J. A. Trench.
Article 55 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
MATTHEW has the first place rightly, for it was of first importance that the One in whom all the promises of God centred should be presented to the nation as the fulfilment of them in His own person, and prepared to establish all those promises at once, if received by the nation. Far wider purposes of blessing would result from His rejection; but first God's faithfulness must be verified, and the nation left without excuse for their treatment of their Messiah.
The Genealogy In Matthew 1.
The genealogy here is that of Jesus as the legal son of Joseph; but the change of wording in verse 16 must be noted, "the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ" as compared with "Jacob begat," etc. Thus Joseph is excluded as the actual father. But if Jesus had not been Joseph's son, according to Jewish law, Joseph would have barred his succession to the throne. Yet if actually his son He could not have been the virgin's son, or Emmanuel — God with us — according to that which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, (Isa. 7:14), nor could He have been the Son of God. But how He was legally, yet not actually, Joseph's son, is unfolded to us according to the wisdom of God in verses 18-25.
Joseph was the representative of the royal line of the house of Judah at the time of the birth of Jesus — a poor man, a carpenter by trade. That his lineage given here was distinct from the natural line of father to son will be seen by comparing it with that which is also given us as Joseph's in Luke. The line of descent from David through Solomon came to an end by the sentence of God on the childless Jehoiachin (Jer. 22:24, 30; Jer. 36:30) who is therefore omitted in verse 11. Josiah begat Eliakim whose name was changed by Necho to Jehoiakim; he begat Jechoniah, called also Jehoiachin and Coniah (in whom the line was cut off). Jechoniah was not then literally the father of Salathiel. Matthew gives the succession, not the strict birth. The heir to David's throne must now be sought in the line of another of David's sons, as we see by turning to Luke 3:27, where we learn that Salathiel's actual father was Neri, who was the descendant of Nathan (ver. 31), son of David (see 1 Chr. 3:5). This was according to the principle laid down in Numbers 27:11.
We may note the leading place the genealogy has here as opening the gospel: for coming in the way of promise, the descent of the Lord Jesus from Abraham as the root of promise is the foundation of the position in which He is presented to us. Hence the line begins with Abraham; but in verse 2 David is put before Abraham, because it is only by the establishment of royalty in David that the promises to Abraham will be fully accomplished.
Names Omitted from the Genealogy.
The genealogy is divided into three parts, marking the three great divisions in the history of the people: from Abraham to David; from David to the captivity; and from the captivity to Christ. In the second division three kings are omitted, Ahaziah, Joram, and Amaziah, the immediate descendants of the wicked Athaliah. This was according to the principle of God's government made known in the law; "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." (Ex. 20:5) Their names are blotted out, thus stamping the impress of God's holy government upon the lineage of the Messiah.
The Women of the Genealogy.
If God's holy character is displayed in the names excluded, there is a far more striking witness to His grace in the names which are introduced; grace which knows no limit as to the objects of it, even in that which might be supposed to be so distinctly Jewish. There are four women, and only four mentioned, from whom the Son of David was descended according to the flesh. None of these names could be enshrined there on any other principle than that of grace: Thamar, Rahab, Ruth the Moabitess, and "She of Urias." What an intimation that Emmanuel could not be confined in the outgoings of His heart to the reputable in Israel, or even to those who were of Israel!
The Genealogy In Luke.
In Luke the blessed Lord is before us in all the lowly characteristic grace of the Son of Man. He is everywhere seen as the dependent Man, in all the infinite grace that brought Him down to be a Saviour. The very term Saviour first occurs in Luke, as also that for salvation (though the verb "to save" occurs in all); the word for "grace" too, is first found in Luke 2:40; nor do Matthew and Mark use any word into the composition of which charis "grace," enters.
No royal lineage ushers Him in as in Matthew. His genealogy is prefaced by the Holy Ghost descending upon Him, not as though the anointing of a King, not as official, but personal. More in character as the sealed One of the heart of God, His taking possession of an object in which He delighted. "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased."
The genealogy reads backwards; as it has been noticed, because it is in no sense title derived from man, but blessing flowing back to man. He is traced back to Adam, viewed as born of the human race, and so of man in nature, though not according to the natural way, "the seed of the woman" indeed. The genealogy has been long believed to be that of Mary as suited in every way to the introduction of the Gospel and to the way the Lord is presented in it. In any case it gives us the natural descent of the Lord. But that it is Mary's is proved by a testimony of Jewish hate, which Dr. Lightfoot quotes: There is a discourse of a certain person who in his sleep "saw Mary the daughter of Heli, amongst the shades," with other horrible details, giving the sentence partly in Aramean and partly Hebrew. Godet, too, writes, "It is remarkable that in the Talmud, Mary the mother of Jesus, is called the daughter of Heli." In all probability Mary and Joseph were first cousins. Matthan's son was Jacob, who begat Joseph, in Matthew 1:15. In Luke the son of Matthat (manifestly the same name) was Heli, "of whom Joseph" ("son" is not in the original throughout the list). Thus it would be, from Matthat up, the genealogy of both Mary and Joseph.
The Condition of the People.
Nothing can be of deeper interest than the way Luke discloses to us, in the opening of the Gospel, just such a remnant of God's ancient people as Malachi prophesied of. People who were governed by the fear of the Lord, in the midst of the moral apostasy of that privileged part of the nation which had returned to Canaan, under Ezra and Nehemiah. Their heart allegiance to the Lord formed a bond between them, as they spoke often to each other of Him and thought upon His name.
Such were Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, and Anna, who come before us in the piety that had been the fruit of grace in them. They were prepared vessels to fill their varied part, Mary above all, in the introduction of the Lord Jesus into the world as Son of Man, in a revelation of grace that was to shine out beyond the narrow limits of Israel. Note too how God had been true to His covenanted word in Haggai, "My Spirit remaineth among you." (Haggai 2:5) Zacharias and Elizabeth are filled with the Holy Ghost, as John was to be from his mother's womb, and the Holy Ghost was upon Simeon.
The Character of the Ministry.
In John's testimony there are characteristic differences in the Synoptic Gospels.
MATTHEW records how all Jerusalem was moved by the coming of Gentiles to enquire after Israel's king, and Herod's effort to destroy Him: also His coming out of Egypt to begin again in His own person, as it were, Israel's history before God. Following on this, John preaches repentance on the ground that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, suited to the dispensational character of the Gospel. In Luke, as in Mark, it is for the remission of sins.
In MARK, Malachi's words, "Behold I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me" are quoted as "My Messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." This involves that there was no other than Jehovah Himself who had come. It may be noted, also, that when the Lord Jesus refers to the same passage in bearing witness to His devoted servant, even at a moment when his faith seemed to have passed under a cloud, He quotes it in the same way. (Matt. 11:10) John never applies it to himself.
LUKE connects the testimony with the moral preparation for the way of the Lord, which Isaiah had foretold as the object of John's mission, adding as suited to the character of the Gospel, from a later passage in the Prophet (Isa. 52:10), "All flesh shall see the salvation of God." And it is not only the sight of Pharisees and Sadducees, as in Matthew, that drew out the scathing denunciation of a "serpent's brood," but the multitude are involved in it. Repentance must be proved by fruits meet for it.
In Luke alone, where everything bespeaks the great moral purpose of the Gospel, what accorded with the revelation of God come in grace in Man among men, we get the specific tests that John applied to the different classes that came before him, in principle so solemn for us all. The question "What shall we do then?" is common and easy enough; the sincerity of it is brought to the proof by a direction that strikes at the habitual self-indulgence, the particular form in which the will of the flesh works in each — the people generally, publicans, and soldiers.
His exhortation being over, we have an instance of how Luke often displaces the historic order, to bring out the moral connections which is a deeper kind of order. He at once carries us on to the close of John's testimony in his faithful reproof of Herod's licentious life, though how he came to be in kings' courts we know not; Herod added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison (Luke 3:18-20); and that before the baptisms of the people and that of the Lord Himself by John are recorded.
Matthew gives us the exercise it caused John that Jesus should come to be baptised of him. "John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptised of thee, and comest thou to me?" It needed the "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness" of the Lord to remove his scruples. The people had come to be baptised of John, confessing their sins; He had come fulfilling righteousness; that is, carrying out the will of God.
But what was the will of God that Jesus thus carried out? It was seen in His identifying Himself in this way with the true remnant of Israel, who proved that they were such by taking their first step Godward as sinners; confessing their sins and judging themselves before Him, and renouncing all claim or title to blessing, in baptism, which was the symbol of death under God's judgment. They were become "the saints that are in the earth, the excellent," of whom the Lord speaks in Psalm 16:3, at the very opening of His path of life, saying, "in whom is all my delight." His taking His place with them, in wonderful grace, was the signal for the opening of the heavens unto Him, for they had now found an object on earth to gaze upon; and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and lighted upon Him, while a voice from heaven proclaimed Him to be the beloved Son of the Father, the perfect object of His pleasure.
Luke preserves the precious characteristic detail of His being baptised and praying when the heavens opened to Him — the first of the seven distinct occasions where, as the dependent Man, He is seen in prayer in that Gospel. Mark, as well as Luke, gives the words as more personal to Himself, besides the official recognition of Matthew: "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," also emphasising the fact that the Spirit descended in bodily form as a dove upon Him. The heavenly dove, as it were, long since grieved away from the earth under God's judgment in Noah's day, had found a resting-place for the sole of its foot in the Man of God's pleasure, whom God the Father sealed.
What a moment had been found for the revelation of the Trinity! A Godhead of distinct Persons had always been the God of the Bible. It had been marked in Hebrew by a plural noun with a singular verb, as distinguished from false gods with the ordinary plural verb. But now Father, Son, and Spirit are each seen in their own place and blessed relation with each other, and that on the occasion of the identification of the Lord Jesus Himself with some of the moral outcasts of the people who had been brought to repentance; for that such was the character of those who had bowed to John's testimony we know from Matthew 21:31-32.
It is at this point that the genealogy is introduced in Luke, not as connected with the lovely names of God's grace in a remnant of His ancient people (Luke 1, 2), nor as in Matthew with the fulfilment of Jewish promise, but as the representative Man in perfection and according to God's counsels, who, when His path and work as such was accomplished, was to take His place as Head of a new race in resurrection.
The ministry of JOHN, and the temptation, are given in all three Gospels as the introduction of the Lord's ministry, which only began, as we know from Matthew and Mark, when John's closed by his imprisonment.
The temptation is only briefly alluded to by Mark, where the Lord is "driven," not simply led, by the Spirit into the wilderness; but there is added by that writer the touching detail that He was with the wild beasts. How absolute the contrast to the circumstances wherein Adam was tempted and fell! Luke, as well as Mark, records that He was tempted through the forty days, during which He ate nothing. Matthew and Luke carry us on to the end of that time when He was an hungered (for He never used His Godhead power to relieve Himself from any consequence of the place He had taken as Man). It was this moment of human weakness that the enemy chose as his opportunity to come against Him with the armour wherein he trusted.
There are characteristic differences in the way the temptation is presented. Matthew gives the historic order, and the full sequel. Satan first sought to turn Him from the only true place of man — namely, obedience to and dependence upon God. Baffled at both these points by the perfection with which the Lord kept His place in both, he presented the world to the Lord, offering Him all the kingdoms of it and the glory of them if He would only worship him. Then it is, when the tempter has come out in his full character as claiming divine worship, that the Lord says: "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve."
Thus He has been assailed as Son of God, as Messiah, and Son of Man, and overcame by the Word of God abiding in Him — the perfect example for us who have to meet the same enemy of God and of our souls, though now to faith a vanquished one. (1 John 2:14) It is significant, too, in presence of the infidel attack on the Pentateuch, and Deuteronomy in particular, that, when everything was at stake for God's glory in the issue of that conflict, the Lord took His stand on that book alone, as God's instruction for the place He had taken as a Jew in the land of promise.
Luke, to bring out the deeper moral order of the temptations, alters the place of the last two. There we see the Lord tempted first in that which is natural to man, then in that which is of the world, and lastly in the most subtle of all, that which is spiritual. Only it is to be carefully observed that in giving this difference of order, Luke does not record the dismissal of Satan after his second attack (the Revised or any critical version will show this), for how then would any place have been found for another attack? The words are not given in verse 8, or at all in Luke, the carelessness of transcribers being also chargeable with putting into the Lord's mouth here, words not addressed to Satan personally, but to His failing disciple Peter in Matthew 16:23: "He turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan."
Luke closes the scene with what prepares us for what was yet before the Lord in Gethsemane having its special place in this Gospel: "Having ended all the temptation, the devil departed from Him for a season." The ministry of angels has its place, then, in Matthew and Mark. In Luke He returns in the unimpaired power of the Spirit into Galilee, where His ministry was to open, where He taught in the synagogues, being glorified of all.
Matthew, with its dispensational bearing, connects His appearing there with the remarkable prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2, where it had been announced beforehand that, if the Roman captivity were far more terrible in its consequences than the Assyrian invasion, there would be what made all the difference in the fact of the Messiah's presence among them: "The people which sat in darkness saw great light, and to them which sit in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up."
Matthew's Gospel. — The Principles of the Kingdom.
In attempting to enter upon the precious ministry of the Lord, with the characteristic differences of the Synoptic Gospels, one difficulty would seem to be to comprise the study of them within the necessary limits of the space available; yet it is an immense help to our profiting by it to be able to trace, even in any measure, the scope of the ministry as presented in each Gospel. Matthew may well occupy us first, though for chronological order Mark, with his simple narrative of the blessed Lord going from one scene of service to another, must be looked to, supported as he is by Luke in the events recorded by both.
The starting-point of the Lord's public testimony was the imprisonment of John the Baptist (see Matt. 4:12, and specifically Mark 1:14). In Matthew He takes it up where His faithful servant had left it, and "began to preach, and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and then He gathered round Him those whom He would associate with Himself for service among men.
Then, as in this Gospel elsewhere, there is brought into one point of view a wide circuit of work in Galilee in preaching the glad tidings of the kingdom, and in healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people, that must have taken much time. This attracted great multitudes, and nothing, not even the choice and appointment of the Apostles, is allowed to come between this and His setting forth in the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5 - 7) the character of the kingdom He presented to them, a kingdom so different in character from the carnal expectation of the nation. This is brought out in the principles that should characterise those who entered into it when it was set up. The "Sermon on the Mount" is not the gospel to the unsaved, nor the revelation of the only producing power of what is suitable to God in any one. Two leading characteristics may be discerned as running throughout the instruction: the holy energy of faith in separation to God from the spirit of the world, found in the symbol of "salt"; and that which has to do more with the true representation of God in His own nature and character of grace as "the light of the world."
The teaching of the Lord cannot be truly said to be the spiritualising of the law, for only two of its commandments are referred to. He had come, not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to give them their revealed completeness. And in connection with this He contrasts the righteousness of scribes and Pharisees, which consisted in external forms and the observance of the letter, with the state of the heart to which God has regard — a solemn lesson for us all.
If the principles of the kingdom are unfolded in Matt. 5 - 7, the King Himself — Jehovah-Messiah — and His position in Israel follows in chapter 8. To form the portraiture, a series of events are put together; the remarkable way in which they are taken out of historical order shows whose hand is in it. First, there is the case of the leper from the early Galilean ministry (see Matt. 8:2; Mark 1:40). None but Jehovah could heal the leper, but He was there with both will (which the leper doubted) and power to do it. He was there, as come in Christ, to have to do with the vile, to touch with an infinite tenderness those whom none but He could touch without being defiled.
Next, we have the record, without any mark of time, of one of the many visits to Capernaum, though Luke gives it the same place following on chapters 5 - 8. (Luke 7:1) Here in the centurion is set forth in the most striking way the outgoing of grace to the Gentile, and in him faith was found such as there was not in Israel. In this connection there is brought in the dispensational revelation that many from East and West would sit down with the patriarchs in the kingdom of heaven, while the natural heirs of it, the Jews, would find themselves in outer darkness.
The healing of Peter's wife's mother on that early Sabbath in Capernaum (Mark 1:30-31) is here connected with the many examples of His power, that Isaiah 53:4 might have its fulfilment in the way He bore on His heart of compassion the infirmities and sicknesses that He removed by His power.
But what were the circumstances of the King? Between the commandment to cross the lake to the other side (Matt. 8:18), and the storm that arose during that crossing (vers. 23-27; Mark 4:37; Luke 8:22), there is inserted what really followed upon the Transfiguration (see Luke 9:57), in order to bring out these circumstances. "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head." (Ver. 20) This made His claim absolute upon all who would follow Him in such circumstances of rejection. It meant, too, that His followers would find themselves on a storm-tossed sea while He seemed not to notice their danger. Yet He was with them to rebuke the winds and the waves, which were subject to His authority. Faith would have known that they were safe, but faith was small in those disciples. At Gadara He is confronted with a full (twofold, as often for Jewish testimony in Matthew) testimony to the awful power of Satan. (Ver. 28) But so habituated were the inhabitants to it that they preferred the demons to the Son of God (for such even the demons confessed Him to be). So they besought Him to depart out of their coast, though He had proved His power amongst them to deliver from such bitter bondage.
The Principles of His Ministry.
To this remarkable presentation of Emmanuel in power and grace chapter 9 adds the principles of His ministry. The same measure of displacement of the chronological order is not now necessary, though it will be observed that Jairus's daughter and the woman with the blood-issue belong historically to the time subsequent to the parables of Matt. 13. The deliverance of the palsied man from his disease was the proof that He, the Son of Man (always the place which He took), had power on earth to forgive sins.
He also takes occasion to enunciate the character of His ministry while sitting at meat in the house of Matthew the publican (who does not hesitate to give his name as such: the other Gospels call him Levi). He had not come to call to repentance those who were righteous in their own eyes, but sinners. Moreover, it was impossible to connect this new grace and power with the old worn-out forms of Judaism, which was the old garment. (Ver. 16)
Israel was, like Jairus's daughter, given up for dead; but on His way to raise the dead daughter of His people, whoever in the crowd had faith to avail himself, or herself, of the power that was present received the benefit of it. Blind eyes were given sight according to their faith, and lips once dumb because demon-possessed, were opened to speak, the multitudes owning that it had never been so seen in Israel; while Pharisees, in awful blasphemy, attributed the casting out of demons to the prince of demons.
The ever-gracious Lord, moved with compassion for His harassed and scattered sheep, would have His disciples pray the Lord that labourers might be raised up for so plentiful a harvest (vers. 36-38); but He anticipates them by sending forth the twelve whose names are given us, with power to act as He had done. (Matt. 10) Their mission is limited to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and though suspended by the judgment come upon Israel for their rejection of the testimony, it will be taken up again after the whole present period is over; and they will not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come.
The Rejection of the Kingdom.
The first plain intimation in this Gospel of the rejection of the kingdom, as hitherto presented to the nation in the person of the King, is found in the change of the instruction in Matt. 11:16. The actual circumstances of His rejection come pressing upon the heart of the Lord at this time, and give rise, in the perfection in which He received all from His Father's hand, to the revelation of deeper glories of His Person than those in which He had been presented to Israel. And from this point on, while His person as thus set forth remains for faith, the consequences of the rejection of One to whom such glory belongs come out in the total change of dispensation afterwards to be recorded.
The more we enter into these early chapters of Matthew, and trace the history of the presentation of Jehovah-Messiah, to Israel, and their rejection of Him, the more we shall feel the important place they have, so distinct from what is given us in the other Gospels, and yet such a key to the understanding of the whole.
The Early Ministry of the Lord In Mark.
It has been already noted that the part of the Gospel of Mark is to present the Lord in His service, and this especially in the Word, as Son of God; for it was none less than He who had assumed the servant's form. Many scenes of His life familiar to us from the other Gospels are not found here, as not entering into the scope of the special aspect of His path; nor could this have been from any desire to abbreviate, for the incidents recorded by Mark are often illustrated with a fulness of detail not found elsewhere. This is the more remarkable in that he could not, as far as we know, have been an eye-witness of what is so vividly portrayed. Every such consideration only makes more manifest the divine mind that planned the whole, and guided the vessels in what they record as well as in what they omit.
Thirteen verses suffice for the preface; then comes the simple announcement with which the Lord Jesus comes into Galilee, saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel."
Mark passes quickly to the entrance of the Lord on His work, the scenes of which are often linked together by a word of frequent recurrence in this Gospel, rendered variously "straightway," "immediately," "forth with" … "as soon as," and "anon," or more specifically as at Mark 4:35 — all of which goes far to prove that the historic order is preserved.
Thus after the call of Simon, Andrew, James, and John, as in Matthew, we have that first Sabbath-day at Capernaum, with the healing of the demoniac and of Simon Peter's mother-in-law, and when it was over, in the evening, that of many more that were brought to Him to that door. Then, in the morning, rising up a great while before day for prayer, He is ready to prosecute His preaching in the neighbouring towns of Galilee, for this was the service for which He had come forth. Here the leper seeks Him, and is met by the compassionate touch, and proves the Lord's willingness as well as His power to heal. (Mark 1)
It was no part of Mark's allotted task to record the case of the centurion, with Gentiles brought in while Israelites were excluded, which follows in Matthew 8 and in its historical place in Luke 7. At another visit to Capernaum the Lord proves that as Son of Man He has authority on earth to forgive sins, raising up the palsied man from his bed of weakness. This came as the blessed answer to the precious faith of the four men, who, in spite of the press, had found a way to let the afflicted sinner down through the roof before the Lord. (Mark 2:1-12)
At the seaside, His constant resort, as noted in Mark, Levi is called from the receipt of custom and entertains the Lord at his house with others of his obnoxious profession, and this feast gives the Lord the occasion to unfold the precious principles of His grace to sinners as such, the effect of which, in hearts that this grace had won, was, they could not fast when He was there, though they would soon have reason to do so, for He was to be taken away. This grace was not the patching of the old garments, nor could the old vessels contain the new wine of its power. This grace would lead on to the rest of God for man, of which the Sabbath was the figure, and the Son of Man Lord also of it. Another Sabbath-day's work of divine goodness follows upon this to test the Pharisees; the result only manifests that they could not appreciate that goodness, as well as the hardness of their hearts, as in alliance with the Herodians they took counsel to destroy Him. (Mark 2:23 - 3:6)
It is not possible, in our limited space, to follow out all the details. But we find here, as not in Matthew, the calling of whom He would, and the choosing of the twelve to be with Him, and for the same service in which He was engaged. It was here, doubtless, that the Sermon on a level place, as they descended the Mount, was given, according to Luke, though to record this does not enter into the scope of Mark. But there is the characteristic note that, with the pressure of the work, "they could not so much as eat bread," again to be repeated at Mark 6:31. His "friends" attribute the zeal to madness; the scribes put down the manifested power of God over Satan, to Satan, and incur the guilt of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, the sin that has never forgiveness. At the end of the chapter the Lord disowned His natural relationships, opening them to whomsoever should do the will of God. (Mark 3:31-35)
The teaching in parables by the seaside follows, but with marked difference from the dispensational form in which it is presented in Matthew. The Sower is here sowing the word, and the history of the work is given to the end. These are the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; but only one of the six kingdom parables of Matthew 13 is given, with the addition of one peculiar to Mark. There is the same fourfold character of the hearers, those only where there is good ground bringing forth fruit, and that in different measures. The result is that a light is lit up for God which it is His will should be manifested, as, indeed, everything shall be. Hence the need of taking heed to what is spoken, and that it might become their own to be communicated again, for "with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you, and unto you that hear shall more be given." (Mark 4)
The relations of the Lord with the work in connection with the Kingdom of God, are here shown in His personal activity at the beginning, and then again not till the close, when the harvest is come. (Vers. 26-29) The parable of the mustard seed shows the unnatural growth of a tree of worldly power, "shooting out great branches," from so small a beginning. (Vers. 30-32) The evening of the same day witnesses the stormy passage (vers. 37-41), and the power of Him who, though taking rest as opportunity offered, could arise and rebuke the elements, as well as the unbelief of disciples that would fear to be swamped when He was with them in the boat. This incident had been displaced in Matthew (Matt. 8:24), for the purposes of that Gospel, as we have seen.
The Early Ministry of the Lord In Luke.
Nothing could be more significant of the general character of the Lord's ministry in Luke than the announcement by the Lord Himself of the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1, in His presence among them. (Luke 4:16-22) It was the acceptable year of the Lord in all its precious grace to the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, and the blind; and He closes the book at that point, for the Prophet goes on to speak of the deliverance by judgment upon enemies in "the day of vengeance of our God," which was not yet.
The eyes of all were fastened on Him: they bear witness of the gracious words which proceed out of His lips, who was for them but Joseph's son. Grace had indeed been poured into His lips (Ps. 45:2), how could it but come pouring out? But it must overlap the narrow bounds of Israel, as they might have known had they rightly understood the meaning of the blessing given to the widow of Sarepta of Elijah's day, and Naaman, the Syrian leper, of Elisha's. The very idea of such a thing drew out their hatred, and they sought to cast Him down from the hill on which their city was built. The turning-point of the Gospel has come thus early. From the very outset of His ministry He is rejected by the people, only to make way for the full revelation of grace that characterises it in Luke, all the great cases of it being found here: such as the conversion of Peter (Luke 5), the woman that was a sinner of Luke 7, the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10), the threefold parable of Luke 15, and the blessing of the thief on the cross. (Luke 23) All this is peculiar to Luke.
We have now the cases given us in Mark 1, 2, and in the same order, save for the displacement of the call of Peter, which comes into its own moral place here. These incidents are recorded as the display of the power of His word in grace over every form of the oppression of evil upon men. First Satan's power is dealt with (Luke 4:35); then the feverish restlessness in which it is so often seen in those who are under this power (vers. 38, 39); then deeper, as going to the discovery in Peter's conscience of his unfitness for the presence of the Lord, which had been manifested in the miraculous draught of fish. (v. 5) Sin's defilement is represented in the leper who believed in the Lord's power to heal, but little knew His heart. The helplessness of man under sin's power is seen in the palsied man, but the power of Jehovah was present (ver. 17) in the Son of Man to go to the source of it in forgiving his sins as in healing his disease. And the whole series closes with the same revelation in this connection as given in the other two Gospels of both the principles and the effects of the grace that was at work, and the absolute incompatibility of it with Judaism. The new would make a rent in the old garment, while to put the new power into the old vessels would be but to destroy them, Luke adding, with solemn moral significance, that the heart of man would prefer the old.
The two Sabbath days follow:* the sign of the Covenant must give way before the rejection of Him who was the keystone of it and Lord of the Sabbath; nor could it be allowed to stand in the way of the outflow of divine goodness in His blessed person. After a whole night in prayer on the mountain He calls the Apostles, and being come down with them to a level spot (as the word really is), where power went out of Him anew, for the multitude that sought to touch Him, to heal them all, Luke gives what answers to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew — not, as there, to bring out the character of the kingdom, but the substance of His teaching in its moral principles, here and there further enlarged, only that now instead of simply pronouncing the blessedness of certain characters produced by grace, He is able further to identify His disciples with those characters, and pronounce woes upon those of a contrary spirit.
*The expression (Luke 6:1), "the second Sabbath after the first," doubtless indicates that the Sabbath preceding the waving of the sheaf of firstfruits had passed, before which they could not have lawfully plucked the ears.
In the next chapter (Luke 7) the healing of the centurion's servant is noted to be at the instance of the Jews, but without the application to the reception of Gentiles and rejection of Jews as in Matthew. And now, for the first time, death itself is subject to His power in the arrest of the funeral at the gate of Nain, with the effect in the widespread rumour that a great Prophet had arisen among them and that God had visited His people (cf. Luke 1:68); which accounts for what is found here only also: Simon's invitation that he might be the better able to judge if He were a prophet at all, and the revelation of God in grace to the poor woman that was a sinner, and also the precious way of the grace illustrated in her, unwelcome intruder in Simon's house as she was. But between these incidents there comes the testimony borne by the Lord to John, as the greatest of prophets born, even at the moment when his faith seemed to waver; and the rejection of both His servants' testimony and His own by the men of that generation while wisdom's children would be marked by submitting to each in its place, justifying God in all His ways, of which the despised sinner in Simon's house became the beautiful illustration.
The moral force of the way these things are presented is very apparent, as, indeed, with everything in Luke; as, for instance, what follows in the opening of Luke 8, where is seen the sweet fruit of His grace in the little band of women devoted to Him who had met them in their deepest need, and who now ministered to Him of their substance, while He went everywhere proclaiming and evangelising the kingdom of God.
The Dispensational Changes in Matthew.
It will be helpful to trace the dispensational changes that were the result of the rejection of the Lord which comes to a head in Matthew 12.
The change in the character of the Lord's instruction to His disciples will be seen in Matthew 10:16. In the words, "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves," He prepared them for the momentous change that was at hand.
The general state of the people was evidenced in the utter indifference of the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, though there was a remnant — wisdom's children who justified wisdom's ways, whether in the testimony of John or that of the Lord Jesus.
Pressed back by the unbelief of the people on the line of earthly promise in which Christ had been presented to them, there was only pressed out the more who He was, whose deeper glory was veiled in the lowly form He had assumed. These glories were hid from the wise and understanding; yet there were babes by sovereign grace to whom these things could be revealed. (Matt. 11:25)
The blessed Lord submitted Himself absolutely to His Father's ways and took all that came upon Him from no lower source than His Father's heart, and called to Him those who had proved, as He had, that the world was empty of anything to satisfy, that He might give them rest in revealing to them the source of His own rest in the knowledge of the Father. Then they had but to learn of Him to submit themselves, as He had, to have rest as a practically maintained experience of the soul.
It is to be observed that the immediate connection between the inscrutable glory of the person of the Son and the revelation of the Father, which shines out everywhere in John's Gospel, is not pursued farther in Matthew, who brings out the total change of dispensation that hinges upon the rejection of such a Person; while His glory becomes the touchstone of faith and unbelief in all that follows. But underneath the great public changes it is blessed to see the Lord caring for His own in providing from the first such a resting-place for their hearts in the revelation of the Father, before He leads them out into a path so new and strange to them.
Matthew 11 needed thus to be looked at a little more in detail to prepare for what follows in Matthew 12, where facts and applications are grouped together, as before in this Gospel, to present the great impending change. The two Sabbath-day incidents which, as Mark shows us, belonging to the opening of His ministry, are brought in in chapter 12 to indicate the setting aside of the Sabbath, the sign of the covenant God made with Israel. For the covenant was no longer outstanding when the Lord of it was disowned. The God of the temple was greater than the temple, and the duties of the priests of it were above the Sabbath. (Ver. 5) They ought to have known from their own prophets that the mercy of God's character was more to Him than ritual, and so have been preserved from condemning the guiltless. (Ver. 7) Besides, as Son of Man He was Lord even of the Sabbath day, and would not be restrained from the exercise of His mercy by their pretended regard for that day.
This excited their murderous hatred, and they took counsel against Him to destroy Him. Knowing it, He withdrew Himself, continuing His work of grace, but not to attract attention to Himself. And again, as so constantly in our Gospel, prophecy is quoted as to His position, which was one of forbearance with the varied forms of their enmity until He should bring forth judgment to assured victory. And, that He would be set forth to the Gentiles, in judgment and as the object of their faith. (Vers. 18-21)
The case of healing of one demonised, blind, and dumb excited the people's amazement, and they asked, "Is this the Son of David?" The Pharisees, blinder still, put down the power that they could not deny, to Satan, their favourite resource; but the Kingdom of God was come upon them in the power of it in His person. Their blasphemies were only the corrupt fruit of a corrupt tree; a viper-brood they were condemned by their words, though they might have been justified by words of confession of their true state, and of Him; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. (Ver. 37)
To this evil and adulterous generation no sign would be given with the presence of Emmanuel, the Virgin's Son, with them, save that of Jonah, speaking of His death and resurrection, which they would not heed. The unclean spirit of idolatry had gone out of them, but he would return to his old haunts with seven others (a complete number) worse than himself, and the last state of that (moral) generation would be worse than the first. Thereupon He announces that the true relationship with Himself exists with those who were subject to His Father's will instead of a natural one, as with Israel; and in solemnly suited action He leaves the (Jewish) house and goes out by the seaside of nations to begin a new work — no more looking for fruit from the nation, but sowing the seed broadcast in the world to produce fruit. (Matt. 13)
As the result we have the first great change of dispensation presented in the six subsequent parables, wherein the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are unfolded to those who have ears to hear, the sentence of judicial blinding, according to Isaiah 6, having come upon the nation for their unbelief. The kingdom would now take a form suited to the absence of the King in heaven. It would be established by testimony and embrace all who professed subjection to the testimony, though only those who understood the Word would be the real children of the kingdom. (Ver. 19) Hence we are prepared for a mixed state of things in the kingdom in mystery, as the first of the parables of it plainly declares — the interpretation of it to the disciples (vers. 36-43) showing too that it goes on to the end.
Meanwhile the kingdom, small at the beginning as a mustard seed, would become a great tree of worldly power; while secretly spreading and permeating a given mass, there would be a system of doctrine extending far beyond those reached by it in power. These three parables, along with the introductory one of the Sower, were spoken to the multitudes, and when they were dismissed He added three more to the disciples in which we learn of the hidden reality which His heart finds in the widespread but unreal profession. The treasure hid in the field, for which He bought the field, would refer to all the redeemed. But there was one pearl of great price that so appealed to the merchantman seeking such, that he sold all that he had that he might possess himself of it. This is the Church that Christ loved and gave Himself for. (Eph. 5:25-27) And, lastly, if the kingdom was likened to a net let down into the sea that gathered every kind, the fishers had their work marked out for them in putting the good into vessels, the rest being left for the angels to deal with in judgment at the end of the age, as in the parable of the tares.
The teaching in these parables finished, the Lord departs to His own country, where, though impressed with His wisdom and mighty works, for which they cannot account, they stumble on the stumbling-stone — He was but the carpenter's son: a prophet not without honour indeed, save in His own country and kindred.
Matthew 14 opens with the account of the beheading, under revolting circumstances, of John the Baptist by Herod, whose conscience accused him when he heard the fame of Jesus. John's ministry had closed by his imprisonment before that of the Lord began (Matt. 4:12); but now he was gone from the scene. The disciples tell Jesus: He felt it, and departed by ship into a desert place; but crowds following on foot, His retirement was soon broken in upon. Jehovah would still meet the need of the poor of the flock. And the faith of His disciples in Him was brought to the test — "Give ye them to eat." This is the character of all that follows from Matthew 11 — 12, where the breach between Messiah and the leaders of Israel had taken place, and gives occasion, as we have seen, for the revelation of the deeper glory of His person, that became the basis of other purposes of God, as well as the touchstone of the state of all who came before the Lord. "Bring them hither to Me" would recall the resources that remained for faith in His blessed person, and twelve baskets full of the fragments that were over after five thousand men, besides women and children, had been satisfied, indicate how over-abounding all these resources were.
He now compels the disciples to take ship for the other side, and, dismissing the Jewish multitude, He goes apart upon the mountain for prayer, but not losing sight of the little storm-tossed craft (as Mark records) in which they had to cross the sea without Him. The sea sets forth the moral character of the world we have to pass through, but "He ever liveth to make intercession for us." He will rejoin them in the ship; but ere He does so the new path of faith opens out to us, as set forth in Peter and only given in Matthew.
The Lord presents Himself walking upon the water, in order that one, at least, of His disciples might be attracted to Him to walk as He walked. He was the Son whom none but the Father knew, but who had given them rest in the revelation of the Father (Matt. 11) before they had to face the storm. Two things furnished Peter for a path where no principle of the flesh could avail for a moment: the glory of His person — "if it be THOU bid me come unto thee," and the authority of His word, "Come." And he left the only known means to man of crossing the deep to go to Jesus. It was a divine path where only divine power could sustain and circumstances were of no account. But the boisterous wind was used, as circumstances often are, to test faith, and Peter, with his eye off the Object of faith, began to sink. The Lord was too near to let him do so; but the difference was great between the joy of walking like the Lord in communion with Him and sustained by His power, and the rebuke of unbelief, "Wherefore didst thou doubt?" Who can fail to see the bearing of the incident upon the change of the dispensation, the Lord thus educating our hearts for the consequences of following Him in a world that had rejected Him, and where every contrary wind and wave had to be encountered.
When they were come into the ship — they, as the remnant of His people, owning Him as the Son of God — the wind ceased, and they reach the land of Gennesaret, where, in Matthew 8, He had been entreated to depart from them, now to be recognised by the men of the place, with healing power going out from Him even at the touch of the hem of His garment. These things present a perfect picture from the execution of John to Christ's rejoining the believing remnant of His ancient people and being known of the Gentiles; the path of faith in the meantime being revealed to us in the most blessed way.
Matthew 15 goes deeper into the roots of things. When challenged by scribes and Pharisees of Jerusalem, the Lord shows that their traditional observances made the commandment of God void, and exposes the religion of the flesh. It was hypocrisy. Outward forms were of no avail while the heart was far from God, as Isaiah had forewarned, and the leaders of such a system were but blind leaders of the blind to the ruin of those that trusted in them. So much for man in his religious state. But the multitudes are called to hear that man in his purely natural state is defiled, and that not by anything that goes into his mouth but by all that comes out of it. For all the streams of outward activity do but proceed from the heart, the defiled spring of every defiling thing.
Then in a woman of the parts of Tyre and Sidon — the personification of human pride and hardness of heart (Matt. 11:21-22) — a Canaanite, we have the blessed work and fruit of grace leading her to take the place of this judgment of man (vers. 1-20) without reserve. For when she had appealed to Him as the Son of David, not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and He told her — in answer to her cry of distress "Lord help me" — that "It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to curs" (for such is the force of the diminutive used), she says, in effect, "Yes, Lord, I am a cur, but there is such a superabundance upon the Master's table that there is enough for the cur beneath it." Was He there to deny it? Nay, He came to be the revelation of that overflowing heart of God that could not be pent up within Jewish barriers. When there was no difference between man and man, the heart of all alike corrupt, God must be God in grace to man. And so in the lovely grace in which she took her true place before God in the judgment of herself, she reached through to the heart of God. "O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
Yet the poor and afflicted of Israel were not forsaken, and again, as before in Matthew, a multitude of cases are grouped together of lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others cast down at His feet, who glorify the God of Israel when His power was put forth to heal them. Then, acting of His own motion (ver. 32, cp. Matt. 14:15) in compassion, He feeds them, though the disciples were at as great a loss as ever as to how it was to be done. The seven baskets left, after four thousand, besides women and children had been filled, would point to the fulness of spiritual blessing, as before the twelve had spoken of administration in man; which prepares the way for the next great change of dispensation to be announced in chapter 16.
Matthew 16:1-5. In this chapter the first revelation of the purpose of God as to the assembly is given. It is not found in the other Gospels, though the circumstances that led up to it are given in Mark and Luke. Its place here significantly follows upon the judgment of the flesh in the varied forms of it as declared by the Lord in Matthew 15.
The persistent unbelief of Pharisees and Sadducees is again manifested in that they seek a sign from heaven in the presence of the greatest that could be given, in Him who was with them. To this no sign could be added but that of the prophet Jonah, and this put the faith of true disciples to the test; for when the Lord took occasion to warn them against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they thought that He referred to their having forgotten to take bread with them, so little had they been affected by His power in feeding the multitudes in which they had been allowed active participation.
Verses 13-21. — Unbelief shows itself in other forms also, as the Lord now raises the solemn question, "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" The only answer was that while all admitted that He was a prophet sent from God, no one cared really to know who He was. The Lord turns from the heartless indifference around to the little circle of His own. "But whom say ye that I am?" This draws out Peter's confession, recorded as to the fact in all the Gospels, but with a phase of it peculiar to Matthew, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." No competency of the flesh could have discerned this fresh aspect of His glory. It was by the express revelation of the Father that Peter knew it. The Son of the living God predicated a life come into the world in the person of the Son superior to all the effects of sin and the power of Satan, a power to be made manifest in a risen Christ. The Lord also confirms to Peter the name given him at his conversion (Petros), and reveals that, upon this rock (Petra), He would build His assembly. That is, upon the glory of the person of Christ revealed to, and confessed by, Peter's faith; by which faith he partook of the nature of the building and was a living stone — ready for its place when the blinding should begin. The power of Satan could not prevail against this that Christ would build — a promise, be it observed, in no way applicable to that aspect of the building in which, later, man was to have his responsibility (1 Cor. 3), with its inevitable failure and consequent judgment. The place thus given Peter in connection with the assembly is common to all believers (1 Peter 2:5), but the Lord added that of special administrative authority in the kingdom of heaven, personal to himself, for he entrusted him with the keys of it.
Verses 21-28. — From that time forth the testimony that He was Christ ("Jesus" in this verse has no authority) was to cease (cf. Luke 9:20-22), and the Lord unfolds to His disciples what was before Him in Jerusalem, to "suffer many things of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day." The cross is what answers upon earth to the heavenly glory in which He had been revealed to Peter. This, the earthly consequences of the glory of Christ, puts his poor servant thoroughly to the test. "Then Peter took him and began to rebuke him saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee," thus as Satan seeking to deter the Lord from the path essential to that glory. That which exposed Peter to the enemy's power was that his mind was not set on the things that be of God but upon those that be of men — terrible witness of what the influence of man and his sphere is.
But what can be more solemn then the instruction of the Lord in the connection of the truth here given? To follow Christ according to a relationship to be formed with Him upon resurrection ground as in the assembly He was about to build, involved the antagonism of every principle of the flesh. Self must be denied, the cross taken up. To cling to what goes to make up life in this world would be to lose it; to lose it for His sake would be the way to find it really. The whole world and the soul now lay in direct contrariety to each other; to gain the world would be to forfeit the soul. No wonder the path of the assembly has not been found to be an easy one in such a world. It was a very different one from what Jewish disciples looked for in following Christ to the throne of the kingdom. Yet the moment was sure when the Son of Man should come in His own glory (as Luke adds) and in that of His Father and of the angels, and then He would reward everyone according to his works.
Matthew 17. It is just at this point, to steady and encourage the hearts of the disciples in going down into a path so new and strange to them, that the last of the great dispensational changes flowing from the Lord's present rejection as Messiah and the deeper glory of His Person, is now revealed.
"For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then shall he reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." (Matt. 16:27-28) It is the kingdom in glory then that is presented to the chosen witnesses of it on the Mount of Transfiguration. Some of the characteristic differences in the accounts of it in the three Gospels have been noted in a previous paper. But it may be added that in Matthew it is more the personal place of the Lord, the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. In Luke, as He prayed the fashion of His countenance was altered, but Matthew alone noticed the majesty of it, that it shone as the sun; while the exceeding whiteness of the raiment of Him who had assumed the lowly servant's form is emphasised in Mark. The divine glory is manifested in "the bright cloud" that overshadowed the disciples at the moment of Peter's suggestion to retain the Lord in (to him, doubtless) such desirable association as that of the representatives of the law and the prophets; and the voice from "the excellent glory," "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," bids them receive their instruction from Him. "When they lifted up their eyes they saw no man save Jesus only," but revealed according to all the Father's delight in Him. The bright gleam of the glory of the kingdom was but a passing one, for the time of its establishment was not yet, but He remains for them, and for us, in an intimacy of communion in the Father's appreciation of His beloved Son, beyond all that will be known in the day of His manifested glory.
But Elijah and that which his coming stands for was not to be lost to them, if far better things were to form their present portion; Elijah truly shall first come, that is, before the great and terrible day of the Lord, according to prophecy. Only he had come in spirit and power in John the Baptist, which left the Jews without excuse; and they had done to him as they were about to do to the Son of Man.
Meanwhile those of the disciples, left at the foot of the mount, had been tested by the power of Satan in the lunatic son: they could not cast him out. In the Lord's rebuke (ver. 17), as in each Gospel the solemn principle is expressed, that failure in faith to count upon the resources of His power in grace, according to the character of the intervention of that grace, was hurrying the time of it to its close — "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and suffer you? Bring him hither to me." Also we learn that when it is a question of the direct manifested power of the enemy, only by dependence and the abstinence of the flesh is power over him to be found. Yet, as it is added here, faith as a grain of mustard-seed (that which is smallest) could remove "this mountain," namely Israel as a polity among the nations, and nothing would be impossible to them. How humbling, then, to know so little of faith's power.
One more occasion of testing as to the apprehension of the glory of the Lord, even by a true disciple, at Capernaum at this point, is given only by Matthew. They who received the didrachma for the service of the temple (cf. Neh. 10:32) asked Peter if his Teacher paid it. Peter answers for Him — as a good Jew — that He will. But on the Lord putting it to him whether it was the way of the kings of the earth to take tribute of their own children or of strangers, he answers, "Of strangers." Jesus saith unto him, "Then are the children free," putting Himself along with Peter. Yet in lowly grace, taking the stranger's place that His own disciple gave Him, He exercises divine knowledge, and power as the Creator of the Universe, so that the first fish Peter catches shall furnish Him who had come into circumstances of human poverty for our sakes, with a stater, or the exact amount for two persons: "that take and give unto them for me and for thee," thus in infinite grace associating Peter with Himself as not only Son of the King but as Lord of All. Wonderful lessons to form the disciples in grace for the place they were to occupy as representing Him, which place comes out fully in the next chapter.
Matthew 18 brings out the spirit of grace which alone suits the kingdom of a rejected Christ, as well as what befits the assembly which was about to be formed according to the revelation of Matthew 16. The disciples bring that which had been a matter of dispute among themselves (as we know from Mark) to Jesus, asking who should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. But the Lord sets a little child in their midst as the expression of lowliness and simplicity, in the absence of all thought of self. This character must be produced by grace in conversion, apart from which none could have a place in the kingdom of heaven.
True greatness would prove itself in humbling oneself. To receive one such little child, one morally such by believing in Christ, would be to receive Him and it would be better to be drowned in the sea than cause, or be, a stumbling-block to one of them. It is a world of stumbling-blocks — woe to it, and to him individually by whom these come. That we may not be this, calls for uncompromising severity as to ourselves in what may prove a hindrance to the soul's progress. Better to lose the most valued members if an occasion of stumbling to oneself than to be led by them to hell. But in thus indicating the character of lowliness and decision with ourselves that grace would produce, the Lord has not lost sight of the actual child in their midst. However little thought of in the world, they had their place and were represented before His Father's face, if only on the ground that the Son of Man had come to save that which was lost. And their value is further seen in His joy, as of one that had lost a sheep on the mountains and had gone to seek it. Thus it was not the Father's will that one of them should perish.
This leads to the ways of grace suited to the assembly, a more intimate relationship which those who had received the testimony by which the kingdom was to be established would have with Christ as gathered to His name. The case supposed is one of personal trespass. To gain my brother should be the first thought, hence the importance of the private interview, to convict him. Failing this, witnesses were to be taken, and in the last resort it was to be brought before the assembly. If all was without effect he was discharged from any Christian obligation towards the offender. The Lord then bestows authority on the assembly to act on earth with heaven's sanction in binding and loosing, such as had been conferred on Peter in Matthew 16 for the kingdom. And it is just at this point, where, in the exercise of such authority, the need of having to do with the Lord would be felt, that the promise is given to even two who agree as touching anything that they shall ask, that it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. This conferred authority and the enjoined dependence both rest upon the immense principle of the next verse, to which all the Lord's instruction of the disciples from Matthew 11 had been leading up, namely, Christ would be in the midst where two or three were gathered in His name. This was the full privileged position in which they were to be left as representing Him when He was gone. Thus we learn where the assembly was to be found for any practical purpose; it may be at the lowest point as to numbers, but, if truly gathered to His name, Christ would be there — all their sufficiency. Nor was it merely provision for a day of ruin: there was nothing richer than His presence when all was in normal order, and no ruin could touch the blessedness of it to faith.
The spirit suited to the kingdom was still further exemplified from verse 21 in reply to Peter's question. In Luke 17:1-4 where things are presented somewhat in the same connection, omitting what applies to the assembly only given in Matthew, the Lord had expressed that there was to be full forgiveness for one who owned his trespass even if it occurred seven times in a day. It may have been Peter's question as given here that led to the moral exhortation in Luke, and his desire to make what was left general there as to the limit of the forgiveness, that leads the Lord here to make it virtually illimitable, and to append the dispensational parable only given by Matthew. (Vers. 23-35)
When in the kingdom grace had been in exercise provisionally as to the Jew, and in spite of it he would exact all of a fellow-servant that owed him one hundred pence as compared with ten thousand talents he had been forgiven, he would be delivered over to the tormentors till he should pay all that was due. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and Isaiah 40:2 may be compared as to the force of the parable.
Matthew 19. The Galilean ministry of the Lord that occupies most of the Synoptic Gospels is now over. Judea is before Him, to be reached from the other side of Jordan: great multitudes being witnesses of His healing power. A question of the Pharisees as to divorce leads Him to go back from the law, treated as provisional, to God's institution of marriage. The man and his wife had become one flesh, and the bond was indissoluble. The case of sin against the relationship was not really an exception, for then the two had ceased to be one flesh by the will of the flesh coming in. The bond was broken by sin. Still there was a path outside these relationships in the power of the things of the kingdom, not for all, but according to the gift and calling of God.
It is evidently in the same connection that the Lord receives the little children as representing the spirit suited to the kingdom in the absence of thought of self, in such contrast to what obtains in the world, though grace alone can produce it in any of us. All that is fairest in nature is found to fail under the test of the cross, as illustrated in the next incident from verse 16: one comes whom, as Mark tells us, the Lord loved, discerning in him so many traces of God's work in creation as natural amiability, sincerity, and the like, amid the wreck of sin. The young ruler was satisfied with his position under the law; his conscience being deceived by the letter of it was unawakened as to sin. He desired to know by what additional good-doing he might have eternal life. By a change of reading the answer of the Lord here is, "Why askest thou me concerning goodness? One there is who is good." There was no use in speaking of God's goodness till the idea of his own was disposed of. Therefore the Lord is but taking him up on his own ground in referring him to the law as the revelation of what God required of one who would stand before Him on the principle of man's goodness. He quotes generally the second table, only reserving the last commandment, which forbids the desires of the flesh. For now He would apply this in principle: "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." Where was his heart now? Linked up with the earth by his possessions here. And he turned away sorrowful from heavenly treasure, and the cross that answers to it upon earth. Nature at its best breaks down before such a test.
Yet possessions on earth had been a token of God's favour, but that was before Christ had been rejected by the world. Now they were a positive hindrance because of the treachery of our hearts. Exceedingly amazed, the disciples ask, "Who then can be saved?" and they learn that this was only possible by God's power, which, as well as His goodness, is now revealed in the Gospel. The Lord had not yet touched the question of eternal life: no ray of the light of it shone under the law: it was only to be found in the path of the surrender of earth's advantages by the faith that attached the heart to Christ. But when Peter, no doubt sincerely, takes the ground of the disciples having forsaken all and followed Christ, though with an eye on reward, the Lord owns what His grace had wrought in them, and promises them in the day of His renewal of all things, when He should sit on the throne of His glory, that they should have their place judging the twelve tribes of Israel (only given in Matthew); and then, enlarging the application, everyone who had forsaken what the heart clings to naturally in this world, for His sake, would receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life. But a word of warning, if of encouragement, is added: many that are first in nature's energy would find it slacken and fail before testing, while those who were slower at first in distrust of themselves would, by resources outside themselves, be first at the finish; while the tendency to a mercenary spirit of so much recompense for so much surrender, as disclosed by Peter's "what shall we have therefore?" (ver. 27) is met by another parable of the kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 20:1-15) If there were those whom the householder called early to the work and he gave them as was agreed, at the close, what right had they to complain if he called later ones and, in his goodness, gave them the same. Thus sovereign grace inverts the statement of Matthew 19:30, that had to do with our responsibility, "the last shall be first and the first last"; for though the call goes out to many, few are chosen — a principle, be it observed, that would admit of the Gentiles, though called so late, and that, not merely into equal privilege with those first called of the Jews, but so that the last should be first. The parable is given only, and it will be felt perfectly, in this gospel where the dispensational ways of God are brought out.
The instruction is resumed by the Lord as generally, with this omission, in the other Gospels, on His way up to Jerusalem. Taking His disciples apart, He tells them plainly of what is before Him there: He was to be delivered to the Gentiles to be crucified, and the third day to rise again. But the cross was not in their thoughts. The mother of Zebedee's sons would have for them the nearest places to Him in His kingdom in glory. These would only be assigned according to His Father's counsel, but the present question was (and a test for us all): Could they drink of the cup that was before Him (more fully given in Mark), that is, have part with Him in His rejection and suffering? The ten are indignant at having been anticipated in asking what they too would have sought. What hearts we have! What self-seeking can mingle with even true attachment to the Lord. It was but natural that the princes of the Gentiles should seek positions of pre-eminence and authority, but in no way suited to the followers of Him who came not to claim service but to serve, and to give His life a ransom instead of many.
Thus we have reached what in the Synoptic Gospels divides between the ministry of the blessed Lord's life as given in them, and the closing scenes of it at Jerusalem. But it may be profitable, if the Lord will, to attempt to take up the links in Mark and Luke before entering into the close. The main facts are the same though often grouped very differently, and with what is special to each, according to the scope of the Gospel. The restoring of sight to the blind in the vicinity of Jericho is the starting-point with each.
In turning to Mark again, the facts that form the personal ministry of the Lord, which is the special scope of this Gospel, are mainly the same as recorded in Matthew, though not always in the same arrangement of them. In Mark they are given in their historic order, as suited to the record of service rendered under such unparalleled circumstances as that of the Son of God in this world. There is neither the dispensational framework, as we have seen in Matthew, nor the moral connection of Luke, with the revelation of grace towards all contained in that Gospel. Here it is just the blessed Lord unweariedly passing from one scene of gracious ministry to another, precious details being preserved of His manner of action, His very looks, and words sometimes in the common language of the people, and how He was affected inwardly — all giving wonderful verisimilitude to the narrative.
Some characteristic features may be noticed. In Mark 5:1-21 instead of the brief account of two demoniacs coming out of the tombs as in Matthew, Mark and Luke occupy us with but one of them, made prominent evidently by the power of Satan over him, especially as expressed by his name Legion as it was brought out by the Lord's question; and also by the beautiful fruit of grace in him attaching him to his Deliverer: he is found by those who came out to see what was done, "sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke), clothed, and in his right mind," his only desire to be with Jesus when rejected out of their coasts, thus the more fitted to be sent to his friends to tell them of how great things the compassionate Lord had done for him — details of the deepest interest not within the scope of Matthew. Similarly in the case of the woman with the issue of blood, met with when the Lord was on the way to the ruler of the Synagogue's dying daughter, we have the lovely expression not merely of her faith in a secret touch of His clothes, and the instant answer to it, but of the way the Lord led her out into the light to own all the truth.
Approaching Jairus's house the word reached them that his daughter was dead, it was no use troubling the Master further. But the word of the Lord to him was, "Be not afraid, only believe." And in the presence of Peter and James and John and the parents He took her hand and bid her arise; and having restored her to life, He, in touching care for the child, directs that she should be given food.
His rejection in His own country (Mark 6:1-6), given in Matthew at the close of the similitudes of the kingdom of heaven, has doubtless its historic place here: He could do no mighty work there, save for a few sick folk upon whom He laid His hands and healed them, marvelling at the general unbelief. And we are led on to the first sending forth, of the twelve ("He began to send them forth") by two and two, with power given them over unclean spirits. The terms of their commission, which in Matthew 10 limited them to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, with the testimony to be resumed when they were once more found in their cities, with all the intervening circumstances, are not given here, but simply that they were to be without natural provision for the journey,* though their testimony would be final for those who rejected it. The whole of Matthew 11, too, upon which so much turned in that Gospel has no place here. But we have, with much fuller detail, the terrible circumstances under which Herod, notwithstanding the impression made upon him by John the Baptist, had beheaded the Lord's faithful servant; and which accounts for his uneasy conscience when he heard of Jesus, whose name was spread abroad, lest it should be that John was risen from the dead. Next, the Apostles gathered together unto Him, full of all that they had done and taught. He led them apart into a desert place for needed quiet and rest, for with many coming and going there was no leisure even for food. But quickly sought out in their retirement by the multitude, the compassion of the Lord went out to them as sheep without a shepherd, and the scene of the feeding of the five thousand, made familiar to us by the narratives of the four evangelists, comes out with special vividness in Mark, where He bids the disciples give them to eat, silences questions as to the means at their disposal, by the command to make all sit down by companies on the green grass; and we see them arranged in ranks of hundreds and fifties with super-abounding provision for all.
*A slight difference may be noticed in the details given. The "save a staff only" might seem to conflict with "nor a staff" in Matthew (for all critical authorities read the singular): but the point is that in Matthew they were not to "provide" or procure (ktesesthe) these things. In Mark they may take (airosin) for their journey what they already possessed (so Bengel and Alford). They were to "be shod with sandals," not "shoes" as in Matthew.
The sequel of His constraining the disciples to cross the sea in face of a contrary wind, while He dismissed the multitude and departed to the mountain to pray is as in Matthew, and His coming towards them walking on the water; only that Peter's stepping out by faith into the same path, impossible to man save as sustained by divine power, which had such an important bearing upon what was to follow for His disciples in that Gospel, is not found here. But when He would have passed by them, and they all saw Him and were troubled, He immediately talked with them and calmed their fears, and joined them in the ship, when the wind ceased; and Mark emphasises their amazement, tracing it to their not having allowed the miracle of the loaves to have its place in their hardened hearts. When they reach the land where once the Lord had been besought to depart, the whole countryside bring their sick that they might touch but the hem of His garment and be made whole.
In Mark 7, on the occasion of some of the disciples eating bread without washing their hands, and the religious leaders of the people calling attention to it, the Lord exposes the hypocrisy that would cover up evil by external forms; and the downward steps in departure from God by the religiousness of the flesh that pretends to draw near to Him, may be traced. They teach for doctrines the commandments of men (ver. 7); laying aside the commandment of God they hold the tradition of men (ver. 8); next they reject the commandment of God to keep their own tradition (ver. 9); and finally make the word of God of none effect through it (ver. 13). Then in the ear of all the people He states what ought to be simple enough, that defilement comes not from what enters into a man but from what comes out of him. Yet such the baneful influence of the system they had been brought up in, that in the house the disciples ask Him of what appears to them to be a parable, and, more fully given than in Matthew, the Lord exposes the depths of the heart's evil, the sink of every defiling thing. But if man's heart must be revealed, God's heart will be too. He departs to the very northernmost limits of the land, the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and there retires from publicity, as often in Mark — what a lesson for the servant, from the Son of God, the perfect Servant — but He could not be hid; need and faith knew where to find Him even if it be in a Gentile, Canaanite too, with a devil-possessed daughter. True, she was not of those who had the children's claim, but she humbly takes the dog's place beneath the table as He gives it her, and finds that there are crumbs for the dogs from such bounty as His; so the heart of God comes out. "For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter." It cannot but be noted that with Mark's accustomed fulness of detail we have not here her first appeal to the Lord as "Son of David," nor the silence of the Lord so unusual with Him, with the request of the disciples that He should send her away, leading to the decisive statement of His mission as not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel — all so strikingly in place in Matthew.
Returned again to the normal scene of His labours in Galilee, we have from Mark alone the case of one who could neither hear nor tell his need, and the tender ways of the Lord in His service of love are beautifully illustrated. He took him apart from the crowd, who had no part in the work of God, and we are allowed to follow the interesting touch of His finger on both ears and tongue, His look directed to heaven, His sigh over the distressing consequences of sin upon earth. We hear the very accent of his voice as by a word of divine power He makes both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak. Again, He charged them to tell no man, but without avail: beyond measure, astonished, they spread it abroad, saying, "He hath done all things well." What could be more characteristic of the whole Gospel; as in Matthew, who groups together a number of these cases of healing, that they should glorify the God of Israel? (Matt. 15:30-31)
Mark 8. The second feeding of the multitude, given here pretty much as in Matthew, has a different character from that of Mark 6, though the same power wrought in both. Here there is no "Give ye them to eat:" it is the patient, compassionate grace of the Lord, who, taking account of the many with Him, in a wilderness, divers of whom had come from far, would not send them away fasting. The disciples are as much at a loss to know how this was to be done as if they had not before proved His power under similar circumstances. But with seven loaves and a few small fishes He satisfied them, as the seven baskets of the broken pieces left were proof: seven doubtless pointing to the completeness of spiritual resources still to be found in the blessed Lord, if through Israel's rejection of Him they were not now connected with the number twelve as before, which number stands for administration in man.
Luke does not give the latter miracle at all. The patience of the Lord with Israel, though in constant evidence everywhere, is not his subject. The rejection of the Lord is brought on so early in that Gospel (Luke 4) that the way was clear to bring in all that was so morally new, which was now to supersede the special dealings of God with that nation.
Next, in the same order as in Matthew, Pharisees seek a sign from heaven. That He sighed deeply in His spirit tells how He felt it. (Vers. 11, 12) No sign should be given to such a generation. Leaving them by ship, He takes occasion to warn the disciples against the pretended zeal of the Pharisees and the worldly, servile spirit of the Herodians. They thought He alluded to their having brought with them but one loaf. What a lack of all perception and intelligence was this; as the Lord points out to them, eyes, ears, memory, all at fault. Nothing could be more significant at this point than the incident, only recorded by Mark, of the blind man of Bethsaida who meets them; not as setting forth the moral blindness of the nation and its leaders, but even of His own disciples, and the patient grace of the Lord's ways with them. He leads the blind man apart from the mass, moistens his eyes, puts His hand upon him, and when he could only see partially, He put His hands again on his eyes and made him look up, and then he could see plainly. But he was not to go back to the town nor tell it to any one in the town.
Thus we have been permitted to trace the Lord in the patient unwearied service of divine love from one scene of human need to another, with the omission of so much recorded by the other Gospels that would have only hindered the appreciation of the service as a whole: the omissions as true to the underlying purpose of Mark as what finds its record in the others. The moment was now come (ver. 27) to raise the question of how such a testimony as had never been rendered on earth was telling on the hearts of men. On the way He asked His disciples, "Whom do men say that I am?" There was the current idle hearsay of the world, some suggesting John the Baptist, others Elijah or one of the prophets. He was then divinely sent, but no one sought seriously to know who He was or what His message. Such is the heart of man. The Lord turns from the prevailing indifference to the disciples, "But whom say ye that I am?" And Peter confesses Him to be the Christ. But it was now too late to make Him known as such. Instead of what belonged to Him as a living Messiah in Israel, He was about to be "cut off and have nothing." (Dan. 9:26, marg.) Not the throne of the kingdom but the cross of shame lay before Him. It is the turning-point of the Gospel of Mark: "And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected of the elders and of the chief priests and scribes, and be killed and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly."
Yet it was not the great resulting organic change that Mark is given to bring out. He does not give Peter's full confession of Christ as in Matthew, nor the momentous announcement of the assembly that was founded on it. It is rather the consequences of His death and resurrection as affecting the path of His followers in the world that rejected Him. And how immense the change! What an apparent blighting of hopes long cherished of the earthly blessings of the kingdom, when they seemed to be so near realisation! The flesh, even in an Apostle, rises up to resent what involved its death. But "turning about and looking upon His disciples," the ever-faithful Lord, knowing what a stumbling-block it would be in the way of others, rebuked Peter as Satan; for he had been doing the enemy's work, and this was the result of minding things that be of men instead of those of God. It was not the grosser things of the flesh that influenced him, but just those of man and his world, out of which the Lord was passing by death. And Mark records that to the people, as well as to the disciples; the Lord opens out, as in Matthew, that this is the character of the path in which He must be followed, if it led, as it eventually surely will, to the glory of the kingdom. The test would be the true confession of the blessed Lord and of His words in face of the opposition of the world; as both Mark and Luke bring in the warning here, "For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
Mark 9. The kingdom should be introduced in power when the time was come for it, of which the Transfiguration was the witness and visible representation to the chosen witnesses who were with Him on the Mount. We have had it before us in these studies. But, in what follows in Mark, the prevailing note is His death and its consequences for all as to this world. As they came down He forbade them to tell of what they had seen till He was risen from the dead, when it would be an immense confirmation to their faith and testimony. (2 Peter 1:16-18) They are arrested for the moment by the thought, and question among themselves what this rising from the dead should mean. Orthodox Jewish belief held the resurrection of the dead. (John 11:24; Heb. 6:2) But to rise from the dead, while others were left under the power of it, was wholly new to them as even to many now. But they are more immediately interested as to Elijah's coming that the scribes spoke of. The Lord affirms the truth of it: Elijah should come and restore all things, but meanwhile the Son of Man must suffer much, and be set at nought, as it was written of Him.
On His return ("the next day," Luke) Mark records the astonishment of the multitude on His appearance, and, with much more detail (as usual with him), the helplessness of the disciples in the case they had had to do with in His absence, of the poor man's son ("mine only child," Luke) afflicted with a dumb spirit. The awful malignant power of the enemy, that had from a child sought to destroy him, was manifested in the very presence of the Lord. But principles come to light of great moment for His servants. The father says, "If thou canst do anything have compassion on us and help us." The answer of the Lord is literally, "The 'if thou canst' is to believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." All turns upon the faith that counts upon Him. Humbly the father pleads, "I believe, help thou mine unbelief." The people were running together, and the Lord rebuked the "unclean" spirit (as constantly in Mark), charging him to come out, and enter no more unto him. He had seemed to succumb under the last fearful assault, but Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up; and he arose. The work of deliverance was complete. Privately the disciples have to learn from the Lord that it is not Satan that is the difficulty, but self. Only in dependence upon God, and withdrawal from what operates on the flesh, is power over such an enemy found.
His service is nearly over. He passed through Galilee and would have no one know it. For He taught His disciples that, delivered into the hands of men, His death was at hand; and that after He was killed He should arise the third day. But they understood it not, and were afraid to ask Him. The reason was not far to seek: other thoughts filled their minds — they had been reasoning by the way as to who was the greatest and were ashamed to own it to the Lord. This leads to the incident of the child in its lowliness, whom the Lord takes in His arms, applying the lesson to rebuke their self-exaltation as only here, though Mark also records what is common to Matthew and Luke, that whosoever should receive one such child in His name received Christ, and, in receiving Him, the Father who sent Him.
But the spirit of self-seeking betrays itself in more specious forms. Even John it is who forbad one casting out demons in His Master's name (just what they had been unable to do themselves), "because he followeth not us." It is the self-importance of the company, that shuts out from him the glory of Christ. For if Christ had been before his eyes, would he not have rejoiced in the power of His name as proved anywhere and by whomsoever? It was no question here of Pharisees heaping dishonour on Christ, in attributing His manifested power over Satan to Satan himself as in Matthew 12:24-30, in which case he that was not with Christ was against Him, "and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad." Here, "Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man who shall do a miracle in my name that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part" — identifying Himself with them in such grace, even when He has to rebuke their selfishness. So far from any clashing in the principles of these verses, both are found in Luke (Luke 9:49 and Luke 11:23) and in the same connections. Mark alone adds that even that which is least — a cup of water given in His name — will not lose its reward. What a Master we have to serve! On the other hand, to be the means of stumbling one of the little ones that believe on Him would be to their everlasting ruin. And the incomparably solemn warning follows, as fully given by Mark, against allowing anything in oneself, and that in the professed service of the Lord, that would be a snare. The unsparing judgment of self is one's only safety, and that in what the body values most (see 1 Cor. 9:26-27); be it the hand, or foot, or eye. It is better to enter into the kingdom of God with the loss of them than to be cast into the unquenchable fire of hell.
The principles are then stated that govern all this. "Every one shall be salted with fire." Man as such cannot but meet the judgment of God. But there are those who are accepted on the ground of sacrifice. The fire in their case has done its work, in the sacrifice of Him who has endured the judgment of God for them. They shall be salted with salt. Salt, namely, the holy energy of grace in separation to God, must not be wanting in any sacrifice. The test will come, — whether in the holy government of God, the discipline of the Lord (see 1 Cor. 11:31-32), for those who are His, or in the lake of fire for those who are not. There may be the profession of that which is the only preserving principle, without its reality, which is hopeless for the state of the profession: for "if the salt has lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it?" — or as Luke has it in Luke 14:34-35, "it is neither fit for the land nor yet for the dunghill; they cast it out." The Lord closes with, "Have salt in yourselves and have peace one with another." (See James 3:17)
Mark 10. The facts and subjects of the Lord's instruction of chapter 10 have been before us in Matthew, and in the same order. Yet it may be noticed that if His death was constantly before the Lord in the preceding chapter, and the disciples shrank from further insight into it (ver. 32), here He formally commits it to them as necessarily characteristic of the path in which He must be followed. To the "certain ruler" (Luke) He presents the cross; to the disciples, if He went before them, it was to their amazement towards Jerusalem, where men sought to kill Him; to the sons of Zebedee, who desired the nearest places to Him in His glory, He could only assure the fellowship of His sufferings.
Now while He recognises all that is of God in nature — affirming as He does the binding authority of marriage, as God had instituted it for man from the beginning of the creation (ver. 6), and is indignant at the disciples' rebuff of those who brought young children to Him (for in them was represented the spirit in which alone the kingdom of God could be received (Mark recording that He took them up in His arms and blessed them)), appreciating also the traces of what God had wrought in humanity as it came from Him, in the blameless young man who ran and kneeled to Him in evident sincerity, even so far as to say He loved him — yet the effect of the path He was taking comes out all the more impressively — that man as such cannot stand before God. The greatest advantages of the flesh made it the more manifest that only by divine power and goodness, when there was none anywhere else, could anyone be saved. The way to eternal life, as to God, was by the cross. This was the test to which all must be subjected. Had the disciples truly left all and followed the Lord? There would be a "hundredfold" compensation, "now in this time" — who has not proved it? — "with persecutions, and in the world to come," however little that was in their thoughts, "eternal life." But, for this, His death to be accomplished at Jerusalem, was the essential basis. Yet "as they followed they were afraid, but again He took them and began to tell them" — as Mark and Luke give it fully — His sufferings by death at the hands of men, and that the third day He should rise again.
The heavenly glory of Christ in which James and John desired to be associated with Him was to be reached in no other way than by the cross. Could they take that way? They little knew themselves that said "We can," even when what it involved was fully set forth.
For Himself the blessed Lord keeps the place He had taken, not of power to dispense the best places in the kingdom, but of subjection to His Father's will, and of lowliness and service in carrying it out. He had come not to be waited on, as some great one of the world, but He, the greatest, to give His life a ransom for (anti, instead of, substitutionally) many. The ministry of the Lord, as in the Synoptic Gospels generally, closes at this point. From the Transfiguration onward His death as the Son of Man is constantly in view, and kept prominently before His disciples as giving a new character to everything for them. There only remains, as to the history, His last journey to Jerusalem to suffer and what took place on the way. But Luke must again claim our attention in what leads up to these last events.
In attempting to follow out further the way the Lord Jesus is presented in the Gospel of Luke, it will not be necessary to dwell on scenes common to the three Gospels and that have come before us in the others, save where a change of order may give them a distinct character. In Luke 8 the parable of the Sower stands alone, with its interpretation more briefly than in Matthew and Mark, but with the same elements. No parable of the kingdom follows. The Word of God is sown; that which fell upon good ground is defined to be they which, in an honest and good heart having heard the Word, keep it and bring forth fruit with patience; with the connection, as in Mark, of what would come out in testimony for God, as a light set upon a candlestick, to be manifested as everything shall be. There comes also the exhortation here to take heed how the Word is heard so that it may be truly possessed in its formative power. Following upon this (though without any note of time, as in the A.V. "then," for Matthew and Mark give the occurrence in its historical place, antecedent to the parable), those who hear the Word of God and do it are owned by Christ as His relatives, without any implied disowning of natural ties in Israel. (Cf. Matt. 12:46 - 13:1)
The incidents necessary to complete the testimony of the power of God present in grace are found now, and in the same order as in Mark, up to the feeding of the five thousand (Luke 9:11-17): the storm on the lake stilled at a word from Him, the legion of demons dispossessed of their prey, with the detail of the work of grace wrought in him who was delivered, the raising up of Jairus's daughter, and the healing of the woman with the issue of blood, followed by the sending out of the twelve with no limitation of their testimony to Israel, and Herod's perplexity in hearing of all that was done by Him and his desire to see Him. Then the return of the Apostles and the Lord's retirement with them to a desert place where He fed the multitudes. What follows upon this in Matthew 14:22 - 16:12, and Mark 6:45 - 8:26, and which has to do mainly with the Lord's relations with Israel and His solemn judgment of their state, does not enter into the scope of Luke, who carries us on thus early to the Transfiguration; which is prefaced in each Gospel by the question of the Lord as to the effect produced upon the people by His presence, and that leads to the closing of the testimony that He was Christ, and His taking His place as Son of Man, to be rejected of the Jewish leaders and be slain, with all the solemn consequences of the cross as to the position of His followers.
The wonderful scene on the mount has been before us with some of the differences in detail which the three narratives of it afford. But it has a character in Luke suited to the divine purpose in this Gospel which may be a little more fully developed. The "kingdom of God" was set forth in it, but not only in the way of the kingdom being established in power, as yet future, but as to what would be the present portion of His people therein. There is a twofold presentation: the Lord Jesus is seen in His glory, a glory in which He will be manifested to all when the time comes for it (cf. vers. 32 and 26), and Moses and Elijah appear with Him in glory, and are occupied with His decease to be accomplished at Jerusalem. It was a wonderful gleam of the glory of the kingdom in its heavenly side. But it passed away from the vision of the chosen witnesses. A cloud which we know from 2 Peter 1 to have been that of the divine presence, "the excellent glory," overshadowed them; and they feared as they* entered into it; as well they might for none upon earth had ever been so privileged. The cloud had talked with Moses (Ex. 33:9), but now they enter into it. It is the Father's house, and a voice out of the cloud reveals Him in the glory that belongs to Him as the beloved Son of the Father, deeper and more intimate than all the glory in which He will be displayed in the kingdom. To those who "hear Him" the Son would make the Father's glory known. This is what remained to the disciples, when the bright foretaste of the coming glory of the kingdom had passed away, even that which all the grace of His personal manifestation was leading into in Luke, to be the present and abiding portion of His people.
*The hekeinous of the Text. Rec. made it Moses and Elijah who entered into the cloud. But the Vatican and Sinaitic uncials supported by other ancient witnesses of the text read autous, which is adopted by the critical editors Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, J.N.D.'s New Translation and the Revisers which makes all plain.
The terrible contrast of the display of Satan's power that met them as they came down from "the holy mount" (as Peter speaks of it), and the failure in testimony of those who owned the Lord, if it was bringing the time for that testimony to a close, only served to make manifest the mighty power (or "majesty" it is the same word so translated 2 Peter 1:16) of God in the person of Jesus. But He would not have the disciples diverted, by the amazement of all, from the things He had been teaching them of what was before Him (vers 22-26), though they feared to inquire into it. And no wonder, when we learn what was really occupying them — as to which of them should be greatest. Different forms of selfishness to which His followers can be a prey then come to light. Some of them have been before us in the other Gospels, but not in this solemn grouping of them together. One is peculiar to Luke, verses 51-56, that brings out what gives its character to much that follows in the Gospel. The time was come that He should be received up: He has, in fact, begun His last journey up to Jerusalem from the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration. The various stages of it may be traced from this point, Luke 10:1, Luke 13:22, Luke 17:11, Luke 18:35. His face was steadfastly set to go to Jerusalem, and on this account a village of the Samaritans would not receive Him. James and John, "sons of thunder" as He had named them (Mark 3:17), would have fire come down from heaven to consume them, but they knew not what manner of spirit they were of. "The Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."
Luke 10 depends upon what has gone before in the rejection of the Lord, and the glory of His Person thereupon revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration. "From this onwards," as it has been observed, "to the commencement of the closing scene (Luke 18:31), what we read in Luke is either not in Matthew and Mark, or is here connected with other subjects than the historical ones found in those Gospels; and the various circumstances are introduced in their moral connection." In the sending out of the seventy into every city and place whither He Himself would come, only given by Luke, there is an urgency and finality more marked than in the sending of the twelve, though presenting in common with that mission the kingdom of God as come nigh, and this whether the testimony was received or refused. If the latter it would be more tolerable for shameless Sodom, and Tyre and Sidon, the cities of human pride, in the day of judgment than for them. For to hear them would be to hear the Lord, but to despise them was not only to despise the Lord, but the Father who had sent Him. They return from their mission with joy, telling of demons being subjected to them through His name; and this brings before the Lord the overthrow of Satan's power in the heavenlies. (See Rev. 12) But for them there was a deeper joy in that their names were registered there. The scene on the mount had indicated the opening of the Father's house; now we have a people for it. To this everything tends more and more in Luke. His own joy follows, but not as in Matthew 11 — following upon the dispensational rejection of both John and Christ's testimony — but much more in connection with His people's blessedness. The full triumph over Satan, and the coming to light of a people who had their place and portion in heaven, things hidden from the wise of the world had been revealed to babes, according to the Father's will. The incomprehensible glory of the Son of God was the difficulty to the pride and will of man. All things were delivered to Him of the Father; no one knew who He was but the Father, nor who the Father was but the Son who had come to reveal Him. To His disciples privately He declared their blessedness in the fact that they saw and heard what kings and prophets had not, much as they desired it. Everything proves the dispensational change to be great; the moral answer to it is found in what follows, peculiar to Luke.
A lawyer, who connected life, to which the law pointed, with eternal life of which prophets had spoken in its millennial conditions (Ps. 110; Dan. 9), and who would know what he must do to inherit it, is referred by the Lord to the law, of which he was able to quote the substance from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. There was no other standard, if man would live by his doing, though the law says nothing of eternal life. Lawyer-like, he raises a question on the terms — "And who is my neighbour?" The answer of the Lord brings out that a neighbour's need was enough for divine love; neither priest nor Levite would or could touch it, and the heart to meet it was only found in the despised Samaritan. But He became such a neighbour to the one in need that he never needed a neighbour again. How sweet the revelation of the ways of grace that were to form a heavenly people, in contrast to legal measures and requirement. But conduct moulded upon such a model can only be formed by personal acquaintance with Him, and is to be found as with her who sat at His feet and heard His word — and to be maintained by prayer. (Luke 11)
For the next thing is that as He was praying, His disciples would learn of Him how to pray, as John also had taught his. And the Lord responds to their desire,* and, by the illustration that He uses, encourages them to earnestness, and even "shamelessness" (as the word for "importunity" really is,) indicating the gift of the Holy Spirit as in the Father's purpose for them that ask Him. (See John 7:39)
*According to the idea of a form of prayer, the copyists have early added to what was found in Luke 11:2-4, from Matt. 6:9-13. But with all critical authorities we must read simply "Father, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; give us day by day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation."
The casting out of a demon from the dumb is the occasion as in Matthew 12 of the blasphemy that attributed it to the chief of the demons, instead of discerning in it the finger of God, and the kingdom of God come upon them. Without this, whatever the apparent reformation, the unclean spirit would return in sevenfold increased possession, and the last state be worse than the first, though the application to the final state of the nation is not given here as in Matthew. True blessedness was found not in knowing Christ after the flesh but in hearing and keeping the Word of God. There had been a moral effect wrought (even upon Gentiles) by the preaching of Jonah and the wisdom of Solomon; a greater than either was found in the blessed person of the Lord. What hindered light, made so conspicuous for all, reaching men? The eye was at fault; if it were single the whole body would be lightsome, and bear the light for others to see it; if evil, the body was darksome, and what might have been light to it became itself darkness. Woe is then pronounced upon the Pharisaism of resting in external performance, and upon the lawyers that bound burdens upon others they would not touch themselves. They had taken away the key of knowledge; entering not themselves they hindered those that would enter in. They were but filling up the sins of their fathers. And according to Proverbs 1:20-23, which the Lord here interprets and expounds (cf. ver. 49 of our chap.), this would be brought to the proof by the prophets and apostles He would send, some of whom they would slay, that the blood of all the prophets shed from the foundation of the world might be required of this generation. The difference between this judgment of the state of the religious leaders, and the sevenfold denunciation of woe upon them in connection with the final judgment as in Matthew 23, will be felt by all, and seen to be characteristic of each Gospel in its place.
Luke 12, Luke 13. The Lord, now in rejection on earth, directs the hearts of His disciples to heaven, first of all removing out of the way that which would have obstructed the light of heavenly things. Verse 2 applies the principle of the judgment-seat of Christ to the exposure of the hypocrisy of the Pharisee and also to the encouragement of outspoken testimony whatever the consequences; the fear of man being displaced by the fear of God. But He who was to be the only object of their fear counts the very hairs of their heads, as God, while the Son of Man would own the true confession of His name before the angels of God, and when brought before the authorities the Holy Ghost would teach them what to say. A rejected Christ cannot take the place of judge or divider of property here, that one of the multitude would put Him in, and makes it the occasion of warning against "all covetousness." It was not in these things man's life consisted; and the parable of the rich man solemnly enforces the worthlessness of possessions here when the soul is taken into account. While for the disciples the care of such things is superseded by the care of God for them, as the ravens and lilies may teach even as to the necessary food and raiment. A Father's perfect knowledge of us is enough for those who know Him.
The fear of man and the care of earthly things being disposed of, we are brought to the positive springs of the Christian life. The heavenly side of the kingdom as in the Father's counsels for them (verse 31 reads, "Rather seek ye His," i.e. the Father's, "kingdom") a present treasure in the heavens; and lastly the hope of the coming of the Lord to form His servants in His absence — blessed in watching for Him whatever the actual time of it. In the power of these things their loins were to be girded about, and the lights or candles lit, (the word being the same in chapter 11: verses 33, 34, and 36 there and verse 35 here) to burn brightly. What a portion too would be theirs when watching was over: the Lord Himself having taken the servant's place, to keep it for ever, would find fresh occasion for serving the objects of His love in ministering to them the richest joys of the Father's presence. But there was work to do too that would bring the faithful servant his reward in the kingdom. This leads to the contrast of the unfaithful servant, who puts off in his heart the Lord's return, opening the way for further phases of departure, and his judgment finally as false to the place he had taken as a servant. Many stripes in that judgment would belong to him who knew his Lord's will and did it not, as compared with the few that would fall upon those who knew not and yet did things worthy of stripes; responsibility being commensurate with privilege conferred.
Parts of this instruction are found elsewhere in other connections, but here, as always in Luke, they are brought together without regard to their historic place, with deep moral purpose.
In what follows the Lord looks at the actual consequences of His having come. Peace had been presented to the earth in Him personally (Luke 2:14); but the effect had only been to draw out the flesh's enmity. The fire of it, already smouldering in men's hearts, was about to break out in vehement flame. Divine love was there, but pent up within itself (though we would have little thought it), while the question of sin lay in the way. But going to meet the baptism of divine judgment due to it the flood-gates would be opened, and the love free to flow forth in all its fulness. The result — that if peace was established in heaven with God for the soul (Luke 19:38), peace was taken from the earth. The strongest ties of kindred would not hold the family together when Christ entered into it to claim hearts for Himself. But how morally blind were the mass that could judge of the weather but not discern the character of the time, incapable even, in themselves of any right judgment. They were on their way with their adversary, but might even still come to terms with Him — if not, to be delivered over to the governmental dealings of God, out of which they should not come till they had paid the last mite. (Isa. 40:2, and Ps. 103:10; for Jehovah's and Israel's estimate of this dealing may be compared.) For in the close of the chapter as well as Luke 13, we are on the ground of the Lord's relations with His ancient people, though leading out into great principles of truth that go beyond those relations. There must be individual repentance, or all would perish alike. The parable of the fig-tree sets forth the position. Three years the Lord of the vineyard had been seeking fruit of it without result. This was the last year of His culture; it was but a cumberer of the ground and must be cut down. Nevertheless, where there was need the work of grace in power was not restrained, and the woman eighteen years bowed down with infirmity is loosed from it, and the hypocrisy of those who would shut out that work because it was the Sabbath is exposed. Then what should take the place of Israel, the kingdom of God not in power but in testimony and responsibility, is given, with its failure to answer to the thoughts of God, in the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven. In answer to a question as to the number of the saved remnant, the Lord turns it to that of the exercise that was essential to enter by the strait gate into the kingdom. No mere profession or external privilege would avail to obtain an entrance when once the gate was shut; the workers of unrighteousness would be excluded, though not only patriarchs and prophets, but those from the four quarters of the earth should be seen in the enjoyment of the blessing.
Meanwhile the Lord would pursue His work, undeterred by the treachery of professed friends or the craft of Herod. There would be the today and tomorrow of testimony, till the third day of consummation and perfecting in resurrection. But it could not be that a prophet should perish out of Jerusalem, hence the touching lament of the Lord over the long-loved city, and the revelation of the glory of His Person, who, after all was lost to her on the ground of responsibility, would come in at the end, according to His sovereign mercy, and be greeted as the "Blessed One that cometh in the name of the Lord."
The earnest student of Scripture will not fail to notice how the opening of the heavens to the faith and hope of His people (Luke 12) before the earthly scene of man in responsibility, whether looked at in Jewish or Christian profession, breaks down in failure (Luke 13) is according to the analogy of God's ways in grace.
Luke 14 - 16. In grace the Lord enters into the Pharisee's house, and makes manifest once more, in the healing of the man with the dropsy on the Sabbath day, the contrast of the principles of grace with their legal selfishness. Nor was there anything in the rivalry of the guests for the chief places at the table to answer to Him who had come from the highest to take the lowest, any more than in the principle of worldly society that entertains those from whom the like may be expected. Love would think of the poor and needy, and the Lord brings in the light of another world upon the poor passing scene of this one; recompense would be found in the resurrection of the just. One of the guests seems to recognise that it must be in the kingdom of God that such principles obtain. But the parable of the great supper of grace brings out the result when God, as a present thing, spreads His table and sends out the testimony, "Come, for all things are ready." No one would accept the invitation of God: the very mercies ministered to man in his natural condition are used to shut out God, and if He would fill His house, it must be with the poor and affected of His people and, when yet there was room, by the mighty compulsion of His grace going out to the Gentile, while the bidden Jew was rejected. Outside great multitudes are attracted, but they must be tested by the character of the disciple's path in a world that had rejected his Lord. If all nature ranged itself in opposition it must be broken with in its tenderest ties — yea, the life itself be hated, to take up his cross and follow Christ. He would have the cost counted, the hostile forces properly estimated, that the path may be deliberately taken. Salt, the preserving principle of true testimony, lay in the holy energy of faith that counted all loss for Him, and would not be deterred by any opposition; without this, the mere profession was worthless, only fit to be cast out: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
The contrast of Luke 15 will be felt by all. There is a reserve upon the Lord in the Pharisee's house: He has gone through it and come out of it, and found nothing for His heart. In the company of tax-gatherers and sinners all reserve is thrown off; and the grace of God that, by its own working rather than by the formal revelation of dispensational change as in Matthew was bringing Judaism to an end, comes out in all its fulness, with what that grace would introduce, in souls brought to God as a present reality. The murmuring of religious leaders only served as the dark background to bring out the revelation in bold relief.
The parable is one ("He spake this parable unto them") as of the heart of God that finds its most blessed joy in receiving sinners to Himself. But the two first parts of it emphasise the seeking that there must be — that there may be anyone to be received: the invitation of God by itself had proved (Luke 14) of no avail. And we have the heart of Christ going out after the lost sheep, and the Holy Ghost (under the symbol of the woman), whose province it is to bring in the light that manifests the silver piece amid the rubbish, diligently seeking till it is found, with all heaven a scene of joy over one sinner that repents. For there must be a moral work wrought in the one that is sought and found, now to find expression in the last part of the parable; where also we have the character of the Father's reception and provision of all that made the prodigal perfectly at home in His presence, amid the music and dancing of all hearts in fellowship with the Father's. "Let us eat and be merry" is a feast begun now that will never end, and reveals whose the joy is that gives the keynote of heaven's; the self-righteous Jew being outside it all.
In what follows in Luke 16 we have the light of this new world of grace and of God, that is opened to us in Luke, cast upon possessions here, now that man's stewardship has been taken away. They are the Master's goods that lie over in his hands, and may be freely dispensed instead of being hoarded here, in view of the everlasting habitations where the true riches are found, and will be the portion of those proved "faithful in that which is least." The choice lies between God and mammon, however covetous Pharisee may deride. It was not a question of the law and prophets since John's time, but of doing violence to every principle of the flesh, now that the kingdom of God was preached, though no tittle of the law should fail however men might seek to reduce its claims. For the rich who received their portion in this life while the poor were despised, the veil is lifted from the unseen to reveal the solemn issues, in a hades of torment for the one, and Abraham's bosom for the other. The unbelief that would not hear Moses and the prophets would not be persuaded though Christ rose from the dead.
Luke 17, Luke 18:1-34. The Lord continues His instructions in view of the new moral order of things about to be established. Woe be to him who should be a cause of stumbling to one of the little ones owned by Him in grace! Personal trespass was to be rebuked, but forgiven, practically without limit, on repentance. The smallest faith would put them in connection with the resources of God's power. Yet when they had done all that was commanded, they were only entitled to take the place of unprofitable servants. Then the way of deliverance from the whole system of Judaism, though still owned of the Lord, is seen, before judgment should displace it for ever. The ten lepers in going on the word of the Lord to show themselves to the priests knew that it meant their cleansing. Why go to them otherwise? One of them, a stranger and Samaritan, more readily discerned that He who was sought in connection with the priests was really to be known in the One who had cleansed them, and was the only one of the ten to turn back and glorify God, giving thanks at His feet. But then he was not only cleansed, but free from the order of things represented by the priests.
The kingdom of God was indeed there in every trait of moral power in the person of Christ "among you" (— observe not "within" Pharisees! as A.V.,) while not yet manifested publicly. But He was to be rejected, so that the time was coming when the disciples would desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man as then present in grace and should not see it. The Son of Man would be revealed in judgment with all the suddenness of lightning flash, as it was in the days of Noah and of Lot. Let them take heed that their hearts were not held by anything they possessed in the judged place. To escape judgment would be impossible, for it was God's, and would take out its objects, even if together in bed or at the grinding-stone.
It will be remarked that this judgment, though taking effect specifically on the generation of Jewish unbelief, is not that which was impending over Jerusalem, of which there is a special revelation in Luke 21, and is distinct from that of Matthew 24, save that as the principles are general, the days of Noah and of Lot are brought in. The judgment was discriminative, and there would be an oppressed but elect remnant (Luke 18), who were not to faint, but find their resources in persistent prayer to God who would avenge them. (Note "men" has no place in verse 1. Verse 7 shows to whom the "they" of the critical text refers). But that kind of faith would not generally be found on earth when He came, as the question (ver. 8) shows. Luke 12 had given His coming as it would affect the Christian profession; in all this passage it is found in relation to Judaism and the world. It is peculiar to Luke, as so much from Luke 10 has been seen to be.
In the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican the Lord resumes, as to the characteristic features of those who should enter the kingdom. The utter pride of self-justification and exaltation has no place there. It was he who stood afar off and cried, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner," who went down to his house justified, rather than the Pharisee, who prided himself on the contrast of his state. The relation to the kingdom, of children and their position, given fully in Matthew, is here referred to in a moral connection, as usual in Luke. The lowliness and simplicity in total absence of self, of the little child is what is essential in receiving the kingdom. Then follows, in the same historic order as in Matthew and Mark, the rich ruler who would connect eternal life with works, and had to learn that none was good but God, and that his possessions held his heart from the path of a rejected Christ, with the consequent warning thereon to His disciples and encouragement to those who had left all for Him. And we are again at the case of the blind man of Jericho, that introduces, as in each of the Synoptic Gospels, the last scenes; prefaced also by the Lord announcing to the twelve, more fully than previously, what was before Him at Jerusalem, adding in Luke the accomplishment therein of all things written by the prophets concerning Him.