That which is so precious and interesting in this portion is the grouping together of so many various subjects. If you follow the order of events here, and the moral unfoldings, it is most beautiful. It begins with the greatest expression of divine life. In a certain way we begin life every week with the Lord's table. A week is the summary of one's life, and the first day of the week we begin with the death of Christ, and there is no beginning like that. After the passover is over - the celebration of that which was characteristic of Israel - He comes to that which is for us, and He does it in full view of the future. I am sure if we get right about the Lord's table we are right about all else. "This do in remembrance of me." Whatever brings our souls into close contact with Christ is a gain that will never pass away. Our great necessity is nearness to Christ, to have in our sons the sense of what a wondrous reality it is to speak to Him. To think that people walking through this world may know that just as really as the disciples could speak to the Lord down here, we may speak to Him. I do not know anything to compare to it - His ear ever open to me, His heart ever open to me, and the Spirit ever willing to conduct my soul into His presence; but it is a greater thing for Him to speak to me.
"This do in remembrance of me" has a peculiar claim on us. He was about to undergo death, and yet there He is in all quietness and calmness saying, "This do in remembrance of me." How differently a person goes out on a Sunday morning to the other days of the week! Where are you going? I am going to meet the Saviour, according to His own desire, and everything else sinks into utter nothingness. There is no routine in it. Could there be routine in worship, adoration, bowing of the heart, and the satisfaction that takes a person out of the world? If there is a hymn sung it is worship; if there is silence it should be the silence of adoration. I go and sit down and wait till I have the sense that the Lord is there, and that is everything. It is not repetition. There is no such thing in God's ways with us as repetition. We never pass through two circumstances alike. We are walking to heaven as straight as we can go. In the pathway every circumstance is new, and fresher in divine blessing than before, and there is so much there to take in that we shall never get to the end of it. But I press the solemn, blessed joy of being able to speak to Christ. Often we pray, and do not get the sense of being near to Him; and then I think the thing is to persevere, and get out of the distractions until the Spirit of God takes us into the quiet place, and we sit down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit is sweet to our taste. When a person is with Christ, and has really got Christ, there really is not room for other things.
Here (v. 23) when the disciples come out for a moment, they are disturbed at the thought that there is to be a betrayer. John 13 tells us how the secret is known that there was to be a betrayer, and there. This is a most expressive verse - "Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom He spake." Immediately after there is a strife among them which should be the greatest; that is self pure and simple. It is that kind of working which we have to judge in this day. There was the Son of God, the Lord of glory, going to give Himself for them, for ever to displace from before God's eye that which was unsuitable to Him, and there they are making themselves objects of consideration. They were objects of suspicion in the previous verse, now objects of consideration. John the Baptist is a beautiful contrast to them. He calls himself nothing but a "voice," and if we are anything else but voices it is all over with us. It is a beautiful thing to be a voice, and we are only voices for Christ, as the voice of Christ is the joy of our hearts.
This is the most humiliating picture of man's heart. Immediately after the table where His love is displayed, then they strive which should be the greatest. When you get near to Christ you feel as if every shred of yourself was gone. Verse 25 shows what goes on in the world; but verse 26 shows that Christianity is the total and entire opposite of it. It is beautiful, the moral condition of soul that takes a person into the place of being nothing, and glad to be in obscurity. The more we are with Christ, the more we welcome obscurity, and He knows; that is enough. The soul that goes on with Christ can say, "Well, I am content to be nothing;" but this verse 26 is open to us because it is service, and the way He remedies their departure in that day is the way He remedies it for us in this day. We never remedy anyone but by setting Christ before them. "I am among you as He that serveth." Service is where we get tried; but when we are with Christ, nothing but the lowest place will do for us. The moral order here is so beautiful; first the table, then service. Nothing can disturb Christ's love; but what it must have been to Him to see His disciples like this. But He removes the entire thing in a moment when He says, "I am among you as He that serveth."
First, we have the full expression of divine love in the supper, and the request of divine affection; the greatest love shown, and the greatest grace in asking them to do something for Him. There is nothing He cares for so much as the affections of His people. Then He comes down and sees that these loved ones are at issue among themselves as to who should be the greatest. He corrects that by the revelation of Himself, and by doing this He displaces self. We are never displaced but by Christ. Then He says, "Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations." The moment the heart reaches what Christ was, immediately He says everything He can in their favour. He rebukes them solemnly first for their selfishness, and shows them that the very opposite marks Christianity - "Ye shall not be so," and then He unfolds the true principle of service. Because He loves them, He delights to say everything He can in their favour. He delights to say all He can for each of us; and when we stand before the judgment-seat, He will surprise us. Little things we had forgotten He will remember and bring up in our favour. What a set they were, these disciples, a company of men one would look down upon. That is the best company Christ had in this world. But it brings out what He is. Is this the kind of Christ you have to do with? He will say everything He can for me, He will not pick all the holes He can find in me. It is the sense of the love of that Christ who looks over my pathway here. He knows what a bungler I am. But He cheers us and helps us and puts the best motive for all we do; and when we get home, will He not surprise us?
And now think what a moment it was for Him; think of the surroundings in which He was - sorrow and rejection, and those waiting outside to drag Him away to death; and yet He speaks about the kingdom. (v. 29.) The kingdom was present to Him, and He says, "I appoint unto you a kingdom." Only a man in power and position can talk about appointing. There never was a brighter day for us than the present; but it must be faith. Faith makes what is on before present; it makes the kingdom present, and the light of that future is enough. You never found a man strong and vigorous in Christianity who was not living in the light of the future. Put yourselves in company with the disciples, and say, How are things with us? The very men who were appointed a kingdom forsook Christ and fled. First, we want personal acquaintance with Christ, and then, there must be the acceptance of identification with Christ in rejection. We talk about the Church and house of God; but if a person is not in spirit identified with a rejected Christ, the Church is all Greek to him. No soul has ever taken in the truth of the Church that is not in identification with Christ in rejection. The Church is a heavenly thing. Do you know you are one with Christ outside this world? that there is a breach between Christ and the world, and are you with Him?
Verse 30 is worth looking at. Eating at His table is the highest thing; sitting on thrones is more for judgment. Intercourse with Christ in the day of glory coming. It would be a terrible thing not to be true to Christ now. Let us rise up, and go straight on. Satan will try to hinder, and we get Satanic power here. (v. 31.) There you find Satan, and what he brings against the soul, and then Christ's priestly service praying for us. To think that the Lord knows every tactic of Satan. He is above them all, and sees their working towards me. We have not an inactive Christ in heaven, but one who cares for us, and watches over us every moment of our lives. What a moment it is for the soul when it can say, "Lord, I know Thou art sufficient; Thou wilt help me through." To know I am an object of consideration in heaven. "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of those whose heart is perfect towards Him." There is nothing like Christianity. A Saviour in heaven, with boundless, measureless resources, who is going to do everything for me. "I have a rich Almighty Friend."
"When thou art restored, strengthen thy brethren." (v. 32.) It is beautiful to see how the Lord contemplates the blessing of His people. He does not say, "When you are restored, take care you do not fall again," but, "When thou art restored, strengthen thy brethren." That is what Christ cares about. You must learn from failure; but when you are restored, strengthen the brethren. That is our business, and we cannot strengthen each other but by the ministry of Christ. "Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing [blessing there means the ministry of blessing]; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing." (1 Peter 3:9.) We are going to inherit it, we do inherit it, and our only business is to minister it.
The one thing we need is to get near to Christ. Can I speak to Him? Can I be as near to Him as John or Peter were, and have intercourse with Him? What a wonderful thing! And how He values it and loves it! If we are taking the ground of self-sufficiency (v. 33), God has to put us to the proof. The first thing is to be so at home and at rest in Christ's presence, that He has no question to put to me. It is no good thinking about service if there is a question between me and Christ. Peter had to learn himself. The higher thing is not to learn oneself by faults, because if I rightly accept the cross of Christ, I accept the very worst about myself. If we have learnt the cross, we have learnt the worst about ourselves.
E. P. C.
I never had my heart occupied with a living Christ in heaven without finding that His love drew my affections after Him. I never grew careless without there being cold chills. If occupied with Him, you will not be thinking of yourself, your walk, your beauty, or anything except the love which draws the heart after Him. I can give no reason why my heart was wrapped round Christ, save that the grace of God drew me to Him, and has kept me these forty years; because He loved me, and will love me to the end. Peter cursed and swore, and denied the Lord, but the Lord had bound Peter to Himself, and He kept him to the end. G. V. Wigram.