Its root is, some relation into which one mind enters with another, or with a higher and vaster issue whose vision has dawned on it. The relation supplies at once the motive, and the food which nourishes the motive. It is in the mind an omnipotent "I must." Remember, self-sacrifice may be a power for evil as well as good. The devil's martyrs far outnumber God's martyrs. For what is evil, or for ends that are "not of the Father, but of the world," persons spend themselves with a zeal and persistence which may well put Christians to shame. Self-consecration is not necessarily a Christian virtue. It is the character of the alliance into which the soul enters which makes the virtue. "He that loseth his life for my sake the same shall save it." This was the new thing which came into the world through Jesus Christ. Truthfulness as between man and man was no new thing. The sanctions of morality were no new thing. Through the religions and philosophies of paganism there came gleams of an ethic pure and spiritual. But an obligation to One unseen, yet ever-present, One to whom the life was bound, and in whom the life was hidden; an obligation that regulated all aims, that was sovereign over all the action, to deny which, or be false to which, was the soul's damnation;—that was the new thing. And that new thing was the secret of the Christian martyr-life. And it was this Christian martyr-life which lifted the individual man from his obscurity, as a mere unit in the mass of humanity, and invested him, be he bond or be he free, with the inalienable glory of the calling—"an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Christ." And from that day to this there has echoed back, from a great multitude which no man can number, the sweetly constraining "For my sake." The cross of Jesus has really gone before the ages. Its spirit has entered into the conditions of human life, has influenced the minds and hearts of men far more widely than we can estimate. We trace its witness far outside the circle of his professing followers. But where the response to him is conscious, where there is a real personal relation to him, where the adoring cry of Thomas, "My Lord and my God!" is felt,—in this supreme spiritual affiance we recognize the pressure which constrains to live not to self, in Jesus' love to lose the life for Jesus, sake. It is this pressure which bestows a beauty quite unique on the career of a man who has a place in the foremost rank of Christian heroes. Exploits brilliant and daring are associated with the name of Gordon. And whether we think of him in China, or in Egypt, or in the quiet garrison town, or speeding on the swift dromedary across the desert, or shut up in Khartoum, waiting for the succours that arrived too late, and facing death as one who had learned to regard it without quailing,—there is always an unmistakable and lofty individuality. But the crown of the glory is the spiritual elevation of the soul, the enthusiasm for God and good which filled the heart. How he believed in God!—not to him a mere sign of some unknown quantity, but the Living One, the Father in heaven. 'How he believed m Christ!—not a mere "apotheosis of humanity," but Jesus Christ who is to-day what he was yesterday, and of whom he writes, "There would be no one so unwelcome to come and reside in this world as our Saviour, while the world is in the state it now is." How he believed in the government of the world by a loving and righteous will! To reveal this will; to work out its purpose with all his might; to raise the down man; to strike the fetter from the slave; to make God's universe a little better, happier, wholesomer;—for this he lived, for this he died. Died? Nay, verily, "the immortal dead live again in minds made better by their presence." He who loses his life for Jesus' sake, he only has saved it. Let this, then, be accepted as the lesson of Jesus' saying: We find the true life, tile great, wide, everlasting Christlife, only by losing, for his sake, the narrow, small, merely self-life. Shall it be said by any that to speak thus is to speak in parables? that heroics are not for ordinary Christian people living in quiet, ordinary ways? There is no parable. The words bear on all in all sorts and conditions. Every person is called to settle on what plan his life shall be built, what manner of person he shall be. He who has no ideal of conduct is little better than a creature drifting through his days. The Christian ideal is sketched in this word of the Lord. If any one will come after Christ, let him know this; and let him know further that it is not the circumstances that make the man—he makes his place, works his ideal out in different kinds of circumstances. General Gordon, in an obscurer lot, in a humbler sphere, might not have developed the same amount of force; but, given the grace of God with him, he would have developed the same kited of force, he would have been the same type of man. And it is faithfulness to this type in the place we occupy, there not elsewhere, that Christ demands. Are we confessing him before men? Day by day, do we take his cross and follow him? Then, no matter what the scene of the life-work may be, we are losing our life for his sake. This is the obligation of that life" which martyred men have made more glorious for us who strive to follow."
"When, in the desert, he was girding himself for the work of life, angels of life came and ministered to him. Now, in the fair world, when he is girding himself for the work of death, the ministrants come to him from the grave, but from the grave conquered—one from that tomb under Abarim which his own hand had sealed long ago, the other from the rest into which he had entered without seeing corruption. 'There stood by him Moses and Elias, and spake of his decease.' And when the prayer is ended, the task accepted, then first since the star passed over him at Bethlehem the full glory falls on him from heaven, and the testimony is borne to his everlasting Sonship and power—'Hear him!'" Thus beautifully and truly writes Ruskin of the solemn transaction in Jesus' history recorded by the synoptical evangelists. It is a new anointing of Jesus as the Christ of God, his installation into the last part of his ministry on the earth. At the baptism, the Spirit descended, and the voice came from heaven, "My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." This was the general inauguration of the Messiahship. Now there comes the special inauguration of Christ as "the End of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth." "Moses and Elias appear to hold converse on that sublime event which had been the great central subject of all their teaching, and solemnly to consign into his hands, once and for all, in a symbolical and glorious representation, their delegated and expiring power." Now the voice is, "Hear" not Moses and Elias, but "my beloved Son!" A wondrous, awe-striking hour! The hush over nature, the darkness illumined by an inexpressible radiance, the face of the Man of sorrows then and there shining as the sun, the raiment penetrated by the glory "white and glistering" as the light, and the conversation of the three shining ones,—these, the features of the scene, left an indelible impression on the chosen witnesses. Peter, ever ready, though not ever wise, has some foolish speech about erecting three booths. But by-and-by they realize the significance of that which they saw. "We were eye-witnesses of his majesty," cries the same Peter. "This voice we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount." Not, indeed, that such a momentary illumination of Christ is to be held as a proof of first authority. He proceeds, "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place." But it was a hint as to the "power and coming of the Lord Jesus," confirming the "more sure word," and helping into the understanding of the truth that, with the decease at Jerusalem, the old was finished and the new began. "God had reconciled all things to himself." Now, with regard to the vision, observe—
I. IT WAS ON A MOUNTAIN. The hill or upland scene occupies a prominent place in the history of our Lord. It seems to have been a craving of his human heart to get "where beyond the voices there is peace." There he could breathe more freely; there he found a nourishment and invigoration which were welcome. On the high ground he preached his famous sermon. To the mountain he was wont to retire for prayer. When all went to their own homes, he went to the Mount of Olives. On the hill of Golgotha he
Christ should distinguish humility as the characteristic of the child? But is not the essence of humility unconsciousness of self? And is not this unconsciousness the trait conspicuous in a truly childlike child? The little one has a will, a temper, but there is not much of the feeling of self. Watch the caresses and endearments; they are less love seeking to be loved, than love merely loving, absorbed in loving. Observe the play; the costly toy is seldom the most prized; the pleasure found in toy or romp is the outgoing of self. Nature is spontaneous, free. Therein, says Jesus, we have a revelation of heaven, a sign of the real greatness. The image likest God, the fact, in this universe, nearest God, with most in it of the stamp of the high and holy One, is the little child whom Christ has called. The everlasting love humbles itself as the little child. It loves, it is absorbed in loving. The Incarnation only makes us see what is hidden in the very being of God—self-emptying, making self of no reputation. The King of kings is the Servant of servants. He is among us the one that serveth. "Be ye therefore imitators of God as the children of his love." For it is pride that stands between us and the true greatness. We are great only in the measure in which we lose ourselves, in which we find our life, in a cause or truth which is higher than ourselves. The world has three chief patterns of greatness. Culture—the development, through science and art, of a certain inward sweetness and light. Power—the ability to use men as pawns on a chess-board, to project far and near the image of self. Luxury—imbedding the years in the voluptuous comfort which money commands. That which is common to all these forms, from the most gross to the most refined, is that the supreme reference of the mind is to having rather than being, getting rather than giving, being served rather than serving. Christ's idea is in sharp antagonism to this. To be of use, to be free from that self-love which is always akin to self-idolatry, to be men in understanding but children in heart and spirit,—this is the mark which he presents when, in answer to the reasoning in the heart, he says, pointing to the child," He that is least among you all, the same shall be great." A sentence ever to be pondered, implying (Matthew 18:3) that the soul has been turned to the right law of its being. "He restoreth my soul." With this lesson of humility there is joined at this time a lesson of charity and forbearance. How this lesson was occasioned is explained in verse 49. The expression used by the Lord, "in my Name," seems to have suggested to John an incident, perhaps the circumstance which somehow gave rise to the reasoning, "Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy Name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us." Interdict honestly enough meant! But one wholly foreign to the law of the spirit of Christ's life. His greatness is that he is not confined to any circle; his gospel is "the presence of a good diffused." There is a virtue in even the hem of his garment. The communion of God with men is always wider than the communion of men with God. He is in contact with minds which do not even consciously surrender to him. Beware of identifying the bestowment of spiritual grace with the acknowledgments of belief according to any set of words, or with adherence to any particular company of believers. "The Spirit divideth to every man severally as he wills." It is not for any to forbid another "because he followeth not with us." No; in the next chapter we shall find Christ protesting, "He that is not with me is against me." That is the one side of his mind. But it is balanced by the other (verse 50), "He that is not against us is for us." The two sentences are not mutually contradictory. The one establishes that there is no middle course between Christ and Satan; that those who will not join Christ in his warfare against Satan must, directly or indirectly, aid Satan against Christ. In the other it is shown that the man whom John and his brethren forbade was really with Christ in his warfare, and had received from him the faith which was mighty against the kingdom of darkness. The miracle in Christ's Name was the proof that he was really on Christ's side, gathering with him. "Try the spirits," such is practically the rejoinder of Jesus; "do not forbid simply because one has not complied with what you consider necessary or right; look at the character of the deed, at the motive present to him; if that bear the mark of my Name, account him with me, although he follows not with you." John would have been justified in going to the man who cast out devils, and expounding the way of God more perfectly to him; he was not justified in prohibiting. Most difficult of graces is the grace of charity; charity as distinguished from the toleration which is the outcome of a mind that has no positive conviction of its own, and regards all views as alike to it; charity which has its hand firm in definite truth, but recognizes that Christ, not any man or any system, is the Truth; "Thou, O Lord, art more than they; "and because of this reverence, this feeling of the infiniteness of truth, allows for many forms of apprehension, welcoming the Name of the Lord, howsoever it is revealed in character and life, and, when there cannot be fellowship, sorrowing rather than denouncing. Humility and charity God has joined together. They are the two inseparable features of the childlike character. Where humility reigns, there is always the desire to be fair, to acknowledge the excellences even of doctrines and opinions to which the mind is opposed; most of all, of persons from whom it may differ. "0 Lord, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth; send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee."
The face steadfastly set.
Very pathetic and sublime is the announcement of the fifty-first verse. The bright, joyous spring-time has gone. The cornfields and gardens, the hill and dale, the "lake's still face sleeping sweetly in the embrace of mountains terraced high with mossy stone"—all the scenery which the Son of man so dearly loved, must now be left behind. No more for him the crowds of simple fisher-folk hanging on his words; no more for him the circuits from village to village, returning to the quiet Capernaum home; no more for him the happy work which marked the earlier years of the Prophet of Nazareth. Now there are only the deepening opposition of scribe and Pharisee, and the lengthening shadow of the cross. He is the Man of men. Not without pain must he have left Nazareth in the distance, and taken his way through the Plain of Esdraelon, past Nain and Shunem, bound for Jerusalem. But this is sublime: "He steadfastly set his tree." It implies that there were solicitations, temptations in another direction. The Christ of God needed to gird up all his energies. Flesh and blood cried, "Stay a little longer at least." The mind of the Son made answer, "Nay, how am I straitened until the baptism be accomplished!" It is of an hour in this journey that Mark speaks, when he says that "Jesus went before the disciples: and they were amazed; and, as they followed, they were afraid." Why they were afraid, we are not told; but we may well conceive that there was the print of a secret agony on his brow, that there was something in his aspect, as he walked a little way ahead of them, which awed and silenced. His face was "steadfastly set." And would that we better knew the secret of this steadfast face! How we shrink from the duty which our Father lays on us! How we withdraw our gaze from the cups of suffering, from the cross-bearing, which our Father assigns us! How we run away from what is irksome! or, when we must do it, how often we meet it with a countenance awry! Lord, we cannot penetrate the mystery of thy way. At times even thy presence seems dreadful. But lead us in the truth of thy steadfastness, and keep us following thee, even although amazed and afraid! Two features of the beginning of the journey are set before us in the passage under review.
I. THE ONE, THE REJECTION OF THE LORD BY A VILLAGE OF THE SAMARITANS. And this for a reason which suggests to us many similar mistakes and misjudgments. Bigotry dethrones reason, and stirs up what is worst against what is best in the heart. To these rude villagers, the one condemning circumstance is that his face is towards Jerusalem. If he had been only going in the other direction, they would have been forward with welcomes, and in return would have received unspeakable blessings. Let us not be too ready to cast the stone. We are all apt to be carried away by the appearance of a person or thing, and, in advance of rational considerations, to judge, sentence, or condemn. Thus many a time the messengers of the Lord, with blessings in their hand, seeking to make ready for him a place in human charities and kindnesses, are repelled. "What wonder," says an old Latin Father, "that the sons of thunder wished to flash lightning!" (verse 54). There have been many such Boanerges since the days of James and John. They are the exponents of a tendency too frequently illustrated in the ecclesiastical world, to meet Samaritan disdain and rebuke by the terrors of the Lord, by the mere force of authority, in mistaken zeal to denounce and excommunicate. Ah! how often has the voice of the Gentlest repeated the rebuke in the ears of his followers, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."
II. THE OTHER FEATURE (though it does not seem clear when it occurred) is, THE WORD BEARING ON DISCIPLESHIP GIVEN IN REPLY TO THE THREE MEN WHO ARE INTRODUCED TO US AT THE CLOSE OF THE CHAPTER. These three men are types of classes whose representatives we need not go far to seek.
1. There is the hasty disciple. (Verse 57.) "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest." There is no discernment of what is implied in the "whithersoever." There is no counting of the cost. He is the man of impulse and fresh warm feeling, who has "received some word of Jesus with joy, yet has no root in himself." The" "I will" stands forth in its own strength, which is but weakness. Observe how the Lord deals with him. He does not reject the offer made; only he sends the man to prayer and self-review, giving him, in one far-reaching sentence, to see what in his rashness he had been undertaking. "Follow me whither soever I go? Knowest thou not that I am the poorest of all; that, in my Father's world, I am the One despised and rejected. No throne, no royalties, no kingdom as thou conceivest of a kingdom? The fox has its hole, the bird has its nest, the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. Think, then, on that to which thou wouldst pledge thyself." A word still called for! The will which is eager to follow is sometimes slow to receive the Law of the spirit of the life which is in Christ Jesus.
2. As the hasty disciple passes out of sight, lo! I another appears, he who may be called the dilatory. Notice the difference between the two. In the former, the initiative is taken by the man; in the latter, the initiative is taken by Jesus, with the short, peremptory "Follow me." The one has no misgivings; the other desires to follow but has not courage enough to express his convictions. And the mind is not decided. Secretly there is the attraction to the Lord, but there is also the home, the aged father, the circle in the quiet village. No; he is nearly, but not quite, ready. It is on him that the Lord looks. He sees him trembling at the word that is working in his soul, and forth comes the calling, empowering, "Follow!" Was it not so natural (verse 59), "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father"? And will not he whose commandment is, "Honour thy father and mother," at once consent? No; the Lord's need, the Lord's call, sets the private and domestic claims aside. Hence the enigmatical reply of verse 60. "Thou hast neighbours, brethren, who have not received the life that is pulsing in thee; to them may be left such a charge as that which thou hast named. But thou, with that life in thee, hast something else to do. Life must live; go thou, the living, and fulfil the living man's charge—preach the kingdom of God."
3. Finally, there comes into view the tender-hearted disciple. (Verse 61.) "I will follow thee"—only first let me say farewell at home; a last look, a last adieu is all. Ah! this may not be. The rejoinder is somewhat stern (verse 62). Now, what is the lesson? It is this. On the rocks and reef of the seashore we find creatures rooted to them. Scarcely can we separate the anemone from its reef. How terrible it would be for a human being, with a human soul, to be doomed, like that zoophyte, to cleave to that rock, with no variety except what is caused by the ebb and flow of the sea! Yet, is the life actually lived by many much better? Day following day, and always the monotone of a mere worldly life; no higher end, no higher reference; all of the earth, earthy! O piteous sight—a soul cleaving to the dust! Have we not seen a nobler truth? Looking into the face of Christ, is there not a voice bidding us higher? What but death and darkness could be if this earth of ours moved only in its own little diameter, around its own axis? Is it not the recipient of life and light because of its higher orbit as a member of the great solar system? And have we not spiritual life and light because the centre of our being is God? Then, disciple of Jesus, as he who has put his hand to the plough is intent on guiding it to the end of the furrow, ploughing on though the clod be hard and the work severe, be thou steadfast, thy face set with thy Lord toward his Jerusalem; no looking back, precursor of going back; this the prayer of all thy praying, "Lord, unite my heart, that I may love and fear thy Name."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Lessons from the first commission.
We learn from this commission and these instructions—
I. THAT CHRIST HAS DIVINE RESOURCES FOR SPECIAL NECESSITIES. He gave to the twelve "power and authority over all devils," etc. If he had such resources at his command then, when he was stooping so low and laying aside so much of heavenly rank and authority, of what is he not possessed now—now that he is enthroned, now that "all power is given unto him in heaven and on earth"? His Church may be very bitterly assailed; it may fall very low in consequence of the slackness and unfaithfulness of its own members; it has thus fallen more than once since he ascended: but in his hand are great reserves; his Divine resources are illimitable. He can equip and send forth men endowed with wonderful power, with marvellous faculty of persuasion or of organization; he can send forth those whose influence shall be felt even "where Satan's seat is," in the depths of spiritual evil and moral wrong, and thus he can establish or re-establish his kingdom.
II. THAT WE MAY COMMIT OURSELVES TO WORKS OF USEFULNESS though conscious of much insufficiency. We may be surprised that our Lord should send out the twelve to "preach the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:2) at a time when they had so very imperfect an idea as they then had of the character of that kingdom. Their views of it were very elementary; they had yet to learn concerning it facts and truths which seem to us of the first importance. But still he sent them; there was something, and something of substantial value, they could teach; and they were (all of them, at that time) genuinely attached to their Divine Master. If we wait until we know everything it would be well to know before we begin our ministry, we shall be postponing the time until our chance is gone. We should begin the work of holy usefulness early, even when there is very much to learn; we shall acquire knowledge, tact, wisdom, power, as we go on our way of service. The one requisite thing is that we shall be thoroughly sincere, and do all that we do out of a true and faithful heart.
III. THAT CHRIST MAY CALL ON US TO CAST OURSELVES ENTIRELY ON HIS PROVIDING AND PROTECTING CARE. This he did with his apostles now (Luke 9:3). Usually it is our duty to take every precaution for our bodily necessities; not to expose ourselves to needless perils or to injurious privations. But there are times when it becomes our duty—especially that of the Christian minister, or evangelist, or missionary—to cast aside all prudential considerations, to run all risks, to commit himself absolutely to the care of the Divine Father.
IV. THAT THERE IS A LIMIT WHICH EVEN HOLY PERSISTENCY MAY NOT PASS. (Luke 9:5.) It is well to work patiently on under discouragement. It is our sacred duty to do this; we are quite unfitted for the nobler spheres of service if we are not prepared to do so. We admire and applaud those who cannot tear themselves away from work which they have set their hearts on accomplishing. Let patient persistency have abundant scope for its exercise, but there is a point where it must stop; to exceed a certain measure is to be disregardful of those who would not reject the Word of life, on whom Christian service would not be spent in vain.
V. THAT PRACTICAL KINDNESS TO BODILY WANTS goes well with earnest attention to spiritual necessities (Luke 9:6).—C.
The tetrarch and the Teacher.
Our Lord had very little to do with the "kings and rulers of the earth," but they did occasionally cross his path. At such times he bore himself as we should expect he would—he who was so far below and yet so much further above them. I/is relations with Herod, as suggested by the text, were these—
I. THE TEACHER CAUSING TROUBLE TO THE TETRARCH. Herod "was perplexed" by all that he heard concerning Christ: his own wonderful works and those which he commissioned and enabled his apostles to perform (Luke 9:1-6) made an impression which entered and disturbed the palace. We have reason to think that in Herod's case the fame of Jesus brought not only mental perplexity, but moral perturbation also. He could not understand who this new, great prophet could be, and he consulted his court respecting him. But it was his own apprehension, if not his conviction, that the man whom he had so guiltily slain "was risen from the dead." His carefully trained judgment told him that he had nothing more to fear from that faithful spokesman of the Lord. But his conscience, that struck deeper than his judgment, compelled him to fear that he had not seen the last of that beheaded prisoner. It is a very easy thing to take a human life, but it is a very difficult thing to escape from responsibility for a human death.
1. Christ's coming to us has caused and will cause a large amount of intellectual perplexity. The world has for eighteen centuries been asking who he is, and what is the true and full account of him. In this mental perplexity there is nothing to be regretted; there is no better subject on which the human intelligence could be employed.
2. Christ's coming to man has occasioned much trouble of soul. The truths he taught, the life he lived, the claims he makes upon us,—these have stirred the human conscience to its depth; they have awakened a sense of sin and ill desert; they have turned a strong light upon the guilty past and the perilous future; they have called forth much self-condemnation and self-reproach. It is well that they have done, it is right that they should do so.
II. THE TETRARCH DESIRING TO SEE THE TEACHER. "He desired to see him," perhaps to have his mental curiosity set at rest; perhaps to have his conscientious fears appeased; perhaps for both these reasons. Certainly not in the hope of hearing heavenly truth, of hearing that Divine wisdom which would enable him to be a better man and to live a nobler life. And his motive being low, it proved, as we might have expected, that when he did see him, the interview gave him no gratification, but only added to his guilt (Luke 23:8-11). It is well, indeed, to wish to come into the presence of Christ, but whether the fulfilment of our desire will end in good or evil depends mainly upon our motive.
1. A selfish spirit is almost sure to be unblessed, is most likely to have its guilt increased thereby.
2. A spirit of mere curiosity will pro].)ably return unrewarded, though it may meet with a gracious benediction.
3. A spirit of devotion and inquiry will certainly gain a blessing from his holy hand. We may look at—
III. THE TEACHER AND THE TETRARCH IN THEIR STRONG CONTRASTS.
1. Of present position.
2. Of moral character and the purpose of their life.
3. Of their destiny.—C.
The healing hand of Christ.
"And healed them that had need of healing.'' And who are they to whom these words do not apply? In a world as full of sin as ours is, there is nothing of which we have greater need than a Divine Healer. For sin means sickness, disease, derangement, pain—both spiritual and corporeal. Every human ear wants to hear those gracious words, "I am the Lord that healeth thee;" every human heart has occasion to plead, "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;" every soul is again and again in need of the great beneficent Physician.
I. As THOSE LIABLE TO DISEASE AND PAIN. Considering the extreme intricacy of our bodily structure, and considering also the irregularities and evils of which we are guilty, it is wonderful that there is as much health and as little sickness as we find. But he is an exception to his fellows who goes for many years without ailment and, indeed, without illness. And we have all of us reason to bless the Lord of our lives that he heals us so readily and so often. He heals in two ways.
1. By conferring on us a nature which has recuperative powers, so that without any medical aid the wound is healed, the organ recovers its power and fulfils its functions.
2. By giving us medicinal herbs which our science can discover and apply, the nature of which is to heal and to restore. In both these cases it is the Lord of our human body and of nature who "works" (John 5:17) for our benefit. Our art, where it is exercised, only supplies one condition out of many; it alone would be utterly insufficient. Whenever we are healed of any malady, slight or serious, we should join in the exclamation of the psalmist (Psalms 103:3), and feel that we have one reason more for gratitude and devotion. Let those who have been brought back from the gates of the grave by Christ's pitiful and healing kindness consider whether they are paying him the vows which they made in the hour of suffering and danger (Psalms 66:14).
II. As THE CHILDREN OF SORROW. Possibly we may know nothing of serious sickness—there are those who escape it—but we all know what sorrow means. Trouble is a visitor that knocks at every door, that finds its way to every human heart. It may be some gradually approaching evil, which at length culminates in disaster; or it may be some sudden blow, which badly bruises if it does not break the heart. It may be the heavy, entangling loss; or the grave, oppressive anxiety; or the lamentable failure; or the sore and sad bereavement. How precious, then, beyond all price, the healing of the Divine Healer! In these dark hours our Divine Lord comes to us with ministering hand.
1. He impels all those who are dear to us to grant us their tenderest and most sustaining love; and human kindness is a very healing thing.
2. He grants us his own most gracious sympathy; he is touched with a feeling of our infirmity; we know and feel that he is with us, watching over us, "afflicted in our affliction;" and the sympathy of our Saviour is a precious balm to our wounded spirit.
3. He comes to us in the office and the Person of the Divine Comforter, directly soothing and healing our torn and troubled hearts. Thus he heals us according to the greatness of our need.
III. AS THOSE WHO SUFFER FROM A WOUNDED CHARACTER. A wounded spirit is worse than a bodily infirmity (Proverbs 18:14); but a wounded character is worse than a wounded spirit, for that is a spirit that has injured itself. There are those who present to their friends and neighbours the spectacle of bodily health and material prosperity; but what their Master sees when he regards them is spiritual infirmity. They are weak, sickly, inwardly deranged. Their hearts are very far from being as he would like to see them; instead of ardent love is lukewarmness; instead of reverence is flippancy of spirit; instead of a holy scrupulousness and a wise restraint is laxity if not positive disobedience; instead of zeal is coldness and indifference to his cause and kingdom. Of all men living, these are they who have most "need of healing." And Christ both can and will heal them. To such as these he says, "I will heal thy back-sliding; "Wilt thou be made whole?" And if they will but go to him in a spirit of humility, of faith, of reconsecration, they will receive power from his gracious touch, they will rise renewed; and as they rise from the couch of spiritual langour and indifference to walk, to run in the way of his commandments, to climb the heights of close and holy fellowship with God, a deeper note of joy will sound from the depth of their hearts than ever comes from the lips of bodily convalescence, "I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me."—C.
The Divine provision for the world's need.
This miracle of our Lord, meeting as it did the present bodily necessities of the multitude about him, stands for ever as a picture and parable of the far more wonderful and the gloriously bountiful provision which the Saviour of mankind has made for the deeper necessities of our race.
I. OUR HOLY SOLICITUDE FOR THE SPIRITUALLY DESTITUTE. There is a note of true sympathy in the language of the disciples. They were concerned to think of that great number of people, among whom were "women and children" (Matthew 14:21), having gone so long without food, and being "in a desert place" where none could be obtained. How strong and keen should be our sympathy with those who are spiritually destitute; who have received from God a nature with immeasurable capacities, with profound cravings for that which is eternally true and divinely good, and who "have nothing to eat"! No solicitude for hungering human hearts can be extravagant; it is only too common to be guiltily and pitifully unconcerned. And if the stage of spiritual hunger and thirst should have passed into that of spiritual unconsciousness, that is one degree (and a large degree too) more deplorable, for it is one stage nearer to spiritual death. We do well to pity the multitudes at home and abroad who might be and who should be living on Divine and everlasting truth, but who are pining and perishing on miserable husks,—on errors, on superstitions, on morbid fancies, on low ambitions, on unsatisfying and perhaps demoralizing pleasures.
II. THE APPARENT INADEQUACY OF THE DIVINE PROVISION. Well may the disciples, not yet enlightened as to their Master's purpose, regard "five loaves and two fishes" as hopelessly inadequate to the occasion. So to human judgment they seemed. Not less strikingly disproportioned must the Divine provision for man's higher necessities have seemed to those who first regarded it. What was it? It was, in the language of our Lord recorded a few verses on in this chapter (Luke 9:22), "the Son of man suffering many things, being rejected.., and slain, and being raised the third day." A crucified and restored Messiah was to be offered as the Bread of life to a hungering world! Would this satisfy the needs of all mankind—of Jew and Gentile, of barbarian and cultured, of bond and free, of man and woman? Could One that seemed to fail, whose cause was all but extinguished in obloquy and desertion, be the Redeemer of mankind? It was unlikely in the last degree; speaking after the manner of men, it was impossible! And the machinery, too, the instrumentality by which this strange provision was to be conveyed to all human souls everywhere and through all generations, was that not equally inadequate? A few "unlearned and ignorant men," a few earnest and true but obscure and uninfluential women,—could they establish and perpetuate this new system? could they pass on these scanty provisions to the waiting and perishing multitude? How hopeless! how impossible! Yet see—
III. ITS PROVED SUFFICIENCY. As those five loaves and two fishes, under the multiplying hand of Christ, proved to be far more than enough for the thousands who partook of them, so is the provision in the gospel of Christ for the needs of man found to be all-sufficient. In a once-crucified and now exalted Saviour we have One in whom is found:
1. Pardon for every sin and for every repentant sinner.
2. Admission, instant and full, to the presence and favour of God.
3. A source of purity of heart, and excellency, and even nobility, of life.
4. Comfort in all the sorrows and privations of our earthly course.
5. Peace and hope in death.
6. A glorious immortality.
Well does this great Benefactor say, "I am come that ye might have life, and, have it more abundantly." The provision is more than equal to the necessity; there is a marvellous overflow of truth and grace.—C.
Luke 9:23, Luke 9:24
Life gained by losing it.
These strong and sententious words may teach us three truths which are of vital importance to us.
I. THAT THE VOLUNTARY SURRENDER OF OUR LIFE TO GOD IS OUR ENTRANCE UPON LIFE INDEED, What is it for a man to live? We speak truly but superficially when we say that any one is a living man from whom the breath of life has not yet departed. But there is deep truth in the objection of our English poet, "As though to breathe were life." Human life, as its Divine Author regards it, means very much more than this. And, taught of Christ, we understand that we then attain to our true life when we live unto God, in his holy service, and for the good of those whom he has committed to our care. The thoughts of sinful men concerning life are utterly false; they are the exact contrary of the truth. Men imagine that just as they gain that which will minister to their own enjoyment, and keep that which, if parted with, would benefit other people, they make much of their life. This is not even a caricature of the truth; it is its contradiction. The fact is that just as we lose ourselves in the love of God, and just as we expend our powers and possessions in the cause of mankind, we enter upon and enjoy that which is the "life indeed." For all that is best and highest lives, not to gain, but to give. As we pass from the lowest of the brute creation up an ascending line until we reach the Divine Father himself, we find that the nobler being exists, not to appropriate to himself, but to minister to others; when in our thought we reach the Divine, we see that God himself is receiving the least and is giving the most. He finds his heavenly life in giving freely and constantly of his resources to all beings in his universe. This is the supreme point that we can attain; we surrender ourselves entirely to God, to be possessed and employed by him; we enter upon and we realize the noble, the angelic, the true life. Whosoever will save his life by retaining his own will and withholding his powers from his Redeemer, by that very act loses it; but whosoever will freely surrender his life to God and man will, by that very act, find it. To live is not to get and to keep; it is to love and to lose ourselves in loving service.
II. THAT THE FULL SERVICE OF CHRIST MEANS HABITUAL SELF-DENIAL.
1. It means the abandonment of all that is vicious; i.e. of all that is positively hurtful to ourselves or others, and treat, as such, is condemned of God as sinful.
2. It means the avoidance of that which is not unlawful in itself, but which would be a hindrance to usefulness and the service of love (see Romans 14:1-23.). Of the rightness and desirableness of this, every man must be a judge for himself, and no man may "judge his brother." That life must be a narrow one which does not afford scope for the frequent forfeiture of good which might lawfully be taken, but which, for Christ's sake, is declined.
3. It involves struggle and sacrifice at the first, but the sense of personal loss is continually declining, and the consciousness of Divine approval is a counterbalancing gain.
III. THAT TO SECURE ETERNAL BLESSEDNESS IT MAY BE NECESSARY TO LAY DOWN OUR MORTAL LIFE. Many are they who have been called upon to put the most literal interpretation on the twenty-fourth verse; who have had to choose between parting with everything human and earthly on the one hand, and sacrificing their fidelity to Christ and their eternal hopes on the other hand. For that hour of solemn crisis the Lord has granted abounding grace, and from every land and age a noble army of martyrs have made the better choice, and now wear the crown of life in the better land.—C.
Our Lord has taught us as no other teacher ever has—
I. THE TRANSCENDENT WORTH OF OUR HUMAN NATURE. When he came that was held in very small esteem. Men showed what they thought of human nature by the use they made of it, and of human life by the readiness with which they threw it away. There was no thought of the inviolable sacredness of a human spirit. Jesus Christ has taught us to think of it as precious beyond all price. Man's body is only the vesture of his mind; man, like God, is spirit, but he is spirit clothed in flesh. He is a spirit
(1) accountable to God for all he thinks and feels, as well as for all he says and does;
(2) capable of forming a beautiful and noble character resembling that of the Divine Father himself;
(3) capable of living a life which, in its sphere, is a reproduction of the life God is living in heaven;
(4) coming into close contact and fellowship with God;
(5) intended to share God's own immortality.
II. THE TEMPTATION TO LOSE SIGHT OF THIS GREAT TRUTH. There are two things that often have such a deteriorating effect upon us that it is practically erased from the tablet of our soul.
1. The love of pleasure; whether this be indulgence in unholy pleasure, or the practical surrender of ourselves to mere enjoyment, to the neglect of all that is best and highest.
2. The eager pursuit of gain. Not that there is any radical inconsistency between profitable trading and holy living; not that a Christian man may not exemplify his piety by the way in which he conducts his business; but that there are often found to be terribly strong temptations to untruthfulness, or dishonesty, or hardness, or unjust withholdment, or a culpable and injurious absorption in business. And under the destructive influence of one of these two forces the soul withers or dies.
III. THE CALAMITOUS MISTAKE THAT IS SOMETIMES MADE. It is not only a grievous sin, but a disastrous error to gain worldly wealth, and, in the act of gaining it, to lose the soul. That is the worst of all possible bargains. The man who makes many thousands of pounds, and who loses conscientiousness, truthfulness, spirituality, all care for what God thinks of him and feels about him, sensitiveness of spirit—in fact, himself, is a man over whom Heaven weeps; he has made a supreme mistake. Gold, silver, precious stones, are of limited worth. There are many of the most important services we want which they have no power to render; and the hour is daily drawing near when they will have no value to us whatever. But the soul is of immeasurable worth; no sum of money that can be expressed in figures will indicate its value; that is something which absolutely transcends expression; and time, instead of diminishing, enhances its importance—it becomes of more and more account "as our days go by," as our life draws toward its close. Jesus Christ not only put this thought into words,—the words of the text—he put it into action. He let us see that, in his estimation, the human soul was worth suffering and dying for—worth suffering for as he suffered in Gethsemane, worth dying for as he died at Calvary. Then do we wisely enter into his thought concerning it when we seek salvation at his cross, when, by knowing him as our Divine Redeemer, we enter into eternal life.—C.
This incident is one that stands quite by itself; it is wholly unlike everything else in our Lord's history. It was miraculous enough, yet we do not count it amongst the miracles of Christ. It may be viewed in many lights; it may illustrate—
I. THE CLOSE RELATION BETWEEN OUR SPIRITUAL AND OUR BODILY NATURE. This manifested glory was not altogether outward; it was more than a radiance thrown around or imposed upon him, which might just as readily have occurred to any Jewish rabbi. It does not correspond with the illumination or' the wall of a building or the face of a cathedral. It was the glory of his Divine nature, usually hidden, now shining through and revealing itself in his form and countenance. We are sure that the appearance of our Lord at all times answered to his character and his spirit. We gather this from the charm which he exerted over his disciples and over little children; from the confidence which he inspired in the social outcasts of his day; in the occasional flashings forth of his Divine sovereignty. The Transfiguration was by far the most striking instance of his bodily nature being lighted up and irradiated by his indwelling glory; there was as much of the spiritual as of the material about it; it could not have happened to any other than to our Lord. And this opens the question how far our spiritual experiences may and should glorify our personal appearance. The spirit does act powerfully upon and manifest itself through the body which is its organ. We know how love gleams, how indignation flashes, how scorn and hatred lower, how hope shines, how disappointment pales, how all the passions that breathe and burn in the human breast come forth and make themselves felt in the eye, the lip, the countenance of man. We may and should see a kind or a pure heart in a kind or pure countenance, as we do see avarice or indulgence in a keen or a bloated visage. We bear about in our body the marks of our association with the Lord Jesus, and other marks also which are not derived from such fellowship as that. Holiness has its transfiguring influence, as sin has its debasing effect, upon the human form and figure—the one refines and glorifies, as the other disfigures and degrades. There are two things to be heeded here.
1. We must not draw hasty and unjust inferences; there are those who, so far as appearance goes, are victims of misfortune or are vicarious sufferers.
2. We must endeavour to let a holy character be visible in our bodily persons. Inward excellence is the source of outward beauty. No tailoring or millinery, no cosmetics or perfumery, will make beautiful the face and form behind which is an ugly heart; selfishness and pride and envy will never look anything but unsightly and forbidding. The thoughts that breathe, the feelings that glow, the spirit that animates, the character that shines through—it is this which beautifies, which adorns, which makes attractive, which wins confidence and love. These are the things to care for, to cultivate, to cherish; it is thence that our influence for good will spring.
II. THE CARE WHICH GOD TAKES OF HIS OWN IN THEIR TIME OF SPECIAL NEED. What was the purpose of this wonderful scene? It was to prepare the disciples (and perhaps the Master) for the last scenes of all. Those two celestial visitants spake of "the decease which he should accomplish," etc. A terrible ordeal was that through which he and they would pass. Therefore it seemed well to the Father to give to him and to them the most imposing, the most impressive, the most convincing proof that he was well pleased with his Son, and that he was, indeed, the Messiah of their hopes. We know from Peter's Epistle (2 Peter 1:16, 2 Peter 1:17) how strong a confirmation of their faith it was and continued to be. Thus God cared for his own, and thus he still cares. Our lives glide on like peaceful rivers; but most human lives prove to be rivers with cataracts in their course. Times of grave trial and peril come, when there is a great strain on our faith and patience; when we have to draw on our last resources; critical trial-hours they are, like those which came to the Master and to his faithful baud. How shall we be assured of calmness, fortitude, fidelity, when we pass through them? If we are loyal to our Lord in the days of sunshine and prosperity, if we "abide in him" now, he will not fail us then. As our day his grace will be. He will prepare us for the trial-hour; he will be with us in its darkest moments; he will lead us oat into the sunshine on the other side.—C.
The wisdom of hearing Christ.
Three things are clear to us, preliminarily.
1. Jesus Christ is addressing us. From his home and throne on high our Saviour stoops to call us, to instruct us, to bless us. He is saying to us, "Come unto me;" "Abide in me;" "Follow me."
2. We need not hear him if we choose not to do so. As in a room where many groups of people are conversing, we only hear the voice of treat company to which we join ourselves and listen, so in the large room of this world there are many voices speaking and it rests with each of us to determine which we will regard. Shall it be the voice of ambition? or that of appetite? or that of human learning? or that of Christ?
3. Our heavenly Father urges us to give our best attention to Jesus Christ. "This is my beloved Son: hear him." We shall see, if we consider, how and why God presses on us this act of hearing.
I. BECAUSE OF OUR URGENT NEED OF A VOICE THAT IS DIVINE. There are two things we urgently require, but which, apart from Jesus Christ, we cannot have.
1. One is a knowledge of what is true. We are "strangers on the earth," and know but very little. Like the little bird (of the ancient story) that flew from the darkness into the dimly lighted room and out into the darkness on the other side, so from the darkness of the past we enter and stay for a brief time in the dimly lighted present, and forth we pass into the darkness of the future.
2. The other is the power to do what we know to be right. Truly pathetic is the Roman's confession, "I see the better course, and approve; 1 follow the worse." What men everywhere have wanted is the inspiration and the power to be and to do that which they perceive to be good and right. Whence shall we gain this? Only from a Divine Saviour, from One who has lived and died for us, to whom we offer our hearts and our lives, the love of whom will constrain us toward all that is good and pure, and restrain us from all that is bad and wrong.
II. BECAUSE OF HIS INTIMATE RELATION TO HIS DIVINE FATHER. "This is my beloved Son," therefore should we "hear him." For one of the deepest and most practical questions we can ask is—What is God's thought, feeling, purpose, toward us? If there were any human being who sustained toward us a relation which at all approached in intimacy and importance that which God sustains to us, we should be eager indeed to know what was his feeling and intention concerning us. How eagerly, then, should we inquire of him "in whom we live, and move, and have our being," "with whom we have everything to do," on whose will we are absolutely dependent for our future here and hereafter! What does God think about us? On what conditions will he receive and bless us? Christ, "the beloved Son," who came forth from God, and who knows his mind as none other can (Matthew 11:27), can answer this supreme question for us.
III. BECAUSE OF HIS CLOSE AND INTIMATE RELATION TO OURSELVES. We want some one to speak to us who knows us well, who understands us altogether; one about whom we can feel that this is true. To whom, then, should we listen, if not to the Son of God, our Maker; to the Son of man, our Brother? "He knew what was in man," as the evangelist testified, and again and again he showed that he knew his disciples far better than they knew themselves. Such is his knowledge of us. We may think that we know ourselves and what is best for ourselves. But we may be utterly mistaken. We find that our neighbours display lamentable and ruinous ignorance on these great matters. Who are we that we should be full of wisdom where others err? Let us distrust ourselves: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." Ignorant presumption is a foe that "hath slain its ten thousands." The truly wise will seek the great Teacher's feet, and say, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"—C.
The healing of the lunatic child.
From this most interesting story we may gather the truths—
I. THAT FROM THE VERY FANGS OF DEFEAT A GREAT VICTORY MAY BE SECURED. More than once in the history of war there has occurred such an incident as that which is related concerning the great struggle in the United States. A severe and successful attack is made by one army on the other; the enemy is driven back, his guns and his camp captured. As his regiments are in full retreat, the general of the defeated force, who has been unfortunately absent, arrives on the scene; he arrests the tide of retreat, gathers his soldiers about him, stops the pursuing host in their career, leads a triumphant attack upon them, drives them beyond his own camp, recaptures his guns, and chases the once-conquering but now defeated army for miles to the rear of its first position. Such a victory snatched from the jaws of humbling defeat took place on this occasion. The returning Saviour found his disciples driven before the hostile attack of his enemies, but his presence soon availed "to restore the day," and before long transformed humiliating failure into joyous triumph. In the Master's actual, spiritual absence the cause of the Church may be brought very low indeed, and a complete and crushing disaster may impend; but let the Lord return, let his presence and his power be felt, and from the very teeth of threatened calamity there shall be secured a glorious victory. Let no heart despond so long as there is a present Captain; failure is never irretrievable when he is "on the field;" under his leadership even "death is swallowed up in victory."
II. THAT HUMAN AFFECTION IS MEANT TO LEAD TO SPIRITUAL ATTACHMENTS. It was his son's sickness that led this man to seek Jesus; but for that he would not have sought and found him. It was his strong parental love that would not be denied, that led him to urge his plea, that enabled him to overcome his fears and to gain that valuable victory. God employs many instrumentalities to lead his children into his kingdom. We ought to be influenced by our sense of what is right and of what is wise in the matter; but, if not won by these, let the consideration of the deep and tender interests of those who are dear to us convince and determine us. For the sake of those children of ours, whom we love so profoundly, and who have such a vital interest in Christian truth, let us sit at the feet of Christ, and be subject to his sway.
III. THAT THE VERY WORST CASE WILL YIELD TO THE TOUCH OF THE DIVINE HAND. There could not well be a worse case of possession than this (see Luke 9:39, Luke 9:42). If the malignant forces could have triumphed over the benevolent Spirit, they would have triumphed here. But everything was accomplished when "Jesus took him by the hand" (Mark 9:27). So is it with the worst spiritual maladies. They may seem so bad as to be incurable; it may be the general opinion that the case is utterly hopeless. But there is a power in reserve against which the most virulent and the most violent evils are not able to stand. For
"... many of whom all men said,
'They've fallen, never more to stand,'
have risen, though they seemed as dead
When Jesus took them by the hand."
The most stricken souls will be healed, the most sorrowing ones comforted, the most despondent filled with a new and blessed hope, the most fallen and sunk in sin lifted up to purity and even to beauty and nobility of spirit and of life, when the Divine voice is heard bidding to be comforted, when the Divine hand is laid on the broken heart or the defiled and guilty soul.
IV. THAT THE EARNEST SOUL NEED NOT LET ANYTHING KEEP HIM BACK FROM CHRIST AND HIS SALVATION. This father had much to overcome—the natural reluctance he would have to bring the poor demoniac into such publicity; the failure of the disciples to effect a cure, well calculated as that was to discourage and dishearten him; his own imperfect faith. But he overcame all these, and gained his plea. Many may be the obstacles in the way of our salvation; they may be circumstantial, or they may be inward and spiritual; but if there be a thoroughly earnest spirit, they will not prevail over us; we shall triumph over them, and go on our way with our cause gained and our hearts gladdened.—C.
The Church and the child.
The scene is well worthy the genius of the artist: the disciples together, but still at variance with one another, with cold or averted look; the Master with a little child in his arms (Mark 9:36), either turning a reproachful glance on his, disciples, or a look of tenderness upon that little one; the child himself with a trustful but wondering expression in his countenance. The scene is suggestive of the thought—What's the child to the Church? (For homily on the contention between the apostles, see Luke 22:24.) We may consider—
I. WHAT THE CHILD WAS TO THE DISCIPLES. The answer to this question is—not much. They were devout and worthy men; but they were Jews, and they shared the mental habits of their countrymen. To them the little child was of small account—one to be kept carefully out of sight; one to be taken charge of by parent or teacher, but superfluous in society; one too many when a great man was present, when a great prophet was speaking, or a great healer was healing. This we know from their conduct on a memorable occasion (Luke 18:15).
II. WHAT THE CHILD IS TO THE CHURCH. The poor, our Lord said, we have "always with us." So is it with the children. Whoever are absent, they are present; whoever fail, they abound. The child is in the midst of us, and we have to decide what he shall be to us. Taught by our Lord's teaching, led by his example, imbued with his Spirit, we have to take up a very different attitude from that of the disciples. The Christian Church no longer regards the child as one that has to be carefully kept out of the way lest he should be troublesome. It welcomes him cordially; like its Master, it takes him into the embrace of its affection and its care.
1. It regards the children as the Church of the future. It remembers that "death and change are busy ever," that the fathers and mothers are passing on and away, and that others will soon be needed to take their place. When a few more years have come, the place which knows us now will know us no more; who then, but the children about our feet, will bear the flag we bear, will speak the truth we speak, will do the work we do?
2. It regards the children as a present valuable heritage. For the little child
(1) can be a recipient of Divine truth, and not only can he be this, but his natural open-mindedness and trustfulness make him a peculiarly apt learner in Christ's great school;
(2) can be a true follower of the Divine Master—to him also Jesus says, "Follow me," and not only can he "rise and follow" him, but his disposition to trust and love and obey makes him to be a close and a very acceptable follower of his Lord;
(3) can illustrate in his own way the excellences of the Christian life, by the exhibition of those virtues and graces which most become childhood and youth. The Church of Christ should find in the little child its most interesting and its most valuable disciple. And this a great deal the more because of—
III. WHAT THE CHILD IS TO THE SAVIOUR HIMSELF. This is very much indeed. For Christ knows, as we do not, all the possibilities of the little child—the height to which he may rise, or the depth to which he may sink; the good he may live to do, or the evil he may live to work; the blessedness to which he may attain, or the shame and woe which may be his end. He is more deeply interested in the young than we are, and however earnest and eloquent our voice of invitation or of warning may be, more earnest far is the voice of the Lord himself, as he says, "Come unto me, take my yoke upon you,… my yoke is easy, my burden is light."—C.
Luke 9:49, Luke 9:50
Exclusiveness and neutrality—the forbidden and the impossible thing.
We do well to take together this passage and that of Luke 11:23. For one is the complement of the other. "He that is not against us is for us;" "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth." There is not the slightest inconsistency between these two declarations of our Lord. One states one truth, and the other a different one. They teach successively—
I. THAT WE ARE IN DANGER OF COUNTING AMONG OUR OPPONENTS THOSE WHOM WE SHOULD RECKON AS ALLIES. It did not seem to be a service of any particular account that a man should use the name of Jesus to exorcise demons, even though he may have had a measure of success in his attempts. But Christ said he was not to be "forbidden" as an outsider, but rather hailed as a friend and as an ally. What, then, would he not say now of those who go so far towards the fullest declaration of his truth as many thousands do, but who remain outside the particular Church with which we may be connected? Would he have us blame and brand these because they "follow not with us"? The spirit of persecution is cruel, foolish, and emphatically unchristian. Rather let us rejoice that there are found so many who, while not feeling it right to connect themselves with our organization, are yet loving the same Lord and serving the same cause. These are not our enemies; they are our allies.
II. THAT WE CANNOT WITHHOLD OUR EARNEST THOUGHT AND DELIBERATE CHOICE FROM CHRIST without being counted by him as his enemies. "He that is not with me is against me," etc. There is no neutrality in the great campaign now being fought out between sin and righteousness. In great European wars it is customary for generals and correspondents from other countries, not involved in the strife, to attend the movements and watch the operations of the armies; they, of course, are strictly neutral. But in this great spiritual campaign we cannot be mere spectators; we must be soldiers fighting on one side or on the other. For we are all deeply involved; we are implicated in what is past; we are interested in the issue; we have great responsibilities resting on us; we have great things at stake. God is addressing himself to every one of us, and it is not open to any of us to refuse to take up a decisive attitude in regard to the subjects of his address.
1. He speaks to us of himself. He makes himself known to us as our Creator, our Preserver, our generous Benefactor; he makes his appeal to us as our Divine Father, who earnestly desires our return to his home that he may bless us with his parental love. Can we possibly remain unaffected by this? Is not our very silence a most grievous offence and injury? Not to respond to him is to sin grievously against him.
2. He comes to us in the Person of his Son Jesus Christ. And he offers himself to us as the Redeemer who at the greatest possible price has wrought out our redemption, as the Divine Friend in the shelter of whose love and power we may spend our days, as the Source of our eternal life. Can we possibly take up a position toward him in which we are neither one thing nor another—neither enemy nor subject? Can we do other than either accept him or reject him?
3. He summons us to his service, and to the service of our kind. We are to be "living epistles," making known his truth, revealing to men the goodness of God, the grace of Christ, the excellency of his service. We are to bear witness unto him. Either our life is witnessing for him and for his truth, or our influence is thrown into the other scale. Those who know us are either being attracted toward Christ through all they see and know about us, or they are being repelled. We cannot be cyphers, try how we may. Our lives are telling on one side or on the other. Either we gather with Christ or we scatter abroad. We must make our choice.—C.
Wisdom, duty, danger.
Among the various difficulties in this passage that have been the subject of exegetical debate, we may clearly discern three important lessons.
I. OUR WISDOM IN FRONT OF APPARENT EVIL. At this time our Lord had before him the dark days which would bring his ministry to a close. The contemplation of them had evidently gone down deep into his own mind, but he found none to share the thought or to sympathize with him in the prospect. He asked his disciples to let these things "sink down into their ears" (Luke 9:44), but they understood him not. He was the sole possessor of the great secret of his coming sorrow, struggle, and death. How did he face it? With an immovable resoluteness of soul. "He steadfastly set his face to go up to Jerusalem." What reason have we to be thankful for that holy and noble tenacity of spirit! Could anything less strong than that have carried him, unscathed, through all that followed? And if there had been any, even the slightest failure, what would have been the consequences to our race? When we have to face a future of pain, or of separation and attendant loneliness and single-handedness of struggle, or of strong and sustained temptation, in what spirit shall we face that? In the temper of calm and devout resoluteness; with a full and fixed determination to go bravely and unfalteringly through, shrinking from no suffering, enduring the worst that man can inflict, yielding nothing to the enemy of our soul. An unflinching resoluteness will do great things for us.
1. It will save us from much suffering; for cowardice and apprehension do not simply add to human wretchedness; they multiply it.
2. It will save us from the chief peril and go far to secure us the victory. The greatest of all perils before us is that of recreancy, uufaithfulness to our own convictions. An unstable mind is only too likely to be guilty of it. A resolute spirit is almost certain to escape it.
3. It will place us by the side of our Divine Leader and of the noblest of his followers. We shall be treading in the footsteps of him who "steadfastly set his face," etc., and who went up to that city of martyrs and gloriously triumphed there.
II. OUR DUTY IN THE PRESENCE OF A PROFESSED PROPHET. "They did not receive him;… They went to another village." How much is contained, in these simple words, of human folly and privation! These villagers were profoundly prejudiced against Christ, and declined absolutely to see what he could do, to hear what he would say. They would not "judge for themselves" on the evidence ready to be furnished. Anti consequently they suffered a great privation. The great Healer and Teacher of mankind went another way; their sick went unhealed, their souls went unenlightened, while Divine tenderness and truth found other hearts and homes. Often since then has Christ gone, in the person of some one of his prophets or spokesmen, to the city, to the village, to the home, to the individual heart, and offered his truth, his grace, his salvation. But deep-seated prejudice, or strong material interests, or keen love of pleasure, has barred the way. He has not been received. And as he does not force an entrance anywhere, he has gone elsewhere; he has passed by, and all the treasure of his truth has been unpossessed, all the blessedness of his salvation unknown. Of what unimaginable good, of what highest heritage, does human folly deprive itself!
III. OUR DANGER OF MISTAKING THE LOWER FOR THE HIGHER FEELING. The apostles, James and John, gave vent to a burst of strong resentment, and proposed to have a severe punishment inflicted. They supposed themselves to be actuated by an honourable and acceptable indignation. But Jesus "turned, and rebuked them;" they were entirely mistaken; their feeling was not that of pure indignation, it was tainted by an unholy irritation against men who would not receive them and their Master; moreover, the desire for immediate punishment was to give place, under Christian teaching, to a determination to win to a better way. Not extinction but reformation, not the infliction of the death which is due but the conferring of the life which is undeserved, not rigorous exaction but patient pity, not the folded fist of law but the open and extended hand of helpfulness, is the Christian thing. When we find ourselves giving way to wrath and proposing punishment, we do well to ask ourselves whether we are sure we know the "spirit we are of," and whether there is not a "more excellent way" for Christian feet to tread.—C.
Decision and indecision.
"Lord, I will follow thee; but," etc. Two trains may leave the same platform and travel for a while along the same lines, and they may look as if they would reach the same terminus; 'but one of them diverges slightly to the right and the other to the left, and then the further they go the greater is the distance that separates them. Two children born under the same roof, brought up under the same religious conditions, are baptized into the same faith, receive the same doctrines, are affected by the same influences;—they should reach the same home. But they do not. One makes a resolution to serve God outright, unconditional, without reserve; he says simply, deliberately, "I will follow thee;" but the other makes a resolution under reserve, with conditions attached—he says, "Lord, I will follow thee; but," etc. The one of these two goes on, goes up, in the direction of piety, zeal, devotedness, sacred joy, holy usefulness; the other goes down in that of hesitation, oscillation between wisdom and folly, and finally of impenitence and spiritual failure. We will look at—
I. THE MAN OF INDECISION ALONG THE LINE COMMON TO HIMSELF AND THE MAN OF RELIGIOUS EARNESTNESS.
1. They both receive instruction in the common faith; they learn and admit the great fundamental truths of the gospel—the life, death, resurrection, teaching of Jesus Christ.
2. They are both impressed by the surpassing excellence of Christ; for there is in him now, as there was when he lived among men, that which constrains admiration, reverence, attraction.
3. They both feel the desirableness of availing themselves of the blessings of the gospel of grace—of the pardon, peace, joy, worth, hope, immortality, which it offers to the faithful. And when Christ's voice is heard, as it is in many ways, each of these men is prepared to say, "Never man spake, Lord, as thou speakest to me; no one else will give me what thou art offering; evermore give me this living bread, this living water. Lord, I will follow thee."
II. THE MAN OF INDECISION AT THE POINT OF DIVERGENCE. He says not, simply and absolutely, "I will; "he says, "I will follow thee; but," etc. One word more, but how much less in fact and in truth? What is in that qualifying word?
1. But I am young, and there is plenty of time. I am a long way off the "three score and ten years;" and all along the road of life there are paths leading into the kingdom; let me go on unburdened by such serious claims as these of thine. "I will," etc., but not yet.
2. But I have a bodily as well as a spiritual nature, and I must satisfy its claims. These hungerings and thirstings of the sense are very strong and imperious; let me drink of this cup, let me lay by those treasures first.
3. I am waiting for some decisive intimation from Heaven that my time has come. I do not wish to act precipitately or presumptuously; I am looking for the prompting of the Divine Spirit, the direction of the Divine hand; when the Master says distinctly, "Follow thou me," I will arise at once.
4. I am in embarrassed circumstances, and am waiting until they clear away. The claims of the business or the home are so urgent, so near, so practical, that they consume my time, and I have none to spare for thee; there are bonds I have formed which I do not know how to break, but which must be broken if thy friendship is to be made and kept.
5. But I am old and unable. I have heard thy voice in my ear in earlier days; but I am old and spiritually blind; old and deaf; old and insensitive. I do not expect thee to come this way again; I would follow thee if I felt once more the touch of thy hand upon me.
III. THE GREATNESS AND SADNESS OF HIS MISTAKE. A grievous thing it is for a man to buoy himself up with such false imaginations, to build his house of hope on such shifting sands, to rest the weight of his destiny on such a sapless, strengthless reed.
1. Does death never lay his cold and hard hand on youth? and does not Christ command our strength and our beauty as well as our feebleness and our unsightliness?
2. Does Christ ask us to give up one rightful pleasure? and had we not better sacrifice all wrongful ones? And has he not promised all we need if we do but take the one true step into his kingdom (Matthew 6:33)?
3. No man is waiting for God; but God is waiting for many halting and hesitating human souls. Behold, he stands at the door and knocks!
4. We are not more embarrassed than thousands have been, or more than we shall continue to be. If it is hard to find time, then for a purpose so supreme as this time must be made; if evil friendships are in the way, they must be made to stand out of the way. The voice that speaks from heaven is commanding; the case of our eternal destiny is critical in the very last degree.
5. It is true that long disuse is dangerously disabling, and spiritual capacity wanes with neglect; but men are not too deaf to hear the sovereign voice of Christ, not too blind to find their way to his cross, his table, his kingdom.—C.
Luke 9:61, Luke 9:62
The workman's qualification.
What more natural, we are inclined to say, than that, before setting out on an unknown future, a man should wish to say farewell at home? How do we account for this strictness, this disallowance of our Lord? First, however, let us remark—
I. WHAT CONSCIOUSNESS OF POWER AND OF ULTIMATE SUCCESS the Saviour shows! How eager we are to secure followers, how pleased and proud to add to our ranks! Especially when a cause is yet young are we desirous of making converts and counting new disciples. At this time the cause of Christianity was very far from being an assured success; yet Jesus did not hurry to be successful, to crowd his Church. He said to the scribe—not an ordinary disciple—"Foxes have holes," etc. (Matthew 8:19, Matthew 8:20; verse 58). He risked the attachment of another (Luke 9:60); and again of this man (text). How was this? It was that he had such absolute confidence in the rectitude of his cause, in the support of his Divine Father, and therefore in the triumph of his truth and grace. It is never well to hurry even good issues; we should only work with right instruments, content to wait for the result. "He that believeth will not make haste." To the too-anxious workman there needs to come the remembrance of his Master's holy confidence; it says to such a one, "Be still, and know that I am God." We shall better understand our Lord's reply if we consider—
II. WHAT SUPERHUMAN KNOWLEDGE OF INDIVIDUAL HEARTS the Saviour shows! He did not commit himself to men; "for he knew what was in man." This is the key which unlocks the difficulty in many instances. It is this which explains how it was that he encouraged or accepted, how it was that he tested or declined, the services of men. And it is this which explains the differences in his treatment of us now; how it is that to one man he sends so many more trials and sufferings than to another; how it is that he withholds from one man so many bounties or privileges which he gives to another. He knows both perfectly; he knows their nature and their need, and he treats them accordingly.
III. THE FACT THAT CHRIST REQUIRES SPECIAL QUALIFICATIONS FOR SPECIAL WORK, There is a faith that "removes mountains" of difficulty; but there is also a faith, much more common, which will do good work, though it will not accomplish such great things. Christ had work for the contemplative John which that man of speech and action, Peter, could not have done; work for the many-sided and devoted Paul which John could not have done. To "follow Christ" as this scribe (of our text) proposed to do was work which meant many and great things—the severance of old and strong ties, the endurance of privation, exposure to hatred and violence, readiness to look death in the face, self-immolation on the altar of a sacred cause. Jesus probably knew that this man had not the spiritual qualifications for such a sacrificial post as this. Even the common labourer must have concentration of mind; he must not have his hand on the plough while his eye is off the field. And the workman in his field of holy service must be a man of unflinching steadfastness, of unwavering resoluteness of soul. No other would be fit for such work as he had on hand. Surely it is far kinder of the Master to keep back, even by strong and apparently hard words, the unfit servant from the sphere in which he would fail miserably, than to let him go on and reap all the bitter fruits of failure; and surely it is wiser far, on our part, to reckon well beforehand, and see whether our mental and spiritual resources will carry us through a proposed service and to retire if we find ourselves unequal to it, than to go blindly forward and to have to come back with something else upon our brows than the crown of honour and success. We may also learn—
IV. WHAT ARE THE PRESENT, CONSTANT REQUIREMENTS which Jesus Christ makes of those who work for him. He is saying to us, "Follow me into the vineyard of holy usefulness." It is in our hearts to say, "Lord, I will follow thee." What must we have in order that he will readily engage us in his active service? We must have that spirit of self-surrender which will make us willing to give up to our Lord all that he asks us to part with; we must be whole-hearted, single-eyed. We must be workmen that have the hand on the plough and the eye on the field. We must be thorough in all that we do for him, contributing all our strength and energy in his cause. And there is every reason why we should be.
1. Our Master is worthy of the very best we can bring to him.
2. The sinful, suffering world around us is crying for our pity and our help.
3. It is well worth our while to do our utmost. In full-hearted service is the present recompense of sacred joy as we warm to our work and spend ourselves in it, while in the future there await us those" many cities," that enlarged sphere of influence which will reward the faithful followers of their Lord.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The mission of the twelve.
After the group of miracles, we have our Lord next conferring the power of working miracles upon the twelve. This was miraculous power in its highest form. It is important to work well one's self; but it is a still greater feat to get all about one's self into working order too. Jesus was training his disciples to be workers like himself. Let us, then, consider—
I. THE CONDITIONS OF THE MISSION OF. THE TWELVE. (Luke 9:1-6.) And here we have to notice:
1. The power delegated was healing and exorcising power. That is to say, their miraculous power was to change the sick and the insane into able-bodied members of society. The aim of our Lord's philanthropy and of theirs was to enable men to become useful workers. When men can help themselves, then are they in the happiest of all conditions. This is infinitely better than spoon-feeding and pauperizing people.
2. The disciples were not to use miracle to make themselves independent of the hospitality of the people. Christ never used miracle to make life easier for himself; nor did he allow his delegates to do so. it would seem to some a wiser arrangement to make them independent of random hospitalities. But it was better for all parties that hospitality should be looked for. Rabbis were hospitably entertained, and so should these disciples be. They were also to accept of hospitality as it came, and not to be choosers of the grand and pretentious houses which might be opened to them. There may be as much magnanimity in accepting hospitality as in extending it. £
3. In case of rejection, they were simply to symbolize their separation by shaking off the dust of their feet against them. This was the symbol of hostility and war; but there was no further outward act to be undertaken. The war was spiritual, and the judgment of the rejectors must be left with God. Toleration was thus made consistent with faithfulness to their convictions; and was freed from all laxity.
4. Their career of preaching and of accompanying philanthropy was continued throughout the towns of Galilee. The gospel they brought to men was one of trust in the Saviour who had come and of devotion to him. It was a gospel of work inspired by that faith which operates through love. Hence it carried philanthropy with it, and this philanthropy was of the most useful and stimulating character.
II. HEROD'S FEARS AND CURIOSITY. (Luke 9:7-9.) The mission of the twelve had proved sufficiently influential to attract the notice of Herod. It led him to consider his sin and danger in murdering the Baptist. The miracles of which he heard, however, were merciful, and not wrathful; and so, though he was perplexed about the Saviour, he was curious to see him. Most likely he thought he would get Jesus into his power, as he had got John. But John's ideas about the kingdom and its coming were essentially different from those of Jesus. Hence Herod is left in isolation; his curiosity and desire to see Jesus are alike unsatisfied.
III. THE RETIREMENT INTO WHICH JESUS TAKES THE DISCIPLES AFTER THEIR CAREER OF SUCCESS. (Verse 10.) The disciples, as we learn from the other Gospels, returned with joy, highly elated with their success. It was on this account doubtless that our Lord deemed retirement so needful for them. There is nothing, so wholesome for us when dangerously elated as solitude and prayer. In thin way the true character of success is appreciated, and all undue elation about it overcome.
IV. THE INCONVENIENCES OF POPULARITY. (Verse 14.) The seasons of retirement so salutary for public men are apt to be invaded, and more work forced upon them than they would themselves desire. The disciples and Jesus had most likely secured some fellowship with God before the popular invasion; for our Lord anticipated both friends and foes, and wrought out his beautiful plan in spite of interruption. So when the people came crowding around him, he was able to receive them with unruffled spirit, and to give them the counsel and the healing they needed. It was the same policy which the disciples had pursued by his directions which he here pursues. Miracle is used to heal and render useful, but not to minister to self-indulgence or render life easier to men. He made the multitude hopeful through his preaching, and healthy through Iris miraculous power.
V. THE FEEDING AND DISMISSAL OF THE PEOPLE. (Verses 12-17.) This miracle is narrated by all the evangelists. The sending of the multitude away is urged by the disciples. They have got the healing, and should expect no more. As for hospitality, the five thousand should have entertained Jesus and the disciples, rather than be entertained by them. But our Lord would go beyond his previous limitations, and become the Host instead of the Guest of men. For after all, he is really men's Host, and we all sit at his board, though he condescends to be our Guest and to take of what we provide. Hence he shows by this miracle how all men really depend upon his bounty and are fed from his hand. The multiplication of the five loaves and two fishes, that is, of cooked food, cannot be assigned to any natural law, and could only have been miraculous. It was not quantitatively so great a miracle as the feeding of the Israelites with the manna for forty years; yet it was a sufficient miracle to show that the Sustainer of the world was among them. Upon him they should depend, and, if they fed by faith on him, they would always be strengthened. It was at the same time sufficiently moderate in its size and duration to show that he was not going to keep lazy men in idleness by spreading a gratuitous feast for them every day. They are dismissed by him that very evening, that they might not be able to go through the selfish ceremony of making him a king. He did not want to be a king over idlers, over men who would like to eat without the trouble of working; and so he defeated their worldly plans. His lesson of frugality also was most significant. He wanted no waste in his kingdom. He would not prostitute miraculous power to minister either to idleness or to wastefulness. Very clear light is thus cast upon the economy of Jesus. He kept miracle in its place. It ministered to usefulness; it was not allowed to minister to idleness or waste. It would be well if all learned the wholesome lesson which Christ thus conveys.—R.M.E.
The Saviour's secret revelations.
After the miracle of the loaves Jesus resumes his season of devotion, and in the course of it he asks the disciples who had just returned from their mission-tour what reports are being circulated about him. They tell him that some say he is John Baptist, some Elias, some one of the prophets risen again. This shows that they regarded his present life as preliminary only. The idea of his being the real Messiah, "the Christ of God," was not entertained by any of the outsiders at all. It is then he asks them what their idea is, when Peter answers unhesitatingly, "The Christ of God." And now we must inquire—
I. THE REASON FOR THIS SECRECY ABOUT THE MESSIAHSHIP. (Verses 18-22.) Though the disciples believed in his Messiahship, they are directed not to make it known. Now, we must remember how different the Jewish ideas of the Messiahship were from the reality presented by Christ. Even such a noble-minded man as John Baptist had doubted the propriety of the course Jesus took. How much more liable to mistake would the common people be, if it had been blazed abroad that he was Messiah! It was needful, therefore, to wait till the picture was nearer completion before people were asked to look upon it. In fact, it was only his intimates who could at such a stage realize his magnificence at all. £ To give the people time to form a proper opinion, to prevent them from rising into premature opposition, to allow them no valid excuse if they rejected him at last, was the purpose of his secrecy and patience. He saw clearly that he "must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain," but he would not provoke the crisis by publishing his Messianic claims. His modesty and secrecy in this matter are in striking contrast to the manners and methods of the world.
II. PERSONAL SALVATION THROUGH SELF-SACRIFICE. (Verses 23-27.) While predicting his death, he also predicts his resurrection. This is salvation through self-sacrifice. He immediately indicates that we are under the same law. The man alone saves himself who dedicates himself even unto death to Jesus. There are two policies pursued.
1. The selfish policy. People think they are so very valuable that they must save themselves at every turn. Hence they give the strength of their time and attention to self-preservation. This is their first law of nature. In doing so, they think that if they can only gain as much of the world and worldly things as possible, the better. They think it wise to win the world. But now Jesus shows that such a course only ends in utter loss of self. What does the self-centred, self-preserving soul become? What is the fate of the grasping, worldly mind? Such a soul shrivels up, becomes a nonentity, a mere derelict or castaway on the sea of existence. Such a life is "not worth living."
2. Notice the self-sacrificing policy. This is the policy pursued by the soul which is devoted to Jesus as supreme. It is no trial to carry the cross; such a soul is ready to die any day for Jesus. He cannot be ashamed or' Jesus, or of his words, but prizes him and them as beyond all price. And what is such a soul's experience? He feels that he is self-possessed and the subject of a grand development. He really has gained himself. His powers of mind and of heart grow into luxuriance, and he feels enriched in all the elements of being as he goes onward. And if perchance he becomes a martyr for the faith and lays down, as these disciples did, his life for Jesus, he finds in an immortal future of further dedication all his best being carried forward. Death may cripple him in working powers here, but promotion awaits him beyond the shadows, and he finds that "he is himself again" after the death-experience is over. Jesus thus presents the case in the proper light—self-sacrifice is real salvation of self if our self-sacrifice is for the sake of Jesus.
III. THE PRIVATE GLIMPSE OF GLORY. (Verses 28-36.) Eight days after the noble confession of Christ by the disciples, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to a mountain-top, that he might have another season of prayer. Though so busy, he never became prayerless. A most useful lesson! And here we have to note:
1. That transfiguration came through prayer. (Verse 29.) There is nothing changes people's appearance so suddenly and so satisfactorily as being on the mountain-top of prayer. Jesus in transfiguration-glory is but a type of his people who come radiant from the secret places too. If there were more prayer on the part of God's people, there would be more transfiguration and less scepticism about its efficacy.
2. Transfigured ones are attractive to the heavenly world. (Verses 30, 31.) Moses and Elias from their abodes of bliss are but indications of a perpetual interest in transfigured men. A new star is not more attractive to the astronomer than is a transfigured and radiant soul to the inhabitants of heaven. And further, the decease to be accomplished at Jerusalem is the supreme topic with the men from the heavenly city. For to this did the Law and the prophets point, and in the abodes of bliss other interests have not superseded this. If the cherubim were represented as gazing rapturously upon the mercy-seat and its baptism with blood, so may we believe the whole society out of which Moses and Elias came concentrate their interest upon the salvation which comes through the death of Jesus.
3. Transfigured ones attract attention from the inhabitants of earth. (Verse 32.) The disciples had fallen asleep, but the glory awoke them, as a candle will when brought before a sleeper. They saw the Master's glory, and Moses and Elias at his side, and they regarded the Messianic kingdom as having in this triple glory dawned.
4. There is a natural desire to retain the rapturous vision. (Verse 33.) As soon as the disciples became watchful witnesses, Moses and Elias appear to have moved away. Their converse has now been interrupted by unspiritual auditors, and so they prepare for their departure. It is in these circumstances that Peter proposes to retain the visitors by making "tabernacles" in the mount. With such a reinforcement, he thinks, as Moses and Elias, in radiance bright, the victory of Messiah will be assured. It is thus we dream. We read the history of the heroes who are gone, and we imagine that it' we were only reinforced from the past we should be triumphant all along the line. Their spirit and their history may well inspire us, but they cannot take our burden.
5. The rapture may pass away in cloud, but Jesus abides with us for ever. (Verses 34-36.) There can be little doubt about this bright cloud being the Shechinah. £ It came to indicate the true manifestation of God in the incarnate Son, and to withdraw the possible competitors. The disciples feared as they entered the cloud. But a gracious paternal voice assured them, "This is my beloved Son: hear him." And when the cloud cleared away, they saw no man, but Jesus only. To the teaching of Jesus, consequently, they would yield intenser attention. Besides, they kept it secret what they had seen. It was one of those glorious visions which could not wisely be yet revealed. Let us enjoy Jesus, no matter how rapturous associations may fade away.—R.M.E.
The secret of successful work.
We saw that the Transfiguration was the result of prayer; but it was not the end of the prayer. This was preparation for further service. The glory is not the end, but only an incidental accompaniment, of devotedness of spirit. It is work for God, further service in his kingdom, which is the aim of all means of grace. And now these verses bring out in different aspects the secret of successful work. Let us notice
I. SUCCESSFUL WORK MUST BE PRAYERFUL. (Luke 9:37-42.) We have here a case of failure on the part of the nine disciples, and of success on the part of the descended Christ. The difference between the two cases was that Christ had been praying on the mountain while they had been prayerless in the valley. Prayerlessness and powerlessness go hand-in-hand. Work done in a prayerless spirit cannot succeed as it ought to do. The transfigured ones alone can meet the emergencies of Christian work, and succeed where others fail. Some cases are doubtless more difficult than others, and some demons make a harder fight of it than others; but there are none of them who can stand a prayerful Christian who faithfully follows Jesus in his line of attack.
II. SUCCESSFUL WORK MUST BE IN SPITE OF MALIGNANT OPPOSITION. (Luke 9:43-45.) Our Lord, as the crowd are wondering at his success, tells the disciples plainly that he is destined to be delivered into the hands of men. This is a sufficient set-off to his success. Men will take and kill him, notwithstanding all his philanthropy and exorcising power. This crucifixion of Jesus is but the type of the world's recognition of the best work done by human hands. A long line of noble workers have followed Jesus along the path of martyrdom. Let no worker, then, be surprised at the world's malignity.
III. SUCCESSFUL WORK MUST BE DIVESTED OF BASE AMBITIONS. (Luke 9:46-48.) Notwithstanding recent failure through want of prayer, the disciples are soon selfishly contending about the first places, and who is to be greatest. It is wonderful how soon we forget our failures and betake ourselves to our ambitions. Now, one characteristic of base ambition is pride about work. Certain lines of work are thought to be beneath our dignity and worth. To correct this in the disciples, our Lord sets a little child before them, and shows that such a child might be received in such a spirit as would be recognized by God himself. The nursing of a little child may be done for the sake of Jesus Christ, and in such a case it is such a work as he will regard, and the Father who sent him also. It is not a great work, therefore, that is needed, but a great heart carried into the smallest work. We think of quantity; Christ thinks of quality. We will not "take our coats off," so to speak, unless it is some work eminently creditable; Christ could throw his great spirit into the fondling of a little child, and do the little one everlasting good. Hence we must do any work clearly laid to our hand with large-heartedness, and we shall find it successful in the best sense. It is the meek ones who are ready to put their hand to anything who are great in the kingdom of God.
IV. SUCCESSFUL WORK DEMANDS, BESIDES, A TOLERANT SPIRIT. (Luke 9:49-56.) John and James, after the Transfiguration privileges, seem to have got very excited and ardent in Christ's service. Two cases in particular show how heated and hasty they were. The first was a case of exorcism through Christ's Name. Some Jew had witnessed the exorcisms of Christ, and, abandoning the Jewish methods and traditions, had tried the new plan, and proved the power of "the Name which is above every name." But because he did not join the disciples, and so preserve their monopoly of delegated power, he is forbidden by them to do such work. This was intolerance misplaced. The worker, though not uniting with the disciples, was promoting the Master's glory by showing the power of his Name. He was an ally, though not a disciple of the same set. Hence Jesus instructs them always to act on the tolerant principle that "he that is not against us is for us." £ The second case in which the sons of Zebedee exhibited unholy zeal was in a certain Samaritan village, during Jesus' journeys to Jerusalem. The last journey has begun (verse 51), and nothing will keep him flora accomplishing it. The Samaritans would have liked him to linger with them, and avoid his enemies and theirs. But he would not listen to their syren voice, but insisted on going up to Jerusalem. Taking umbrage at this, one Samaritan village denied him the usual hospitalities when his forerunners sought it. Incensed at this, John and James inquire if they should not call down fire from heaven to consume the inhospitable Samaritans, as Elijah had done. Samaria was the scene of that fiery ministry. But Elijah's spirit would not suit the Saviour's times. Had the prophet descended from the Mount of Transfiguration, he would not have insisted on any such policy as this. lie had doubtless got less fiery in the peaceful abodes above! As a destructive force, he had served his generation, but the disciples were to remember that saving men, not destroying them, was to be their mission. From both these cases we learn that the true evangelical spirit must reject all intolerance if it is to secure the highest success.
V. SUCCESSFUL WORK REQUIRES FAITHFUL DEALING WITH INDIVIDUAL CASES. (Verses 57-62.) As Jesus was moving upwards to the capital, the people perceived that a crisis was at hand. Hence the desire of some on insufficient grounds to cast in their lot with him who is to be the conquering King. Here is a case in point. A man comes and professes his willingness to be a follower of Jesus wheresoever he goeth. But Jesus undeceives him by indicating that he is not going to be sure of any lodging in this world. Perhaps the man was hoping to reach a palace by following him; but Jesus shows that the birds and beasts have more certain lodgings than he. He thus laid bare the man's danger, and prevented a rash decision. The second case is an invitation to the individual by Jesus himself. It is a case of bereavement, and Jesus seizes on it to secure a disciple. He knew that the best thing this broken-heart could do would be to become a herald of his kingdom. The bereaved one naturally enough asks leave to go and bury his father, but Jesus assures him that there are sufficient dead hearts at homo to pay due respect to his father's remains, and the formalities of the funeral may only change his promptitude into delay and neglect; and so he urges him to become a preacher at once. A third case is that of one who is ready to follow Christ, but wishes to bid those at home farewell. Our Lord tells him the danger of looking back. The farewells at home might have resulted in a farewell for ever to Jesus. It is thus Jesus shows the importance of dealing faithfully with individual souls. We have the secret of successful work laid clearly before us.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18