J. N. Darby.
If we wish for a better understanding of the Holy Ghost's thought about Mark's Gospel, we must briefly examine His teaching in the four Gospels. These present Christ to us, but Christ rejected: and, at the same time, they present the Saviour in four different aspects. Again, there is a difference between the three first and the last. The three first present Christ as the One whom the world ought to receive, although in result He be put to death. In the fourth we find the Lord Jesus rejected already, from the first chapter; and again, too, the Jews considered as cast off: those who are born of God are the only ones who receive the Lord: consequently we find in this Gospel the principles of grace more deeply unfolded - "No one can come unto me except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him"; and the sheep are distinct from the world before they are called. The first three Gospels present Christ to men in order that He may be received; then they give us the history of the increasing enmity of man against Him, and finally His rejection and death.
As regards the character of each Gospel, in Matthew the Lord is considered as Emmanuel the promised Messiah, Jehovah who saves His people from their sins. "Jehovah the Saviour" is the meaning of the name Jesus. Consequently the genealogy descends from Abraham and David, the heads and vessels of the promises from whence the Messiah was to descend. In this first Gospel, when Christ is manifested in His true character, and in the spirit of His mission, He is morally rejected; and the Jews are set aside as a nation. The Lord seeks fruit in His vineyard no longer, but shews that He is really the sower; He reveals the kingdom, but in mystery (that is, in the manner in which it would exist in His absence); He reveals the church which He Himself would build, and the kingdom in its glorious state, which things should be substituted for His presence upon the earth; then the last events and discourses of His life.
Mark depicts the Servant-Prophet; and hence we have not the history of His birth; the Gospel begins with His ministry. We will speak afterwards of its contents. In the Gospel of Luke the Lord is presented to us as the Son of man, and in it we have a picture of grace, and of the work which is now going on; and the genealogy goes up to Adam. The two first chapters however reveal to us the state of the small though godly remnant amongst the Jews; a most exquisite picture of the working of the Spirit of God in the midst of the wicked and corrupt nation. These pious souls were well known to one another, they looked for the redemption of Israel; and the aged and godly Anna, who had seen the Saviour presented in the temple according to the law, announced to all who expected Him, the coming of the longed-for Messiah. In all the remaining part of this Gospel Christ is the Son of man for the Gentiles.
234 In the Gospel by John we have no genealogy at all. The Word of God, which is also God, appears in flesh upon the earth - He is the Creator, the Son of God. The world does not know Him. His own (the Jews) received Him not, but those who receive Him have the right to take the place of sons of God, being really born of Him. And since Christ is here presented as the manifestation of God, it is for this very cause that we find Him immediately rejected. This Gospel presents Him to us in His own person; then He putteth forth His own sheep, and gathers those of the Gentiles, and gives to them all eternal life, and they can never perish. At the end of this Gospel the coming of the Holy Ghost is explained to us: but let us begin to consider the Gospel by Mark.
We have already said it begins with the Saviour's ministry. It is preceded only by the testimony of John. The latter prepares the way of the Lord, preaches the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and announces a more glorious Servant of God, the latchet of whose shoes he is not worthy to unloose: He will baptize with the Holy Ghost. The baptism of fire is not mentioned here, because the subject is the Lord's service in blessing, and not that of exercising His power in judgment. Fire always signifies judgment.
The Lord submits to John's baptism; this is a fact full of importance and blessing for man. Here He takes the place of His people before God: I need not say that the Lord could have no need of repentance; but He wishes to accompany His people in the first good step they take, that is, in the first step they take under the influence of the word. For Him it was the fulfilling of all righteousness. Everywhere where sin had brought us, love and obedience led Him for our deliverance. Only here He comes with His own: in death He took our place, He bore the curse, He was made sin. Here He takes His place as a perfect man in relationship with God - with the Father; that place which He acquired for us by redemption in the which we are placed as sons of God.
235 The heavens are opened: the Holy Spirit descends upon man. The Father recognises us as His children; Jesus was anointed and sealed by the Holy Ghost, even as we are; He, because He was personally worthy of it; we, because He has made us worthy by His work and by His blood. For us heaven is opened, the veil rent, and we cry, "Abba, Father!" Marvellous grace! Infinite love! The Son of God has become man in order that we also should become sons of God, as He Himself said after His resurrection: "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, unto my God and your God." Glorious unspeakable purpose of God to place us in the same glory, in the same relationship as His own Son: in the glory to which He has a right by His own perfection as being God's own Son. "In order that he might shew in the ages to come the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness towards us, in Christ Jesus." This will be fully accomplished when that which the Lord Jesus has said shall come to pass: "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them … that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me." Oh! what ought to be the love of Christians for the Saviour, who by His sufferings, even unto death, has acquired such a position for us, and the blessed assurance of being with Him and like Him for all eternity!
It is also important to remark that here the Trinity is fully revealed for the first time. In the Old Testament we read of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; but here, where we have the position of the second Man according to grace, the Holy Trinity is fully revealed. At the same time the revelation is clear, and the three persons appear together; the Son is revealed as a man, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, and the Father's voice owns Jesus in whom He is well pleased. We may notice here the difference between man's responsibility and the purpose of grace. God's purpose was fixed before the world was created, but it was fixed in the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the book of Proverbs (chap. 8) it is shewn that Christ, as Wisdom, was with God, that He was the object of God's delight, and that His own delight was found in the sons of men. But before revealing His counsels, or accomplishing the work which was to produce all the effects of this love, God created responsible man - the first Adam. But Adam failed to accomplish his duty, and all the means that God has employed have only brought out the wickedness of man, until the second Man should come. Thus the delight which God had in man has been manifested.
236 Nevertheless man has not been willing to receive it; there remained only the personal object of the perfect satisfaction of God; and thus in His person He has taken a position which we find revealed in this passage; that of Son of God, with the heaven opened, being sealed by the Holy Spirit. But He was alone. Upon the cross He did all that was necessary as regards our responsibility; and has done more - has fully glorified God in His love, in His majesty, in His truth, and has acquired for us the participation in His own position as man in the glory of God; not indeed as the right of God, that is, His own right as Son, but to be like Him in glory, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. This is God's purpose: and when the work of Christ was accomplished, this purpose was brought to light. As to its being fulfilled in us upon the earth, we have an example of it in the passage we are considering. Compare 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2-3.
But this is not all. As soon as Jesus had taken His place before God as man, and when He had been manifested as Son of God in human nature, He is led by the power of the Holy Ghost into the wilderness, and there undertakes the struggle with the devil in the which the first Adam had been conquered. It was necessary that He should conquer in order to set us free; and notice too that His circumstances were very different from those in which the first Adam found himself. The first Adam was surrounded with God's blessings, of which He had full enjoyment; they were a present testimony of His favour. Christ, on the contrary, was in the desert with the consciousness that Satan was now reigning over man, and all outward comforts are wanting; outwardly there was no testimony of God's goodness: indeed all was contrary to this.
237 In Mark the details of the temptation and the Lord's replies are not given, but only the fact is recorded (a precious fact for us) that the Lord has passed through this trial. He presented Himself according to the will of God, led of the Holy Ghost to meet the powerful enemy of mankind; immense grace! He first shewed our place before God, having taken it in His own person; and then He entered into conflict with the devil who held us captive. The third fact that we observe is that the angels have become the servants of those who shall be heirs of salvation. Here, then, are the three testimonies in connection with the manifestation of Jesus as man in the flesh; - our position as sons of God, Satan conquered, the angels our servants.
The Saviour (v. 14), having taken His place in the world, begins the exercise of His ministry, but not before John's imprisonment. After that this forerunner of the Messiah was cast into prison, and not before, the Saviour began to preach the gospel of the kingdom. The testimony of John was very important to draw the people's attention to Him; but it would not have been right that he should have borne testimony to the Lord after that He Himself had begun to bear testimony to Himself. "I receive not testimony from man," saith the Lord, speaking of John the Baptist; John 5:34. He bore witness to John! He was the Truth in His own person, and His words and His works were the testimony of God in the world. "What sign doest thou?" said the people; "our fathers did eat manna in the desert … ." And the Lord replied, "I am the bread come down from heaven."
The preaching of Jesus announced the kingdom, shewed that the time was fulfilled, that the kingdom of God was at hand, that the people must repent and believe the gospel. We should distinguish between the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of our salvation. Christ is the centre of both; but there is a great difference between the preaching of a kingdom which is drawing near, and that of an eternal redemption accomplished upon the cross. It is quite possible that the two truths should be announced together. And indeed we find that the apostle Paul preached the kingdom, but he certainly also proclaimed an eternal redemption accomplished for us upon the cross. Christ prophesied of His death, and announced that the Son of man should give His life for the ransom of many; but He could not announce an accomplished redemption during His life. Men ought to have received Him and not to have put Him to death: hence His testimony was about the kingdom which was drawing nigh.
238 This kingdom in its public power has been delayed, because Christ has been rejected (see Rev. 11:17); and this delay lasts all the time that Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, until the time when He shall arise from the throne of His Father to judge. God has said, "Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool," Psalm 110. It is nevertheless true that the kingdom was already come in mystery according to Matthew 13; this goes on during the time that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. But when God's appointed moment shall come, the Lord will arise and set up the kingdom, and with His own power will judge the living; and peace and happiness shall be established upon the earth. And we who have received Him, whilst the world has rejected Him, shall go to meet Him in the air, we shall be for ever with the Lord, and shall come with Him in glory when He shall appear before the world, and shall reign with Him; and, what is still far better, we shall be like Him and always with Him in the heavenly places in the Father's house.
The development of these truths and of these events is only found in the word of God after the Lord's ascension, after that the foundation for the accomplishment of God's purpose had been laid in the Saviour's death. Here He announces only the drawing nigh of the kingdom, for men should have received it. But although Jesus taught in all the synagogues, there were not only those who heard Him, or who believed what He taught, but some who also followed Him. It is of the greatest importance to notice this: many in the present day profess to have received the gospel; but how small is the number of those who follow the Lord in the path of faith, in that humility and obedience which characterised the Lord's steps in this world! Let us try to follow Him: perhaps we cannot literally forsake all, as the first disciples did; but we can walk in the spirit in which they walked, and esteem Christ as the all for our souls; and that all other things are but as dung in order that we may win Christ in glory. The Lord here calls men to make them fishers of others; let us also seek others, that they too may be able to enjoy the ineffable and glorious happiness which the Holy Spirit gives. We may not be apostles perhaps, but whoever is full of Christ will give testimony to Christ; out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. Rivers of living water shall flow from the belly of him who comes to Christ and drinks; John 7.
239 The Gospel by Mark does not present the person of Emmanuel, and then the grace of His mission, as that by Matthew; but sets forth rapidly His ministry in its application to men. Necessarily the ministry is the same, but the development is different. His word and His works testify equally to the authority with which He taught the people. While He was speaking, the audience in the synagogue was astonished, for His speech was not like that of the scribes who insisted upon opinions, but He announced the truth as One who knew it and could present it from its very foundation. Even evil spirits were afraid of His presence, and prayed that they might not be destroyed. Nevertheless they were obliged to leave the wretched men whom they held as their prey under their power: so that the people said, "What is this? what is this doctrine?" A testimony was raised that God had intervened to set man free, and to communicate His perfect truth to him. Grace and truth had come by Jesus Christ.
His fame spread all over Galilee. Leaving the synagogue He enters into the house of Simon and Andrew: the apostle Peter had a wife, and her mother was sick of a fever. The Lord takes her by the hand; the fever disappears, and the woman begins to serve them in a perfect state of health. As soon as the sabbath is ended, all the city is gathered together at the door of the house: the Lord heals the sick and casts out demons; the demons recognise Him although men have not. Still He remains the Servant of God, and gets up before sunrise to go into a solitary place to pray. Peter seeks Him and, having found Him, says, "All seek thee": but Jesus, always the Servant, does not seek numbers and fame for Himself, but goes away elsewhere to preach and to bring freedom from the yoke of Satan.
It is important to remark that here the Lord's miracles are not simply a sign and proof of power, but also of the goodness which was acting in divine power. It is this which gives the true divine character to the miracles of Jesus. All His works are the fruit of love, and bear witness to the God of love upon the earth. There is only one apparent exception, which, after all, is a proof of the truth we are remarking. This exception is the cursing of the fig-tree; but this was a figure of the people Israel, and one may say of human nature, under God's cultivation, which did not produce fruit - there were only leaves, that is, hypocrisy. Hence it was judged and condemned, and will never bear fruit again; the gardener dug about it, and dunged it, but all was useless; and then it was given up of God. Man must be born again - must be created again in Christ Jesus.
240 Of the love manifested in the works of the Lord Jesus we have a beautiful proof in that which follows. A leper comes to Jesus well persuaded of His power, having seen His miracles, or heard tell of these mighty works; but he was not certain that he would find willingness in Him to heal him. He says to Him, "If thou wilt, thou canst." The Lord, not content with being willing and with doing, touches the leper. Now leprosy - terrible disease! - was a figure of sin, and he that was ill of it was shut out of the camp as unclean; and even a man who might have touched him was shut out too, because he became contaminated by it. No means could be employed to cure the leper; it was Jehovah alone who could cure him; and then, when cured of Jehovah, the priest pronounced him clean, and he could, after certain ceremonies, partake of divine worship. Here the Lord comes in with this divine power and the love of God. "I will, be thou clean." The willingness and power of God were there, and were exercised in favour of the poor excommunicated man. But there is something more - He touches the sufferer. God is present; Jesus cannot be contaminated; but He has come so near to the unclean man as to be able to touch him - true Man amongst men, God manifest in flesh. God, but God in a man, love itself, the power which can do all necessary to deliver man from the effect of Satan's power. Undefilable purity is found upon earth - but love as well, that is, God is here, but Man also - and works for man's blessing. The leper is healed immediately, the leprosy disappears.
But although God be manifested in His work of power and love, He does not leave the servant's place, now that He has taken it; He sends away the healed man, saying, "See that thou say nothing to any man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded." We may remark another circumstance in this history - that the Lord was moved with compassion when He saw the leper. God, in His love, is man touched with pity in His heart for the wretched state in which He finds man: we often find this fact in the Gospels. Now the cleansed leper spreads abroad the fame of Jesus all around, so that the testimony of the power of God present with His people makes itself felt in men's minds. Jesus did not seek human glory, but to accomplish the will of God and the work He had given Him to do. Surrounded by all, He cannot enter into the city, where the astonished crowd would have assembled itself around Him.
But after some days, when the expectation had lessened a little, the Lord enters again into the city. It was soon noised abroad that He was in the house, and so many came together that there was no room to receive them, not even about the door. Jesus preached the word to them, because this service was always His first object. He was the Word, He was the Truth, He was Himself that which His word announced, of whom man had need. His word, too, was confirmed by His works, and the people knew that He possessed the power that could deliver them from every evil.
They bring a paralytic man, carried of four; but not being able to get as far as Jesus, hindered as they were by the crowd, they uncover the roof - easily done in the East - and let down the paralytic man to the place where Jesus was. This was an evident proof of their faith; it was the deep sense of need, and confidence in Jesus, in His love, in His power. Without an urgent desire to be healed, and a full confidence in the power and love of Jesus, they would have been discouraged by the difficulty presented by the crowd, and would have gone back, saying perhaps, "We will come again, we may be able to get at Him another time." But there are no difficulties for faith; its principles are these - the need of finding the Saviour, of feeling our misery, and of feeling that Jesus alone can heal us - that His love is strong enough to look upon us in our wretchedness. It is of course the work of the Spirit which reveals Jesus to us; but He produces such a sense of our wretchedness that we are impelled to go to seek the Lord, and difficulties do not drive us back, because we know that Jesus alone can heal us, that His love is enough; not indeed that we are already sure of being healed, but enough to attract us to Himself in the assurance that He will do it. And if we have already come to Him, faith always produces need in the soul, and the assurance that the Saviour will respond to our need. And Christ never fails to answer to it; He may allow difficulties to prove the faith, but faith that perseveres finds the answer; and that which if we know the Lord's sufficiency, produces this perseverance is the sense of our need. The source of all is the operation of the Holy Spirit in our heart.
242 The Lord takes occasion by the wretched state of the paralytic man to point out the true root of all evils - sin. He had come because sin was in the world, and with what object then but that sin might be forgiven? It is true that, since God is just, it is needful that a perfect atonement be made for sins in order that they may be forgiven. But Jehovah, who knew everything, could administer the pardon by means of the Son of man in that manner which now makes all believers participate in a perfect pardon by means of the gospel. As to His government also He could pardon or leave under the effects of His punishment both individuals and the whole nation. Now He who was present had the right and power to forgive sins upon earth: and He gave the proof of it. In Psalm 103 He is celebrated as the One who would forgive all Israel's iniquities, and heal all his infirmities.
The great need of guilty Israel was this forgiveness: Christ announces it. As to the government of God itself, Israel could not be re-established in blessing, if he did not possess God's pardon. "Thy sins be forgiven thee," said the Lord: the scribes cry out against the blasphemy. But God, the Jehovah of Psalm 103, was there present in the person of the Son of man; and He gives the proof that this right belonged to Him by fulfilling that which is said in that very Psalm: "who healeth all thine infirmities." "But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, He saith to the sick of the palsy, Arise, and take up thy bed and go thy way." The man gets up, takes up his bed and goes away. Pardon and power to heal were come upon earth in the person of the Son of man, of Him who, having divine rights and power, was down here in humiliation upon earth to bring the love and the power of God to the wretchedness of man, to the fatal miseries of the soul, giving a proof of it in freeing the body from the sufferings which sin had introduced.
God was present in love. The power to heal was there, but the important truth was that forgiveness was come upon earth. This is the first great truth of the gospel. That which is here announced by Christ is now proclaimed in the gospel which is the means of reconciling God's justice with free pardon, with the full lasting pardon of sins clearly shewn forth before men in the Lord's words. The remission of sins is announced, founded on the Saviour's work. But if this be the spirit of the gospel, if this be the work of Jesus, He must come to call sinners, He must make Himself their friend, in order that they may have confidence, and may believe in this grace, and that the world may know the Saviour's true character.
243 That which follows in our history makes us understand clearly the mission and the ministry of Jesus. He calls Matthew who was sitting at the receipt of custom. The tax was hateful to the Jews, not only because they had to pay it against their will, but much more because it was the proof of their being in slavery to the Gentiles. They had lost their privileges as the free people of God; and when their fellow-countrymen took this office, as they were wont to do, under the Roman knights, their bitterness was very great, and the man who took such a situation became hated as a perfidious traitor of the religion and the nation. Thus these tax-gatherers were despised and detested. Now Matthew invites the Lord, and many other publicans were at table with Jesus and with His disciples.
The scribes and Pharisees raise the question as to how it could be possible that a righteous teacher should sit and eat with unclean men and sinners. Jesus hears this, and answers with divine wisdom. The simplicity of the answer equals its force. "They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Here it is grace that is working; and the work of Jesus presents a full contrast to the law. The law demanded human justice from man; Christ and the gospel announce divine grace which reigns and reveals God's righteousness. Here we have grace; as to divine righteousness, it should be fully revealed when Christ should have accomplished His work upon the cross: truth as important as it is precious!
Christ, the Saviour, came to seek sinners, and does not seek righteous persons; even were there any such, there would be no need to seek them, but in His sovereign grace and perfect goodness He came to seek sinners; He does not send them away but seeks them, and can sit and eat with them whilst being Himself altogether holy. This is the manifestation of God in love in the midst of sinners to win the hearts of men, and to produce confidence toward God in these hearts, and to bind all the faculties of the soul with the power of a perfect object, and to form it according to the image of that which leads it, and which it contemplates; whence to inspire this confidence, since good was come into the midst of evil, and had taken part in the wretchedness in which fallen man lay - a goodness which did not drive away the sinner on account of his sins, but which invited him to come.
244 Man's ruin began when he lost his confidence in God: the devil had succeeded in persuading Eve that God had not permitted man to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because He knew that, if he did it, he would be as God, knowing good and evil; that God had forbidden him to touch the tree from jealousy; and, if He did not wish that we should be happy, we must make ourselves happy. And this is what Eve sought, and what all men seek who do their own will. Thus man fell, and thus man remains in all the wretchedness which is the fruit of sin, awaiting God's judgment upon the sin itself. Now, before executing judgment God came in love as Saviour to shew that His love is greater than sin, and that the worst sinner can have confidence in this love that seeks sinners and adapts itself to their wants, which does not demand righteousness from man, and brings him salvation and grace by which to present him finally to God as His righteousness through the work of Christ: but He comes in love to sinful men to reconcile them with Himself. Instead of punishing them for their sins, He finds occasion to manifest the immensity of His love in coming to those who were lying in sin, and in giving Himself as a sacrifice to put it away.
In His life Christ presents this love of God, God Himself manifested in love to man; in His death He is as man before God, made sin for us in order that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, and that the righteous God, the God of love, never might remember our sins. In the history which we are considering He manifests God's love towards man. The law was the perfect rule of that which man ought to be as son of Adam; it demanded of man that he should be such, and pronounced a curse upon the man who did not do that which it required. It added God's authority to that which was fitting to the relationships in which man finds himself, and gave a perfect rule for conduct to man in these relationships; a rule easily forgotten or broken in the fallen state of man. It did not give life, nor strength, nor objects to attract and rule the heart; but it established the relationship of man with God and with his fellows, and cursed all those who had not kept it, that is, all those that were under it.
245 The flesh does not submit, nor can it submit to the law of God: grace then, whilst it establishes the authority of the law and the curse itself, since Christ the blessed Saviour has borne it, must needs change everything in the ways of God. Forgiveness is not the same as the curse, and paying a debt is very different from demanding the money. It is quite just to demand payment, but, if the debtor has nothing to pay, he is ruined; whereas, if he pays, he is set free. Christ has done more; not only does He pay the debt, but He has acquired glory for those that believe. Not only has He freed the debtor from his debts, but He has given him an immense fortune in God's presence.
But then the change is complete and perfect, and the Lord's words which follow shew us this. John's disciples and the Pharisees used to fast, and the Lord gives motives why His own could not do it. The Bridegroom was present and so it was not the time for fasting, but the time would soon come when the Bridegroom would be taken away; and then they should fast. The joy of His presence would be turned into sorrow by His absence, by the need which this absence would create in the heart. The other reason is this: it was impossible to mix the two systems; the new wine (the truth and the spiritual power of Christianity) could not be put into old bottles, into the old institutions and ceremonies of Judaism. If this were done, the new wine would destroy the bottles, and both would be spoiled, the wine would be lost and the bottles destroyed. In like manner a piece of new cloth does not suit an old garment: the garment would be torn, and the rent would only be greater. Indeed it is not possible to attach the spiritual power of Christianity to the carnal ceremonies which human nature loves, because it can make of them a religion without a new life, and without the conscience being touched. The unconverted man, if he wishes, may thus do as much good as the converted man. No, the new wine must be kept in new bottles: it is important for us to remember it. The dispensation was changed, a new order was coming in, and all was altered; the nature of the things was different - they could not exist at the same time; fleshly ceremonies and the power of the Holy Ghost could never go together. Think of it, Christians! Christianity has tried to embellish itself with these ceremonies, and often even under Pagan forms; and what has it become? It has adapted itself to the world of which these forms were the rudiments, and has become really pagan, and its true spirituality can hardly be found at all.
246 But there was an institution founded by God, that is, the sign of His covenant with Israel - the sabbath - and it was too the sign of God's rest in the first creation. Now, in Israel man was put to the proof, to see whether, with a perfect rule, and with means offered by the law (God Himself being present in the tabernacle or temple), he could serve God and fulfil righteousness as a son of Adam in the flesh. The sabbath was not "a" seventh day but "the" seventh day, in the which at the end of creation God ceased creating, and rested. The question then arose as to whether man could share God's rest: and the answer is, that he has sinned, and therefore can never have any part in this rest. Under the law he was again put to the proof; and then he made the golden calf before Moses came down from the mountain. God then exercised patience with the people until they rejected Christ. But it was impossible to establish a covenant between God and man after the flesh; man could not enjoy God's rest. More than this; the sabbath of the first creation was for man, and He who enjoyed all the rights of man according to God's counsels was Lord of the sabbath: thus these two principles are unfolded.
First, as when David, the anointed of the Lord, had been rejected, everything was common and profane; so when Christ, the last proof offered to man in the flesh, was rejected, nothing was holy for man; the seal of the first covenant had lost all its meaning. Then, when Christ renounces for a time His position in Israel as Messiah, He becomes (as we see often in the Gospels, Luke 9:21-22, etc.) the Son of man. Thus He is the Lord of the sabbath which was made for man; thus the sign of the old covenant disappears through man's sin and his rejection of Christ.
247 Christ's resurrection is the beginning of the new creation, the foundation of the new covenant founded upon His blood. This is the sign of God's rest for us. Satisfied, glorified by the death of Jesus, God has raised Him from among the dead and has found a resting-place for His love and His righteousness; and we, the objects of this love, are made the righteousness of God in Christ.
Thus the Lord's day is a most precious gift from Him, and the true Christian enjoys it with all his heart; and, if he is faithful, he finds himself in the Spirit to enjoy God, happy to be freed from material labour to adore God as his Father, and to enjoy communion with the Lord. It is always a bad sign when a Christian talks of his liberty and makes use of it to neglect the Lord, in order to give himself to the material work of the world. However free a Christian may be, he is free from the world and from the law, in order to serve the Lord. How much good may he not do on the Lord's day! And this is a third principle which is found in chapter 3 in this Gospel.
Grace had come (John 1:17), God Himself was present in grace; and this grace was free to do good on the sabbath. The Lord's true rest is the exercise of His love in the midst of evil. The Pharisees thought nothing of doing evil provided that their traditions were observed. God held Himself at liberty to do good; and for this reason the Lord heals the withered hand, calling the Jew's attention to this great principle in a formal way.
The Pharisees consult with the Herodians (who were their enemies) to find out how they might put Jesus to death; and the Lord departs. So the dispensation of the law is set aside by Christianity, which cannot be introduced into the old Jewish forms; and at the same time the rights of divine love, that is, the rights of God Himself are maintained. Thus the true character of the Lord's service is clearly set forth. Here the direct unfolding of the Lord's ministry ceases. That which follows consists of parables and facts, which develop it and shew clearly the relationships in which the Lord found Himself with the Jews. He withdraws Himself from the hatred of the rulers of the people, in order to carry on His service of love.
248 A great multitude from all parts of the country follow Him, having heard of the marvellous things that He did; we have here a living picture of the effect of His ministry. The Lord finds Himself obliged to have a little ship upon the lake, so large was the crowd that pressed upon Him wishing to touch Him to be healed. Also evil spirits when they saw Him, fell down before Him, saying, "Thou art the Son of God." Remark here, that which we often find in the Gospels, that evil spirits possessed people so completely, that their acts are attributed to the spirits; and the demoniacs said that which the spirits made them say, as it were of their own accord. The mind and body were so completely in possession of the spirit, that the possessed person thought that that which the spirit inspired was his own thoughts. The possession was complete. "Thou art come to torment us before the time … I know thee, the Holy One of God" - it is often thus. But the Lord would not receive the testimony of demons, nor allow them to make Him known.
He goes up a mountain that He may get away from the crowd for a little, in order to be alone; and calls to Him those He will, who come to Him. In Luke's Gospel we read that He passed all the night in prayer before naming the apostles. In Luke we find much more of the Lord's humanity, most important in its place. He prayed when heaven opened to Him; He prayed when He was transfigured; and when in agony in the garden, He prayed more earnestly. Here we have rather the progress of His ministry: He associates with Himself other servants to continue and extend His work. They were to be with Him, and then they are sent to preach the gospel with power, to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils. Remark here, that Christ not only does miracles Himself, but that He can give others the power of performing them. The apostles could lay their hands on a man that He might receive the Holy Ghost; but they could never give to others the power to perform miracles, and to cast out demons. This is something much more than performing miracles; it is the power and the authority of God. He gives names also to some of His disciples - mark of supreme authority - and according to the knowledge He had of their character, before He had had any experience of it.
At the same time we see how the Lord's testimony is received: His own friends think Him mad; and the leaders of the people ascribe His wonderful works to the power of Satan. O what a world we live in! Man can see nothing in the activity of divine goodness but madness and the work of the devil. But surely Satan does not cast out Satan: it is this that is real folly. If a strong man's goods are taken from him, it is clear that a stronger has come and has bound him. May God be praised! But this sin - blasphemy against the Holy Ghost - cannot be pardoned. Whilst they said, "We do not believe: this man does not keep the sabbath, he deceives us," although it was bad enough, it was pardonable; but the scribes recognised the power - a power greater than that of demons, and, instead of owning there the finger of God, they ascribed it to the prince of the demons - called the Holy Ghost a demon. It was the end of all hope for Israel, as regards his responsibility. Grace could forgive the nation, and will do it when the Lord shall return in glory; but now, as a responsible people, their story is ended.
249 It is for this reason the Lord renounces all relationship with the people according to the flesh. His mother and brethren come to call Him, but the Lord will not recognise them. He brings in the word to form new links with souls, but every link with Israel is broken. His mother has no claim upon Him, He refuses to own her call: "Who is my mother or my brethren?" He says; and looking round upon those about Him, "Behold my mother and my brethren: for whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister and mother." Here we find the break between the Lord and the people. The patience of the Lord continued to shew forth God's goodness, until the last Passover; but all was really over for the people; its condemnation could not fail to be pronounced; He no longer seeks fruit in His vineyard.
Seated in a boat at the lakeside, the Lord presents the parable of the sower, who went forth to sow that which, if received in the heart, should bring forth by grace the fruit desired of God. The fruit was not to be found in the vineyard where man was to be tried just as he was in the flesh, under the old covenant, the law being written upon tables of stone. It is on this account that the Lord cursed the fig-tree which did not bring forth fruit, but leaves only; He had digged about it and dunged it, but in vain; therefore it was to be cut down. Solemn truth! Grace raises us above sin, but man in himself is lost as regards his responsibility. The Lord begins to teach the crowd in parables: saying "a sower went forth to sow." As we have said, He no longer seeks for fruit from man upon the earth, nor in His people, but sows that which ought to bring forth fruit.
250 As the sower sows, some falls by the way-side, some on stony ground, some in the midst of thorns, and some on good ground. It is no question here of doctrine, but the facts which follow the sowing of the word of the kingdom present themselves; it is a question of outward facts. Three parts bear no fruit. When the word is sown in the heart, in the first instance, it rests on the surface of the ground, it does not penetrate the heart; the devil takes away the word, and no fruit is left. In the second instance the word is received with joy; the hearers are glad to listen to the sound of grace, of pardon, of the kingdom; but when this brings with it affliction or persecution, they leave it. The hearer had received it with joy; he leaves it when affliction comes: the conscience is not brought into God's presence; the need of a troubled conscience is not felt. It is in the conscience that the word of God fixes its roots; because the presence of God is revealed and awakens the conscience. God Himself is revealed to the heart, and one finds oneself in His presence with the consciousness of being there. Self-judgment follows, the darkness passes away, and the light of God shines in the heart. When the conscience has already been exercised, then the gospel brings joy at once, and God's answer to the soul's need. Whatever the grace and the love of God may be, when they are first revealed, they do not produce joy, because the conscience is reached; the light penetrates, because God is light. Love (for God is love) inspires confidence, the heart is attracted and trusts, like the sinful woman who washed the Lord's feet with her tears; but the conscience, not being yet purged, has no joy. If the announcement of pardon gives joy, there is reason to fear that the conscience is not awakened. The understanding (perhaps also the natural affections) has understood the beautiful story of love and pardon told in the gospel, but the work is only surface-deep and disappears.
Another part of the seed fell amongst thorns, and the thorns, growing up, choked it, and it did not bear any fruit. Last of all, that which fell on good ground brought forth fruit in different proportions. The object of this discourse is not to shew how this takes place; it speaks only of the effect manifested. Doubtless it is grace, but the fact alone is told. We see the activity of grace in the heart in this last case, because it grows and bears fruit, and keeps on growing. He who has truly received the word in the heart is fitted to communicate it to others. He may not have the gift of preaching, but he loves the truth, he loves souls, and the glory of the Saviour; and the light which has been lit in his heart is to light all around him. He too sows according to his strength, and is responsible to do so. All will be manifested, faithfulness and unfaithfulness, with regard to this, as in everything else. God sends light into the heart in order to give it to others, and not to hide it. We shall receive more, if we are faithful in communicating what we possess; and, if there is love in us, this cannot fail. Truth and love both came in Christ, and unless the heart be full of Christ, the truth will not be manifested: if the heart be full of other things, or of itself, Christ cannot be manifested. If Christ - truth and love - be in the heart, the truth will shine out for the blessing of others, and we ourselves shall be blessed, and more will be given to us; and there will be liberty and joy in the soul. That which he already possesses will be taken away from the man who does not let others profit by the light he has.
251 We see here again that the Lord's ministry amongst the Jews was ended. "To you it is given," He says to the disciples, "to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to those that are without all these things are spoken in parables, in order that seeing they may not perceive, and that hearing they may not understand, lest they be converted, and their sins be forgiven them." They are under the judgment of God. The Lord does not mean to say here that a soul might not believe in Jesus individually, and thus be forgiven; but that the nation, having rejected the testimony of Jesus, was now deserted of God, left outside, and exposed to His judgment. He reproves the disciples because they too could not understand the parable, nevertheless He explains it to them in His grace.
After this explanation and the respective warnings of which we have spoken, the Lord gives another parable which presents His ways very clearly. The kingdom is like unto a man that casts seed into the ground, who, rising and sleeping day and night, allows it to increase without taking any notice of it. The earth produces thus fruit of itself, first the blade, then the ear, and then the full grain in the ear. Now when the fruit is ripe, the sickle is put in at once, because the harvest is come. Thus the Lord worked personally, sowing the word of God upon earth; and at the end, He will return, and work again in person, when the time for the judgment of this world shall have come; but now in the meantime, He remains seated at the right hand of God, as though He did not occupy Himself with His field, although in secret He does work by His grace, and produces everything. But it is not manifest. Without being seen, He works to make the seed grow in a divine way by His grace, whilst apparently He allows the gospel to grow without having anything to do with it until the harvest. Then He will appear and will Himself work openly.
252 He teaches the people again with another parable. We do not find here the whole story of the kingdom as in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, but only its great principles, and the Lord's work in contrast with His manifestation and the establishment of the kingdom by His own presence. It grows during His absence, no one knows how, at least as regards human knowledge. The kingdom, then, is like a grain of mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds; but as soon as it is sown it grows, and becomes a large plant, even a tree large enough for the birds of the air to rest upon its branches. Thus Christianity, a little seed, that of a man despised by the world, has become a great power upon the earth, and extends its branches everywhere. Here the Evangelist repeats that the Lord spoke to the crowds in parables, and that He did not address them without parables; then He explained the whole to His disciples, when they were alone with Him.
In that which follows, we have, I think, a picture of the departure of Jesus, and of His power; the security of His own even when He seemed to be indifferent to their difficulties; then the relationship in which He stood towards the Jews. Jesus, having sent away the multitude, gets into a boat and goes to sleep whilst a tempest arises upon the lake, so that the waves fill the boat. The disciples, full of fear, come to Jesus to awaken Him; Jesus arises, rebukes the wind, and says to the sea, "Peace, be still," and all is quiet. But then He reproves the unbelieving fear of the disciples; and indeed, reader, do you think that the power of the Son of God, God's counsels, could have failed because of an unexpected storm on the lake of Gennesaret? Impossible! the disciples were in the same boat with Jesus. Here is a lesson for us: in all the difficulties and dangers of the christian life, during the whole journey upon the waves, often agitated by the tempestuous sea of life and of christian service, we are always in the same boat with Jesus, if we are doing His will. It may seem to us that He is sleeping; nevertheless, if He allows the tempest to rise in order to prove our faith, we shall not perish since we are with Him in the storm; evidently neither He nor we can perish. He may seem sometimes to be indifferent to our fate; but I repeat we are with Him; His security is our own.