Luke 5:36; Luke 6:1-23.
All, I suppose, realize that what is of ourselves must be put on one side. And I think I may say more: there is not one single bit which we ever receive into our souls of Christ that is not at the expense of what is of ourselves being judged and put on one side. We may learn about Christ many a thing very honestly and sincerely, and yet owing to the condition of our souls - something of the old man, some root of self not judged and given up - we are not able to profit and take up the truth that we may sincerely have learnt.
1. Christ as the Son of Man.
What I desire is to trace the blessed Lord Jesus Christ as He is presented to us in this gospel, as the Son of man come down here - a new kind of Man in this world altogether, totally different from all others. If I turn, for instance, to Luke 2, in the very growing up of the Lord we see that there is a different Person in the world. As we grow up, we grow up in sin. I knew more sin at seven than I did at four; more at twenty than I did at ten. God may come in in grace and convert us early; but the moment we see the blessed Lord we see a vessel filled with grace. "The grace of God was upon Him." It was the first time it ever could be so said. God had given a measure of grace to one and another, but for the first time He looked down on a perfect vessel of His grace. In John 1:14 we read, "Full of grace." That grace instantly began to display itself, but we see how little man was able to hold it. A system of things that was legal and adapted to man in the flesh could not hold the grace; it was impossible. So we get early in Luke the angels saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and upon earth peace." In Luke 12 it is, "Think you that I am come to give peace on earth?" But is not that what the angels said? A verse or two before, "I am come to send fire on the earth?" Then, if we go on to Luke 19, when the disciples spread their garments in the way and shout Hosannah, we get, "Glory to God in the highest, peace in heaven." The thing was, peace came, but the son of peace was not here. The Lord told His disciples to say, "Peace be to this house." If the son of peace was not there, it should return to them. The Lord came bringing peace into this scene, and the son of peace was not here, so His peace returned to Him; that is, so far as man in the flesh was concerned, or the system of things which would have blessed man in the flesh, if it were possible. In the early part of the chapter He is preaching the Word. He came not only to heal men's bodies, but to deal with their souls. There was moral power too in what he did. In the end of the chapter He brings this truth simply and plainly before us - the new will not fit in with the old. There was a new order of things presented in His person; but man had no relish for it. It could not be put together with the old; and secondly, man had no heart for it, "he saith the old is better." He prefers the things according to the flesh, whether religious or not, therefore he won't have the new wine.
2. The New Wine.
To go on to Luke 6, there we find the Lord setting aside the sign of the covenant between Jehovah and the children of Israel. He has brought in the new wine: the grace of God was presented to man in His person. Not merely could he say, "I am come as the messenger of grace," but He was the channel of it. It was come in Him. People would not have the Lord. In John 6, where He speaks of the bread that came down from heaven, they say, "Lord, evermore give us this bread;" but the moment He says, "I am the Bread of Life" they will not have Him, they look at Him as the carpenter's son. But the Lord having come to take up any poor ruined sinner, we see Him in the previous chapter calling Levi, and Levi enters into what the Lord's mind is; and he makes a feast for the Lord, and invites the very people the Lord wanted. There is a full river of grace flowing now, and the Lord wants vessels for the grace to flow into. Levi brought together the vessels for the grace that was then flowing into company with the Lord. That leads to the murmuring of the Pharisees, which brings out that man's heart has no taste for what there is in Christ. That leads on to chapter 6, where the Lord virtually sets aside the sabbath, the sign of the covenant between God and the Jews. He says, in Ezekiel 20, "I gave them my sabbaths to be a sign between me and them." The Lord now sets it aside. They could not eat of green ears or parched corn until the wave sheaf had been offered (Lev. 23:14); and they were allowed to pluck the ears as they passed through the standing corn of a neighbour. (Deut. 23:15.) This the disciples were doing. The Lord of heaven and earth was here, and His disciples were passing along hungry. He was the rejected One, and instead of receiving tribute from those who were His subjects, they suffered those attached to Him to hunger. They were ready to stand upon the outward form, as the flesh always is; but God delights in mercy and not sacrifice. They knew not what was in God's heart, nor did they realize that the Lord Jesus Christ was the expression of what was in that heart down here. The Lord takes His place here as the Son of man, because everything in title is put under Him as Son of man, consequently He is Lord of the sabbath. He sets it aside. What it meant was, that He was setting aside the system of things which was found to be faulty. The new wine could not flow into the old vessel, nor the new piece be put on the old garment. He sets aside Judaism.
3. The Man with the Withered Hand.
We pass on a little further, and then it is another thing. It is not the disciples this time. When they were in question, He appeals to what David did when he was a rejected king; but now it is a poor son of want and woe in the synagogue. They watch Him. Is it not strange that the heart of man is against the grace of God? Anything rather than grace, than that the heart should open itself and let the grace of God flow in. The Lord knew their hearts; He knew what was in man. He then bids the man rise up and stand forth in the midst. What a wonderful moment! The Lord in this scene, sorrow and sin and misery in it; and in the synagogue too, where what God was should be taught to His people, "I am Jehovah that healeth thee."
They had no idea of who Jehovah was, no idea of the One whom Jehovah had sent; therefore when the Lord puts the question which was simply, "Is it proper and right to do good, or to do evil?" they did not answer Him. He heals the man, and "they were filled with madness, and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus." Grace is working, and instead of welcoming it, "they were filled with madness," and communed what they might do. The presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in this world made every thing manifest. In the beginning of the gospel Simeon says, "That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:35.) The Lord Jesus comes into this world, presenting grace in all the tenderness of man, in the perfection of a man, in such a way that in the next chapter a poor woman that was a sinner was allowed to wash His feet with her tears. That was Jesus in this world, the vessel of the grace of God here. In Luke He is not so much looked at as in John - the manifestation of what God is; the full development of the grace of the Father's heart, beautiful as it is. But He is presented as a man, in such a way that we can be near to Him. As the hymn says -
"That Thou might'st with us be."
So that a poor woman could touch Him; that Levi could make a feast, and invite a number of poor sinners to come and sit down with Him; that He could wander with His disciples through the cornfields, while they plucked the ears of corn, and did eat. A heart touched with the want and woe all round, yet man's heart thoroughly against Him. That is what was on earth; the whole thing is thus portrayed. The sabbath, besides being a sign between God and Israel, was also the sign of God's rest in His own creation. He made every thing very good, and He rested. He brought man into His rest. It was all broken up directly, we know; but He brought man in to enjoy it. The sabbath was a sign of the goodness of God. Gen. 2 tells us, that before there was a man to till the ground the Lord God caused every thing to grow. It was God's delight to prepare that place for the creature to be put into. The sabbath was expressive of His delight in what His own hands had done, yet to be realized in the millennial sabbath. (Psalm 104:31.) He thus presented Himself to His people of old as the Fountain and Source of all good, that man might come and enjoy what God is, and know what flows from God to His creature. The new creation in its fulness will be a scene where God Himself will fill every bit of His own creation - "God all in all." Yet evil man turned Him out of His creation, and crucified the Lord of glory. There is not a time when we look for anything in ourselves, instead of drawing every spring of our life from Him, that we are not slighting our blessed Saviour.
The sabbath was the sign of all this to His people. What people were like Israel, whom God had taken to be His own inheritance? So He says, in Isaiah 58, "If thou turn away thy foot from doing thine own pleasure, and call the sabbath a delight." Instead of a man doing his own work to satisfy himself, if he kept the sabbath the Lord says, "Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord . . . and I will feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father." I know that is only earthly blessing; but what is it now, when I become a vessel of grace? There was this vessel of grace flowing out in this weary world, addressing itself to man's heart in the most tender manner, so that any poor son of want and woe could understand it.
The Lord was born so poor in this world that there never was a poor man who could say, "I cannot go to the Lord, because He is above me;" that is, as to position in this world. Pride of heart does not like it to be so; but whatever the want I have I can come to Him, and there is the heart that made itself the vessel of every woe. As it says, "Himself bare our sicknesses, and carried our sorrows." That is what Jesus was in this world, and the heart of man would not have Him.
4. The New Order of Ministry.
I ask you to look at a verse or two more. Verse 12. I do not say much on that; but it seems beautiful to see the Lord going out and spending all night in prayer to God while moving about in service down here as the full channel of God's grace. He has communion with God about the whole scene He was in. I hesitate to say much, for it is treading on holy ground - how His heart breathed out all that it knew into the ear of God, what it felt as the channel of the want and woe around. Then, coming back into service, He brought from God, because He was the dependent Man (I say it with reverence), the divine communications, according to which He acted. We know that He had His ear opened morning by morning. Thus all He did as the dependent Man was done perfectly, according to His Father's mind, according to the will of God. Everything was told to God in prayer, and the actings of grace were from the very heart of God. This marked the path of the Lord Jesus. Having spent the night in prayer, when it was day He called unto Him His disciples. (vv. 13, 16.) We now get the new order of ministry, Judaism being set aside as a vessel unfit to hold the new wine. The Lord ordains new ministers. The temple and the synagogue services, the scribes and Pharisees, could not be ministers of this grace which was now flowing; therefore the Lord sets it aside, and chooses new instruments. He chose twelve, the perfection of administration in man, because this grace of God was to flow through a full channel - those that had tasted the grace themselves. He calls them apostles. They are commissioned that they might go out and minister this grace. Thus we get the vessels of the new wine; the Lord chooses them, "that they might be with Him" (Mark 3:14), and carry out the grace to others. Verse 17. He stood in the plain, more properly a plateau. He takes His place with His chosen ones, and stands there now with them, and a company of people from all parts around Him; and then we get the beautiful character of the new thing - the new wine is flowing out. "The whole multitude sought to touch Him; for there went virtue out of Him, and healed them all." What a sight to see in this world! Here was the One that the synagogue rejects, the One they are filled with madness about, the One who has been all night in communion with God, the perfect Man.
Then "He lifted up His eyes upon His disciples." (v. 20.) Not only does the new wine flow out and gladden weary hearts, while words of love and mercy fall upon their ears, or virtue went out and healed them; but we have now what it was to be brought into companionship and association with Him. His eyes are bent upon His disciples, and what does He say to His companions? "Blessed, blessed!" I may know what poverty is, or hunger, but if in His company, He says "blessed." The synagogue, the established religion does not know it. Laodicea may be increased with goods, and have need of nothing; but to choose the company of Christ is to give up in this world. But what is it to find? What can we say we have found in His company? Have we heard Him, as it were, say, with His eyes bent upon us, "Well, if you are in my company, you are poor perhaps, and hungry, and weeping now, but you are blessed." Laodicea rejoices now, laughs now. The great effort of the present day is to set up the first man again, to reinstate and improve him. Thus Christ is not expected; for if you can set up the first man, you don't want Christ to come. But if you feel the whole scene is a wilderness, you say, "Never till I am with Him shall I know fulness of joy." In spirit we enter into it now. When our hearts get into His presence we do know something of what fulness of joy means, that in His presence there is something that satisfies; and the more we find it, the more our hearts go after it. There is plenty to dishearten if we think of what we find in ourselves and around us; but this is a comfort, that every little taste the Spirit of God gives us of Christ leads us to want more. It will be at an expense to ourselves. Perhaps I shall have to give up this or that - not in a legal sense - but I shall find that this or that hinders my having something more of Christ. It may be a struggle; but when we have found it we shall say, "There is something in Christ so precious, it is worth giving up something that I may get it." Blessed poor! Whose lips are saying it? They are in company with Jesus. So on the mount of transfiguration. They are down with their faces to the earth, and when they look up they see Jesus only. God fixes our eyes and hearts upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Here the Lord bends His eyes upon them. It is wonderful to think of the Lord's eyes bent upon us, and His lips uttering such words. Does it come home to our hearts, "Blessed are ye"?
We have thus really the principles of Philadelphia and Laodicea. Philadelphia is association with the Lord Jesus Christ, and a heart that won't be satisfied till He comes. And what then? The Lord says, "I have set before thee an open door." If that is what we have chosen, we shall find hearts somewhere or other to minister to. It may be necessary at times to stand for the truth; but we don't want to have our hearts down under the evil we may have to resist, but to have them in living association with Christ, so that the Lord may set before us an open door. We shall find it, saints poor and weary, if the Lord gives us to think of saints, or to carry the new wine to sinners, that their hearts may be filled with joy and gladness. T. H. Reynolds.
It is important to remark that worldliness, or any allowance of what is not of God, by a godly man, gives the weight of his godliness to the evil he allows.
The tomb in which our sins are buried is the monument of the eternal favour of our God.
What a poor thing is man? And we are weak in proportion to our importance before men. When we are nothing we can do all things, as far as human opinion is concerned. We exercise, at the same time, an unfavourable influence over others in the degree in which they influence us; in which we yield to the influence which the desire of maintaining our reputation among them exercises over our hearts; and all the esteem in which we are held, even justly, becomes a means of evil. Peter, who fears those that came from Jerusalem, draws away all the Jews, and even Barnabas, with him in his dissimulation.