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Devotional Hours with the Bible by J R Miller Vol 6
J. R. Miller, 1909
From the Gospel of Matthew
1. The Wise Men and the Child
2. John, the Forerunner of Jesus
3. The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus
4. The Beginning of The Galilean Ministry
5. True Blessedness
6. Some Laws of the Kingdom
7. Almsgiving and Prayer
8. Worldliness and Trust
9. The Golden Rule
10. False and True Discipleship
11. Jesus, the Healer
12. The Power of Faith
13. The Mission of the Twelve
14. The Question of John the Baptist
15. Warning and Invitation
16. Two Sabbath Incidents
17. Growing Hatred to Jesus
18. The Parable of the Sower
19. The Parable of the Tears
20. Pictures of the Kingdom
21. The Multitudes Fed
22. Jesus Walks on the Sea
23. The Canaanite Woman
24. Peter's Confession
25. The Transfiguration
26. A Lesson on Forgiveness
27. Jesus on the Way to Jerusalem
28. The Laborers in the Vineyard
29. Jesus Nearing Jerusalem
30. Jesus Entering Jerusalem
31. Two Parables of Judgment
32. The King's Marriage Feast
33. Three Questions
34. The Lesson of Watchfulness
35. The Wise and Foolish Virgins
36. The Parable of the Talents
37. The Last Judgment
38. The Anointing of Jesus
39. The Last Supper
40. Peter's Denial
41. Jesus in Gethsemane
42. The Trial of Jesus
43. The Crucifixion
44. The Resurrection
The Wise Men and the Child Matthew 1 and 2
The Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy. Then comes the story of the birth and infancy. Jesus was born at Bethlehem. This was the most wonderful event of human history—the coming of the Son of God in human flesh into this world. Love was born that night. True, there was love in the world before. Mothers loved their children. Friend love friend. Natural affection was common. But the love which we know as Christian love had its beginning in the birth of Jesus Christ. It is well for us to note, however, that the historical event of Christ’s birth is not that which saves us. He must be born again in us.
Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born,
If He's not born in you—your soul is all forlorn.
This greatest even in history, made little stir in the world. Usually when heirs to a throne are born, whole realms ring with joy. But when the Messiah was born, there was no earthly rejoicing. A few humble shepherds came and looked with wonder on the new-born Babe that lay in the young mother's arms—but that was all. The Jews had been looking for their Messiah, but did not recognize Him when He came. His advent was quiet. There was no blare of trumpets. Noise and show are not necessary accompaniments of power.
The mightiest energies in this world are often the quietest. The grace of God always comes quietly. Angels minister noiselessly. The most useful Christians are not those who make the most ado at their work, but those who in humility and simplicity, unconscious of any splendor in their faces, go daily about their work for their Master.
We cannot understand just how the wise men were led to Jerusalem. They said they saw the King's star in the east and were led by it. There has been a great deal of speculation as to the character of this star, whether it was a natural or a supernatural appearance. But it does not matter; whatever it was, it led these men to the feet of Christ. Even the faintest glimmerings of spiritual light should be welcomed by us and their guidance accepted. We should not wait to know all about Christ, and to see Him in all His glory, before we set out to seek Him. We should follow the first faint gleams, and then as we go on the light will brighten, and we shall see more and more of Him, until at length we behold Him in all His blessed beauty, face to face. Certainly there is no one in Christian lands in these days, who does not have a great deal more light to guide him to the Christ, than these wise men had.
The Herods have an unenviable record in New Testament history. When this Herod, Herod the Great, heard the inquiries of the wise men, he was greatly troubled. Hearing of Christ does not always bring joy. It brought gladness to the humble shepherds and to the wise men, but to Herod it brought great distress. Christ's name makes bad men think of their sins—and then of the judgment. It is only when we see Christ and want to have Him for our Friend, that the thought of Him is sweet and pleasant. "For you therefore who believe He is precious." Those whose faith is fixed upon Him, are never terrified by thoughts of Him.
Herod, unable himself to answer the question of the wise men, turned to the scribes and asked them where the Messiah should be born. It did not take them long to give the answer. They could even give chapter and verse, and could tell the very name of the town in which the Messiah was to be born. These facts were all down in their books. Yet we do not see that they made any use of their knowledge. They could tell the wise men where the Christ was to be born, but they did not themselves take one step toward Bethlehem to search for Him, when they learned of His birth there. Most of us know our Bible well, and can tell others glibly enough where and how to find the Christ. But have we ourselves gone to the place where He is, to search for Him and to worship Him?
"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." Matthew 2:11. The scene when the wise men found the Child-king was very beautiful. They saw only a little baby lying in a young mother's arms. There was no crown on His head. No glory gleamed from His face. His surroundings were most unkingly, without pomp or brilliance. The child did nothing before them to show His royalty—spoke no word, wrought no kingly act of power. Yet the wise men believed and worshiped Him. Think how much more we know about the Christ than they did. It is easy for us to find kingly marks in Him. Shall we be behind the wise men in our adoration?
The wise men did more than adore—they opened their treasures and offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh which they had brought all the way from their own home. The sincerity of their worship—was thus attested by the costliness of their gifts. The treasures they had brought were of great value—the most costly things they could find, the best they had to give. It is not enough to give Christ an homage that costs nothing. He asks for our gifts, the offerings of our love, our service, the consecration of our lives. Giving is the test of loving—the measure of our loving Christ—is what we are willing to give and sacrifice.
There are many ways of laying our offerings at the feet of Jesus Christ. He Himself does not need our money, but His cause needs it. The extension of His kingdom in this world at home and abroad requires money, and this must be brought by His followers. Those who have no interest in the saving of others, in the sending of the Gospel to those who have it not, have not themselves really tasted of the love of Christ.
John, the Forerunner of Jesus Matthew 3:1-12
The time of John's coming was not accidental. It was "In those days,"—that is, when Jesus was still living in Nazareth. Jesus was now about to begin His public ministry and John was ready to go before Him to prepare the way for Him. Every man is made for his own time and work. John would not have fit in at any other date in the world's history.
John is not a very attractive person to our modern Christian eyes. He appears harsh, rugged and stern, and we think of gentleness and kindliness as ideal traits in a beautiful life. But there is need for stern, rugged men in Christ's kingdom—as well as for kindly, tender-hearted men. The storm has its ministry as well as the sunshine; winter its mission as well as summer; John the Baptist his work—as well as John the beloved disciple.
John came "a man, sent from God," a man with a message. He preached in the wilderness—not in the temple courts, nor in the synagogues, but away from the common haunts of men—and the people flocked to hear him. The theme of John's preaching was in one word, "Repent!" This is not the gospel, but it is a call which goes before the gospel. We must repent before we can receive forgiveness. We are in danger of making religion too easy a matter, and of being altogether too patient and tolerant with ourselves. Christ does not come to an unrepentant heart. We must make sure, too that we do thorough work in our repenting. Repentance is not merely a little twinge of remorse, over something wrong. It is not simply a burst of tears, at the recollection of some wickedness. Nor is it shame in being caught in some vile sin, impurity, or dishonesty. Confess and turn from your sins, is the meaning of the call. Repentance is the revolution of the whole life. Sins wept over—must be forsaken and given up. Repentance is a change of heart, a turning the face the other way. It is well for us to make diligent quest and be sure that we abandon the wrongdoing we deplore, that we quit the course we regret, that we turn away from the sin we confess. He who bewails a sin and confesses it, secretly intending to return to it again—has no good ground to hope that he is forgiven.
John declared that "The kingdom of heaven was at hand." What did he mean? He did not mean heaven, but a life on the earth in which heaven's kingdom ruled. The preacher meant that the King had come and was about to declare Himself. They were to repent to be ready to receive Him. When we pray, "May Your kingdom come," we ask that heaven's rule and heaven's life may come into our hearts, our homes, our lives, and our community.
John was not as anxious to have his name emblazoned before men as some people are. He was spoken of and speaks of himself as "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." The bible does not strive to attach men's names to every little piece of work they do. It matters little whether we are mentioned or not, in connection with the things we do for the Master. It is just as well to be an anonymous "voice," speaking well for Christ, as to be known as some famous 'reverend'. The Christian worker who always strives to keep his name before people, lacks somewhat at least of the mind that was in Christ.
Part of John's commission, was to make straight paths for Christ's feet, paths to reach men's homes and hearts. He will never go in any crooked paths, and if we wish Him to walk with us—we must see that the paths are straight. All sin's ways are crooked. That is what iniquity means, inequities, and unequal ways. The only straight ways are those which run along the lines of God's commandments. The great railroads are continually getting the curves out of their tracks, to make them straight, that trains may run more rapidly. They spend millions in straightening their tracks. Are there any crooked ways in our lives? If so, they should the made straight, that the feet of Christ may run easily and swiftly in them.
John was a sensationalist. He did not wear the dress of other men. He was like Elijah in his garb. The old prophet was girt and with a belt of leather; the new prophet, too, had his clothing of camel's hair and wore a leather belt. His food was that of the very poor—locusts, roasted, boiled or baked—and wild honey. His poverty was not affected, but was real—a symbol of his sincere unworldliness. He was sent from God, God's messenger, not man's.
John did not spare the people to whom he preached. Among his hearers were the great men of the nation, but as he looked into their faces, he knew that their hearts were full of sin—and he called upon them to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. They must prove by putting away their sins, that their confession was genuine. It will not be enough to tell people we are Christians—the will wait to see the evidence of it in our lives. If a man, hitherto living an evil life, unites with the church on Sunday, and then goes back Monday morning to his worldly ways, will his neighbors credit his Sunday's profession? The heart is the important member in all spiritual life, but the heart makes the life; and if the life is evil—the heart has not been changed. The way to prove that we have really repented—is really to repent, and then the fact will speak for itself.
Throngs flocked to hear the great preacher of the wilderness, "Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about the Jordan." Confession of sin was the gate of admission to baptism. Baptism meant cleanness—its necessity implied impurity, but the afterlife was white.
But John saw some coming for baptism, whose sincerity he had reason to doubt. Some others of them thought they could get into the kingdom of heaven on their ancestry. They belonged to the family of Abraham, and thought this was sufficient. But John assured them that they must have more than good ancestry to commend them. God, he told them, could not be mocked. The ax was lying at the root of the trees to cut down every one on which no fruit was found. The picture is very striking. An ax leaning against a tree implies warning and also patience—delay to see if the tree will not prove fruitful. But the delay is not to be forever. The ax at the tree's root suggests, also, thorough work—not pruning, merely, to make the tree more fruitful—the time for that is past—but judgment. We are the trees. If we are fruitless and useless, not living up to our privileges and opportunities, not filling well our place in the world, the ax is lying beside us, warning us that only God's patience spares us—and the time for cutting down will soon be at hand!
The humility of John appears in all the story of his life. He claimed no greatness. The coming of throngs to his preaching did not turn his head. He knew the secondary importance of his part in the work—he baptized only with water, and water could cleanse only the outside. The real work would be done by one who could baptize the heart. Washing the body is a good thing, but it does not make one morally better, does not improve one's character. The change which will make a life like Christ's—must take place in the heart, and can be produced only by the Spirit. Water baptism is right as an ordinance and as an emblem of the inner cleansing; but if we depend upon it for salvation, without submitting ourselves to the Divine Spirit, we shall find our trust in vain!
John foretold the work of the Messiah as one of separation. He would gather the wheat into his garner—and he would burn the chaff up with unquenchable fire! There is a great difference between wheat and chaff. Wheat has life in it. Wheat grains drop into the earth, grow, and yield a harvest. Wheat is food; it makes bread and satisfies hunger. Wheat is valuable; it is highly prized in the market. But chaff has no life in it; it does not grow, and only rots in the ground. It is not food; it satisfies no hunger. It is of no value; nobody buys chaff, and it is good only to throw away or to burn. What sadder thing is there in this world—than a human life made to be golden wheat, to feed men's hunger, yet proving only worthless chaff!
The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus Matthew 3:13 to 4:11
The beginning of Christ's ministry was marked by two important events—His baptism and His temptation. These were thirty silent years, without any manifestation of Divine power, except the beautiful, sinless life which Jesus lived. We must think of those years, however, as part of the Incarnation. The Divine character was revealed not only in miracles and heavenly teachings—but in sweet, beautiful living.
John said that he was not worthy to unloose the shoes of the Coming One. Now when he recognizes this glorious One waiting before him to be baptized, he shrinks from the performance of the rite. He would have refused. "I have need to be baptized of You, and do You come to me?" But Jesus insisted on receiving baptism from John. "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." The words are full of meaning. The event was of great importance in the life of Jesus.
For one thing, it was the identifying of Himself with humanity. He stood for us men and our redemption. He had no sin—but His people were sinful and He died for them. It was also the acceptance by Jesus of His Messianic work. The years of preparation were ended, and the time had come for Him to begin His public ministry. The call came, bidding Him turn away from His quiet life—and manifest Himself to His people. We can think of Him shutting up the carpenter's shop and leaving it forever. Then He stood before the Baptist at the Jordan and was baptized. He had a glimpse that hour of all that lay before Him in His Messianic ministry. The shadow of the cross fell upon the green banks and on the flowing water, fell also upon the gentle and lowly soul of Jesus as He stood there. He knew for what He was being baptized—the mission of redemption. We do not know to what we are devoting ourselves, what our consecration may mean—when we stand up and give ourselves to God. In a certain sense we go forth in the dark. Yet we may trust God with the guidance of our lives and should devote ourselves to the will of God without question or condition.
John obeyed the wish of Jesus and baptized Him. The baptism of Jesus became the occasion of a Divine testimony to His Sonship. Luke tells us that as He was being baptized He prayed, and as He prayed the heavens were opened unto Him. Prayer brought down upon Jesus, the Holy Spirit. This was Heaven's answer to Christ's consecration. This was the Divine anointing for His public ministry. Instead of a horn of oil poured upon His head, the mere emblem of grace, He received all the fullness of the Spirit.
The Spirit came in the form of a dove. It is usual to think of the dove as in its nature, in some way a symbol of the character and disposition of the Spirit. Dr. Horton quotes an old commentator: "The dove is a lover of men and bears ills patiently; for, robbed of its young, it endures and lets the robbers approach it just the same; it is the purest of creatures and delights in sweet frangrances." The first mention of the dove in the Bible is as a messenger of good news, bearing an olive leaf. An old legend relates that when Jesus was dying a dove sat on the cross above His head, and the legend has been interpreted to mean that even after the blood of the Lamb of God was given to redeem the world, it is needful that the Spirit shall come to soften men's hearts and incline then to yield to God.
There was another manifestation at the baptism—first, the open heavens, second, the descending of the Spirit, then a voice. The voice was the testimony of the Father to His Son. "This is My beloved Son, in who I am well pleased." From Matthew's account it would seem that the voice spoke to the people, declaring to them that Jesus was the Messiah. From Luke's Gospel it would appear that the words were spoken to Jesus Himself, assuring Him of His mission and of the Father's pleasure in Him. This was the real, the inner meaning of the baptism of Jesus. From this time, His consciousness of messianic authority was clear.
After this came the temptation. It was necessary that Christ should be tempted, before He offered Himself as the Redeemer of sinners. The first Adam was tried in Eden and failed. The second Adam must also be put to the test, before he could go forth as Lord of men. Several reasons may be suggested why He must be tempted. One was because He was human and must meet every human experience. His temptations were real—He "suffered being tempted." Another reason was that until He had met and overcome the tempter, He was not ready to offer Himself to men as a strong and victorious Savior. The Holy Spirit is not the tempter—but it is said expressly that Jesus was led by the Spirit, driven, Mark says, to be tempted. He must be tried, tested, proved—before He went forth to His messianic work.
We know now that Christ is able to deliver us out of the hands of Satan, and to defend us against his fiercest assaults. But if He had not Himself been put to the test, in all points tempted like as we are—yet without sins (Hebrews 4:15), we could not have had this perfect confidence. Another reason why Jesus was tempted, was that He might understand from personal experience, the nature and power of His people's temptations, and thus be able to sympathize with them in their struggles. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we are told that because of His earthly experience of temptation, He can now in heaven be touched with the feelings of our infirmities.
There are very practical lessons we may learn from this narrative of our Lord's temptation. One is that Satan times his temptations to our hours of weakness, or our period of special stress. He does not tempt us with something we do not want—but with something that appeals to our cravings at the time. Jacob cold not have brought Esau's birthright for a thousand bowls of pottage, if Esau had not been hungry that day. Satan watches, and when he finds us exhausted and weary—he takes advantage of our condition. He comes to the boy when he is lonesome and homesick, tempting him to seek companions that will ruin him.
Jesus was hungry after His long praying and fasting—and Satan tempted Him to use His Divine power to turn stones into bread. Many temptations come to people who are hungry. They are tempted to be dishonest, to take employment that is sinful, or in some other way to sell themselves—to get bread. We need to be watchful against the tempter always—but especially in the times of our weakness and craving.
Why would it have been wrong for Jesus to exert His Divine power to provide bread for His hunger? Is it wrong to feed one's hunger? Jesus afterwards made bread by miracle, to feed the hunger of thousands. Why would it have been a sin for Him, to supply bread in this supernatural way for Himself when He was hungry? For one thing, it would have been receiving direction from the Evil One, instead of from His Father. Another reason was that He was in this world to live as men live. If He had used His Divine power to help Himself over the hard points of human experience, He would not have understood our life, for we cannot do this. Therefore, He never wrought a miracle for Himself. He met life just as we must meet it, enduring hunger, thirst, weariness, pain, wrong, without having recourse to supernatural power. Still further, it would have been distrusting His Father, for Him to make bread of the stones. He was under the Divine Care, and God had given Him no command to turn stones into bread. He must wait until His Father provided for His hunger.
The answer of Christ to Satan's temptation, is very suggestive. He said that man shall not live by bread alone—but by every Word of God. Our physical needs are not our only needs. Sometimes men excuse their sin by saying, "Well, I must live," as if hunger excused theft or fraud. But it is not true that we must continue to live, or that living is in itself the best thing for us. It is true, however, that we must obey God's commandments and do His Will. We would better any day starve than commit even the smallest sin to get food. Getting bread should not be our first object in living—indeed, it is not our business at all. Life's first duty is to obey every Word of God, and then God will provide for our needs.
The second temptation was to presumption. The tempter asked Christ to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, quoting words from an old Psalm (Psalm 91) to prove that he would not be hurt—but that God would take care of Him. Thus, the tempter whispered, He would prove to the people that He was their Messiah. What would have been wrong in this? Jesus said it would have been tempting God. If the Father for any reason had commanded Him to leap from the pinnacle into the street, then He could have claimed the promise of protection. But if He had thus accepted the suggestion of the tempter, the promise would have been void. We cannot claim protection in danger which we enter without the Divine bidding. Only when God sends us and guides us—do we have the Divine shelter about us.
The third temptation was the boldest of all. Christ had just entered upon His public ministry, and at the end of it He saw the cross. Satan suggested to Him the worldly way of honor and power instead of the lowly way of suffering, sacrifice and shameful death. This temptation Satan uses continually with men. He shows them visions of wealth, of worldly success, and says: "Now all this may be yours—I will give it all to you. True, you must give up some of your old notions. You must get over some of you scruples. But throw these away—and this door is open to you, and see where the path leads—to all splendor and brilliance. You will be a millionaire. You will be highly esteemed. You will have all the pleasure you want."
Too many people yield to this temptation. The old ways of prayer, obedience, simple honesty and faithfulness, seem dull in contrast with the flowery paths which the vision shows. Yes—but we must look on to the end, beyond the glamour of the tempter's vision—before we can conclude that what Satan promises will be a good thing for us.
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
In Matthew's gospel, the story of the first months of our Lord's public ministry is omitted. Several chapters of John's gospel come in between verses 11 and 12 of Matthew's fourth chapter. The mission of John the Baptist was to go before Christ and prepare His way. When he had done this, introducing Him to the people—John's work was really ended. But he continued to preach for some months, until he was arrested by Herod and cast into prison. Then it was that Jesus went into Galilee. Why He did this, we are not told. Some suppose it was to avoid John's fate—but this scarcely seems a sufficient reason. Indeed, in Galilee he would be nearer to Herod than in Jerusalem. Is it not more likely that it was just because John was now shut up in prison and his voice silenced, that Jesus went to Galilee? John had spoken of Jesus coming after him, and He came at once and began to speak.
He dwelt in Capernaum. At that time Capernaum was an important city on the Sea of Galilee. Now nobody knows certainly what its site was. It was a city of wonderful privilege. For a long time Jesus made His home there. It was exalted in thus having the Son of God walk on its streets, speak His blessed words to its people, and do His works of mercy and love in its homes of suffering and sorrow. But in spite of all this honor and favor shown to Capernaum, Jesus was rejected there.
Matthew tells us that it was in fulfillment of prophecy that Jesus went to Capernaum. He was needed there. It was a region of moral and spiritual darkness. It is such places that always draw Jesus. Human need in every form, appeals to His compassion. When men travel over the world—they usually visit regions in which they will see scenes of beauty, of grandeur, of wonder. But Jesus was in this world to do good, to save the lost, to change wildernesses into gardens of roses—and He went where there was the greatest need, the deepest darkness. Churches sometimes move away from sections of cities which have been emptied of prosperous homes and the attractions of fashion. Whatever may be said of the expediency of following the drift of population with our churches—we need to beware of abandoning decaying communities, of taking away from the people who remain the blessings of the gospel. Jesus did not go into Galilee as a tourist—but as a missionary. He was a teacher come from God to tell the people of the love of God for them. The same words were used of John the Baptist in describing His ministry. Yet there was a great difference in the two men and in their preaching. John spoke sternly and severely. He spoke of the fire, the fan, the ax of the punishment of sin. Jesus came with gentle and winning words.
Yet His first call, like John's, was to repentance. All men need to repent. We never can reach the gates of heaven, unless we repent. The prodigal son had to rise and leave the far country, and walk back all the painful way to his father's house—before he could be restored to favor and be at home again. That is what every impenitent man must do. The first step in coming to Christ, is repentance.
We must be sure that we know just what this word means. Some people imagine, that if they are sorry for doing wrong, that they have repented. But mere sorrow for a wrong way—does not take us out of that way. Tears of penitence will not blot out sin; we must turn about and walk in holy paths. Repentance is ceasing to make blots on the record, and beginning to live a fair, clean, white life.
It was a familiar and homely scene which Jesus saw one day, as He was walking beside the sea. "He saw two brethren casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen." It is interesting to notice the kind of people Jesus sought for His disciples. He did not look for great and famous men. He did not go up to the temple and gather about Him rabbis and priests. He wanted men who were teachable, ready to listen to the truth and believe it, men who could be influenced by Him for good, whom He could train in the ways of His kingdom.
Jesus is always looking for men who will become His disciples. He has a great work in hand, and needs and calls for helpers. He wants those who will believe His message. He does not take prejudiced men, men whose opinions are so obstinately held, that they will not listen to His words nor accept His teachings; he wants teachable men. He does not choose those who are wise in this world's wisdom, for they might not readily accept the wisdom of God which He teaches. Nor does He seek idlers. He goes among those who are busy in the duty of the day. He found a king for Israel, in a boy who was keeping sheep. He found a prophet to succeed Elijah, in a young man who was plowing in the filed. He found a missionary for India, in a humble shoemaker, busy at his bench, ready for the Divine call, unable ever to say "No" to God. If we would be chosen to take part in Christ's great work—we must seek to be ready for it, with heart warm, mind open to receive truth, and ready for any service to which God may call us.
"Come, follow Me—and I will make you fishers of men." First of all, the disciple must go with Christ. This meant, in their case, leaving their business and attaching themselves to His household. It may not mean that to us—ordinarily we are to continue in the calling in which we are when we give ourselves to Him. But always it means joining ourselves to Him in heart and life. It means the complete surrendering of the mastership of our lives. No longer are we our own; we belong to Him. We are to go where He bids us to go—and do what He bids us to do. We are to think of His interests, not of our own. There can be no serving of Christ, no doing of His work, without first being with Him. "Without Me," he said, "you can do nothing" (John 15:5). But with Him, we are ready for any service, any duty, any work, and nothing is impossible to us.
First, they were to be with Him, and then He would make them fishers of men. They had been fishers of fish; they were to give up their old calling and take a higher one. The lessons of patience, quiet waiting and persistence, which they had learned in their daily and nightly work on the sea—would be of use to them in their new duties. They were to fish in the dark waters of sin for perishing men and save them, take them alive. Christ would teach them their new calling, "I will make you fishers of men." It was holy service to which He called them, and calls us. He does not want us to follow Him just for the joy of His salvation and the comfort of His friendship—He wants us to be His, that we may win others also to be His.
Instantly these fishermen dropped their tackle and their nets, left everything, and went away with their new Master. They were not a moment in deciding. They loved Him, and they were most glad to go with Him. "At once they left their nets and followed Him." Sometimes the sneer is heard, "They had little to leave!" True, it was not much in money value. Yet these nets and this fishing business were all they had. It was by these, that they earned their living. Now at the call of their new Master—they gave up all, cut themselves off from the means of support, burnt their bridges behind them, and in simple obedience and faith went with Him.
That is what we should do, when we hear the call of Christ. We should obey instantly, without questioning. No matter how great the sacrifice involved, we should make it cheerfully for His sake. Though to obey cuts us off from our ordinary means of livelihood and leaves us without provision even for tomorrow, we should not hesitate. Christ will take care of His servants when they are faithfully doing His will. "At once" is also an important phrase in the sentence. A great many people are forever postponing duties. When Christ calls, they say, "Yes, tomorrow." But every call should be answered instantly. Get this "At once" into all your obedience.
The charge never could be made against Jesus, that He thought only of men's spiritual needs and neglected their bodily needs. Continually we see Him doing good in common ways and helping people in their common needs. Here He is "teaching," "preaching," "healing." He did not give good advice, exhort people to be true and honest, and then be indifferent to their sufferings. He fed them when they were hungry, opened the eyes of their blind, cured their sick children, healed their diseases. Always this is the law of Christ's ministry. He cares for our whole being. Every trouble of ours whatever, whether of body, mind, or soul—moves Him with compassion.
It is a great comfort to us to know that our Lord is not indifferent to our diseases, that He would use them for our spiritual benefit, that He is ready to give us the grace we need—if we endure them patiently and submissively, and that He will heal us when His wise purpose in our affliction has been accomplished. Jesus is the great Healer—He is continually healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people. Wherever the Christian missionary goes, the hospital is set up alongside the chapel. In our church work we should think of men's bodies as well as of their souls—if we would wholly fulfill Christ's mission and purpose.
This picture of Jesus ought also to be a great comfort to all those who are suffering. He is going about everywhere healing. Is He any less strong now, than He was then? Does he love us less now, than He loved the sick people in Galilee? Will He not heal us, too, in the way that is best? In the sick-room of every Christian, Jesus sits, to give cheer. The sufferer may know, as he prays for healing, that his prayer will be heard and answered. Sickness has a mission—it sets lessons for us to learn. It is very unfortunate if one who is sick recovers and is not better in heart and life afterward. We should pray that the sickness may fulfill its mission in us and for us, and then that we get well.
"And His fame went throughout all Syria." No wonder. Such blessed news could not be suppressed. When Jesus healed all the sick people in one town, it could not be otherwise than that the report would fly abroad, reaching other towns. It is not to be wondered at that everyone who had a sick friend, hearing about the great Healer, would then want to bring that friend at once to Him. Thousands of people poured out to find Him who had this marvelous power.
Just so, whenever Jesus saves a sinner—the news should go out, and others who have unsaved friends should bring them at once to Him. We who know about Christ's power to heal and save—should go everywhere telling the news that those who are in their sins may be roused up to seek Him as their Savior.
Emerson's advice to Lincoln about hitching his wagon to a star—is the lesson Jesus sets for us in the Beatitudes. These blesseds shine like stars far above us, in their brightness and heavenliness. We may say that we never can reach them and that therefore there is no use in our trying to reach them. But the Master would have us strive after the highest attainments.
It has been noted, that if the world would make a set of beatitudes, they would be just the reverse of those that Jesus spoke. None of the classes pronounced blessed by Him would be called happy by the world. The poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and holiness—are not the world's favorites. These are not the qualities natural men consider most worthy of quest.
The first beatitude is for the humble ones. "Blessed are the poor in spirit." This beatitude is not for the poor in an earthly sense, for one may be very poor—and yet proud; and one may be rich in worldly goods—and yet be lowly in spirit, in disposition. The Bible everywhere praises humility. God dwells with the humble. Christ refers only once in the Gospels to His own heart, and through the window He opens, it is this picture that we see, "I am gentle and humble in heart" (11:29). To be poor in spirit is to be rich toward God; while pride of heart is spiritual poverty. Humility is the key that opens the gate of prayer; while to the loud knocking of pride, there comes no answer. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the humble. They may wear no earthly crown—but a crown of glory, unseen by men, rests upon their heads even here in this world.
The second beatitude is for those who mourn. We do not usually regard mourners as blessed. We pity them and think their condition unenviable. Christ, however, has a special beatitude for those who are sorrowful. Probably He means particularly penitent mourners, those who are sorrowful on account of their sins. In all this world there is nothing so precious in the sight of God—as the tear of contrition. No diamonds or pearls shine with such brilliance, in His sight. It was Jesus Himself who said there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents (Luke 15:10). Truly blessed, therefore, are those who mourn over their sins. They are comforted with the comfort of God's pardon and peace.
But the beatitude refers also to those who are in sorrow. Blessing never is nearer to us, than when we are in affliction, if we submit ourselves to God in love and trust. Someday we shall understand that we have received our best things from heaven, not in the days of our joy and gladness—but in the time of trial and affliction. Tears are lenses through which our eyes see more deeply into heaven and look more clearly upon God's face—than in any other way. Sorrow cleanses our hearts of earthliness, and fertilizes our lives. We grow the best when clouds hang over us, because clouds bear rain and rain refreshes. Then God's comfort is such a rich blessed experience, that it is well worthwhile to endure any sorrow in order to receive it.
The third beatitude is for the meek. Meekness is not a popular quality. The world calls it a cowardly spirit, which leads a man to remain quiet under insult, to endure wrong without resentment, to be treated unkindly and then to give kindness in return. Men of the world say that the disposition of meekness is unmanly, that it shows weakness, cowardice, a lack of strength. So it might be—if we looked to the world for our ideal of manhood. But we have a truer, a diviner example for our model of manliness, than any that this world has set up. Jesus Christ is the only perfect man who ever lived in this world, and when we turn to His life—we see that meekness was one of the most marked qualities of His character. He was gentle of disposition, never provoked, patient under wrong, silent under reproach. When He was reviled, He reviled not again. When He suffered, He threatened not. Possessing all power, He never lifted a finger to avenge a personal injury. He answered with tender love, all men's wrath, and on His cross, when the blood was flowing from His wounds—He prayed for His murderers. Meekness is then no cowardly spirit, since in Christ it shone so luminously. Then it is not an impoverishing virtue—but an enriching grace. The meek shall inherit the earth.
The fourth beatitude is for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. This, strangely, is a beatitude for dissatisfaction. We know that peace is promised to the Christian, and peace is calm repose and satisfied restfulness. The words hunger and thirst appear to suggest experiences incompatible with rest and peace. But when we think more deeply—we see that spiritual hunger must form a part of all true Christian experience. Hunger is mark of health. It is so in physical life; the loss of appetite indicates disease. So a healthy mind is a hungry one; when one becomes satisfied with one's attainments, one ceases to learn. In spiritual life, too, hunger is health. If we become satisfied with our condition of faith, love, obedience and consecration, we are in an unhappy condition. There is not growth after that. Often invalids die amid plenty, die of starvation; not because they can get no food—but because they have no appetite. There are many professing Christians who are starving their souls in the midst of spiritual provision, because they have no hunger. There is nothing for which we should pray more earnestly, than for spiritual longing and desire.
The fifth beatitude is for the merciful. Cruelty is opposed to everything Divine and heavenly. All that is unloving is condemned in the Scriptures. Blessing cannot come to the resentful, the unforgiving, the vindictive, to those who have no sympathy with distress, no hand to help human need. In our Lord's picture of the last judgment, in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, those on the right hand are those who have been kind, gentle, patient, thoughtful, ministering to suffering and need. Jesus Himself set an example of mercifulness. His miracles were for the relief of those who were suffering.
We must note in this beatitude also, that we receive in life what we give—the merciful shall obtain mercy. The unmerciful shall find the gates closed upon them, when they cry for help. A boy stood before a perpendicular crag, and when he began to shout he heard the echo of his own voice. When he spoke gently, a gentle voice responded. When he spoke angrily; he was answered back in angry tones. It is so in life. Those who show kindness to others, receive kindness in return. Those who are bitter, selfish and cruel—find this a loveless world to live in.
The sixth beatitude is for the pure in heart. There is no beatitude for anything unholy. There is no room with God for anything that defiles. If we would enter heaven, we must prepare for heaven here. To a child who expressed a wonder how he could get up to heaven, because it was so far away—a wise mother's reply was, "Heaven must first come down to you; heaven must first come into your heart." Heaven must really be in us—before we can enter heaven. Just was we become pure in heart, are we made ready for the heavenly life.
But what is heart purity? It is not sinlessness, for none are sinless. A pure heart must be a penitent heart, one that has been forgiven by Christ, cleansed by His grace. It is one also that is kept pure by obedient living, and close communion with Christ. An essential part of true religion before God is, to keep one's self unspotted from the world. It is an evil world in which we live—but if we carefully follow our Master, doing His will, keeping our hearts ever open to the influences of the Holy Spirit, we shall be kept, Divinely kept, from the corruption about us. As the lily grows up pure and unstained amid the soiled waters of the bog—so does the lowly, loving, and patient heart of a Christian, remain pure in the midst of all this world's evil.
The seventh beatitude is for the peacemakers. Too many people are not peacemakers. Some people seem to delight in finding differences between neighbors or friends which they try not to heal—but to widen. Christ's beatitude is for those who seek always to make peace. When we find two people in danger of being estranged by some misunderstanding, we should seek to get them together and prevent their falling apart. If we would be true peacemakers, we must never be quarrelsome or easily offended. Paul says that love is not easily provoked, that is, it does not take account of little or great hurts—but is patient and forbearing (see 1 Corinthians 13). It is a great thing to be a peacemaker. Of the peacemakers it is said, "They shall be called sons of God."
The eighth beatitude is for those who are "persecuted for righteousness' sake." Some people avoid persecution by conforming to the world, by being very careful never to offend the world. But Christ wants us to be loyal and true to Him, whatever the cost may be. Blessing comes upon those who suffer persecution for Christ's sake. Paul spoke of the wounds and scars he had received in persecution, as marks of Jesus, honorable decorations. We must notice, however, that is it when we are persecuted for righteousness sake—that we get this beatitude. Sometimes people suffer for being ill-natured, but the blessing cannot be claimed in this case. It is when we do the will of God and suffer for it—that we can claim the Divine blessing.
We are commanded to rejoice and be exceeding glad when called to suffer reproach and injury for Christ's sake. It is not easy to do this, although many Christians have actually rejoiced in pain and trial, so strong was their faith. Ignatius, on his way to Rome to be thrown to wild beasts, wrote exultantly, "Now I am beginning to be a disciple!"
In two striking figures Jesus showed His disciples what they were to be in the world, how they were to bless it by the influence of their lives. "You are the salt of the earth." You are, by living your new life in the world—to preserve it from rotting. This seemed a strange thing to say that day to a little handful of fishermen—but these men and their successors have done just that for the world through the centuries. We know what salt is and what its influence is. We are to be the salt of the earth, not merely in the words we speak—but especially in the influence of our lives. We must take heed therefore that the salt we are—does not lose its savor, its power to bless. We must make sure that the world is purified, sweetened and made better in every way—by our living in it.
"You are the light of the world." We are lamps which Christ lights and which are to shine upon the world's darkness for its enlightening. We must remember that the light of heaven can reach other lives and brighten the world—only through us. We must see to it, therefore, that the light in us never fails. We must never allow it to be covered up by anything. The object of the shining is not to glorify the lamp—but to honor God. We are not to parade our virtues—but to brighten the world and lead men to love our heavenly Father.
Some Laws of the Kingdom
Matthew 5:17-26; 38-48
We are not to think of Christianity as a new religion, distinct from that of the Old Testament. Rather, the one is a development from the other. Jesus was careful to say, "I came not to destroy—but to fulfill." Then He added, "Truly I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall pass away from the law, until all things be accomplished."
This is the law of all life. No particle of matter is ever destroyed. It form may be changed—but nothing of it passes out of existence. A log of wood may be burned in the fire—but it is not destroyed. Some of it lies in ashes and some of it escapes into the air in the form of smoke and steam and chemical elements—but not a jot or a tittle of the wood has been destroyed. All the wisdom of the ages still exists in the world. The songs men have sung, the words they have spoken, are living in the hearts and lives of our race. Our age is the inheritor of all past ages. Christianity holds all that was good and true and beautiful in Judaism. Jesus destroyed nothing of the religion of Moses. He was the fulfillment of all the prophecies. What went before Him was blossom; in Him the fruit appeared. The blossom was not destroyed—it only fell off because it had fulfilled its purpose.
The Old Testament is not antiquated and outgrown. It, too, is the Word of God. Wherever we find Divine truth—we are to accept it. Of course, there is a difference in the relative importance of Scripture words—there are least and there are greatest commandments—but he who breaks the least has grieved God and sinned against Him. He who obeys every Word of God, however small it may seem—has lifted himself up in the rank of God's children.
The Sermon on the Mount teaches the spirituality of all true obedience. The scribes and Pharisees were great sticklers for the letter of the law—but they went little farther. They missed its spirit. They interpreted "You shall not kill" literally as condemning murder—but they did not think of applying it to murderous thoughts. Jesus spoke startlingly, "But I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother—shall be in danger of the judgment." That is, anger is murder. So serious is this interpretation of the law, that Jesus says we cannot truly worship God while we have bitterness dwelling in our heart. Hatred must give place to love, when we stand before God. If we have wronged another, and the hour of prayer comes with the wronged yet unrighted—we must stop before the altar, interrupting our worship until we have gone to the one we have wronged and confessed and been forgiven. Perhaps we do not always think how serious an offense to God—an unforgiving spirit is. Quarreling is not only ethically unlovely; it is also wickedly and spiritually evil.
Acts are bad—but thoughts are taken note of, in the presence of God. There is sin in a lustful look—as well as in an unchaste act. Our thoughts have moral quality. Jesus enters into particulars and names certain sins which His disciples should carefully avoid. The Christian life should be without spot or blemish. One lesson He taught, was reverence in speech. "I say unto you, Swear not at all." He does not refer to oaths taken in the courts of law—but to profanity in speech. There is much irreverence in the conversation of many people in our day. Those who indulge in it often do it almost unconsciously. Some people—far too many—are recklessly profane. The profanity one hears in many places, even from the mouths of boys, is shocking. But there are any who think they never use profanity, whose speech is full of such forms of oaths as Jesus here refers to. We need to guard against every form of profanity in our speech, however veiled it may be.
"Hallowed by Your name," we say in the Lord's Prayer; we should be careful that God's name is always hallowed in our thought and in our conversation also, that it is never used lightly or irreverently.
Jesus made a plea also for simplicity of speech. "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." There is a common tendency to exaggeration and over-emphasis in speech. Many people always try to say things in a strong and emphatic way. They are not content to say yes or no—and stop with that. They rarely tell anything precisely according to the bare facts—but color even the most common happenings. It would be a great deal better if we would learn to use simple words, without exaggeration of any kind. Someone says, "The more swearing, the more lying." It would be well if we would remember that in speaking we are always overheard by One to whom the least shade of dishonesty is repulsive, and who is grieved by any profanity.
It was the custom in the old days to return evil for evil, hurt for hurt, injury for injury. "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," was the law. It is the common law yet with too many people. Our hearts urge us to seek revenge, and forgiving injuries is not natural with us. It is a law of the kingdom of heaven, which we are slow in learning. Even many who call themselves Christians, claim that they have a right to return evil for evil. A person who returns kindness for unkindness, who does an obliging act for one that was disobliging, is not commended as a manly man. The almost universal feeling, is that an offense must be retaliated. But that is not the way Jesus teaches us to do, when we have been wronged. "I say unto you, resist not him that is evil: but whoever smites you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also." We are to endure wrong patiently. We are to forgive those who have injured us.
This is one of the hardest lessons we have to learn in becoming Christians, and in the cultivation of the Christian graces. It is hard when others treat us unjustly, to keep on loving them and to be ready any moment to do them good. Yet that is what Jesus did, and He wants us to be like Him. He suffered wrongfully, and went on loving. He taught that we should forgive those who have injured us. When one of His disciples asked Him how often they should forgive others, and suggested seven times as a fair number; Jesus told him that not seven times—but seventy times seven, they should forgive. That is, they should never cease to forgive.
The word of Jesus which tell us that when one compels us to go a mile with him to show him the way and give him help on his journey—we should go two miles, is suggestive of the spirit of all true Christian life. Some people do the best they possibly can do for others. They try to carry out the teaching of love in a very literal fashion. But they never go an inch farther than they are required to go; they never pay a penny more than the law demands. Jesus said, however, that we should cultivate this two-mile religion, doing more than we are expected to do, going father in helping others than we are required to go. Love should always abound in us. We are never to measure and calculate our kindness to others, giving just so much and no more. Generosity is to be the law of all our life. Anybody can go one mile with another—but we are to do more than others and go two miles.
The law of love to neighbors was taught in the Old Testament—but like other Divine teachings which were not easy, the people made their own glosses over the Divine Commandment, changing the sense to suit their own nature feelings. They interpreted this ancient law thus, "You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy." They defined neighbors to include only certain pleasant, congenial people, people who were kind to them, people whom they liked. Jesus taught a higher law. "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." According to His teaching, our neighbor is anyone who needs our help.
The parable of the Good Samaritan was Christ's own illustration and explanation of the meaning of the commandment to love our neighbor. It was a Jew who was hurt, and lay bleeding by the roadside. It was a hated and despised Samaritan who proved neighbor to him, stopping on his way, at much cost to his own interests, caring for the man, nursing him, and providing a place in which he might recover. No matter who it may be that needs any help ministry or comfort from us—we are not to ask about his nationality, whether he has been a good friend to us in the past, or not, or whether he belongs to our set—we are to help him, because he is 'our neighbor'.
The Divine example is referred to in enforcing the lesson. God is kind to the sinner as well as to the righteous man. "He makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust." When He finds anyone in distress, He does not ask who he is. He imparts blessing to all alike. Since God is patient with those who wrong Him and neglect Him, if we are God's children we must show the same spirit.
The Master thus sets the highest standard for His followers. It is not enough for them to be as good as other people are—they must be better. "And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" was His question. Anybody can love those that love him. Anybody will greet those who greet him graciously. The Christian is to do more. "You therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." We should keep before us always the question, "What are you doing more than others?"
Christian boys among their friends must not be content to live as the world's boys do—they must do more than they do, they must be better than they are. The Christian carpenter must do his work better than the carpenter who does not know Christ and follow Him. The Christian girl must be more gentle, more patient, more thoughtful, and more unselfish, more kind, than worldly girls are, because she belongs to Christ. In all life's affairs, we must remember that having given ourselves to Christ, there rests upon us an obligation for a more beautiful life, for nobler service, for sweeter living, for larger usefulness, for Christlike helpfulness, because we represent our Master, and are called to be perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect.
Almsgiving and Prayer
It was characteristic of the Pharisees in our Lord's time, that they sought publicity and display for their religious acts. They made their prayers in as conspicuous a way as possible, so that the people would observe them, mark their 'devoutness' and be impressed with their fervor and their earnestness. This was one thing in which the disciples of Jesus were told that their religion must differ from that of the scribes and Pharisees.
"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them." This does not mean that they were not to be godly before people—they were to live righteously everywhere. There are many Divine words bidding us to be careful of our conduct in the presence of others. Jesus Himself in this same Sermon said, "So let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father." We are to live all the while so that we shall be blameless, that those watching us, to find fault, shall have no reason for speaking against us. We are to show always to all men, an example which shall honor Christ.
What is forbidden, is that we do our 'acts of righteousness' before others, in order to be seen by them. We are to live for the eye of God, to get His praise. Some of those who professed great devoutness in Christ's time, making much show of piety in the presence of men, were in their inner life cruel, unmerciful, grasping and unholy. The lesson Jesus taught, was lowly humility, devoutness of heart, a goodness which did nothing for display—but was always and everywhere true, faithful, genuine, thinking only of pleasing God.
One special example in illustration of the lesson Jesus gives, is regarding the giving of alms. It was the custom of some of the people in those days to give their alms very ostentatiously. If they did not literally sound a trumpet, announcing their gifts, they at least let all people know that they were contributing to the poor and how much they were contributing. They wanted praise for their generosity. The motive was, not to relive distress—but "to be honored by men." Jesus says they have received their reward in full. That is, they had the name of being charitable. Their deeds were known and talked about. They did not give their alms to please God, or because they cared for the poor—and so they had no honor from God, and no love from men as their reward.
Jesus teaches in contrast, in a very emphatic way, the true manner of giving alms. "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." The lesson would seem to be, that our doing good to others should be, as far as possible, absolutely in secret. When others need our help in their distress, we are not to withhold it—but we are not to tell others of what we do. We are even, as it were, not to let ourselves know of it. We are to give out of love, to those who need to be helped, not humiliating them by making a spectacle of our kindness. Our giving, too, is to be only for the eye of God. Then He will reward us and recompense us.
The lesson is applied still further to prayer. "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men." They do not pray to God at all, and their real desire is to have men think they are very devout. They have their reward—that is, they get what they seek for: men see them. We all need to guard against the performance of our acts of devotion, for men's eyes—and not for God's.
Jesus does not mean to teach that we are never to pray in the presence of others. Public prayer is a duty. What He is pressing is that we are not to do any religious act to have men see us, and think us devout. We are to pray to God only and our prayer will receive His answer of love and grace. In all our life of love and service, the same rule should be observed. We should never seek honor for anything we do. We should shrink from praise and publicity. To show consciousness of our goodness, and any worthy service we have done—is a blemish. We should hide away rather from praise of men.
Florence Nightingale, having gone like an angel of mercy among the hospitals in the Crimea until her name was enshrined deep in every soldier's heart, asked to be excused from having her picture taken, as thousands begged her to do, that she might drop out and be forgotten, and that Christ alone might be remembered as the author of the blessings which her hand had distributed in His name.
"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen." The Pharisees chose public places as their place of private devotion. They wanted people to see how devout they were. Jesus bids us to guard against all such display of our religion. He teaches here also the duty of secret prayer. We are to go away alone—other people about us disturb our thoughts. Then we are to shut the door to keep out all the world, that we may be entirely alone with God. He alone is to hear us when we pray, and in Him alone must our dependence be. No one can afford to leave daily secret prayer out of his life. Jesus went often alone to meet with God.
The form of prayer which Jesus gave His disciples, was not meant as the only prayer they were ever to use—but as showing the spirit in which they should pray and the scope of their requests.
"Our Father in heaven." This is the golden gate of prayer. If we enter the temple at all—we must enter it as God's children. Of what open and loving access the name Father assures us. We know that He to whom we speak—has a father's heart, a father's gentleness; a father's yearning for his child. A true earthly parent withholds from his child nothing that is good, so far as his ability goes. God withholds from Him children nothing that is really good. We should learn also from a little child—how to pray to God. We should come to Him in simplicity, with childlike confidence, with unquestioning trust, with yearning love.
"Hallowed be Your name." To hallow is to honor, to make holy. If we pray this prayer sincerely, we will hallow the Divine name in our own heart, we will pray with reverence and love. Christian people sometimes grow very careless in speaking of God. They become so accustomed to using His sacred name in prayer and conversation, that they utter it lightly, as if it were the name of some familiar friend. A miner with black, grimy hand plucks a pure flower from the stem. It seems almost a profanation to touch that beautiful flower with the soiled fingers. But what shall we say to our taking on our unclean lips, the holy name of God? We should learn to hallow this blessed name in our speech. Then we should hallow it in our life. We are God's children and we bear His name. We must take heed that in every act of ours, in our behavior, in our whole character and influence, we should live so that all who see us shall see in us something of the beauty of God.
"May Your kingdom come." God's kingdom is where God is king. In praying this petition, we are to think first of our own heart. The one place we can surrender to God, is our own life. We cannot surrender our neighbor's heart to God. A mother cannot make God king in the heart of her child. But each one of us is master in his own life and can choose who shall rule in it. In praying "May Your kingdom come," our prayer means nothing at all—if it does not first of all invite the Divine King to become our king, to rule in us. Then the prayer widens, and we ask God to set up His kingdom in our home, in community, then over the whole world.
"May Your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." Some people always quote this petition, as if it meant only submission to some painful providence, as if God's will were always something terrible. They suppose it refers only to losing friends or money, to adversity or calamity, or to being sick or in some trouble. But this is only a little part of its meaning. It is for the doing of God's will, not the suffering of it, that we here pray. Our desire should be always to let God's will be done by us and in us. It is easier, however, to make prayers like this for other people, than for ourselves. We all think others ought to do God's will, and we do not find it a difficult prayer to make that they may do so. But if we offer the petition sincerely, it is a prayer that we ourselves may do God's will, as it is done in heaven. We can pray it, therefore, only when we are ready for implicit, unquestioning obedience.
Then it may—sometimes it does—mean the giving up of a sweet joy, the losing of a gracious friend, the sacrifice of some dear presence, the going in some way of thorns and tears. We should learn always to make the prayer, and then hold our life close to the Divine will, never rebelling, nor murmuring—but sweetly doing or bearing what God gives us to do or bear.
"Give us this day our daily bread." This seems a small thing to ask. Why are we not taught to pray for bread enough to last a week, a month, or a year? It seems for one thing, that Jesus wanted to teach here the lesson of continual dependence. He taught us to come to God each morning with a request simply for the day's food, that we might never feel that we can get along without Him even for one little day. Another lesson He wanted to teach us, was that we should live by the day. We are not to be anxious about tomorrow's needs—we are to think only today's. When tomorrow comes, it will be right to seek provision for it and to take up its cares and duties.
"Forgive us our debts—as we also have forgiven our debtors." The first part of this petition is not hard to pray. But the second part is not so easy. When someone has done us an injury and we are feeling bitter and resentful over it—it is not easy to ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. Perhaps we do not forgive at all—but keep the bitter feeling against our brother in our heart; what is it then that we ask God to do for us when we pray, "Forgive us—as we forgive?" God has linked blessing and duty together in this petition, in an inseparable way. If we will not forgive those who have wronged us, it is evident that we have not the true spirit of repentance to which God will grant remission of sins.
"Bring us not into temptation." We ought never to seek any way in which we shall have to meet temptation. Temptation is too terrible an experience, fraught with too much peril, ever to be sought by us or encountered, save when God leads us in the path in which it lies. So if we make this prayer, we must go only where duty clearly calls us. If we meet temptation there, God will keep us from evil.
Worldliness and Trust
The Christian life is very simple—if only we understand it. It has only one principle—single-hearted devotion to Christ. Paul stated this principle when he said, "To me to live is Christ" (Phil. 1:21) Jesus states it here also when He says, "Seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness."
In our present passage, we have a whole scheme of life.
To begin with, we must find something real and permanent to live for. It concerns the matter of possessions. Earth's banks are not absolutely safe; and even if they were, they are not eternal. We are immortal, and we must find a place of deposit secure for immortal years. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."
How can we lay up treasures in heaven? By living for God, by committing our lives to Jesus Christ, by spending our money for the glory of God. There are men who possess little money or property when they leave this world—but are rich in treasures laid up in heaven. Paul had only the clothes he wore, an old cloak and a few sacred parchments when his martyrdom came—but he was rich beyond measure in glory! There are millionaires here—who will be beggars in the next life; and there are poor men here—who will have an inheritance of glory in heaven.
Single-heartedness is the secret of true godly living. "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." Some people seem to think they can keep on safe terns with God—and at the same time maintain close relations with the world. The Master's teaching here shows us that it is impossible to be half God's—and half the world's. There is room for only one lord in our life, and we must settle who this will be. If we belong to God, the world is our servant. It seems strange indeed that anyone with an immortal soul, should be willing to have mammon—money—for his god. Money may do much good and be a great blessing, if it is used for God—but when a man gets down upon his knees to his money, crawls in the dust for its sake, and sells his manhood to get it—it has only curse for him. One who truly serves God—cannot give money half his heart. God will not share a human heart with any other master.
A great many people are talking now about the secret of happy living. The Master gives it here. "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life." Anxiety is very common. There is a great deal of worrying in the world, even among good people. One does not meet very many whose faces shine always with the light of a perfect peace. The majority of faces show lines of care. Not many people pass undisturbed through all manner of experiences. Is worrying a sin—or is it only an infirmity? There certainly are a great many cautions and warnings in the Bible against worrying.
But how can we help it? Paul tells us how to keep worry out of our life. "In nothing be anxious." But how can we obey this counsel? What shall we do with the things that we would naturally worry about? Here is the answer: "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." That is, instead of worrying about matters that would naturally fret us—we are to put them out of our own hands—into God's hands, by prayer. Then we have this assurance: "The peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6, 7).
It will help us with our lesson, if we look carefully at the connections of the words as they stand in the Gospel. "You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious." That is, anxiety comes from serving mammon. We say we are God's children—yet when mammon seems to be failing, and then we begin to worry. That is, we trust mammon more than we trust our Father. We feel safer when mammon's abundance fills our hands—than when mammon threatens to fail and we have only God. If we truly served God only, we should not be afraid, though we have nothing of mammon, not even bread for tomorrow.
Jesus illustrates His teaching: "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them." Elsewhere Jesus says that not even a sparrow is forgotten by our Father. The sparrows are the most useless and the most troublesome of all birds. You can buy two of them for a farthing. Yet God watches over them, and not one of them shall fall to the ground without His permission. If God so cares for quarrelsome sparrows, He will care much more for His own children. We are of more value than many sparrows. Souls are of great worth—it took the blood of the Son of God to buy us back from bondage. Birds do not bear the Divine image. They have no spiritual nature. The God who cares for the soulless little birds—will surely care much more thoughtfully, more tenderly, for a thinking, immortal being, capable of eternal life. God is our Father—He is not the birds' father; He is their creator and provider—but they are not His children. A woman will give more thought to her baby—than to her canary. Our heavenly Father will provide more certainly for His children—than for His birds.
Worrying is also most useless. "Which of you by being anxious, can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?" A short person cannot, by any amount of anxiety, make himself and inch taller. Therefore, why should he waste his energy and fret his life away—in wishing he were taller, and in worrying because he is not?
Worrying about a coming trouble—does not keep the trouble away! Worrying over a loss—does not bring back that which is gone. People find obstacles, difficulties and hindrances in their life. There are hard conditions in their lot. But is there any use in worrying over these things? Will it make them any easier? Will anxiety cure the lame foot, remove the ugly mole, reduce the undesired tumor, or put flesh on the thin body? Will fretting make the heavy burden lighter, the hard work easier, the rough way smoother? Will anxiety keep the winter away, put coal in the bin, or bread in the pantry, or get clothes for the children?
Even philosophy shows the uselessness of worrying, since it helps nothing, and only wastes one's strength, unfitting one for doing his best. But religion goes father than philosophy, and tells us that even the hard things, the drawbacks, the obstacles, may be changed into blessings—if we meet them in the right spirit. So we learn that we should quietly and with faith accept life as it comes to us, fretting at nothing, changing hard conditions to easier if we can—but if not, using them as a means for growth and advancement.
The fact that God cares for us—ought to keep us from worry. "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Does God really care for the flowers? Yes, He weaves for them their matchless garments and fills their little cups with fragrance. Yet they live but for a day. If God clothes these frail plants so gloriously for only a few hours' beauty—will He not far more surely clothe His own children?
It is told of Mungo Park the great traveler, that once in the desert he was famishing for drink, and could find no water. In his exhaustion he had sunk down in the hot sands of despair, and had given up to die. He saw a tiny shoot of moss growing in the sand, and the thought came to him, "God tends this little plant. He placed it here and He is watering it. Surely, then, He will not forget me—but will provide for me, too." He roused up from his despair and passed on and was saved.
Here we come upon the great principle of Christian living. "Seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." That is, we are to put all the energy of our thought and life into one effort—to do God's will. We are not to to worry about our clothing or food—that is God's matter, not ours at all. We are to take thought, however, about our duty, our work, the doing of God's will, and the filling of our place in the world. Too many people worry far more about their food and clothing, lest they shall be left to need, than they do about doing well their whole duty. That is, they are more anxious about God's part in their life—than about their own! They fear that God may not take care of them—but they do not have any fear that they may fail in faithfulness to Him.
It will be a great point gained, if we learn here once and for all that providing for our needs—is God's matter, not ours; and that our first and only care should be our duty, the doing of our work. This God will never do for us—but if we are true to Him we shall never have any occasion to fret ourselves about our care. Suppose we are nearly starving? Well, we must go on, doing our duty in the circumstances, and not worrying; and in due time, perhaps at the last moment—but somehow or other, and in some way, the Lord will provide. Or if not, He will take us home.
The Golden Rule
When someone asked Raphael how he made his wonderful pictures, he replied, "I dream dreams and I see visions—and then I paint my dreams and visions." The teachings of Christ, if reverently received, fill our mind with dreams and visions of spiritual beauty. But there is something we must do if we would receive from these teachings the good they are intended to impart—we must get them wrought into our own life.
The lesson on judging is not an easy one. We may as well confess that most of us are quite prone to the fault which is here reproved. Of course, the teaching is not that we should never have any opinions concerning the actions of others—we cannot avoid having judgments either of approval or disapproval. It is not understood either that we shall never express condemnation of the acts of others; we are required to censure men's evil courses. A little later in this same Sermon on the Mount, Jesus bids His disciples beware of false prophets which come in sheep's clothing, while in reality they are ravenous wolves. It is not an easy-going acceptance of all sorts of people and behavior, which is taught. What we are forbidden to do is to be censorious. Rather, we are to treat others—as we would have them treat us.
There are reasons enough why we should not judge others. One is that it is not our duty. We are not our neighbor's judge. He does not have to answer to us. God is his Master, and to Him he must give account.
Another reason is that God is patient with men's faults, and we represent God. If he bears with a man's shortcomings, surely we should do so, too. He is patient with people in their indifference to Him, in their disobedience, in their selfishness. Should we be more exacting with others than God is? Should we exercise severity—where He shows leniency?
Another reason we should not judge others is because we cannot do it fairly. We see but the surface of people's lives. We do not know what has been the cause of the disagreeable features, the faults, we see in them. Perhaps if we knew all—we would praise, where we now condemn. A young man was blamed by his fellow clerks for what they called his stinginess. He did not spend money as they did. They did not know that an invalid sister in another part of the country, shut away in her room, with none but her brother to care for her, received nearly all of his monthly salary!
Another reason for not judging others, is that we have faults of our own—which should make us silent about the failings of others. When we glibly condemn our neighbor's shortcomings, we assume that we ourselves are without shortcomings. But quite likely we have a beam in our own eye—at the very time we are pointing out to our brother the mote in his eye. A mote is a mere speck; a beam is a great log. The meaning is, that we make more of a little speck we see on another's life or in his conduct—than we make of a very large fault in ourselves. Our first business certainly is with ourselves. We shall not have to answer for our brother's faults—but we must answer for our own. It is not our business to look after his blots and blunders—but we must look after our own. We should be severe in dealing with our own faults—and then we will be able to help in curing the faults of others.
Another reason against judging, is that the law of love requires us to look charitably at the faults and sins of others. "Love covers a multitude of sins" (see 1 Peter 4:8). An artist placed his friend in the chair in such a position, that the blemish on one side of his face would not show in the picture. That is the way love prompts us to see our friends and neighbors, and show them to others—exhibiting the noble things in them—and throwing a veil over their defects.
Still another reason for not judging others, is that when we do, we are setting a standard for the judging of ourselves. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others—you will be judged." If you criticize others—you must expect them to criticize you, and they will. Those who deal gently with the acts of others—may expect gentle treatment by others in return. People will give back to you—exactly what you give to them.
The Master has more to say here about prayer. The promise is very large. "Ask—and it shall be given you." Thus our Father throws wide open the doors of all His treasure houses! There seems to be nothing of all His vast possessions, which He is not ready to give His children for the asking. "All things are yours, and you are Christ's" (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). We need not try to trim down the promise, and yet we must read into it other teachings about prayer. Elsewhere we are taught that in all our praying we must say, "May Your will be done" (6:10). That is, we must submit all our requests to God's love and wisdom. We do not know what things will really be blessings to us. What would not be—our Father will withhold.
We get an important lesson here, too, on the manner of prayer, in the words "ask," "seek," "knock." They teach importunity and growing earnestness. Much that is called praying is not worthy of the name—is not praying at all. We have no burning desire, and there is neither importunity nor intensity in our asking. What did you pray for this morning? Do you even remember?
The Father-heart of God is unveiled in the words about bread and a stone; a fish and a serpent. It is far more likely to be the other way, however—what we ask would be a stone to us, would not be a blessing; and God, knowing what we really need, gives us a loaf instead of the stone we cried for! We know certainly that our Father is kinder to His children, than earthly parents are to theirs—as much kinder as His love and His ability to give is greater than the largest human love and ability. Yet we must emphasize the words "ask," "every one who asks," etc. Some people never ask—and then wonder why they do not receive. Then, we must ask with the highest motives. "You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3). Selfishness in prayer gets no answer.
The Golden Rule, as it is called, is wonderfully comprehensive. It bids us to consider the interests of others, as well as of ourselves. It bids us to set our neighbor alongside of ourselves and think of him as having the same rights we have, and requiring from us the same fairness of treatment that we give to ourselves. It is in effect a practical way of putting the command, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). It gives us a standard by which to test all our motives and all our conduct bearing on others. We are at once in thought to change places with the person toward who duty is to be determined, and ask: "If he were where I am—and I were where he is—how would I want him to treat me in this case?"
The application of this rule would instantly put a stop to all rash, hasty actions, for it commands us to consider our neighbor and question our own heart before doing anything. It would slay all selfishness, for it compels us to regard our neighbor's rights and interests in the matter, as precisely equal to our own. It leads us to honor others, for it puts us and them on the same platform, as equal before God, and to be equal, too, before our own eyes. The true application of this rule—would put a stop to all injustice and wrong, for none of us would do injustice or wrong to ourselves, and we are to treat our neighbor precisely as if he were ourselves. It would lead us to seek the highest good of all other men, even the lowliest and the humblest—for we surely would like all men to seek our good.
The thorough applying of the Golden Rule, would end all conflict between labor and management, for it would give the employer a deep, loving interest in the men he employs and lead him to think of their good in all ways. At the same time it would give to every employee a desire for the prosperity of his employer and an interest in his business. It would put an end to all quarreling and strife in families, in communities, among nations. The perfect working of this rule everywhere would make heaven, for the will of God would then be done on earth as it is in heaven!
False and True Discipleship
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
There are two gates—one narrow and one wide—and two ways corresponding thereto. The easy way is not the right way. This is true in a very wide sense. It is true in the life of a child. There is a broad way of indulgence and indolence—but we know where it leads. There is a way of patient obedience in duty—and the end of this is worthy life and noble character. It is true in young manhood and womanhood. There is a way of pleasure, of ease—which leads to unworthy character. There is a way of self-denial, of discipline, of hard work—and this leads to honor. Then there is a broad way of selfishness and sin—which never reaches heaven's gates. And there is a way of penitence, of devotion to Christ, of spending and being spent in His service—which end is a seat beside the King on His throne!
It is a reason for great thankfulness, that there is a gate into the spiritual and heavenly life—and into heaven at the end. The glorious things are not beyond our reach. They are high, on dazzling summits—but there is a path that leads to them. We must note, however, that the gate is narrow.
Some people say that it is very easy to be a Christian. But really, it is not easy. It was not easy for the Son of God to prepare the way for us. It was necessary for Him to come from heaven in condescending love, and give His own life in opening the way. Jesus said also that any who would reach the glory of His kingdom, must go by the same way of the cross by which He had gone. He said that the one who will save his life—that is, withhold it from self-denial and sacrifice, shall lose it; and that he alone who loses his life—that is, gives it out in devotion to God and to duty—shall really save it (see 16:24, 25). In one of His parables, too, Jesus speaks of salvation as a treasure hid in a field, and the man who learns of the treasure and its hiding-place has to sell all that he has in order to buy the field (see 13:44). In another parable the same truth is presented under the figure of a merchant seeking goodly pearls, who had to sell all his stock of pearls—that he might buy the one peerless pearl (13:45).
The truth of the difficulty of entrance into the kingdom, is put in another way in this Sermon on the Mount. There are two roads through this world and two gates into the eternal world. One of these roads is broad and easy, with a descending grade, leading to a wide gate. It requires no exertion, no struggle, and no sacrifice to go this way. The other road is narrow and difficult—and leads to a narrow gate. To go this way one has to leave the crowd and walk almost alone—leave the broad, plain, easy road—and go on a hard, rugged road that often gets difficult and steep, entering by a gate too small to admit any bundles of worldliness or self-righteousness, or any of the trappings of the old life. If we get to heaven, we must make up our minds that it can be only by this narrow way of self-denial. There is a gate—but it is narrow and hard to pass through.
Jesus forewarned His friends against false prophets who would come to them in sheep's clothing—but who inwardly would be ravening wolves! There is something fearful in the eagerness of Satan to destroy men's lives! He resorts to every possible device. He sends his agents and messengers in forms and garbs intended to deceive the simple-minded and unwary. He even steals the dress of God's own servants, in order to gain the confidence of believers and then destroy their faith and lead them away to death. There always are such false teachers and guides. They try to pass for sheep—but the sheep's covering is only worn outside, while inside is the heart of a hungry, blood-thirsty wolf!
Many young people in these times fall under the influence of people who have caught smatterings of skeptical talk which they drop in the form of sneers or mocking queries into the ears of their confiding listeners. They laugh at the simple old cradle beliefs which these young Christians hold, calling them "superstitions." Then they go on to cast doubt upon, or at least to start questions about, this or that teaching in the Bible, or to caricature some Christian doctrine and hold it up in such a light as to make it look absurd. Thus these "false prophets" poison the minds of earnest young believers, and often destroy their childhood faith and fill them with doubt and perplexity!
Jesus makes it very plain in His teaching, that not profession but obedience is the test of Christian life. "Not everyone that says unto Me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father." It is not enough to believe in Christ, intellectually, even to be altogether orthodox in one's creed. It is not enough to seem to honor Christ before men, praying to Him and ascribing power to Him. Jesus tells us that some at last who thus seem to be His friends, publicly confessing Him—shall fail to enter the heavenly kingdom!
Why are these confessors of Christ, kept out of the heavenly kingdom? What are the conditions of entrance into this kingdom? The answer is given very plainly. Those alone enter the kingdom, who do the will of the Father who is in heaven. No profession, therefore, is true which is not attested and verified by a life of obedience and holiness. "Simply to Your cross I cling" is not all of the gospel—it is only half of it. No one is really clinging to the cross—who is not at the same time faithfully following Christ and doing whatever He commands. To enter into the kingdom of heaven, is to have in one's heart the heavenly spirit. We must do God's will. We cannot have Christ for our Savior, until we have Him also as our Master. We pray, "May Your will be done by me on earth, as it is done in heaven." If the prayer is sincere, it must draw our whole life with it in loving obedience and acquiescence to the Divine will.
The illustration at the close of the Sermon on the Mount, makes the teaching very plain. "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock." Everything turns on the doing or not doing of God's Word. Both the men here described hear the words—but only one of them obeys, and thus builds on the impregnable foundation. These two houses probably looked very much alike when they were finished. Indeed, the house on the sand may have been more attractive and more showy—than the house built farther up on the hillside. The difference, however, lay in the foundations.
There were two kinds of ground. There was a wide valley, which was dry and pleasant in the summer days, when these men were looking for building sites. Then way above this valley—were high, rocky bluffs. One man decided to build in the valley. It would cost much less. It was easy digging, and the excavations would be less expensive, for the ground was soft. Then it was more convenient also, for the bluffs were not easy of access. The other man looked farther ahead, however, and decided to build on the high ground. It would cost a great deal more—but it would be safer in the end.
So the two homes went up simultaneously, only the one in the valley was finished long before the other was, because it required much less labor. At last the two families moved into their respective residences, and both seemed very happy. But one night there was a great storm. The rains poured down in torrents until a flood, like a wild river, swept through the valley. The house that was built on the low ground—was carried away with its dwellers. The house on the bluff, however, was unharmed.
These two pictures explain themselves. He who built in the valley is the man who has only profession—but who has never really given his life to Christ, nor built on Him as the foundation. The other man who build on the rock—is he who has a true faith in Christ, confirmed by loving obedience. The storms that burst, are earth's trials which test every life—the tempests of death and of judgment. The mere professor of religion is swept away in these storms, for he has only sand under him. He who builds on Christ is secure, for no storm can reach him in Christ's bosom!
Jesus, the Healer
A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said: "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean!"
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy!
After the Sermon on the Mount, we have narratives of many healings. The first was that of a leper. The case was remarkable because the disease was loathsome, contagious and incurable. The leper's cry to Jesus was very earnest. He had no doubt of Christ's power to cure him, "You can,"—but he seems uncertain regarding His willingness to do it. Instantly came the answer, "I will." As He said this He reached out His hand and touched him. Straightaway the cure was wrought. The man was ready to go back again to his home and to take his place once more in society. Marvelous always, was the touch of Christ. It never took defilement; it was so full of health that it cleansed the utmost loathsomeness! The same touch that changed the leper's flesh into cleanness, changes the worst lives into whiteness and wholeness.
The next act of healing was wrought on a slave. A Roman centurion had a servant who was very sick and a great sufferer. Somehow the centurion had heard of Jesus and the wonderful works he was doing, and he went to Him beseechingly and told Him of his trouble. We learn more about this soldier from seeing him at Jesus' door. He was greatly distressed, and yet it was not his child that was sick—it was only his slave. This tells us what kind of a man the centurion was—he had a gentle heart. All of us are continually manifesting what we are, through the little windows of our common, unconscious acts. By the way a boy treats his dog or his pony, or birds and insects, especially by his treatment of his sisters, and by his manner toward his playmates, and toward the poor and the weak—he is showing what he really is.
We see here also the immortality of good deeds. It is sweet to be remembered, long after one has passed out of life, by what one has done. It was a great while ago that this centurion went on his errand—but here we find his gentle deed set down among the memorials of Christ's own life. This deed of the centurion's is found imbedded on a gospel page. Every good deed done in Christ's name, is recorded in God's books and on human lives. It is worthwhile, therefore, to train our hearts to gentle thoughts and our hands to gentle deeds.
Jesus received the Gentile soldier most graciously and said at once He would accompany him home and heal the servant. Here we have a revelation of the heart of Christ. He was quick to respond to every cry of suffering. It will greatly help us in our thoughts of Christ in heaven, to remember that He is the same now, that He was while on the earth. He is still quick to hear our prayer and respond to our requests. His heart is yet tender and full of compassion toward pain. The gospel pages are not records of what Christ was—but glimpses of what He is!
Another lesson here is for ourselves. It is said that Dr. Livingstone rarely ever offered a prayer, even in his early Christian life, in which he did not plead to be made like Christ in all his imitable perfection. This should be the daily prayer of every Christian. We should seek to have Christ's great kindness of heart. The world is full of suffering—and we ought to seek in all possible ways to give comfort, relief or help. We have power to scatter happiness, to relieve distress, to give cheer and hope. We may not be able to heal diseases—but we can love people in Christ's name, and give them courage and strength to go on with their troubles and be encouraged.
But the centurion shrank now in his lowliness from having Jesus enter his home. This was true humility. We cannot truly see Christ—and not be humbled. The reason we are so proud and self-conceited, is because we do not see Him. If our eyes but beheld Him in the glory and splendor of His Divinity—all our vain pretensions would instantly shrivel. We should look at Christ with a long, loving gaze—until a sense of His Divine greatness fills our hearts.
Another thing here to be noted, is the centurion's conception of Christ. He thought of Him as a great Commander with all the forces of the universe under Him. The soldier knows only one duty—to obey; and all these forces know only to obey Christ. Christ is the Commander of the army of the universe! The stars and planets are under Him and obey Him, all winds and tempests and all the powers of nature—are subject to His sway. All diseases, all events, come and go at His word.
This ought to give us great confidence in the midst of dangers of whatever kind. Diseases and pestilence are only Christ's soldiers. They are obedient to His will—and can never transcend it not to go contrary to it. They can go only where and as far—as He sends them. Death is one of His soldiers, too, and can do only His command. Why then should we dread death, since it is the obedient servant of our King? So of all events and occurrences—they are but the messengers of our Master and cannot harm us. It was not necessary for Jesus to go to the centurion's house to heal his slave. He had only to speak the word—and the illness would obey Him and flee away!
The centurion's great faith wrought a great cure. "As you have believed—so be it done unto you." Blessing depends upon faith, the measure of blessing upon the measure of faith. Little faith gets little help. We have all God's fullness from which to draw, and there can be no limit to our receiving, save the capacity of our believing. It is because we have such small faith—that the answers to our prayers are so meager.
The next case of healing was wrought in the home of one of the disciples. Jesus blesses homes. It was after a Sabbath service in the synagogue. When Jesus entered the house He found the woman lying sick with a fever. We are not told of any request for healing by any of the family. The thought seems to have been the Master's own. He saw her sick—and His heart was full of compassion. The record is very beautiful. "He touched her hand—and the fever left her." What strange power has that touch! There are other fevers besides those that burn in people's bodies. There are fevers of the mind, of the soul. There are fevers of discontent, of passion, of ambition, of lust, of jealousy, of envy! There are fevers of anxiety, of remorse, of despair. All of these, all life's fevers, the touch of Christ has power to heal. Let Him only touch the hot hand—and the fever will flee away and quietness and peace will come!
"The fever left her; and she arose, and ministered unto Him." She could not minister, until the fever was gone. Nor can we minister while life's fevers are burning within us. But when the fever leaves us—we at once to arise and begin to serve the Master. It would add immeasurably to our power among men and to the influence of our lives—if we would always get the touch of Christ upon our hands at the beginning of each day.
One says of his mother: "My mother's habit was, every day, immediately after breakfast, to withdraw for an hour to her own room, and to spend the time in reading the Bible, in meditation, and in prayer. From that hour, as from a pure fountain, she drew the strength and the sweetness which enabled her to fulfill all her duties, and to remain unruffled by all the worries and pettiness which are so often the intolerable trial of poor homes. As I think of her life, and of all it had to bear, I see the absolute triumph of Christian grace in the lovely ideal of a Christian woman. I never saw her temper disturbed; I never heard her speak one word of anger, or of calumny, or of idle gossip. I never observed in her any sign of a single sentiment unfitting to a soul which had drunk of the river of the water of life, and which had fed upon manna in the barren wilderness. The world is the better for the passage of such souls across its surface."
Let other weary mothers wait each morning to get the touch of Christ before they go the day's tasks and frets. Then the fevers of life will leave them, and they will enter upon a day of quiet peace and gentle ministry.
The closing words of our passage present a most remarkable picture. "When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick." It would seem that there were scores healed in one hour!
The Power of Faith
"A ruler came and knelt before him and said: My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live."
Only comparatively few of our Lord's healings are recorded. He seems never to have refused to heal any who came to Him or were brought to Him. Besides, He healed some for whom no one interceded. Here was a ruler—an exceptional case, for the rulers were not His friends. Probably this man's great distress led him to seek healing for his child even in spite of his dislike of Jesus. The ruler and his prejudice, were lost in the father.
Trouble comes just as inevitably and as resistlessly, to the mansions of the great and rich—as to the homes of the lowly and poor. None are exempt. We can build no walls and set up no doors to exclude sickness and death! This is one lesson.
Another lesson, is that when sickness or any other trouble comes to us—we ought to send for Christ. We are to send for physicians, too, in sickness. They are God's ministers of healing. Usually God requires our cooperation in all that He does for us. But we should also send for Christ. He alone has original power to heal. Life is His gift and is under His care. Health is His alone to give. Medicines unblessed by Him—give no relief. Only at His bidding can anyone be restored from illness. While we use all the means within our reach—we should use them with prayer for Divine blessing on them, and in dependence on Divine power. Whenever anyone is sick in our house—we should send for Jesus and put the case in His hands.
Jesus was always eager to help those in trouble. He arose at once at the ruler's request, and followed him to his home. It seems strange, when we think who the man was, probably unfriendly to Jesus, that He should so quickly rise and follow this ruler. But it was always thus. He did not wait to make inquiry concerning the man, whether he was worthy or not, before going with him. The man that needed Him—was the man He wanted. In this alacrity in doing good Jesus was only showing the alertness of Divine love. In heavenly glory now, He is as quick to hear and as prompt to answer our cries—as He was that day in His earthly humiliation. He is always at our call. He never has so much to do or so many calls to answer—that He cannot attend to our case. Indeed, when we come to Him with any need, He has no other thing to do—but attend to us! We should be like our Master in all this. We should be quick to respond to the calls of need and distress about us. We ought to train our hearts to sympathy and thoughtfulness, and our hands to quick, gentle ministry in Christ's name.
Then came an interruption as the Master was hastening with the ruler to his house. "Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the hem of His garment." The street was thronged with people waiting for an opportunity to get near to the Healer. The "hem of His garment" is always within reach of earth's sufferers. He has gone up now on high, out of our sight—but His garment floats everywhere. We never can get beyond the sweep of its folds. We can always come near enough to Christ—to reach out a trembling finger and touch His garment and find healing!
Of course, we must not make a mistake about this hem. It is not a crucifix, nor is it some relic of a dead saint, nor is it even a bit of the wood of the cross. It is not even the Bible, for touching the Bible will do no one good. Nor is it the Church and its ordinances; for we may belong to the Church and observe its ordinances, and get no benefit to ourselves. To touch the hem of Christ's garment—is to touch Christ Himself. His garment is His life, His love, His Spirit, His grace.
A human physician, if hurrying on such an errand, would probably have refused to listen to any calls for help on the way, as the ruler's child was actually dead. But Jesus stopped quietly and turned to see the woman who had touched Him. Mark says that He asked, "Who touched My garments?" How did He know that one touch amid all the jostling of the crowd? The multitudes were close about Him, pressing up against Him. Many of them touched Him. The disciples thought it strange that He should ask such a question. The people could not help touching Him. But there was one touch different from all the rest. There was something in it which sent a thrill through Him. There was a heart's cry in it, a piteous, earnest supplication. It was a touch of faith. It was not like the jostling of the crowd—an accidental or unconscious touch, the mere touch of nearness. It was intentional. There was a soul's cry in it. So, amid all the crude pressure of the multitude, He felt that touch, and turned about to see the one who had touched Him.
Jesus always knows the touch of true faith and prayer among all the touches of this great world. In one sense all men are near to Him, for He is everywhere present. We cannot move without pressing up against Him. But when among all earth's millions one person intentionally reaches out a hand to feel for Him, to touch Him with a purpose, with a longing or a desire, to seek for some blessing, or to beg some help—and He instantly knows the pressure of that touch and turns to answer it. He knows when a hungry heart wants Him—no matter how obscure the person, how poor, or how hidden in the crowd.
Notice His graciousness in answering the woman's prayer. "Jesus turning and seeing her said, Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you." This was a bit of Christ's wayside work. He was hastening with Jarius to his home, to restore his dying child—and healed this poor woman on the way. We would call it incidental work, unpurposed, unplanned. The things we set out in the morning to do—are not by any means all the things that we do in any well-spent day. If we have the life of Christ in us, everyone that touches us gets some blessing from us. While busy at our work, we speak kindly to those who meet us or who are near us—and an influence of warmth, cheer or encouragement, or an inspiration toward better living—goes from us to them. We meet one in trouble as we hurry by—and stop to give a word of comfort. We hear of a case of distress—and we send or carry relief. Thus, if we have the spirit of Christ, our wayside service will be a most valuable and important part of our work in this world.
We do not know how long Jesus was detained in healing and comforting the woman on the way. "Jesus entered the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd." The child was dead and they were preparing for the funeral. So it seemed that He had tarried too long along the way. To us it appears, that He ought not to have stopped at all to heal or talk with the woman. She could have waited. But when we read the story through to the end—we are glad that He did stop to help the woman. We learn form His delay—that Jesus never is in a hurry. He is never so much engrossed in one case of need, that He cannot stop to consider another. He is never so pressed for time, that we have to wait our turn. No matter what He is doing, He will always hear instantly our cry for help.
Another thing we learn from this delay—is that Jesus never comes too late; He never waits too long. True, the ruler's child died while he lingered—but this only gave Him an opportunity for a greater miracle. He delayed, that He might do a more glorious work for this family. There is always some good reason for it—when Christ seems to delay to answer our prayers or come to our help. He delays, that He may do more for us in the end.
"The girl is not dead—but asleep." This was Christ's word always about death. He said His friend Lazarus was asleep. He says the same of all His friends. They are not dead. Indeed, they never lived so really, so richly, so fully—as they live, when we call them dead! They are away from all the limitations of earthly life, set free from the hampering prison of the flesh, cleansed of all sin, "spirits of just men made perfect."
Christ changed the whole aspect of death for His people! To them death is but the passage to life—rich, blessed, glorious life. Even bodily death is a sleep—and sleep is not a terrible experience. It is restful and refreshing, and then we wake again from sleep and live on beyond it. So the body sleeps, and will rise again renewed and wearing immortal beauty. Christ called this child from her sleep very soon; it will be longer before He will call those whom we lay down in death's sleep—but He will surely wake them in His own time, in the blessed, glorious morning. It is wonderful comfort to us—to know that Christ has care of our sleeping dead and has the keys of their graves and can call them when He will.
Another phase of human need is met in the next incident. "Two blind men followed Him." There are a great many people, who are blind in another way. They can see certain things—but certain other things, they cannot see at all. They can see mountains and plains and blue skies, and human faces, and money and real estate, and all earthly things; but they cannot see God, nor heaven, nor the beauty of holiness, nor the inheritance of believers, nor any of the unseen things of blessedness and Divine glory. They can see only material things, which are neither enduring nor eternal; but they cannot see spiritual things, which alone are real. Natural blindness is a sore loss. A blind man misses all the glorious beauty of this world. He cannot see where to go—and has to be led by the hand. But spiritual blindness is an infinitely more sore loss. Christ alone could give sight to the blind. He opened eyes, that had always been closed. He alone can open the eyes of the spiritually blind. If we cannot see spiritual things, we should call upon Christ to have mercy upon us.
Always faith was required. "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" The men must have faith, before Jesus would heal them. When we come to Him asking Him to do anything for us, He wants to know if we believe that He is able to do it. Once a father came to Him for his demon possessed son, and his prayer was, "If You can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us." But the "if" marred the request—the father was not sure that Jesus could cure his son, and Jesus sent him back to get a better faith. "If you can!" He answered. "All things are possible to him that believes." As soon as the man could say, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" Jesus cured the boy (Mark 9:22-24). May it be that the reason why many of our prayers are not answered, is because we do not believe that Christ is able to do what we ask of Him? If we can believe—He can give what we ask. If we cannot believe—He will not do anything for us.
The Mission of the Twelve
Matthew 9:35-10:15, 40-42
Jesus never rested. He went about doing good. His work is summed up here in three words: teaching, preaching, and healing. He was in this world to seek and save the lost, and He went everywhere on His holy mission of love. He did not stay in one place, because then other places would have been neglected. He knew that He had blessings for the sad, suffering world—and His soul was burdened until He had borne these blessings to everyone's door. So He went everywhere, from house to house. He was a shepherd seeking the lost, and we can see Him pressing through the dark ravine, up the steep cliffs, out upon the wild crags and over the rugged mountain, through storm and darkness, cold and heat—searching for the lost sheep! That is what He wants us to do now; for we are left in this world in His place, to carry on His work.
"When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them." Christ's compassion was astonishing. The sight of suffering humanity filed Him with grief. We have a picture here of the way that Jesus looked upon people, "When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." This means that they were neglected by those who ought to have been their friends and helpers. The rulers were intended to be shepherds to their people. Instead of this, they showed them no love, no kindness, no care—but wronged them, and even robbed them! Jesus was among them as a true shepherd, and His heart was full of compassion toward them!
Out of the deep pity of His heart, Jesus begins now to plan for the great work of saving men. "The harvest truly is plentiful—but the laborers are few." He seems to have been almost appalled at the vastness of the work as He looked out over the people and thought of their condition. But His vision was not limited to His own country. He had come to save the world, the whole world, and all nations. No wonder He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful." To meet the great need, there must be many laborers enlisted. This is the beginning of the great missionary movement which is now reaching out all over the world.
"The laborers are few," said the Master as He looked upon the great fields with their vast human needs, their sorrows, their hungering. Indeed, Jesus himself was the only laborer at that time. There were only a handful of apostles, and they were still untrained.
Note the first word His heart uttered as He thought of reaching the world with mercy. "Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." The Lord of the harvest is God Himself. At that time the chief duty, was prayer that the Lord would send forth laborers. Men were first to be called for the work and then trained for it. There is still need for making the same prayer, for even yet the laborers are few—in consideration of the vastness of the field to be harvested. But few young men are entering the Christian ministry, and the ranks are growing thin. The gates of missionary lands are open, and the money is ready to send men into the fields—but the men are not offering themselves.
Already Jesus had chosen the twelve apostles. Luke tells us of this. It is said that He spent all night in prayer to God before choosing these men. He thus sought His Father's guidance in making His choice and His blessing on the men to be chosen. The work of the kingdom was to be committed to their hands, and it was of the greatest importance that they should be in every way the right men. We have a suggestion here also—as to the importance of choosing our personal friends. It should be with prayer. Their influence upon our lives will be vital and far-reaching, and only God can choose them for us.
Here we have a description of the mission and work of the apostles. "He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority." First He called them to Him. No one is ready to go out for Christ—until he has come to Him. Discipleship must come before service. There is no place to start—but at the Master's feet. We must lie on His bosom and catch His spirit. It is not enough to attend colleges and theological seminaries, and be graduated from these. It is not enough to be commended by committees and mission boards; every one who would go as a worker for Christ or as a missionary, must first come to Christ. Christ must choose and call His own apostles—and send them out with His blessing. None are ready to go, until Christ has given them power and authority. He is the King, and He alone can commission any to represent Him. If we want to help Christ save the world—we must personally surrender ourselves to Him, and let Him prepare us and then send us out with authority to represent Him.
The names of the apostles are given. They were not famous men when they were chosen. They were very plain and ordinary men; but afterward they became men of wonderful power, and all the world felt their influence. We see out of what common stuff Christ can make great men, holy saints and heroic missionaries.
There is something in His method of preparing His apostles, that those who would be preachers and teacher should note. He took these men into His family and kept them there for three years. He lived with them, pouring the light and the love of His holy life upon their dull, sinful lives—until they were literally permeated with His Spirit. Thus He stamped His own impress upon them so that they were ready to go out and repeat His life and teaching among men.
Perhaps many of us scatter our work too much. If we would select a few people and give to them continually our strongest and best influence, month after month, and year after year, carrying them in our prayers, and in our thoughts, and doing all we can to impress them and make them noble, true and Christlike; we might do far more for our Lord in the end—than by trying merely to touch a hundred or a thousand lives?
The apostle had their field of work laid out for them. They were not to go into the way of the Gentiles. This was not the final command; it was only for the first tour of the country. The Gentiles were not always to be left out from the proclamation of the gospel. The great final commission was universal; they were to carry the news of salvation to every creature under the heavens. But as yet the gospel was not ready to be proclaimed everywhere. The blood of the Lamb of God had not yet been shed. The alabaster box of the Savior's precious life had not yet been broken, to pour out the ointment. For the present, the messengers were not to go beyond the limits of the Jewish nation.
The great law of Christian life is: that we receive—in order to give; that we are blessed—in order that we may be a blessing. "Freely you have received—freely give." Christ has liberally blessed us—but the blessing is not for ourselves alone. The things He has given us—we are to pass on to others. He wants to reach the many—through the few. We sin against Christ, and therefore against others—if we keep in our own hands, and do not use the good things He has so generously bestowed upon us. We take the bread and are to pass it to those who are hungry. We receive the cup and are to give it to those next to us. We are disloyal; therefore, to Him if we close our hands and hold the blessings He gives us in tight clasp, just for ourselves. Let us freely pass on—all that Christ has so freely given to us!
The Question of John the Baptist
John was a brave man and a firm believer in Jesus as the Messiah—but in his prison, questions arose. "When John heard in the prison the works of the Christ, he sent two of his disciples." There were some things which he could not make out himself, and he sent promptly to Jesus to ask Him about them. That is just what we should learn to do in all our perplexities. There often are times when all seems dark about us. We cannot understand the things that are happening to us. We are apt to get very much worried and disheartened. The true Christian way in all such experiences, is to take the matters at once to Christ.
John's faith in the Messiahship of Jesus wavered in his hard circumstances. "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" Some people think that John could not really have been in doubt. It is impossible, they say, that such a brave, grand man should ever have wavered in his confidence. They forget that John lived in the mere dawn of Christianity, before the full day burst upon the world. He had not the thousandth part of the light that we have—yet do we never have our questions?
The truth is, there are very few of us who are not sometimes disheartened without a hundredth part of the cause John had! We are amazed at every person's blindness or dullness—but our own! Other people's failures look very large to us—but we do not see our own at all. We wonder how Moses, once, under sorest provocation, lost his temper and spoke a few hasty and impatient words; while we can scarcely get through a single sunny day ourselves without a far worse outbreak, at a far smaller provocation! We wonder how the beloved disciples, with all his sweet humility, could once show an ambition for a place of honor, while we ourselves are forever miserably scrambling for preferment! We say, "Isn't it strange that the people of Christ's time would not believe on Him when they saw all His power and love?" Yet we do not believe on Him any more readily or any more fully than they did—though we have far greater evidence! We think it strange that the Baptist grew despondent when his trials were so great, though many of us are plunged into gloom by the merest trifles!
Somehow Jesus was not realizing John's expectation as the Messiah, and he thought that possibly there was yet another to come after Him. "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" It is the same yet with many people. When everything is bright and sunny—they think they surely have found Christ, and their hearts are full of joy. But when troubles come and things begin to go against them—they wonder whether after all they really have found the Savior. They begin to question their own experience. Christ does not do just the things they thought He would do for them. Their religion does not support them as they supposed it would do. If they are indeed Christians, why does Christ let them suffer so much and not come to relieve them? So they sink away into the slough of despond, sometimes losing all hope.
But we see from John's case, how unnecessary all this worry is. Of course, we must have some earthly trials. Christ does not carry us to heaven on flowery beds of ease. We must expect to bear the cross many a long mile. The true way is never to doubt Him. Suppose there are clouds, the sun still shines behind them, undimmed, and the very clouds have their silver lining. Suppose we have disappointments, Jesus is the same loving Friend as when all our hopes come to ripeness. There is no need to look for another; all we need we find in Him. If we turn away from Him, where shall we go?
When John's messengers came with their questions, Jesus did not give a direct answer. He went on with His ministry of love and mercy—that they might see what His work was. Then "Jesus answered." Jesus always answers. Many of our prayers to Him are mixed with doubts. Many of them are full of complaints, fear and murmuring. Still He never grows impatient with us. He never shuts His door upon us. We must cause Him much pain by our distrusts and our unhappy fears. We wonder whether He loves us or not, whether He really has forgiven us or not, whether or not he will take care of us all through our life. Half the time we are worried or perplexed about something, and are full of frets and cares. Does Jesus ever get tired of listening to such prayers? No, no! He listens always, and though His heart must often be pained by the discordant notes of our murmurings and fears—He never grows impatient, and never chides but always answers. He remembers how frail we are, that we are but dust, and gives loving answers.
Jesus let the messengers get their own conclusions from what they saw. "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see." Here we see how Jesus proved His own Messiahship. The best evidence of Christianity is not a long array of arguments—but the things Christianity has done. The tree's fruits are the best index to the tree's character. Jesus pointed to the miracles He had wrought. Yet it was not to the miracles as miracles, merely as wonderful works, that He pointed; it was the character of these works that proved His Messiahship. The blind received their sight, the lame were enabled to walk, lepers were cleansed, and the deaf were made to hear. All these were works of Divine mercy and love. Pulling down mountains, floating in the air, performing remarkable feats of magic, would not have proved our Lord's Messiahship; the miracles He wrought were never ostentatious, never for show—but were acts of love, done to relieve suffering, lift up fallen men, give joy and help—and thus manifest the Divine character. Once He walked on the water—yet it was not for show—but in carrying relief to His imperiled and terrified disciples.
Jesus said nothing about John, while the messengers from John were there—but when they were gone, He spoke of him. "As they departed, Jesus began to say." What a beautiful thing this was for Jesus to do for His friend! The people and the disciples would misunderstand John's perplexity about the Christ, and would be sure to misjudge Him, thinking Him weak and vacillating. Jesus would not rest a moment until he had removed any unfavorable impression about John that might have been left in anyone's mind. He was most careful of the reputation of His friend.
The lesson is very important. We should always seek to guard the good name of our friends. We should not allow any wrong impression of them or of their acts to become current. We should hold their name and honor sacred as our own. If we find that anything they have done is likely to leave an unfair or injurious impression on others who do not know all the circumstances, we must try to set the matter right. It is very sad to see people sometimes even apparently glad to find others unfavorably regarded. Instead of hastening to remove or correct wrong impressions, they seem quite willing to let them remain and even to confirm them by significant silence or by ambiguous words. Surely that is not the Christlike way.
John was not a weak man, blown with every breeze. He was not a "reed shaken with the wind." That is what many people are. A reed grows in soft soil by the water's edge. Then it is so frail and delicate in its fiber, that every breeze bends and shakes it. There are people of whom this is a true picture. Instead of being rooted in Christ, their roots go down into the soft mire of this world and are easily torn up. Thus they have no fixed principles to keep them upright and make them true and strong, and they are bent by every wind and moved by every influence. They lack nothing so much as backbone. The boy that cannot say 'no', when other boys tease him to smoke or drink or to go places he ought not to go, is only a reed shaken with the wind. The girl who is influenced by frivolities and worldly pleasures, and drawn away from Christ, and from a noble, pure, beautiful life—is another "reed shaken with the wind." They are growing everywhere, these reeds, and the wind shakes them every time it blows. Who wants to be a reed? Who would not rather be more like the oak, growing with roots firm as a rock, which no storm can bend?
It was a splendid commendation that Jesus gave His friend. "There has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist." So a man may sometimes have doubts and perplexities of faith, and yet be a very great man. Christ does not cast us off, because we sometimes lose faith. Of course, we ought never to have any doubts about Christ, or about His way being the best way—but if ever we do yield to such discouragements, we must not think we have lost our place in Christ's love. He makes a great deal of allowance for our weakness and for the greatness of our trials, and keeps on loving us without interruption. Thousands of good people have their times of despondency, and Jesus is always gentle and tender to all in such experiences. He does not chide. He does not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. He restores the sick or wounded soul to health.
Warning and Invitation
"Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent." Matthew 11:20
It seems strange to hear Jesus upbraiding. His words usually were most gracious and loving. Here, however, we hear Him speaking in tones of sharpness and severity. Yet the phase of His character which is now revealed is not inconsistent with other representations of Him in the Gospels. We must not think of Jesus as having no capacity for anger. He was all love—but love can be severe, even dreadful. While He was a friend of sinners and went to His cross to redeem the ungodly—yet He hated sin. He was just and holy.
We should notice carefully, however, the reason for this upbraiding. It fell upon the cities in which Jesus had done most of His mighty works. These were not His first words to the people of these cities. There had been long months of loving ministry, with miracles of mercy, with words of grace, revealings of the Father-heart of God, and offers of eternal life—before He spoke the words of chiding we now hear Him speak. But the people of these favored cities had been unaffected by all this love. They had gone on in their sins, unrepentant. They had accepted Christ's gifts of love—but had not accepted Him as their Lord. They had taken His help, His kindness, the things He had done for them so lavishly—but they had rejected Him.
The upbraiding of these cities was because after all that he had done for them, after all their spiritual opportunities and privileges, they had rejected Jesus. It was not impatience on His part that made Him severe. He had not grown weary loving, even without return. But the fact that the cities had received so much Divine favor, made their sin in rejecting Christ far greater.
Tyre and Sidon, great commercial cities which had been denounced by the prophets for their sins, would have repented, Jesus said—if such Divine blessings as had been shown to Chorazin and Bethsaida had been given to them. Sodom was the great historical example of wickedness in the history of the world, and its destruction was a notable instance of judgment. But even Sodom would have repented, if it had received such calls and had enjoyed such privileges as had Capernaum. And Sodom's judgment would be more tolerable than that of Capernaum.
There is something startling in what Jesus says here about the doom of these Galilean cities, and the reason for it. They had had high privileges, and had disregarded them. What then about the places in our own day which have had exceptional privileges and have not improved them? What about those who have been brought up in Christian homes, amid the most gracious influences, who have seen Christ continually and have known the beautiful things of His love from infancy—and after all have kept their hearts closed upon Him, refusing His love! The question with which we are really personally concerned is not with Chorazin or Capernaum, but ourselves, our privileges and what we are doing with them.
"More tolerable." So we would better have been born and brought up in some heathen land, never hearing of Christ—than to have had the highest Christian privileges, and then to have turned our back on the Savior of men. We may perish with Christ at our door. Christian privileges will not save us. The question after all is, "What are you doing with Christ?"
The other part of our passage is in a different tone. Here we find mercy again in its most gracious mood. The invitation in the closing verses is better understood when we have studied the great words that precede it. "All things have been committed to me by my Father," said Jesus. All things had been put into His hands, all power, all mercy, all gifts, all life. This ought to be a great comfort to us, amid this world's mysteries and perplexities, when there are things which threaten to destroy us. It is Jesus Christ, the Christ of the gospel, in whose nail-marked hands are all our affairs.
There can be no revealing of the Father, except as Jesus Christ wills to reveal Him. It is very important then to learn how He dispenses the revelation which is in His hand exclusively. Will He impart it only to a few great saints, to a little company of wise men, to certain rare spirits? The answer is in the gracious invitation which follows, "Come unto Me, all who that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Yet there is a distinct class of people to whom the gracious invitation is especially given, "all who that labor and are heavy laden." This does not mean the rich, the noble of birth, the high of rank, the wise the great among men. It includes the lowly, the oppressed, the over burdened, the weary, those who are in distress. Need is the only condition. There is no one anywhere who desires the blessings of love, of mercy, of grace, to whom this wonderful invitation is not given and who may not claim it and accept it with all confidence.
Perhaps no other of Christ's words has given comfort to more people, than this promise of rest. It meets every heart's deepest longing. What is this rest? It is not cessation from work. Work is part of the constitution of human life. It is necessary to health, to happiness, even to existence. God works. "My Father works," said Jesus, "and I work" (see John 5:17). There is a curse on idleness.
It is rest of soul that Jesus promises. The life is at unrest. It is all jangled and can have no rest until it is brought into harmony. Sin is the cause of this universal human unrest, and rest can come only when forgiveness has come. And this is the first rest that is promised. Everyone who comes to Christ is forgiven.
There are two rests promised. "I will give you rest." This rest comes at once. Every weary one who comes to Christ in penitence and with repentance—is forgiven, reconciled and restored to Divine favor.
Then there is a rest which comes later and only through self-discipline and patient learning. "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me… and you shall find rest." To take Christ's yoke on us is to take Him as our Master, to let Him rule our life. The thought of a yoke is suggestive of bondage and humiliation. But the yoke of Christ is nothing galling or dishonoring in it. "My yoke is easy," He says. He is a gentle taskmaster. He requires entire submission to His will. He will not share our subjection with any other master. We must take His yoke upon us willingly, cheerfully, without reserve. But His commandments are not grievous, His burden is light. Then we will find honor and blessing in it.
A yoke implies two united, serving together, walking side by side under the same load. It is Christ's yoke we are to bear, which means that He shares it with us. His shoulder is under every load of ours. If we have a sorrow—it is His, too. In all our afflictions—He is afflicted. Thus it becomes a joy to take Christ's yoke. When He is our Master, we are free from all other masters. In bearing His yoke, we will find rest unto our souls. Our lives under His sway will be at peace.
Another step in finding rest is to enter Christ's school. "Learn of Me," said the Master. We are only beginners when we first become Christians. A good man said, 'It takes a long time to learn to be kind—it takes a whole lifetime." He was right—it does take as many years as one lives, to learn the one little lesson of kindness. Paul said, and said it when he was well on in life, "I have learned in whatever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4:11). We would suppose that such a wonderful man as Paul was, did not have to learn the lesson of contentment. We can scarcely think of him as ever fretting about his condition and circumstances. But evidently he did, and it was a long, difficult lesson for him to learn to be content anywhere, in any and every experience. Even Jesus Himself had to learn life's lessons. In the Epistle to the Hebrews it is said that He learned obedience by the things that He suffered (see Hebrews 5:7, 8).
All of Christian life is a school. We enter it when we first come to Christ. We begin at the lowest grade. We do not have to wait until we know a great deal before we begin to attend school. School is not for finished scholars—but for the most ignorant. We may come to Christ when we know almost nothing. He is a teacher and He wants us to become learners. Gentleness is a lesson which we are to learn. One young girl said, "I never can get over being jealous. I cannot bear to have my friends love anybody else. I want them to love only me." But she must learn the lesson of generosity in friendship. She must learn to want her friends to love others. It probably will take her a good while, the lesson will be a long one—but she must learn it because it is in Christ's curriculum for all His students, and no one can get His certificate of graduation without learning it.
Patience is a lesson that has to be learned. An impatient person is not a complete Christian. Thoughtfulness is another necessary lesson. There are a great many thoughtless Christians. The poet tells us that evil is wrought by lack of thought—as well as lack of heart. Many people are always blundering in their relationship and fellowship with others. They say the wrong word, they do the wrong thing. They leave undone the things they ought to have done. They are always hurting other people's feelings, giving pain to gentle hearts. Yet it is all from thoughtlessness. "I didn't mean to offend him. I didn't mean to be unkind. I just never thought." There are few lessons in Christian life that more people need to learn than this of thoughtfulness.
We have to learn to trust. Worry is a sin. It is probably as great a sin as dishonesty or profanity or bad temper. Yet a good many Christian people worry at first, and one of the most important lessons in Christ's school, is to learn not to worry. Joy is a lesson to be learned. Peace is another. Humility is another. Praise is a great lesson. All of life is a school, and it is in learning these lessons—that Jesus says we shall find rest for your souls. Christ Himself is our teacher, and with Him we should never fail to learn, though it be only slowly. Then as we learn, our lives will grow continually more and more into quietness, peace and Christlikeness. All our questions will be in the faith that accepts God's will as holy and good—even when it is hardest.
Two Sabbath Incidents
The question of proper Sabbath observance arose several times during our Lord's public ministry. The Jewish law made careful provision for keeping of the seventh day of the week—but the Rabbis had added many rules of their own, making the Sabbath really a burdensome day. Jesus did not recognize these added requirements, and hence often displeased the rulers by what they considered violations of the law.
The criticism at this time was caused by our Lord and His disciples going through the grain fields on the Sabbath. They were probably on their way to the morning synagogue service. The disciples were hungry, and as they walked along by the standing grain, which was then ripe, they plucked off some of the heads and, rubbing them in their hands and then blowing away the chaff, they ate the grains.
The Pharisees were always watching Jesus that they might find something of which to accuse Him. There are two ways of watching godly people. One way is to watch them to see how they live—that we may learn from their example; the other way is in order to criticize and find fault with them. It was the latter motive which prevailed with the Pharisees. They went along with Jesus, not because they loved to be with Him—but as spies upon His conduct. The conduct of Christians is always watched by unfriendly eyes, eyes keen to observe every fault. We need to live most carefully, so as to give no occasion for just censure. Yet the example of Jesus shows us that we are not to be slaves of traditional requirements which have not authorization in the Word of God.
Godly people can find better business than to play the spy upon the lives and conduct of others. The unfriendly espionage of these Pharisees on Jesus and His disciples, appears in our eyes very far from beautiful. We are behaving no better, however, than the Pharisees did—if we keep our eyes on others for he purpose of discovering flaws. Perhaps they do not live quite as they should live; but are we their judges? Do we have to answer for them? Then, perhaps, our sin of censoriousness and uncharitableness is worse than the sins we find in them. There are some people so intent on trying to make other people good—that they altogether forget to make themselves good!
When the Pharisees said to Jesus that His disciples were doing that which was not lawful on the Sabbath, He reminded them of what David did when he and his companions were hungry. "Have you not read?" It was in their Scriptures. David, fleeing from Saul, went to Ahimelech very hungry, he and his companions, and asked for something to eat. There was no bread about the place, except the showbread. It was not lawful for any but the priests to eat this bread. But the men's need satisfied the custodian of the tabernacle, that he might deviate from the letter of the law in this emergency (see 1 Sam. 21:1-6).
The act of the disciples in plucking and rubbing out the heads of grain to satisfy their immediate hunger was a work of necessity, and therefore not a sin. Though the letter of the law may have been violated—yet it was not violated in spirit. What works of necessity are, cannot be established by minute rules and regulations. The settling of the question must be left in each particular case to the enlightened consciences of faithful followers of Christ.
Jesus made a starling claim when He said to His critics, "One greater than the temple is here" (see v.6). It is usually supposed that He refers to Himself. But a marginal reading suggests "a great thing," meaning the law of love. That is, love is always the highest law. This different rendering seems to be favored by the words which follow. "If you had known what this means—I will have mercy, and not sacrifice—you would not have condemned the guiltless." Love would have made you think of men's needs, as higher than the observance of the letter of a Sabbath rule. No Divine law intends to have men go hungry.
Then Jesus uttered another startling word, "For the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath day." He thus claimed the right to interpret the laws of the Sabbath. In Mark 2:27 we have also this strong assertion, "The Sabbath was made for man—and not man for the Sabbath." The Sabbath was part of the Divine constitution which God had ordained for His children. Christ came not to destroy—but to fulfill. He took the Sabbath, therefore, and stripped from it the burdensome regulations which men had attached to it, and put into it its true spiritual meaning. He set the Church free from the cumbersomeness of a rabbinical Sabbath, and made it a day of joy and gladness, a type and foretaste of heaven.
Almost immediately afterwards, another question of Sabbath observance arose. It was in the synagogue. A man was present who had a withered hand. Again the Pharisees were watching Jesus to see what He would do. They asked Him if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath day. They were not humble seekers for the truth—but were looking for a ground of accusation against Him. It was a violation of the rules of the Pharisees to attend the sick or even console them on the Sabbath. Jesus knew the intention of the Pharisees in their question and bade the man arise.
Then He asked them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?" In this He appealed to simple common sense. Whatever their traditions said about the Sabbath day, the practice of the people would be on the merciful line. The Talmud says that if the animal is in no danger in the ditch—it should be allowed to remain unrelieved over the Sabbath. But the form of our Lord's question shows that this was not the practice of the people. "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?" Then He added, "How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!" If it was right to help a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath, it certainly was right to relieve a human sufferer from his sickness on that day.
So we have the lesson, "Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath!" It is right for physicians to attend to their patients on the Lord's day. It is right for those whose duty it naturally is to nurse the sick—to care for them on the Sabbath. It is right to visit the sick when they need our sympathy and when we can carry to them blessing or cheer. It is right to visit those who are in affliction when we can carry comfort to them. It is right to visit the poor when we can minister to their needs or relieve their distresses. It is especially right to go out among the unsaved, when we can do anything to bring them to Christ. It is right to gather neglected children from the streets and from Christless homes, and bring them under the influence of Divine grace.
We must be careful not to pervert our Lord's teaching here. Not all kinds of work can be brought into the class indicated in the words, "It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day." It was the Jewish Sabbath concerning which Jesus was speaking here, and our Christian Lord's day is in every way more beautiful, more joyous. Yet we need to keep most holy guard over it, for there are many influences at work to rob us of it. There was a time when very much of the old rabbinic spirit was exercised in some parts of the world toward the Christian Sunday. Now, however, the tendency is in the other direction, and we are in danger of losing the sacredness of this day.
The Lord's Day is not well kept—when its hours are devoted to mere social purposes. The best preparation that can be made for its proper observance, is to prepare for it as far as possible on Saturday. This was the old-time way. Everything was done on Saturday that could be done to lighten the burden of the work on Sunday.
Jesus never was deterred from His work of mercy, by the censorious criticism of His enemies. He bade the man to stretch forth his hand. The arm was withered, dried up, dead. How could the man stretch it forth? But when Jesus gave the command it was implied that he would also give power to obey. The man must make the effort to do what he was bidden to do. That was the way he showed his faith. Then with the effort—came new life unto the dead arm.
Whenever Christ gives us a command He is ready to give us strength to obey it. We may say the thing required is impossible—but it is the privilege of the Christian to do impossible things. Anybody can do possible things; but when Christ is working in us and through us—we need not ask whether the things He commands are possible or not. "I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). People often say that they cannot begin a Christian life because they have not the strength to do what Christ requires of them. True—but if they will begin to obey, they will be enabled to obey, helped by the Master Himself.
Growing Hatred to Jesus
Matthew 12:22-32, 38-42
The heart of Christ was a great magnet that ever drew to it all human suffering and human need. The description given of Him in a quotation from Isaiah (42:3), in the verses immediately preceding this incident, are wonderfully suggestive. His compassion and His gentleness are depicted in the words, "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out."
This prophetic picture of the Messiah found its perfect realization in the life of Jesus. He was the friend of the frail, the feeble, and the bruised. In those days, men despised the weak. The deformed and the incurable were not considered worth saving—but were thrust out to perish. Jesus, however, had special compassion for that which was crushed or broken. He invited the weary to come to Him. The sick, the lame, the blind, the paralyzed and all sufferers soon learned that He was their friend. Wherever He went throngs followed Him, and these throngs were made up largely of those who were distressed and those who had brought distressed friends to be helped or healed.
Now it was one possessed with a demon, and also blind and dumb, that was brought to Him. Nothing is told of the manner of the cure. All we learn is that, "Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see." No wonder the multitudes were astonished. "Could this be the Son of David?" they asked. They thought that possibly a man who did such wonders might be the Messiah—yet it did not seem to them that He was. Or it may be that they feared to give expression to the feeling, knowing how bitter the Pharisees were against Him.
When the Pharisees heard what the people were suggesting, they became greatly excited and set to work to account for Jesus and His power. They felt that they must account for Him in some way, that they must give the multitude some explanation of Him which would satisfy them and prevent their concluding that He was the Messiah. In Mark's account of this incident, we learn that there were scribes and Pharisees present that day who had come down from Jerusalem to watch Jesus and to make a report of what they saw and heard. They set to work to create in the minds of the people the impression that Jesus was working in cooperation with evil spirits, and that it was through Satanic power, that He did the wonders they had seen Him do. So they answered the people's question, "Is not this the son of David?" by saying, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons!" Beelzebub seems to have been an infamous name for Satan, probably having its origin in the story of Ahaziah's idolatry in inquiring of Baalzebub, lord of flies, a Philistine deity (see 2 Kings 1).
One thing to notice here, is the admission that Jesus had really done wonderful works, had actually wrought miracles. They did not attempt to deny this. They felt that some explanation must be given to the plain, simple-minded people who were following Jesus in such numbers. There was no doubt about the supernatural works. We find the same admission throughout the whole story of Christ's public ministry. Herod believed that Jesus had wrought miracles; and in his remorse imagined that John, whom he had beheaded, had risen from the dead. No opponent of Christ in those days ever even hinted that He did not actually do miracles.
Another thing to notice here, is the strange explanation these learned men gave of the miracles of Jesus. They frankly admitted them—but to account for them without confessing that He was the Messiah—they said that He was in league with the prince of evil! The giving of such an explanation of the power of Christ, shows a prejudice that was not only stubborn, but evil. Of course, it was intended also to discredit Jesus by impugning His character. They said He was an agent of the devil. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and said He was doing His Father's will and the works of His Father. They sought thus to slander Him and make him an imposter, an enemy of God.
Wicked men often resort to the same course in our own days, when they are seeking to destroy the influence of Christianity. They cannot deny the good that is done—but they seek to account for it by alleging wrong motives in those who do the good. Sometimes they try to blacken the names of those who represent Christ. They start evil stories about them, to defame their character. That is, they accuse the saints of being in league with Satan.
The answer of Jesus to this charge is clear and convincing. "Jesus knew their thoughts." He well understood their motives. He knows all men's thoughts. We can carry on no schemes or conspiracies without His knowing of them. We can keep no secrets from Him. His answer was: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to ruin." This proved at once the absurdity and preposterousness of the charge His enemies had made. They said He was an agent of Satan. Yet He was not doing the work of Satan—but the work of God. Satan had a man under his power whom he was destroying. Jesus had taken the man, driven out the demon, opened his eyes and ears and healed him. Who could believe that He was in league with the Devil—and was thus undoing the Devil's ruinous work? "If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?" This shows the folly of their charge. All the works of Christ were good works. He came to bless men, to save them, to heal the sick, to make the lame walk, to raise the dead. Are those the works of the Evil One?
One of the strongest evidences of Christianity, is in what it does for the world. In chapter 11 when the disciples of the imprisoned, John the Baptist came asking for Christ, inquiring whether Jesus was indeed the Messiah, they were told to tell John what they had seen Jesus doing, "the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up." These were all works of love, and they proved that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Men are trying to prove today that He is not Divine, denying His miracles, taking away every vestige of the supernatural from His person, His life, His work.
But look at Christianity, not as a creed merely—but as a regenerating force. Look at the map of the world and find the white spaces which show the effect of Christianity in the countries where it has gone. Was it an impostor that wrought all this? Was it one in league with Beelzebub who left all these records of blessing, who transformed these countries? Was it an agent of Satan that made the home life of Christian lands, that built the churches, the asylums, the hospitals, the orphanages, the schools; and that has given to the world the sweetness, the beauty, the joy, the comfort, the fruits of love, which are everywhere the results of Christian teaching and culture? Could anything be more absurd—than trying to account for the mighty works of Christ—by saying the devil did them through Him!
Jesus gives the true explanation of His works in the words: "But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." Christianity is the kingdom of God—in battle with the kingdom of evil. The work of Christ in this world—is to destroy the works of the devil. This is a work in which every follower of Christ has a part. "He who is not with Me," said the master, "is against Me; and he who gathers not with Me, scatters abroad."
One of the most frequently misunderstood of all the words which Jesus spoke, is found in His reply to His defamers: "And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." Does not this seem to refer to the act of the Pharisees, in imputing to the prince of evil—works which Jesus had done through the Spirit? One writes, "The conclusion of the whole is—you are on Satan's side, and knowingly on Satan's side, in this decisive struggle between the two kingdoms, and this is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—an unpardonable sin."
Thousands of people, however, have stumbled at this word of Christ's and fallen into great darkness, fearing that they themselves had sinned a sin which never could be forgiven. There is not the slightest reason why this saying of Christ should cause anxiety to any who are sincerely striving to follow Christ. It may be said that those who have any anxiety concerning themselves and their spiritual state—may be sure that they have not committed such a sin. If they had committed it, they would have no concern about their soul. Actually, the only unforgivable sin—is the sin of final impenitence. All sin that is confessed and repented of—will be forgiven. "This sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit is unforgivable, because the soul which can recognize God's revelation of Himself in all His goodness and moral perfection, and be stirred only to hatred thereby, has reached a dreadful climax of hardness, and has ceased to be capable of being influenced by His beseeching. It has passed beyond the possibility of penitence and acceptance of forgiveness. The sin is unforgiven because the sinner is fixed in impenitence, and his hardened will cannot bow to receive pardon."
"Much torture of heart would have been saved if it had been observed that the Scripture expression is not sin—but blasphemy. Fear that it has been committed, is proof that it has not; for if it has been, there will be no relenting in enmity nor any wish for deliverance." Alexander Maclaren
Accustomed as we are to think of the gentleness of Jesus, His lips ever pouring out love, it startles us to read such words as He uses here in speaking to the scribes and Pharisees who were contending with Him. "You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good! For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks!" We are reminded of the manner of the Baptist's speech, when he was calling men to repent. But we must not forget that love is holy, that roses become coals of fire when they fall upon unholiness.
The scribes and Pharisees demanded a sign, something that would assure them that Jesus was what He claimed to be. Sincere and earnest inquirers after, truth always find Christ most patient in answering their questions and making their real difficulties plain. When Thomas could not believe on the testimony of the other disciples, and demanded to see for himself the hands with the print of the nails—Jesus dealt with him most patiently (John 20:24-28). He is always gentle with honest doubt—and quick to make the evidence plain to it. But the men who here demanded a sign were not honest seekers after truth. Jesus knew their thoughts and spoke to them in words of judgment. They were an evil and an adulterous generation—estranged from God, false to Him. They had had miraculous signs—but they had disregarded them. Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah—and before them now was a great Preacher than Jonah. The queen of the South came from afar to hear the Wisdom of Solomon, and a greater Man than Solomon now stood before them. But they believed not, repented not. Impenitence gets no sign.
The Parable of the Sower
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
Jesus was always teaching. On this particular day His pulpit was a fishing boat, from which He spoke to the multitudes standing on the shore. Perhaps there was a sower somewhere in sight, walking on his field, carrying his bag of grain and slinging his seed broadcast. The sight may have suggested the parable.
"Behold, a sower went forth to sow." Christ Himself is the great Sower—but we all are sowers—sowers of something. Not all who sow, scatter good seed; there are sowers of evil—as well as of good. We should take heed what we sow, for we shall gather the harvest into our own bosom at the last. "Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap"—that, and not something else (Galatians 6:7).
In the parable the seed is good—it is the Word of God. The soil likewise is good—it is all alike, in the same field. The difference is in the condition of the soil.
The first thing that strikes us in reading the parable, is the great amount of waste of good there seems to be in the world. On three parts of the soil—nothing came to harvest. We think of the enormous waste there is in the Lord's work, in the precious seed of Divine truth which is scattered in the world. What comes of all the sermons, of all good teaching, of the wholesome words spoken in people's ears in conversation, of wise sayings in books? What waste of effort there is whenever ever men and women try to do good! Yet we must not be discouraged or hindered in our sowing. We should go on scattering the good seek everywhere, whether it all grows to ripeness or not. Even the seed that seems to fail—may do good in some way other than we intended and thus not be altogether lost.
The wayside is too hard to take in the seed that falls upon it. There are many lives that are rendered incapable of fruitfulness in the same way. They are trodden down by passing feet. Too many people let their hearts become like an open common. They have no fence about them. They shut nothing out. They read all sorts of books, have all kinds of companions, and allow all manner of vagrant thoughts to troop over the fields. The result is that the hearts, once tender and sensitive to every good influence, become impervious to spiritual impressions. They feel nothing. They sit in church, and the hymns, the Scripture Word and exhortations, the appeals and the prayers fall upon their ears—but are not even heard! Or, of they are heard, they are not taken into the mind or heart—but lie on the surface.
"The birds came." The birds always follow the sower, and when a seed lies within sight—they pick it up. The wicked one "snatches away that which has been sown." So nothing comes of the seed which falls on the trodden wayside.
The lesson at this point is very practical. It teaches our responsibility for the receiving of the truth which touches our life, in whatever way it is brought to us. When we read or listen—we should let the word into our heart. We should give attention to it. We should see that it is fixed in our memory. "Your word have I hid in my heart," said an old psalm writer (Psalm 119:11).
The next kind of soil on which the seed fell was stony—only a thin layer of soil over a hard rock. There is none of the fault of the trodden wayside here. The seed is readily received and at once begins to grow. But it never comes to anything. The soil is too shallow. The roots get no chance to strike down. The grain starts finely—but the hot sun burns up the tender growths because they lack depth of rooting.
There are many shallow lives. They are very impressionable. They attend a revival service and straightway they are moved emotionally and begin with great earnestness. But in a few days the effect is all worn off. Life is full of this impulsive zeal or piety which starts off with great glow—but soon tires. Many people begin a holy book, read a few chapters, and then drop it and turn to another. They are quick friends, loving at first—but it is soon over.
One of the pictures of the crucifixion represents the scene of Calvary after the body of Jesus had been taken down and laid away in the grave. The crowd is gone. Only the ghastly memorials of the terrible day remain. Off to one side of the picture is a donkey nibbling at some withered palm branches. Thus the artist pictures the fickleness of human fame. Only five days before, palms were waved in wild exultation as Jesus rode into the city.
The goodness of too many people lacks root. The resolves of too many lack purpose. The intentions of too many lack life and energy. There are many shallow lives—in which nothing good grows to ripeness. What this soil needs—is the breaking up of the rock. What these shallow lives need—is a thorough work of penitence, heart-searching and heart-breaking, the deepening of the spiritual life.
The third piece of soil in which the seed fell was preoccupied by thorns whose roots never had been altogether extirpated. The soil was neither hard nor shallow—but it was too full. The seed began to grow—but other things were growing alongside of it, and these, being more rank than the wheat and growing faster, choked it out.
Jesus tells us what these thorns of the parable stand for. They are the cares, riches and pleasures of this world. CARES are worries, frets, and distractions. Many people seem almost to enjoy worrying. But worries are among the thorns which crowd out the good. Martha is an illustration of the danger of care (see Luke 10:40, 41). There are plenty of modern examples, however, and we scarcely need to recall such an ancient case as hers.
RICHES, too, are thorns which often choke out the good in people's lives. One may be rich and his heart yet remain tender and full of the sweetest and best things. But when the love of money gets into a heart—it crowds out the love of God, and the love of man, and all beautiful things. Judas is a fearful example. The story of Demas also illustrates the same danger. A godly man said to a friend: "If you ever see me beginning to get rich, pray for my soul."
The PLEASURES of the world are also thorns which crowd out the good. It is well to have amusements—but we must guard lest they come to possess our heart. We are not to live to have pleasures; we are to have pleasures, only to help us to live.
The fourth piece of soil was altogether good. It was neither trodden down, nor shallow, nor thorny; it was deep plowed and clean. Into it the seed fell and sank and grew without hindrance. By and by a great harvest waved on the field.
This is the ideal for all good farming. The farmer must have his field in condition to receive the seed and to give it a chance to grow. That is all the good seed needs. This is the ideal, too, for all hearing of the Word of God. If only we give it a fair chance in our life—it will yield rich blessing.
The Parable of the Tares
Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
The sower is Christ Himself. He always sows good seed in His field. When he was living here in this world, He went up and down the country, dropping the words of life wherever He found a bit of heart-soil that would receive them. It is wonderful to think of the blessings which have come to the world through the words of Christ. They have changed millions of lives from sinfulness to holiness. They have comforted sorrow. They have guided lives through the world's perplexed paths. They have been like lamps for the feet of countless pilgrims.
In this parable, however, Christians themselves are the seeds. "The good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom." Everyone who has received into his heart the grace of God, becomes himself a living seed. Wherever a good seed grows, it springs up into a plant or a tree. Every good life has its unconscious influence, diffusing blessings, making all the life about it sweeter. Then it yields fruit. Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of those who receive the Spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering. There are also fruits in the activities of the Christian life, in the words one speaks, in the things one does, in the touches of life upon life.
We here come upon the truth of an Evil One who is in the world, an enemy, of Christ, marring or destroying Christ's work. The Bible does not tell us about the origin of evil—but it everywhere takes for granted that there is a kingdom of evil, at the head of which is the great enemy of God and man. Evil is not dropped accidentally into lives or homes or communities. The bad work is done designedly. "But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away."
People sometimes wish that there was no evil in the world. But, unfortunately, the feet of the Adversary go in every path. He is always watching for opportunities to steal in and do mischievous work while no one is watching. He is represented here as coming by night when good people are asleep. Our hours of greatest peril, are those in which we are least conscious of peril. What can we do to protect ourselves in these unsheltered, unwatched times? If a man knows that a thief is coming, he will be on the watch. But the thief does not come then—he comes when he knows that no one is watching. How can we keep ourselves safe from the dangers we know not of? All we can do is to keep our lives ever in the hands of the sleepless Christ.
We are in danger of underestimating the enmity of Satan, and the evil wrought by his sowing. His own distinct purpose is to destroy the work of Christ. Whenever any good seed has been sown in a heart, he comes and tries to get some bad seed in among it. He whispers his evil suggestions in our ears, even while we are reading our Bible, praying, or partaking of the Lord's Supper. The devil is far more busy among good people than among bad. Those who are wholly given over to sin—he can afford to let alone—they are safely his already; but those who are trying to be Christian, he seeks to destroy.
Young people need to guard against the baleful evil which seeks entrance in vile books and papers, in indecent conversation or unchaste pictures. When an officer in General Grant's presence was about to tell an obscene story, he glanced about him and said, "There are no ladies present." The general promptly answered, "But there are gentlemen present." Nothing that should not be said in the presence of a lady—should be said in any presence.
In the early stages of growth, the tare or darnel, is so much like wheat—that the two can scarcely be distinguished. Evil in its first beginnings is so much like good that it is often mistake for it. By and by, however, as they grow, the true character of the tares is revealed. Seeds of evil sown in a heart may not for a while make much of a manifestation. A child under wrong influences or teachings, may for a time seem very innocent and beautiful—but at length the sinful things will show themselves and will shoot up in strength. Many a man falls into ruin at mid-life, through bad habits which he began to form when he was a boy! The time for young people to keep their hearts against evil is in the time of their youth.
The farmer's servants wished to clean out the tares before they had come to ripeness. The farmer said, however: "No, you would do more harm than good if you began to do this. Wait until the harvest, and then we will separate the tares and the wheat." Good men must live among the evil in this world. Sometimes they grow together in the same home, or in the same group of friends, or are associated in the same business, dwelling in constant communication and association. Even in the apostle family, there was one traitor. Besides the impossibility of making a separation, there is a reason why the evil should remain—the hope that they may be influenced by the good and may yet themselves be changed into holiness. Every Christian should be an evangelist, eager in his desire and effort to bring others into the kingdom of God.
In Old Testament days, God tolerated many evils like polygamy, divorce, blood revenge, and did not root them out at once because the people were not then ready for such heroic work. We are not to grow lenient and tolerant toward sin—but we are to be wise in our effort in rooting it out. Especially must we be forbearing and patient toward the sinner. If our neighbor has faults—we are not to rush at him with both hands and begin to claw up the tares by the roots. We must be patient with his faults, meanwhile doing all we can by love and by influence to cure him of them. We are never to lower our own standard of morality, nor to make compromise with evil; we must be severe with ourselves; but in trying to make the world better—we need much of the wise patience of Christ.
There will be at last a complete separation between the good and the evil. Hypocrites may remain in the Church in this world and may die in its membership and have a royal burial—but they cannot enter heaven. This solemn word should lead all professors to honest and earnest self-examination. Are we wheat—or are we tares? The same law applies to the good and the evil in our own lives. In the holiest character, there are some things not beautiful. In the worst men—there are some things that are fair and to be commended. But in the end the separation will be complete and final.
When the disciples had an opportunity of speaking to the Master alone, they asked Him what this parable meant. "Explain unto us the parable of the tares of the field." That is what we should always do with our difficulties concerning the teaching of Christ, and with all perplexities concerning our duty as Christians—we should take them all to the Master himself. Some things may be explained to us at once by careful reading and study of Christ's teaching. Some things that once were obscure and hard to understand, become very plain as we go on; experience reveals them to us. Then the office of the Holy Spirit is to guide us into all truth.
Some people talk about this world—as if it belonged to the devil. Indeed, Satan himself said that all the kingdoms of the world were his. It looks sometimes, too, as if this were true. But really this is Christ's world. After His resurrection Jesus Christ sent His disciples forth into all the world, claiming it, bidding them go everywhere to make disciples of all the nations.
Jesus taught plainly that there is a personal spirit of evil, called the devil. He says here distinctly, "The enemy that sowed them is the devil." The devil is the enemy of Christ. No sooner had Jesus been baptized, than Satan began his assaults upon Him, seeking to overcome Him and destroy Him. Satan is the enemy also of every Christian. He takes the utmost delight in getting his poison into the lives of Christ's followers. Sometimes people think that they can play with evil and not be harmed—but it is always perilous play, and everyone who thus ventures, will surely be hurt. One great comfort we have in thinking of Satan as the enemy of souls and our enemy—is that Christ overcame him at every point. While Satan is our enemy, strong and alert—he is a vanquished enemy. We cannot ourselves stand against him—but with Christ's help, we can stand. "In all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him who loved us!" (Romans 8:37).
Pictures of the Kingdom
Matthew 13:31-33; 44-52
The parables of Jesus are unforgettable pictures. They are stories laden with truth. Some preachers tell stories which thrill those who hear them, and yet they are tales with no lesson. The parables of Jesus are rustic and interesting, and yet they are vital with spiritual meaning.
The mustard seed is little, so small that one can scarcely see it. Yet it has life in it, and when it is sown in a field it grows and becomes a tree, so large that the birds come and nest in its branches. There would be no reason for our Lord's telling us about this little seed and its plant merely as a bit of natural history. It is beautiful and interesting even in this way—but He had a further purpose in His parable. He uses it as an illustration of His kingdom in the world.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed." Christianity began in a very small way. A little baby lay in a manger—that was the beginning of the kingdom of heaven in this world. A kingdom implies a king. Christ ruled over a very small kingdom that night. His mother loved Him as mothers always love their children, and He reigned in her heart. Some shepherds came in during the night and saw the Child-King and worshiped Him. Their lives were never the same again, for one who has had a God-given vision of Christ can never lose the influence out of his heart. They returned to their lowly duty—keeping watch over the flock—but they were better shepherds afterwards and better men. The kingdom of heaven had entered their hearts.
But the beginning of the kingdom was small indeed—like a mustard seed. For thirty years it seemed to have no appreciable growth. The child grew—but dwelt in a lowly home in a peasant village. His childhood was not unusual. He was not an unusual boy. There was no halo around His brow. Nothing showed that He was kingly. There were no flashings of divinity on His face. He did no brilliant things. He wrought no miracles. He went to school and learned His lessons—but revealed no greatness. According to the customs of His people, he entered the carpenter's shop at twelve as an apprentice, and for eighteen years worked at the carpenter's bench. "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed… which indeed is smaller than all seeds."
We know what the kingdom of Christ is today. It has touched many lands with its holy influence. It has become a great tree with many wide-spreading branches. On its boughs the birds sit and sing. In its shadows the people rest. Its fruits feed the hunger of multitudes. The tree is still growing. The great missionary movement of today is extending it, and it is destined to fill all lands. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.
Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."
The next parable tells of the pervasive and permeating influence of the gospel of Christ. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." Usually in the Bible, leaven stands for something evil. It was a symbol of sin in the Mosaic dispensation. Paul exhorts believers to purge out the old leaven. But here it is used in a good sense. The teaching is very apt. Leaven works secretly and silently. It makes no noise. It works pervasively, creeping out through the dough until every particle of it has been affected. Thus it is that the influence of Christianity permeates society, penetrating everywhere, touching every institution, changing all things.
The illustration may be widely applied. Thus individual lives are changed. The leaven of Divine grace in the heart works out until the whole character is changed. Henry Drummond in one of his books tells of a girl whose life was transformed into great spiritual beauty. Her friends wondered what had wrought the change. At length the secret was discovered in a verse of Scripture which she carried in a locket, "Whom having not seen, you love" (Pet.1:8). The leaven works also in communities. Neighborhoods are changed, transformed by the gospel. In mission lands there are many notable illustrations.
The truest work of Christianity is quiet. It is a religion less of organization, than of personal influence. It is not always the most active person who does the most for the advancement of the kingdom of God; often it is the quiet man or woman whose life is holy and beautiful, who really does the most for the changing of other lives. Many an invalid, who cannot take any active part in the affairs of the Church—yet exerts a sweetening and ennobling influence in a home, in a community, which far surpasses in its value the busy ministry of one who is always going about, talking, doing good.
The lesson from the leaven, is that it does its work by being put into the midst of the loaf. It will not do any good if laid on the shelf; in however close proximity to the dough. It must be in the mass. There are some Christian people who seem to feel no responsibility for the touching or influencing of other lives. They incline to keep away from people and to be exclusive. But leaven will never do its work if kept away from people. Thus Jesus did—He was called a friend of publicans and sinners. He ate with them and mingled with them in all social ways, and His pure, loving, gentle life left its impress on their lives. Jesus did not teach His disciples to hide away from people, to keep out of the world—but to live in the world, to be friends of men, to seek to influence others by being with them. He said they were salt—but salt to do its work, to perform its mission, must be rubbed into that which it is to preserve.
We need to take the lesson. Be leaven wherever you are. Let your godliness be felt. Let your kindness touch others. Let your example have in it a contagion of joy, of peace, of unselfishness, of sweetness, of purity, which shall be a blessing everywhere. Be sure that you make one little spot of the world better, cleaner, whiter, brighter, gladder—because you live in it.
In another parable Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field." There were no banks in ancient times, especially in unsettled countries. It was common therefore to hide treasure in the ground. Not infrequently did one come upon such concealed treasure. Of course, Jesus had spiritual treasure in His thought, as He is illustrating the kingdom of heaven. We do not dream of the wealth of invisible riches that are always close to us as we go through this world. A man may work for years in a field, digging and plowing over it, not thinking of anything of value in it, and then suddenly someday discover that there are valuable minerals or even gems hidden under his pick and plow.
Dr. Newell Hillis says: Lecturing in Kentucky recently, I saw a cave of diamonds, newly discovered. One day a farmer, plowing, thought the ground sounded hollow. Going to the barn he brought a spade and opened up the aperture. Flinging down a rope, his friends let the explorer down, and when the torches were lighted, behold, a cave of amethysts and sapphires and diamonds. For generations the cave had been undiscovered and the jewels unknown. Wild beasts had fed just above those flashing gems, and still more savage men had lived and fought and died there. And yet just beneath was this cave of flashing jewels.
We do not know what hidden treasures of spiritual good there are all the while so close to us that our hand could take them if we saw them. Sometimes we come suddenly upon them, and then we should instantly seize them and appropriate them, whatever it may cost us. The man in the parable sold all he had and bought the field in which the treasure was concealed. We should be ready to give up all we have to get the spiritual riches that we find.
The parable of the pearl teaches almost the same lesson as that of the hidden treasure. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." The merchant sought goodly pearls—the best that could be found. Then when he heard of this best of pearls, he was willing to give up all he had that he might possess it. Too often, we do not live for the best things. When we find something even better than the good—we should be eager to possess it, no matter if we have to give up all we have to buy it.
The Multitudes Fed
Matthew 14:13-21; 15:29-39
"As soon as Jesus heard the news, he went off by himself in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed by land from many villages. A vast crowd was there as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick."
It was just after the death of John the Baptist. John's disciples went and told Jesus of their great sorrow. Their grief touched the heart of their Master, and He withdrew, seeking a little season of quiet. The best comforter in our times of trouble is God—and when our hearts are sore, we can do nothing so wise as to flee into the secret of His presence!
Jesus went out in a boat to cross the lake. But the people saw the boat departing and flocked around the lake to meet Him on the other side. As He stepped from the boat, the multitude began to gather, eager to see Him. Although He was seeking rest, His compassion drew Him to the people that He might help them.
It was always thus that Jesus carried people's sorrows. When He looked upon the great throng who had flocked after Him and saw among them so many suffering ones—lame, sick, blind, palsied—His heart of compassion was stirred. When we remember that Jesus was the Son of God, these revealings of His compassion are wonderful. It comforts us to know that there is the same compassion yet in the heart of the risen Christ in glory. He did not lose His tenderness of heart when He was exalted to heaven. We are told that as our High Priest, He is touched by ever sorrow of ours. Every wrong that we suffer—reaches Him. Every sorrow of ours—thrills through His heart. It was not their hunger, their poverty, their sickness, nor any of their earthly needs that appeared to Him their greatest trouble—but their spiritual needs. Our worst misfortunes are not what we call calamities. Many people may seem prosperous in our eyes, and yet when Christ looks upon them He is moved with compassion, because they are like sheep with no heavenly Shepherd.
Yet the first help Christ gave that day, was the healing of the sick. He thinks of our bodies as well as our souls. If we would be like Him, we must help people in their physical needs—and then, like Him, also, seek further to do them good in their inner life, their spiritual life. There are times when a loaf of bread—is better evangel than a gospel tract. At least the loaf must be given first, to prepare the way for the tract.
As the day wore away, it became evident that the people were very hungry. They had brought no provisions with them, and there were no places in the desert where they could buy food. Combining the stories in the different Gospels, we get the complete narrative of what happened. Jesus asked Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" (John 6:5). Philip thought it was impossible for them to make provision for such a throng. "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!" The apostles could think of no way to meet the need of the hour, but by dispersing the people. "Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food." To this suggestion the Master answered, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
We are like the disciples. We are conscious of having but little of our own with which to help or bless others—and we conclude hastily that we cannot do anything. If we feel responsibility, we meet it by deciding that it is impossible for us to do anything. Our usual suggestion in such cases, is that the people go elsewhere to find the help they need. We suggest this person or that person who has means, or who is known to be generous, thus passing on to others the duty which God has sent first to our door. We are never so consciously powerless and empty in ourselves, as when we stand before those who are suffering, those in perplexity, or those who are groping about for peace and spiritual help. Our consciousness of our own lack in this regard leads us often to turn away hungry ones who come to us for bread. Yet we must take care lest we fail to do our own duty to Christ's little ones.
Jesus said to His disciples that day, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." That is precisely what He says to us when we stand in the presence of human needs and sorrows. He says, "Feed these hungry people!" There is no use sending them to the world's villages—there is nothing there that will feed them. Nor need you send them to people who seem to have more than you have—they have no duty in the matter. Whenever Christ sends to us those who are need, whether it be for physical or spiritual help—we may not lightly turn them away. The help they actually need—we can give them. They would not have been sent to us if it had been impossible for us to do anything for them. If we use the little we have in Christ's name, He will bless it so that it shall feed the hunger of many.
We learn how to use our resources by studying the way the disciples fed the multitude that day. The first thing they did was to bring their loaves and fish to the Master. If they had not done this—they could not have fed the people with them. The first thing we must do with our small gifts—is to bring them to Christ for His blessing. If we try with unblessed gifts and powers to help others, to comfort the suffering, to satisfy people's spiritual hungers, we shall be disappointed. We must first bring to Christ whatever we have, and when He has blessed it, and then we may go forth with it.
The miracle seems to have been wrought in the disciples' hands—as the bread was passed to the people. They gave and still their hands were full. In the end all were fed. So with our small gifts, when Christ has blessed them, we may carry comfort and blessing to many people.
It was a boy who had these loaves. Here is a good lesson for the boys. Someone say that this boy was a whole Christian Endeavor Society himself. He and Jesus fed thousands of people with what ordinarily would have been a meal for but one or two. The boys do not know how much they can do to help Christ bless the world through the little they have. The young girl who thinks she cannot teach a class in Sunday-school, and takes it at last tremblingly but in faith, finds her poor barley loaf grow under Christ's touch, until many children are found feeding upon it, learning to love Christ and honor Him. The young man who thinks he has no gifts for Christian work finds, as he begins that his words are blessed to many.
We must notice, also, that the disciples had more bread after feeding the multitude, than they had at the beginning. We think that giving empties our hands and hearts. We say we cannot afford to give—or we shall have nothing for ourselves. Perhaps the disciples felt so that day. But they gave, and their store was larger than before. So the widow's oil was increased in the emptying (1 Kings. 17:12-16). The disciples said that Mary's ointment was wasted when she poured it upon the Master's feet (John 12:3-8). But instead of being wasted—it was increased, so that now its fragrance fills all the earth.
Jesus Walks on the Sea
It was after the feeding of the five thousand. As we learn from John's account, the people were so excited by this miracle that they wished to take Jesus by force and make him king. To prevent this act, Jesus sent the multitude away and then went up into a mountain for prayer.
Before going into the mountain, however, He sent His disciples out upon the sea in the boat, to go before Him to the other side. The record says He "constrained" them. It ought to have been a comfort to them that night, in the midst of the storm, to remember that their going out upon the lake was not at their own suggestion—then they might have thought it a mistake—but that the Master had bidden them to go. They were in the way of obedience. When we are doing Christ's will—we are under Divine protection, and need fear no storm.
We must not expect that every voyage we take at Christ's bidding, shall be without storm. We may be pleasing God—and yet meet dangers. When we find obstacles in something we are doing under God's guidance, we may not conclude that we have made a mistake, and that these difficulties are indications that we ought not to have taken such a course. On the other hand, such troubles are not meant to discourage us—but to inspire us to stronger faith and greater endeavor.
"He went up into the mountain alone to pray." No doubt His prayer was partly for Himself. There had come to Him a temptation of earthly honor and power—and He sought relief in prayer. Then He prayed also for His disciples. Mark tells us that from this mountaintop, He saw them that night on the sea, distressed in rowing. Jesus always sees us when we are toiling in any tempest, any struggle, and speaks for us to His Father.
"In the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea." He did not come to them immediately; indeed, it was almost morning when He appeared. The boat in the wild storm, represents Christ's friends in this world in the storms of life. Sometimes we think we are forgotten, that Christ does not see us, or does not care. Here we have an illustration. From His mountaintop He sees His disciples in their struggles in the wild sea. He does not forget them. He watches that no wave shall engulf them. Then at the right time—He comes to them with help. So it is in all our experiences of danger and distress. He is interested in our earthly life. Some people tell us sneeringly that there is no one who cares, no one who thinks of us. But the picture here is the true one. Christ cares, watches, keeps His sleepless eye upon us, and keeps His omnipotent hand on all affairs so that no harm can come to us on the ocean or on the shore.
When He came—He came as no other friend could come. "He went unto them, walking on the sea." No human help could have possibly arrived to them that night in the wild sea. If their friends were standing on the shore, and saw their peril—they could not have done anything for them. So we may stand and look at our friends in their sorrow, and our hearts may break for them—but we can do nothing. We cannot get to them through the wild waves. But there is One who can reach them—Jesus can walk on the roughest billows, as if they were a crystal floor.
Sometimes Jesus alarms His friends by the way He comes to them. It was so that night. "When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled." In their terror and superstition they thought it must be an apparition, and they were frightened. Yet it was their best friend, and He was coming to deliver and save them. They were terrified, because He came in such a strange way. It is the same with us often. He comes in the black cloud of trial, sickness, loss, bereavement, disappointment; and we think it is some new peril, when really it is our Savior! We should learn to see Christ in every providence, bright or painful. The sternest things of life carry in them Divine blessing and good—if only we have faith to receive them.
"Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid." As soon as the disciples heard the voice of Jesus, they recognized Him, and their fear changed to joy. So it was with Mary at the sepulcher. He whom she took to be the gardener, was her own Master; she knew Him as soon as He spoke her name (John 20:15,16).
Then comes the story of Peter's venture and failure. Peter was always impulsive. As soon as he heard the voice of Jesus, and knew who it was that was walking on the waves—he was seized with a desire to rush to meet Him. "Bid me come unto You on the water," he cried. Jesus said, "Come!" and for a time Peter walked on the waves and did not sink. His faith was simple, and he was upheld by Divine power. But as soon he took his eye off his Lord and looked at the tossing waves—he instantly began to sink. That is the way most of us do. We go a step or two as if we were borne up on wings, while our faith is strong and our eye is fixed upon Jesus. But soon we begin to look at the dangers, and then our faith trembles and we begin to sink. If we could always keep our eye upon Christ, not thinking of the perils—our faith would not fail.
"Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him." In his fear and helplessness, Peter did the right thing—he turned to Jesus for help, crying, "Lord, save me!" Said an old Alpine guide to a tourist who was timid at some point of danger, "this hand never lost a man." Christ never lost a man out of His hand!
As soon as Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, the storm was over, the boat was at the land, and the tired rowers, after their long night of toil, dropped their oars, and all went on shore. So will it be at the end of life, if we have Christ with us. As the morning breaks—we will pass out of the storm into the quiet calm—and will find ourselves on the shore of eternal blessedness!
The Canaanite Woman
Jesus seems to have gone out of His own country into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, seeking a little quiet. He needed rest. But He could not be hidden. A Canaanite woman somehow heard of His being there, and came immediately to Him. Her daughter was in a distressing condition!
This woman was a Gentile, and yet she must have known something of the true God. How she had learned about Jesus, we are not told. No doubt the fame of His ministry of healing had reached her. So when she heard that He was in her vicinity, she became instantly determined to see Him.
The world is full of sorrow. Few are the homes in which there is not some grief or affliction. Many are the sad mothers who move about through the world, carrying their heavy burden of pain or grief. No wonder this mother was glad when she heard of Jesus coming to her neighborhood. No wonder she was so persistent in her pleading that He would heal her child.
We may notice here that while the trouble was in the child—it was the mother's heart that carried the burden. Whenever we see a child sick or in any pain or distress, and the mother watching—the mother suffers more than the child. Children never can understand how the hearts of their parents are bound up in them.
To this woman's intense pleading with Jesus, her appeals to His mercy, her cries of distress—Jesus answered her not a word. This is one of the strangest incidents in the entire story of Jesus. Usually He was quick to hear every request made of Him by any sufferer. Scarcely ever had anyone to ask twice for His help. His heart instantly responded to cries of distress. Often He gave the help unasked. Yet now He stood and listened to this woman's piteous pleading, and answered her not a word. Like a miser with hoards of gold, at whose gates the poor knock—but who, hearing the cries of need and distress—yet keeps his gates locked and is deaf to every entreaty—so Jesus stood unmoved by this woman's heartbroken cries.
Why was He thus silent? Was this a weak moment with Him, when He could not give help? The most compassionate man has days when he can do nothing—but there never were such hours in the life of Jesus. Was it because He was so engrossed in His own coming sorrow, that He could not think of any other one's trouble? No, for even on the cross He forgot His own anguish, and prayed for His murderers and cared for His mother. He was preparing her to receive in the end a far richer, better blessing—than she could have received at the beginning.
Our Lord sometimes still seems to be silent to His people, when they cry unto Him. To all their earnest supplications, He answers not a word. Is His silence a refusal? Does it indicate that His heart has grown cold, or that He is wary of His people's cries? Not at all. Often, at least, the silence is meant to make the supplicants more earnest, and to prepare their hearts to receive better blessings!
The woman's cries seem to have disturbed the disciples. They grew almost impatient with their Master for keeping her waiting so long. They wanted her daughter healed because they could not endure the mother's crying. Yet Jesus was in no haste to yield to her imploring. He is not so tender-hearted, that He cannot see us suffer when suffering is the best experience for us. He does not immediately lift burdens from our shoulders, when it is needful for our growth that we bear the burdens longer. There is about some people's ideas of Christ—a mushy sentiment, as if He were too gentle to endure the sight of suffering. Here we get a glimpse of a different quality in Him. He does not promise always to save us from suffering—His promise rather is to bless us through the suffering. It is possible to be too tender-hearted toward pain and distress. It is possible for parents to be too emotionally kind to their children. Uncontrolled pity is great weakness, and often works great injury!
Christ's gentleness is never too tender to be wise and true—as well as tender. He never makes the mistake of yielding to anyone's entreaties, so long as denial is better than the granting of the favor. He never lets us have what we want, because He cannot bear to say "No" to our tearful cries. Nor is He so emotionally kind, that He cannot bear to punish sin. He will not let even His truest disciples go unchastened, when only by chastening can he save them or best promote their spiritual growth.
But one thing we must not forget—it is love which prompts what seems to be severity in Christ. He was silent here—that in the end He might give the full, rich blessing which He wished to give to this woman—but which in the beginning she could not receive. He denies us our requests and is silent to us when we cry—that He may draw out our faith and give us His best blessings in the end!
Jesus told the woman that it was not "fit to take the children's bread and cast it to dogs." This seemed a strange word to fall from the lips of the gentle Christ. If it had been some Pharisee who spoke to this poor woman as a dog, we could have understood that. Even if Christ's own disciples had spoken thus to her, we could have understood it, for they had not yet departed from Jewish prejudices, nor had their hearts grown gentle with love for all humanity. But it certainly seems strange to hear the sympathetic, loving Jesus—speak to the lowly sufferer at His feet as a Gentile dog. We can understand it, only when we remember that in all His treatment of her—He was trying her heart, training her faith, schooling her into truer submission and more earnest believing.
Both the woman's humility and here alert, eager faith—appear in her answer, "True, Lord! Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table." She was not hurt by the offensive words Jesus had used. She was willing to be as a little dog under the Master's table. She was ready to grant to the Jews, the children's place at that table. The position Jesus had assigned to her, quite satisfied her. For the dogs under the table did not starve. The children were first served, and then the pieces of bread they let fall, rejected, or did not eat—belonged to the dogs at their feet. All she asked was the portion which usually went to the dogs. Even the crumbs from that table were enough for her. Thus her humility and also her faith were shown in her answer, and in both—she is an example to us. We should come to Christ with a deep sense of our unworthiness, ready to take the lowest place; and we should believe that even the crumbs of His grace are better than all the feasts of this world!
It is most interesting to trace the growth of this woman's faith. There were many difficulties in her way—but she surmounted them all. She was a Gentile—and her Healer was a Jew. When she first came to Jesus she was repulsed and called a dog. But none of these discouragements chilled the ardor of her faith, or hindered her in her determination. So at last she got the blessing and won from the lips of Jesus one of the highest commendations ever given by Him to anyone, "O woman, great is your faith!" Large faith gets large blessings; small faith receives but small favors. We should go to God making large requests, believing His promises. We should never be discouraged by delays, by seeming repulses, by obstacles and hindrances. We should fight our way to victory. With infinite fullness in our Father's hand—we should not live in spiritual hunger as so many of God's children do. This is a wonderful saying, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." These words simply throw heaven open to our faith! We can get—we do get—according to our faith. So upon ourselves comes the responsibility of the less or the more blessing which we receive from the bountiful God.
Jesus had led the disciples to a quiet place, away from crowds and excitements. The time had come to declare to them His Messiahship. It was a new epoch in His ministry.
He asked two questions. The first referred to the opinion of the people concerning Him. "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" The disciples told Him that there were different opinions about Him. Some thought He was John the Baptist risen again; others, that He was Elijah returned to earth; still others that He was Jeremiah, or some other one of the old prophets. There still is a wide diversity of opinion among people concerning Jesus. Some think he was only a man, others, that He was a great teacher—but nothing more. Others then think that He was the only-begotten Son of God, Divine as well as human.
Jesus asked another question, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" What other people thought about Him, was not half so important as the opinions the disciples themselves had of Him. We may be able to state what the creeds say about Jesus Christ, and yet never have brought ourselves to answer the more important question, "Who do you say I am?" Some people tell us that it makes very little difference what our beliefs are, even about Christ—that conduct is everything in life. But it is of greatest importance what we think of Christ. If we think of Him as only a man, though the best of men, the wisest of teachers—we may learn much from His words and from His life; but can one who is only a man—be to us all that we need to find in Him to whom we look for salvation? We may change the question a little and ask: "What is Jesus Christ to you? Is He only in your creed, or is He also in your life as your personal Savior, Lord, Friend, and Helper?" This is the question which decides our relation to Christ.
Peter was always the first one to answer Christ's questions. Sometimes he answered rashly and unwisely; this time he answered well. "You are the Christ—the Son of the living God!" It was a noble answer. Jesus was the Messiah promised through the ages, come at length to save His people from their sins. This is the true thought about Christ. God sent Him to earth on an errand of love. He became man, thus drawing close to us. He is also the Son of God, Divine, possessing all power, infinite in His love and grace—able to do for us all that we need, and to lift us up to eternal life and glory. If our belief is like Peter's, and Christ is all to us in our life that we make Him in our creed—we are resting on the Rock!
The true test of every creed, of every system of theology, of every life's hopes, is, "Is Christ in it?" Too many people, however, have Christ only in their creeds, and not in their lives. The true test of every creed, every system of theology, and every life's hopes—is Jesus. If Jesus is not there, there is nothing to give rest, nothing to bring life and salvation.
Peter had made a noble confession, and now Jesus said to him, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church." Peter was the new name which Jesus had given to Simon, when Andrew brought him and introduced him. Jesus saw in Simon the possibilities of a noble future and so He said to him, "You shall be called Peter." The new name was a prophecy of his future. Jesus sees the best that is in people—and inspires them to reach the best. At that time Peter was very far from being a rock, which means stability and strength. But, by and by, he became rocklike—firm and strong, under the training and discipline of his Master. Whatever view we take of the meaning of the Lord's words, it is a great comfort to know that Christ's universal Church is indeed founded upon a rock, an impregnable rock.
As soon as Peter had declared that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus lifted the veil and gave the disciples a glimpse of what Messiahship meant to Him. They were thinking about a worldly Messiah. Jesus swept all this dream away—and told them that, instead of being an earthly conqueror, He was going to die on a cross! That was the way marked out for Him from the beginning—the will of God for Him, God's plan for His life. They were so overwhelmed by His saying that He must be killed—that they had no ear for the bright, joyous word, the note of victory, which came after—that He would rise again the third day. However, Jesus Himself saw through the darkness—to the light that shone beyond. He knew that He must suffer and die—but He knew also that the grave could not hold Him and that He would rise again. It is always in the story of Divine grace as it was with Jesus Christ—the cross is the way to glory. Beyond every dark valley in the Christian's path—is a hilltop bathed in light!
Peter was always making mistakes. Jesus commended his confession. But a little later we again find him speaking rashly and ignorantly. When Jesus had said that His Messiahship meant suffering and death, this impulsive disciple, in his great love for his Master, possibly, too, lifted up by the praise of his confession which the Master had given, sought to interfere. "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to You!" He would have held his Master back from His cross. But suppose Jesus had listened to love's entreaty that day—and had not gone forward; what would the world have lost? We should never meddle with God's plans, whether for ourselves or others. This is one of the dangers of friendship. A loved one of ours is called to some hard service, to some great self-denial or sacrifice. In our warm-hearted affection, we try to hold our friend back from the costly calling. We may say almost as Peter said, "Never! This shall never happen to you!"
The answer of Jesus to Peter's rash though loving restraint, is full of suggestion. "He turned and said unto Peter; Get behind Me, Satan!" What Peter said had proved a temptation to Jesus, suggesting to Him an easier way in place of the way of the cross. The friends of Paul once tried to keep him from going to Jerusalem when a prophet had foretold that he would be seized and bound there. Paul begged his friends not to weep and break his heart—by urging him not to go on to peril which had been foretold. They were only making it harder for him to do his duty. It is a constant danger of friendship, that we shall try to keep our loved ones from hard tasks to which God is calling them.
Jesus lifted another veil. He told his disciples that not only was the way of the cross God's way for Him—but also that His followers must go by the same way. "If any man will come after Me—he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." We can never follow Christ—and walk only on flowery paths. There is no way to heaven—but the way of self-denial and sacrifice.
We may notice that it is "his" cross, that is, his own cross, which each follower of Christ must take up and bear. Each life has its own burden of duty, of struggle, of self-denial, of responsibility. Each one must take up and carry his own load for himself. Each one must bear his own burden. This is a most solemn truth. No one can choose for us, no one can believe for us, no one can do our duty for us. A thousand people around us may do their own part with beautiful faithfulness—but if we have not done our part—we stand unblessed amid all the multitude of those who have done their part and received their reward.
Our Lord closes with the question no one ever has been able to answer, "What shall it profit a man—if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" Even the whole world, with all its wealth and splendor, would give no real benefit to us—if our souls should be lost. We could not buy pardon, peace nor heaven, even with the treasures of the whole earth in our possession. Also, we could not keep the world and carry it with us into the next life—even though we had won it all.
Selfishness is unlovely—but it is worse—it is the way of death. The law of Christ's cross runs through all life. A young girl, beautiful, cultured, honored, with a lovely home and many friends, turned away from ease, refinement, and luxury—and went to teach blacks in the South. She lived among them and gave out her rich young life in efforts to lift them up and save them. "What a waste of a beautiful life!" said her friends. But was it really a waste? No! Losing her life for Christ—she really saved it. If she had held herself back from the duty to which God was calling her—she might have saved her life in a sense, saved her from cost and sacrifice—but she would have lost her life in the higher sense.
The losing of one's soul is an irreparable loss. Whatever we may seem to get in exchange, we get really nothing. For if we gain the whole world, we can keep it but for a little while, and it will have no power to deliver us from death or give us the blessing of eternal life. The world cannot give peace of conscience, or comfort in sorrow. It cannot purchase heaven. All we can do with the world—is to keep it until death comes. We cannot carry any smallest portion of it with us into the eternal world. "How much did he leave?" asked one of his neighbors, referring to a millionaire who had just died. "Every cent!" was the reply. So it is easy to see that there is no profit—but rather a fearful and eternal loss—in gaining even all the world, at the price of one's soul.
Then think for how much smaller a price than this, "the whole world," many people sell their souls! Some do it for an hour's guilty pleasure, some for a political office, some for money, and some for honor which fades in a day. In a newspaper this advertisement appeared: "Wanted—A nice cottage and grounds—in exchange for choice liquors." No doubt many people answered the advertisement. Men are continually giving home and property and peace and love and life—for strong drink. They are selling their souls also in many other ways—for pitiably small trifles!
Matthew 17:1-8, 14-20
Three men, Peter, James and John—were with the Master when He was transfigured. All the disciples belonged to His personal family—but these three were taken into the inner circle and enjoyed closest intimacy with Him. On several occasions we find Him choosing the same three for special companionship. In the Garden of Gethsemane these three were chosen to be nearest to Him, that by their sympathy and tenderness, they might strengthen Him and thus help Him to endure His sore agony. We know that the holiest will get nearest to Christ. Faith brings men near, while doubt and unbelief separate from Him. Purity of heart brings us close—the pure in heart shall see God. Likeness to Christ—fits for close personal friendship with Him. Jesus said that those who serve most self-forgetfully, are first in His kingdom. Selfishness keeps us far off. It is a comfort to find that Peter, though a very faulty disciple—was one of those who were admitted to closest friendship with Christ.
It is interesting to learn from Luke's gospel (9:28-36) that Jesus was praying when this wonderful change in His appearance occurred. While He knelt before His Father—the change began to come on His face. It is recorded of certain saintly men, that a like change has come upon them when they prayed. We learn thus that prayer has a transfiguring power. Communing with God—brings heaven down into our life. It was after Moses had spent forty days on the mountain alone with God—that the people saw the dazzling brightness on his face. So it was when Stephen was looking up into heaven, beholding the glory of God, that even his enemies saw his face as if it had been the face of an angel. Only the upward look—can give heavenly beauty. Our communings make our character. If we think only of earthly things—we shall grow earthly. If we dote on gold, our lives will harden into sordidness. If we look up toward God—we shall grow like God. A life of prayer—will transform us into spirituality and bring upon us the beauty of the Lord.
Not only was the face of Jesus transfigured—but His very garments shone. A writer suggests that the garments here may represent the circumstances and experiences of the Christian's life. When one lives near Christ, everything that concerns him is transfigured—for example, care. Every life has its cares, its burdens, its anxieties—its experiences that would naturally fret and vex the spirit. Paul tells us that if we make known all our requests to God, the peace of God shall guard our hearts and our thoughts. The same is true of life's toils and tasks. Many of us find life hard, with its incessant duty and drudgery. But when the secret of the Lord is in the heart—we can sing songs of joy, even in the most wearisome way. The same is true of sorrow. Every life has sorrow. But if Christ is ours, we have comfort in sorrow. Thus all the garments of life—all life's experiences and conditions—are brightened by peace in the heart.
While the disciples were awed by the shining on the face and garments of their Master, they became aware of the presence of heavenly visitors beside Him. "Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus!" How they learned who these men were, we are not told. Perhaps the Master told them afterward. This was something very wonderful. For more than nine hundred years Elijah had been in heaven, and for more than fourteen hundred years Moses had been away from this world; both reappear here on the earth, still living, speaking and working! There are many proofs of immortality; here is an illustration—we see two men long centuries after they had lived on earth—still alive and busy in God's service! It will be the same with us and our friends—thousands of years after we have vanished from earth—we shall still be alive and active. This is a great thought. If we could only get it into our heart—how much grander it would make all life for us! We would then form our plans to cover thousands of years—not merely the little space which we now call time.
The transfiguration was not a purposeless incident in the story of Jesus. Evidently it was intended to prepare Him for what was before Him. It had just been discussed, that He was to die at Jerusalem. He had known long before, that He was going to the cross. Yet as He now set out on His last journey and saw the end, He needed encouragement and cheer, and it was for this that the transfiguration was given, with its embassy from heaven and its confirming voice. When we keep this purpose in mind, the meaning of the several incidents become plain.
It is interesting, with this in mind, to think of the talk which these two men had with Jesus. It was about His decease, His exodus from this world, Luke tells us. They had been sent from heaven to comfort and strengthen Him—as He set out on His journey to His cross. He would have bitter sorrows and great sufferings, and they came to speak their world of cheer before He entered the experience. No doubt, all the way unto the end, His heart was braver and stronger because of this visitation.
Peter could not keep quiet. Even heavenly glory did not silence him. When he became aware of the wonderful splendor which he was witnessing, he proposed to keep it on the earth and not allow it to depart. "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." Peter was right—it was good to be there. But at this very moment work was waiting for Jesus at the foot of the mountain. There was a poor demoniac there, whom the disciples could not cure. Then, farther off, were Gethsemane and Calvary—for Jesus; and for Peter there was Pentecost, with years of earnest apostolic service, and then martyrdom. It is very sweet to commune with God in the closet, at the Lord's Table—but we must not spend all of our time even in these holy exercises. While the raptures fill our soul—we must not forget that outside are human needs—and needs are crying for help and sympathy. We may not build tabernacles and keep our heavenly visions; we must get the vision into our heart—and then go out to be a blessing to the world.
Then came the other witnessing. Moses and Elijah had come to talk with Jesus about His death, and the blessed outcome it would have in human redemption. Then, from heaven the Father speaks, witnessing to the Messiahship of Jesus. The disciples had been greatly startled by what Jesus had said a week before—that He must suffer and be killed. Their idea of the Messiah—had been an earthly one. Their faith must have been strengthened by the words, "This is My beloved Son," and by the command that they should listen to His voice—and to His voice only. Even if they could not understand, and if the things He said seemed to destroy their hopes—they were content now to hear.
There are times when God's ways with us seem mysterious—when we think disaster is coming to every fair prospect in our life. In all such hours—we should remember that He who rules over all, is the Son of God, our Friend and Savior—and our trust in Him never should fail. We should listen always quietly and submissively to what He says, and when everything seems strange and dark—we should never doubt nor be afraid. What so staggered the disciples then concerning the Messiahship of Jesus—we see now to have been the most glorious and loving wisdom. So in our strangest trials—there are the truest wisdom and richest love. This voice came out of the cloud; out of the clouds that hang over us—come the voices of most divine love.
When Jesus and the disciples came down next morning from the Mount of Transfiguration, they found the other disciples in trouble. In the Master's absence and epileptic boy had been brought to them for healing. They tried to cure him—but failed. When Jesus appeared, the distressed father knelt before Him, pleading that He might have mercy on his son. He told his story in all its pathos—the boy's grievous suffering, and his bitter disappointment when the disciples could not cure him. Jesus listened with compassion and then said, "Bring him here to Me." A word from Him was enough, "The child was cured from that hour!"
A Lesson on Forgiveness
"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked: Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Perhaps no other lesson is harder to learn—than to be forgiving. It never gets easy, to bear injury or wrong. Yet the lesson is essential. We can ask Divine forgiveness for our own sins—only when we are ready to forgive those who sin against us.
Jesus had been speaking to His disciples about forgiving others. He said that if anyone sin against us, we should first go and talk the matter over with him privately. Mutual explanations will likely settle the matter. It will be still better if the two kneel and pray together, before they begin to talk about their differences. If the matter cannot be settled between the two—then one or two witnesses are to be taken along. If one man still remains implacable, the other has done his part.
It was always Peter who spoke first, and when he heard the Master's words, he asked Jesus how often his brother should sin against him—and he forgive him. This question still troubles many people. In some people's minds, patience quite soon ceases to be a virtue. If they have forgiven another two or three times—they think they have really acted very generously. Peter supposed he was going to the very extreme of Christian forgiveness, when he suggested that seven times would be a good limit for Christ's disciples. The rabbis said, "Forgive the first offense, the second, the third time; and punish the fourth time." But the answer of Jesus showed that there should be no limit in our forgiveness. That is what seventy-seven means—not any definite number, however great—but infinitely. We are to forgive others—as God forgives us, and He does not keep account of the number of times. He forgives all the multitude of our transgressions. The time never comes therefore when we may say: "I have exhausted the requirements of Christian love. I cannot forgive you anymore."
Jesus told a little story to illustrate and enforce His teaching. He said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants." We must never forget that there will be a reckoning with God. We are told that on the last day, the books will be opened—the books which record men's acts, words, motives, dispositions, tempers. But we do not have to wait until the judgment day, to have these reckonings. But God reckons with us also—as we go along in this world. He is constantly calling men to give account to Him. Sometimes the call is given by the preaching of the Word which convicts them of sin and makes them stand trembling before the bar of conscience. Sometimes it is by an affliction which compels men to stop and think of their relations to God, revealing to them their sinfulness. Sometimes it is by a deep searching of heart, produced by the Holy Spirit. There is no man who some time or other is not called, even in this present life, before God for a reckoning.
The final reckoning is individual—each one must stand before the judgment seat and give an account of his own life. Among the king's servants "one was brought unto him that owed him ten thousand talents." We need not trouble ourselves about the exact monetary equivalent of these figures. It is enough to know that the figures stand for our debt to God, and that this is immense and unpayable. This makes us think of sin as a debt. We owe to God perfect obedience in act, word, thought, and motive. Duty is what is due to God—and the obligation is beyond computation. We may flatter ourselves that we are fairly good people, because we stand well in the community; but when we being to reckon with God—the best of us will find that our debt to Him is of infinite magnitude!
It was seen at once, that this servant had nothing to pay for his infinite debt. There was no possibility that he ever could make up the amount that he owed to his king. So it is with those who are called to make a reckoning with God. There is no possibility that they can ever make up to Him their enormous debt. Many people imagine that in some way, they can get clear of their guilt—though they do not try to know how. Some suppose they can do it by tears of repentance; but being sorry that we are in debt—does not cancel the debt. Some imagine that because their sins do not trouble them anymore, therefore the debt has been overlooked. But forgetting that we owe a man a thousand dollars—will not release us from our debt to him. We are hopelessly in debt to God—and have nothing with which to pay.
If the law had been enforced, the servant would have been sold into slavery, along with his wife and family and all that he had. But this servant came to his king and begged for time. "Be patient with me—and I will pay back everything." This appeal to the king touched his generous heart. "The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go." This is a picture of the Divine forgiveness. We never can pay the enormous debt we owe to God—but His infinite mercy is sufficient to wipe it all away. Bankrupt people sometimes pay so many cents on the dollar, and are allowed by their creditors to go free. But that is not the way God forgives. He does not require anything on our part, because we have nothing to give. We are justified freely by His grace.
One would think that this servant, after being forgiven such an enormous debt, would have gone out with a heart kindly disposed toward all men. But the reverse was the case. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred pence. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded." He had forgotten how much he had been forgiven. A little while ago he was at his master's feet, pleading for time and for patience. But the memory of this wonderful forgiveness, had failed to soften his heart.
What his servant owed him—was a mere trifle in comparison with his infinite debt to the king—yet he demanded payment and refused to show mercy. How is it with us? This morning we knelt at God's feet, implored His forgiveness, and received from Him the assurance that all our sins were blotted out. Then we went out, and someone said a sharp word to us, or did something to irritate us, or injured us in some way. How did we treat our fellow—who did these little wrongs to us? Did we extend to him the same patience and mercy that God had shown to us in the morning?
Soon again the servant was before his king. His harsh treatment of his fellow servant had been reported. Very stern was the judgment the unforgiving man now heard: "You wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt… should not you also have had compassion on your fellow servant, even as I had pity on you?" The king was right in his severe censure. The man who had received such kindness at his hand—should certainly have been kind to his neighbor who had wronged him in such a little matter. An old Spanish writer says, "To return evil for good—is devilish; to return good for good—is human; to return good for evil—is godlike."
Jesus makes the application of His parable very plain: "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you—unless you forgive your brother from your heart." This does not mean that God actually revokes the forgiveness He has once granted. In fact, the person who acts thus—never has been truly forgiven at all. "If you get pardon from God—you will give it to your brother; if you withhold it from your brother—you thereby make it manifest that you have not received it from God."
Thus we are brought face to face with a most definite practical teaching which we dare not ignore. Have we the forgiving spirit? An old proverb says, "Revenge is sweet!" But this is not true. "The unforgiving spirit is a root of bitterness from which there springs a tree whose leaves are poisonous, and whose fruit, carrying in it the seeds of fresh evil, is death to all who taste it!"
Jesus on the Way to Jerusalem
Matthew 19:1-2, 13-26
The words, "He departed from Galilee," have significance, when we consider the circumstances, which give them a peculiar sadness. This was our Lords' final departure from Galilee. He had been brought up there. Much of His public ministry had been wrought there. In that part of the country, He had met with the kindliest reception. He had multitudes of friends in Galilee. He had performed countless miracles there, and had been a comforter of numberless sorrowing and suffering ones. Now He was leaving the dear familiar scenes—and the people He loved so well. No wonder the throngs followed Him. The farewell must have been tender.
Some incidents of the journey are given. One was a discussion with the Pharisees concerning divorce. Jesus in His words gave most important teaching on the sacredness of marriage. "So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Another incident was the bringing of little children to Him that He might bless them. It is not said that the mothers brought them—but this is probable. The language in Luke strengthens this inference. "Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them." The disciples probably thought their Master ought not to be troubled with babies and little children, and so they rebuked those who were bringing them. But Jesus was moved with indignation when He saw what His disciples were doing, and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." This was one of the few times when it is said Jesus was angry. It grieved Him to have his disciples try to keep the children away from Him. He would not have anyone kept from coming to Him—but if any are more welcome than others, they are children. Very beautiful is the picture we see. He welcomed the children to Him, took them in His arms, laid His hands on them and blessed them.
Another incident in this journey to Jerusalem is that of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus with such earnestness, and then went away from Him so sadly. All that is told to us about this young man's coming to Jesus, shows us his sincerity and earnestness. "A man ran up to Him—and fell on his knees before Him" (Mark 10:17). The running shows how eager he was, and his eagerness tell of an unsatisfied heart. He seems to have attained the best that a young man could reach, without taking Christ into his life. He was young, with powers fresh and full. He was rich, with the honor, ease, distinction and influence that riches give. The fact that he was a ruler shows the confidence his fellow men put in him. Is moral character was above reproach, for he said, without boasting, that he had scrupulously kept the commandments. He was a man of winning disposition, for Jesus loved him and was drawn to him in a peculiar manner. It would be hard to conceive of a man—with more to satisfy him.
Yet with all his good qualities, his worldly advantages, his good name and his conscience void of offense—he was not satisfied! He needed something more to make his life complete.
The question which this young man asked of Jesus is the most important question ever asked in this world. "What shall I do that I may have eternal life?" We do not know how much he understood about the eternal life concerning which he inquired. The fact, however, that he asked the question, shows that he had at least some glimmering of the better life for which he hungered. No matter how much pleasure, or how great success, or how high honor one may gain in the world, if at the end of three score and ten years—he passes into eternity unsaved—what comfort will it give him to remember his fine success on the earth?
A rich man failed in business. He gathered up the fragments of his wrecked fortune—a few thousand dollars. He determined to go to the West and start anew. He took his money and built a splendid car, furnishing it in the most luxurious style, and stocking it with provisions for his journey. In this sumptuous car he traveled to his destination. At length he stepped from the door of his car—and only then thought for the first time of his great folly. He had used all his money in getting to his new home, and now had nothing with which to use there. This incident illustrates the foolishness of those who think only of this life—and make no provision for eternity.
Answering the young mans question, Jesus turned his thoughts to the commandments. "If you would enter into life, keep the commandments." He referred him to the law, which he might show him how he had missed the mark, how far short he had come of gaining life by his own obedience. "You know the commandments." It is easy enough to imagine one's self quite obedient, while one puts easy interpretation upon the Divine law. But when one has seen the law in all its lofty purity, in its wide spiritual application, in its absolute perfection, and then has compared his own life with it—he soon learns that he needs a Savior!
A pupil may think his writing is good—until he compares it with the copy at the top of the page, and then all its faults appear. The young artist may think his pictures are fine—until he looks upon the works of some great master, and then he never wants to see his own poor painting again. So long as on has no true conception of the meaning of the commandments, he may think himself fairly good; but when he undertakes what the commandments really require, he is at once convicted of sin.
There must have been pity in the heart of Jesus, as He looked upon the young man and heard him say glibly, "All these things have I observed from my youth." He did not know what he was saying, when he spoke thus of his own obedience. But Jesus very frankly answers his question, "One thing you lack!" (Mark 10:21). He was not far from the kingdom of God, and yet he was not in it. Many men are good, almost Christians, and yet not Christians. It may be only one thing that is lacking—but that one thing is the most important of all, the last link in the chain that would unite the soul to the Savior. It is the final step that takes one over the line—from death into life, out of condemnation into glorious blessedness. One may go to the very edge—and not step over; he may reach the door—and not enter. Almost a Christian—is not a Christian. Almost saved—is still lost.
Jesus made a very large demand upon this young man. He said to him, "Sell everything you have, and give to the poor… and come and follow Me." This is not a prescription for being saved by good works—that is not the way Christ saves men. He saw this young man's weakness, that with all his excellent qualities—his heart was still wedded to the world, and the test which He gave, required him to give up that which stood between him and eternal life. He would not be saved by giving his riches to the poor. Charity is not a way of salvation. But the young man could not be saved until his idol was broken! So the demand was to get him to give up his money—and take Christ into his heart.
It was a hard battle that was fought those moments, in this young man's heart. It grieved him not to be able to enter the circle of Christ's followers—but he could not pay the price. "At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth." He wanted to go with Jesus—but he could not accept the conditions. Let us think of him after this day. He kept his money—but every time he looked at it—he would be forced to remember that he had give up Christ and eternal life for the sake of it. He would see written over his piles of gold and his deeds and bonds, "These things cost me eternal life!" His experience was just the reverse of the man who found the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:46) and then sold all he had—and bought it. The young ruler found the pearl, asked the price, and considered the purchase—but did not buy it, because he was not willing to pay so much.
As the young man turned away Jesus was grieved, and said to the disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" Just so, it is not easy to be rich—and to be a Christian. Christ spoke many earnest words concerning money and the danger of loving money. Yet not many people seem to be afraid of getting rich.
One morning a pastor found on his pulpit desk a bit of paper with these words on it: "The prayers of this congregation are requested for a man who is growing rich." It seemed a strange request—but no doubt it was a wise one. No men more need to be prayed for—than those who are becoming prosperous, becoming rich.
A priest said that among all the thousands who had come to him with confession of sin—not one had ever confessed the sin of covetousness. Men are not conscious of their danger—when they are growing rich.
Jesus did not say that a rich man cannot be saved. He said, "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." This means that every man growing rich, needs God in order to be saved. If riches master him, he is lost. Unless God is his Lord—he cannot enter the heavenly kingdom.
There is a story of a rich man, one of whose ships was delayed at sea. When one day had passed with no tidings, the man was anxious, and with each added day his anxiety increased. At length, however, he awoke to the fact that his money was having a tremendous hold upon him. He then ceased to worry about the ship and became anxious for his own soul. He was determined to break the perilous mastery, and taking the value of his ship, he gave it at once to a charitable object. We all need to deal thus rigorously with ourselves, whether we have only a little money or much—that money may never be our master—but that Christ may be Master always; and money our servant, to do our bidding and Christ's.
The Laborers in the Vineyard
The key to this parable—is found in what goes just before. A young man came to Jesus eager to follow him and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus said he must give up his riches—and follow Him. The young man found the cost too great—and went away sorrowful. Then Jesus spoke seriously to His disciples about how hard it was for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. It cannot have been a high spiritual thought which was in Peter's mind when he said to Jesus, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" Evidently he was thinking that they had done a very worthy thing in leaving all and going with Christ. But his question showed a spirit which was not pleasing to the Master, a mercenary spirit, a disposition to get the best out of duty and service and sacrifice. He expected reward, and large reward, for faithful service.
In true following of Christ—such a question is never asked. Love never thinks of wages in anything it does. If, as a man does for another hard and self-denying things, he is always thinking of the way the other will pay him, expecting large compensation, there is no love whatever in what he does. He is a hireling. A mother never asks, as she cares for her sick child, losing rest, and suffering, "What shall I get for this?"
The answer Jesus gave Peter, assured him that the disciples who had left all—should be amply rewarded. But the parable we are now studying, is not always thought of as a part of our Lord's answer to the question. The chapter division in the King James Version obscures this pact. In the Revised Version, however, there is no break in the passage. The words, "For the kingdom of heaven is like," connect this parable directly with the foregoing incident, and show that Jesus would warn Peter and His other disciples, against the disposition to bargain and haggle for pay; or to compare their work with that of others, quibbling about proportionate rewards.
The parable makes it plain, first, that an agreement was made with the laborers. The householder needed men, and when the first came, they accepted his offer of a denarius a day, and agreed to work for that. Later in the day, at different hours, other men were also hired and sent into the vineyard to work. Some were even hired, only an hour before the day closed. The evening came, and the workmen gathered to receive their pay. It happened that those who were last hired and had worked only one hour, were paid first. They received the full amount for a day's work. We need not raise the question of fairness. It is evident that the men who had been in the vineyard only one hour—had not done as much as those who began in the early morning and had worked all through the long hours. The parable was spoken for a definite purpose—to condemn the greedy, grasping, bargaining spirit—and to commend the thought of doing duty for its own sake, whether there was adequate compensation or not. Those who came at later hours—made no bargains as to their wages, leaving to him who employed them—how much they should receive.
The parable is not meant to be a lesson in business. No doubt it is better to have an understanding as to wages, so that there may be no misunderstanding at the time of settlement. But it is in the Fathers' business, that Jesus is giving instructions, and here we need not trouble ourselves to put our contracts written down in black and white, and need not ask, "What shall we get for this?"
"So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'" Peter could scarcely help hanging his head when the Master came to this part of the parable. He could have no doubt that He had him in mind—in what He said about those who clamored for more pay.
Peter's words, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" had shown in Peter a feeling at least of satisfaction with himself. Somehow he felt that he had done a good deal for his Master, had made great sacrifices—and that he ought to have a substantial reward for it all. Especially had his words revealed a feeling that he and his fellow-apostles should have a greater reward—than those who had done less, come into the service later, made smaller sacrifices. When Jesus spoke of the first-hired laborers and their dissatisfaction with the pay they had received, Peter must have felt rebuked.
If these all-day laborers had the true spirit, they would have rejoiced that they had the opportunity to serve so many hours for their Lord. Instead of counting the hours they had wrought and considering themselves overburdened, overwrought, they should have felt themselves honored in the privilege. The Christian who heard the call of Christ in his youth and began in the early morning hours to serve Him—should never cease to be glad for his long service. He should not consider the man who gave eleven hours to the world—and then for one hour followed the Master, as more highly favored than himself—who had devoted all his life to the service of the Lord. "It is impossible that a man whose chief desire was to advance his Master's work, should envy another laborer who had done much less than himself."
These first men were vexed because they did not receive more for their work—than those who had come in at later hours. There are some who are envious of others, because they seem to have easier work, lighter burdens, and more cheerful circumstances. This is an unhappy mood. They think God is not quite just and fair to them. They fret and chafe when they see others called to more prominent positions. They tell of what they have sacrificed, how hard they have worked, how much they have done—and are quick to fret and complain, because they have not the recognition they think they deserve. Other men who have been Christians not half as long as they have, and have not given or worked as hard as they have done—are officers in the Church, are talked about and praised among men for their worth and service.
This is a most unwholesome disposition! It makes one wretched and unhappy. The true Christian spirit—is glad for all the years of opportunity to do God's service. It begrudges even one opportunity that has been lost. It does not complain that it has served so long—but it grieves that it has not served longer and more faithfully!
The question of pay or reward for Christian work—is one that should never have a place in any heart. All true Christian service is inspired by love. Of course, we have to live—and it costs to live. The minister, for example, who devotes his whole life to the work of Christ, has to live. But when Jesus sent out His disciples to preach, He warned them especially against anxiety concerning their food and clothing. They were not to provide luxuries for themselves. They were not to have extra garments—they were going out under their Master's command, and He would see to it, that they should be cared for. The full time minister ought to be supported, ought to have his needs provided for. But when he haggles about the matter, shows anxiety and frets and complains—he is not pleasing the Master, nor practicing the spirit and disposition which He commends.
The motive in Christian service—should always be like the Master's. We should work for love—never for reward. We should never say to Christ, when called to any hard service, "What shall I get for this task, this self-denial, this sacrifice?" We should be ready to go anywhere, to do anything—that the Master would have us do. We should never bargain for any reward, whatever we may do. We know that we shall have a reward—but we should never let that be our motive. We should devote ourselves with all the earnestness and all the energy we have—to the service of Christ, whether we are to receive pay for the work or not.
This parable teaches that all our service of Christ—is to be lowly and self-forgetting. We are to be eager to do God's will whatever it may be, serving unto the uttermost—but never thinking of reward. We shall have reward if we are faithful—but our service is never to be for the reward. The true reward is that which comes in the serving itself.
Jesus Nearing Jerusalem
Jesus was setting out for Jerusalem on His last journey. Did He not know that He was going straight into danger? He was safe in Perea; why did He not stay there? Why did He leave this shelter—and go straight into the den of lions at Jerusalem? He knew all that awaited Him—but He did not shrink from it; He resolutely set His face to go, because it was the way marked out for Him. The picture shows Him hastening on, as Mark tells us, "They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way." (10:32). It were as if He were eager to reach the city and endure what lay before Him there, and could scarcely wait for the slow steps of the disciples.
Why was Jesus so eager to suffer? It was because His time had come, and He was eager to do the Father's will. Besides, it was the receiving up to heaven which He saw, and the cross and darkness were forgotten, in the triumph and glory beyond. "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame" (Hebrews 12:2). There ought to be wondrous inspiration in Christ's example here, for all who are called to suffer and endure affliction for His sake. We should be eager to do God's will, however hard it may be; and we should train ourselves to look beyond the suffering and the trial—to the blessing and joy that will come after.
He took the disciples apart and told them what lay before Him. "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified!" Jesus knew, when no others saw it, that the blackness of the cross was approaching Him and would overwhelm Him, and knew the very moment He would enter it.
One of Holman Hunt's pictures represents Jesus as a boy in the carpenter shop. It is evening, and He is weary. Stretching out His arms, the light of the setting sun, shining in from the west, casts its shadow on the floor of the shop, and lo—it is in the form of a cross fell upon Jesus, that from the beginning He was conscious of the fact that He must die by crucifixion. What a pathos it adds to the life of Christ to remember this: that all the time, in the midst of His human joys, while He was scattering blessings among others, while He was working miracles of mercy; in all the holy peace and calm of His soul—that dark shadow hung over Him continually! He was going at last to be crucified! Yet the consciousness never kept Him from speaking one gentle word, nor from doing one kindly deed, nor from being cheerful and loving. Knowing from the beginning all that lay before Him—He went on with His daily duty quietly and joyfully. This reveals something of His love for us—and His joy in doing the Father's will.
There is a strange contrast between the words of Christ as He spoke to the disciples of His approaching death—and the coming of this mother with her ambitious request: "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom." Mothers should be ambitious for their boys, and want them to have high places. They should make sure, however, that the places they desire for them—are really high places. Earth's pinnacles are not always such. Taking out of her request its mistaken worldly thought, no parental ambition for a child can be fitter than hers—that her sons should have places near to Christ. It is to be feared, however, that very many parents think more of getting for their children high positions in this world—than places near to Christ, and high in holiness.
Jesus spoke to the sons in reply, not to the mother: "You do not know what you are asking for." It was an ignorant prayer which they had offered. They did not know what they were asking for. We know that one dark day, two malefactors had the places on the Lord's right and left hand. We all many a time ask for things which we would not dare request—if we knew what they would cost us.
There is a heathen legend which tells that once a man asked for this gift—not to die; and it was granted him by the Fates. He was to live on forever. But he had forgotten to ask that his youth and health and strength might last forever also; and so he lived on until age and its infirmities and weakness were weighing him down and his life grew to be a weariness and a burden to him. Existence (for it could not be called life) was one long torment for him; and then he wished to die and could not. He had asked for a thing which he was totally unfit to enjoy—but he had to take the consequences of it when it was once given. The better way to pray is to let God choose for us—and to give what He sees best for us—and in the way He knows is the best.
"To sit at my right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by My Father." We see here, that there are places in heaven higher and nearer Christ than others. Surely, too, the high places are worth striving for. We see how men scramble after earth's high positions; but heaven's positions are infinitely better. But how can we gain the seats nearest to Christ in glory? We have many hints. A little farther on this passage, we are taught that the path of humble self-forgetful service leads upward in spiritual life. In the book of Revelation, our Lord says that those who overcome in their struggles with sin and trial—shall sit with Him on His throne. In Daniel (12:3) we are told that those who turn many unto righteousness; that is, they who are active and successful in saving souls—shall shine as the stars, forever and ever. We know also that the "pure in heart" (Matthew 5:8) shall see God. These and many other hints show that the more like Christ we are in character and work here on earth—the nearer we shall get to Him both in this world and hereafter.
Jesus was always having difficulty in getting His disciples to understand the spiritual meaning of things. They thought here that rank and official position were the symbols of greatness. "No!" said Jesus; "whoever wants to become great among you—must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first—must be your slave." This seems a strange way of getting on and getting up in the world. According to this, all men's scrambling for place and power—is really scrambling downward rather than upward! The real heights in human life are the heights of self-forgetfulness and service.
Of course, this does not mean that a Christian is never to accept nor hold a position of honor and trust. A king, ruling millions of people, can be the very highest of servants—by ruling only for the glory of God and the good of his subjects. A rich man has an opportunity to get very near to Christ—if he uses his wealth to bless the world. It is not the worldly position which settles this question—but the spirit of the life. A servant in a family may be a great deal farther from it—than the mistress whom she serves. The kind of serving that our Lord means—is that which forgets self, and thinks only and always of the need and interests of others.
The art of photography is now so advanced, that a whole page of a newspaper can be taken in miniature so small—as to be carried on a little button, and yet every letter and point be perfect.
Just so, the whole life of Christ is photographed in this one little phrase, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28.
He did not come to be served—if this had been His aim, He would never have left heaven's glory, where He lacked nothing, where angels praised Him and ministered unto Him. He came to serve. He went about doing good. He altogether forgot Himself. He served all He met, who would receive His service. At last He gave His life in serving—He gave it to save others, to redeem lost souls.
You say that you want to be like Christ? You ask Him to print His own image on your heart. Here then, is the image: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."
It is not a vague dream of human greatness which we are to think of, when we ask to be like our Master. The old monks thought that they were becoming like Christ—when they went into the wilderness, away from men, to live in cold cells. But surely, such a dream of uselessness is not the thought which this picture suggests. "To serve—to give our life" that is the Christ-like thing! Instead of fleeing away from people—we are to live with others, to serve them, to live for them, to seek to bless them, to do them good, to give our lives for them—that is the meaning of the prayer for Christ-likeness.
Jesus Entering Jerusalem
The triumphal entry was one of the most remarkable incidents in our Lord's life. Usually Jesus made no public demonstration, did nothing to draw attention to Himself in any way. Indeed, He avoided notoriety and fame; He did not strive nor cry aloud; neither did anyone hear His voice in the streets. He spoke to His disciples confidentially of His Messiahship—but did not publicly proclaim it. On this occasion, however, He made a public demonstration; riding into the city as a king would ride, thus proclaiming to the multitudes assembling for the Passover feast—the fact of His Messiahship. How shall we explain this? May we not say that it was another way of presenting Himself to the people, offering Himself to them as their Messiah, for the last time? A prophet had foretold that He would thus in this spectacular way, ride into the city—but He did not do it merely to fulfill prophecy. The prophecy was part of the will of God for him—and there was a reason for it beyond the fulfilling of what had been foretold.
"As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them: Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me." Note their obedience. "The disciples went—and did as Jesus had instructed them." They were glad to have a part in the honoring of their Master. No doubt they themselves shared the expectations of the multitude regarding Jesus, hoping that the time had now come for Him to assume His place as King. It was a lowly errand on which they were sent—to bring to their Master the animal on which He was to ride—but they were proud to be chosen for this service. We should be glad always to run any errand, even the humblest, for our Master. If He were here now, and wanted to ride somewhere, who would not be eager to bring Him his horse to ride upon?
Jesus has told us that we may now do just such errands for Him—since what we do for any of His little ones, even the least, in His name, is done for Him. We may so set Jesus before us—that our very drudgeries shall be made Divine; we may thus transform them into heavenly ministries, by doing them for Him. The angels never think about the degree of honorableness in the tasks they are set to do.
Promptly the disciples returned, bringing with them the animals they had been sent to bring. "They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them." The donkey was a symbol of peace. If Jesus had ridden on a horse, it would have spoken of war—but He was the Prince of Peace. In those days there was nothing degrading on riding on an donkey. It was the royal animal.
The disciples were told to say to the owner, that the Lord had need of the animals. There is nothing that Christ may not use—nothing of ours, however lowly, which may not have its place in advancing His kingdom and glory. It is said that once Queen Victoria was traveling through the Highlands and stopped a little while at the home of a poor woman to rest and sat in a common chair. When the royal party was leaving, one whispered to the old woman, that it was the Queen who had been in her home. She took up the chair on which the Queen had been sitting and carried it away, saying, "No one ever shall sit in this chair again, because my Queen has used it!" Our King will use anything we have, and what of ours He uses—is lifted to highest honor. He has need for our money, our hands, our feet, our lips—and we do well when we hold all our possessions ready at any call of His—to be used as He desires.
It was a strange scene—the enthusiasm of the people that day as Jesus rode toward the city. "A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road." Xerxes, history tells us, when passing over the bridge of the Hellespont, found the road strewn with branches of myrtle, while perfumes filled the air. When Alexander the Great was entering Babylon, flowers were strewn before him. It is no wonder that these Jewish pilgrims honored Jesus that day. For the moment they regarded Him as indeed their Messiah. They were escorting Him into the city, as they thought—to take His place on David's throne. They were not deceived, either, for Jesus was really going to His coronation, though not to such a coronation as they thought. He was to be crowned—but with thorns! The people were indeed escorting the Messiah—but not such a Messiah as they were looking for. The time of His triumph was indeed at hand—though not such a triumph as they expected to see. His kingdom was not of this world. His glory was to be reached through disgrace and shame. He was the king of sorrows, because through sorrow He prepared redemption for the world. The strange pageant of that day was a picture, a Divine foreshadowing, of the coming day, when all nations shall join in honoring Christ as King.
Glad were the songs that rang out on the air that morning: "Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" The people were disappointed in a sense. In a little while all their bright hopes had vanished—Jesus went to a cross instead of a throne! Soon "Hosanna!" was changed to "Crucify Him!" Soon the palm branches were withered and trodden underfoot by the throngs. Yet the people sang that morning better than they knew. They thought of the restoring of David's kingdom; the King that was coming was really far more glorious than David. They expected liberty from the Roman yoke; Jesus brought liberty from the yoke of Satan and sin. They expected restoration of homes, riches and honors; Jesus had restored us to our place in our Father's family. They looked for physical prosperity; He brought the peace of God and the prosperity which comes by righteousness. They expected the conquest of all nations by their Messiah; he will conquer the whole world by His grace and truth. The earthly blessings they looked for as a result of the Messiah's coming—were but the shadows of the heavenly joys which He actually brought.
A remarkable scene occurred in the temple. "Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves." The temple was the house of prayer—but it had been changed into a den of robbers, as Jesus says. Not only did these traders desecrate the sacred house by making it a marketplace—but they robbed the people by usury and overcharging. Jesus cast out the traders and the money changers and cleansed the holy place. Thus it is that He would do—when He comes as King into our hearts. Made to be temples of God, houses of prayer, homes of purity and peace—sin has turned them into dens of robbers, desecrating them and filling them with unholy things. Christ's first work is to drive out all that defiles them, all that is unholy, and make them ready to be God's dwelling-places!
The rulers were vexed when they saw all that Jesus had done. They seemed to have been especially annoyed by hearing the children singing their hosannas to Jesus. He reminded them, however, that their own Scriptures had foretold this very scene: "Have you never read: From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise?" Everywhere in the Bible we learn that children are dear to God. He wants their earliest love. He is pleased to hear their voices in songs of praise. A sweeter music rises to heaven from the children's singing, than from trained choirs of insincere, formal, or mere professional worshipers. The children should always be in the church services and should join in the songs. The service is completed, perfected by their voices.
The great triumph of Christ is still going on in this world. The palm branches which were waved that day have long since faded, and the music of the songs has died away on the air; but uncounted millions are following in the procession of those who honor Him. Among these are prophets, apostles, martyrs and saints of all ages. Countless multitudes have been gathered from the darkest abodes of sin, and, wearing white garments washed in the blood of the Lamb, are now among those who honor Christ. Old men and boys, feeble women and maidens, all saved by the power of the cross—are now singing the song, "Hosanna to the Son of David!"
Two Parables of Judgment
"Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey."
The parable interprets itself. The people of Israel were familiar with the use of a vineyard as an image or illustration of themselves. The prophets had employed it. It is easy to explain the parable in its historical sense—but it has a reference also to us. God is continually planting vineyards and leaving them in the care of farmers. He has placed one in your care—it is your own life. He has placed in it many vines, which, if well tended and cultivated, will produce rich fruits. He has put a hedge about it, the walls and defenses of your own home and of the Church, and the restraints and safeguards of Christian friendships and associations. You were not born in a heathen land, your life open and unfenced like a public common, to be trodden down by every unholy foot. God has made every provision for His vineyard that is necessary for its fruitfulness. It is well watered—the influences of Divine grace flow all through your life. He has done for His vineyard all that could be done. It is yours now to keep and care for, not as owner—but as tenant. You are not your own; you belong to Christ (see 1 Cor.6:19); your life is His, and you are to keep it and cultivate it for Him. You are really one of God's tenants. He has "assigned" to you a little vineyard, for whose care and cultivation you are responsible. You He does not compel you to obey Him, to keep your heart, to bring forth fruit; you are free—but He holds you accountable for the way you keep your vineyard.
The analogy is followed: "When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit." This is the way the farmers were to pay their rent; they were to give to the owner each year a certain proportion of the fruits of the vineyard. God expects us to return something to Him of the fruits of the vineyard He has assigned to us. It belongs to Him, and he has done all that needs to be done to render it fruitful. He expects a proper "rental." The rental of this vineyard was to be paid, not in money—but in the fruit of the vineyard itself. This is suggestive. God is not satisfied with the mere giving to Him of money or of a portion of the earthly possessions that may belong to us. Of course, our money is part of our vineyard and should pay rent, too; a share of its fruit or earnings should be returned to God, to whom it all actually belongs. But the vineyard proper is our own life—and we are to pay our rental to God, the owner, in the fruits of our life—in love, obedience, worship, honor, service. No amount of money will ever satisfy God—if we do not also love Him and do His will.
This businesslike illustration of our relation to God is very suggestive. We are His tenants, and all we are and all we have belong to Him. Every tenant must pay a proper rent, or he cannot remain on the property that has been assigned to him. The larger our vineyard and the greater our privileges and blessings—the more rent we must pay. If we do not thus make suitable return—we are robbing God.
The reception given to the servants sent to receive the rental was not merely discourteous, it was cruel and an act of rebellion: "The farmers took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third." The servants who come to us are those that God sends to us to call us to duty. Of course, none of us ever treat the messengers God sends to us—as His ancient people treated the prophets. We do not beat our teachers and preachers. We do not stone them and kill them. We are very kind to them. We show them courtesy. We even love them very much and, as a rule, we listen with great respect to what they have to say to us. We never think of arresting them and putting them in prison or of sawing them asunder. Surely, then, this part of the parable cannot have any application to us.
But, wait a moment. On what errand are the servants sent? What is their request of us? They come to get the rental which we owe to God, to receive the fruits which are His due. We do not beat the messengers—but do we grant what they in God's name ask from us for Him? Do we give up our sins—when they ask us to do it? Do we yield our hearts to God and begin to love and obey Him and live for Him—when they ask these things of us? We are very respectful to God's servants—but we go on in our evil ways, and they carry back nothing from us, no fruits, to the God whose we are. We treat the messengers with high honor—but the message we disregard and Him who sends it to us we reject and neglect. Nothing is sadder to the heart of a pastor or teacher than this, that while those to whom he bears God's message treat him with finest courtesy and gentlest love, and are kind to him—they do not learn to honor God and love and serve Him.
"Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way." We read the story of God's dealing with His ancient people, and wonder at His marvelous patience with them. Though the treated His servants so badly—He continued to send others. He seemed never to tire of trying to bless them. But is it not our own history as really as it was theirs? As soon as we are old enough to understand anything, God begins sending messengers to us—loving mothers, faithful fathers, godly pastors, teachers and friends, the voices of conscience, of the Scriptures, of the Spirit, the leading of Providence. But we hear the calls—and then go on as before, unheeding, despising, sinning. But God does not grow weary. He continues to send His messengers. Not only is this true of the impenitent—but to every believer He sends again and again, seeking for fruits—and finding none. We never can measure God's patience. But we must remember that there will be a last call.
"Last of all, he sent his son to them." Mark says, "He still had one to send, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them" (Mark 12:6). There is a matchless pathos in these words when we think of them as referring to God and defining the acts of His love and mercy. All he had left now was his son. His servants had all been sent, and the last of them had been killed. There was no other messenger that he could send unless he would send his son. If he gave him—he gave all, for he had not many sons—but one, his only-begotten son. "Finally he sent him to them." He kept nothing back, spared not even his own son, in his great desire to have men reconciled to him. Thus the sending of Jesus was the climax of a long history of gracious acts of love.
There is another thought here. He sent his son last. Then there is no messenger of mercy after Jesus. He is God's best and final gift. There is nothing more that even God in His infinite power and love can do to induce men to be reconciled. When men reject Christ, they throw away their last hope of mercy—they lose their last opportunity. No other messenger will be sent—no other can be sent.
"This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance!" The rulers killed Jesus that the power might still be theirs. There are many now who reject Christ for very much the same reason. They think that the way to get liberty, pleasure and gain—is to thrust Christ altogether away from their lives. To become Christians would interfere too much with their plans, perhaps with their business, or with their pleasure. They think that Christian people make great sacrifices. But the Bible puts it very differently. It tells us that those who receive Christ, instead of losing—gain a glorious inheritance; they become children of God, and if children, then heirs to an unfading inheritance. The rulers killed their best friend—when they killed Jesus. Had they accepted Him, they would have received His inheritance, becoming "joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17). Rejecting and killing Him, they lost the very inheritance they thought to seize! Those who now reject Christ, reject the only One who could give them eternal life. Since Christ is God's last messenger of mercy to men—the rejection of Him is the thrusting away of the last hope of mercy.
"The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone." They did not think Jesus suitable to be their Messiah, and so they rejected Him; now, however, He is the King of glory. The very men who rejected Him and crucified Him, when they awake on judgment morning, shall see Him whom they thus despised sitting as their Judge. But again, we must not apply it to the first rejecters only. A great many people now think Christ unsuitable to be their Lord. They do not consider it an honor to be called a Christian. They blush to own His name or enroll themselves among His followers. They do not care to build their life on Christ. But He has now the highest honor in heaven. The highest angels are not ashamed to own His name. Redeemed spirits praise Him day and night. The Father has exalted him to the throne of power and glory. Why then should sinful men be ashamed to own Him as their Lord? They should remember further that God has made Him the capstone of the whole building not made with hands. No life that is not built on Him can stand. If men ever are saved—it must be by this same Jesus whom they are now rejecting.
The King's Marriage Feast
Christ is soon to be condemned by the rulers and put to death—but as He stands now in the holy city, He speaks as the Judge, pronouncing the doom upon the people who are rejecting Him as their Messiah. "The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son." The marriage feast suggests two great thoughts concerning gospel blessings. The figure of a feast pictures abundance of provision, and also gladness and good fellowship. Then the figure of marriage suggests the closeness of the relation into which God invites us. Marriage represents the highest ideal of love and friendship. It expresses mutual affection and delight; on the one hand, protecting care; on the other, perfect trust. The blending of two lives in one, which is the meaning of true marriage, suggests the union of Christ and His people in thought, purpose, feeling and motive. We are Christ's, and Christ is ours. Christ and we become one. He lives in us, and we live in Him.
The forms of Oriental life are preserved in the framework of the parable. The king sent forth his servants "to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come." They had already received a preliminary invitation, and now they are formally called by the king's messengers. The refusal to accept such an honor was a distinct and intentional insult and showed that they were in heart rebellious and disloyal. The meaning of the parable is plain. God was the King who made the feast. The invitation shows the Divine earnestness in seeking to bless men. God does not merely invite them once and then if they refuse, give no more thought to them; but He invites them again, and most urgently presses upon them the invitation.
We all have been invited many times to the feast of Divine love. The invitations begin to fall upon our ears in childhood, and are repeated all through our life. Marcus Dods says: "If God is in earnest about anything, it is about this—it is in the tenderness and sincerity with which God invites you to Himself."
After all that God had done for His people, and all His efforts to win them to accept His love—they treated His mercy with contempt. "But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business." That is, they simply ignored the invitation, paid no heed to it, treated it as a matter of no importance, and hurried on to their own business. It is in this way that a large class of people always treat the gospel invitation. They do not oppose Christ in any active way. They do not rush into great wickedness—they are fairly moral people. They speak patronizingly of the gospel and of the Church. But they pay no heed to the calls of Christ. They treat them as if the gospel were only a sort of child's play, something for sick people and the very old—but not important enough for them to give thought to. They treat the gospel as if there were no real importance in the messages of love it brings, which break so urgently upon their ears. They regard their worldly business, as of far more importance than personal salvation.
Silent neglect is one of the most offensive ways of treating anyone, and those who "make light" of the gospel insult God even more than those who openly refuse its invitation. Yet these people imagine and often say that they have never rejected Christ because they have shown no open enmity to Him. Countless thousands of souls have been lost—by simply making light of the guilt and danger of sin and neglecting the way of mercy!
Those who were first invited and made light of the invitation "went off—one to his field, another to his business." That is, their business was more important in their estimation than their king's feast. It is easy to see the same spirit today. There are thousands who have more interest in their business affairs, than they have in the affairs of God's kingdom.
This is the way some of the king's servants treated his son's marriage and the invitation to it which they received. They made light of it, paid no respect whatever to it, and went on with their business as if they had never received an invitation to the royal marriage!
Then there was another class of the king's servants who rose up in anger against the messengers, "The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them!" There are those who are not content with ignoring Christ and His messengers—but become open enemies and violent rejecters.
The king turned to others, when the first invited had refused. "The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come." This does not mean that those who had been invited were too wicked to be saved, for the gospel is offered for the worst. Their unworthiness was shown in their refusal to come. The final responsibility when men are shut out of heaven, cannot be laid on God—his part is fully and faithfully done. The feast is ready, even at infinite cost. The invitations are given in all sincerity and pressed with Divine urgency. But if men will not accept the mercy, there the matter must end. They will not be compelled to come to the feast. The weakest sinner can refuse the greatest honor of Divine love. The final responsibility rests upon the rejecters. "They would not come!" is the reason that they are shut out. The king then bade his servants to go into the streets of the highways—that is, among the Gentiles, and in a little while the tables were filled.
The king came to see his guests, to know whether they had fulfilled the conditions of their invitation. "The framework of the parable presupposes the Oriental custom of providing garments for the guests who are invited to a royal feast." When the king made his inspection, he "saw there a man who was not wearing a wedding garment." The man came to the feast—but came in his own way, refusing to accept the conditions and to wear the garment prescribed by the king. The man may represent those who enter the Church but do not accept the garment which is the invariable mark of all Christ's true followers. Church membership is not this garment—one may have this honor and not have on a wedding garment. Nor is it baptism or the Lord's Supper—one may observe these sacraments and yet lack the essential mark of true discipleship. The wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ. We do not become Christians merely by associating ourselves with Christians, by adopting the forms of religion. We must have in us the mind of Christ, conformity to God, an abhorrence of that which is evil, a love for that which is good, a sincere desire to honor God and do His will.
Notice also that this garment is an individual matter. One man in all that great company lacked the required dress, and was excluded. Each one must have the garment for himself. God looks at us as individuals, not in companies. Being in a godly family, or among holy people, or in a Church of saintly members—will no excuse the lack in the one of us who may lack the prescribed garment.
When the king asked the man why he had come to the feast without the wedding garment, he had nothing to answer. "He was speechless." He had no excuse to offer. He knew that he alone was to blame for this lack of preparation, since he had rejected what was freely offered to him. So will it be with any who refuse the grace of God. They are not speechless now; they find many excuses when they are urged to accept Christ. But when they stand at length before the omniscient Judge, they will be speechless; they will have nothing to say for themselves.
Matthew 22:15-22; 34-46
The Pharisees, on those last days in the temple, were in continual and bitter controversy with Jesus. They sought to trouble Him, to ensnare or entangle Him in His conversation. We may be glad, however, for the questions they asked, because they drew from Him great utterances which are of priceless value to us.
First, they took counsel together and prepared a question which they thought would entrap Him whichever way He answered it. They began by praising His sincerity and truthfulness, as if to flatter Him. Then they asked, "Is it lawful to pay taxes unto Caesar, or not?" They thought He could not possibly avoid being ensnared. If He would answer Yes, He would be denounced as lacking in Jewish patriotism. If He should answer No, He would be denounced as disloyal to Rome. But He was not ensnared by their question. He knows men's thoughts. He knew their hypocrisy and falseness, and easily baffled them. His answer lays down a great principle. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." The use of the coinage of Caesar by the people, was an admission of his rule. But there was something higher than that. God was over all, and no duty to Him must be neglected. They must be good citizens of Rome—but there was a higher citizenship, and they must also be good citizens of heaven.
The Sadducees came next with their question about the resurrection. They did not believe in the resurrection nor in the existence of spirits, and they thought their question would completely puzzle Him. "In the resurrection… whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all were married to her." They thought to make the doctrine of resurrection ridiculous. The answer was wonderfully wise. They were thinking only of the earthly life—but in the immortal life all will be different. In the resurrection there will be no marriage. Christ does not mean that the love which binds husband and wife together and grows into such sacredness and beauty in true marriage, shall perish in death and have no existence in the resurrection life. Love never dies—it is immortal. It is only the incidents of birth, death and marriage that have no existence beyond the grave.
Then a lawyer had a question to ask Jesus, "testing Him," the record says. "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" The question was a theological one that was discussed much among Jewish teachers, who were proverbially fond of splitting hairs. However, it is an important question for us, too. It is well for us to know which are the first things in life.
Jesus answered promptly, "You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart." God comes first. Nothing else in all the universe can be put before Him in true living. The first words of the Bible are, "In the beginning God." God was at the beginning, before anything—a grain of sand, the tiniest flower, the smallest thing—was created. There was nothing before God. There is nothing which God did not create. But He is also at the beginning of everything of good and beauty. The same is true in every true heart. We cannot get a blessing, until we have God first. Not God first in order, merely—but God first in love, in the place of confidence and trust. He must have the chief place—we must love Him with all our being. It is idle to think of any other religious act or effort, until we have begun to love God. This is the beginning of all true religion. Not to love God—is not to have taken the first step in a true and holy life.
Then something else follows. "And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love for our neighbor is second, in two ways. It must be second in place and in degree. God must be loved supremely. To love any being or anything more than God—is idolatry. It will not do to preach a religion of humanitarianism and not to have first "You shall love the Lord your God." Love to a man is second also, in the sense that it must spring out of love for God. There must be a first before there can be a second. There can be no love for our neighbor, if there is not first love for God. "We love, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19), We love our neighbor, because God loves us, and we love God and because this love warms our heart toward others. But when we truly love God—we will love our brother also.
There has been altogether too little stress put by the Christian Church in the past on this commandment of love to our neighbor. A careful study of the teachings of Christ, will show that He Himself insisted continually on love as the very proof and test of Christian life. We cannot get God's forgiveness, until we forgive our fellow men. We are to love our enemies, if we would be the children of our Father. By this shall all men know that we are Christ's disciples, because we love one another (see John 13:35). The epistles, too, are full of teachings concerning the duty of love. Paul's wonderful thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians shows how essential love is, and then shows us the way we must live—if we are indeed Christ's. John also makes it plain to us that if we love God we will love our brother also. The claim that we love God cannot be true—if it appears that we do not love our brother. "If a man says, I love God, and hates his brother—he is a liar; for he who loves not his brother whom he hat seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?"
Jesus asked the Pharisees a question, too. "What do you think of Christ?" It was not an easy question to answer. They had very mistaken ideas about their Messiah. Many stumbled at the Messiahship of Jesus, because it was not what they were expecting. Even Christ's own disciples did not understand the matter. The Jews were looking for a king who would reign on David's throne—an earthly monarch, a worldly conqueror. The Pharisees said the Messiah was to be David's son. Jesus then asked them another hard question. "How then does David in Spirit, calls him Lord?" But they had not thought about the particular Scripture to which Jesus referred. If they had, they would have had different ideas of the character and reign of their Messiah.
Jesus then asked them again, "If David then calls Him Lord, how is He his son?" No wonder that no one was able to answer Him a word after hearing this question. The question was simply unanswerable on any theory that made the Messiah an earthly monarch. It is unanswerable also on any conception of the character of Jesus which considers Him as no more than a man. If David called the Messiah his Lord, the Messiah must be Divine, the Son of God. We may worship Him, therefore, and give Him the supreme place in all our lives.
It is thus, indeed, that Christ offers Himself to us in the Scriptures. He claims the supreme individual love of His followers. He who loves father or mother more than Him—is not worthy of Him. He claims the place of absolute Master in the life of every man who would be His. We must obey implicitly, unquestioningly, wholly. We cannot take Christ merely as Savior, trusting in Him as our Redeemer, without at the same time taking Him as Lord, as Master, and obeying Him. What David did in calling the Messiah his Lord, is what everyone who accepts Him must do. Paul put his whole creed in a single sentence when he said of Christ; "Whose I am, and whom I serve" (Acts 27:23). The confession of Thomas should be the confession of everyone who receives Christ and believes in Him, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).
The Lesson of Watchfulness
It was Tuesday evening. Jesus had left the temple, to return to it no more. His last words to the people had been spoken. On the way His disciples called His attention to the temple, perhaps suggesting its magnificence and its solidity. It was indeed a wonderful building. But Jesus said, "I tell you the truth—not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
The little company moved out to the Mount of Olives and sat down. A deep solemnity filled their hearts. The disciples asked Him to tell them when the things He had foretold should come to pass. They had in mind three events—the destruction of the temple, the Lord's final coming, and the end of the world. He warned them first against being led astray by impostors. "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ, ' and will deceive many!"
He bade them to be in readiness for whatever might come. The parable of the fig tree taught them to expect tribulations. The precise day and hour, "No one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." The stupendous events would come unheralded. It would be as in Noah's days. "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man!"
The great lesson Jesus taught His disciples was in the word "Watch!" which sounds in every-recurring strokes in His discourse like a great bell. Questions as to when or how are discouraged—but they are always to watch. "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come!" Matthew 24:42
We must be always watching—watching ourselves—lest we do wrong; watching our Guide—that we may follow Him closely and carefully; watching our duty—that we may always know it and do it; watching for danger—for on every hand danger lurks. It is not a safe world to live in—that is, it is not safe unless we watch, and unless we are in divine keeping. Satan is so vigilant, his approaches are so insidious and stealthy, and sin is so alluring and deceptive, that only sleepless vigilance can insure our safety.
In this passage, however, the watching is for the coming of Christ, for which we are commanded to be always in readiness. He will surely come, and His coming will be sudden and unannounced. There will be a great final coming of Christ—but really He is always coming. The only way, therefore, to be prepared for Him at any most sudden moment, is to be ready all the time. If there is one hour when we relax our vigilance and cease to watch, that may be the hour when He will come.
There is an old legend of a man who waited a thousand years before the gates of paradise, watching for them to open, that he might enter in. At last, yielding to weariness, he slept for just one hour. And during that hour—the gates opened for a few moments and closed again. Thus by being off his guard a little while, he missed his opportunity. The coming of Christ will be so sudden that no preparation can be made for it after He appears. We must learn to live so that there will not be a moment, day or night, when we would be afraid or ashamed to have Him come into our house or place of business and find us as we are. There is no day which may not be our last. Therefore, we should keep our work done up to the moment, finishing it every evening as if we were never to come back to it anymore.
Christ illustrates His teaching to make it more emphatic. "If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into." Thieves do not send a notification of the hour when they will break into the house; they make their coming as stealthy as possible. They come when they will be the least expected and when the master of the house is least likely to be watching. If one would be prepared against them when they come—he must always be prepared. Christ will come as a thief in the night. That means that His coming will be without warning, without any token to indicate His approach. All efforts of wise men to compute the time and settle upon a year or a day when He will come—are useless, for Jesus Himself said, "Of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven!"
What is it to be ready for the coming of Christ? For one thing, it is to be at peace with God, reconciled to Him, saved. In a sense, death is a coming of Christ to individuals, for it ends their probation and ushers them into the presence of God. What is it to be prepared for death? No one is prepared, who has not accepted Christ as Savior and Lord, finding forgiveness of sins and new life and love in Him. Nothing could be more terrible than the sudden coming of death to one whose sins are not forgiven, and who is thus unprepared to meet his God.
But forgiveness is not the only thing in preparation for death. One's work should be well done. There is a story of man who had wasted his life and who at last, near the end, found peace in believing. A friend said to him, "Are you afraid to die?" He answered, "No, I am not afraid to die; but I am ashamed to die." He meant that while his salvation was assured in Christ, he was ashamed to go home, having wasted all his years and having done nothing for the honor of his Master. We should do our best possible work every day—that we should never be ashamed to have Christ come.
Jesus sought to make the meaning of His words very clear. "Who then, is a faithful and wise servant," He asked, "whom his lord has made ruler over his household?" The answer is implied in the form of the words used. He is both faithful and wise. Then comes the assurance of reward, "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes, shall find so doing." Doing how? Doing his work with fidelity. The watching that Christ wants—is not sitting at the window and looking out to see Him approach—but diligence in all duty. If a man went away, leaving a servant in charge of a certain work, fixing no time for his return—what should the servant do? Stand in the door, gazing down the road, watching to get the first glimpse of the master's return? No, that is not the kind of watching that would please his master. The way to be ready for Christ's coming, is not to sit down in idleness to wait and watch for His appearance—but to keep at one's work with unceasing diligence, so that when He comes—He may not find us in the midst of unfinished tasks, away behind with our work.
There can be no better rule in life—than to make every day of life complete, to finish everything each night before retiring, so that if we should never come back to our work again, nothing would suffer. A Christian woman was told by her physician that she could not live a great while, and that she might die any hour. She did not, however, drop her work and shut herself away to prepare for death. She went on with all her usual duties, only with more earnestness and greater diligence, knowing now that the time must be short. Some people would suppose that in a case like this, one should give up all active work and spend the short and uncertain time in praying and reading the Bible; but this Christian woman's way was the better way. Long before she had made her peace with God, and all her life had lived in readiness for eternity. When the warning came that the time was growing short, she was not flustered. Thus far she had done her duty as well as she could—and all she had to do now was the work of the few remaining days and hours. This she did with love and faith, and with diligence, and when the Master came—she quietly went away home with Him.
"But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!" Matthew 24:48-51
While there is reward for the servant who is faithful, there is punishment for the evil servant who fails in his duty. Judgment will come upon him suddenly. "The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of!" There are several things said her about this unfaithful servant. He is unbelieving. The delay of his lord leads him to conclude that he is not going to return at all. His unbelief leads him to abuse his position—he becomes tyrannical and despotic in his treatment of those placed under his care. Then his own habits become unworthy; we find him eating and drinking with drunken men. These are characteristics of those who reject Christ through unbelief and become unfaithful.
The punishment of the unfaithful servant is vividly described. It is a fearful thing to live regardless of life's sacred trusts and solemn responsibilities. It is a terrible thing to die after having lived thus. We should compare these two pictures—the faithful and the unfaithful servant—and know positively which one of the two is our own portrait.
The Wise and Foolish Virgins
The three parables in this chapter teach great lessons. They are based on the promise of Christ's return. He is surely coming again, but when—no one can know. But we should live always so as to be ready for His most sudden coming any moment.
The ten virgins were alike in some ways. An onlooker in the early evening could not have told which were the wise, and which the foolish. Each had her lamp. In any Christian congregation the members may all seem alike true friends of Christ, as they sit in their pews in common worship or at the Lord's Table. The testing comes in other ways.
All the virgins slept while the bridegroom tarried. There was nothing wrong in this. We all have to sleep some time. We should be sure that we are safe against any surprise while we are asleep, that no duty has been omitted before we slept, which is essential to a complete life. The wise virgins were ready for the coming of the wedding party at any hour, however long the delay might be. We are not required to wake and watch every moment for the coming of Christ; we are to be ready for the event so that we cannot be surprised. For example, we are not to think every moment of death—but we are so to live always that whenever death may come, however suddenly, it will not find us unprepared. "Not what death finds us doing—but how death finds us furnished, is the important question."
The lamps of the foolish virgins did not hold much oil and would soon burn out, and these maidens had no oil in reserve to refill their lamps when they became empty. This was their folly. The difference in the other virgins, was that besides having their lamps filled, they had oil in reserve with which they could quickly refill them when they had burned out.
This is plain enough as regards these virgins. Applied to human lives, the teaching is also clear. The wise Christian is the one who is not content with a mere profession or with external marks of godliness. These may seem to be satisfactory in the easy days when there is no stress but in the hour of trial, they will not stand the test. The essential thing is the grace of God in the heart, or real union with Christ. This is represented in the parable by the supply of oil by which the wise virgins were made ready for the need which the midnight brought. If we have only the little lamp of our own life, we may get along while there is not great stress—but in the hour of trial, we shall fail. But if we have Christ with His Divine fullness—we can draw from Him for any sorrow, struggle or hard duty.
Midnight came and brought great commotion. The virgins were all sleeping, waiting until they should be summoned out to meet the bridegroom. Life is full of emergencies which come so suddenly that there is not time to prepare for them. If we are not ready at the moment of need we cannot become ready. Now it was that the watchfulness of all the virgins was tested. The delay had been so long, that all the lamps were burning low. Now appeared the wisdom of the five who had oil in reserve. Their lamps were quickly filled, and they were ready to go with the bridegroom. Now was brought out also the folly of the other virgins. Their lamps were going out, and they had no oil to refill them.
It is such occasions as these that test character. They show what is in us. No one is ready for life's sudden emergencies unless he has made preparation in advance for anything that may happen. One who has missed his lessons and trifled in school days—will by and by find the doors of opportunity shut to him, because he is not ready to go in. Many a man fails in life, because through early neglect he has not the training for his place or business, the reason being that he wasted the time when it was his duty to make the preparation. Many a woman fails in her homemaking and wrecks her own happiness and that of her family, because at the right time she did not learn the simple household arts which fit a girl for being a good wife.
The foolish virgins missed the wedding joy and were shut out in the darkness, because earlier they had not laid up a reserve of oil. Many people's religion fails them in times of need, because they have not really the Word of God laid up in their hearts. "A man has only as much religion, as he can command in trial."
It was a natural request that these distressed virgins made: "'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out!" At first thought, too, we would say that the wise virgins should have granted this pathetic request of their sisters. If you were very hungry and I had even a crust of bread, it would not be right for me to eat all of my crust myself. We are taught that we should bear one another's burdens and that the strong should help the weak. Yet the refusal of the wise is reasonable and right when we look at it thoughtfully. If you and your neighbor have each signed a note for a certain sum, to fall due on a certain date, and you by dint of economy and perseverance have been able to lay by just enough to meet your obligation, while your neighbor, wasting his hours on trifles, has made no provision for the day of settlement; and if on the morning when the note falls due, he should come beseeching you to give him some of your money to help him pay his debt—would you give it to him? Does the law of love require that you should?
There is also an important spiritual lesson which the parable is meant to teach—that the gifts and blessings of grace are not transferable. No matter how eagerly one may wish to impart them, he cannot do it. If one woman has improved her opportunities and grown into refined and disciplined character, while her sister has missed her chance and has grown up into weak and uncultured womanhood; the first sister cannot give of her strength, self-control, and noble spirit to the other, to help her through some special emergency.
If one man has studied diligently and learned every lesson, at last reaching a position of eminence and power—-he cannot give of his trained ability to his brother, who has trifled through years, to help to make his life a success. A brave soldier in the battle cannot share his discipline and courage with trembling comrade by his side. In temptation, one who is victorious cannot give part of his strength to a friend by his side who is about to fall. We cannot share our forgiveness of sin with our dearest friend. Each one must live his own life, bear his own burden, and have the grace of the Holy Spirit for himself. No one can give another these gifts.
It was a tragic moment when the foolish virgins got back to the house and found themselves too late: "The door was shut!" It had stood open long enough for all who were ready to enter. Then it was closed and could not be opened again. This teaches us the meaning of opportunity. We may apply it to the matter of personal salvation. There is a time to be saved, and when that time is past, the door is shut! Life is full of opportunities. There is a time when we can enter God's family, receiving all blessing. Then there is a time when the door is closed, and all the powers of the universe could not open it again.
To the young people every door stands open. They can get an education and a training to fit them for noble, beautiful and worthy life. They can make good friends, friends whose companionship and help would enrich their whole life. They can form good habits which would build up fine character in them and make them respected and influential in the community. They can read good books which will fill their minds and hearts with noble thoughts and upward inspirations. They can win victory over their own lives and become self-controlled and kingly among men. But the doors stand open only a reasonable time—there is not a moment to lose. By and by they will be shut. Then no imploring cry will open them again.
The lesson for all is, "Watch therefore!" We know not the day nor the hour. That is true of our Lord's coming. It is true of death. But it is true also of nearly every other experience of life. We go on, not knowing. The future is closed to our eyes. We know not what awaits us at any turning of a street corner, or what we shall have to meet any moment as we go. The only way to be ready for the unknown events of tomorrow, is to improve every opportunity of today.
The Parable of the Talents
"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey."
The particular teaching of this parable is not the same as that of the parable of the virgins. That was the duty of preparation; this is the duty of working—using one's powers and capacities. Every one of us has received a talent or talents, some portion of our Lord's goods. The Master has gone away, leaving us to use whatever of His, He has entrusted to us until He returns. Then we shall have to give account to Him. It is not a voluntary matter with us, nor is it a matter of indifference, whether we will be Christ's servants or not. Christ is the rightful Lord of every man. Declining to accept Him and to enter His service—does not exempt anyone from the responsibility.
"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them." Perhaps we do not realize how entirely Christ has entrusted His affairs and His interests in this world, to His followers. This puts a serious responsibility on us. If the gospel is to get to men—then we must proclaim it. If the work of the Church is to be done—then we must do it. The only hands Christ has for work in this world—are our hands. If the sorrowing are to receive comfort—then we must give it. If the world is to see the beauty, the gentleness, the patience, the compassion, the helpfulness of God—then we must be the interpreters of these Divine affections. Christ has delivered His goods to us.
We notice also that in the distribution of talents the same is not given to all. "To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability." Each person received what he was able to care for. This principle is observed in all Divine endowments. No one has duties allotted to him, which he has not the ability to perform. Nothing impossible is ever asked of any person. Men differ in their ability to manage their Lord's affairs, and the talents given into their hands vary accordingly. The merchant does not take the man with capacity only for lifting heavy bales—and put him in the counting-room. When a woman wants a fine dress made, she does not give the costly materials to a washer woman, a hairdresser, or to a teacher of German or music—but to a skillful dressmaker. Our Master gives each particular disciple, the duties he has ability to do. We need never say, therefore, that we cannot do the things that seem to be required of us. We can do whatever we are given by our Master to do. He makes no mistakes in the allotment of tasks.
The story then tells what the servants did with their share of their master's goods. "The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more." This man used faithfully what had been put into his hands, and the result was that it was doubled—his five talents became ten. He used his gifts—traded with them, and in the trading came the increase.
This is the Divine law in all life. God gives one a gift of music—but it is only in its possibilities as yet. It must be cultivated, developed, disciplined, or it never will become of any practical value. Love must be exercised, if it is to grow. It is only a capacity at first. The same is true of all human powers, whether of body, mind or heart. The trouble with too many people, is that they are indolent and do nothing with their natural gifts, and then these gifts never increase. Talents that are exercised, put to work, traded with—always multiply. "The hand of the diligent makes rich" (Proverbs 10:4). The boy who is so shy and diffident that he can scarcely speak a work in public, by using his small abilities, becomes a great orator, able to sway a vast multitude. The girl, whose voice is sweet but undeveloped, puts her talents to use, and by and by sings so as to thrill countless hearts.
The man with the two talents was faithful, too. "So also, the one with the two talents gained two more." Not many of us would claim, that we have five talents. This is the distinction of only a few. And many of us would not be quite willing to say we have only one talent. That would seem to put us low in the scale. Perhaps, however, some of us would admit that we have about two talents. It is the great middle class that does most for the world.
It would not do for all to be great—to be five-talented. If all the soldiers were fit for generals, who would make up the rank and file? If all Church members were eloquent preachers, who would do the countless little, quite services that need to be done? If all men and women were great poets, who would write the prose? There is need for far more common people than great brilliant ones. One Niagara is enough for a continent—but there is need for thousands of little springs and rivulets. A few great men are enough for a generation—but there is work for millions of common folks. So this diversity of gifts, is part of the Divine plan. The world needs more people of average ability, than it needs of the extraordinary sort, and so we are sure always of being in good company. Lincoln said God must love the common people, for He made so many of them. People who are very great must feel lonesome, for there are so very few of them.
In the case of this two-talented servant, as with that of the five-talented, it was diligent work that redeemed the mediocre man from the obscurity of the commonplace, and gave him distinction. Presently he had four talents. The practical lesson in all the parable, is the using of our gifts, that, if we really have only two talents, we should not vex ourselves—but should go to work with what we have, and it will grow by and by into something worthy. William Dawson speaks in one of his sermons, of the commonness and pitiableness of "contented insignificance."
The talents were not given to the servants; they were only committed to them to be used. Then there would be an accounting. "After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them." There is an important suggestion in this "long time." We are given plenty of time to make use of our talents. It takes time to learn to work well and to develop and train our faculties to their best. Even if we have buried our talents for a season, there is ample time to dig them up and try to put them to better use. We owe far more than we can tell, to God's patience in waiting so long for us. But we must never forget that the Lord will come—and we shall have to reckon with Him for whatever of His we have.
The character of the reward should be noticed. The successful man was not give a year's vacation that he might take a long rest. He was not given an easier position where he would have less care and less work. The reward for doing his work well—was more work! Because he had done well with the little that had been entrusted to him—more was put into his hands. That is the way of honorable promotion among men—not rest and luxury—but a higher position with harder work, increased burden. "Joy" is promised, too, "the joy of your Lord," the joy which comes of serving, of doing the Lord's work. The deepest joy experienced in this world—is the joy which comes of serving.
But one of the servants had failed to do his best with his talent. "Then the man who had received the one talent came." The story of the one-talented man is pathetic, and yet it has its startling lesson. If only he, too, had been faithful, doing his best with his little gift—he also would have multiplied his talent. Many who have done the most for the world—had only one talent to begin with. The discovery that we have only one talent, never should discourage us. We should accept what we have, however small it may be, and set about making the most of it and doing the most with it. The last thing to do with our gift or ability—is to despair about it and then hide it away.
The gifts that are not used—are lost. "Take therefore the talent away from him." In all life it is the same—faculties unused are lost, become extinct. Natural eyes would lose the power of sight—if one lived in darkness continually, and never used them. The eye that is never turned toward God, by and by loses even the power to look toward God. The capacity for believing, which never believes, at length ceases to be able to believe. "Capacity is extirpated by disuse." The lesson comes with tremendous force to the young. If they will not use the abilities which God has bestowed upon them—these powers will be taken away from them.
The Last Judgment
This passage gives us a wonderful picture of the last judgment. It is not a parable—but a prophetic presentation of the great scene. The sheep and goats are used as representing the good and evil. Christ will be the Judge. He will appear as the Son of man, that is, in His humanity. It is a comfort to think of this, that it will be our Brother whom we shall see on the throne of glory. Christ came first in lowly form. He was born in a stable and cradled in a manger. No retinue of angels then attended Him except the host that sang their song in the shepherd's ears. In His first coming, He was lowly and despised. He was so poor that often He had nowhere to lay His head. He had but few followers and made but little name for Himself on the earth. But He will not come this way the second time. He will appear in glory, and will be attended by hosts of angels.
For once the whole human family will be together. "All the nations will be gathered in his presence." Yet in our thought of the grandeur of this scene—we must not lose sight of the individuality of the judgment. We shall be there—but none of us will be lost in the crowd; each one shall have personal judgment.
During a war the telegraphic reports from the field say that in a great battle ten thousand men were slain. Not knowing any of them personally, we think only of the vast aggregate number. But suppose some friend of ours—brother or father—was among the slain; we think no more then of the ten thousand—but of the one. And every one of the ten thousand is mourned in some home—is somebody's father, husband, brother, son, friend. From that battlefield ten thousand cords stretch to ten thousand homes. The heaps of slain are simply ten thousand individuals. So in that countless throng on judgment day, not one person will be lost in the multitude. "Everyone must bear his own burden."
There will be a division that day—the whole human family will not be as one. "All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left." Our Lord's teachings are full of this thought of final separation. The tares and the wheat will grow together until the harvest; but then there will be an infallible separation—not a tare will be gathered into the barn with the wheat. The net draws good and bad fish to the shore—but there the two classes are separated. The ten virgins were together during the time of waiting—but the midnight cry caused an instant, final and irrevocable separation, as the door opened for those who were ready to enter and shut upon those who were unprepared. Nothing is more plainly taught in the Word of God, than that the evil and the good, the believing and the rejecting, the righteous and the unrighteous shall be separated at the last day, each going to his own place.
These separations will cut very close in many cases. "Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left." When we are sure of our place on Christ's right hand, we should never rest until we are sure also that all those whom we love shall be in the same company.
The King speaks to the people as if He had personally lived among them, "For I was hungry—and you gave Me something to eat." It seems from this picture of the judgment, that the eternal destiny of men shall be settled by their works. Feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, are mentioned as reasons for the favor shown to those upon the right hand. But a careful study of the passage shows that in the judgment, all will turn upon one question—how men have treated Jesus Christ. If they have believed on Him, loved Him, honored Him, and lived for Him—they will be honored by Him, gathered at His right hand and admitted to His kingdom of glory. But if they have not believed on Him, have not honored Him, have not lived for Him in this world—they will be rejected by Him at the last and shut out of the heavenly kingdom. In other words, all will depend upon whether men believe or do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
But believing in Christ means more than giving assent to a correct creed—it means also a life of obedience and service. The whole of Christian life is love, not only love for Christ—but love for Christ's own. If we love God—we will love our brother also, says the beloved disciple. If we do no love our brother, it is evident that we do not love God. If we have the love of Christ in our heart, it will show itself to all those who belong to Christ. While there is love for all the world, there should be a special love for those who belong to the Master.
The King speaks as if He had come to the people in the great company, in many experiences of personal suffering and need. "For I was hungry—and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty—and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger—and you took Me in; I was naked—and you clothed Me; I was sick—and you took care of Me; I was in prison—and you visited Me." There is something very pathetic in this thought of Jesus as a stranger, as hungry, or as sick, coming to our doors in those whose appeals are made to us. If we allowed it to enter our heart and exercise its proper effect upon us—it would inspire in us sympathy and love, and would make us very gentle to all who are in need.
Mr. Wesley, one winter day, met a poor girl in one of the schools under his care. She seemed almost frozen. He asked her if she had no clothing but the thin garments she was wearing. She said she had not. His hand was in his pocket in an instant—but there was no money there. He went to his room—but the pictures on the wall seemed to upbraid him. He took them down, saying to himself: "How can the Master say to you, 'Well done, good and faithful servant'? You have adorned your walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the bitter cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of the poor maid?" So he sold the pictures to get money to relieve the girl's distress.
Those to whom the King spoke, could not understand what He meant. "Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison—and help You?" Their surprise need not seem remarkable. The truest greatness, is not conscious of itself. Moses knew not, that his face shone. The best Christians put the lowest value upon their own good works. No doubt many of the commendations and rewards of the righteous in the judgment, will indeed be surprises to them. They keep no record of their good deeds. Their sense of personal unworthiness hinders them from seeing anything worthy in what they do. We do not dream of the real value and helpfulness of the things we do. Besides, we do not indeed see Christ in the lowly and suffering ones who come before us, needing love and help—we see only poor, sick, unfortunate people, with no marks of glory, no hints of nobility, no traces of heavenly beauty. We do not see things as they are. Jesus Himself is ever before us, in lowly guise. We are unconsciously serving the Master, whenever we do in His name the holy things of love. Every lowly, faithful Christian is preparing for himself many a blessed surprise in glory.
Jesus is still in this world. Once He was here in human form, as the Son of man. Now He is here in His Church. "You are the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:27), said the apostle. The smallest kindness shown to a Christian, even the least, Christ accepts as done to Himself. Parents understand this. Any honor shown to a child—a father receives as shown to himself. If a son is in a strange land and meets with some misfortune, or is sick, and someone finding him there as a stranger in trouble shows him kindness, no greater act done to the parents at home would be as pleasing to them—as is that little ministry to their child in a foreign land. Christ loves His people so much, that whatever is done to any of them—He accepts as if He Himself had been the recipient of the kindness.
The same is true, on the other hand, of any unkindness or any lack of kindness shown to another. "For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these—you did not do for me." We must beware how we treat the lowliest Christian, for if we neglect him in his need—it is as if Christ were in the same need, and we had neglected Him!
We must learn that we are judged not only by the things we do—but by the things we fail to do. These people had not been cruel or unkind to any of Christ's little ones—no such charge is made against them; they had not done the kindnesses which they ought to have done. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, neither the priest nor the Levite did any harm to the wounded man, and yet they are severely condemned. They sinned against him grievously by not doing the things of love which he needed to have done for him.
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
The Anointing of Jesus
We enter now upon the last events of our Lord's life. We are within two days of the Passover. We have a glimpse of the plotting of the priests and elders, and their desire to take Jesus by subtlety to kill Him. They wished, however, to wait until after the feast, fearing excitement and tumult, and had so determined. The culmination of the plot was hastened, however, by the unexpected treachery of Judas.
The incident of the anointing is given here apparently out of its proper order, probably because of its influence on the treason of Judas. The incident occurred, according to John's gospel (12:1-8), six days before the Passover. Judas was offended by Christ's rebuke of his criticism of Mary's anointing, and under the sting of this, went to the priest, offering to betray Christ.
Bethany was a sacred place to Jesus. There He found a home of love where His heart was rested many a time after the conflicts and controversies of the day in the temple. There His greatest miracle was wrought—the raising of Lazarus. We know Martha and Mary well. They differed in their dispositions—but they were alike in their warm and loyal friendship for Jesus.
These two sisters had each her own way of expressing her love for her Friend. The other evangelists tell us that Martha served—Martha
always served. There are certain people that we never fail to recognize by some unmistakable feature. We always know Peter by his impulsiveness. We know John by his lying upon the Savior's bosom at the last supper. We know Thomas as the man who doubted. We know Felix as the man who trembled, and then sent the preacher away for a more convenient season. We recognize Martha wherever we see her, by her serving. She represents those whose love for Christ takes the practical form, rather than the form of meditation and devotion.
Some people like to criticize Martha and find fault with her; but after all, her type of piety is important in this world where there is so much need for service and ministry. Beautiful as the Mary spirit is, it would not do if all were Marys, for who then would do the work of serving that needs so much to be done? A wife and mother, for instance, who would spend all her time in Bible reading and prayer, giving no thought to her household duties—would not make a very happy home.
The picture of Mary is also familiar. We see her three times in the Gospels, and each time she is in the same posture—at Jesus' feet. When we have our first glimpse within the Bethany home, we find Martha in her characteristic attitude—serving; and Mary we see sitting at the Master's feet, eagerly listening to His words. Our next view of Mary, is when Jesus came back to Bethany after the death of Lazarus, and the sisters came out to meet Him. Again, she is at the feet of Christ, this time in deep sorrow, seeking comfort. And here again we find her at the Master's feet, and now it is in an act of honor and an expression of love and gratitude to Him.
We think of Mary, therefore, as a woman who was always at Christ's feet. In the bright, happy days, she sat there as a learner. When grief was in the house and Jesus came, she went to His feet for comfort. Then when the trouble was over, we find her again in her familiar place, honoring Him with her heart's richest and best gifts. There is no fitter place for the redeemed life—than at the Master's feet!
Mary came in during the feast and anointed Jesus. We must distinguish this anointing from another by a woman who was a sinner. That anointing was an expression of penitence; this was an outburst of grateful love. Mary brought the best she had, the richest gift in all her possession. Her ointment was very costly. We should bring our best to Christ. No ointment in the world is half so precious to Him—as the love of a human heart; we should bring Him our best love, giving Him the first place in our affection. We should give Him the best of our life, the best of our time, and the best of our service.
It seems a sad pity that any occasion so sacred as this, should be marred by human littleness and baseness. The disciples had indignation. "Why this waste?" they asked. John tells us that Judas led in the criticism, and when we know this—we are not surprised. Judas thought it was waste when the ointment was poured out on the feet and head of Jesus. There still are many people who think everything wasted, which is not coined into dollars, or that does not show in direct practical usefulness. But the truth is, that much of the richest and sweetest blessing scattered in this world, is the fragrance from the breaking of alabaster boxes. It is well to give food and clothing to the poor—but sometimes love and sympathy are better.
But the truth is, the fragrance of love always carries a blessing wherever it reaches. Besides, Christ looks into the heart and is pleased with love there, whether the expression of the emotion takes the form of garments for the poor—or flowers for the sick room.
It is beautiful to read how promptly Jesus came to Mary's relief when she was blamed. "Why are you bothering this woman?" He asked. It was a shame for big, strong men like the apostles—to pounce with such ill manners and cowardly rudeness—on a timid young girl like Mary. They ought to have been gallant enough to encourage and praise her deed of love.
"She has done a beautiful thing to Me!" said Jesus. This was what gave her act distinction and honor—it was wrought for the Master.
Anything done for Christ is lifted up to honor. It is this that makes all lowly Christian service beautiful—it is something done for Jesus. Judas had said the money ought to have been given to the poor. But Jesus said they could always do good to the poor—but they could not show kindness to Him much longer.
Then Jesus said further that this ointment had been poured on His body to prepare Him for burial. Mary probably did not know He was so near death—but Jesus knew it and accepted the honor as for His funeral. We do not know half the real meaning of our lowliest deeds of love! In Mark's Gospel (14:3-9) we read that Jesus said: "She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial."
Many people would have kept that box sealed up, to anoint His cold and dead body. When a man dies, there is never any lack of kind words about him, nor of flowers for his coffin. This is all well in its place—but Mary's way is better. Let us not wait until our friends are gone, before we show our love for them—but rather, let us bring our ointment while they are alive to enjoy its fragrance. Fill the lives of your friends with sweetness; speak approving, cheering words—while their ears can hear them and while their hearts can be blessed by them. The flowers you mean to send for their coffins—send to brighten and sweeten their homes before they leave them! Let us learn the lesson today—to anoint our friends beforehand for their burying.
The Last Supper
Jesus left the temple for the last time on Tuesday evening, and spent Wednesday in retirement. He gave instructions to two of His disciples on Thursday morning, concerning preparations for the Passover. "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house." The man was to be known by a certain sign—he would be carrying a pitcher of water (see Mark 14:13; Luke 22:10). As women carried the burdens in those days, the sight of a man carrying water was uncommon. Hence the identification would be easy. Evidently secrecy was intended in the choosing of the place for the Passover. It is thought that the reason for this secrecy was to keep from Judas the knowledge of the place, as he was watching for an opportunity to betray Jesus. The Master is always coming to people and saying, "I am going to celebrate the Passover at your house." He wants to be a guest in every family. Blessed is the home that opens to Him and gives Him its upper room as His guest chamber.
It was a sad announcement that Jesus made to the disciples that night when they had gathered about the table. "Truly I say unto you—that one of you shall betray Me." Judas himself was at the table, and possibly one reason why Jesus made this announcement was to give him an opportunity to repent even at he last moment. It is remarkable that not one of the disciples seem to have suspected anyone as the traitor to whom Jesus had referred. They did not begin to say: "I wonder which of us it is? Do you think it can be Andrew? Do you suppose it can be Peter?" Instead of suspicion, each one shuddered at the possibility that he himself might, after all, be the one. "Is it I, Lord?" they all began to say. "Surely not I, Lord!" is the more accurate rendering. We should examine ourselves rather than look at others for sins we find condemned.
It is very much easier to see faults in our neighbors than in ourselves; and to think others capable of doing evil things, rather than suppose it possible that we should do them. But our business is with ourselves alone. We do not have to answer for the sins of our neighbors. Then it is not enough to ask merely whether we have done such and such things; we should ask also whether we are in danger of committing them. "Let him that thinks he stands—take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). We do not know the dark possibilities of evil which lurk in our hearts. We dare not say, when we learn of someone who has fallen into terrible sin, that it would have been impossible for us to have done the same thing. What any man has done—any man may do!
The answer of Jesus, "He who dips his hand with Me in the dish, the same shall betray Me," was not meant to point out any individual as the traitor. He merely meant to indicate the greatness of the crime—that one of those who had eaten at His table, and enjoyed the familiarity of closest friendship—and they all had—was now to betray Him. In the East, those who ate together, by that very act pledged to each other loyal friendship and protection. This made the crime of Judas all the darker and blacker.
What Jesus said about the traitor is very suggestive. He said, "The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." It is a great privilege to live. It is a great thing to be able to stay in this world for a certain number of years and leave our impress upon other lives. It is a great thing to sow seeds which may bring multiplied harvests of blessing in the future. But there are those who live, who perhaps, it may have been better had they never been born. Judas had a magnificent opportunity. He was chosen to be an apostle. He would not have been thus chosen if it had not been possible for him to be a faithful and worthy apostle. He might have gone forth to help bring the world to Christ's feet, and his name might then have been written in heaven. Now, however, the face of Judas is turned to the wall and the place is blank which might have been filled with a story of noble deeds. He wrecked all the possibilities of his life by rejecting the Divine will. He left only a black shadow and then passed to his own place in the eternal world. It would indeed have been better for him—if he had not been born!
The story of the Lord's Supper is told very briefly in Matthew. We may notice, however, that Jesus sets aside the ancient Passover and substitutes in its place for Christian observance, this memorial supper. "Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it; and gave it to the disciples." Bread is a fit emblem of Christ's body. By it our bodies are nourished and strengthened. Christ is food to our spiritual life. Unless we feed upon Him—we must perish. The giving of the bread to the disciples signified the offer to each one, by Christ Himself, of all the benefits and blessings of His love and sacrifice. Thus Christ ever stands with outstretched hands holding out to every human soul all the precious things of His salvation.
The use of the words, "This is My body," "This is My blood," ought not to occasion any difficulty. Jesus often spoke in a similar way. When he said, "I am the door," no one supposed that He meant He was literally changed into a door, or when He said, "I am the vine," no one ever thought that He meant to say He had become an actual vine. Here it is just as plain that He spoke figuratively, meaning that the bread was an emblem of His body.
We should notice also that the disciples themselves had a part in this supper. Jesus offered Himself to them as bread—but they must voluntarily accept His gift. "Take, eat; this is My body." It is not enough that God loved the world and gave His Son for its redemption. It is not enough that Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for men. These stupendous acts of love and grace alone will not save anyone. We have a responsibility in the matter. We must reach out our hands and take what is graciously offered to us. Bread must be eaten before it can become sustenance, so Christ, as the bread of life, must be received into our lives before it can become the food of our souls. Much of the failure of Christian life is at this very point—we do not take what Christ offers and even presses upon us. We pray for blessing, while all the time the blessing is close beside us, waiting only to be received and appropriated.
After giving them bread, Jesus took a cup from the table and gave it to them, too. "He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink from it, all of you." A little later that same evening Jesus Himself too a cup from the hands of the Father and drank it to its bitter dregs. Into that cup there had been poured, as it were, all the world's sorrow. Yet full as it was of the very gall and bitterness of human guilt, He pressed it to His lips and drank it, saying, "The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?"
This cup, however, which Jesus handed to His disciples, was a cup of blessing. Into it He Himself poured, as it were, the concentration of all heaven's joy and glory. Again, however, we must notice the words, "Drink from it, all of you." It is not enough that the cup shall be prepared and then offered to us. Unless we accept the blessing of Christ's atonement, we shall not be helped.
Jesus said that this cup represented the covenant. "This is My blood of the New Testament (new covenant), which is poured out for many for the remission of sins." In ancient times covenants were sealed by the blood of animals. The covenant of redemption was sealed by Christ's own blood. Christ's dying was not an accident—it was part of the great purpose of His life, that for which, above all else, he came into the world. We are saved, not merely by being helped over the hard places, not merely by being taught how to live, not only by having a perfect example set before us—but by having our sins remitted. No one can be saved until he is forgiven, and no man's sin is put away except through the blood of Christ.
Jesus announced to the disciples that this was the last time He would eat with them at an earthly table. "I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." In telling them this, He gave them great comfort in the assurance that He would sit down with them again, by and by, in the heavenly kingdom. The earthly supper was only a symbol; the heavenly would be a glorious reality.
Jesus left the upper room with a song on His lips. "When they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives." He knew where He was going—and to what. Just before Him was Gethsemane, with its agony. Beyond this experience would come His trial, and next day His death. Yet He went to these terrible experiences, with a song of praise.
Matthew 26:31-35; 69-75
As Jesus walked with his disciples from the upper room on the way to Gethsemane, He warned them of the peril into which they were about to enter. "This very night you will all fall away on account of of Me." Their trial would be very great. He quoted from an Old Testament prophet a word which described the situation as it was about to be: "I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad" (see Zech. 13:7). He knew what was coming. He would be smitten. He was the Shepherd and had kept His sheep in safe protection thus far. Now He was to be smitten—and they would be exposed to the power of their enemies and His.
Yet even in the shadows of the gathering night, He saw the breaking of the morning. "But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee." He was to be killed—but He would be raised again from the dead. He was not to be finally torn away from them. Death would not be defeat to Him. He was to lie in the grave—but He would come again and lead them once more, away beyond the grave. Hope never failed in the heart of Christ. He was never discouraged.
Peter was always the first of the disciples to speak. The most holy occasion could not awe nor quiet him. He had heard the Master's warning—but he resented it. There was no need to fear for him, whatever others might do. "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." His self-confidence was very strong. It was not possible, he said, for him to be untrue to his Lord. It was Peter's rash boldness that made him weak. Jesus repeated His warning, making it personal. "Truly I say unto you, that this night, before the rooster crows, you shall deny Me three times." Still Peter resented the warning. "Peter said unto Him: Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." We would say that such solemn words spoken by the Master could never be forgotten to commit such a sin against his Master that same night. Yet the fact that Peter actually denied Him with such positiveness, and so repeatedly, shows how terrible the temptation was—and how weak the strongest friend of Christ is in such an hour.
Gethsemane came next, with its hour of anguish. Then came the arrest, on the edge of the Garden, when Jesus was betrayed by one of His disciples and led away to the palace of the high priest. It was far on in the night. "Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard." There are several steps leading to Peter's present position in the courtyard, that we must recall in order to understand his denial. It began farther back. Earlier in the evening he disregarded, even resented, the warning that he would deny his Lord that night. That was a serious mistake. We would better listen when God speaks to us in this way. Peter was not a hypocrite. He was sincere, he loved Christ—but he was too self-confident. He lacked that distrust of self which should lead the best and holiest to know that only in Christ are they safe. Peter was weak that night—because he sought no Divine help.
Next we find him sleeping—when he ought to have been watching. That hour in the Garden was given in order that the disciples might be prepared for temptation. Peter did not improve it and was found unready. He failed in love's duty to the Master. Next was his rashness in drawing his sword. This act made him liable to arrest and led him to try to hide his identity and his connection with Christ, lest he might be seized by the officers. Again we find him following Jesus "afar off." This showed timidity and failing faith. His courage was slipping. Following at a distance is always perilous. It shows a weakening love and a trembling loyalty. It is in itself a partial denial. The only really safe place—is close up to Christ.
Another fatal step was taken by Peter when he went in and sat down among the servants in the court. He was in bad company. He had seated himself among Christ's enemies. His object was to conceal his discipleship. He wanted to be thought one of their company when he sat down among mockers and revilers. He hoped thus to escape detection. Thus he acted denial before he spoke it. Had he been altogether loyal and faithful, he would have kept out of such company and as near his Master as possible. The only true and safe thing to do when among Christ's enemies, is to take one's right place quietly and firmly at the beginning. Starting wrong puts one in a false position, in which it is almost impossible to be faithful afterward. Peter was in a bad place for a disciple when "sitting out in the courtyard." He was ready to fall. We must guard against taking the steps that lead to denial of Christ.
Peter's denial was not premeditated, as was the betrayal by Judas. He was caught in the entanglement of circumstances. His first denial was partly owing to the suddenness of the assault and his previous false steps. He was not false at heart—but loved his Master even when denying Him. We must remember that when all the other disciples forsook Jesus, Peter was the only one, save John, who followed Him when in the hands of His enemies. True, he followed Him afar off, timidly—yet he followed. We must keep in mind his character also—impulsive, impetuous, always doing rash things—yet withal bold and loyal. These considerations palliate though they do not excuse Peter's denial. After all, this is one of the saddest chapters in the Bible. This favored disciple, at the twitting of a slave girl, denies his Lord; and then goes on denying Him, with increasing earnestness and with oaths and curses.
There are several things that made Peter's denial peculiarly sad and sinful. One was that he had received so many marks of special favor from his Master. He was not a disciple only—but an apostle. He was one of the three who had been chosen as the Master's particular friends. He has been honored, too, by the Lord on several occasions, even that very night in the Garden when he was chosen to be with Him. He had made the boldest confession of Christ and had also loudly professed his allegiance.
Another aggravation of Peter's denial—was that he had been so earnestly forewarned. Even that night he had been told that he would deny Christ—and he had utterly disregarded the Lord's words, declaring that he could not possibly do such a thing. No railroad engineer runs past a red light. Forewarning makes sin, worse because it leaves it inexcusable.
Another thing that made the sin worse—was that it was in the Lord's hour of sorest need that Peter had denied Him. If it had been on the Transfiguration Mount, or during the triumphal entry, it would not have been one-hundredth part so bad. But it was when Jesus was deserted and in the hands of the enemies. Was that a time for the bravest disciple, the most highly favored friend, the noblest confessor, to turn his back upon his Lord? When the shadow falls on your friend, when the tide turns against him, when others have forsaken him—is that the time for you, his long-time bosom companion, and the recipient of his favors, to turn coward and leave him alone? How much Peter might have comforted Jesus in His trial! Instead, however, the only words the Master heard from His friend's lips, as he stood amid enemies and revilers, were words of denial, which cut like sword-thrusts into His heart.
A simple lie becomes a lie sworn to, and then a lie sworn to with imprecations and curses. Simple denial is bad enough—but this apostle even went so far as to invoke curses upon himself if he were a disciple, if he even knew the man, and to utter oaths to emphasize his denial. How this aggravated his sin!
But how could an apostle who had been with Jesus so long, hearing and using only pure speech, curse and wear in this way? The answer is that it must have been an old habit with Simon the fisherman, which now cropped out in the excitement. This is a way old evil habits have. It is impossible to root them out—so that they will never give trouble again. They are like weeds; you may dig them out and think there is not a root left in the ground, and for a while none may be seen; but someday they will reappear. Bad habits of any kind formed in early life always leave weak points in the character. It is very easy to fall again in sudden temptation where one has fallen before. It is always easy to take old paths on which the feet were once accustomed to go. One who drank alcohol in is youth, though he becomes a total abstainer and is true for years—is never as safe at that point, as one who never acquired the habit. It is so with lying, swearing, obscenity, dishonesty and all vices.
At last Peter came to himself. "Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him… And he went out, and wept bitterly." The rooster crowed, and then Jesus turned and looked upon Peter (Luke 22:61), who, glancing up at that moment, caught his Lord's eye. The cock-crow and the Master's look, aroused him to a sense of what he had done. An incident, a remembering, a look, were the means by which the sinning apostle was brought to repentance. We can think of that look. Jesus was in the hands of mocking enemies, and while they were scoffing and beating Him, there fell on His ear the voice of His favored disciple, denying Him with curses and imprecations. Surely this was the bitterest drop in the bitter cup of that terrible night. What pain and sorrow there were in the look that fell upon Peter! But, thank God, the look broke his heart and saved him. He went out into the night—but not like Judas, to despair. He went out into the night—but the angel of mercy went with him and pointed him to hope. He wept bitterly—but the memory of that look—grieved, chiding—yet full of love—told him that he had not yet lost his place in the Master's heart. He repented of his sin and was saved to become one of the noblest of our Lord's apostles. So we may thank God for this sad story, because it shows us such a door of hope when we have sinned.
Jesus in Gethsemane
There was something strangely significant even in the name of the place where Jesus endured His midnight agony. Gethsemane means oil press. It was the place where oil was crushed out of the olives. Olive oil was very valuable. It was used chiefly for food and for lighting. The sufferings of Christ have yielded the highest blessings to the world—food for men's souls, and light to shine in darkness.
We cannot begin to understand the anguish of Christ that night. He said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." We should take off our shoes as we stand by the edge of the scene. Some of the elements of His suffering, however, may be suggested. Before Him lay the betrayal, the arrest, the trial, and then death on the cross. By his pre-vision, He saw all these cruelties and tortures. Another element of His suffering lay in the falseness of the human hearts about Him. There were the traitorous kiss of Judas, the denial of Peter, the desertion by the other disciples, the rejection and crucifixion by the people He had come to save. All this, He saw from Gethsemane. But that which made the essence of the anguish that night—was that He died for sin. "The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Is. 53:6). What that meant—we never can know. He was dying, the just for the unjust. He bore our sin in His own body on the tree. We may not try to fathom the mystery—but the fact we should never allow to be forgotten.
The humanness of Jesus also appears in the Garden. He craved the sympathy of His friends in His suffering. While they could not lessen the anguish nor bear any part of it for Him; feeling with Him, would make Him stronger to endure. There is a picture which shows two women seated side by side. One is in deep sorrow. Some great grief has fallen upon her heart and crushed it. Her face tells of deepest affliction. The other woman has come in from without. She is sitting beside the sufferer, in silence, holding her hand, while her face expresses deep sympathy. The near presence of one we love when we are in any trial, makes us stronger to endure. This suggests one way in which we may do good. True sympathy with those in trouble, is often the best service we can render them.
No longer does Jesus Himself need that we should watch with Him—but in his little ones, He is ever saying to us, "Tarry here, and watch with Me." While Jesus wanted His friends near to Him—yet they could not share the actual experience of that hour. "He went a little further, and fell on His face, and prayed." We, too, must meet all our deepest experiences alone. Even our most tender human friends, we must leave back a little way. In sorrow, others may hold our hands and we may lean upon their strong arm for support; but that is all—the sorrow itself we must endure without companionship. No one can take our pain and bear it or our sorrow and endure it.
The prayer which Jesus offered in the Garden was very intense, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me." Without attempting to fathom the mystery of His experience as He prayed this prayer, we get some suggestions from it for ourselves. For one thing, in all our troubles—we should seek refuge in prayer. There is no other place to go. "Being in agony—He prayed" (see Luke 22:44). He let His heart-cries go out in pleadings and supplications. Whatever our trial may be, it is a comfort to know that we may take it to God in prayer.
Another lesson is that however earnest we may be in our pleading, we must always submit our requests to the will of God. "Nevertheless, not as I will—but as You will." How can we know what is best? Even Jesus in His anguish would not trust His own judgment—but said, "If it is possible—as You will." Our prayers should always be modeled on our Master's. Anything but God's will—would be a mistake. It may be that the sorrow from which we implore God to save us—is bringing blessings we could not afford to miss. So we can only safely leave all to Him.
It was a bitter disappointment to our Savior when, after His first great struggle, He returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He had longed for their sympathy. He felt that if they were waking and watching—He would be stronger to endure the anguish. He came back seeking refreshment and renewal of strength from their sympathy. Instead of watching, however, the disciples were sleeping! We may not chide them, however. How is it with ourselves? Jesus is ever setting us to watch with Him and for Him. Does He always find us awake when He comes? Is He never disappointed in us? Do we never lose interest in His service?
He showed the pain of His disappointment in the way He spoke to the disciples. "What, could you not watch with Me for one hour?" It was to Peter He said this especially, because Peter was the one who had boasted but a little while before, that whatever others might do—he would be loyal. The time they were expected to watch, was short—only "one hour." It is very sad that the help Jesus craved that night from His own disciples, they failed to give Him. He is calling us to watch with Him. Even in His Divine glory, He still craves human affection, trust and faithfulness. We still may grieve His heart, by lack of fidelity. We have constant opportunity of watching with Christ. There always are those that need our sympathy, our cheer, our encouragement, and our help. The disciples that night lost an opportunity of lightening their Master's load in His darkest hour. Let us not fail Christ in loyalty, in affection, in service.
Even in the midst of His own aguish He thought of His disciples in their danger—and sought their safety. "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation." It is not enough to pray, that you "enter not into temptation." It is not enough to pray without watching. An army in the enemy's country never rests a moment without its encircling line of pickets, keeping watch at every point against danger, and reporting instantly every indication of a hostile movement. We are living in the enemy's country, and we dare not pass an hour without watching. But watching is not enough, for we are not able to guard ourselves in danger. Hence we need also to pray continually, asking God to protect us. God means for us to keep our wits about us as we pray, as well as call to Him for help. "Watch and pray!"
When Jesus prayed the second time, the form of His pleading was modified. "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it—may your will be done." While the prayer was not answered directly, the Suppliant was growing stronger, and His will was coming more and more into acquiescence with the Father's will. This is often the way our prayers are answered. The things we ask for are not given to us—but we are strengthened so as to accept the pain and endure it.
Very sad was the word which Jesus spoke when He returned to His disciples the last time, "Are you still sleeping and resting?" Their opportunity for watching with Him was now gone. He did not need them anymore, because the struggle was over. Waking now would do no good, and they might as well sleep on. There is a time for each duty—and the time soon passes. The time to show sympathy with a suffering friend or neighbor—is while the suffering is being endured. There is no use in our coming next day—when the need is past. The time to watch against a danger—is when the danger is impending; there is no use to wake up—when its work is done. Watching then will not undo the evil. We may almost as well then sleep on, and take our rest.
The betrayal of Jesus is graphically described in Matthew's gospel. It was "one of the twelve" who did it. This makes it terribly sad. It was a strange place to see a disciple—one who had lived with Jesus in such close relations, eating with Him, enjoying all the confidences of His friendship—acting now as guide to those who came to arrest his Master. The kiss, which was the honored token of affection and the sacred seal of friendship, became in this case the token of disloyalty and the sign of treason! The last word Jesus spoke to Judas shows love, ready even then to accept the traitorous disciple. "Friend, do what you came for."
There was a bewildered attempt by the disciples to defend their Lord against those who had laid hands upon Him. But they did not know what they were doing. They were loyal and devoted—but powerless in their fright and confusion. Quickly Jesus bade them put away their swords. He was not dependent on human force. He could by a word have had legions of angels sent to His defense. But that was not God's way. His hour had come.
"Then all the disciples forsook Him, and fled." Shall we call them cowards and chide them with abandoning their Lord? Yes—but their Lord was infinitely patient with them.
The Trial of Jesus
We speak of the trial of Jesus—but really it was not a trial. There was no intention of giving Him a fair and just hearing. The Sanhedrin had firmly made up its mind to condemn Jesus, and they went through the form of a trial, not to discover the truth about Him—but to endeavor to get some pretext for what they had determined to do. When we think who Jesus was, looking at Him in the light of our belief in Him as the Son of God, the scenes of His trial reveal His enemies in strange character indeed. Think of men arresting the Son of God, binding His hands, and putting Him on trial in their courts!
Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, just after the close of His anguish there. The effect of His arrest on the disciples, was to cause them to scatter and leave Him. While they all fled, John seems to have returned very soon, and we think of him as following close behind his Master on the way to the palace of the high priest. Peter also followed—but "afar off." This was the beginning of his denial.
The rulers had no difficulty in getting men to testify against Jesus. There always are men who can be bribed to do anything. "The chief priests and elders and the council sought false witness against Jesus," that they might put Him to death. Their intention was not to bring out the truth about Him—but to get such testimony as would seem to justify their determination to kill Him! It was false witness they sought—no other kind of witness against Him could be found, for there were none. In all the land there was not a man, woman or child—who could truthfully say a word against Jesus. His was the one life in all the world's history—in which there was no flaw, no blemish. No wonder the question was asked by Pilate, when the Jews clamored for the condemnation of Jesus, "Why, what evil has He done?" The rulers could have found thousands of witnesses to tell of the good things He had done—but they could not find even one to testify of any evil against Him. Hence they deliberately sought false witness.
But even this testimony was not of any use, for one witness swept away what another had said. They found it not, "though many false witnesses came." There are many in these days, too, who are willing and eager to witness against the Bible and against Christianity—but there is no agreement among them. One man, for example, goes about with his hammer, breaking off bits of rock and studying ancient fossils, saying that his deductions demolish the statements of the Bible. But another man, also hostile to Christianity, follows, with his little hammer, and reports others deductions which sweep away the theories and conclusions of the first. So it is with all opposition to Christianity. One witness antagonized another. Amid enmities and assaults, the New Testament stands really unassailable, an impregnable rock, and Christ Himself abides the same yesterday, and today, yes, and forever.
At length, however, two men were found who seemed to agree in their testimony, saying the same thing. Probably they had been drilled and taught just what to say. "At the last came two false witnesses, and said… This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days." Really, Jesus never said this. What He did say was, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up," referring to the temple of His body. The Jews taught that any word spoken against the temple, was blasphemy. Jesus had not said, however, that He would destroy the temple—but that if they destroyed it—meaning His body—He would restore it, foretelling His own resurrection. The witnesses perverted His words, however, so as to give the impression that Jesus had actually spoken blasphemy against the temple. There always are those who insist upon garbling and misrepresenting what Jesus said—in order to bolster up their own peculiar opinions.
"But Jesus remained silent" before all that the false witnesses said. There was no reason why He should speak, for there were no charges to answer. His calmness angered the high priest, and he stood up and fiercely demanded, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" Still He answered nothing. There is a time to keep silence. When others say false or bitter things of us or to us—it is usually better not to answer back. Answering does no good—when enemies are in such mood. It only irritates them the more—it does not convince them or soften their hearts.
There is something very majestic in our Lord's silence at this time. There He stood, pale and suffering—yet meek, patient, undisturbed, showing no bitterness, no resentment, and no anxiety concerning the outcome of His trial. "Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (Peter 2:23). The lesson is for us, and we should not fail to get it—when we are wronged or hurt, when others say false things of us—or bitter things to us—we should keep love in our hearts, and say no unloving word and cherish no unloving thought, committing all the wrong, all the injustice—into the hands of our Father, who judges righteously.
But as there is a time to keep silence, there is also a time to speak. Despairing of getting any real ground of charge from the false witnesses, the high priest determined to make Jesus convict Himself. He demanded of Him whether He were indeed the Christ. "I adjure You by the living God—tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God." Instantly the silence was broken. Not to have spoken now—would have been to deny His own Messiahship. To answer would cost Him His life—but He paused not a moment to think of the cost. There come times in everyone's experience, when silence would be disloyalty to Christ. We should have courage then to speak the truth, regardless of consequences.
Not only did Jesus answer the high priest's question—but He went farther and gave him and his fellow-judges a glimpse of the glory of His power. "Yes, it is as you say! But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." Recall this scene before the council—the pale, meek One, standing there as a prisoner, bound, mocked, spit upon, smitten. Then go forward and think of the other scene which His own words bring up, when this same Holy One shall sit on the throne of His glory, wearing the crown of universal power, and when the priests, scribes and elders of that ancient court shall stand before Him, and recognize Him as the very prisoner of whom they looked with such contempt that night of His trial. Who can conceive of the shame, the remorse, the anguish, of that moment? The rulers supposed that Jesus was on trial before them; but really, they were on trial before Him!
There are many who are now, treating Christ with contempt, rejecting His mercy, despising His love, refusing to believe His words. There are those who flippantly deny the deity of Christ and laugh at the claims made by His followers for Him. These, too, will be compelled to see Him when He comes in glory to judge the earth. "Every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him" (Rev.1:17). How are we treating Jesus Christ? Are we looking on Him in love, believing on Him as our personal Savior, following Him as our Master, cleaving to Him as our Friend? Or are we spurning Him from our doors, insulting Him, mocking Him? We must read ourselves and our own relation to Christ into the scene before us.
The last item in the passage, is the formal vote of the Sanhedrin on the question of Christ's guilt. When Jesus had answered, the high priest rent his garments, saying, "He has spoken blasphemy! What further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now you have heard his blasphemy. What do you think?" Instantly came the answer, "He is guilty (or worthy) of death." Thus the vote of the court condemned Jesus as a blasphemer, condemned Him to death because He claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God. This was the signal for the beginning of mocking and insult. They spit on His face and buffeted Him. They blindfolded Him and smote Him and bade Him prophesy who it was that struck Him.
The story of the crucifixion has the most sacred and tender interest for everyone who loves Jesus Christ. It is not merely an account of the tragic death of a good man—He who was crucified was the world's Redeemer, our Redeemer, suffering for us! Some of the old preachers used to say that our sins drove the nails in the hands and feet of Jesus. He died for us. Paul speaks also of being crucified with Christ (see Galatians 2:20). He means that Christ's death was instead of his death. No other death in all history, means to the world what the dying of Jesus means.
They led Jesus out of Golgotha. There He was met by those who offered Him "vinegar to drink mingled with gall." It is supposed that the act was one of kindness, that the mixture was intended to stupefy Him so as to deaden in some measure, the awful suffering of crucifixion. But Jesus refused the drink. He would not have His senses dulled, as He entered upon His great work of death for the world, nor would He have His sufferings as Redeemer lessened in any degree.
The garments of men who were crucified were by custom the perquisites of the soldiers in charge of the crucifixion. They "divided His garments, casting lots." We love to think of the garments which Jesus had worn. Perhaps they had been made by His mother's hands—or else by the hands of some of the other women who followed Him and ministered unto Him of their substance. They were the garments the sick woman and other sufferers had touched with reverent faith, receiving instant healing. What desecration it seems when these heartless Roman soldiers take these garments and divide them among themselves! Then what sacrilege it is when the soldiers throw dice and gamble for His seamless robe—under the very cross where the Savior is dying!
"They sat and watched Him there." Roman soldiers kept guard—but they were not the only watchers. There was the careless, heartless watch of the soldiers. They knew nothing about Jesus. They saw three poor Jews on three crosses, and had no conception of the character of Him who hung on the middle cross. It is possible yet—to always to look at Christ on the cross—and see nothing more than these soldiers saw. We all need to pray to have our eyes opened when we look at Christ crucified, that we may see in the lowly sufferer—the Son of God, bearing the sin of the world.
There were also jealous watchers, the enemies of Jesus, so full of hatred that they even hurled scoffs at Him who hung in silences upon that central cross.
Then there were loving watchers—the women and John, Christ's friends, with hearts broken as they looked at their Lord dying in shame and anguish.
Then there were wondering watchers—angels, who hovered unseen above the cross and looked in amazement upon the suffering Son of God, eagerly desiring to know what this mystery meant.
All the words that Jesus spoke on the cross were full of meaning. One, the very first, was a prayer for His murderers, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). The words seem to have come from His lips—just as the nails were being driven through His hands and feet. The torture was excruciating—but there was no cry of pain, no execration of those who were causing Him such bitter anguish; only an intercession.
The answer to the world's daring defiance of God—was the hands of Christ stretched out to be pierced with nails for the world's redemption!
It was the custom to fasten on the cross, a board bearing the name and crimes of the sufferer. "They set up over His head his accusation written, this Is Jesus the King of the Jews." It was only in mockery that Pilate wrote this superscription. He did it to vex the Jews. Yet never were truer words written. Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews. They had looked forward to the coming of their Messiah with expectations of great blessings from Him. "He came unto His own—and His own received Him not" (John 1:11). This was the way they were treating their King. But He is our King, too. The crown He wore that day—was a crown of thorns. Thorns were part of the curse of sin, and the crown of Jesus—was woven of sin's curse. We have the promise of crowns of glory in heaven, because on Christ's brow rested that day the crown of shame.
"He saved others; He cannot save Himself." Unwittingly in their mockery they spoke a deep truth. Jesus had saved others, and even now He was saving others in the most wonderful way of all—by dying for them. He could have saved Himself, however, from the cross—if He had desired. His offering was voluntary. He said, "I lay down my life for My sheep. No man takes away from Me" (John 10:15-18). He said He could have summoned twelve legions of angels to deliver Him. He could have saved Himself—but then He would not have saved others. The soldier cannot save himself—and save his country. Jesus could not save Himself—and redeem His sheep. So He gave His own life a willing sacrifice to redeem lost men.
It was a strange scene that came on at noonday. "From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land." A yet deeper darkness hung around the Redeemer's soul those hours. It was so dark—that He even thought Himself forsaken of God. We never can understand the mystery of it, and we can know only that He wrapped the gloom of death about Himself that we might be clothed in garments of light. He died in darkness—that when we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, that the light of glory may shine about us. His head wore a matted crown of thorns—that under our heads may be the pillow of peace. He drank the cup of woe—that we may drink the cup of blessing.
"Jesus when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the Spirit." His loud cry, "It is finished!" which John records (19:30), was a shout of victory. His work was completed. The atonement was made. Then followed the word, given by Luke, "Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit" (23:46). The shadows were lifted. There was no longer any feeling of forsakenness. Again we hear the sweet name, "Father," showing that the joy had been restored. We see also in this word, that death was to Jesus—only the breathing out of His spirit into His Father's hands. We cannot see into the life beyond—but revelation assures us of the Divine presence close beside us. Dying is but fleeing from the body—into the arms of the Father. All this is ours because Jesus tasted death for us. Because He had the darkness—we have the light.
We think of death ordinarily as the end of a man's life. He can do no more work in this world. Only his influence remains. But it was not the end of the life of Jesus Christ. He came again from the grave after a brief rest—and took up once more His work of redemption.
The women watched beside the grave after the burial of the body there, until they were compelled to hasten into the city before the gates would be shut upon them. Meanwhile they were in deep grief. The Sabbath was a sad and dark day for them. They were eager to get back to the grave to honor their Lord's dead body. So at the very dawn, after the Sabbath, as soon as the gates would be opened, they left their home and hastened away to His grave, carrying spices and ointments to anoint His dead body.
No one saw the resurrection. We are told something, however, of what took place. "There was a great earthquake; for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it." The rulers thought they had the sepulcher well-secured. The stone had been sealed with Pilate's seal, so that to meddle with it would be a high crime. Besides, they had procured a guard of Roman soldiers to watch by the grave. They seem to have expected thus to keep Jesus from rising. When they asked for the guard, they gave this as the reason, "He said: After three days I will rise again" (27:63). They pretended to suspect that the disciples would try to carry away the body by night, to give the impression that their Master has risen. But we see how useless were all their precautions. There was no power in the universe that could keep the body of Jesus in that rock-prison.
The effect of the resurrection and its attendant circumstances upon the Roman soldiers who kept watch, was startling. "There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men." The soldiers were hardened to all sorts of danger. They never recoiled in the presence of any enemy. But when an angel of God stood before them, with shining face and shining garments—they were in great terror.
But the angel who caused such dread in the Roman soldiers, spoke with all gentleness to the women who stood before the grave in great sorrow. "The angel said to the women: Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay." This was the first announcement of the Resurrection. It was made by an angel to the Lord's women friends. They had ample proofs of the fact thereafter.
No event in all history is more incontestably sure, than that Jesus arose from the dead. Nor can the importance of the fact be overestimated. Everything depends upon Christ's Resurrection. All the hopes of redemption waited outside that sealed sepulcher. Jesus had said that He would rise; His Messiahship therefore depended from confirmation on His rising. He had made promises to His disciples that He would come again from death and live forever. Indeed, His kingdom depended altogether upon His rising. If He had remained under the power of death, no soul that trusted in Him could have been saved. For a Savior vanquished and held as a prisoner—could not be deliverer of others. A Savior locked in a grave—could not appear before God to intercede for men, could not walk with His people in their trials and sorrows, could not lead the dying safely through the valley which He had not Himself been able to pass through victoriously, could not bring believers from death's prison from which He had not Himself been able to come.
These are hints of what depended upon Christ's rising from the dead. Thus we see something of the tremendous importance of the fact which was announced by the angel to the women that early morning. "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said!" We have a living Christ, therefore, for our Savior. He was victorious over all enemies—then, over death, the last enemy. Therefore, He is able to deliver us from all our enemies—and from death's power at the last. He stands before God for us, and also walks with us on the earth in all our experiences, a living Friend, to love, to help, to comfort, to deliver, to keep, all who have committed themselves to Him in trusting faith.
The angel sent the women on an errand the disciples to bear to them the glorious news. "Go quickly, and tell His disciples." They obeyed promptly and with joy. "They departed quickly." On their way Jesus Himself appeared to them. "Jesus met them, saying, Greetings!" Notice that it was as they were hastening in the path of obedience, that they met their Lord. It is always and only in the way of duty that we ever meet Christ, and find blessing and joy. Had the women loitered by the grave instead of hastening away as they were bidden, Jesus would not have appeared to them. It is only in the way of obedience, in the service of love, that Jesus meets us. There are Christian mourners who never go away from the grave where they have buried their loved ones. They hear the words of hope which the gospel brings—but sit still in their grief, and no comfort reaches their sad hearts. Jesus does not meet them. If they would rise and hasten on errands of love to the living, the Divine comfort would come to them. They would meet Jesus Himself in the way, and receive His Greetings!" Grief is often selfish. It forgets the living—in its sorrow for the dead. To such mourners, true comfort never comes. Rise up and go on errands of service—and Jesus will meet you.
The women worshiped their Master, rejoicing that they had Him back again from the grave. He then Himself sent them on an errand to the disciples. "Go tell My brethren to go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me." Whenever Jesus makes an appointment with His friends, He will keep it, He will be present, and will have blessings to bestow upon those who meet Him there. Suppose that some of our Lord's disciples had stayed away from the appointed meeting in Galilee, not quite believing his promise, or having other things to do instead—what would they have missed? Or they might have said, "It is a long distance to the place"; or, "The mountain is steep, and I do not like to climb it"; or, "I fear it will rain or be stormy"; or, "Perhaps He will not be there at all—I cannot understand how He can indeed be risen." For any of these reasons, or for any other reason—some might have been absent that wonderful day. But they would then have missed the glorious sight of the risen Jesus, and would not have received His commission and promise. To the end of their lives they would have regretted that they had not kept their Lord's appointment that day.
Jesus makes appointments with us to meet us at times of prayer in church services, at the Holy Communion, at some holy appointed place. Sometimes we do not think these appointments very important, and are easily influenced to omit them. We never can know what we lose by these failures or neglects. Jesus always comes where He asks us to meet Him, and gives blessings there to those who have been faithful in gathering to wait for Him. We do not know what we may miss by staying away from any appointment with our Master.
The risen Lord's promise to His disciples when He sent them forth is one of great comfort. "Lo, I am with you always—even unto the end of the world!" If Jesus had given His commission without adding His promise, His disciples might well have shrunk from going forth to the work to which He assigned them. But having His promise, they could not hesitate.
This assurance was not for the first disciples only; He says to us also, "I am with you always!" In what sense is Christ with us always? It is not merely as our departed human friends are with us—in the sweet memories of their lives. It is a real and personal presence. He is present with us—as He was with Mary and Martha when He came to them that day after their brother had died. He is present with each one of us, not only on the bright days but on the dark days. Let us believe in the actual presence of Christ with us, and then let us act as if we believe that He is with us. This is he secret of Christian power and Christian peace!
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