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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
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Nave's Topical Bible - Fellowship; The Topic Concordance - Disciples/apostles; Family; Will of God;
Verse Matthew 12:48. Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? — The reason of this seeming disregard of his relatives was this: they came to seize upon him, for they thought he was distracted. See Mark 3:33.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Matthew 12:48". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/matthew-12.html. 1832.
53. Jesus and his family (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:20-21,Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21)
The children of Mary and Joseph born after Jesus were James, Joseph, Simon, Judas and at least two daughters (cf. Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). At first they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, but thought he was suffering from some sort of religious madness (Mark 3:20-21; cf. John 7:3-5). Jesus must have been saddened to see such an attitude in his brothers and sisters, but he knew that more important than natural relationships were spiritual relationships. All who obey God are related to him and to one another in the vast family of God (Mark 3:31-35).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Matthew 12:48". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/matthew-12.html. 2005.
But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand towards his disciples, and said, Behold, my mother and my brethren!
Probably due to his foresight of the gross idolatry that would flourish around the name of his mother, Christ was careful to guard against it. More on this will be found under Matthew 13:55. Mary was never set forth as a female deity by Christ. If she had been, in any sense, the "Mother of God," Christ's treatment of her on this occasion was improper. Although there is no hint that they were aware of it, Mary and his brothers were interfering with his work; and Christ refused to see them, at least until the business at hand was completed.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Matthew 12:48". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/matthew-12.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
See also Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21.
His brethren - There has been some difference of opinion about the persons who are referred to here, some supposing that they were children of Mary his mother, others that they were the children of Mary, the wife of Cleophas or Alpheus, his “cousins,” and called “brethren” according to the customs of the Jews. The natural and obvious meaning is, however, that they were the children of Mary his mother. See also Mark 6:3. To this opinion, moreover, there can be no valid objection.
Who is my mother? ... - There was no want of affection or respect in Jesus toward his mother, as is proved by his whole life.
See especially Luke 2:51, and John 19:25-27. This question was asked merely to “fix the attention” of the hearers and to prepare them for the answer - that is, to show them who sustained toward him the nearest and most tender relation. To do this he pointed to his disciples. Dear and tender as were the ties which bound him to his mother and brethren, yet those which bound him to his disciples were more tender and sacred. How great was his love for his disciples, when it was more than even that for his mother! And what a bright illustration of his own doctrine, that we ought to forsake father, and mother and friends, and houses, and lands, to be his followers!
1. Our Saviour has taught us the right use of the Sabbath, Matthew 12:1-13. His conduct was an explanation of the meaning of the fourth commandment. By his example we may learn what may be done. He himself performed only those works on the Sabbath which were strictly necessary for life, and those which tended to benefit the poor, the afflicted, and needy. Whatever work is done on the Sabbath that is not for these ends must be wrong. All labor that can as well be done on another day all which is not for the support of life, or to aid the ignorant, poor, and sick. must be wrong. This example justifies teaching the ignorant, supplying the wants of the poor, instructing children in the precepts of religion, teaching those to read in Sunday schools who have no other opportunity for learning, and visiting the sick, when we go not for formality, or “to save time on some other day,” but to do them good.
2. The Sabbath is of vast service to mankind. It was made for man - not for man to violate or profane, or to be a day of mere idleness, but to improve to his spiritual and eternal good. Where people are employed through “six” days in worldly occupations, it is kind toward them to give them one day particularly to prepare for eternity. Where there is no Sabbath there is no religion. This truth, from the history of the world, will bear to be recorded in letters of gold - “that true religion will exist among men only when they strictly observe the Sabbath.” They, therefore, who do most to promote the observance of the Sabbath, are doing most for religion and the welfare of man. In this respect Sunday school teachers may do more, perhaps, than all the world besides for the best interests of the world.
3. In the conduct of Christ Matthew 12:14-15 we have an illustration of the nature of Christian prudence. He did not throw himself needlessly into danger. He did not remain to provoke opposition. He felt that his time was not come, and that his life, by a prudent course, should be preserved. He therefore withdrew. Religion requires us to sacrifice our lives rather than deny the Saviour. To throw our lives away when, with good conscience, they might be preserved, is self-murder.
4. The rejection of the gospel in one place is often the occasion of its being received elsewhere, Matthew 12:15. People may reject it to their own destruction; but somewhere it “will” be preached, and will be the power of God unto salvation. The wicked cannot drive it out of the world. They only secure their own ruin, and, against their will, benefit and save others. To reject it is like turning a beautiful and fertilizing stream from a man’s own land. He does not, he cannot dry it up. “It will flow somewhere else.” He injures himself and perhaps benefits multitudes. People never commit so great foolishness and wickedness, and so completely fail in what they aim at, as in rejecting the gospel. A man, hating the light of the sun, might get into a cave or dungeon, and be in total darkness; but the sun will continue to shine, and millions, in spite of him, will be benefited by it. So it is with the gospel.
5. Christ was mild, quiet, retiring not clamorous or noisy, Matthew 12:19. So is all religion. There is no piety in noise; if there was, then thunder and artillery would be piety. Confusion and discord are not religion. Loud words and shouting are not religion. Religion is love, reverence, fear, holiness, a deep and awful regard for the presence of God, profound apprehensions of the solemnities of eternity, imitation of the Saviour. It is still. It is full of awe - an awe too great to strive, or cry, or lift up the voice in the streets. If people ever should be overawed and filled with emotions “repressing” noise and clamor, it should be when they approach “the great God.”
6. The feeble may trust to Jesus, Matthew 12:20. A child of any age, an ignorant person, the poorest man, may come, and he shall in nowise be east out. It is a sense of our weakness that Jesus seeks. Where that is “he” will strengthen us, and we shall not fail.
7. Grace will not be extinguished, Matthew 12:20. Jesus, where he finds it in the feeblest degree, will not destroy it. He will cherish it. He will kindle it to a flame. It will burn brighter and brighter, until it “glows like that of the pure spirits above.”
8. People are greatly prone to ascribe all religion to the devil, Matthew 12:24. Anything that is unusual, anything that confounds them, anything that troubles their consciences, they ascribe to fanaticism, overheated zeal, and Satan. It has always been so. It is sometimes an easy way to stifle their own convictions, and to bring religion into contempt. “Somehow or other,” like the Pharisees, infidels must account for revivals of religion, for striking instances of conversion, and for the great and undeniable effects which the gospel produces. How easy to say that it is “delusions,” and that it is the work of the devil! How easy to show at once the terrible opposition of their own hearts to God, and to boast themselves in their own wisdom, in having found a cause so simple for all the effects which religion produces in the world! How much pains, also, men will take to secure their own perdition, rather than to admit it to be possible that Christianity is true!
9. We see the danger of blasphemy - the danger of trifling with the influences of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 12:31-32. Even if we do not commit the unpardonable sin, yet we see that all trifling with the Holy Spirit is a sin very near to God, and attended with infinite danger. He that “laughs away” the thoughts of death and eternity; he that seeks the society of the frivolous and trifling, or of the sensual and profane, for the express purpose of driving away these thoughts; and he that struggles directly against his convictions, and is resolved that he will not submit to God, may be, for aught he knows, making his damnation sure. Why should God “ever” return when a man has “once” rejected the gospel? Who would be to blame if the sinner is then lost? Assuredly not God. None but himself. Children sometimes do this. Then is the time, the very time, when they should begin to love God and Jesus Christ. Then the Spirit also strives. Many “have then” given their hearts to him and become Christians. Many more might have done so, if they had not grieved away the Spirit of God.
10. We see the danger of rejecting Christ, Matthew 12:38-42. All past ages, all the wicked and the good, the foolish and the wise, will rise up in the day of judgment, and condemn us, if we do not believe the gospel. No people, heretofore, have seen so much light as we do in this age. And no people can be so awfully condemned as those who, in a land of light, of Sundays and Sunday schools, reject Christ and go to hell. Among the 120,000 children of Nineveh Jonah 4:11 there was not one single Sunday school. There was no one to tell them of God and the Saviour. They have died and gone to judgment. Children now living will die also, and go to meet them in the day of judgment. How will they condemn the children of this age, if they do not love the Lord Jesus Christ!
11. Sinners, when awakened, if they grieve away the Spirit of God, become worse than before, Matthew 12:43-45. They are never as they were before. Their hearts are harder, their consciences are more seared, they have a more bitter hatred of religious people, and they plunge deeper and deeper into sin. Seven devils often dwell where one did, and God gives the man over to blindness of mind and hardness of heart. This shows, also, the great guilt and danger of grieving the Holy Spirit.
12. We see the love of Christ for his followers, Matthew 12:46-50. Much as he loved his mother, yet he loved his disciples more. He still loves them. He will always love them. His heart is full of affection for them. And though poor, and despised, and unknown to the rich and mighty, yet to Jesus they are dearer than mother, and sisters, and brothers.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 12:48". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/matthew-12.html. 1870.
Matthew 12:48.Who is my mother? These words were unquestionably intended to reprove Mary’s eagerness, and she certainly acted improperly in attempting to interrupt the progress of his discourse. (157) At the same time, by disparaging the relationship of flesh and blood, our Lord teaches a very useful doctrine; for he admits all his disciples and all believers to the same honorable rank, as if they were his nearest relatives, or rather he places them in the room of his mother and brethren Now this statement is closely connected with the office of Christ; for he tells us that he has been given, not to a small number of individuals, but to all the godly, who are united in one body with him by faith. He tells us also, that there is no tie of relationship more sacred than spiritual relationship, because we ought not to think of him according to the flesh, but according to the power of his Spirit which he has received from the Father to renew men, so that those who are by nature the polluted and accursed seed of Abraham begin to be by grace the holy and heavenly sons of God. In like manner, Paul affirms that to know Christ after the flesh is not to know him properly, (2 Corinthians 5:16,) because we ought rather to consider that renovation of the world, which far exceeds human power, and which takes place when he forms us anew by his Spirit to the image of God. To sum up the whole, this passage, first, teaches us to behold Christ with the eyes of faith; and, secondly, it informs us, that every one who is regenerated by the Spirit, and gives himself up entirely to God for true justification, is thus admitted to the closest union with Christ, and becomes one with him.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 12:48". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/matthew-12.html. 1840-57.
Shall we turn to the twelfth chapter of the gospel of Matthew?
Jesus was not one to follow traditions. He's already pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount, that through their interpretation of the law, they have thoroughly disallowed the law, for the purposes that God intended it. For they were interpreting the law after a physical sense. "Thou shalt not kill," interpreting that as clubbing your enemy to death. But Jesus said, no, really if you have hatred in your heart for your brother, you're guilty. It isn't just the outward action that the law was intended to speak to, but the inner emotions that so often provoked the outward action. Sin begins in the mind, the attitudes and from the attitudes come the actions. God is not interested in our just curbing the wrong actions, God is interested in our heart, and the inner attitudes from which actions spring.
Now the result of their misinterpreting of the law was that they had developed a very great sense of self righteousness, and with it a spiritual pride, where they set themselves in sort of a spiritual élites little category. And everybody else is on common sinner level, and they look down from their perches at the common sinners with this stain. When they walked down the streets they held their robes tightly against them, because they didn't want their robe accidentally to swish out and brush against you, lest they be defiled with your filth. Very self-righteous, the attitude itself was detained by Jesus. And when we move along in Matthew, some of the heaviest words of condemnation and all I have ever heard.
You ask my little granddaughter what does grandpa do and she'll go... And now I am very self-conscious of it.
So they had sought to interpret the law. And in their endeavor to interpret the law, they had a field day with the Sabbath law, because the Sabbath law declared that they were not to bear any burdens on the Sabbath day. And so it was necessary for them to constitute what was bearing a burden. And it was decided that if you had lost your leg and had a wooden leg, that you could not use that on the Sabbath day, because that would indeed be bearing a burden. Well they went further then that. If you had false teeth, you could not wear them on the Sabbath day, because that also would be bearing a burden. As far as I know, false eyelashes weren't in at those times, but I would imagine they would have had to have ruled on that too.
Now in trying to fine-tune this law down, they lost the meaning of it entirely and Jesus cared not for their fanciful interpretations. He did not follow their traditions. In fact, He opposed their traditional interpretations, and thus He created a lot of ranker. And they were constantly getting after Jesus, because of His violation of the Sabbath law.
Now Christ is the fulfillment of the law, we are told. And one of the problems, one of the first problems that arose in the early church when there were many Gentiles who began to be converted and to become a part of the early church, the question arose, does a gentile have to become a Jew in order to be saved? In other words, if you are to be saved as a Gentile, must you be circumcised and keep the law of Moses? And there were many of the Jews in the church that took that position and some of them came down to the Gentile church in Antioch that had been established by Paul the apostle. And they began to create a division in the church in Antioch, saying that unless you are circumcised and keep the law of Moses, you can't be saved. And this was one of the first problems that arose in the church.
Paul and Barnabas came back with certain brethren to Jerusalem with these agitators in order that the church might make a ruling on this issue. And in the Acts of the apostles we read, how that it became the conclusion of the ruling body of the early church, that the law was not really intended for the Gentile believers nor was it essential to their salvation, that it was possible for God's Spirit to work in the heart of a man apart from the law. And so they were told to just keep themselves from idols and things strange, and if you do this you do well. God bless you.
In determining what relationship the Gentile church should have to the law, there was no declaration were you've got to keep the Sabbath, and no laying on then all of the aspects of the Sabbath law. But we are told rather in Hebrews that Christ is our rest. The Sabbath was for rest. Now really God intended you to stay in bed all day, that you just flake out for one day a week. Don't do anything just kick back and rest. And surely our body needs a day of complete rest. But it was made for man, because man needs rest.
So here in chapter twelve, the beginning, we find Jesus in one of His controversies with the religious rulers, once again the issues over the Sabbath day.
And at that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn, [that is the corn of wheat, they called the little ripened wheat, the corn], and the disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat them. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold your disciples do that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath day. And he said unto them, Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priest ( Matthew 12:1-4 )?
Now when David was fleeing from Saul he came to the Tabernacle of God. He went in to the priest, and he took the showbread, which only the priest were to eat, but David and his men were hungry. And so David took it, and he fed his men. Now that was not lawful for David to do; however, God has established the law, true, that only the priests were to eat the showbread, but here is a man who is in physical need, and there is a higher law of God that ministers to men's physical needs. If a man is starving, if a man is hungry, then there are those higher laws that deal with the preservation of life.
Have you not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profaned the Sabbath and are blameless? ( Matthew 12:5 )
I probably work harder on Sunday then any other day of the week, yet blameless. In other words, if a person wants to be technical on those things, the priests worked on the Sabbath days, but yet they were blameless. So they bore burdens, they bore the sacrifices and all.
But I say unto you, That in this place there is one who is greater than the temple [referring to Himself] ( Matthew 12:6 ).
And if the priest could labor in the temple and not be guilty of violating the Sabbath, surely His disciples could labor with Him on the Sabbath day.
But if you had known what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless ( Matthew 12:7 ).
Now this is the second time Jesus has quoted this scripture. "I will have mercy and not sacrifice." God would much rather be, show mercy, and be merciful, then to offer sacrifices to Him.
You remember when Saul came back, having disobeyed the commandment of God to utterly wipe out the Amalekites, and he greeted Samuel and said," I've done all that the Lord has commanded." Samuel said," if you've done all the Lord has commanded, how come I hear the cattle and the sheep?" And he said," Oh well, they were so nice I decided to bring them back to sacrifice to the Lord." And he said," to obey is better then to sacrifice, and to harken then the fat of lambs" ( 1 Samuel 15:22 ).
God came to the place were He was sick of their sacrifices, because they had began to really do their evil with sort of the concept, well, we can always go offer a sacrifice and be forgiven. And God says, "to obey is better then to sacrifice". God said, "I would rather that you would have mercy then offer sacrifices." God finally said, look I am sick of your sacrifices; I don't want to smell them anymore. I am tired of them. You don't show mercy. You don't show the traits.
I would have you to show, and yet, you're coming and sacrificing. I care not for your sacrifices. God says, "they are an abomination on to me. So I will have mercy and not sacrifice." God would rather your heart be right before Him, than you be constantly be making sacrifices. "And if you'd understood this," Jesus said, "then you wouldn't be here condemning the guiltless." He doesn't say they are guilty at all of violating the law of God.
For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day ( Matthew 12:8 ).
So He puts Himself above the Sabbath, but He is indeed the rest for us. He is our Sabbath. We've entered into Christ. We've entered into our rest. For He is the Sabbath, really to the believer.
Now he left the fields and they went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day: And there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days? In order that they might accuse him ( Matthew 12:9-10 ),
Because according to their law, you could not, and their interpreting of the law, you could not heal on the Sabbath day.
Now if a person had been injured and was bleeding to death, you could apply a tourniquet, and you could take what measures were necessary to save his life, but you could take no measures at all towards the healing of the injuries. You had to wait till the Sabbath day was over, until you applied the gauze and the bandages and so forth, for the healing aspects. But you could take preventive measures to keep him from dying, but that's all, nothing towards healing. And that was specified in their laws.
So here it was the Sabbath day, and here is a man in need. And isn't it interesting how that they instinctively seem to know that Jesus would want to help this man, even though it was the Sabbath day. That Jesus could never face human plight without wanting to do something about it. Jesus couldn't be satisfied, just observing human plight, but He would have, and they knew, that He would have this desire to help this man. So they beat Him to the trigger. Using their interpretation of the law they said, "is it lawful to heal of the Sabbath day?" and they were hoping to trap Him. Yes, it's lawful, ho ho, that's not what Rabbi Gamaliel says, and so they were planning to trap Him on this one.
And he said unto them, [rather then answering directly] if one of you have, one of your sheep, and if it would fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, wouldn't you lift it out? ( Matthew 12:11 )
Well, of course. Well in reality if you would lift your sheep out of the pit on the Sabbath day, you are violating the Sabbath; you are bearing a burden. But yet they made those kinds of allowances.
And Jesus said,
Isn't a man better then a sheep? ( Matthew 12:12 )
To help someone in need is more important then helping an animal in need.
Wherefore [He said] is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days ( Matthew 12:12 ).
Well, of course it would be. You couldn't say that it was not lawful to do good on the Sabbath days.
So He said to the man, Stretch forth your hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, just like the other. And the Pharisees went out, and they held council against him, how they might destroy him ( Matthew 12:13-14 ).
This is too much. He is violating our traditions. He is putting us down. At this rate all of our righteous acts are gonna be wiped out; and so, their council is to destroy Him.
But when Jesus knew it, [rather than a confrontation at this time] he withdrew himself ( Matthew 12:15 )
Jesus deliberately avoided confrontation until the time came, when He was to be crucified and so He withdrew.
and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all. And he commanded that they should not make Him known. In order that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, who said, Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he will show judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear is voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he sends forth judgement unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust ( Matthew 12:15-21 ).
So here was the prophesy of Isaiah who was proclaiming, actually that the Gospel is gonna be declared ultimately to the Gentiles, and Israel, the bruised reed, the smoking flax. The Lord is not going to face them with a direct confrontation, just to withdraw Himself. He is not there to destroy the bruised reed, but He is there to minister to those who will harken.
Then there was brought unto him one who was possessed with the devil, he was blind, he was dumb: and Jesus healed him, insomuch that the blind and the dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and they said, Is not this the son of David? ( Matthew 12:22-23 )
That is prophetically, where God promised unto David that of his seed should the Messiah come. "Is not this the Messiah, the son of David?" The title used for the Messiah.
But when the Pharisees heard, they said, This fellow doeth not cast out devils, but by [the lord of the flies] Beelzebub the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and he said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house that is divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan is casting out Satan, he is divided against himself; and how then shall his kingdom stand? ( Matthew 12:24-26 )
So their whole philosophy was shut down by just a few words of logic. Satan couldn't be casting out Satan, otherwise he's divided his kingdom and he's gonna fall.
And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else who can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me is scattering abroad ( Matthew 12:27-30 ).
So Jesus in the answer in response to the accusation of the Pharisees, that He by the power of Satan is casting out Satan, declares to them, that this is inconsistent, that he is binding the strong man of the house, in order that He might spoil it. But then He declares, look, there is no neutral ground. And I think this is important that we note. "He that is not with me is against me." You see He doesn't leave any neutral ground for you to stand on.
What think ye of Christ, whose Son is He? That's basically the question. He doesn't leave you some little neutral corner here in which to stand, well, I really don't know that I have made a firm decision. Well, no decision is a decision. No decision is a "no" decision. "He that is not for me," He said, "is against me." You can't be neutral concerning Christ. He is too radical. He doesn't allow you any neutrality. You are for Him, or you are against Him. If you are not for Him, you are against Him. You cannot take a place of neutrality in regards to Jesus Christ; if you're not gathering, than your scattering.
Now because they had accused Him of doing His works by the power of Satan, He warns them against the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Because by this accusation they are showing evidences that they are approaching that horrible sin for which there is no forgiveness.
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven men. If you speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven: but whosoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come ( Matthew 12:31-32 ).
Two weeks ago on Sunday morning we took the Sunday morning with this lesson on the sin against the Holy Spirit and what it is. And if you weren't here, I would recommend that you get that tape, because we went into a full exposition of what constitutes the sin against the Holy Spirit.
Basically, it is the refusal to harken to the work of the Spirit within your life. For Jesus said, "when the Spirit comes He is not going to testify of Himself, He is gonna testify of me" ( John 15:26 ). "And He is going to reproof the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgement." And then He said, "of sin, because they do not believe on me" ( John 16:8-9 ).
The work of the Holy Spirit is to convict men of sin, by revealing to man the answer for his sin, even Jesus Christ. God has made only one provision for your forgiveness. Only one provision for the putting away of your sin and your guilt, and that provision is in and through His only begotten Son. And the Spirit of God comes to bear witness to us of this fact. That there is only one way you can have forgiveness of your sin, and that is by the receiving of the Son of God, Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.
Now if you continually refuse that work of the Holy Spirit in your heart revealing Jesus Christ to you, reproving you of your sin, because you do not believe in Him; if you continue in that mode, there is no forgiveness, because God has provided no other way for men to be saved.
As Peter said, "neither is there Salvation in any other, for there is no other name given among men, whereby we must be saved" ( Acts 4:12 ).
So for you to reject God's provision for your sins through the death of His Son, leaves God no alternative. There is no forgiveness for you, not in this world or in the world to come. Because God has made only one provision for men's sin; the Holy Spirit bears witness to your heart of that truth. To refuse to believe, to refuse to accept the witness of the Spirit, is ultimately to blaspheme against the Spirit.
Now as you are progressing in this position against Jesus Christ, ultimately as you are faced with indisputable evidence that Jesus is indeed all that He said He is, by the power of His name, and of His life and you're faced with evidence that you can not deny, because you have continued this rejection mode so long; you've got to somehow now rationalize or explain this obvious evidence for the fact that He is indeed the Son of David, the Messiah.
And the Pharisees having adopted this mode of rejection of Jesus, were coming close to the place of no return. When they said, "He is doing those works by the power of the devil", now they're beginning to deny obvious evidence. And when a person comes to that place in his rejection of Jesus Christ, where he begins to deny this obvious evidence that God puts in his path, and begins to try to explain away the evidence that God is placing before him, that person is coming close to that place testified in John 12:38 ,where the Pharisees finally came; therefore, they could not believe.
He comes to that place where it's impossible for him to change, to believe, to turn around the mode he has established, and he's gone to far down the road, and there is no turning back and the denial of obvious evidence, which was when they began to attribute the works of Jesus Christ to Satan. Because how are you gonna explain the fact that this demon-possessed man is now talking, he is now seeing; whereas before he was dumb and he was blind? Evidence that they cannot deny. He is standing there before them talking. And so they have to give some explanation. Denying the evidence before them, you're getting close.
Now Jesus said,
Either make the tree good, or his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that man shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgement. So by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. Then certain of the scribes and Pharisees answered, and they said, Master, we would like you to show us a sign ( Matthew 12:33-38 ).
Now here they had just denied the sign that they had just seen. When the man was brought to Jesus possessed with the devil, blind and dumb, they had seen that. They had seen the man with the withered hand; they'd watched him stretch it forth. And now they have the audacity to say to Jesus, "why don't you show us a sign, proof that you're the Messiah."
And he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; but there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. And the men of Nineveh shall rise in judgement with this generation, and will condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater then Jonah is here ( Matthew 12:39-41 ).
Now in this short little answer of Jesus to the Pharisees, He affirms three biblical facts that are often denied by those who refer to themselves as higher critics. Those who have presumed to have the authority to tell you what parts of the Bible you can believe, and what parts you cannot believe. Which parts are genuine, which parts are spurious. Which parts are inspired, which parts are uninspired, which is truth, and which is myth.
And one of the stories in the Bible that has received some of the greatest criticism by these higher critics, is the story of Jonah. But as I've said the only problem that a person has with Jonah is not the fact that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, but their problem is deeper than that, their problem is their concept of God. If you have a right concept of God, you have no problem with the story of Jonah. Even if it said, God prepared a minnow to swallow it, rather than a great fish, for God can do anything. And so it is your concept of God that is your problem, not the story of Jonah.
And one of the basic problems of man is his concept of God. And that problem exists because man has a tendency of creating his own god. And when a man creates his own god, he creates his god as a projection of himself to immensity. And there is always that, if I were God, this is how I would have done it, this is how I would have managed it. This is how I would have worked it out, if I were God. And there are many people who have difficulty with the revelation that God has given of Himself. Because there are aspects of that revelation that differ with their own ideas and concepts of how they would judge, or how they would govern the universe. Or how they would create men, how they would deal with free moral agency, how they would deal with choice. How they would deal with all of these aspects that God is--had to deal with when He created us.
And so there are many who reject God's revelation of Himself, preferring their own concepts, preferring really to worship themselves. As we told you a couple of weeks ago, there are only two burdens that men have, and one is to do the will of God, and the other is to do the will of himself.
Jesus said, "my yoke is easy, my burden is light" ( Matthew 11:30 ). What was His burden? To do the will of the Father. What's your burden? To do your own will. Heavy, isn't it? He said," come onto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, I'll give you rest" ( Matthew 11:28 ).
Now David observed how that the men had made their own gods. He said, "they've taken the little pieces of wood, and they've carved them out." And of course you've all seen pictures of the gods that have been created by the pagans, grotesque little creatures that they carve out of wood. Or they sometimes will mold, using gold or other metals, and they make their little god. And they set it up, and they put the candles around it, and they burn their incense to it, and they bow before it, and often their prayers and so forth, and that's their god. But as David observed the gods that they made, and he said, "eyes they have, but they cannot see. Ears they have, but they cannot hear. Feet they have, but they cannot walk. Mouth the have, but they cannot speak."
You see David observes that man has made a god like himself. Why do you put eyes in your god? Because you've got eyes. Why do you put ears in your god? Because you've got ears and make your god like yourself, but less then yourself, because the little wooden image here that you've made and you're worshiping. Though you've put ears on it, those ears can't hear. Though you put a mouth on it, it can't talk. So you made it less then yourself.
But David made one further observation. They that have made them have become like the gods that they made. If you make a dumb little god, you become dumb. If your god is insensate, you become like your god, you soon become insensate to the voice of God. You no longer hear the voice of God. You no longer see the work of God. You no longer sense the presence of God. You've become insensate, because you've been worshiping an insensate god. Some person says, well, I've never seen God. You're insensate. I've never felt the presence of God because your god is insensate, and you've become insensate.
It's a horrible curse that a man becomes like his god, if his god is false. It's a tremendous blessing that a man becomes like his God, if his God is true. Beloved now are we the sons of God, it doesn't yet appear what we are gonna be, but we know when He appears we're gonna be like Him. Why? Because man becomes like his God. They that have made them, have become like the gods that that they have made. A man becomes like his god.
And we with open face beholding the glory of the Lord, are changed from glory to glory into the same image, as we are being conformed by the Spirit into the image of Jesus Christ, becoming like our God. And we should becoming more like Him every day. And if we are truly worshiping Him and serving Him, that will be the case in our lives.
Jesus here affirms the authenticity of the story of Jonah, as a historic fact. If you have the right concept of God, you'll have no problems. If you don't have the right concept of God, your problems are just starting.
The second thing Jesus affirms is His resurrection, after three days and three nights. This is another thing that has been the target of the higher critics of the Bible, the denial of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And yet He affirms it. The third thing He affirms is the final resurrection of everyone, small, and great to stand before the judgement bar of God. All men of all ages will one day stand before God, no escaping.
The men of Nineveh will rise with this generation ( Matthew 12:41 ).
There will be that general resurrection from the dead that Daniel tells us about in the twelfth chapter of the book of Daniel, where he there declares, "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth, shall awake. Some to everlasting life, some to shame, and everlasting contempt" ( Daniel 12:2 ).
And of course in Revelation John gives us a very graphic description of this resurrection. "And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away; for there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things, which were written in the books according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every men according to their works" ( Revelation 20:11-13 ).
So the day of Judgement, the resurrection, and Jesus again affirms that, declaring that the men of Nineveh will rise with this generation, and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah.
Jonah was a bitter prophet. Jonah was filled with hatred. He had no love for the people that he was ministering to, but he had a deep resentment and hatred for them, and resented deeply his being there ministering to them. He had done his best to escape this job. He was coerced. Now someone said, God will not force you to go against your will, but He is able to make you willing to go, and such was the case of Jonah. I mean after three days and three nights in that hot humid whale, he had it. Seaweed wrapped around his head, the waves, he said, sloshing over him. In a mammal it would be Mat 98:6 degrees, humidity is tremendous. He said, I've had it, I'll go. Now the Lord really didn't force him to go against his will, but He sure had a way of making him willing to go.
But much like the little kid whose dad said sit down, and the little kid just stood there. And he said, "I told you sit down." And the little kid still stood there, and he finally started toward him as he is pulling off his belt, and he said, "I said sit down," and the little kid sat down. And he said, "I may be sitting down on the outside, but I am still standing on the inside."
He was still reluctant. He still didn't want to go. And he preached one monotonous message, forty days, and comes destruction. And the king called for a general fast. He put on sackcloth and ashes. They prayed, they said, "who can tell the Lord may be merciful." And they repented at the preaching of Jonah, a miracle. And here these people with Jesus coming with love and compassion, rejecting Him. Oh yes, you bet the men of Nineveh will point a finger of accusation, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and that generation was refusing the message of Jesus.
The queen of the south [the queen of Sheba] shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, [general resurrection from the dead] and she will condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here ( Matthew 12:42 ).
There is absolutely no excuse for the rejecting of Jesus Christ. No excuse. He is God's provision for your sin and if you reject Him, men from every generation will rise to condemn you, in that day of judgement.
Now Jesus talks about exorcism.
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walks through dry places, seeking rest, and finding none. He says, I will return to the house from where I came out; and when he is come, he finds it empty, swept and garnished. Then he goes, and takes with himself seven other spirits that are more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worst then the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation ( Matthew 12:43-45 ).
So Jesus is talking about the casting forth of evil spirits. It is certainly important that we not go around just seeking to expel evil spirits because you can actually be harming a person rather then helping a person, by just casting forth evil spirits. If something doesn't move into that vacuum, if something doesn't come in its place, the spirit will return finding the house all swept, clean. He'll go out and get seven other spirits more wicked, and really, you've done a great disservice to the person.
I believe in the expelling force of the higher power. I believe the best way to drive out darkness is to turn on the light, not to go around and flail at the darkness, scream at it, and yell at it, and try to drive it out, just turn on the light and the darkness automatically flees.
Light and darkness cannot co-exist. And when Jesus Christ comes into a person's life, when his heart and life is open to receive, then whatever force of darkness may be there is expelled by the power of the stronger force, the expelling force of the stronger power and a man is saved. He doesn't have to worry about a reoccurrence of the problem even in a worse degree. Better, that you bring the light to men, better that you bring them Jesus Christ, that their hearts and lives might be filled with Him and with His love, and through His power the forces of darkness will automatically be dispelled.
While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, and they desired to talk with him. Then someone said to him, Behold, your mother and your brothers are outside, and they want to talk with you. And he answered and said unto the one that had told him that, Who is my mother? and who are my brothers? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and he said, Behold, my mother and my brothers. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, my sister, and my mother ( Matthew 12:46-50 ).
Now for those who are putting so much dependency upon the intercession of Mary, this scripture would give me a lot of problems. For when they said, "Hey, your mother is outside, she wants to talk to you." He said, "Who is my mother?" I mean He didn't drop everything and run and say, "Oh Mary, mother of God, blessed art thou among woman, blessed is the fruit of thy womb." He said, "Who is my mother?" Nowhere in the scripture are we encouraged to seek Mary, to seek favors for us from her son. There is not one indication or inkling in the scriptures that Mary can do you any good.
Jesus said, "Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name, I'll do it." He didn't say, whatever you ask Mary, I'll give special consideration to, because every son gives special consideration to his mother. Nor did He say, you really shouldn't bother me, or talk to me about these things, talk to my mother and she filters them out, she'll tell me what I need to know.
I would hate to be depending upon Mary, when Jesus took this attitude towards her while He was here on earth. "Who is my mother, who is my brother?" and then looking around at His disciples He said, "hey, whoever does the will of God, they are my brothers, they are my sister, they are my mother."
Now Jesus, as we get to the end of chapter thirteen, we discover had earthly brothers and sisters inasmuch as they were sons of Mary and Joseph. Jesus of course was the Son of God. Mary being a virgin when the Holy Spirit came upon her and she conceived and bore Jesus Christ. But the teaching of the perpetual virginity of Mary is not scripturally based; in fact it's contrary to the scripture. For verse Mat 12:55 , they said, "is not this the carpenter's son and His mother is called Mary, and His brothers, James, and Joseph and Simon, and Judas, and his sisters, are they not with us?"
Now there is indication that those natural half-brothers of Jesus did not really believe on Him. You remember He said, "a prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own family" ( Matthew 13:57 ). He knew what it was to have the personal rejection of His family. And His brothers at one time, were going to rescue Him, they said, "He's gone crazy, he is beside Himself." And that's talking about a person who has sort of a schizophrenia that he begins to talk to himself. And so you're beside yourself, you're holding on a conversation with yourself.
Now it is true, that those who have a bond in Christ, those who are related by Jesus Christ, have a closer relationship then actual brothers and sisters who are not bound in Christ. In other words, you will have a closer relationship to those in the family of God than to those of your own family, if your own family is not also a part of the family of God. And many of you have no doubt experienced this. Your accepting of Jesus Christ has created an alienation between some of the members of your own family, blood family. But you've come into a new family, of which ties are deeper and greater, and the bond is tighter. And so with Jesus, His brothers, and all, not believing in Him at that point, said, "who is my brother? Look, this fellow here, whoever does the will of God, the same is my mother my sister, my brother. "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Matthew 12:48". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/matthew-12.html. 2014.
B. Specific instances of Israel’s rejection of Jesus ch. 12
Matthew has shown that opposition to Jesus came from two main sources: the animosity of the religious leaders, and the indifference of the common Israelites. In this chapter he presented five instances in which opposition manifested itself and increased. In each situation the approach to Jesus was negative, but Jesus responded positively. [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 158.]
"Central to the plot of Matthew’s story is the element of conflict. The principal conflict pits Israel against Jesus, and the death of Jesus constitutes the primary resolution of this conflict. On another level, Jesus also struggles with the disciples. Here the conflict is to bring them to understanding, or to enable them to overcome their ’little faith,’ or to invite them to avail themselves of the great authority Jesus has given them, or, above all, to lead them to comprehend that the essence of discipleship is servanthood." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 9.]
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4. Conflict over Jesus’ kin 12:46-50 (cf. Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21)
A very subtle form of opposition arose from Jesus’ physical family members. It provided an opportunity for Jesus to explain true relationship to Messiah and to affirm His disciples.
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Jesus’ question did not depreciate His physical mother and brothers. His answer showed that He simply gave priority to His heavenly Father and doing His will (cf. Matthew 10:37). Spiritual relationship takes precedence over physical relationship (cf. Matthew 8:18-23). This underlines the importance of believing in Jesus and giving Him first place. Jesus’ disciples become His true family. Note that the word "whoever," referring to those who do the will of God by believing on His Son, left the possibility of salvation open to anyone (cf. Matthew 11:28-30).
These verses have strong Christological implications. They also reveal more about the spiritual family that was forming around Jesus. In spite of rising opposition, God’s purposes through Messiah were advancing (cf. Matthew 12:18; Matthew 12:20).
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CRISIS ( Matthew 12:1-50 )
In Matthew 12:1-50 we read the history of a series of crucial events in the life of Jesus. In every man's life there are decisive moments, times and events on which the whole of his life hinges. This chapter presents us with the story of such a period in the life of Jesus. In it we see the orthodox Jewish religious leaders of the day coming to their final decision regarding Jesus--and that was rejection. It was not only rejection in the sense that they would have nothing to do with him; it was rejection in the sense that they came to the conclusion that nothing less than his complete elimination would be enough.
Here in this chapter we see the first definite steps, the end of which could be nothing other than the Cross. The characters are painted clear before us. On the one hand there are the Scribes and the Pharisees, the representatives of orthodox religion. We can see four stages in their increasing attitude of malignant hostility to Jesus.
(i) In Matthew 12:1-8, the story of how the disciples plucked the ears of corn on the Sabbath day, we see growing suspicion. The Scribes and Pharisees regarded with growing suspicion a teacher who was prepared to allow his followers to disregard the minutia of the Sabbath Law. This was the kind of thing which could not be allowed to spread unchecked.
(ii) In Matthew 12:9-14, the story of the healing of the man with the paralysed hand on the Sabbath day, we see active and hostile investigation. It was not by chance that the Scribes and Pharisees were in the synagogue on that Sabbath. Luke says they were there to watch Jesus ( Luke 6:7). From that time on Jesus would have to work always under the malignant eye of the orthodox leaders. They would do his steps, like private detectives, seeking the evidence on which they could level a charge against him.
(iii) In Matthew 12:22-32, the story of how the orthodox leaders charged Jesus with healing by the power of the devil, and of how he spoke to them of the sin which has no forgiveness, we see the story of deliberate and prejudiced blindness. From that time on nothing Jesus could ever do would be right in the eyes of these men. They had so shut their eyes to God that they were completely incapable of ever seeing his beauty and his truth. Their prejudiced blindness had launched them on a path from which they were quite incapable of ever turning back.
(iv) In Matthew 12:14 we see evil determination. The orthodox were not now content to watch and criticize; they were preparing to act. They had gone into council to find a way to put an end to this disturbing Galilaean. Suspicion, investigation, blindness were on the way to open action.
In face of all this the answer of Jesus is clearly delineated. We can see five ways in which he met this growing opposition.
(i) He met it with courageous defiance. In the story of the healing of the man with the paralysed hand ( Matthew 12:9-14) we see him deliberately defying the Scribes and Pharisees. This thing was not done in a corner; it was done in a crowded synagogue. It was not done in their absence; it was done when they were there with deliberate intent to formulate a charge against him. So far from evading the challenge, Jesus is about to meet it head on.
(ii) He met it with warning. In Matthew 12:22-32 we see Jesus giving the most terrible of warnings. He is warning those men that, if they persist in shutting their eyes to the truth of God, they are on the way to a situation where, by their own act, they will have shut themselves out from the grace of God. Here Jesus is not so much on the defence as on the attack. He makes quite clear where their attitude is taking them.
(iii) He met it with a staggering series of claims. He is greater than the Temple ( Matthew 12:6), and the Temple was the most sacred place in all the world. He is greater than Jonah, and no preacher ever produced repentance so amazingly as Jonah did ( Matthew 12:41). He is greater than Solomon, and Solomon was the very acme of wisdom ( Matthew 12:42). His claim is that there is nothing in spiritual history than which he is not greater. There are no apologies here; there is the statement of the claims of Christ at their highest.
(iv) He met it with the statement that his teaching is essential. The point of the strange parable of the Empty House ( Matthew 12:43-45) is that the Law may negatively empty a man of evil, but only the gospel can fill him with good. The Law therefore simply leaves a man an empty invitation for all evil to take up its residence within his heart; the gospel so fills him with positive goodness that evil cannot enter in. Here is Jesus, claim that the gospel can do for men what the Law can never do.
(v) Finally, he met it with an invitation. Matthew 12:46-50 are in essence an invitation to enter into kinship with him. These verses are not so much a disowning of Jesus' own kith and kin as an invitation to all men to enter into kinship with him, through the acceptance of the will of God, as that will has come to men in him. They are an invitation to abandon our own prejudices and self-will and to accept Jesus Christ as Master and Lord. If we refuse, we drift farther away from God; if we accept, we enter into the very family and heart of God.
Breaking The Sabbath Law ( Matthew 12:1-8)
12:1-8 At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the Sabbath day. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look you, your disciples are doing that which it is not permitted to do on the Sabbath day." He said to them, "Have you not read what David and his friends did, when he was hungry--how he went into the house of God and ate the shewbread, which it was not permissible for him, nor for his friends to eat, but which the priests alone may eat? Or, have you not read in the Law that the priests profane the Sabbath, and yet remain blameless? I tell you that something greater than the Temple is here. But, if you had known the meaning of the saying, 'It is mercy that I wish, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned those who are blameless. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
(The last phrase should perhaps be translated: "For man is master of the Sabbath.")
In Palestine in the time of Jesus the cornfields and the cultivated lands were laid out in long narrow strips; and the ground between the strips was always a right of way. It was on one of these strips between the cornfields that the disciples and Jesus were walking when this incident happened.
There is no suggestion that the disciples were stealing. The Law expressly laid it down that the hungry traveller was entitled to do just what the disciples were doing, so long as he only used his hands to pluck the ears of corn, and did not use a sickle: "When you go into your neighbours standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbours standing grain" ( Deuteronomy 23:25). W. M. Thomson in The Land and the Book tells how, when he was travelling in Palestine, the same custom still existed. One of the favourite evening dishes for the traveller is parched corn. "When travelling in harvest time," Thomson writes, "my muleteers have very often prepared parched corn in the evenings after the tent has been pitched. Nor is the gathering of these green ears for parching ever regarded as stealing.... So, also, I have seen my muleteers, as we passed along the wheat fields, pluck off the ears, rub them in their hands, and eat the grains unroasted, just as the apostles are said to have done."
In the eyes of the Scribes and Pharisees, the fault of the disciples was not that they had plucked and eaten the grains of corn, but that they had done so on the Sabbath. The Sabbath Law was very complicated and very detailed. The commandment forbids work on the Sabbath day; but the interpreters of the Law were not satisfied with that simple prohibition. Work had to be defined. So thirty-nine basic actions were laid down, which were forbidden on the Sabbath, and amongst them were reaping, winnowing and threshing, and preparing a meal. The interpreters were not even prepared to leave the matter there. Each item in the list of forbidden works had to be carefully defined. For instance, it was forbidden to carry a burden. But what is a burden? A burden is anything which weighs as much as two dried figs. Even the suggestion of work was forbidden; even anything which might symbolically be regarded as work was prohibited. Later the great Jewish teacher, Maimonides, was to say, "To pluck ears is a kind of reaping." By their conduct the disciples were guilty of far more than one breach of the Law. By plucking the corn they were guilty of reaping; by rubbing it in their hands they were guilty of threshing; by separating the grain and the chaff they were guilty of winnowing; and by the whole process they were guilty of preparing a meal on the Sabbath day, for everything which was to be eaten on the Sabbath had to be prepared the day before.
The orthodox Jews took this Sabbath Law with intense seriousness. The Book of Jubilee has a chapter (chapter 50) about the keeping of the Sabbath. Whoever lies with his wife, or plans to do anything on the Sabbath, or plans to set out on a journey (even the contemplation of work is forbidden), or plans to buy or sell, or draws water, or lifts a burden is condemned. Any man who does any work on the Sabbath (whether the work is in his house or in any other place), or goes a journey, or tills a farm, any man who lights a fire or rides any beast, or travels by ship at sea, any man who strikes or kills anything, any man who catches an animal, a bird, or a fish, any man who fasts or who makes war on a Sabbath--the man who does these things shall die. To keep these commandments was to keep the Law of God; to break them was to break the Law of God.
There is no doubt whatever that, from their own point of view, the Scribes and Pharisees were entirely justified in finding fault with the disciples for breaking the Law, and with Jesus for allowing them, if not encouraging them, to do so.
The Claim Of Human Need ( Matthew 12:1-8 Continued)
To meet the criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees Jesus put forward three arguments.
(i) He quoted the action of David ( 1 Samuel 21:1-6) on the occasion when David and his young men were so hungry that they went into the tabernacle--not the Temple, because this happened in the days before the Temple was built--and ate the shewbread, which only the priests could eat. The shewbread is described in Leviticus 24:5-9. It consisted of twelve loaves of bread, which were placed every week in two rows of six in the Holy Place. No doubt they were a symbolic offering in which God was thanked for his gift of sustaining food. These loaves were changed every week, and the old loaves became the perquisite of the priests and could only be eaten by them. On this occasion, in their hunger, David and his young men took and ate those sacred loaves, and no blame attached to them. The claims of human need took precedence over any ritual custom.
(ii) He quoted the Sabbath work of the Temple. The Temple ritual always involved work--the kindling of fires, the slaughter and the preparation of animals, the lifting of them on to the altar, and a host of other things. This work was actually doubled on the Sabbath, for on the Sabbath the offerings were doubled (compare e.g. Numbers 28:9). Any one of these actions would have been illegal for any ordinary person to perform on the Sabbath day. To light a fire, to slaughter an animal, to lift it up on to the altar would have been to break the Law, and hence to profane the Sabbath. But for the priests it was perfectly legal to do these things, for the Temple worship must go on. That is to say, worship offered to God took precedence of an the Sabbath rules and regulations.
(iii) He quoted God's word to Hosea the prophet: "I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice" ( Hosea 6:6). What God desires far more than ritual sacrifice is kindness, the spirit which knows no law other than that it must answer the call of human need.
In this incident Jesus lays it down that the claim of human need must take precedence of all other claims. The claims of worship, the claims of ritual, the claims of liturgy are important but prior to any of them is the claim of human need.
One of the modern saints of God is Father George Potter who, out of the derelict Church of St. Chrysostom's in Peckham, made a shining light of Christian worship and Christian service. To further the work he founded the Brotherhood of the Order of the Holy Cross, whose badge was the towel which Jesus Christ wore when he washed his disciples' feet. There was no service too menial for the brothers to render; their work for the outcast and for homeless boys with a criminal record or criminal potentialities is beyond all praise. Father Potter held the highest possible ideas of worship; and yet when he is explaining the work of the Brotherhood he writes of anyone who wishes to enter into its triple vow of poverty, chastity and obedience: "He mustn't sulk if he cannot get to Vespers on the Feast of St. Thermogene. He may be sitting in a police court waiting for a 'client'. . . . He mustn't be the type who goes into the kitchen and sobs just because we run short of incense. . . . We put prayer and sacraments first. We know we cannot do our best otherwise, but the fact is that we have to spend more time at the bottom of the Mount of Transfiguration than at the top." He tells about one candidate who arrived, when he was just about to give his boys a cup of cocoa and put them to bed. "So I said, 'Just clean round the bath will you while it's wet?' He stood aghast and stuttered, 'I didn't expect to clean up after dirty boys!' Well, well! His life of devoted service to the Blessed Master lasted about seven minutes. He did not unpack." Florence Allshorn, the great principal of a women's missionary college, tells of the problem of the candidate who always discovers that her time for quiet prayer has come just when there are greasy dishes to be washed in not very warm water.
Jesus insisted that the greatest ritual service is the service of human need. It is an odd thing to think that, with the possible exception of that day in the synagogue at Nazareth, we have no evidence that Jesus ever conducted a church service in all his life on earth, but we have abundant evidence that he fed the hungry and comforted the sad and cared for the sick. Christian service is not the service of any liturgy or ritual; it is the service of human need. Christian service is not monastic retiral; it is involvement in all the tragedies and problems and demands of the human situation. Whittier had it rightly:
"O brother man, fold to thy heart thy brother!
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other,
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.
For he whom Jesus loved hath truly spoken;
The holier worship which he deigns to bless
Restores the lost, and binds the spirit broken,
And feeds the widow and the fatherless.
Follow with reverent steps the great example
Of Him whose holy work was doing good;
So shall the wide earth seem our Father's temple,
Each loving life a psalm of gratitude."
That is what we mean--or ought to mean--when we say, "Let us worship God!"
Master Of The Sabbath ( Matthew 12:1-8 Continued)
There remains in this passage one difficulty which it is not possible to solve with absolute certainty. The difficulty lies in the last phrase, "For the Son of man is lord of the sabbath." This phrase can have two meanings.
(i) It may mean that Jesus is claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath, in the sense that he is entitled to use the Sabbath as he thinks fit. We have seen that the sanctity of the work of the Temple surpassed and over-rode the Sabbath rules and regulations; Jesus has just claimed that something greater than the Temple is here in him; therefore he has the right to dispense with the Sabbath regulations and to do as he thinks best on the Sabbath day. That may be said to be the traditional interpretation of this sentence, but there are real difficulties in it.
(ii) On this occasion Jesus is not defending himself for anything that he did on the Sabbath; he is defending his disciples; and the authority which he is stressing here is not so much his own authority as the authority of human need. And it is to be noted that when Mark tells of this incident he introduces another saying of Jesus as part of the climax of it: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" ( Mark 2:27).
To this we must add the fact that in Hebrew and Aramaic the phrase son of man is not a title at all, but simply a way of saying a man. When the Rabbis began a parable, they often began it: "There was a son of man who..."; when we would simply say, "There was a man who . . ." The Psalmist writes, "What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that thou dost care for him?" ( Psalms 8:4). Again and again the Ezekiel God addresses Ezekiel as son of man. "And he said to me: 'Son of man, stand upon your feet and I will speak with you'" ( Ezekiel 2:1; compare Ezekiel 2:6; Ezekiel 2:8; Ezekiel 3:1; Ezekiel 3:4; Ezekiel 3:17; Ezekiel 3:25). In all these cases son of man, spelled without the capital letters, simply means man.
In the (early and best) Greek manuscripts of the New Testament all the words were written completely in capital letters. In these manuscripts (called uncials) it would not be possible to tell where special capitals are necessary. Therefore, in Matthew 12:8, it may well be that son of man should be written without capital letters, and that the phrase does not refer to Jesus but simply to man.
If we consider that what Jesus is pressing is the claims of human need; if we remember that it is not himself but his disciples that he is defending; if we remember that Mark tells us that he said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath; then we may well conclude that what Jesus said here is: "Man is not the slave of the Sabbath; he is the master of it, to use it for his own good." Jesus may well be rebuking the Scribes and Pharisees for enslaving themselves and their fellow-men with a host of tyrannical regulations; and he may well be here laying down the great principle of Christian freedom, which applies to the Sabbath as it does to all other things in life.
Love And Law ( Matthew 12:9-14)
12:9-14 He left there and went into their synagogue. And, look you, there was a man there with a withered hand. So they asked him, "Is it permitted to heal on the Sabbath?" They asked this question in order that they might find an accusation against him. "What man will there be of you," he said, "who will have a sheep, and, if the sheep falls into a pit on the Sabbath day, will not take a grip of it, and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep? So, then, it is permitted to do a good thing on the Sabbath day." Then he said to the man, "Stretch forth your hand!" He stretched it out, and it was restored, sound as the other. So the Pharisees went away and conferred against him, to find a way to destroy him.
This incident is a crucial moment in the life of Jesus. He deliberately and publicly broke the Sabbath Law; and the result was a conference of the orthodox leaders to search out a way to eliminate him.
We will not understand the attitude of the orthodox unless we understand the amazing seriousness with which they took the Sabbath Law. That Law forbade all work on the Sabbath day, and so the orthodox Jews would literally die rather than break it.
In the time of the rising under Judas Maccabaeus certain Jews sought refuge in the caves in the wilderness. Antiochus sent a detachment of men to attack them; the attack was made on the Sabbath day; and these insurgent Jews died without even a gesture of defiance or defence, because to fight would have been to break the Sabbath. 1Maccabees tells how the forces of Antiochus "gave them battle with all speed. Howbeit they answered them not, neither cast they a stone at them, nor stopped the places where they lay hid; but said: 'Let us die in our innocency: heaven and earth shall testify for us, that ye put us to death wrongfully.' So they rose up against them in battle on the Sabbath, and they slew them with their wives and children and cattle, to the number of a thousand people" ( 1Ma_2:31-38 ). Even in a national crisis, even to save their lives, even to protect their nearest and their dearest, the Jews would not fight on the Sabbath.
It was because the Jews insisted on keeping the Sabbath Law that Pompey was able to take Jerusalem. In ancient warfare it was the custom for the attacker to erect a huge mound which overlooked the battlements of the besieged city and from the height of the mound to bombard the defences. Pompey built his mound on the Sabbath days when the Jews simply looked on and refused to lift a hand to stop him. Josephus says, "And had it not been for the practice, from the days of our forefathers, to rest on the seventh day, this bank could never have been perfected, by reason of the opposition the Jews would have made; for though our Law gave us leave then to defend ourselves against those that begin to fight with us and assault us (this was a concession), yet it does not permit us to meddle with our enemies while they do anything else" (Josephus: Antiquities, 14. 4. 2.).
Josephus recalls the amazement of the Greek historian Agatharchides at the way in which Ptolemy Lagos was allowed to capture Jerusalem. Agatharchides wrote: "There are a people called Jews, who dwell in a city the strongest of an cities, which the inhabitants call Jerusalem, and are accustomed to rest on every seventh day; at which time they make no use of their arms, nor meddle with husbandry, nor take care of any of the affairs of life, but spread out their hands in their holy places, and pray till evening time. Now it came to pass that when Ptolemy the son of Lagos came into this city with his army, these men, in observing this mad custom of theirs, instead of guarding the city, suffered their country to submit itself to a bitter lord; and their Law was openly proved to have commanded a foolish practice. This accident taught an other men but the Jews to disregard such dreams as these were, and not to follow the like idle suggestions delivered as a Law, when in such uncertainty of human reasonings they are at a loss what they should do" (Josephus: Against Apion, 1: 22). The rigorous Jewish observance of the Sabbath seemed to other nations nothing short of insanity, since it could lead to such amazing national defeats and disasters.
It was that absolutely immovable frame of mind that Jesus was up against. The Law quite definitely forbade healing on the Sabbath. It was true that the Law clearly laid it down that "every case when life is in danger supersedes the Sabbath Law." This was particularly the case in diseases of the ear, the nose, the throat and the eyes. But even then it was equally clearly laid down that steps could be taken to keep a man from getting worse, but not to make him better. So a plain bandage might be put on a wound, but not a medicated bandage, and so on.
In this case there was no question of the paralysed man's life being in danger; as far as danger went, he would be in no worse condition the next day. Jesus knew the Law; he knew what he was doing; he knew that the Pharisees were waiting and watching; and yet he healed the man. Jesus would accept no law which insisted that a man should suffer, even without danger to life, one moment longer than necessary. His love for humanity far surpassed his respect for ritual Law.
The Challenge Accepted ( Matthew 12:9-14 Continued)
Jesus went into the synagogue, and in it was a man with a paralysed hand. Our gospels tell us nothing more about this man, but the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which was one of the early gospels which did not succeed in gaining an entry to the New Testament, tells us that he came to Jesus with the appeal: "I was a stone mason, seeking my living with my hands. I pray you, Jesus, to give me back my health, so that I shall not need to beg for food in shame."
But the Scribes and Pharisees were there, too. They were not concerned with the man with the paralysed hand; they were concerned only with the minutiae of their rules and regulations. So they asked Jesus: "Is it permitted to heal on the Sabbath day?" Jesus knew the answer to that question perfectly well; he knew that, as we have seen, unless there was actual danger to life, healing was forbidden, because it was regarded as an act of work.
But Jesus was wise. If they wished to argue about the Law, he had the skill to meet them on their own ground. "Tell me," he said, "suppose a man has a sheep, and that sheep falls into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not go and haul the sheep out of the pit?" That was, in fact, a case for which the Law provided. If an animal fell into a pit on the Sabbath, then it was within the Law to carry food to it, which in any other case would have been a burden, and to render it all assistance. "So," said Jesus, "it is permitted to do a good thing on the Sabbath; and, if it is permitted to do a good thing to a sheep, how much more must it be lawful to do it for a man, who is of so much more value than any animal."
Jesus reversed the argument. "If," he argued, "it is right to do good on the Sabbath, then to refuse to do good is evil." It was Jesus' basic principle that there is no time so sacred that it cannot be used for helping a fellow-man who is in need. We will not be judged by the number of church services we have attended, or by the number of chapters of the Bible we have read, or even by the number of the hours we have spent in prayer, but by the number of people we have helped, when their need came crying to us. To this, at the moment, the Scribes and Pharisees had nothing to answer, for their argument had recoiled on their own head.
So Jesus healed this man, and in healing him gave him three things.
(i) He gave him back his health. Jesus is vitally interested in the bodies of men. Paul Tournier, in his book A Doctor's Case Book, has some great things to pass on about healing and God. Professor Courvoisier writes that the vocation of medicine is "a service to which those are called, who, through their studies and the natural gifts with which the Creator has endowed them specially fitted to tend the sick and to heal them. Whether or not they are aware of it, whether or not they are believers, this is from the Christian point of view fundamental, that doctors are, by their profession, fellow-workers with God." "Sickness and healing," said Dr. Pouyanne, "are acts of grace." "The doctor is an instrument of God's patience," writes Pastor Alain Perrot. "Medicine is a dispensation of the grace of God, who in his goodness takes pity on men and provides remedies for the evil consequences of their sin." Calvin described medicine as a gift from God. He who heals men is helping God. The cure of men's bodies is just as much a God-given task as the cure of men's souls; and the doctor in his practice is just as much a servant of God as the minister in his parish.
(ii) Because Jesus gave this man back his health, he also gave him back his work. Without work to do a man is half a man; it is in his work that he finds himself and his satisfaction. Over the years idleness can be harder than pain to bear; and, if there is work to do, even sorrow loses at least something of its bitterness. One of the greatest things that any human being can do for any other is to give him work to do.
(iii) Because Jesus gave this man back his health and his work, he gave him back his self-respect. We might well add a new beatitude: Blessed are those who give us back our self respect. A man becomes a man again when, on his two feet and with his own two hands, he can face life and with independence provide for his own needs and for the needs of those dependent on him.
We have already said that this incident was crisis. At the end of it the Scribes and Pharisees began to plot the death of Jesus. In a sense the highest compliment you can pay a man is to persecute him. It shows that he is regarded not only as dangerous but as effective. The action of the Scribes and Pharisees is the measure of the power of Jesus Christ. True Christianity may be hated, but it can never be disregarded.
The Characteristics Of The Servant Of The Lord ( Matthew 12:15-21)
12:15-21 Because Jesus knew this, he withdrew from there: and many followed him and he healed them all; and he strictly enjoined them not to surround him with publicity. All this happened that there might be fulfilled the word which came through Isaiah and which says: "Look you, my servant, whom I have chosen! My beloved one in whom my soul finds delight! I wig put my Spirit upon him, and he will tell the nations what justice is. He will not strive, nor will he cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break the crushed reed, and he will not quench the smoking wick, till he sends forth his conquering judgment, and in his name shall the Gentiles hope."
Two things here about Jesus show that he never confounded recklessness with courage. First, for the time being, he withdrew. The time for the head-on clash had not yet come. He had work to do before the Cross took him to its arms. Second, he forbade men to surround him with publicity. He knew only too well how many false Messiahs had arisen; he knew only too well how inflammable the people were. If the idea got around that someone with marvellous powers had emerged, then certainly a political rebellion would have arisen and lives would have been needlessly lost. He had to teach men that Messiahship meant not crushing power but sacrificial service, not a throne but a cross, before they could spread his story abroad.
The question which Matthew uses to sum up the work of Jesus is from Isaiah 42:1-4. In a sense it is a curious quotation, because in the first instance it referred to Cyrus, the Persian king (compare Isaiah 45:1). The original point of the quotation was this. Cyrus was sweeping onwards in his conquests; and the prophet saw those conquests as within the deliberate and definite plan of God. Although he did not know it, Cyrus, the Persian, was the instrument of God. Further, the prophet saw Cyrus as the gentile conqueror, as indeed he was. But although the original words referred to Cyrus, the complete fulfilment of the prophecy undoubtedly came in Jesus Christ. In his day the Persian king mastered the eastern world, but the true Master of all the world is Jesus Christ. Let us then see how wonderfully Jesus satisfied this forecast of Isaiah.
(i) He will tell the nations what justice is. Jesus came to bring men justice. The Greeks defined justice as giving to God and to men that which is their due. Jesus showed men how to live in such a way that both God and men receive their proper place in our lives. He showed us how to behave both towards God and towards men.
(ii) He will not strive, nor cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. The word that is used for to cry aloud is the word that is used for the barking of a dog, the croaking of a raven, the bawling of a drunken man, the uproar of a discontented audience in a theatre. It means that Jesus would not brawl with men. We know all about the quarrels of conflicting parties, in which each tries to shout the other down. The hatred of theologians, the odium theoligicum is one of the tragedies of the Christian Church. We know all about the oppositions of politicians and of ideologies. In Jesus there is the quiet, strong serenity of one who seeks to conquer by love, and not by strife of words.
(iii) He will not break the crushed reed nor quench the smoking wick. The reed may be bruised and hardly able to stand erect; the wick may be weak and the light may be but a flicker. A man's witness may be shaky and weak; the light of his life may be but a flicker and not a flame; but Jesus did not come to discourage, but to encourage. He did not come to treat the weak with contempt, but with understanding; he did not come to extinguish the weak flame, but to nurse it back to a clearer and a stronger light. The most precious thing about Jesus is the fact that he is not the great discourager, but the great encourager.
(iv) In him the Gentiles will hope. With Jesus there came into the world the invitation, not to a nation but to all men, to share in and to accept the love of God. In him God was reaching out to every one with the offer of his love.
Satan's Defences Are Breached ( Matthew 12:22-29)
12:22-29 Then there was brought to him a man possessed by a devil, blind and dumb; and he cured him, so that the dumb man spoke and saw. The crowds were beside themselves with amazement. "Surely," they said, "this cannot be the Son of David?" But, when they heard it, the Pharisees said, "The only way in which this fellow casts out devils, is by the help of Beelzeboul, the prince of the devils." When he saw what they were thinking, Jesus said to them, "Every kingdom which has reached a state of division against itself is laid waste; and any city or region which has reached a state of division against itself will not stand. If Satan is casting out Satan, he is in a state of division against himself. How then shall his kingdom stand? Further, if I cast out devils by the power of Beelzeboul, by whose power do your sons cast them out? They do cast them out, and therefore they convict you of hypocrisy in the charge which you level against me. But, if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. Or, how can anyone enter into the house of a strong man, and seize his goods, unless he first bind the strong man? Then he will be able to seize his house."
In the eastern world it was not only mental and psychological illness which was ascribed to the influence of demons and devils; all illness was ascribed to their malignant power. Exorcism was therefore very commonly practised; and was in fact frequently completely effective.
There is nothing in that to be surprised at. When people believe in demon-possession, it is easy to convince themselves that they are so possessed; when they come under that delusion, the symptoms of demon-possession immediately arise. Even amongst ourselves anyone can think himself into having a headache, or can convince himself that he has the symptoms of an illness. When a person under such a delusion was confronted with an exorcist in whom he had confidence, often the delusion was dispelled and a cure resulted. In such cases if a man was convinced he was cured, he was cured.
In this instance Jesus cured a man who was deaf and dumb and whose infirmity was attributed to demon-possession. The people were amazed. They began to wonder if this Jesus could be the Son of David, so long promised and so long expected, the great Saviour and Liberator. Their doubt was due to the fact that Jesus was so unlike the picture of the Son of David in which they had been brought up to believe. Here was no glorious prince with pomp and circumstance; here was no rattle of swords nor army with banners; here was no fiery cross calling men to war; here was a simple carpenter from Galilee, in whose words was wisdom gentle and serene, in whose eyes was compassion, and in whose hands was mysterious power.
All the time the Scribes and Pharisees were looking grimly on. They had their own solution of the problem. Jesus was casting out devils because he was in league with the prince of devils. Jesus had three unanswerable replies to that charge.
(i) If he was casting out devils by the help of the prince of devils, it could only mean that in the demonic kingdom there was schism. If the prince of devils was actually lending his power to the destruction of his own demonic agents, then there was civil war in the kingdom of evil, and that kingdom was doomed. Neither a house nor a city nor a district can remain strong when it is divided against itself. Dissension within is the end of power. Even if the Scribes and Pharisees were right, Satan's days were numbered.
(ii) We take Jesus' third argument second, because there is so much to be said about the second that we wish to take it separately. Jesus said, "If I am casting out devils--and that you do not, and cannot, deny--it means that I have invaded the territory of Satan, and that I am actually like a burglar despoiling his house. Clearly no one can get into a strong man's house until the strong man is bound and rendered helpless. Therefore the very fact that I have been able so successfully to invade Satan's territory is proof that he is bound and powerless to resist." The picture of the binding of the strong man is taken from Isaiah 49:24-26.
There is one question which this argument makes us wish to ask. When was the strong man bound? When was the prince of the devils fettered in such a way that Jesus could make this breach in his defences? Maybe there is no answer to that question; but if there is, it is that Satan was bound during Jesus' temptations in the wilderness.
It sometimes happens that, although an army is not completely put out of action, it suffers such a defeat that its fighting potential is never quite the same again. Its losses are so great, its confidence is so shaken, that it is never again the force it was. When Jesus faced the Tempter in the wilderness and conquered him, something happened. For the first time Satan found someone whom not all his wiles could seduce, and whom not all his attacks could conquer. From that time the power of Satan has never been quite the same. He is no longer the all-conquering power of darkness; he is the defeated power of sin. The defences are breached; the enemy is not yet conquered; but his power can never be the same again and Jesus can help others win the victory he himself won.
The Jewish Exorcists ( Matthew 12:22-29 Continued)
(iii) Jesus' second argument, to which we now come, was that the Jews themselves practised exorcism; there were Jews who expelled demons and wrought cures. If he was practising exorcism by the power of the prince of devils, then they must be doing the same, for they were dealing with the same diseases and they had at least sometimes the same effect. Let us then look at the customs and the methods of the Jewish exorcists, for they were a remarkable contrast to the methods of Jesus.
Josephus, a perfectly reputable historian, says that the power to cast out demons was part of the wisdom of Solomon, and he describes a case which he himself saw (Josephus: Antiquities 8. 2. 5.): "God also enabled Solomon to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a science useful and health-bringing to men. He composed such incantations also, by which distempers are alleviated. And he left behind him also the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons so that they never return, and this method of cure is of great force unto this day; for I have seen a certain man of my own country, whose name was Eleazar, releasing people who were demoniacal in the presence of Vespasian, and his sons, and his captains, and the whole multitude of his soldiers. The manner of the cure was this. He put a ring that had a root which was one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon in the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he adjured the demon to return into him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed. And when Eleazar would persuade and demonstrate to the spectators that he had such a power, he set a little way off a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon, as he went out of the man, to overturn it, and thereby to let the spectators know that he had left the man; and when this was done, the skill and wisdom of Solomon was shown very manifestly." Here was the Jewish method; here was the whole paraphernalia of magic. How different the serene word of power which Jesus uttered!
Josephus has further information about how the Jewish exorcists worked. A certain root was much used in exorcism. Josephus tells about it: "In the valley of Macherus there is a certain root called by the same name. Its colour is like to that of flame, and towards evening it sends out a certain ray like lightning. It is not easily taken by such as would do so, but recedes from their hands, nor will it yield itself to be taken quietly until either the urine of a woman, or her menstrual blood, be poured upon it; nay, even then it is certain death to those who touch it, unless anyone take and hang the root itself down from his hand, and so carry it away. It may also be taken another way without danger, which is this: they dig a trench all round about it, till the hidden part of the root be very small; they then tie a dog to it, and when the dog tries hard to follow him that tied him, this root is easily plucked up, but the dog dies immediately, as if it were instead of the man that would take the plant away; nor after this need anyone be afraid of taking it into their hands. Yet after all these pains in getting it, it is only valuable on account of one virtue which it possesses, that if it be brought to sick persons, it drives away those called demons" (Josephus: Wars of the Jews 7. 6. 3.). What a difference between Jesus' word of power, and this witch-doctoring which the Jewish exorcist used!
We may add one more illustration of Jewish exorcism. It comes from the apocryphal book of Tobit. Tobit is told by the angel that he is to marry Sara, the daughter of Raguel. She is a beautiful maiden with a great dowry, and she herself is good. She has been in turn married to seven different men, all of whom perished on their wedding night, because Sara was loved by a wicked demon, who would allow none to approach her. Tobit is afraid, but the angel tells him, "On the night when thou shalt come into the marriage chamber, thou shalt take the ashes of perfume, and shalt lay them upon some of the heart and liver of the fish, and shalt make a smoke with it; and the devil shall smell it and flee away, and never come again any more" ( Tob_6:16 ). So Tobit did and the devil was banished for ever ( Tob_8:1-4 ).
These were the things the Jewish exorcists did, and, as so often, they were a symbol. Men sought their deliverance from the evils and the sorrows of humanity in their magic and their incantations. Maybe even these things for a little while, in the mercy of God, brought some relief; but in Jesus there came the word of God with its serene power to bring to men the perfect deliverance which they had wistfully and even desperately sought, and which, until he came, they had never been able to find.
One of the most interesting things in the whole passage is Jesus' saying, "If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you" ( Matthew 12:28). It is significant to note that the sign of the coming of the Kingdom was not full churches and great revival meetings, but the defeat of pain.
The Impossibility Of Neutrality ( Matthew 12:30)
12:30 "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters abroad."
The picture of gathering and scattering may come from either of two backgrounds. It may come from harvesting; he who is not sharing in gathering the harvest is scattering the grain abroad, and is therefore losing it to the wind. It may come from shepherding; he who is not helping to keep the flock safe by bringing it into the fold is driving it out to the dangers of the hills.
In this one piercing sentence Jesus lays down the impossibility of neutrality. W. C. Allen writes: "In this war against Satan's strongholds there are only two sides, for Christ or against him, gathering with him or scattering with Satan." We may take a very simple analogy. We may apply this saying to ourselves and to the Church. If our presence does not strengthen the Church, then our absence is weakening it. There is no halfway house. In all things a man has to choose his side; abstention from choice, suspended action, is no way out, because the refusal to give one side assistance is in fact the giving of support to the other.
There are three things which make a man seek this impossible neutrality.
(i) There is the sheer inertia of human nature. It is true of so many people that the only thing they desire is to be left alone. They automatically shrink away from anything which is disturbing, and even choice is a disturbance.
(ii) There is the sheer cowardice of human nature. Many a man refuses the way of Christ because he is afraid to take the stand which Christianity demands. The basic thing that stops him is the thought of what other people will say. The voice of his neighbours is louder in his ears than the voice of God.
(iii) There is the sheer flabbiness of human nature. Most people would rather have security than adventure, and the older they grow the more that is so. A challenge always involves adventure; Christ comes to us with a challenge, and often we would rather have the comfort of selfish inaction than the adventure of action for Christ.
The saying of Jesus--"He who is not with me is against me"--presents us with a problem, for both Mark and Luke have a saying which is the very reverse, "He that is not against us is for us" ( Mark 9:40; Luke 9:50). But they are not so contradictory as they seem. It is to be noted that Jesus spoke the second of them when his disciples came and told him that they had sought to stop a man from casting out devils in his name, because he was not one of their company. So a wise suggestion has been made. "He that is not with me is against me," is a test that we ought to apply to ourselves. Am I truly on the Lord's side, or, am I trying to shuffle through life in a state of cowardly neutrality? "He that is not against us is for us," is a test that we ought to apply to others. Am I given to condemning everyone who does not speak with my theology and worship with my liturgy and share my ideas? Am I limiting the Kingdom of God to those who think as I do?
The saying in this present passage is a test to apply to ourselves; the saying in Mark and Luke is a test to apply to others; for we must ever judge ourselves with sternness and other people with tolerance.
The Sin Beyond Forgiveness ( Matthew 12:31-33)
12:31-33 "That is why I tell you that every sin and every blasphemy will be forgiven to men; but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. If anyone speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but if anyone speaks a word against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this world or in the world to come. Either assume that the tree is good and the fruit is good, or assume that the tree is rotten and the fruit is rotten. For the tree is known by its fruits."
It is startling to find words about an unforgivable sin on the lips of Jesus the Saviour of men. So startling is this that some wish to take away the sharp definiteness of the meaning. They argue that this is only another example of that vivid Eastern way of saying things, as, for example, when Jesus said that a man must hate father and mother truly to be his disciple, and that it is not to be understood in all its awful literalness, but simply means that the sin against the Holy Spirit is supremely terrible.
In support certain Old Testament passages are quoted. "But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken his commandment, that person shall be entirely cut off" ( Numbers 15:30-31). "Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever" ( 1 Samuel 3:14). "The Lord of hosts has revealed himself in my ears. 'Surely this iniquity will not be forgiven you till you die,' says the Lord God of hosts" ( Isaiah 22:14).
It is claimed that these texts say much the same as Jesus said, and that they are only insisting on the grave nature of the sin in question. We can only say that these Old Testament texts do not have the same air nor do they produce the same impression. There is something very much more alarming in hearing words about a sin which has no forgiveness from the lips of him who was the incarnate love of God.
There is one section in this saying which is undoubtedly puzzling. In the Revised Standard Version Jesus is made to say that a sin against the Son of man is forgivable, whereas a sin against the Holy Spirit is not forgivable. If that is to be taken as it stands, it is indeed a hard saying. Matthew has already said that Jesus is the touchstone of all truth ( Matthew 10:32-33); and it is difficult to see what the difference between the two sins is.
But it may well be that at the back of this there is a misunderstanding of what Jesus said. We have already seen (compare notes on Matthew 12:1-8) that the Hebrew phrase a son of man means simply a man, and that the Jews used this phrase when they desired to speak of any man. When we would say, "There was a man. . .," the Jewish Rabbi would say, "There was a son of man...." It may well be that what Jesus said was this: "If any man speaks a word against a man, it will be forgiven; but if any man speaks a word against the Holy Spirit it will not be forgiven."
It is quite possible that we may misunderstand a merely human messenger from God; but we cannot misunderstand--except deliberately--when God speaks to us through his own Holy Spirit. A human messenger is always open to misconstruction; but the divine messenger speaks so plainly that he can only be wilfully misunderstood. It certainly makes this passage easier to understand, if we regard the difference between the two sins as a sin against God's human messenger, which is serious, but not unforgivable, and a sin against God's divine messenger, which is completely wilful, and which, as we shall see, can end by becoming unforgivable.
The Lost Awareness ( Matthew 12:31-33 Continued)
Let us then try to understand what Jesus meant by the sin against the Holy Spirit. One thing is necessary. We must grasp the fact that Jesus was not speaking about the Holy Spirit in the full Christian sense of the term. He could not have been, for Pentecost had to come before the Holy Spirit came upon men in all his power and light and fulness. This must be interpreted in light of the Jewish conception of the Holy Spirit.
According to Jewish teaching the Holy Spirit had two supreme functions. First, the Holy Spirit brought God's truth to men; second, the Holy Spirit enabled men to recognize and to understand that truth when they saw it. So then a man, as the Jews saw it, needed the Holy Spirit, both to receive and to recognise God's truth. We may express this in another way. There is in man a Spirit-given faculty which enables him to recognize goodness and truth when he sees them.
Now we must take the next step in our attempt to understand what Jesus meant. A man can lose any faculty if he refuses to use it. This is true in any sphere of life. It is true physically; if a man ceases to use certain muscles, they will atrophy. It is true mentally; many a man at school or in his youth has acquired some slight knowledge of, for example, French or Latin or music; but that knowledge is long since gone because he did not exercise it. It is true of all kinds of perception. A man may lose all appreciation of good music, if he listens to nothing but cheap music; he may lose the ability to read a great book, if he reads nothing but ephemeral productions; he may lose the faculty of enjoying clean and healthy pleasure, if he for long enough finds his pleasure in things which are degraded and soiled.
Therefore a man can lose the ability to recognize goodness and truth when he sees them. If he for long enough shuts his eyes and ears to God's way, if he for long enough turns his back upon the messages which God is sending him, if he for long enough prefers his own ideas to the ideas which God is seeking to put into his mind, in the end he comes to a stage when he cannot recognize God's truth and God's beauty and God's goodness when he sees them. He comes to a stage when his own evil seems to him good, and when God's good seems to him evil.
That is the stage to which these Scribes and Pharisees had come. They had so long been blind and deaf to the guidance of God's hand and the promptings of God's Spirit, they had insisted on their own way so long, that they had come to a stage when they could not recognize God's truth and goodness when they saw them. They were able to look on incarnate goodness and call it incarnate evil; they were able to look on the Son of God and call him the ally of the devil. The sin against the Holy Spirit is the sin of so often and so consistently refusing God's will that in the end it cannot be recognized when it comes even full-displayed.
Why should that sin be unforgivable? What differentiates it so terribly from all other sins? The answer is simple. When a man reaches that stage, repentance is impossible. If a man cannot recognize the good when he sees it, he cannot desire it. If a man does not recognize evil as evil, he cannot be sorry for it, and wish to depart from it. And if he cannot, in spite of failures, love the good and hate the evil, then he cannot repent; and if he cannot repent, he cannot be forgiven, for repentance is the only condition of forgiveness. It would save much heartbreak if people would realize that the one man who cannot have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit is the man who fears he has, for the sin against the Holy Spirit can be truly described as the loss of all sense of sin.
It was to that stage the Scribes and Pharisees had come. They had so long been deliberately blind and deliberately deaf to God that they had lost the faculty of recognizing him when they were confronted with him. It was not God who had banished them beyond the pale of forgiveness; they had shut themselves out. Years of resistance to God had made them what they were.
There is a dreadful warning here. We must so heed God all our days that our sensitivity is never blunted, our awareness is never dimmed, our spiritual hearing never becomes spiritual deafness. It is a law of life that we will hear only what we are listening for and only what we have fitted ourselves to hear.
There is a story of a country man who was in the office of a city friend, with the roar of the traffic coming through the windows. Suddenly he said, "Listen!" "What is it?" asked the city man. "A grasshopper," said the country man. Years of listening to the country sounds had attuned his ears to the country sounds, sounds that a city man's ear could not hear at all. On the other hand, let a silver coin drop, and the chink of the silver would have immediately reached the ears of the money-maker, while the country man might never have heard it at all. Only the expert, the man who has made himself able to hear it, will pick out the note of each individual bird in the chorus of the birds. Only the expert, the man who has made himself able to hear it, will distinguish the different instruments in the orchestra and catch a lonely wrong note from the second violins.
It is the law of life that we hear what we have trained ourselves to hear; day by day we must listen to God, so that day by day God's voice may become, not fainter and fainter until we cannot hear it at all, but clearer and clearer until it becomes the one sound to which above an our ears are attuned.
So Jesus finishes with the challenge: "If I have done a good deed, you must admit that I am a good man; if I have done a bad deed, then you may think me a bad man. You can only tell a tree's quality by its fruits, and a man's character by his deeds." But what if a man has become so blind to God that he cannot recognize goodness when he sees it?
Hearts And Words ( Matthew 12:34-37)
12:34-37 "You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil speak good things? For it is from the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks. The good man brings out good things from his good treasure house; and the evil man brings out evil things out of his evil treasure house. I tell you that every idle word which men shall speak, of that word shall they render accounts in the day of judgment; for by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
It is little wonder that Jesus chose to speak here about the awful responsibility of words. The Scribes and Pharisees had just spoken the most terrible words. They had looked on the Son of God and called him the ally of the devil. Such words were dreadful words indeed. So Jesus laid down two laws.
(i) The state of a man's heart can be seen through the words he speaks. Long ago Menander the Greek dramatist said: "A man's character can be known from his words." That which is in the heart can come to the surface only through the lips; a man can produce through his lips only what he has in his heart. There is nothing so revealing as words. We do not need to talk to a man long before we discover whether he has a mind that is wholesome or a mind that is dirty; we do not need to listen to him long before we discover whether he has a mind that is kind or a mind that is cruel; we do not need to listen for long to a man who is preaching or teaching or lecturing to find out whether his mind is clear or whether it is muddled. We are continually revealing what we are by what we say.
(ii) Jesus laid it down that a man would specially render account for his idle words. The word that it used for idle is aergos ( G692) ; ergon ( G2041) is the Greek for a deed; and the prefix "a"--means "without"; aergos ( G692) described that which was not meant to produce anything. It is used, for instance of a barren tree, of fallow land, of the Sabbath day when no work could be done, of an idle man. Jesus was saying something which is profoundly true. There are in fact two great truths here.
(a) It is the words which a man speaks without thinking, the words which he utters when the conventional restraints are removed, which really show what he is like. As Plummer puts it, "The carefully spoken words may be a calculated hypocrisy." When a man is consciously on his guard, he will be careful what he says and how he says it; but when he is off his guard, his words reveal his character. It is quite possible for a man's public utterances to be fine and noble, and for his private conversation to be coarse and salacious. In public he carefully chooses what he says; in private he takes the sentinels away, and any word leaves the gateway of his lips. It is so with anger; a man will say in anger what he really thinks and what he has often wanted to say, but which the cool control of prudence has kept him from saying. Many a man is a model of charm and courtesy in public, when he knows he is being watched and is deliberately careful about his words; while in his own house he is a dreadful example of irritability, sarcasm, temper, criticism, querulous complaint because there is no one to hear and to see. It is a humbling thing--and a warning thing--to remember that the words which show what we are are the words we speak when our guard is down.
(b) It is often these words which cause the greatest damage. A man may say in anger things he would never have said if he was in control of himself He may say afterwards that he never meant what he said; but that does not free him from the responsibility of having said it; and the fact that he has said it often leaves a wound that nothing will cure, and erects a barrier that nothing will take away. A man may say in his relaxed moment a coarse and questionable thing that he would never have said in public--and that very thing may lodge in someone's memory and stay there unforgotten. Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher, said, "Choose rather to fling a chance stone than to speak a chance word." Once the hurting word or the soiling word is spoken nothing will bring it back; and it pursues a course of damage wherever it goes.
Let a man examine himself. Let him examine his words that he may discover the state of his heart. And let him remember that God does not judge him by the words he speaks with care and deliberation, but by the words he speaks when the conventional restraints are gone and the real feelings of his heart come bubbling to the surface.
The Only Sign ( Matthew 12:38-42)
12:38-42 Then the Scribes and Pharisees answered him: "Teacher," they said, "we wish to see a sign from you." He answered, "It is an evil and apostate generation which seeks a sign. No sign will be given to it, except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For, as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will be witnesses against this generation, and they will condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and, look you, something more than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise in judgment with this generation, and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon and, look you, something more than Solomon is here!"
"The Jews," said Paul, "demand signs" ( 1 Corinthians 1:22). It was characteristic of the Jews that they asked signs and wonders from those who claimed to be the messengers of God. It was as if they said, "Prove your claims by doing something extraordinary." Edersheim quotes a passage from the Rabbinic stories to illustrate the kind of thing that popular opinion expected from the Messiah: "When a certain Rabbi was asked by his disciples about the time of the Messiah's coming, he said, 'I am afraid you will also ask me for a sign.' When they promised that they would not do so, he told them that the gate of Rome would fall and be rebuilt, and fall again, when there would not be time to restore it before the Son of David came. On this they pressed him in spite of his remonstrance for a sign. A sign was given them, that the waters which issued from the cave of Banias were turned into blood.
"Again, when the teaching of Rabbi Eliezer was challenged, he appealed to certain signs. First, a locust bean tree moved at his bidding, one hundred, or according to some, four hundred cubits. Next the channels of water were made to flow backwards. The walls of the academy leaned forward, and were only arrested at the bidding of another Rabbi. Lastly Eliezer exclaimed: 'If the Law is as I teach, let it be proved from heaven.' A voice came from the sky saying, 'What have you to do with Rabbi Eliezer, for the instruction is as he teaches?'"
That is the kind of sign that the Jews desired. They did so because they were guilty of one fundamental mistake. They desired to see God in the abnormal; they forgot that we are never nearer God, and God never shows himself to us so much and so continually as in the ordinary things of every day.
Jesus calls them an evil and adulterous generation. The word adulterous is not to be taken literally; it means apostate. Behind it there is a favourite Old Testament prophetic picture. The relationship between Israel and God was conceived of as a marriage bond with God the husband and Israel the bride. When therefore Israel was unfaithful and gave her love to other gods, the nation was said to be adulterous and to go a-whoring after strange gods. Jeremiah 3:6-11 is a typical passage. There the nation is said to have gone up into every high mountain, and under every green tree, and to have played the harlot. Even when Israel had been put away for infidelity by God, Judah did not take the warning and still played the harlot. Her whoredoms defiled the land, and she committed adultery with stone and tree. The word describes something worse than physical adultery; it describes that infidelity to God from which all sin, physical and spiritual, springs.
Jesus says that the only sign which will be given to this nation is the sign of Jonah the prophet. Here we have a problem. Matthew says that the sign is that, as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, the Son of man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. It is to be noted that these are not the words of Jesus, but the explanation of Matthew. When Luke reports this incident ( Luke 11:29-32) he makes no mention at all of Jonah being in the belly of the whale. He simply says that Jesus said, "For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation" ( Luke 11:30).
The fact is that Matthew understood wrongly the point of what Jesus said; and in so doing he made a strange mistake for Jesus was not in the heart of the earth for three nights, but only for two. He was laid in the earth on the night of the first Good Friday and rose on the morning of the first Easter Sunday. The point is that to the Ninevites Jonah himself was God's sign, and Jonah's words were God's message.
Jesus is saying, "You are asking for a sign--I am God's sign. You have failed to recognize me. The Ninevites recognized God's warning in Jonah; the Queen of Sheba recognized God's wisdom in Solomon. In me there has come to you a greater wisdom than Solomon ever had, and a greater message than Jonah ever brought--but you are so blind that you cannot see the truth and so deaf that you cannot hear the warning. And for that very reason the day will come when these people of old time who recognized God when they saw him will be witnesses against you, who had so much better a chance, and failed to recognize God because you refused to do so."
Here is a tremendous truth--Jesus is Gods sign, just as Jonah was God's message to the Ninevites and Solomon God's wisdom to the Queen of Sheba. The one real question in life is: "What is our reaction when we are confronted with God in Jesus Christ?" Is that reaction bleak hostility, as it was in the case of the Scribes and Pharisees? Or, is it humble acceptance of God's warning and God's truth as it was in the case of the people of Nineveh, and of the Queen of Sheba? The all-important question is: "What do you think of the Christ?"
The Peril Of The Empty Heart ( Matthew 12:43-45)
12:43-45 "When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, it goes through waterless places, seeking for rest, and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will go back to my house, from which I came out,' and when it comes, it finds it empty, swept and in perfect order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and take up their residence there. So the last state of that man becomes worse than the first; so it will be with this evil generation."
There is a whole world of the most practical truth in this compact and eerie little parable about the haunted house.
(i) The evil spirit is banished from the man, not destroyed. That is to say that, in this present age, evil can be conquered, driven away--but it cannot be destroyed. It is always looking for the opportunity to counter-attack and regain the ground that is lost. Evil is a force which may be at bay but is never eliminated.
(ii) That is bound to mean that a negative religion can never be enough. A religion which consists in thou shalt nots will end in failure. The trouble about such a religion is that it may be able to cleanse a man by prohibiting all his evil actions, but it cannot keep him cleansed.
Let us think of this in actual practice. A drunkard may be reformed; he may decide that he will no longer spend his time in the public house; but he must find something else to do; he must find something to fill up his now empty time, or he will simply slip back into his evil ways. A man whose constant pursuit has been pleasure, may decide that he must stop; but he must find something else to do to fill up his time, or he will simply, through the very emptiness of his life, drift back to his old pursuits. A man's life must not only be sterilized from evil; it must be fructified to good. It will always remain true that "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do." And if one kind of action is banished from life, another kind must be substituted for it, for life cannot remain empty.
(iii) It therefore follows that the only permanent cure for evil action is Christian action. Any teaching which stops at telling a man what he must not do is bound to be a failure; it must go on to tell him what he must do. The one fatal disease is idleness; even a sterilized idleness will soon be infected. The easiest way to conquer the weeds in a garden is to fill the garden with useful things. The easiest way to keep a life from sin is to fill it with healthy action.
To put it quite simply, the Church will most easily keep her converts when she gives them Christian work to do. Our aim is not the mere negative absence of evil action; it is the positive presence of work for Christ. If we are finding the temptations of evil very threatening, one of the best ways to conquer them is to plunge into activity for God and for our fellow-men.
True Kinship ( Matthew 12:46-50)
12:46-50 While he was still speaking to the crowds, look you, his mother and his brothers stood outside, for they were seeking an opportunity to speak to him. Someone said to him: "Look you, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, seeking an opportunity to speak to you." He answered the man who had spoken to him: "Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?" And he stretched out his hand towards his disciples. "See," he said, "my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."
It was one of the great human tragedies of Jesus' life that, during his lifetime, his nearest and dearest never understood him. "For even his brothers," says John, "did not believe in him" ( John 7:5). Mark tells us that when Jesus set out on his public mission, his friends tried to restrain him, for they said that he was mad ( Mark 3:21). He seemed to them to be busily engaged in throwing his life away in a kind of insanity.
It has often been the case that, when a man embarked on the way of Jesus Christ, his nearest and dearest could not understand him, and were even hostile to him. "A Christian's only relatives," said one of the early martyrs, "are the saints." Many of the early Quakers had this bitter experience. When Edward Burrough was moved to the new way, "his parents resenting his 'fanatical spirit' drove him forth from his home." He pleaded humbly with his father: "Let me stay and be your servant. I will do the work of the hired lad for thee. Let me stay!" But, as his biographer says, "His father was adamant, and much as the boy loved his home and its familiar surroundings, he was to know it no more."
True friendship and true love are founded on certain things without which they cannot exist.
(i) Friendship is founded on a common ideal. People who are very different in their background, their mental equipment, and even their methods, can be firm friends, if they have a common ideal, for which they work, and towards which they press.
(ii) Friendship is founded on a common experience, and on the memories which come from it. It is when two people have together passed through some great experience and when they can together look back on it, that real friendship begins.
(iii) True love is founded on obedience. "You are my friends," said Jesus, "if you do what I command you" ( John 15:14). There is no way of showing the reality of love unless by the spirit of obedience.
For all these reasons true kinship is not always a matter of a flesh and blood relationship. It remains true that blood is a tie that nothing can break and that many a man finds his delight and his peace in the circle of his family. But it is also true that sometimes a man's nearest and dearest are the people who understand him least, and that he finds his true fellowship with those who work for a common ideal and who share a common experience. This certainly is true--even if a Christian finds that those who should be closest to him are those who are most out of sympathy with him, there remains for him the fellowship of Jesus Christ and the friendship of all who love the Lord.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Matthew 12:48". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/matthew-12.html. 1956-1959.
But he answered and said unto him that told him,.... Of his mother and brethren being without doors, desiring, and waiting to speak to him,
Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? These questions are put, not as if he himself was ignorant who were his mother or his brethren; or as suggesting as if he had none; or as denying that these were in such a relation to him; or as casting any slight upon them; or as intending to teach men disrespect to parents and kindred, according to the flesh; but as displeased with the man, or men, for interrupting him in his work; and to let them know, that the business of his heavenly Father was preferred by him to any his natural relations could have with him; and that he might have an opportunity of pointing out who were his relations in a spiritual sense.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Matthew 12:48". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-12.html. 1999.
|Who Are Christ's Relations.|
46 While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. 47 Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. 48 But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? 49 And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
Many excellent, useful sayings came from the mouth of our Lord Jesus upon particular occasions; even his digressions were instructive, as well as his set discourses: as here,
Observe, I. How Christ was interrupted in his preaching by his mother and his brethren, that stood without, desiring to speak with him (Matthew 12:40; Matthew 12:47); which desire of theirs was conveyed to him through the crowd. It is needless to enquire which of his brethren they were that came along with his mother (perhaps they were those who did not believe in him,John 7:5); or what their business was; perhaps it was only designed to oblige him to break off, for fear he should fatigue himself, or to caution him to take heed of giving offence by his discourse to the Pharisees, and or involving himself in a difficulty; as if they could teach him wisdom.
1. He was as yet talking to the people. Note, Christ's preaching was talking; it was plain, easy, and familiar, and suited to their capacity and case. What Christ had delivered had been cavilled at, and yet he went on. Note, The opposition we meet within our work, must not drive us from it. He left off talking with the Pharisees, for he saw he could do no good with them; but continued to talk to the common people, who, not having such a conceit of their knowledge as the Pharisees had, were willing to learn.
2. His mother and brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him, when they should have been standing within, desiring to hear him. They had the advantage of his daily converse in private, and therefore were less mindful to attend upon his public preaching. Note, Frequently those who are nearest to the means of knowledge and grace, are most negligent. Familiarity and easiness of access breed some degree of contempt. We are apt to neglect that this day, which we think we may have any day, for getting that it is only the present time we can be sure of; tomorrow is none of ours. There is too much truth in that common proverb, "The nearer the church, the further from God;" it is pity it should be so.
3. They not only would not hear him themselves, but they interrupted others that heard him gladly. The devil was a sworn enemy to our Saviour's preaching. He had sought to baffle his discourse by the unreasonable cavils of the scribes and Pharisees, and when he could not gain his point that way, he endeavoured to break it off by the unseasonable visits of relations. Note, We often meet with hindrances and obstructions in our work, by our friends that are about us, and are taken off by civil respects from our spiritual concerns. Those who really wish well to us and to our work, may sometimes, by their indiscretion, prove our back-friends, and impediments to us in our duty; as Peter was offensive to Christ, with his, "Master, spare thyself," when he thought himself very officious. The mother of our Lord desired to speak with him; it seemed she had not then learned to command her Son, as the iniquity and idolatry of the church of Rome has since pretended to teach her: nor was she so free from fault and folly as they would make her. It was Christ's prerogative, and not his mother's, to do every thing wisely, and well, and in its season. Christ once said to his mother, How is it that ye sought me? Wist he not, that I must be about my Father's business? And it was then said, she laid up that saying in her heart (Luke 2:49); but if she had remembered it now, she would not have given him this interruption when he was about his Father's business. Note, There is many a good truth that we thought was well laid up when we heard it, which yet is out of the way when we have occasion to use it.
II. How he resented this interruption, Matthew 12:48-50; Matthew 12:48-50.
1. He would not hearken to it; he was so intent upon his work, that no natural or civil respects should take him off from it. Who is my mother and who are my brethren? Not that natural affection is to be put off, or that, under pretence of religion, we may be disrespectful to parents, or unkind to other relations; but every thing is beautiful in its season, and the less duty must stand by, while the greater is done. When our regard to our relations comes in competition with the service of God, and the improving of an opportunity to do good, in such a case, we must say to our Father, I have not seen him, as Levi did, Deuteronomy 33:9. The nearest relations must be comparatively hated, that is, we must love them less than Christ (Luke 14:26), and our duty to God must have the preference. This Christ has here given us an example of; the zeal of God's house did so far eat him up, that it made him not only forget himself, but forget his dearest relations. And we must not take it ill of our friends, nor put it upon the score of their wickedness, if they prefer the pleasing of God before the pleasing of us; but we must readily forgive those neglects which may be easily imputed to a pious zeal for God's glory and others' good. Nay, we must deny ourselves and our own satisfaction, rather than do that which may any way divert our friends from, or distract them in, their duty to God.
2. He took that occasion to prefer his disciples, who were his spiritual kindred, before his natural relations as such: which was a good reason why he would not leave preaching to speak with his brethren. He would rather be profiting his disciples, than pleasing his relations. Observe,
(1.) The description of Christ's disciples. They are such as do the will of his Father; not only hear it, and know it, and talk of it, but do it; for doing the will of God is the best preparative for discipleship (John 7:17), and the best proof of it (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 7:21); that denominates us his disciples indeed. Christ does not say, "Whosoever shall do my will," for he came not to seek or do his own will distinct from his Father's: his will and his Father's are the same; but he refers us to his Father's will, because now in his present state and work he referred himself to it, John 6:38.
(2.) The dignity of Christ's disciples: The same is my brother, and sister, and mother. His disciples, that had left all to follow him, and embraced his doctrine, were dearer to him than any that were akin to him according to the flesh. They had preferred Christ before their relations; they left their father (Matthew 4:22; Matthew 10:37); and now to make them amends, and to show that there was no love lost, he preferred them before his relations. Did not they hereby receive, in point of honour, a hundred fold?Matthew 19:29; Matthew 19:29. It was very endearing and very encouraging for Christ to say, Behold my mother and my brethren; yet it was not their privilege alone, this honour have all the saints. Note, All obedient believers are near akin to Jesus Christ. They wear his name, bear his image, have his nature, are of his family. He loves them, converses freely with them as his relations. He bids them welcome to his table, takes care of them, provides for them, sees that they want nothing that is fit for them: when he died he left them rich legacies, now he is in heaven he keeps up a correspondence with them, and will have them all with him at last, and will in nothing fail to do the kinsman's part (Ruth 3:13), nor will ever be ashamed of his poor relations, but will confess them before men, before the angels, and before his Father.
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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Matthew 12:48". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/matthew-12.html. 1706.
Chapter 8, which opens the portion that comes before us tonight, is a striking illustration as well as proof of the method which God has been pleased to employ in giving us the apostle Matthew's account of our Lord Jesus. The dispensational aim here leads to a more manifest disregard of the bare circumstance of time than in any other specimen of these gospels. This is the more to be noticed, inasmuch as the gospel of Matthew has been in general adopted as the standard of time, save by those who have rather inclined to Luke as supplying the desideratum. To me it is evident, from a careful comparison of them all, as I think it is capable of clear and adequate proof to an unprejudiced Christian mind, that neither Matthew nor Luke confines himself to such an order of events. Of course, both do preserve chronological order when it is compatible with the objects the Holy Spirit had in inspiring them; but in both the order of time is subordinated to still greater purposes which God had in view. If we compare the eighth chapter, for example, with the corresponding circumstances, as far as they appear, in the gospel of Mark, we shall find the latter gives us notes of time, which leave no doubt on my mind that Mark adheres to the scale of time: the design of the Holy Ghost required it, instead of dispensing with it in his case. The question fairly arises, Why it is that the Holy Ghost has been pleased so remarkably to leave time out of the question in this chapter, as well as in the next? The same indifference to the mere sequence of events is found occasionally in other parts of the gospel; but I have purposely dwelt upon this chapter 8, because here we have it throughout, and at the same time with evidence exceedingly simple and convincing.
The first thing to be remarked is, that the leper was an early incident in the manifestation of the healing power of our Lord. In his defilement he came to Jesus and sought to be cleansed, before the delivery of the sermon on the mount. Accordingly, notice that, in the manner in which the Holy Ghost introduces it, there is no statement of time whatever. No doubt the first verse says, that "when He was come down from the mount, great multitudes followed Him;" but then the second verse gives no intimation that the subject which follows is to be taken as chronologically subsequent. It does not say, that " then there came a leper," or " immediately there came a leper." No word whatever implies that the cleansing of the leper happened at that time. It says simply, "And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." Verse 4 seems quite adverse to the idea that great multitudes were witnesses of the cure; for why "tell no man," if so many knew it already? Inattention to this has perplexed many. They have not seized the aim of each gospel. They have treated the Bible either with levity, or as too awful a book to be apprehended really; not with the reverence of faith, which waits on Him, and fails not in due time to understand His word. God does not permit Scripture to be thus used without losing its force, its beauty, and the grand object for which it was written.
If we turn toMark 1:1-45; Mark 1:1-45, the proof of what I have said will appear as to the leper. At its close we see the leper approaching the Lord, after He had been preaching throughout Galilee and casting out devils. In Mark 2:1-28 it says, "And again he entered into Capernaum." He had been there before. Then, in Mark 3:1-35, there are notes of time more or less strong. In verse 13 our Lord "goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach." To him who compares this with Luke 6:1-49, there need not remain a question as to the identity of the scene. They are the circumstances that preceded the discourse upon the mount, as given in Matthew 5:1-48; Matthew 6:1-34; Matthew 7:1-29. It was after our Lord had called the twelve, and ordained them not after He had sent them forth, but after He had appointed them apostles that the Lord comes down to a plateau upon the mountain, instead of remaining upon the more elevated parts where He had been before. Descending then upon the plateau, He delivered what is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount.
Examine the Scripture, and you will see for yourselves. It is not a thing that can be settled by a mere assertion. On the other hand, it is not too much to say, that the same Scriptures which convince one unbiassed mind that pays heed to these notes of time, will produce no less effect on others. If I assume from the words "set forth in order," in the beginning of Luke's gospel, that therefore his is the chronological account, it will only lead me into confusion, both as to Luke and the other gospels; for proofs abound that the order of Luke, most methodical as he is, is by no means absolutely that of time. Of course, there is often the order of time, but through the central part, and not infrequently elsewhere, his setting forth in order turns on another principle, quite independent of mere succession of events. In other words, it is certain that in the gospel of Luke, in whose preface we have expressly the words "set in order," the Holy Ghost does in no way tie Himself to what, after all, is the most elementary form of arrangement; for it needs little observation to see, that the simple sequence of facts as they occurred is that which demands a faithful enumeration, and nothing more. Whereas, on the contrary, there are other kinds of order that call for more profound thought and enlarged views, if we may speak now after the manner of men; and, indeed, I deny not that these the Holy Ghost employed in His own wisdom, though it is hardly needful to say He could, if He pleased, demonstrate His superiority to any means or qualifications whatsoever. He could and did form His instruments according to His own sovereign will. It is a question, then, of internal evidence, what that particular order is which God has employed in each different gospel. Particular epochs in Luke are noted with great care; but, speaking now of the general course of the Lord's life, a little attention will discover, from the immensely greater preponderance paid to the consideration of time in the second gospel, that there we have events from first to last given to us in their consecutive order. It appears to me, that the nature or aim of Mark's gospel demands this. The grounds of such a judgment will naturally come before us ere long: I can merely refer to it now as my conviction.
If this be a sound judgment, the comparison of the first chapter of Mark affords decisive evidence that the Holy Ghost in Matthew has taken the leper out of the mere time and circumstances of actual occurrence, and has reserved his case for a wholly different service. It is true that in this particular instance Mark no more surrounds the leper with notes of time and place than do Matthew and Luke. We are dependent, therefore, for determining this case, on the fact that Mark does habitually adhere to the chain of events. But if Matthew here laid aside all question of time, it was in view of other and weightier considerations for his object. In other words, the leper is here introduced after the sermon on the mount, though, in fact, the circumstance took place long before it. The design is, I think, manifest: the Spirit of God is here giving a vivid picture of the manifestation of the Messiah, of His divine glory, of His grace and power, with the effect of this manifestation. Hence it is that He has grouped together circumstances which make this plain, without raising the question of when they occurred; in fact, they range over a large space, and, otherwise viewed, are in total disorder. Thus it is easy to see, that the reason for here putting together the leper and the centurion lies in the Lord's dealing with the Jew, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, in His deep grace working in the Gentile's heart, and forming his faith, as well as answering it, according to His own heart. The leper approaches the Lord with homage, but with a most inadequate belief in His love and readiness to meet his need. The Saviour, while He puts forth His hand, touching him as man, and yet as none but Jehovah might dare to do, dispels the hopeless disease at once. Thus, and after the tenderest sort, there is that which evidences the Messiah on earth present to heal His people who appeal to Him; and the Jew, above all counting upon His bodily presence demanding it, I may say, according to the warrant of prophecy, finds in Jesus not merely the man, but the God of Israel. Who but God could heal? Who could touch the leper save Emmanuel? A mere Jew would have been defiled. He who gave the law maintained its authority, and used it as an occasion for testifying His own power and presence. Would any man make of the Messiah a mere man and a mere subject of the law given by Moses? Let them read their error in One who was evidently superior to the condition and the ruin of man in Israel. Let them recognize the power that banished the leprosy, and the grace withal that touched the leper. It was true that He was made of woman, and made under the law; but He was Jehovah Himself, that lowly Nazarene. However suitable to the Jewish expectation that He should be found a man, undeniably there was that apparent which was infinitely above the Jew's thought; for the Jew showed his own degradation and unbelief in the low ideas he entertained of the Messiah. He was really God in man; and all these wonderful features are here presented and compressed in this most simple, but at the same time significant, action of the Saviour the fitting frontispiece to Matthew's manifestation of the Messiah to Israel.
In immediate juxtaposition to this stands the Gentile centurion, who seeks healing for his servant. Considerable time, it is true, elapsed between the two facts; but this only makes it the more sure and plain, that they are grouped together with a divine purpose. The Lord then had been shown such as He was towards Israel, had Israel in their leprosy come to Him, as did the leper, even with a faith exceedingly short of that which was due to His real glory and His love. But Israel had no sense of their leprosy; and they valued not, but despised, their Messiah, albeit divine I might almost say because divine. Next, we behold Him meeting the centurion after another manner altogether. If He offers to go to his house, it was to bring out the faith that He had created in the heart of the centurion. Gentile as he was, he was for that very, reason the less narrowed in his thoughts of the Saviour by the prevalent notions of Israel, yea, or even by Old Testament hopes, precious as they are. God had given his soul a deeper, fuller sight of Christ; for the Gentile's words prove that he had apprehended God in the man who was healing at that moment all sickness and disease in Galilee. I say not how fax he had realized this profound truth; I say not that he could have defined his thoughts; but he knew and declared His command of all as truly God. In him there was a spiritual force far beyond that found in the leper, to whom the hand that touched, as well as cleansed, him proclaimed Israel's need and state as truly as Emmanuel's grace.
As for the Gentile, the Lord's proffer to go and heal his servant brought out the singular strength of his faith. "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof" He had only to say in a word, and his servant should be healed. The bodily presence of the Messiah was not needed. God could not be limited by a question of place; His word was enough. Disease must obey Him, as the soldier or the servant obeyed the centurion, their superior. What an anticipation of the walk by faith, not by sight, in which the Gentiles, when called, ought to have glorified God, when the rejection of the Messiah by His own ancient people gave occasion to the Gentile call as a distinct thing! It is evident that the bodily presence of the Messiah is the very essence of the former scene, as it ought to be in dealing with the leper, who is a kind of type of what Israel should have been in seeking cleansing at His hands. So, on the other hand, the centurion sets forth with no less aptness the characteristic faith that suits the Gentile, in a simplicity which looks for nothing but the word of His mouth, is perfectly content with it, knows that, whatever the disease may be, He has only to speak the word, and it is done according to His divine will. That blessed One was here whom he knew to be God, who was to him the impersonation of divine power and goodness His presence was uncalled for, His word more than enough. The Lord admired the faith superior to Israel's, and took that occasion to intimate the casting out of the sons or natural heirs of the kingdom, and the entrance of many from east and west to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of the heavens. What can be conceived so perfectly to illustrate the great design of the gospel of Matthew?
Thus, in the scene of the leper, we have Jesus presented as "Jehovah that healeth Israel," as man here below, and in Jewish relationships, still maintaining the law. Next, we find Him confessed by the centurion, no longer as the Messiah, when actually with them, confessed according to a faith which saw the deeper glory of His person as supreme, competent to heal, no matter where, or whom, or what, by a word; and this the Lord Himself hails as the foreshadowing of a rich incoming of many multitudes to the praise of His name, when the Jews should be cast out. Evidently it is the change of dispensation that is in question and at hand, the cutting off of the fleshly seed for their unbelief, and the bringing in of numerous believers in the name of the Lord from among the Gentiles.
Then follows another incident, which equally proves that the Spirit of God is not here reciting the facts in their natural succession; for it is assuredly not at this moment historically that the Lord goes into the house of Peter, sees there his wife's mother laid sick of a fever, touches her hand, and raises her up, so that she ministers unto them at once. In this we have another striking illustration of the same principle, because this miracle, in point of fact, was wrought long before the healing of the centurion's servant, or even of the leper. This, too, we ascertain from Mark 1:1-45, where there are clear marks of the time. The Lord was in Capernaum, where Peter lived; and on a certain Sabbath-day, after the call of Peter, wrought in the synagogue mighty deeds, which are here recorded, and by Luke also. Verse 29 gives us strict time. "And forthwith when they were come out of the synagogue they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John; but Simon's wife's mother was sick of a fever, and anon they tell Him of her. And He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them." It would require the credulity of a sceptic to believe that this is not the self-same fact that we have before us inMatthew 8:1-34; Matthew 8:1-34. I feel sure that no Christian harbours a doubt about it. But if this be so, there is here absolute certainty that our Lord, on the very Sabbath in which He cast out the unclean spirit from the man in the synagogue of Capernaum, immediately after quitting the synagogue, entered the house of Peter, and that there and then He healed Peter's wife's mother of the fever. Subsequent, considerably, to this was the case of the centurion's servant, preceded a good while before by the cleansing of the leper.
How are we to account for a selection so marked, an elimination of time so complete? Surely not by inaccuracy; surely not by indifference to order, but contrariwise by divine wisdom that arranged the facts with a view to a purpose worthy of itself: God's arrangement of all things more particularly in this part of Matthew to give us an adequate manifestation of the Messiah; and, as we have seen, first, what He was to the appeal of the Jew; next, what He was and would be to Gentile faith, in still richer form and fulness. So now we have, in the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, another fact containing a principle of great value, that His grace towards the Gentile does not in the least degree blunt His heart to the claims of relationship after the flesh. It was clearly a question of connection with the apostle of the circumcision ( i.e., Peter's wife's mother). We have the natural tie here brought into prominence; and this was a claim that Christ slighted not. For He loved Peter felt for him, and his wife's mother was precious in His sight. This sets forth not at all the way in which the Christian stands related to Christ; for even though we had known Him after the flesh, henceforth know we Him no more. But it is expressly the pattern after which He was to deal, and will deal, with Israel. Zion may say of the Lord who laboured in vain, whom the nation abhorred, "The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me." Not so. "Can a woman forget her sucking child? yea, they may forget, yet will not I forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands." Thus it is shown that, though we have rich grace to the Gentile, there is the remembrance of natural relationship still.
In the evening multitudes are brought, taking advantage of the power that had so shown itself, publicly in the synagogue, and privately in the house of Peter; and the Lord accomplished the words ofIsaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:4: "Himself," it is said, "took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses," an oracle we might do well to consider in the limit of its application here. In what sense did Jesus, our Lord, take their infirmities, and bear their sicknesses? In this, as I believe, that He never employed the virtue that was in Him to meet sickness or infirmity as a matter of mere power, but in deep compassionate feeling He entered into the whole reality of the case. He healed, and bore its burden on His heart before God, as truly as He took it away from men. It was precisely because He was Himself untouchable by sickness and infirmity, that He was free so to take up each consequence of sin thus. Therefore it was not a mere simple fact that He banished sickness or infirmity, but He carried them in His spirit before God. To my mind, the depth of such grace only enhances the beauty of Jesus, and is the very last possible ground that justifies man in thinking lightly of the Saviour.
After this our Lord sees great multitudes following Him, and gives commandment to go to the other side. Here again is found a fresh case of the same remarkable principle of selection of events to form a complete picture, which I have maintained to be the true key of all. The Spirit of God has been pleased to cull and class facts otherwise unconnected; for here follow conversations that took place a long time after any of the events we have been occupied with. When do you suppose these conversations actually occurred, if we go to the question of their date? Take notice of the care with which the Spirit of God here omits all reference to this: "And a certain scribe came." There is no note of the time when he came, but simply the fact that he did come. It was really after the transfiguration recorded in chapter 17 of our gospel. Subsequently to that, the scribe offered to follow Jesus whithersoever He went. We know this by comparing it with the gospel of Luke. And so with the other conversation: "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father;" it was after the glory of Christ had been witnessed on the holy mount, when man's selfishness of heart showed itself in contrast to the grace of God.
Next, the storm follows. "There arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch, that the ship was covered with the waves; but he was asleep." When did this take place, if we enquire into it merely as a matter of historical fact? On the evening of the day when He delivered the seven parables given in Matthew 13:1-58. The truth of this is apparent, if we compare the gospel of Mark. Thus, the fourth chapter of Mark coincides, marked with such data as can leave no doubt. We have, first, the sower sowing the word. Then, after the parable of the mustard seed (ver. 33), it is added, "And with many such parables spake He the word unto them . . . . and when they were alone, He expounded all things to His disciples [in both the parables and the explanations alluding to what we possess in Matthew 13:1-58.]. And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, let us pass over unto the other side. [There is what I call a clear, unmistakable note of time.] And when they had sent away the multitude, they took Him even as He was in the ship. And there were also with Him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake Him, and say unto Him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" After this (what makes it still more unquestionable) comes the case of the demoniac. It is true, we have only one in Mark, as in Luke; whereas in our gospel we have two. Nothing can be simpler. There were two; but the Spirit of God chose out, in Mark and Luke, the more remarkable of the two, and traces for us his history, a history of no small interest and importance, as we may feel when we come to Mark; but it was of equal moment for the gospel of Matthew that the two demoniacs should be mentioned here, although one of them was in himself, as I gather, a far more strikingly desperate case than the other. The reason I consider to be plain; and the same principle applies to various other parts of our gospel where we have two cases mentioned, where in the other gospels we have only one. The key to it is this, that Matthew was led by the Holy Ghost to keep in view adequate testimony to the Jewish people; it was the tender goodness of God that would meet them in a manner that was suitable under the law. Now, it was an established principle, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word should be established. This, then, I apprehend to be the reason why we End two demoniacs mentioned; whereas, in Mark or Luke for other purposes, the Spirit of God only draws attention to one of the two. A Gentile (indeed, any mind not under any kind of legal prejudice or difficulty) would be far more moved by a detailed account of what was more, conspicuous. The fact of two without the personal details would not powerfully tell upon mere Gentiles perhaps, though to a Jew it might be for some ends necessary. I do not pretend to say this was the only purpose served; far be it from me to think of restraining the Spirit of God within the narrow bounds of our vision. Let none suppose that, in giving my own convictions, I have the presumptuous thought of putting these forward as if they were the sole motives in God's mind. It is enough to meet a difficulty which many feel by the simple plea that the reason assigned is in my judgment a valid explanation, and in itself a sufficient solution of the apparent discrepancy. If it be so, it is surely a ground of thankfulness to God; for it turns a stumbling-block into an evidence of the perfection of Scripture.
Reviewing, then, these closing incidents of the chapter (ver. Matthew 13:19-22), we find first of all the utter worthlessness of the flesh's readiness to follow Jesus. The motives of the natural heart are laid bare. Does this scribe offer to follow Jesus? He was not called. Such is the perversity of man, that he who is not called thinks he can follow Jesus whithersoever He goes. The Lord hints at what the man's real desires were not Christ, not heaven, not eternity, but present things. If he were willing to follow the Lord, it was for what he could get. The scribe had no heart for the hidden glory. Surely, had he seen this, everything was there; but he saw it not, and so the Lord spread out His actual portion, as it literally was, without one word about the unseen and eternal. "The foxes," says He, "have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head." He takes accordingly the title of the "Son of man" for the first time in this gospel. He has His rejection before His eyes, as well as the presumptuous unbelief of this sordid, and self-confident, would-be follower.
Again, when we listen to another (and now it is one of His disciples), at once faith shows its feebleness. "Suffer me first," he says, "to go and bury my father." The man that was not called promises to go anywhere, in his own strength; but the man that was called feels the difficulty, and pleads a natural duty before following Jesus. Oh, what a heart is ours! but what a heart was His!
In the next scene, then, we have the disciples as a whole tried by a sudden danger to which their sleeping Master paid no heed. This tested their thoughts of the glory of Jesus. No doubt the tempest was great; but what harm could it do to Jesus? No doubt the ship was covered with the waves; but how could that imperil the Lord of all? They forgot His glory in their own anxiety and selfishness. They measured Jesus by their own impotence. A great tempest. and a sinking ship are serious difficulties to a man. "Lord, save us; we perish," cried they, as they awoke Him; and He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea. Little faith leaves us as fearful for ourselves as dim witnesses of His glory whom the most unruly elements obey.
In what follows we have that which is necessary, to complete the picture of the other side. The Lord works in delivering power; but withal the power of Satan fills and carries away the unclean to their own destruction. Yet man, in face of all, is so deceived of the enemy, that he prefers to be left with the demons rather than enjoy the presence of the Deliverer. Such was and is man. But the future is in view also. The delivered demoniacs are, to my mind, clearly the foreshadow of the Lord's grace in the latter days, separating a remnant to Himself, and banishing the power of Satan from this small but sufficient witness of His salvation. The evil spirits asked leave to pass into the herd of swine, which thus typify the final condition of the defiled, apostate mass of Israel; their presumptuous and impenitent unbelief reduces them to that deep degradation not merely the unclean, but the unclean filled with the power of Satan, and carried down to swift destruction. It is a just prefiguration of what will be in the close of the age the mass of the unbelieving Jews, now impure, but then also given up to the devil, and so to evident perdition.
Thus, in the chapter before us, we have a very comprehensive sketch of the Lord's manifestation from that time, and in type going on to the end of the age. In the chapter that follows we have a companion picture, carrying on, no doubt, the lord's presentation to Israel, but from a different point of view; for inMatthew 9:1-38; Matthew 9:1-38 it is not merely the people tried, but more especially the religious leaders, till all closes in blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. This was testing matters more closely. Had there been a single thing good in Israel, their choicest guides would have stood that test. The people might have failed, but, surely, there were some differences surely those that were honoured and valued were not so depraved! Those that were priests in the house of God would not they at least receive their own Messiah? This question is accordingly put to the proof in the ninth chapter. To the end the events are put together, just as in Matthew 8:1-34, without regard to the point of time when they occurred.
"And He entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into His own city." Having left Nazareth, as we saw, He takes up His abode in Capernaum, which was henceforth "His own city." To the proud inhabitant of Jerusalem, both one and the other were but a choice and change within a land of darkness. But it was for a land of darkness and sin and death that Jesus came from heaven the Messiah, not according to their thoughts, but the Lord and Saviour, the God-man. So in this case there was brought to Him a paralytic man, lying upon a bed, "and Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." Most clearly it is not so much a question of sin in the aspect of uncleanness (typifying deeper things, but still connected with the ceremonial requirements of Israel, as we find from what our Lord said in the chapter to the cleansed leper). It is more particularly sin, viewed as guilt, and consequently as that which absolutely breaks and destroys all power in the soul towards both God and man. Hence, here it is a question not merely of cleansing, but of forgiveness, and forgiveness, too, as that which precedes power, manifested before men. There never can be strength in the soul till forgiveness is known. There may be desires, there may be the working of the Spirit of God, but there can be no power to walk before men and to glorify God thus till there is forgiveness possessed and enjoyed in the heart. This was the very blessing that aroused, above all, the hatred of the scribes. The priest, in chap. 8, could not deny what was done in the case of the leper, who showed himself duly, and brought his offering, according to the law, to the altar. Though a testimony to them, still it was in the result a recognition of what Moses commanded. But here pardon dispensed on earth arouses the pride of the religious leaders to the quick, and implacably. Nevertheless, the Lord did not withhold the infinite boon, though He knew too well their thoughts; He spoke the word of forgiveness, though He read their evil heart that counted it blasphemy. This utter, growing rejection of Jesus was coming out now rejection, at first allowed and whispered in the heart, soon to be pronounced in words like drawn swords.
"And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth." Jesus blessedly answered their thoughts, had there only been a conscience to hear the word of power and grace, which brings out His glory the more. "That ye may know," He says, "that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins," etc. He now takes His place of rejection; for Him it is manifest even now by their inmost thoughts of Him when revealed. "This man blasphemeth." Yet is He the Son of man who hath power on earth to forgive sins; and He uses His authority. "That ye may know it (then saith He to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thy house." The man's walk before them testifies to the reality of his forgiveness before God. It ought to be so with every forgiven soul. This as yet draws out wonder, at least from the witnessing multitudes, that God had given such power unto men. They glorified God.
On this the Lord proceeds to take a step farther, and makes a deeper inroad, if possible, upon Jewish prejudice. He is not here sought as by the leper, the centurion, the friends of the palsied man; He Himself calls Matthew, a publican just the one to write the gospel of the despised Jesus of Nazareth. What instrument so suitable? It was a scorned Messiah who, when rejected of His own people, Israel, turned to the Gentiles by the will of God: it was One who could look upon publicans and sinners anywhere. Thus Matthew, called at the very receipt of custom, follows Jesus, and makes a feast for Him. This furnishes occasion to the Pharisees to vent their unbelief: to them nothing is so offensive as grace, either in doctrine or in practice. The scribes, at the beginning of the chapter, could not hide from the Lord their bitter rejection of His glory as man on earth entitled, as His humiliation and cross would prove, to forgive. Here, too, these Pharisees question and reproach His grace, when they see the Lord sitting at ease in the presence of publicans and sinners, who came and sat down with Him in Matthew's house. They said to His disciples, "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?" The Lord shows that such unbelief justly and necessarily excludes itself, but not others, from blessing. To heal was the work for which He was come. it was not for the whole the Physician was needed. How little they had learnt the divine lesson of grace, not ordinances! "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." Jesus was there to call, not righteous men, but sinners.
Nor was the unbelief confined to these religionists of letter and form; for next (verse 14) the question comes from John's disciples: "Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?" Throughout it is the religious kind that are tested and found wanting. The Lord pleads the cause of the disciples. "Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" Fasting, indeed, would follow when the Bridegroom was taken from them. Thus He points out the utter moral incongruity of fasting at that moment, and intimates that it was not merely the fact that He was going to be rejected, but that to conciliate His teaching and His will with the old thing was hopeless. What He was introducing could not mix with Judaism. Thus it was not merely that there was an evil heart of unbelief in the Jew particularly, but law and grace cannot be yoked together. "No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment; for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse." Nor was it only a difference in the forms the truth took; but the vital principle which Christ was diffusing could not be so maintained. "Neither do men put new wine into old bottles, else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish; but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved." The spirit, as well as the form, was alien.
But at the same time it is plain, although He bore the consciousness of the vast change He was introducing, and expressed it thus fully and early in the history, nothing turned away His heart from Israel. The very next scene, the case of Jairus, the ruler, shows it. "My daughter is even now dead, but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live." The details, found elsewhere, of her being at the point of death then, before reaching the house, the news that she was dead, are not here. Whatever the time may have been, whatever the incidents added by others, the account is given here for the purpose of showing, that as Israel's case was desperate, even unto death, so He, the Messiah, was the giver of life, when all, humanly speaking, was over. He was then present, a man despised, yet with title to forgive sins, proved by immediate power to heal. If those who trusted in themselves that they were wise and righteous would not have Him, He would call even a publican on the spot to be among the most honoured of His followers, and would not disdain to be their joy when they desired His honour in the exercise of His grace. Sorrow would come full soon when He, the Bridegroom of His people, should be taken away; and then should they fast.
Nevertheless, His ear was open to the call on behalf of Israel perishing, dying, dead. He had been preparing them for the new things, and the impossibility of making them coalesce with the old. But none the less do we find His affections engaged for the help of the helpless. He goes to raise the dead, and the woman with the issue of blood touches Him by the way. No matter what the great purpose might be, He was there for faith. Far different this was from the errand on which He was intent; but He was there for faith. It was His meat to do the will of God. He was there for the express purpose of glorifying God. Power and love were come for any one to draw on. If there were, so to speak, a justification of circumcision by faith, undoubtedly there was also the justification of uncircumcision through their faith. The question was not who or what came in the way; whoever appealed to Him, there He was for them. And He was Jesus, Emmanuel. When He reaches the house, minstrels were there, and people, making a noise: the expression, if of woe, certainly of impotent despair. They mock the calm utterance of Him who chooses things that are not; and the Lord turns out the unbelievers, and demonstrates the glorious truth that the maid was not dead, but living.
Nor is this all. He gives sight to the blind. "And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed Him, crying and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us." It was necessary to complete the picture. Life had been imparted to, the sleeping maid of Zion the blind men call on Him as the Son of David, and not in vain. They confess their faith, and He touches their eyes. Thus, whatever the peculiarity of the new blessings, the old thing could be taken up, though upon new grounds, and, of course, on the confession that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The two blind men called upon Him as the Son of David; a sample this of what will be in the end, when the heart of Israel turns to the Lord, and the veil is done away. "According to your faith be it done unto you."
It is not enough that Israel be awakened from the sleep of death, and see aright. There must be the mouth to praise the Lord, and speak of the glorious honour of His majesty, as well as eyes to wait on Him. So we have a farther scene. Israel must give full testimony in the bright day of His coming. Accordingly, here we have a witness of it, and a witness so much the sweeter, because the present total rejection that was filling the heart of the leaders surely testified to the Lord's heart of that which was at hand. But nothing turned aside the purpose of God, or the activity of His grace. "As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a dumb man possessed with a devil. And when the devil was come out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel." (SeeMatthew 9:32-33; Matthew 9:32-33.) The Pharisees were enraged at a power they could not deny, which rebuked themselves so much the more on account of its persistent grace; but Jesus passes by all blasphemy as yet, and goes on His way nothing hinders His course of love. He "went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." The faithful and true witness, it was His to display that power in goodness which shall be put forth fully in the world to come, the great day when the Lord will manifest Himself to every eye as Son of David, and Son of man too.
At the close of this chapter 9, in His deep compassion He bids the disciples pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into His harvest. At the beginning of Matthew 10:1-42 He Himself sends forth themselves as labourers. He is the Lord of the harvest. It was a grave step this, and in view of His rejection now. In our gospel we have not seen the apostles called and ordained. Matthew gives no such details, but call and mission are together here. But, as I have stated, the choice and ordination of the twelve apostles had really taken place before the sermon on the mount, though not mentioned in Matthew, but in Mark and Luke. (Compare Mark 3:13-19, andMark 6:7-11; Mark 6:7-11; Luke 6:1-49; Luke 9:1-62) The mission of the apostles did not take place till afterwards. In Matthew we have no distinction of their call from their mission. But the mission is given here in strict accordance with what the gospel demands. It is a summons from the King to His people Israel. So thoroughly is it in view of Israel that our Lord does not say one word here about the Church, or the intervening condition of Christendom. He speaks of Israel then, and of Israel before He comes in glory, but He entirely omits any notice of the circumstances which were to come in by the way. He tells them that they should not have gone over (or finished) the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come. Not that His own rejection was not before His spirit, but here He looks not beyond that land and people; and, as far as the twelve were concerned, He sends them on a mission which goes on to the end of the an. Thus, the present dealings of God in grace, the actual shape taken by the kingdom of heaven, the calling of the Gentiles, the formation of the Church, are all passed completely over. We shall find something of these mysteries later on in this gospel; but here it is simply a Jewish testimony of Jehovah-Messiah in His unwearied love, through His twelve heralds, and in spite of rising unbelief, maintaining to the end what His grace had in view for Israel. He would send fit messengers, nor would the work be done till the rejected Messiah, the Son of man, came. The apostles were then sent thus, no doubt, forerunners of those whom the Lord will raise up for the latter day. Time would fail now to dwell on this chapter, interesting as it is. My object, of course, is to point out as clearly as possible the structure of the gospel, and to explain according to my measure why there are these strong differences between the gospels of Matthew and the rest, as compared with one another. The ignorance is wholly on our side: all they say or omit was owing to the far-reaching and gracious wisdom of Him who inspired them.
Matthew 11:1-30, exceedingly critical for Israel, and of surpassing beauty, as it is, must not be passed over without some few words. Here we find our Lord, after sending out the chosen witnesses of the truth (so momentous to Israel, above all) of His own Messiahship, realizing His utter rejection, yet rejoicing withal in God the Father's counsels of glory and grace, while the real secret in the chapter, as in fact, was His being not Messiah only, nor Son of man, but the Son of the Father, whose person none knows but Himself. But, from first to last, what a trial of spirit, and what triumph! Some consider that John the Baptist enquired solely for the sake of his disciples. But I see no sufficient reason to refuse the impression that John found it hard to reconcile his continued imprisonment with a present Messiah; nor do I discern a sound judgment of the case, or a profound knowledge of the heart, in those who thus raise doubts as to John's sincerity, any more than they appear to me to exalt the character of this honoured man of God, by supposing him to play a part which really belonged to others. What can be simpler than that John put the question through his disciples, because he (not they only) had a question in the mind? It probably was no more than a grave though passing difficulty, which he desired to have cleared up with all fulness for their sakes, as well as his own. In short, he had a question because he was a man. It is not for us surely to think this impossible. Have we, spite of superior privileges, such unwavering faith, that we can afford to treat the matter as incredible in John, and therefore only capable of solution in his staggering disciples? Let those who have so little experience of what man is, even in the regenerate, beware lest they impute to the Baptist such an acting of a part as shocks us, when Jerome imputed it to Peter and Paul in the censure of Galatians 2:1-21. The Lord, no doubt, knew the heart of His servant, and could feel for him in the effect that circumstances took upon him. When He uttered the words, "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me," it is to me evident that there was an allusion to the wavering let it be but for a moment of John's soul. The fact is, beloved brethren, there is but one Jesus; and whoever it may be, whether John the Baptist, or the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, after all it is divinely-given faith which alone sustains: else man has to learn painfully somewhat of himself; and what is he to be accounted of?
Our Lord then answers, with perfect dignity, as well as grace; He puts before the disciples of John the real state of the case; He furnishes them with plain, positive facts, that could leave nothing to be desired by John's mind when he weighed all as a testimony from God. This done, with a word for the conscience appended, He takes up and pleads the cause of John. It ought to have been John's place to have proclaimed the glory of Jesus; but all things in this world are the reverse of what they ought to be, and of what will be when Jesus takes the throne, coming in power and glory. But when the Lord was here, no matter what the unbelief of others, it was only an opportunity for the grace of Jesus to shine out. So it was here; and our Lord turns to eternal account, in His own goodness, the shortcoming of John the Baptist, the greatest of women-born. Far from lowering the position of His servant, He declares there was none greater among mortal men. The failure of this greatest of women-born only gives Him the just occasion to show the total change at hand, when it should not be a question of man, but of God, yea, of the kingdom of heaven, the least in which new state should be greater than John. And what makes this still more striking, is the certainty that the kingdom, bright as it is, is by no means the thing nearest to Jesus. The Church, which is His body and bride, has a far more intimate place, even though true of the same persons.
Next, He lays bare the capricious unbelief of man, only consistent in thwarting every thing and one that God employs for his good; then, His own entire rejection where He had most laboured. It was going on, then, to the bitter end, and surely not without such suffering and sorrow as holy, unselfish, obedient love alone can know. Wretched we, that we should need such proof of it; wretched, that we should be so slow of heart to answer to it, or even to feel its immensity!
"Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you . . . . . At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father." What feelings at such a time! Oh, for grace so to bow and bless God, even when our little travail seems in vain! At that time Jesus answered, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." We seem completely borne away from the ordinary level of our gospel to the higher region of the disciple whom Jesus loved. We are, in fact, in the presence of that which John so loves to dwell on Jesus viewed not merely as Son of David or Abraham, or Seed of the woman, but as the Father's Son, the Son as the Father gave, sent, appreciated, and loved Him. So, when more is added, He says, "All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." This, of course, is not the moment to unfold it. I merely indicate by the way how the thorough increasing rejection of the Lord Jesus in His lower glory has but the effect of bringing out the revelation of His higher. So, I believe now, there is no attempt ever made on the Name of the Son of God, there is not a single shaft levelled at Him, but the Spirit turns to the holy, and true, and sweet task of asserting anew and more loudly His glory, which enlarges the expression of His grace to man. Only tradition will not do this work, nor will human thoughts or feelings.
In Matthew 12:1-50 we find not so much Jesus present and despised of men, as these men of Israel, the rejectors, in the presence of Jesus. Hence, the Lord Jesus is here disclosing throughout, that the doom of Israel was pronounced and impending. If it was His rejection, these scornful men were themselves rejected in the very act. The plucking of the corn, and the healing of the withered hand, had taken place long before. Mark gives them in the end of his second and the beginning of his third chapters. Why are they postponed here? Because Matthew's object is the display of the change of dispensation through, or consequent on, the rejection of Jesus by the Jews. Hence, he waits to present their rejection of the Messiah, as morally complete as possible in his statement of it, though necessarily not complete in outward accomplishment. Of course, the facts of the cross were necessary to give it an evident and literal fulfilment; but we have it first apparent in His life, and it is blessed to see it thus accomplished, as it were, in what passed with Himself; fully realized in His own spirit, and the results exposed before the external facts gave the fullest expression to Jewish unbelief. He was not taken by surprise; He knew it from the beginning Man's implacable hatred is brought about most manifestly in the ways and spirit of His rejectors. The Lord Jesus, even before He pronounced the sentence, for so it was, indicated what was at hand in these two instances of the Sabbath-day, though one may not now linger on them. The first is the defence of the disciples, grounded on analogies taken from that which had the sanction of God of old, as well as on His own glory now. Reject Him as the Messiah; in that rejection the moral glory of the Son of man would be laid as the foundation of His exaltation and manifestation another day; He was Lord of the Sabbath-day. In the next incident the force of the plea turns on God's goodness towards the wretchedness of man. It is not only the fact that God slighted matters of prescriptive ordinance because of the ruined state of Israel, who rejected His true anointed King, but there was this principle also, that certainly God was not going to bind Himself not to do good where abject need was. It might be well enough for a Pharisee; it might be worthy of a legal formalist, but it would never do for God; and the Lord Jesus was come here not to accommodate Himself to their thoughts, but, above all, to do God's will of holy love in an evil, wretched world. "Behold my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased." In truth, this was Emmanuel, God with us. If God was there, what else could He, would He do? Lowly, noiseless grace now it was to be, according to the prophet, till the hour strikes for victory in judgment. So He meekly retires, healing, yet forbidding it to be blazed abroad. But still, it was His carrying on the great process of shewing out more and more the total rejection of His rejectors. Hence, lower down in the chapter, after the demon was cast out of the blind and dumb man before the amazed people, the Pharisees, irritated by their question, Is not this the Son of David? essayed to destroy the testimony with their utmost and blasphemous contempt. "This [fellow]," etc.
The English translators have thus given the sense well; for the expression really conveys this slight, though the word "fellow" is printed in italics. The Greek word is constantly so used as an expression of contempt, "This [fellow] doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils." The Lord now lets them know their mad folly, and warns them that this blasphemy was about to culminate in a still deeper, deadlier form when the Holy Ghost should be spoken against as He had been. Men little weigh what their words will sound and prove in the day of judgment. He sets forth the sign of the prophet Jonah, the repentance of the men of Nineveh, the preaching of Jonah, and the earnest zeal of the queen of the South in Solomon's day, when an incomparably greater was there despised. But if He here does not go beyond a hint of that which the Gentiles were about to receive on the ruinous unbelief and judgment of the Jew, He does not keep back their own awful course and doom in the figure that follows. Their state had long been that of a man whom the unclean spirit had left, after a former dwelling in him. Outwardly it was a condition of comparative cleanness. Idols, abominations, no longer infected that dwelling as of old. Then says the unclean spirit, "I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation." Thus He sets forth both the past, the present, and the awful future of Israel, before the day of His own coming from heaven, when there will be not only the return of idolatry, solemn to say, but the full power of Satan associated with it, as we see in Daniel 11:36-39; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17; Revelation 13:11-15. It is clear that the unclean spirit, returning, brings idolatry back again. It is equally clear that the seven worse spirits mean the complete energy of the devil in the maintenance of Antichrist against the true Christ: and this, strange to say, along with idols. Thus the end is as the beginning, and even far, far worse. On this the Lord takes another step, when one said to Him, "Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee." A double action follows. "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?" said the Lord; and then stretched forth His hand toward His disciples with the words, "Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." Thus the old link with the flesh, with Israel, is now disowned; and the new relationships of faith, founded on doing the will of His Father (it is not a question of the law in any sort), are alone acknowledged. Hence the Lord would raise up a fresh testimony altogether, and do a new work suitable to it. This would not be a legal claim on man, but the scattering of good seed, life and fruit from God, and this in the unlimited field of the world, not in the land of Israel merely. In Matthew 13:1-58 we have the well-known sketch of these new ways of God. The kingdom of heaven assumes a form unknown to prophecy, and, in its successive mysteries, fills up the interval between the rejected Christ's going to heaven, and His returning again in glory.
Many words are not now required for that which is happily familiar to most here. Let me passingly notice a very few particulars. We have here not only our Lord's ministry in the first parable, but in the second parable that which He does by His servants. Then follows the rise of what was great in its littleness till it became little in its greatness in the earth; and the development and spread of doctrine, till the measured space assigned to it is brought under its assimilating influence. It is not here a question of life (as in the seed at first), but a system of christian doctrine; not life germinating and bearing fruit, but mere dogma natural mind which is exposed to it. Thus the great tree and the leavened mass are in fact the two sides of Christendom. Then inside the house we have not only the Lord explaining the parable, the history from first to last of the tares and wheat, the mingling of evil with the good which grace had sown, but more than that, we have the kingdom viewed according to divine thoughts and purposes. First of these comes the treasure hidden in the field, for which the man sells all he had, securing the field for the sake of the treasure. Next is the one pearl of great price, the unity and beauty of that which was so dear to the merchantman. Not merely were there many pieces of value, but one pearl of great price. Finally, we have all wound up, after the going forth of a testimony which was truly universal in its scope, by the judicial severance at the close, when it is not only the good put into vessels, but the bad dealt with by the due instruments of the power of God.
In Matthew 14:1-36 facts are narrated which manifest the great change of dispensation that the Lord, in setting forth the parables we have just noticed, had been preparing them for. The violent man, Herod, guilty of innocent blood, then reigned in the land, in contrast with whom goes Jesus into the wilderness, showing who and what He was the Shepherd of Israel, ready and able to care for the people. The disciples most inadequately perceive His glory; but the Lord acts according to His own mind. After this, dismissing the multitudes, He retires alone, to pray, on a mountain, as the disciples toil over the storm-tossed lake, the wind being contrary. It is a picture of what was about to take place when the Lord Jesus, quitting Israel and the earth, ascends on high, and all assumes another form not the reign upon earth, but intercession in heaven. But at the end, when His disciples are in the extremity of trouble, in the midst of the sea, the Lord walks on the sea toward them, and bids them not fear; for they were troubled and afraid. Peter asks a word from his Master, and leaves the ship to join Him on the water. There will be differences at the close. All will not be the wise that understand, nor those who instruct the mass in righteousness. But every Scripture that treats of that time proves what dread, what anxiety, what dark clouds will be ever and anon. So it was here. Peter goes forth, but losing sight of the Lord in the presence of the troubled waves, and yielding to his ordinary experience, he fears the strong wind, and is only saved by the outstretched hand of Jesus, who rebukes his doubt. Thereon, coming into the ship, the wind ceases, and the Lord exercises His gracious power in beneficent effects around. It was the little foreshadowing of what will be when the Lord has joined the remnant in the last days, and then fills with blessing the land that He touches.
In Matthew 15:1-39 we have another picture, and twofold. Jerusalem's proud, traditional hypocrisy is exposed, and grace fully blesses the tried Gentile. This finds its fitting place, not in Luke, but in Matthew, particularly as the details here (not in Mark, who only gives the general fact) cast great light upon God's dispensational ways. Accordingly, here we have, first, the Lord judging the wrong thoughts of "Scribes and Pharisees which were of Jerusalem." This gives an opportunity to teach what truly defiles not things that go into the man, but those things which, proceeding out of the mouth, come forth from the heart. To eat with unwashed hands defileth not a man. It is the death-blow to human tradition and ordinance in divine things, and in reality depends on the truth of the absolute ruin of man a truth which, as we see, the disciples were very slow to recognize. On the other side of the picture, behold the Lord leading on a soul to draw on divine grace in the most glorious manner. The woman of Canaan, out of the borders of Tyre and Sidon, appeals to Him; a Gentile of most ominous name and belongings a Gentile whose case was desperate; for she appeals on behalf of her daughter, grievously vexed with a devil. What could be said of her intelligence then? Had she not such confusion of thought that, if the Lord had heeded her words, it must have been destruction to her? "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David!" she cried; but what had she to do with the Son of David? and what had the Son of David to do with a Canaanite? When He reigns as David's Son, there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts. Judgment will have early cut them off. But the Lord could not send her away without a blessing, and without a blessing reaching to His own glory. Instead of giving her at once a reply, He leads her on step by step; for so He can stoop. Such is His grace, such His wisdom. The woman at last meets the heart and mind of Jesus in the sense of all her utter nothingness before God; and then grace, which had wrought all up to this, though pent-up, can flow like a river; and the Lord can admire her faith, albeit from Himself, God's free gift.
In the end of this chapter (15) is another miracle of Christ's feeding a vast multitude. It does not seem exactly as a pictorial view of what the Lord was doing, or going to do, but rather the repeated pledge, that they were not to suppose that the evil He had judged in the elders of Jerusalem, or the grace freely going out to the Gentiles, in any way led Him. to forget His ancient people. What special mercy and tenderness, not only in the end, but also in the way the Lord deals with Israel!
In Matthew 16:1-28 we advance a great step, spite (yea, because) of unbelief, deep and manifest, now on every side. The Lord has nothing for them, or for Him, but to go right on to the end. He had brought out the kingdom before in view of that which betrayed to Him the unpardonable blasphemy of the Holy Ghost. The old people and work then closed in principle, and a new work of God in the kingdom of heaven was disclosed. Now He brings out not the kingdom merely, but His Church; and this not merely in view of hopeless unbelief in the mass, but of the confession of His own intrinsic glory as the Son of God by the chosen witness. No sooner had Peter pronounced to Jesus the truth of His person, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," than Jesus holds the secret no longer. "Upon this rock," says He, "I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." He also gives Peter the keys of the kingdom, as we see afterwards. But first appears the new and great fact, that Christ was going to build a new building, His assembly, on the truth and confession of Himself, the Son of God. Doubtless, it was contingent upon the utter ruin of Israel through their unbelief; but the fall of the lesser thing opened the way for the gift of a better glory in answer to Peter's faith in the glory of His person. The Father and the Son have their appropriate part, even as we know from elsewhere the Spirit sent down from heaven in due time was to have His. Had Peter confessed who the Son of man really is? It was the Father's revelation of the Son; flesh and blood had not revealed it to Peter, but, "my Father, which is in heaven." Thereon the Lord also has His word to say, first reminding Peter of his new name suitably to what follows. He was going to build His Church "upon this rock" Himself, the Son of God. Henceforth, too, He forbids the disciples to proclaim Him as the Messiah. That was all over for the moment through Israel's blind sin; He was going to suffer, not yet reign, at Jerusalem. Then, alas! we have in Peter what man is, even after all this. He who had just confessed the glory of the Lord would not hear His Master speaking thus of His going to the cross (by which alone the Church, or even the kingdom, could be established), and sought to swerve Him from it. But the single eye of Jesus at once detects the snare of Satan into which natural thought led, or at least exposed, Peter to fall. And so, as savouring not divine but human things, he is bid to go behind (not from) the Lord as one ashamed of Him. He, on the contrary, insists not only that He was bound for the cross, but that its truth must be made good in any who will come after Him. The glory of Christ's person strengthens us, not only to understand His cross, but to take up ours.
In Matthew 17:1-27 another scene appears, promised in part to some standing there in Matthew 16:28, and connected, though as yet hiddenly, with the cross. It is the glory of Christ; not so much as Son of the living God, but as the exalted Son of man, who once suffered here below. Nevertheless, when there was the display of the glory of the kingdom, the Father's voice proclaimed Him as His own Son, and not merely as the man thus exalted. It was not more truly Christ's kingdom as man than He was God's own Son, His beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased, who was now to be heard, rather than Moses or Elias, who disappear, leaving Jesus alone with the chosen witnesses.
Then the pitiable condition of the disciples at the foot of the hill, where Satan reigned in fallen ruined man, is tested by the fact, that notwithstanding all the glory of Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, the disciples rendered it evident that they knew not how to bring His grace into action for others; yet was it precisely their place and proper function here below. The Lord, however, in the same chapter, shows that it was not a question alone of what was to be done, or to be suffered, or is to be by-and-by, but what He was, and is, and never can but be. This came out most blessedly through the disciples. Peter, the good confessor of chapter 16, cuts but a sorry figure in chapter 17; for when the demand was made upon him as to his Master's paying the tax, surely the Lord, he gave them to know, was much too good a Jew to omit it. But our Lord with dignity demands of Peter, "What thinkest thou, Simon?" He evinces, that at the very time when Peter forgot the vision and the Father's voice, virtually reducing Him to mere man, He was God manifest in the flesh. It is always thus. God proves what He is by the revelation of Jesus. "Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom? of their own children, or of strangers?" Peter answers, "Of strangers." "Then," said the Lord, "are the children free. 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. that take and give unto them for me and thee." Is it not most sweet to see, that He who proves His divine glory at once associates us with Himself? Who but God could command not only the waves, but the fish of the sea? As to any one else, even the most liberal gift that ever was given of God to fallen man on earth, to the golden head of the Gentiles, exempted the deep and its untamed inhabitants. IfPsalms 8:1-9; Psalms 8:1-9 goes farther, surely that was for the Son of man, who for the suffering of death was exalted. Yes, it was His to rule and command the sea, even as the land and all that in them is. Neither did He need to wait for His exaltation as man; for He was ever God, and God's Son, who therefore, if one may so say, waits for nothing, for no day of glory. The manner, too, was in itself remarkable. A hook is cast into the sea, and the fish that takes it produces the required money for Peter as for his gracious Master and Lord. A fish was the last being for man to make his banker of; with God all things are possible, who knew how to blend admirably in the same act divine glory, unanswerably vindicated, with the lowliest grace in man. And thus He, whose glory was so forgotten by His disciples Jesus, Himself thinks of that very disciple, and says, "For me and thee."
The next chapter (Matthew 18:1-35) takes up the double thought of the kingdom and the Church, showing the requisite for entrance into the kingdom, and displaying or calling forth divine grace in the most lovely manner, and that in practice. The pattern is the Son of man saving the lost. It is not a question of bringing in law to govern the kingdom or guide the Church. The unparalleled grace of the Saviour must form and fashion the saints henceforth. In the end of the chapter is set forth parabolically the unlimited forgiveness that suits the kingdom; here, I cannot but think, looking onward in strict fulness to the future, but with distinct application to the moral need of the disciples then and always. In the kingdom so much the less sparing is the retribution of those who despise or abuse grace. All turns on that which was suitable to such a God, the giver of His own Son. We need not dwell upon it.
Matthew 19:1-30 brings in another lesson of great weight. Whatever might be the Church or the kingdom, it is precisely when the Lord unfolds His new glory in both the kingdom and the Church that He maintains the proprieties of nature in their rights and integrity. There is no greater mistake than to suppose, because there is the richest development of God's grace in new things, that He abandons or weakens natural relationships and authority in their place. This, I believe, is a great lesson, and too often forgotten. Observe that it is at this point the chapter begins with vindicating the sanctity of marriage. No doubt it is a tie of nature for this life only. None the less does the Lord uphold it, purged of what accretions had come in to obscure its original and proper character. Thus the fresh revelations of grace in no way detract from that which God had of old established in nature; but, contrariwise, only impart a new and greater force in asserting the real value and wisdom of God's way even in these least things. A similar principle applies to the little children, who are next introduced; and the same thing is true substantially of natural or moral character here below. Parents, and the disciples, like the Pharisees, were shown that grace, just because it is the expression of what God is to a ruined world, takes notice of what man in his own imaginary dignity might count altogether petty. With God, as nothing is impossible, so no one, small or great, is despised: all is seen and put in its just place; and grace, which rebukes creature pride, can afford to deal divinely with the smallest as with the greatest.
If there be a privilege more manifest than another which has dawned on us, it is what we have found by and in Jesus, that now we can say nothing is too great for us, nothing too little for God. There is room also for the most thorough self-abnegation. Grace forms the hearts of those that understand it, according to the great manifestation of what God is, and what man is, too, given us in the person of Christ. In the reception of the little children this is plain; it is not so generally seen in what follows. The rich young ruler was not converted: far from being so, he could not stand the test applied by Christ out of His own love, and, as we are told, "went away sorrowful." He was ignorant of himself, because ignorant of God, and imagined that it was only a question of man's doing good for God. In this he had laboured, as he said, from his youth up: "What lack I yet?" There was the consciousness of good unattained, a void for which he appeals to Jesus that it might be filled up. To lose all for heavenly treasure, to come and follow the despised Nazarene here below what was it to compare with that which had brought Jesus to earth? but it was far too much for the young man. It was the creature doing his best, yet proving that he loved the creature more than the Creator. Jesus, nevertheless, owned all that could be owned in him. After this, in the chapter we have the positive hindrance asserted of what man counts good. "Verily, I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." This made it to be plainly and only a difficulty for God to solve. Then comes the boast of Peter, though for others as well as himself. The Lord, while thoroughly proving that He forgot nothing, owned everything that was of grace in Peter or the rest, while opening the same door to "every one" who forsakes nature for His name's sake, solemnly adds, "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." Thus the point that meets us in the conclusion of the chapter is, that while every character, every measure of giving up for His name's sake, will meet with the most worthy recompence and result, man can as little judge of this as he can accomplish salvation. Changes, to us inexplicable, occur: many first last, and last first.
The point in the beginning of the next chapter (Matthew 20:1-34) is not reward, but the right and title of God Himself to act according to His goodness. He is not going to lower Himself to a human measure. Not only shall the Judge of all the earth do right, but what will not He do who gives all good? "For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard . . . . . And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny." He maintains His sovereign title to do good, to do as He will with His own. The first of these lessons is, "Many first shall be last, and last first." (Matthew 19:30.) It is clearly the failure of nature, the reversal of what might be expected. The second is, "So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few are chosen." It is the power of grace. God's delight is to pick out the hindmost for the first place, to the disparagement of the foremost in their own strength.
Lastly, we have the Lord rebuking the ambition not only of the sons of Zebedee, but in truth also of the ten; for why was there such warmth of indignation against the two brethren? why not sorrow and shame that they should have so little understood their Master's mind? How often the heart shows itself, not merely by what we ask, but by the uncalled-for feelings we display against other people and their faults! The fact is, in judging others we judge ourselves.
Here I close tonight. It brings me to the real crisis; that is, the final presentation of our lord to Jerusalem. I have endeavoured, though, of course, cursorily, and I feel most imperfectly, to give thus far Matthew's sketch of the Saviour as the Holy Ghost enabled him to execute it. In the next discourse we may hope to have the rest of his gospel.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Matthew 12:48". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/matthew-12.html. 1860-1890.
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20