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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Matthew 17

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-13

Chapter70

Prayer

Almighty God, we hasten unto thee as men who are chased by a great fear or driven by the necessity of pain. There is no rest but in thyself, nor is there any healing for the sore heart but in the grace that is all sufficient. We fly unto thee; yea, our hearts long with much yearning and pining of love to be for ever with the Lord. Place us where thou wilt, but be thou with us, and the place is heaven. We would never be without thee, we would have thee within us and without us, a crown upon the head, a fire in the heart, a voice filling the sanctuary of the whole life. Thou hast thyself given unto us this desire; and, behold, whilst we cherish it, it purifies the soul and lifts up the whole nature towards the shining and holy heavens.

Jesus Christ thy Son is our Saviour, mighty to save, able to save unto the uttermost; his mercy endureth for ever. He saved others, himself he did not save. He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification, and he is now in heaven, turning our poor prayer into his all-inclusive and all-prevalent intercession. Whilst we look upon Jesus Christ, there is no pain in the heart because of sin: the blood of Jesus Christ thy Son cleanseth from all sin. Keep our hearts steadily fixed upon the cross, then shall the power of sin be broken within us, and out of our hearts there shall go one fervent desire to be like the Saviour himself. That we should have such thoughts as these is of the Lord"s doing—no creations of our own are these. This also cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts: we see his hand herein, and herein do we hear his voice.

Continue to establish us in the love of truth; may our desire be for the light that shineth from heaven, may our one purpose be to know thy will, and to do it with both hands earnestly, as men who have but one master to please and one will to consult.

For all thy mercy how shall we praise thee in song sweet and loud enough? We fail in our praise as we fail in all other duty and service; we cannot reach the height of our own gladness, it lies beyond all our power of speech; we pray thee, therefore, to look into our hearts and to read there the songs that cannot be uttered. We have nothing that we have not received: thy name is upon all that we have enjoyed, yea thou hast spread our table, thou hast anointed our head with oil, thou hast caused our cup to run over, and what we have to fear, the valley of the shadow of death, thou hast lighted up into a way leading homeward unto the Fatherland. Thou dost give us good desires; thou knowest how these are besieged by the enemy as citadels that must be overthrown. Thou hast again and again given unto us the spirit of prayer, and yet have we been called to sore contest and fierce wrestling in the wilderness because the enemy would not allow our whole prayer to rise up unto heaven and bring down the answer from thence.

We are filled with a sense of our own mysteriousness: surely thou hast made us, and not we ourselves: we are the creatures of thine hand, and though we cannot understand ourselves, yet dost thou give us occasional light: not altogether hast thou withheld the illuminating beam. We have seen somewhat of ourselves, of our greatness and littleness, of our possibilities of union with thyself, ami of the certainty of our disunion from thee. Show us thy truth, lead us into the mystery of thy grace, and wherever we are may the cross be the centre of our circle, and may all the light we work by stream from its head.

Thou seest us through and through, and there is nothing hidden from thee. How many days we have to spend upon the earth thou knowest; our pulses have been numbered in heaven, the time of the lengthening of the shadow is set down in thy book; we know nothing, for we are but of yesterday, and tomorrow is our great hope and our great fear. Help us to stand steadfastly in the confidence that God will do all things well.

Thou hast taken away from us the delight of our eyes, as if thou didst delight in our pain and find satisfaction in the greatness of our grief; thou hast dug many graves under our hearthstone, thou hast caused the foundations of the house to tremble, and the roof has not kept out the storm—yet hast thou been merciful withal. Full of tenderness, thy solaces have followed the visitations of thy rod, and thy grace has been greater than our sin. Whilst we have been speaking of death thou hast been speaking of resurrection, and in the time of our sorest grief thou hast been preparing for us our gladdest surprises. Kindly look upon us all; let thy glance have nothing in it of the fire of judgment, but all the warmth and beauty of a tender smile.

Direct those who are perplexed and sore driven and often ill at ease, to whom night brings no rest and the day brings double care; show men that prosperity itself is an opportunity for humility and lowliness before God. Teach the rich man that his riches are but for a moment, and may at any time fall out of his hand and leave him poor indeed. Teach the poor man that his poverty may become a means of grace, and may lead him to the deepest considerations which can move and elevate human thought. Speak to the young comfortably and inspiringly, chastening their enthusiasm, sanctifying the passion of their fire, and make them servants of the altar.

Send out thy messages in all directions today. Give thine angels strength to carry them everywhere. Put into the tones of thy servants music that shall find and bless the heart. May the gospel of God our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Victim and the Priest, go forth, blessing all hearts, all homes, all lands. Be with those who are in trouble on the sea, with those who must travel that they may earn an honourable livelihood, with members of our families in far-away colonies and foreign lands—unite us all by the bonds of tender sympathy, and in all our hearts may there be the sure and confident hope of reunion in the land on high. Oh that our prayer might be mighty,—that it might prevail in heaven,—that after its Amen there might come a great peace into the heart. Amen.

Matthew 17:1-13

1. And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James , and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,

2. And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.

3. And, behold (introducing a greater marvel than even the metamorphosis) there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.

4. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles (arbours, forest-tents, hermitages), one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.

5. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them (as the Sheckinah overshadowed the Virgin), and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Song of Solomon , in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.

6. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.

7. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.

8. And when they had lifted up their eyes they saw no Prayer of Manasseh , save Jesus only.

9. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision (Greek: what they had seen) to no Prayer of Manasseh , until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.

10. And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?

11. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come (cometh) and restore ( Revelation -establish) all things.

12. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.

13. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

The Transfiguration and Revelation

There are three accounts of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. One in the chapter we have read. Another in the ninth chapter of Mark—in the tenth verse of Mark"s account we read, "And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning with one another what the rising from the dead should mean." Luke has a somewhat different account, but substantially the same. He tells us that Moses and Elias spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.

"And after six days." Does not everything truly religious happen after six days? Is there a measure or a subtle poetry in time? And the Lord rested the seventh day—and the Lord was metamorphosed on the seventh day. Let us take note of time and of the succession of events; whilst men in other sections of life are noting laws of averages, singular points of recurrence and coincidence, let us who live in the Temple also have our eyes open towards the methods and periods of Revelation , that we may be well read in the time-bill of Heaven. O fools and slow of heart, to read all the literature of the six days and understand it, and all the signs of the weather and comprehend them, and yet to leave unread and unpenetrated the secret which is the glory of all things! Luke has "after eight days." It is the same thing—the two days are counted which began and ended. The three evangelists concur in stating that is was after six days the Lord was metamorphosed before three of his chosen ones. After six days we need something: after six days" toil and weariness, exhausted in strength, cast down in spirit, struck by a thousand crossing darts, we require protection, security, Revelation , uplifting, an experience and gladness of better worlds.

"Jesus taketh Peter, and James , and John." He was always taking those men somewhere. He always had his three mighties—as for the rest of us, it is said, "They did not attain unto the first three." We cannot understand these divine and human trinities: things duplicate one another, and are full of subtle and bewildering typologies. Similitudes that are round about us, the unwritten yet ever vivid parables, do but distress our poor weak thinking and make fools of us. Yet is there music in the mystery as there are stars hidden in the darkness. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—Peter, James , John—the Old Testament and the New Testament each has its trinity of manhood. Let those who are curious about such matters—and the curiosity is permissible and instructive—consider the different characteristics and temperaments of these men, and see how the three are one and the one three, on earth as in heaven, and on earth as certainly as in heaven. God made man in his own image and likeness, and it takes three of us to make up the whole man. Why be little, separated, isolated creatures, having no connection with counterparts and complements? Why not answer the hunger of the heart, which says, "I am not self-complete," and go out in the direction of fellowship, union, and integrity?

"Jesus taketh Peter, James , and John , and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart." High places should bring high thoughts; matter should help spirit; no man should be vulgar on the top of a mountain. Our pulses should "be throbbing with the fulness of the spring." This is the purpose of having consecrated houses, churches set apart for one object, whose very air is full of blessing. A man ought to lose all his lower nature in the face of a sunset. It should make him religious, if not Christian. At such a farewell he should tremble with the desire to ascend himself to a purer clime. So in the church he should be alone, though urged by the crowd; he should give himself up to the genius of the place and be a child at home.

We are mountain-born, if we did but know it; we are all hill-men. There be those who take us to the high mountains to show us our littleness, and they do well. They say, "Look up, there are three thousand feet of rock above you; do you not feel small—a grasshopper in the presence of such hugeness?" Partly I do, yet not wholly. Watch me as, with staff in hand, I climb, and as I climb I grow, and by-and-by I stand above the rock, and ask it if it be not a pedestal for a monument. Were I rooted in the ground and could only look at the huge elevation, I might faint in heart and say, "How little I am;" but, knowing that I can put the loftiest mountain of the earth under my feet, stand upon it and lift my hand to a height it never climbed, I am greater than the mountain. We should all betake ourselves to high places and secret temples; we should often meet God on the top of the mountain, and especially early in the morning, the time when Moses went to see the Lord. Then should we come back with the dew of heaven upon our lives, baptized anew, refreshed, and jewelled, and blessed; and the day, how thick soever should be its trials, and fierce soever its rights, should give way before us, recognising the shining of our face and the sanctity of our whole mien.

"And was transfigured before them," metamorphosed, changed into another being. He was three in one, he was one in three. Before this they had not seen their Lord, they had but seen their teacher; one ray of his glory fell upon them and startled them with a wondrous surprise. There are occasional moments when a man sees himself, when he Isaiah , so to say, metamorphosed to his own vision. Usually we live dull, gray, languid, commonplace lives; we are not often roused to our fullest strength—yet now and again things occur in life which reveal us to ourselves. So also with others. We do not see one another, except it may be on a seventh day now and then, a Sabbath, a jubilee, a funeral day, when fear seizes the life and makes us show our true resources and the very roots of our strength, which are often but the roots of our weakness, a joy-day, whose air vibrates with clanging bells, a wedding day, a birthday, an emancipation day, and then from our very faces there radiates a light which never shone there in the vision of man before. We are all conscious of waking-up times, when we lay hold upon our whole strength and realize every fibre and element and force of our manhood. That is always after six days of troubled wonder, bewildering study, distracted, often shattered, often disappointed exercise of love.

Some persons we never have seen but once, though we have associated with them for years. You must keep your eye always on the face of your friend if you would really know him. When you are not looking, he may be himself—it was when you did not see him that he gave the revealing look, it was when you did not hear him that the revealing tone entered into his voice—a word, a cry, a glance, a touch, and the vision is past, for ever.

Jesus talked to Moses and Elias, and they spake to him of the decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. The English word decease does not hold all the meaning of that profound, most mysterious interview. They talked of the decessus, the exodus of Moses, the exodus which Moses left unaccomplished, the outgoing which seemed to have no corresponding incoming. They spoke of the decessus, the exodus of the nobler Moses, who would bring to perfectness of accomplishment the outgoing and the homecoming, for he should accomplish the decessus at Jerusalem, mayhap not the death only, coming back into resurrection, but the other part of the decessus, the outgoing, the uprising, the ascension, the whole tragedy—a subject worthy of such speakers.

Why do we detach ourselves from our ancestry above? We belong to the grand heroic days. We never meet in God"s house without coming to an innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of the just made perfect. We also are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses; why let our eyes plunge themselves in the cold walls as terminal lines? We are not come to the mount that might be touched, but to Mount Zion, more a life than a mountain, the church of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. When these reflections seize the mind and fill it with all their poetry and stir it with all their ineffable passion, we too are metamorphosed, our hymn is not sung by ourselves alone; or, if we have a hymn of our own, they have a hymn of theirs, and the hymns melt and blend, and being transfused, strength to strength, passion to passion, "They sing the Lamb in hymns above, And we in hymns below." We are limited and humbled by our weakness, they are conscious of immortality and imperishable strength. They in the kingdom of his light, we in the kingdom of his trial—the kingdoms are but one. Why do we detach ourselves from the grand unity of humanity, why do we set up ourselves in petty self-completeness? Thus we lose everything: we are scattered pebbles, not a massive and sacred temple. Adam and Moses, Elias and Isaiah , Peter and Paul—these are my ancestors. Thus "the dead loom upon us large and solemn, not to dwarf our stature, but to show to what bigness we may grow." And when I see to what company I belong, the blood of a thousand generations quickens within me, and I say, "They that are with me are more than they that are against me."

Realize the unity of history, far outstretching lines that begin apparently in the cross and that do really begin there, if we make the cross the first of figures, set up before the foundation of the world, and then see how in Christ all things are united that are in heaven above or on earth beneath, in the far-away twilight of history, in its present sinning and fighting, and in its last developments and completions. He is Alpha and Omega, the First, the Last, the Beginning and the End, the Root and the Offspring of David, the bright and Morning Star. The Root and the Offspring—always contradicting himself in words; always putting the world"s pedantry to vexation; and yet always, in a large reconciliation of thought, finding a nobler eloquence than in the smooth nothings of men who would rather perish than be literally inconsistent. He himself is a contradiction, the contradiction of all history, the puzzle of all life—what wonder therefore that in words he should oftentimes appear to be a paradox and a self-contradiction, at once a root and an offspring?

This metamorphosis probably happened at night. Probably, because Luke says, "And the next day," and probably, also, because of the overwhelming sleep which the disciples felt. Perhaps it was not what we call now sleep, perhaps it was a clairvoyant state. It was no slothful sleep, otherwise the purpose of the Lord had been frustrated in taking them up the mountain to behold the metamorphosis. It was a singular stupefaction a bewilderment, an almost insanity and incoherence, a strange shaking and inspiration of the inner nature, in which the men saw and heard and lived as they never saw and heard and lived before. How the light shone upon the background of the dark firmament, the great arch one gleam, and on it a shining figure, white as the light, and the raiment streaming with rays. "I am the light of the world"—all light concentred in that shining Figure, coming out of it and returning to it. That was the true light that lighted every man that cometh into the world. Do not blame the disciples as if they had fallen into a slothful sleep: there are times when we cannot give a correct account of ourselves or an account that is socially satisfactory—we know not what we say or what we do. Unless a man has been in some such high moods as these he cannot read the New Testament: he does but babble its alphabet, he does not articulate tunefully and in all the pathos of its music the inner eloquence of heaven.

They came down from the mountain: they were not made to live high up in the air or to pine in solitary places. We must not always be in the formal church. One day in seven, then down again! But, in going down, always take the mountain with you. It is possible to take the mountain home—for what other purpose have we our vacations, holidays, times of change and rest? Do we leave the Alps out yonder, or do we bring them to the towns and live upon them all the year, till the next time comes for the seventh day of metamorphosis and revelation and up-looking? If persons can go to Alpine lands and traverse Alpine heights and come back without bringing the Alps with them, what wonder if they can read the New Testament through without its touching their hearts? Bring the sea home with you, and the great mountain and the cooling snow, and the bracing air and the blue heaven, and the singing birds and the summers of various lands, and these will be the very roots and sources of sustenance during the whole period of service and suffering and divers ministries. Take the church home with you, carry Sunday all through the week, and you will find how wondrously adapted it is to measure the whole span of the intervening time between itself and itself. Never leave the church, take it—take it home!

They were to tell no man what they had seen. We cannot tell all we know: we have secrets that make the heart throb double life, and we should be poor if we parted with them. We have all had experiences of Christ which we could not tell, for no words have been invented for such experiences. Such looks he has thrown upon us, such warmth he has communicated to us, such promises he has whispered to the heart—we have laid our head upon his shoulder and cried like little children, and we have been stronger for the sweet sorrow. When we have told all we have to tell, we have not begun the tale: we have secret faiths, secret hopes, secret delights all in keeping with the central truth, but each with an accent unintelligible to the general ear.

Hard lesson—"Tell no man." Who does not like to speak when he has seen great sights or heard sounds of unusual music? Christ has here given the disciples one of their first lessons in the cross. He has just told us, "If any man will follow Me, he must take up his cross daily." In this injunction, Jesus causes the disciples to feel the first pressure of what will become a great weight, namely, the cross of crucifixion. Learn the lesson of self-suppression, learn the mystery of silence; the wild-talking man never comes to any rich maturity of life. We must always know more than we have ever told: every author must be greater than his books, every singer greater than his Song of Solomon , every preacher more than his sermon. Do not babble: think. Keep all these things and ponder them in your heart—the uses of all will be seen presently. Does Jesus Christ ever tune the instrument for the purpose of hanging it up on the wall? What musician would do so? He tunes it that he may discourse eloquent music upon it. So when he grants us white and shining revelations of himself and his purpose, it is that we may go down the mountain and heal the lunatic that is raving at its base.

"They questioned with one another what the rising from the dead should mean." The Lord always gives us a problem to save us from intellectual stagnation. Read the life of Jesus Christ, and find how oftentimes he challenges the understanding, the genius, the intellectual penetration and sagacity of man. "What think ye of Christ?" "What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" And here the disciples wonder what the rising from the dead should mean. Death had not entered into their calculations, death was an element which they had excluded from all their reckoning and thinking. We do exclude from our narrow sums the figures which would first contract and afterwards expand and glorify them. We are still wondering what the rising of the dead shall mean. We are still wondering what our departed ones are doing—they are never sick, they are never in pain, they are never weary—thanks for knowledge so much, but I want to know more: are they ever here? how much do they see? what do they know? do they think about us, pray for us, pluck fruit for us from the upper trees, and convey it to the heart by secret messages? Here we are left with a great wonder, walking up the mountain, walking down, wonder follows wonder, and still we live a life of wild or chastened sorrow.

When he came down from the mountain how did he use his exalted and ennobled passion? Did Jesus Christ contemn the people, or did he neglect them? Nay, he rebuked unbelief and he healed affliction. That is to be our work. After our mountain meetings and high festivals of rapture, our supreme hours of joy, let us go down the mountain to reaffirm and to heal.


Verses 14-27

Chapter71

Prayer

Almighty God, we do this day join the Church of all times and all lands, and praise thy name because of thy grace and thy truth. We are part of a great Church, the whole of which thou alone canst see. We have come to the spirits of the just made perfect, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven, and to this great host we add our voice that the hymn of praise which goes up to thee may thereby be strengthened because of our personal thankfulness. Thou hast done great things for us, whereof we are glad. If sometimes we sit down to reckon up the darkness, that do thou charge to our faithlessness and our meanness of soul. We ought the rather to count the stars thou hast set in the darkness and to number the mercies wherewith thou hast surrounded our life; then should there be no end to the long reckoning, for thy tender mercies are more in number than the sands upon the sea-shore. Give us the loving heart that seeks the blessings that they may be added up and set out in order, and take away from us the disloyal and despairing spirit that counts the afflictions and reckons thee hard in visitation and in judgment.

Thy tender mercies are over all thy works: thou dost give music to the wind and thou dost give fragrance to the flower, and thou givest light unto every star. Thou art always adding to that which is good, so that there is no measure to its beauty and its delightfulness. Our cup runneth over; for our right hand thou hast a rod, for our left hand a staff, and in the valley of the shadow of death thou dost find for us light and song.

All this thou hast done for us and in us by Jesus Christ, the firstborn of every creature, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation and took upon him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. He is highly exalted today, his name absorbs all other names, and he alone reigns in infinite and indestructible glory. In all things he hath the pre-eminence: having submitted to the lowest humiliation, he sits now upon the highest throne, and if we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him. May we be in the Saviour, cleansed by his blood, sanctified by his spirit, transfigured into his image, and animated evermore by his noble purpose. Thus may we reveal Christ day by day, showing men what he Isaiah , and showing the world that we have bread to eat which was never provided by time or sense.

Thou hast promised us great things. Beyond all our prayer thine answer rises like a firmament filled with lights: ours the poor prayer, thine the infinite reply. Thou hast promised to search the earth through and through to find that which was lost of thine image and likeness, and all that sleep in Christ shall be brought with him at the last, and thou wilt leave no grave unopened; thou wilt find for us our lost ones, and set them up again, a multitude that no man can number, and thy heaven shall be filled and thy guests shall go out no more for ever. By such visions dost thou draw us forward through the wilderness, by the music of such promises dost thou stir us, and yet soothe us, in all the way of our life.

Deliver us from the fascination cast upon us by unworthy objects, save us from the torment of slavery to things that are mean and worthless, and enable us to set our whole love upon things that are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. May our heart be in Heaven, may our fellowship be with the Father and with the Song of Solomon , through the eternal Spirit. May a light above the brightness of the sun make our way glad, and voices spoken to the heart charm away their fear and gloom.

Mercifully help every good man to bear his burden steadily. In thy great love do thou nourish the hearts that are given over to sore trial, heal with balm from heaven the wounded spirit, with thine own gentle hand dry the tears of sorrow, and by frequent shining from behind the cloud do thou grant unto us release from the fear which its darkness inspires. We are all known to thee in every thought and motive, in every purpose and Acts , and thou wilt deal mercifully with us, for though we be rebels and aliens, yet are we still thine own children: thou didst make us and not we ourselves, and though we are self-torn and self-destroyed, yet amid all the ruin, the shame, thou dost see the traces of thine own image.

Our hope is in Christ, our trust is in the cross, our cry is towards our Father, and it will not be returned to us in mockery, but in great answers of pardon, assurance, and peace. Amen.

Matthew 17:14-27

14. And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain Prayer of Manasseh , kneeling down to him, and saying,

15. Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed; for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.

16. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.

17. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse (seduced or led astray) generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.

18. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.

19. Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?

20. And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

21. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

22. And while they abode in (went to and fro) Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men:

23. And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.

24. And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and saith, Doth not your master pay tribute?

25. He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom (duties on goods) or tribute (poll-tax, Acts 5:37)? of their own children, or of strangers? (To the Jews direct taxation was hateful, as a sign of subjugation.)

26. Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.

27. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money (a stater): that take, and give unto them for me and thee.

Transfiguration Completed By Beneficence

We have read the story of the lunatic son in the three Gospels. The differences of narration are notable. It would seem impossible for any three men to tell the same story in the same way, even where the facts are so striking and tragical as in the instance now before us. Mark is the most observant of the writers: always in Mark"s statements there is most of indication, colour, and record of movement; Mark takes notice of attitudes, looks, tones of the voice, and in this instance he has recorded for us some of the most pathetic and touching incidents in the whole case. It was Mark who saw the tears in the man"s eyes: it was Mark who overheard the great prayer, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief;" and it was Mark who observed all the contortions and paroxysms of the young man immediately before the devil was ordered to quit him. It was Mark who saw two miracles in one—the man from whom the spirit had been cast out was as one dead, insomuch that many said, "He is dead," but Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him, and he arose, and thus performed two miracles upon the sufferer. Let us look at the incident as related by Matthew.

"And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain Prayer of Manasseh , kneeling down to him." They had come from the Mount of Transfiguration: one would have thought that after that metamorphosis and that marvellous interview with Moses and Elias, that nothing of an ordinary or commonplace kind would ever have taken place in the lives of Jesus Christ or the three disciples who accompanied him to the great and solemn height. Yet you cannot escape commonplace: Monday will thrust itself sharply upon the heels of Sunday—already on the Sabbath eventide you may hear the throb of the machine getting ready for the week"s work; and, strange as it may appear, this cure of afflicted persons, this long succession of miracles, had become almost a commonplace in the Saviour"s life. We have been so accustomed to his healing, releasing or expelling devils, straightening those who were burdened, and lifting up those who were cast down, that we seem as if out of our element if not reading an account of a miracle or beholding some marvellous token of power. When Jesus came down from the mountain, one would have thought that the whole subject would have been what had been seen on the great height; yet, as he came down the hill, he specially covenanted with his disciples that they should say nothing about it. The vision was not to be told to any man; all four of them were to come back again to their work as if nothing had happened. The heart has a secret history; man lives a double life. There are dreams we cannot tell, visions and flamings in the night-darkness about which we can say nothing that is coherent—which we cannot put into public language, for it would not be understood, when called upon to relate such strange experience. So they come back to the multitude to take up the thread where they dropped it.

You cannot approach a multitude without finding afflictions. A solemn and instructive circumstance is that. When did any multitude gather that was not afflicted in some of its members or afflicted as a whole? Wherever we go we carry affliction with us; sometimes it is borne silently; most of us have some secret or unspeakable pain—every heart knows the bite of its own hunger. The heart knoweth its own bitterness, and a stranger intermeddleth not with its joy. But for such circumstances Jesus Christ need not have come to the multitude. He never went to the multitude to join its mere feasting or hilarity, to unite his voice in its rude song of momentary delight. Whenever Jesus Christ approached a multitude it was to do the very thing which he did in this instance—to heal its lunacy, to soothe its pain, to comfort its unutterable distress. He had no other mission on earth. Take away the sin and the consequent sorrow of mankind and Jesus Christ would have no place in human history. He was born to save, he came to heal. When our sins and our sorrows are removed from our history, then Jesus Christ as an incarnate Son of God will sustain no further relation to it. The end will come, when he will deliver up the kingdom to God and his Father, and God shall be all in all.

The man had a peculiar speech to make to Jesus: his earnestness made him frank. He did not seek to flatter the disciples or to excuse them, but plainly he says, "I brought him to thy disciples and they could not cure him." A charge which is brought against the church today. May I add that it is a charge which is often but too just? The world is a lunatic at the door of the church today, and the church seems to care next to nothing for the sufferer and to have no power over the deadly affliction. The church has its incantations, its old outworn forms of expression, its decayed machinery, and its effete institutionalism, but the miracle-working power, the divine inspiration, the sovereignty over all hindrances and stumbling-blocks, alas! where have these fled? What is the church worth if it cannot cure the lunacy of the world? The church, like its Master, has nothing to do in the world unless it be to heal and to bless and to save mankind. The church was not instituted to amuse the world, but to save it, not to mock the world by speaking to it a pointless and useless speech, but to redeem the world through Jesus Christ the Lord.

Discipleship is not enough, for it may be merely nominal. Outward ceremonies and institutional relationships are not enough—these may be but external and momentary and factitious. Discipleship of the heart alone can do any good. The inflamed and inspired heart cannot speak words of weakness; let that heart utter itself, and in its tone there will be the music of a subtle sympathy, and the world will be the better for its illumining and comforting speech. How is it with our hearts? Our heads are clever enough and clear enough, and may be sufficiently stored with a certain kind of information, but what about the heart, its sympathy, its insight, its moral intuition, its redeeming desires, its unity, almost identity, with the Son of God?

Jesus rebuked the generation around him, and specially accentuated his rebuke when he looked at his disciples, but he himself was not disturbed about the case. It might have excited his anxieties; it would certainly have troubled an impostor. With a singular confirmation of his own truthfulness, he begins by pouring almost contempt, certainly stern rebuke, upon those who had failed in the great encounter. "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?" That was not the introduction which a man would have adopted who had any doubt about the sovereignty and completeness of his own resources. Woe unto us, when our rebukes of others are greater than the redemptive power that is in our own hearts. He is not the saviour of his age who can but curse it. It may be in eloquent denunciation the prophet may pour his maledictions upon his time, but unless he can follow his malediction by beneficent action on his own part, he is but a Balaam, self-inspired, and his curse may possibly return to his own head.

What did Jesus Christ say, after rebuking the faithlessness and perverseness of the generation? He said, "Bring him hither to me." Mark the noble majesty, the simple ease, the absolute consciousness of adequate power. "Bring him hither to me." He had been upon the Mount of Transfiguration, but that gave him no access of power; he was the same before he ascended the hill. He had seen Moses and Elias, and conversed with them about the decease that was to be accomplished at Jerusalem, but long before that there was Resurrection in the hem of his garment, and heaven in the utterance of his benediction.

"Bring him hither to me." The case is a difficult one; "bring him hither to me," Others have tried and failed; "bring him hither to me." The church has done its little utmost, and the church stands with hands helplessly hung by its side—"bring him hither to me." So would we have all church difficulties settled. When men complain of the inefficiency of the church, the uselessness of the ministry, the want of power in Christian institutions, we will not close the argument upon grounds so narrow; we add, "You have still to see the Master; you must wait until he comes down from the mountain height. After you have seen him you shall form a complete verdict upon the case, but not until you have had an interview with Christ himself must you consider yourself in a position to adjudge the merits of Christianity, as he alone can represent it."

Judge everything by Christ"s speech. Condemn the church if you please, and your condemnation may be generally just, but do not let the condemnation of the church include one word of criticism concerning its Head and Lord. You cannot be so disappointed with the church as Christ himself was. It is not in your power to form an indictment against the church so complete, so incisive, so withering as that which Jesus Christ himself framed and launched in language of fire. He is more grieved than we can be over the failures of the church; still he stands there with undiminished light, with undiminished grace, still willing to make up the church"s deficiencies and to set up his personal claim to the sovereignty of all hearts.

There was one spirit which Jesus Christ himself could not cast out. As for this devil, he ordered it out of the young sufferer—"Come out of him," said Hebrews , "and enter no more into him," and the devil, after a last paroxysm, came out. There was, however, a spirit which Jesus Christ himself could not so expel. What was it that defied Omnipotence itself? It was Unbelief, the spirit of unfaith, the spirit that says, "Do not go in that direction or trust that word or risk that adventure; keep within your own strength, make provision for yourself, and do not trust the Divine word. Always keep hold of the world with one hand whilst you try to lay hold of heaven with the other. That is the spirit of unbelief, and Jesus Christ himself could not expel the spirit from the human heart. Hence he said to the suffering parent, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." Even we have to provide something upon which the Son of God can operate. Miracles have to be done by consent when they touch the moral region.

How is it that ye have no faith? What is faith? It is the sixth sense; it is the unnameable and immeasurable power of the human heart; it is that peculiar faculty which sees God and lays hold of him, and magnifies the part into the whole, and rests with absoluteness of trust upon the almightiness and the equity and love of God. You cannot define faith in adequate words. All that is in our power is but thus to hint at it dimly. The soul which has felt its sovereignty, and has been borne on under its benign and elevating influence, can understand in speechlessness the Divine faculty, and can perform the marvellous function.

Song of Solomon , then, Jesus Christ is baffled sometimes. He can walk upon the sea, or raise the dead, or cast out devils, but when he comes against the unbelieving heart, when he encounters the spirit of unfaith, which is the spirit of self-trust, he cannot do any mighty works there. We must, then, begin by repairing, so to say, our faith, if we would have deeper fellowship with heaven, larger and richer manifestations of Divine grace and bestowals of Divine power. The wound is not in our intelligence, it is in our faith; the fatal stab has not been inflicted upon our Genius, but upon our Belief.

Surely this man prayed for us all when he said, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. I bring a little faith—all I have; I gather up my heart into one strain of faith, but so much is lacking—help thou mine unbelief; make up what is lacking, complete what is deficient, and thus let the miracle begin in me and pass on to my child." Why should the church be raising false issues and following false scents altogether, by supposing that the wound is in its intelligence, its literature, its genius, its intellectual department? whereas the church probably never was stronger in intellect or richer in literary resources than she is today. It is her faith that requires renewal, replenishment, enlargement. I know not of any nobler, sweeter prayer, punctuated with sobs and tears, than this cry, "Help thou mine unbelief!"

Yet the disciples had this redeeming fact on their side. They were troubled about their own failure; they asked a frank question about their inability to cast out the devil. "Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?" They will do better things some day; men who can thus freely talk about their own failures will not fail in the long run. Given a number of men who fail and never inquire about the failure, that is to say, never search into its reason, and such men will never do anything great or lasting in the world; but, given people in any department or relation of life who diligently and searchingly ask themselves, "Why did we fail—how is it that we have not succeeded in this instance?" and, whatever the occasion be which elicits that inquiry, success must of necessity follow such inquests into inability and failure. Men in business should ask themselves once a week or once a month, "How is it that we have not succeeded?" Students and learners of all kinds should ask themselves, "How is it that we have not mastered this difficulty?" Churches looking out from their windows upon the world"s distress and madness should ask themselves, penetratingly and with a sense of humiliation, which is itself the beginning of strength, "How is it that today the world"s lunacy is as grievous as it ever was? Why those multitudes outside? why this blasphemy in the sacred air of the Sabbath? why this contempt of religious institutions? why the laugh of mockery as the multitudes pass the church?"

When we set ourselves to such earnest inquiries, Christ will tell us how it is that we have not succeeded. It will be the beginning of better days for us when from the first line to the last we go in searching critical inquest through our whole ministry and mission in the world, asking how it is that we have not succeeded. Do not cover up the case. Seek not to wrap it up or throw it behind and become indifferent about it, but stand over your failures, acknowledge them, blame yourself for them, and ask the heart and ask the Master this searching question, "Why have we failed?"

Mark now points out that Jesus Christ went through Galilee, and he would not that any man should know it. He was, as it were, skulking through to the end. In his own land he was passing as one who was afraid of being identified; it was as if he had walked out in the night-time, and studied a map of the place, and found out the mountain paths and the untrodden ways that he might get to the end.

Now that the miracle is performed, he returns to the great subject of converse on the mount. "While they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men, and they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again; and they were exceeding sorry." Instead of saying, "Ye shall deliver him," he said, "He shall be delivered into the hands of men," for it was God that delivered him, not man: Jesus was not murdered, he was offered as a lamb. Murder may be charged upon those who laid bloody hands upon him, but in the larger view this was the Divine doing, and the fulfilment with in the limits of time of the sovereign purpose of eternity. The disciples heard only the first part of the speech—" The Son of man shall be betrayed, and they shall kill him." We seldom hear any sentence quite through: men are bad listeners, they catch what they imagine to be the leading words, and on those they rest and from those they draw all their inferences, and so absorbed do they become in parts of the introductory speech that they do not hear its final close. Otherwise when Jesus Christ said, "On the third day he shall be raised again," they would have been as men who beheld a harvest field clothed with golden wheat, waving its head gently and as it were gratefully under the breezes and under the great light of noonday. Instead of seeing the end, they saw only the beginning: they heard the bad news, or what to them was bad news, and they listened no longer. It is possible to listen to the gospel and not to hear it: it is possible to listen to the reading of the Divine word and to miss the one verse that casts light upon the whole story. He that hath ears to hear let him hear.

I include in my exposition today the passage concerning the payment of tribute money, just to show the violent transitions through which this wondrous life passed. Here we have a man performing a miracle which the disciples left unperformed: here we have him forecasting his death and preaching the great fact and doctrine of his resurrection, and then we have him vexed and humiliated by some question of personal taxation. How completely did he fulfil every function of life! with what attention he attended to the details of every day"s engagements: nothing hurried, nothing overdriven, nothing neglected, no fragments lost. Why, when he comes to leave the tomb, we may not have to wonder if we find the linen clothes wrapped and laid away by a patient hand. If we so find the grave-clothes, it will be of a piece with all the attention to details which has been disclosed in this marvellous life.

The Man has received the death-shock: he is straitened until the baptism of blood be accomplished: his soul is in great suffering, and yet he is challenged about the tribute money, and attends to it as if it were his whole business. Nor does he chide Peter too sternly. Peter had committed the Master: being asked aside whether the Master paid tribute money, he rashly answered "Yes." He often gave foolish replies, and in this instance he committed the Master; but the Master would not commit the servant. He did not contradict him; he took the case up as Peter himself had placed it: though he compelled him to acknowledge that he was historically and argumentatively wrong, yet he would not place him in a dilemma. Things were now getting serious—he gave Peter a lesson about the payment of the tribute money when his soul was getting exceeding sorrowful even unto death. So he told Peter what to do, where to find the money, and he laid down as the principle of his conduct, "lest we offend them." Give no needless offence; do not go out of your way to vex and harass people. If some great moral principle be not involved, then take you the course of conciliation, and be anxious always to do that which is courteous and graceful. If a great moral principle be involved, then go to the cross rather than surrender it; but if there be no such principle involved, then put yourselves to a good deal of trouble not to give unnecessary offence and inflict needless vexation.

The picture suffers nothing from being looked at in its extreme lights. The great miracle, the greater sacrifice, and the little question of tribute money—that is human life to day in the Church: praying, crying to heaven, lifting up great psalms to heaven, and tomorrow opening the door, lighting the lamp, cleaning the window, writing the letter, and doing earth"s little business with diligence and faithfulness. The Master did all this, and to all this we are called. If we settle the question of the tribute money, and all other little questions of detail in the spirit of the great Sacrifice, then our little actions will be great, and about our meanest doings there will be something of the sacredness and the dignity of Christ"s sacrifice.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 17:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/matthew-17.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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