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Chapter 35. Jesus at Nazareth
"And He went out from thence, and came into His own country; and His disciples follow Him. And when the Sabbath day was come, He began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing Him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto Him, that even such mighty works are wrought by His hands? Is not this the Carpenter, the Son of Mary, the Brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not His sisters here with us? And they were offended at Him." Mark 6:1-8.
Our Lord and "His own Country."
"His own country" is quite obviously Nazareth. The excitement caused by the healing of the woman with the issue of blood, and the still more wonderful miracle of the raising of Jairus' daughter, was inconvenient and distasteful. And to escape from it our Lord left the crowded district round the lake, and withdrew into the much more quiet region of "His own country." Commentators find it most difficult to decide whether our Lord, after He began to preach, paid one visit to Nazareth or two. The account in these verses before us obviously refers to the same visit as is described for us in Matt. xiii. The difficulty comes in trying to decide whether the visit which Matthew and Mark describe is the same as that recorded in Luke iv. There is, as you remember, a general similarity in the accounts all three Evangelists give of the reception Christ met with at the hands of the Nazarenes. All these tell us that Christ's townsfolk, blinded by prejudice, refused to acknowledge His greatness. "They were offended in Him" (Mark 6:3, R.V.), and many scholars, impressed by this general similarity, have concluded that all three accounts refer to one and the self-same visit. On the other hand, there are certain points of difference that make equally competent scholars maintain that the accounts refer to two distinct and separate visits. Let me mention some of these points of difference. In Matthew's and Mark's accounts the Nazarenes content themselves with disparaging references to our Lord's family and occupation; but in Luke's account their fury against Him is so fierce that they make a determined attempt to kill Him. In Matthew's and Mark's accounts Jesus leaves Capernaum for Nazareth; in Luke's account, the hostility of His own people drives Him from Nazareth to Capernaum. But far more weighty than verbal differences of this kind is the fact that Luke places His visit right at the beginning of our Lord's ministry, while the visit recorded by Matthew and Mark took place after Jesus had been for months (eighteen months, Dr. Glover suggests) engaged in the work of teaching and preaching. On the whole, therefore, we are perhaps justified in concluding that Jesus paid two visits to His home town, and that it is the second of those visits that is referred to here.
His Prior Treatment at Nazareth.
If this was a second visit, its import is the more striking. For He had, on a previous occasion, been badly treated in Nazareth. They had not only rejected His message; they had tried their utmost to kill Him. For at the end of the sermon "they rose up, and cast Him forth out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might throw Him down headlong" (Luke 4:29, R.V.). Jesus had scarcely a friend in Nazareth. His own brethren did not believe in Him. They thought Him mad, and with Mary, their mother, they came one day to lay hands upon Him. Indeed, so complete was the alienation between our Lord and the members of His own family, that in that incident which Mark records in chapter iii., He almost repudiates relationship at any rate, He declares that the men and women in His congregation, listening with receptive and obedient minds, were more really His mother and sisters and brothers than were Mary and James and Joses and Judas and Simon and the sisters referred to in this paragraph. On the whole, considering the condition of things in His own home, remembering the reception He met with on His first visit, it would have been quite natural and intelligible if Jesus had never gone near Nazareth again.
Mercy for Insult.
But our Lord is plenteous in mercy; "unwearied in forgiveness still, His heart could only love." The rude reception He met with, the contemptuous rejection of His claims, could not, and did not, quench or even chill His love. And so in process of time He went back again, to give Nazareth another chance. He made this second visit, says: one of the baldest and driest of commentators, with the twofold purpose of renewing His relations with His mother and His brothers, and endeavouring again to commend Himself to His fellow-townsmen. That is exactly it. He went back, to give them all a second chance. You remember how the prophet, in the name of God, apostrophises Israel. Israel has sorely grieved God, and rebelled against Him, and done despite to His law, yet He yearns over Israel, "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?" He cries, "Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together" (Hosea 11:8). And the heart of Jesus yearned over Nazareth, over His townsmen, over His old playmates, over His kinsfolk according to the flesh. This second visit to the town that had rejected Him was just the outcome of that yearning compassion and love.
The Second Chance.
The love that believes in the second chance is characteristic of Jesus. "Let us go into Judæa again," He said one day to His disciples. And the bare suggestion staggered them. "Rabbi," they protested, "the Jews of late sought to stone Thee, and goest Thou thither again?" (John 11:8). Again back to the stones; to the men who had sought to kill Him? Yes, again, to give them another chance. What love this is! that after men have cast Him out, and sought to kill Him, will come back again! Yet you and I need it all! My hope of acceptance and salvation lies here that though I have stoned Christ and cast Him forth, He comes back again. By act and word we reject Christ, and repudiate Him, and rebel against Him, and bid Him depart! But, thank God, He does not leave us to our fate. He comes back again. He gives us another chance. The long-suffering of the Lord is our salvation. And I am tempted to add this word before I pass on this belief in the second chance that characterised Jesus, characterises all who really possess His spirit. You remember the treatment Paul received at Lystra. This is what I read, they "stoned Paul, and drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead" (Acts 14:19). What a reception to meet with! Paul hereafter will surely eschew a city that treated him so cruelly! Yet what I read in the next verse but one is this, "And when they had preached the Gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra!" (Acts 14:21). Back to the people who had stoned and well-nigh killed him, to give them another chance! And that is the spirit that will characterise all who have truly learned of Jesus. We shall always be eager to go again to those who have repelled and rebuffed us.
The Perfect Humanity of Jesus.
And now, let us look at what these Nazarenes said about Jesus, and the questions Jesus started in their minds. First of all, then, we have here their account of Jesus of His family and upbringing and circumstances. "Is not this the carpenter," they said, "the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? and are not His sisters here with us?" (Mark 6:3, R.V.). This is a testimony from the Nazarenes to Jesus' true and normal humanity. He was made in all things "like unto His brethren" (Hebrews 2:17), the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, and here these Nazarenes place their seal to that great and comforting statement. Jesus was a true and genuine man. He had a normal and human development. As far as His humanity was concerned, the Nazarenes, it is clear, believed that Jesus was just like any one of themselves. They knew His mother Mary, His brothers and sisters; and, without entering upon the region of controversy, there is no adequate reason for supposing that these brothers and sisters referred to here were anything but real brothers and sisters, i.e. sons and daughters of Joseph and Mary. They were still amongst them, plain, ordinary everyday people. They remembered that Jesus Himself had just been a craftsman in their midst. "Is not this the Carpenter?" they said. They had in their possession barrows and ploughs and chairs and tables of Jesus' make. As far as outward circumstances were concerned, there was nothing to differentiate Jesus from any other Jew of humble birth.
But a Distinction Apparent.
And yet there was a difference. That was the startling fact that forced itself upon the minds of these Nazarenes. There was a difference. There was all the difference in the world. Jesus had played with them, gone to school with them, worked with them and for them, and yet He was different from them. He had been brought up in the same home with James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and yet He was quite different from them. If these Nazarenes could have denied the difference they would. For all their local prejudices and jealousies and envies were up in arms. But the difference would not be denied. It would be as idle to deny that the sun shone as to deny the difference, the immeasurable difference, between Jesus and His own kin; yes, and every man they had ever seen or heard of. And their problem came in trying to account for this difference.
The Speech of our Lord.
"Whence," they said in their bewilderment, "hath this Man these things?" and "What is the wisdom that is given unto this Man?" and "What mean such mighty works wrought by His hands?" (Mark 6:2, R.V.). If Mark 6:3 is the Nazarenes' testimony to our Lord's real and normal humanity, Mark 6:2 is their testimony to His absolutely unique greatness. The three questions that leaped to their lips emphasise three separate aspects of the greatness of Christ. "Whence hath this Man these things?" is the first question, i.e. these things that He is saying. Here is their testimony to the wonder of the speech of Christ. "Never man spake like this Man" (John 7:46) was the testimony of the officers who were sent to seize Christ, but who returned with their errand unfulfilled. That is to all intents and purposes the testimony of these Nazarenes. They "wondered," Luke says, in his account of His first visit, "at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth" (Luke 4:22). There was a charm and a winsomeness about Christ's speech that not even the most callous and insensible could fail to feel. Even the "publicans and sinners drew near for to hear Him." Even the "common people heard Him gladly." And not only was Christ's speech marked by grace and charm. It had the note of authority in it too. Perhaps this was the most astonishing thing about it. "He taught them as one having authority." He spoke as one who had the right to command. He preached as one who had power to supersede even Moses. There was a whole universe between Jesus and every other teacher the land contained.
The Wisdom of Our Lord.
"What is the wisdom that is given unto this Man?" this was the second question. He never "guessed at truth." He declared the truth as one who knew. There was no "perhaps," or "if" or "it may be," in His speech. The note of certitude rang through it all. And as Jesus declared His Gospel men recognised its truth. Truth always has a self-evidencing power. And even these prejudiced Nazarenes could not fail to see that Jesus had a grip of truth, a knowledge of God, a familiarity with the eternal, that no prophet or psalmist had ever possessed. And it left them speechless with amazement. "What is the wisdom that is given unto this man?" they said.
The Works by Our Lord.
"What mean such mighty works wrought by His hands?" that was their third question. The reference, no doubt, is to the miracles of healing wrought by Jesus, the news of which had reached His old home, and had set the whole place in a ferment. Acts of power were attributed to certain of the great prophets of the Old Testament, but they were exceptional and rare. Power, on the other hand, streamed forth from Jesus. "As many as touched Him were made whole." No one in all their nation's history had performed such acts of power as Jesus did. He was victor over disease, over leprosy, over death itself. How came Jesus by this power, which neither Elijah nor Moses could equal? "What mean such mighty works wrought by His hands?" These were the qualities about Jesus for which the Nazarenes could not account.
People in these days try to account for a man by his ancestry and training. And these things undoubtedly have an almost incalculable influence upon a man's development. The Nazarenes did not talk as much as we do about heredity and environment But obviously these things were in their mind, and they had some notion of their effect on life. But what they felt was that heredity and environment completely failed to account for Jesus. For there was nothing remarkable about Jesus' family. "Is not this the son of Mary?" they said, "and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?" It was not a case of inherited genius which genius had come to its consummate flower in Jesus. Genius in any case is not sufficient to account for Christ's wisdom. But as a matter of fact there was no genius. His relations were just plain, average, commonplace Jews. Nor was it a case of favourable environment; Jesus had had no early advantages. He had never been to college in Jerusalem. He had received the limited schooling a poor Jewish lad was wont to receive, and was then put to the carpenter's bench. They said, "Is not this the Carpenter?" And so Jesus remained a problem to these Nazarenes. Ignoring or rejecting any idea of Divinity in Jesus, they found Him an insoluble problem. They had no category in which they could place Him. And, rather than confess Him to be the Sent of God, they preferred to believe He was inspired of the devil. "And they were offended in Him" (Mark 6:3, R.V.).
The Humanitarian Theory.
The Lord Jesus is still a problem to us. He confronts the world, and it is impossible to account for Him on merely humanitarian lines. I hold as tenaciously as any one to His real humanity, but I have no patience with the attempts that many make to whittle away His uniqueness, to reduce Him to the proportions of a merely superior man. I know it is difficult to form an intellectual conception of how Jesus can be at one and the same time very God and true Man. But if that is difficult to think of Him as mere man is impossible. "Whence hath this Man these things?" "What is the wisdom that is given unto this Man?" How is it this Galilean peasant surpasses the greatest human intellects in the grasp of truth? "What mean these mighty works wrought by His hands?" How is it Christ has been able to do wonders in the way of salvation no human agency has ever been able to accomplish? Not likeness but uniqueness is what I see. Shut out His Divinity, and Jesus becomes a stumbling-block. But let His wisdom and power produce their due impression, and you will see in Him Very God as well as Very Man, and will fall at His feet saying, "My Lord and my God."
Chapter 36. The Nazarenes and Their Error
Is not this the Carpenter, the Son of Mary, the Brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not His sisters here with us? And they were offended at Him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in His own country, and among His own kin, and in His own house. And He could there do no mighty work, save that he laid His hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And He marvelled because of their unbelief. And He went round about the villages, teaching. Mark 6:3-6.
The Life of Christ at Nazareth.
We have now to consider the conduct of Christ's townsfolk, as the remainder of this paragraph reveals it to us. Now shall I very much startle any if I say that there was some slight excuse for the incredulity the Nazarenes displayed on the occasion of the first visit? There was no excuse, of course, for the murderous fury, but there was some slight excuse for their incredulity. For consider the circumstances, Jesus had lived in Nazareth as boy and man. We must dismiss from our minds all thought of the marvels with which the Apocryphal Gospels have embellished the story of those early years. Jesus lived an absolutely normal and healthy boy's life. The other boys who played with Him and went to school with Him were conscious of no difference between themselves and Him, except that there was an uprightness, a purity, a grace about Him they did not possess. They felt He was a better boy, but still a boy. And when He grew up, His experience was again the normal experience of a Jewish lad. He was apprenticed to a trade His father's trade, and, as this paragraph plainly shows, carried that trade on until that memorable day when the Father's voice summoned Him to His mission. Then He left Nazareth for John's baptism, and His own inner conviction of a Divine call was confirmed by John's solemn announcement He knew the hour had come, and to prepare for His great work He sought the solitude of the wilderness, calmly to face the Father's plan for Him, and to battle down all temptations to take any easier way to win the world. After the temptation, He entered on His work as a Preacher of the Kingdom, and practically made straight for Nazareth, to declare His Gospel there.
The Sudden Claim.
Now, try to realise the circumstances. Only some six or seven weeks had elapsed since Jesus had been, in the eyes of the people of Nazareth, one of themselves a village carpenter. And now He was back again, making the most extraordinary claims for Himself! Transfer the circumstances to our own times and suppose that a working-man known, it is true, for his piety, but still an everyday working-man should one day appear in our midst declaring himself to be the founder of a new kingdom. Do you not think there would be some shakings of the head and some contemptuous epithets flying round? Well, that is exactly how it was with the Nazarenes on Christ's first visit. Familiarity does undoubtedly make it difficult for men to do homage to another's greatness. And I think there is some excuse for the incredulity the Nazarenes displayed on the occasion of our Lord's first visit.
The Second Appeal.
But I confess I can find no excuse for their incredulity on this second visit. I am dumbfounded as I think of it. For, by this, Jesus Christ's name and fame were spread throughout the land. These Nazarenes had heard and seen that very day for themselves evidences of our Lord's greatness and supremacy. They had heard His words; they had listened to His wisdom; they had seen apparently some of His mighty works. They could not help but acknowledge His uniqueness. Carpenter or no carpenter, this was no ordinary man. "Whence," they asked in wondering amazement, "hath this Man these things? and, What is the wisdom that is given unto this Man? and What mean such mighty works wrought by His hands?" (Mark 6:2, R.V.). And having read these expressions of awestruck wonder, I expect to read next that these Nazarenes, with their prejudices clean swept away by what they heard and saw, made confession like Nathanael, "Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel" (John 1:49); or that they fell at His feet, like Thomas did, and cried, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28).
But what I read is something very different. "And they were offended in Him" "they were caused to stumble," as the margin puts it; or, to translate the Greek verb quite literally, "They were scandalised in Him." This is a staggering thing that people should recognise Jesus Christ's uniqueness and yet be scandalised in Him. What was the reason for it? It was in a word, prejudice. You remember how in his Holy War, John Bunyan stations one old Mr. Prejudice, with fifty deaf men under him at Ear-gate, to defend that particular gate into the citadel of Mansoul against the assaults of Prince Emmanuel. Well, it was Mr. Prejudice who stopped the ears and hardened the hearts of these Nazarenes against the appeals of Jesus that day. The second rejection was all Mr. Prejudice's work.
The Cause: Prejudice.
"They were scandalised in Him" and prejudice was at the bottom of it; prejudice born of nearness and familiarity. "A prophet," was the comment of Jesus Himself, "is not without honour, save in His own country and among His own kin, and in His own house" (Mark 6:4, R.V.). We know the truth of this proverb in the common affairs of daily life. We are often blind to the worth of the familiar and the near. We find it difficult to admit the greatness of any one whom circumstances seemed to mark as our equal, and who started side by side with us. Jeremy Bentham, Hazlitt says, was an illustration of this very proverb, for he was better known and more highly esteemed on the other side of the globe than he was in his own land. I remember hearing a true incident about one of the great cotton lords of Manchester. He was supposed to be suffering from some particular complaint, and he travelled all the way to Vienna, to consult a doctor supposed to be a great specialist on this particular disease. "You are an Englishman?" the doctor said. "Yes," the patient replied. "May I ask from what part of England you come?" "Manchester," was the answer. "But why did you come from Manchester all the way to me? The greatest authority in the world lives in your own city"; and he named one of the medical professors of my old university. "The eyes of a fool," says the Wise Man, "are in the ends of the earth" (Proverbs 17:24). It is a widespread folly. We see more worth and value in the things that are far off than in the things that are near. Distance with many of us magnifies importance. It is so in the case of the "prophet" still. There are many people who seem to measure a preacher's worth by the mileage he travels. They find all sorts of virtues and qualities in the stranger they fail to see in the man who is in their own midst.
A Modern Error.
It is so even in the case of Jesus Christ still. This sin of the Nazarenes is being in a slightly different form repeated by multitudes in our midst to-day. Do you not wonder how it is men are not won by the beauty of Christ, touched by the appeal of the Christian Gospel? Do you not wonder how it is that the story of the Cross leaves an English audience unmoved, while it melts the poor pagan Greenlander to tears? Do you not wonder how it is men are so indifferent to this old Book, while a Japanese reading it for the first time thrills with joy, and greets it as a veritable word of God? What is the reason for it all? Just this familiarity has bred contempt. We are familiar with Jesus and with His words. We are so accustomed to His words, His wisdom, His mighty works, that we have ceased to wonder at them. Let us ask God to preserve us from the deadening effects of familiarity and routine. Let us ask Him to keep our hearts ever sensitive to the grace of Jesus and the wonder of the Gospel. When we lose our wonder we may commit again the sin of these Nazarenes, and count the blood of the covenant... an unholy thing (Hebrews 10:29).
The Nazarenes were offended in Jesus, and as a result Jesus could there do no mighty work. He Who away down in Capernaum had healed the woman by mere touch of His garment, Who had raised the young daughter of Jairus from the dead, Who in Gerasa had restored the man possessed of the legion to sanity and health, Who at a word has stilled the whistling wind and raging sea, in Nazareth could do no mighty work. "He could there do no mighty work" (Mark 6:5). That is rather a startling sentence. "Cannot" is an ugly word to apply to Him into Whose hands the Father had committed all things. What are we to understand by it? Are we to understand that power for the moment had deserted Jesus? No, this "cannot" of which we read here was not the result of any physical arrest put upon Christ's powers. The "cannot," as Dr. Salmond says, is due to the fact that "the moral conditions were wanting." For I must remind you that every "mighty work" of which we read in the Gospels was the result of the fulfilment of two conditions.
The Power and the Conditions of its Exercise.
There was, first of all, the Divine power of Christ, and there was, in the second place, faith on the part of the receiver of the blessing. Take the two last miracles of which we have been reading. Hundreds of people touched Christ's garments, and received no benefit. How came it, then, that this woman, from her mere touch, received the healing of the plague with which she had been afflicted for twelve years? Jesus Himself supplies the answer, "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole" (Mark 6:34). It was the humble faith and expectancy of the woman that liberated shall I say? the Divine power, and allowed it to do its beneficial work. Take the case of Jairus' daughter. At a certain stage in the journey certain of Jairus' friends or servants met them, and brought word that the little child was dead, and that therefore there was no need to trouble the Master any further. "Fear not," said Jesus, "only believe" (Mark 6:36). And so they went on their way. To those people, who, as they would say, knew the facts, the continuance of this journey seemed absurd. But Jairus cherished a belief that it would not prove in vain. "Only believe," said Jesus. He could have worked no miracle without faith in the recipient. But because Jairus believed, it was possible for Him to summon the "little lamb" back again from the sleep of death. This demand for a certain moral condition before exercising His healing power is still more vividly seen in the case of the healing of the demoniac lad at the foot of the Holy Mount "If Thou canst do anything," cried the agonised father, "have compassion on us, and help us" (ix. 22). He talked as if it were solely and simply a question of Christ's power. But it was much more than that. "If Thou canst?" replied Jesus, as if to say, "It is not simply a case of My power; it is just as much a case of your faith. All things are possible to him that believeth." "Lord," sobbed the man, "I believe; help Thou mine unbelief" (ix. 24). This condition of faith must always be fulfilled before Christ's power can be exercised. For, if Christ performed His mighty works upon people irrespective of their moral condition, His miracles would cease to be moral acts at all. They would become mere acts of wonder. Divine blessing is always conditioned by the moral state of the recipient; the exercise of Christ's power depends upon the state of our own hearts. Whatsoever we ask believing we shall receive. But unbelief puts an effectual arrest on the output of Christ's power.
Is the Condition met by us?
"He could there do no mighty work" (Mark 6:5). Is that the condition with us? We complain often of the dearth of conversions. We pray constantly for a revival. We cry out to our Lord and say, "It is high time for Thee to work." But let us lay this truth to heart if there is an arrest of our Lord's power, it is not because His arm is shortened, that it cannot save. It is because the requisite moral conditions in us are lacking. When faith and expectancy are present, Christ never fails. When the Church fulfils the conditions on her side, Christ is never wanting. Every revival proves the truth of this statement. So I suggest a variation in our prayers. Instead of crying, "Awake, arm of the Lord, as in the ancient days," let us cry earnestly, unceasingly, "Lord, increase our faith."
The Saying Exception at Nazareth.
"He could there do no mighty work, save that He laid His hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them" (Mark 6:5). "Save that" there is always the saving exception. The story of Christ's visit to Nazareth was not a story of complete and abject failure. Even in Nazareth there were a few hidden ones, as Dr. Salmond says, with a claim upon His compassion, and with the inward preparation for the healing gift; some open and guileless souls who amid the general prejudice and incredulity believed in Jesus, and so made it possible for Him to work.
Failures and Failures.
"He could there do no mighty work, save that" that is typical of work for God. There is often much to depress; but it is never abject and complete failure. Elijah thought he had laboured for nought and in vain; but there were 7000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Jesus died on the Cross of Shame and the Cross was just the Symbol of the way in which the nation as a whole had rejected Him. He failed amongst His countrymen; but it was not total failure. "He could there do no mighty work" save that He won some hundred and twenty souls, who loved Him, and lived for Him, and built their whole hopes for time and eternity upon Him. They laughed at Paul in Athens; his Athenian mission was to a large extent a failure the most disappointing failure of any mission Paul undertook. And yet it was not a total failure. He could there do no mighty work, save that he won Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris to the faith. The converts at Sardis well nigh all turned apostate, and it seemed as if the preaching of the Gospel was to end in ghastly and tragic failure. And yet it was not total failure. There was no great and mighty work done in Sardis save that there were a few who from the day of their conversion never afterwards defiled their garments. "Save that" there is always this saving clause, to keep alive our faith in men, in the Gospel, in our Lord. We preach and preach, and we seem to accomplish nothing save that, as we learn in unexpected ways sometimes, God used our poor and halting words to comfort some breaking heart, to strengthen some struggling soul. And sometimes we almost lose faith in the Gospel. We hear of it being preached far and wide, and it seems to accomplish so little. It does no mighty work, save that yes, there is always a save that we hear of souls being bora again or of a whole nation revived.
The Wonder of Christ.
"And He marvelled because of their unbelief" (Mark 6:6). Commentators tell us that there were only two things Christ wondered at, and they were faith and unfaith. The faith of the Roman centurion was a wonder to Jesus: "He marvelled, and said, Verily, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel" (Matthew 8:10). It was a mighty faith, discovered in an unexpected quarter. And He marvelled at the unbelief of Nazareth. It was unintelligible to Him. For it was unbelief in spite of knowledge. It was unbelief in spite of the recognition of His greatness. It was unbelief in spite of the evidence of His wonderful works. Unbelief is irrational. English people recognise Christ's wisdom. They admit His supremacy. They see His mighty deeds. And yet multitudes do not believe. He wondered at their unbelief! Does He wonder at us? "The Son of Man, when He cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" "Oh, foolish ones and slow of heart to believe!" "Lord, help mine unbelief."
Chapter 1. The Sending of the Twelve
"And He called unto Him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits; And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats. And He said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city. And they went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them." Mark 6:7-13.
We resume the thread of the Gospel narrative at the mission of the twelve Apostles. Jesus must have had a heavy heart when He took His leave of Nazareth. It seemed as if rejection was to be His invariable lot. For His rejection at the hands of the dwellers in Decapolis had been swiftly followed by this rejection at the hands of His own townsmen. At the one place they had begged Him to depart out of their borders; at the other they were scandalised in Him. And yet, as Bishop Chadwick says, we read of no statement of His labours. Men, after a hard and bitter experience, are apt to be discouraged and depressed. Elijah, seeing the apparent failure of his work in Israel, wished that he might die. But Jesus never gave way to these fits of despair. He never for one moment laid aside His work. "When they persecute you in this city," He said to His disciples, "flee ye into another" (Matthew 10:23).
A New Sphere: in the Villages.
That was exactly the principle on which the Lord Himself acted. Rejected at Nazareth, Jesus did not abandon His work in high dudgeon. He simply changed the sphere of it. When the Nazarenes refused to listen to Him, "He went round about the villages teaching" (Mark 6:6). "Round about the villages!" What an illustration this is of the condescension of Jesus 1 When you next read that verse (Matthew 11:29) in which He says, "I am meek and lowly in heart," put down in the margin this Mark 6:6 as illustration and proof of the claim.
A Lesson in Lowliness.
"He went round about the villages teaching." The villages! We townsfolk sometimes talk of the village with just a touch of scorn. And when it comes to being a village preacher, we think of him with a kind of superior pity. We talk of the village preacher as an "obscure" person, or say that a man of gifts is "buried" in a village. There is not a student leaving college who does not think himself too good for the village. Too good for the village? We may all of us well go to school to Christ, to learn the lesson of lowliness; to be taught to be willing to take the small opportunity, and to serve Him in a humble place.
With Christ as our Teacher.
I remember reading about a very prominent minister who one day announced from his pulpit that he would not give a sermon at his week-night service unless at least a hundred were present to hear him. It was not worth his while, he said, to preach to fewer than a hundred. And as I read, I could not help contrasting the conduct of his Master. Souls were of such priceless worth to Him that, if there was not a crowd, He was ready to preach to one. And I thought of Him speaking by night to Nicodemus, and then preaching that wonderful sermon to the Samaritan woman at the well! Christ never despised the small opportunity, and He never despised the humble place. He was "meek and lowly in heart." "He went round about the villages teaching." He cared not for the towns only, but for the villages also. He was a village preacher. And the brave, self-sacrificing men who, in quiet places, often amid great poverty and hardship, are preaching and teaching the Gospel may comfort themselves with this thought that they are doing to-day the work the Lord Himself thought it worth His while to do nineteen centuries ago.
The Villager's Advantage.
"He went round about the villages teaching." When I piece together the Gospel narratives, and supplement what I find here by the fuller account which Matthew gives, I gather that He met in the villages with a very different reception from that which He had experienced in Nazareth. The villager, as a rule, is less sophisticated than the townsman. He is of a simple and more open nature. He finds it easier to believe, and is therefore more susceptible to spiritual influences. And so it comes about that things which are hidden "from the wise and prudent" are often revealed to babes.
Their Ready Response.
Take Christ's own preaching. It was in the country Christ won His triumphs; not in the towns. Look at His list of disciples; they are all countrymen, provincials! Not a Pharisee, not a ruler, is to be found amongst them. The people of the capital looked coldly on Jesus; it was in the country that He most readily found responsive souls; and even in countrified Galilee and the more rural the district the readier the response. So, while Nazareth was scandalised in Him, the villages received Him with open arms. Christ found a glorious field in the villages. "The harvest," He explained to His disciples, as He noted how willing and eager these villagers were to listen "the harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few" (Matthew 9:37). A ready and responsive country-side Christ saw, waiting to hear the Gospel, and only Himself to preach it.
The Great Opportunity.
"Pray ye therefore," He said further to them, "the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest" (Mark 6:38). Christ felt Himself unequal to cope with the great opportunity that offered. He was very much in the same position as our missionaries in China are to-day, with new fields opening, endless opportunities offering, and the forces actually available hopelessly inadequate to overtake the work. "Send," they make appeal in every letter, "more labourers." That is exactly how Jesus felt. Personally He could not overtake the work; He could not preach in every village that was willing to hear. He wanted "more labourers"; assistants, helpers, colleagues.
And the Great Need.
And it was just this sense of the vastness of the work, and the inability of coping with it alone, that led our Lord to send forth the Twelve on their first mission tour. He multiplied Himself by sending them forth to preach, and so the good news of the Kingdom was carried into many a village and hamlet which otherwise might not have heard it.
The Sending of the Twelve.
"And He called unto Him the Twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two" (Mark 6:7). This sentence sends me back to another in which the first calling of the Twelve is described. In chap. iii. 14 I read this, "And He appointed Twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach." That was the object Christ had in view in the calling of the Twelve that in course of time He might send them forth to preach. And now He proceeded to put His project into execution. "He began to send them forth." He had called these twelve men that they might be "with Him." He had invited them to come to school to Himself; and, that they might learn the lessons He had to teach them more thoroughly, He bestowed upon them the inestimable privilege of living in closest intimacy and friendship with Himself. He wanted them to witness His miraculous works, to hear His doctrine of the Kingdom, to behold His glory, to learn from Him how to pray and how to live.
A Mission of Help.
But these great privileges were not bestowed upon them for their own sake merely. Christ saw the people as sheep not having a shepherd all for lack of that Gospel which He had to proclaim. And He had those wandering and stricken people in His mind when He summoned Peter and James and John and the rest to come and live with Him as His friends. "He appointed Twelve that they might be with Him, and that He might send them forth." He bade them come and learn, that in due time they might be fitted to teach. He bade them come and receive, that in due time they might be fitted to impart. He made them His apprentices shall I say? that in course of time they might themselves become workmen needing not to be ashamed. He made them His disciples, that in course of time they might become apostles. And that time now seemed to have arrived. "And He called unto Him the Twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two." He began to send them forth to tell what they had heard, to teach what they had learned, to testify what they had seen. They had been listeners up to this point; now Christ sends them forth to make their first attempts as preachers.
The Master's Curriculum for Disciples.
To pass, for a moment, from exposition, let me point out that we have here an illustration of the progress through which the Lord Jesus would have every one of His followers pass. First the school, then the field; first learn then teach: first disciples, then apostles. "Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart," that is the first call. Christ would have us be "with Him," that He may unfold His mind and will to us, that we may learn His purposes and imbibe His Spirit. We cannot teach others unless we have first learned of the Master ourselves; and the longer we have been learning the more competent we are to teach. Some young and eager spirits are eager to skip this "disciple" stage. "I do not want to waste my years in college," one young fellow wrote to me, not long ago. "I want to get out into the work." He forgot that Christ calls His workers to be "with Him," before He sends them forth to preach.
And its Purpose.
But while it behoves us to remember that we cannot teach unless we have first learned, yet the lesson which we perhaps need to have more clearly brought home to mind and conscience is this that we learn in order to teach; that we are made disciples in order that we may become apostles; that we are called to be with Him in order that in due course He may send us forth. "Oh, teach me, Lord," we sing in our familiar hymn. And what is the purpose of the prayer? "That I may teach the precious things Thou wouldest impart." That is it; our privileges are all for service; our personal blessings are all meant to serve the common good; what we know of Jesus is meant for the enlightenment of the world.
Questions for Ourselves.
Have we ourselves reached this second stage? Many of us have been learners for years; have we become teachers yet? We have been disciples for a lifetime; have we started work as apostles? We have enjoyed the most delightful times with the Master; but have we as yet begun to go forth and preach? Of course, there is no suggestion in all this that we should all turn teachers or preachers in the technical sense; but, short of that, have we, as opportunity is given, begun to tell to others, and to share with others, what we know of Christ?
Witness-bearing and the Qualification for it.
I am persuaded that here lies the main reason for the slow progress of the Christian faith that Christian men have been too content to remain in school all their days, instead of going forth to teach; they have been receivers, not givers, listeners, not tellers. They need to hear our Lord's second command, "Go forth." And if someone tells me that they do not feel fitted for the work of preaching and witnessing, I answer, neither were these twelve. They had very much to learn you know what blundering scholars they were. But there were certain things they already knew. They knew that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand; they felt sure that Jesus was about to inaugurate that Kingdom; and they went and preached everywhere that, in view of the approach of the Kingdom, men should repent. That is what Christ expects of us. We feel, no doubt, that we have a great deal to learn; indeed, while life lasts we shall never finish our learning. But in the meantime we know something. We know that Jesus brings God near. We know that He breaks the power of sin. We know that He imparts peace and harmony into this life. Will you tell of that? Speak of what you know; testify of what you have seen. The multitudes are still as sheep not having a shepherd, all for lack of that knowledge you possess. The world is waiting for it, longing for it, dying for it. The harvest is plenteous, the labourers are few. Pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth more labourers, and offer yourself as one. "Here am I, send me."
The Missionary Enterprise.
This sending of the Twelve is the beginning of Christ's great missionary enterprise. You remember Ezekiel's vision of the river (Ezekiel 47:1-5)? He saw the river, as he puts it, coming out from under the threshold of the house eastward. At its beginning it was but a tiny trickling stream. You could have turned its course with the hand. But a thousand cubits lower down the stream had grown, and the waters were up to the ankles; and a thousand cubits further on still, the water had grown still further, and reached up to the knees; and a thousand cubits further still, and they were up to the loins; and a thousand further still, and it was a river the prophet could not pass through. For the waters were risen; waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And everything lived wheresoever this river went.
The Beginning of a Great Stream.
"And He began to send them forth two by two"; this is the tiny and insignificant beginning of the stream. Six couples of preachers went through the towns and villages of Galilee, saying, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." There was nothing to create a stir or to attract notice. But every mission the centuries have known has sprung from this one. This is the tiny seed from which grew Paul's vast labours among the Gentiles of the ancient world; Columba's apostolic labours in Scotland; Francis' labours in Italy; Xavier's devoted toil in the Far East; John Eliot's and David Brainerd's self-sacrificing work amongst the Red Indians; William Carey's service in India; John Williams' work in the South Seas; David Livingstone's in Central Africa; Hannington's labours in Uganda; James Chalmers' in New Guinea; the pioneering work of that splendid old man J. G. Paton in the New Hebrides, and the labours of many more of whom time would fail to tell. The great missionary enterprise began with the sending forth of these twelve men; but how vast is the multitude of the preachers! It began with the one small sphere of Galilee; but now the heralds of the Cross have gone into every land. From north to south, from east to west, preaching the good news of the Kingdom. The tiny trickling stream of these verses has grown into a great river to-day; and wherever the river flows it gives life. Thank God, the stream is still flowing, the waters are still rising, and rise they will until the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
A Ministry as well for the Body as the Soul.
We can see how in this first enterprise the ministry to the body goes hand in hand with the ministry of the soul. One of the most striking developments of the modern missionary enterprise is the emphasis laid on medical missionary work. We feel the appeal of physical suffering in these days more keenly than in any previous age. And so, side by side with the evangelist, we send the healer. It is worth while to send the doctor out for the physical good that he can do. The work of healing sickness, alleviating pain, saving life, is worth doing for its own sake. But, as a matter of fact and experience, it is found that, by ministering to the body our medical men get rare opportunities of ministering to the soul as well. And this development of medical missions is no innovation. We are but following the best of all precedents. The Master Himself was Evangelist and Healer all in one. And the first missionaries were evangelists and healers too. For Jesus not only sent them forth to preach; He also gave them authority over the unclean spirits, and, as is obvious from the last sentence of the paragraph, power to cure sickness too.
Missionary Instructions: Companionship.
He sent them forth "by two and two"; not singly, but in couples. That is just an illustration, not simply of the considerateness, but also of the wisdom of Jesus. "It is not good that the man should be alone"; it is a principle that has many and various applications. "Two are better than one." Yes, and two together are better than two men separate from one another. Two men working individually are not so good, and cannot accomplish so much, as two men working in partnership. And this is specially so in Christian work. There are tasks impossible to the single worker that become feasible when two are working side by side. And more than that. In face of the discouragements and difficulties inseparable from missionary work, it is essential that there should be companionship, that each may be strengthening the other's faith in God. And so two and two these men went forth: Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, and so on. The same wise and excellent rule prevailed in later days; Barnabas and Paul, and later Barnabas and Mark, and Paul and Silas, taking the journeys together. Perhaps, as Dr. Chadwick says, our modern missionaries lose more in energy than is gained in area by neglecting so human a precedent, and forfeiting the special presence vouchsafed to the common worship of two or three.
Two Pregnant Messages.
The Master has other instructions to give these first missionaries. At every autumnal gathering we have a valedictory missionary service, and some of our wisest and ablest ministers address a few words of counsel to those who are about to set out for heathen lands. This is our Lord's valedictory address. Think on every clause and line in it, for every clause and every line is pregnant with instruction for life and service to-day. But I will sum it all up in the two words which, as Dr. Bruce says, give us the soul and marrow of our Christ's farewell speech. These are the two, "Care not," "Fear not." I dare say the disciples felt timid and distrustful, as they set forth to their new toil. They had never parted from Jesus before. It was with these brave and high words Christ sent them forth, "Care not," "Fear not."
"Care not." That is the essential meaning of these counsels about taking nothing for the journey, no bread, no wallet, no money in the purse. Some commentators tell us that this insistence upon the necessity of going unencumbered is an indication of the urgency of the errand. The Romans called an army's baggage impedimenta hindrances. And all unnecessary personal luggage would have been so much hindrance in the way of these missionaries. No doubt there is truth in this suggestion. Others again, like Dr. Glover, see in all this a lesson of trust in man. The evangelists are to believe that there are good men in the world, who will provide them with shelter and food in return for the good news they bring. And this also I dare say is true. But primarily and principally the lesson is not of trust in man, but of trust in God. "Care not," says Jesus. For God cares. Take no money in your purse your Father will provide. Go to your work without anxiety God is with you, God shall supply all your need.
And "Fear not." Mark does not say much about this, but Matthew gives the message in more detail. They were going as sheep in the midst of wolves. They knew how Jesus Himself had been treated; very likely the same treatment would be measured out to them. "Fear not," said Jesus, God will protect, keep, and save you.
Messages still Spoken and Heard.
"Care not." "Fear not." They are still Christ's brave and cheerful words to His workers. "Care not"; your Father cares. "Fear not"; your Father watches. And men have gone forth in simple trust in those brave words of the Lord. When Carey set sail for India, the society that sent him had only £13 in hand £13! But Carey went. He heard his Master saying, "Care not." Robert Morrison went alone to China. "Do you think you are going to convert those millions of Chinese?" "No," he replied, "but God can." "Fear not." "Care not." They are the Master's words to every Christian disciple. Life is full of anxieties and troubles. "Care not," He says; your Father knoweth. Yes; life is full of haunting terrors, and the worst terror of all waits for us at the last. "Fear not," says our Lord. No one can snatch you out of the Father's hand. Neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
Oh for a simpler faith in the loving, keeping care of God! "Care not," "fear not," Jesus says! And as I hear Him speak I feel I can say back to Him, "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety" (Psalms 4:8).
Chapter 2. Herod and John the Baptist
"And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead. For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb." Mark 6:14-29.
Good News spreads.
The mission of the Twelve and the excitement caused by the works of power wrought through their hands (to which we find a reference in the closing sentence of the preceding paragraph) naturally spread abroad the name and fame of Jesus. For we may be sure that the Apostles made it clear to the people, as Peter and John did at a later day, that it was not by their own wisdom, or skill, or power, that they accomplished these wonderful cures, but in the name of "Jesus of Nazareth." And thus all Galilee rang with talk about this Jesus, so that at last it reached the palace and the ears of the King. "King Herod heard thereof."
Amongst the People.
The report about Jesus was, I imagine, good news to the mass of the people of Galilee. If any were sick or had dear ones sick, the report about this Man who could cleanse the leper, cast out devils, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and life to the dead, must have opened a door of hope for them. And, quite apart from sickness, the advent of a One in whom such mighty works manifested themselves must have made the people at large realise that God had come near them. For when they heard of Jesus, they said, "This is Elijah," and others, "He is a prophet even as one of the prophets" that is to say, as true a prophet as Isaiah or Jeremiah, or Amos or Hosea, or any one of the recognised order of prophets, of whom they boasted, and in whom they took such great pride. They did not, it is true, rise to the great faith that Jesus was Messiah Himself. But the report of His doings filled them with a solemn joy; they felt the Kingdom of God had come near to them.
And reaches the King.
"And King Herod heard thereof"; but it was no good tidings to him. The report about Jesus fell upon him like a clap of doom. It terrified him. It flung him into a perfect panic of fear. When he heard about Jesus and His wonderful works, his knees shook and his face blanched. He saw ghosts, and he gasped out, "John, whom I beheaded he is risen from the dead!" Thereupon the Evangelist proceeds to tell us why it was that Jesus suggested John, and why it was that the thought of John filled this King Herod's heart with mortal terror.
It is a ghastly story. You know it well, and I scarcely need repeat it. Herod's shameful and incestuous union with Herodias, his brother Philip's wife; John the Baptist's plain and unvarnished rebuke of the monarch's sin; his consequent imprisonment in the castle of Machærus; Herod's birthday feast; Salome's degrading and lascivious dance; the King's drunken vow to the girl who had so disgraced her sex; her demand for John the Baptist's head, and the murder of the prophet to glut a woman's hate these are the steps in the lurid and awful story.
A Haunting Crime.
It was a story Herod was for ever trying to forget. For he had been rushed into a crime he loathed by the stronger will of his wicked and cruel wife. He knew John for a just man and a holy. He reverenced him. He heard him gladly. The suggestion that he would ever imbrue his hands in the Baptist's blood would have shocked Herod. "Is thy servant a dog," he would have said, "that he should do this thing?" But he had done it. Driven by false shame and false pride, and the stronger will of the malignant Herodias, he had done the very thing he loathed. And ever since he had done it he had been trying to forget it. He had been trying to bury the ghastly crime out of sight. But it would not be buried. Here we see the wretched king confronted by his terrible sin. The report about Jesus did this for Herod it conjured up the ghost of the murdered John. "John!" he cried, and you can almost hear the sentence come in jerky gasps from his ashen lips "John, whom I beheaded, he is risen from the dead."
An Unwilling Criminal.
When I read this sordid and awful story, I can find it in ray heart to be sorry for Herod. For this very paragraph, which tells us of his wickedness and shame, is not without indications that under happier home conditions Herod might have been a very different man. His treatment of John the Baptist shows this much that he was not insusceptible to the appeal of goodness and purity. Herodias hated, with a hate as cruel as the grave, the plain-spoken Baptist. From the first she set herself against him and desired to kill him. But, however pliable Herod might be in the hands of his wicked queen in other respects, he obstinately refused to yield to her wishes in this. "She could not," the Evangelist says, i.e. she could not kill him; "for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous man and a holy, and kept him safe."
The Supremacy of Character.
Now all this, as the commentators tell us, is an illustration of the supremacy of character. It is a testimony to the essential greatness of John. The king and his prisoner seemed to have changed places. It is not the prisoner who fears the king, it is the king who fears the prisoner. "Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous man and a holy." But if you look at that sentence for a moment, you will begin to see in it more than a tribute to the kingliness of John's character as the commentators point you will begin to see that to a certain extent it is a testimony to Herod himself. Whatever Herod became in later days and it was something terrible enough, seeing that he was able without a qualm to make a mock of Christ Himself at this stage in his career his case was not hopeless. He was sensitive to goodness. He could feel the appeal of the beauty of holiness.
Herod as a Man.
When we think of Herod we are apt to think of him as a man utterly and wholly wicked. The black in our mental picture of him is unrelieved by any single touch of white. But that is not at all the Bible picture of him. Even this paragraph is not all black. There are glimmerings and suggestions of white. There was something in him that responded to John's appeals. He had done much to smother the power of goodness in him and over him by his shameful union with Herodias. But he had not utterly stifled and extirpated it. I have read of a sufferer whose skin, through the effect of some serious malady, had lost all its sensitiveness. Hands, limbs, body, all had been deprived of the sense of feeling. Only one tiny spot on the cheek responded to the touch. And by touching that spot friends could communicate with the imprisoned soul within. Herod had hardened his heart and seared his conscience by his sin with Herodias, but there was still a tender spot left, and John touched it. "He was much perplexed; and he heard him gladly." Goodness was making its final struggle in the soul of Herod during those days when he had listened to John. And when, later on, I see the king all eagerness to listen to his prisoner it looks as if Herod might yet repent and turn to God. Indeed, that might have been the issue of the conflict going on in Herod's soul. But for Herodias' cruel craft, this Herod, who ended by making a mock of Christ, might have repented of his sin, and have taken a place at last amongst those saints, arrayed in the white robes, who stand before the throne of God and of the Lamb.
I can very easily believe that John himself had his hopes of the king. I can believe that he may have begun to comfort himself with the thought that his imprisonment was, after all, going to turn out a blessing in disguise; that he had been taken away from his work amongst the multitude in order to bring about the conversion of the king. But the story does not end with a converted king; it ends, as you know, with a murdered prophet. How came it about that the monarch who reverenced John so much, who, indeed, was almost a convert to his teaching, became John's murderer?
Looking at the narrative, I think that the real root reason is to be found in Herod's weak and vacillating will. In a sense Herod was not a deliberately wicked man, but he was a weak man, and, through his weakness, he allowed himself to be swept into this awful wickedness. He is in the New Testament what Ahab is in the Old Testament. Both of them were weak and sensual men. Neither, however, if left to himself, would have steeped his hands in blood. But they both had queens of masterful will. Driven by this stronger will of their queens, both these weak men committed great and awful wickedness.
The King's Irresolution and Timidity.
Look at that expression, "He was much perplexed" (Mark 6:20, R.V.). The whole secret of Herod's tragic failure is there. It gives us a picture of a weak and irresolute man. He could not make up his mind what to do. Between the Baptist and his own conscience on the one side, and his wicked queen upon the other, "he was much perplexed." He was torn by conflicting impulses. And so he temporised and procrastinated until that shameful day came when Herodias' cunning trapped him with the crime which in his sober moments he had steadfastly refused to commit. Yes, at the root of Herod's awful and tragic lapse lies his weakness and timidity and cowardice. Herod had not the strength of will to do the right thing in scorn of consequences. He could not rise above what the old Book calls "the fear of men." That was Herod's curse all his life through. He was weak-willed was swept into crime he abhorred by wicked associates of stronger will than himself.
Herod as a Type.
Herod is a type of multitudes still. Timidity, which takes the form of false pride, is accountable for the moral failure of thousands. Herod's story is being repeated every week in all our centres of population. We hear heart-breaking stories of moral lapses, amongst, for example, our young people in shops. I will venture to say that in nine cases out of ten the cause of the failure is not so much wickedness as weakness. They come into the town from country homes. They find themselves amongst evil associates, who laugh at them and make fun of them and dare them. Then, through a false shame and a silly pride, they allow themselves to be swept into sins they loathe. "For the sake of them that sat at meat," in fear of his companions and associates, fear of their scornful comments, Herod became a murderer; and for the same reason men sacrifice their innocence and honour still.
The Will and the Way of Salvation.
One condition of salvation is a resolute and steadfast will. I am not so sure that we do not talk too much and depend too much in our religious life about feeling, and too little about "willing." Because after all it is on willing, not feeling, that our salvation depends. That is to say, it costs effort and strong resolutions to enter the straight gate and to tread the narrow way. For men do not slip or glide or drift into it on the flood of some kindly and altogether admirable emotion. Listen: "Agonise to enter in by the strait gate." That is our Lord's warning. If it had depended on emotion, Herod would have been secure, for his feelings were all that could be desired. But he perished for lack of that strength of will which would have set Herodias and Salome and all the courtiers at defiance, and would simply and bravely have done the right. Do you remember John Bunyan's picture of the crowd outside the palace, the moral of which is that a man must be resolute and bold who would be a Christian? Let me remind you of it. "Then the interpreter took Christian and led him up toward the door of the palace, and behold, at the door stood a great company of men, as desirous to go in, but durst not. There also sat a man at a little distance from the door at a table-side, with a book and his inkhorn before him, to take the name of him who should enter therein. He saw also that in the doorway stood many men in armour to keep it, being resolved to do the men that would enter what hurt and mischief they could. Now was Christian somewhat in a maze. At last, when every man started back for fear of the armed men, Christian saw a man of a very stout countenance come up to the man that sat there to write, saying, 'Set down my name, sir'; the which when he had done he saw the man draw his sword, and put an helmet upon his head, and rush toward the door upon the armed men, who laid upon him with deadly force; but the man, not at all discouraged, fell to cutting and hacking most fiercely. So after he had received and given many wounds to those that attempted to keep him out, he cuts his way through them all, and pressed forward into the palace; at which there was a pleasant voice heard from those that were within, even of those that walked upon the top of the palace, saying,
'Come in, come in; eternal glory thou shalt win.'"
The Strife of him that would enter in.
That is but a parable of the effort and courage it needs to force one's way into the Kingdom of God. Herod would fain have entered it, but between him and the gate stood his enemies in the shape of Herodias and his courtiers; and he had not the courage to force his way through them all, and say to the man with the inkhorn, "Set down my name, sir." He drew back into perdition. Between men and the gate of the palace there still stand many fierce foes our own foolish appetites and sinful lusts, wicked companions and friends; and sometimes our worst foes are those of our own household. It needs courage to break from them all and through them all and say, "Set down my name, sir." If any man hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." There is some hacking and cutting to be done. But if we have the courage to do it, the strength of will to do to face the world for the right and the truth, we too shall hear the pleasant voice from the palace roof, "Come in, come in; eternal glory thou shalt win."
We cannot here pass without thought or comment Herod's Fate. His promise and his failure are in this paragraph. His fate you may read for yourselves in Luke xxiii., when it is said, "And Herod with his soldiers set Him ( i.e. Jesus) at nought, and mocked Him." Contrast these two facts, Herod feared John Herod set Jesus at nought and mocked Him. In the contrast you see the calamitous issue of sin. This chapter is full of the most tremendous teaching about sin. The way in which it breeds for all this tragedy sprang from Herod's unholy passion for Herodias. The way in which it haunts the conscience, as illustrated in Herod's terror-stricken outcry. The solemn fact of personal responsibility, "John, whom I beheaded." And the tragic doom of sin, "The wages of sin is death." It is no empty threat. It is no theological bogey. It is the inexorable law. See it working itself out. He feared John; but in a few months he had become so dead to purity and holiness that he could make a mock of Christ.
You remember the sequence Paul traces in Romans i. lusts of the heart, vile passions, a reprobate mind. It is illustrated in Herod's case. That was his doom, his fate, a reprobate mind. There is no whittling sin away, or minimising its awful consequence. We make mistakes when we even postpone the punishment of sin to some future judgment. The punishment takes place here and now. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The worst and most dreadful punishment of sin is the havoc it works in character the loss of sensitiveness, the seared and hardened conscience. When faith is lost and honour dies, the man is dead. It came to that with Herod. He began by neglecting John; he ended by mocking Christ. He refused to have God in his knowledge, and this was the tragic result. God gave him up to a reprobate mind.
"Let him alone."
That is the final and dread issue of persistent neglect of conscience and repeated sin a deadened conscience, a reprobate mind. The most terrible punishment of sin is that man ceases to feel it is sin. "Ephraim is turned to his idols," says God by the lips of one of His prophets. "Let him alone." "Let him alone!" What a sentence of dread and doom and despair that is! There is no hope left when God despairs, when the Lord says, "Let him alone." It has not come to that with any one of us. But do not neglect the warning; a neglected conscience is a seared conscience, a life of sin may issue in the reprobate mind. Therefore, if you hear the call, do not put it off or procrastinate. But listen to it and obey it.
If Herod had only listened to John, what a different life-story his might have been! For though he had committed a terrible and awful sin, it was not an unpardonable sin. David, the man after God's own heart, had committed a sin every whit as black. But David, when Nathan rebuked him, and brought his sin to his remembrance, listened, and humbled himself, and repented in dust and ashes, and cried, "Be merciful to me, O God." And Herod might have been where David is; he might have sat at the same King's table as David does; he might have worn the white robe which David does; he might have joined in the song which David sings; he might have been called "a man after God's own heart," as David is if only he had listened to John and humbled himself and repented. But though he listened and was much perplexed, he failed to repent, and so he makes his bed in hell. With Herod's fate before me, I proclaim the old message, "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation." And I issue the old appeal, "To-day, if ye will hear My voice, harden not your hearts."
Chapter 3. The Return of the Twelve
"And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told Him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. And He said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. And the people saw them departing, and many knew Him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto Him." Mark 6:30-33.
Apostles and Disciples.
We may almost regard Mark 6:14-29 as an interpolation in the sequence of the narrative. At any rate Mark 6:30 links itself naturally to Mark 6:13. The paragraph that extends from Mark 6:7 to Mark 6:13 tells the story of the sending of the Twelve. This paragraph tells the story of their return.
"And the Apostles gather themselves together unto Jesus" (Mark 6:30). This is the only place in which Mark gives this official title of "Apostles" to the Twelve. But there is a special fitness and appropriateness in its use in this particular connection. For what does the word "Apostle" mean? It means literally, "one who is sent forth; a messenger." Now glance back at Mark 6:7. What do we read? "And He called unto Him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two." The men who came back to Jesus were Apostles, because they were men who had been "sent forth" on the errands of the King. But for the rest Mark never applies the title to them, for the simple reason that this is the only instance of "sending forth" of which he tells us. All through the rest of the Gospel they are not Apostles "men sent forth," messengers, preachers; they are disciples, students, learners. So apparently in Mark's Gospel the title "Apostle" is not used as a title of rank; it is the name of an office, and only when they actually discharged the functions of that office is the title applied to them. "And the Apostles gather themselves together ( i.e. from the various towns and villages whither they had gone to preach) unto Jesus; and they told Him all things, whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught" (Mark 6:30).
The Revision of the Master.
The sending forth of the Twelve had been more or less of an experiment. They had by no means reached the end of the disciple stage. They were far from fully understanding Christ's mind and entering into His purposes. It was simply the pressure of an urgent need, the vision of the plenteous harvest waiting for labourers, that induced Jesus to thrust forth these twelve men, raw and immature as they were, to try their prentice hands at the work of evangelism. Now the mission tour is over, and the Twelve are all eagerness to tell their Master how they got on in their first attempts at preaching; they relate to Him their experiences; they tell Him "all things, whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught."
For their mission had that twofold aspect they were sent forth to do something, and to proclaim something. Christ gave them authority to heal the sick and cast out devils, and He bade them proclaim whithersoever they went that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Dr. Host, in his book Ecclesia, says that this twofold function is characteristic of the Apostle. Teaching and healing constituted his double duty. And so now these Apostles, on their return from their first missionary tour, present their report to Jesus under these two heads "they told Him whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught." They told Him of the cures they had wrought, and the sermons they had preached, and the reception their preaching had met with.
The Full Report.
They told Him "all things." They kept nothing back from their Master. Every little detail of their tour they submitted to Jesus for His criticism and judgment. I am sure that the Master saw mistakes and blunders in the story of what they had done. Indeed, one of the Evangelists suggests that He saw and had gently but firmly to rebuke a certain boastfulness they showed in their possession of miraculous powers. But if they did make mistakes, they took the very best means of correcting and avoiding them, for they told Jesus "all things." And somehow, in the mere telling of their story to Him, they became conscious of what was wrong and faulty in their work. Whatever was amiss in their service revealed itself in the presence of Jesus. I do not think that Jesus needed to point out their mistakes to them, and say, "you blundered here and there." When they came into touch with Him, when they looked at their work in the light of His countenance, they instinctively recognised what it was they had said or done amiss. "They told Him all things." That was shall I say? the Apostolic safeguard. This was how they discovered their faults and mistakes, and made themselves the great preachers they afterwards became they told Him all things.
Of Things done.
With the example of these twelve Apostles before us, let me declare the duty and the inestimable advantage of telling Jesus all things. It would be for our eternal profit, if periodically, say, at the close of each day, we reported all our doings to the Lord Jesus Christ. I am persuaded that many people are making the most ghastly mistakes, that, indeed, they are going far towards making wreck and ruin of their lives, all because they do not cultivate this habit of telling Jesus "all things." For there are many things which at present we practise which we should feel constrained for ever to abandon, if we reported them to Jesus Christ. In His presence we should discover their essential unworthiness, not to say wickedness. For things that pass muster by the standards of human society, and seem all right when looked at in the crowd, seem all wrong when we speak about them to Jesus. And so, to save us from poor, base and ignoble living, to save us from those tragic mistakes that lay life waste, I urge you to tell Jesus all things.
The Practice of Recollection.
In other words, we must practise what the Roman Catholics call the habit of recollection. "Recollection," according to Faber, "is a double attention which we pay first to God, and then to ourselves." It is the realisation of the presence of God, and then the scrutiny in our own hearts and lives in that presence. It is the looking at all things whatsoever we have done in the light of God's countenance. I know all that can be said about morbid and unhealthy introspection. I know that there is danger in introspection, carried to an extreme. But I know also that without introspection, without this practice of looking at everything in the presence of Jesus, the Christian life is not possible at all. I read of one of the ancient Stoics, that it was part of his spiritual and moral discipline each night quietly to review the events of the day, and to note where he had gone astray, and to make resolutions of amendment. That is the discipline I commend to you; only instead of talking over the day's doings just with ourselves, I invite you to talk them over with Jesus.
How it may help us.
Do you not think that it would make a great difference to us if we did this? Supposing, for instance, the business man, when the day's work was finished, told Jesus all things whatsoever he had done, submitted his business books to His perusal. Do you not think that possibly he might see a necessity for amending some of his business methods? Supposing a serving man or maid, when the day's work was completed, told Jesus all things whatsoever he or she had done? Do you not think that each might possibly see things to be ashamed of? And supposing you and I, when the day was drawing to its close, reported all its doings to the Lord. Do you not think that we might see evil thoughts, foolish words, petty and malicious gossip, pride and envy and jealousy, of which we ought to repent in dust and ashes? I know that to be made to recognise our own faults and failures is a very painful discipline; but it is a very salutary one. To recognise our shortcomings is the first step towards amendment. Repentance is the condition of entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. And so, in the interests of your own souls, make a habit of telling Jesus "all things" whatsoever you have done.
The Report of things said.
"All things, whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught." They told Jesus not only about the cures they had wrought; they told Him also about the sermons they had preached. They submitted their sermons to Him, for criticism and judgment. I am filled with admiration for the wisdom of the Twelve in so doing. What an example to us preachers! I am sometimes tempted to think that we are in danger of submitting our preaching to the judgment of the wrong authorities. I do not think that many are guilty of the baseness of preaching to please their congregation. In spite of the often repeated charge made in our newspapers, and sometimes repeated by those who themselves ought to know better, I do not for one minute believe that we are guilty of the crime of believing one thing and preaching another; of reserving the truth we really accept, and only giving forth what we know congregations like to hear. But I do sometimes think that ministers and preachers go a great deal too much in fear of the Press, and the person who calls himself the "modern thinker." After all, the great concern of a preacher is not whether the reporter approves his words, or whether the man of modern mind says that at last he has found a religion that is rational. The great question is, whether Jesus Christ approves. And it would be our salvation as preachers if we carried our sermons, not into the limelight of public judgment, but into the pure light of the presence of our Lord. We shall never go far astray if we tell Him all things, whatsoever we teach.
Anticipating the Judgment Day.
"And they told Him all things, whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught." Thus they anticipated the Judgment Day. For that is the judgment, when the soul reviews its doings and sayings in the presence of Jesus. The Lord, Paul says, "will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts" (1 Corinthians 4:5). "There is nothing hid," said Jesus Himself, "that shall not be manifested; neither was anything kept secret, but that it should come abroad" (Mark 4:22). That is to say, however painful the discipline may be, there is coming a time when we shall have to tell Jesus all things. But what a day it will be, if we have only a record of tragic mistakes and failure to tell! Happy they who deem every day a Judgment Day; who make! a practice day by day of telling Jesus all things; I who receive His gentle corrections, and find grace to amend their sinful lives! For such the other Judgment Day has no terrors each man shall receive his praise from God.
The Need of Repose.
"They told Him all things." In what conditions were these twelve men, now that they had returned from their tour? They were tired, and they were excited. They were in great need of quiet rest not simply rest from physical exertion, but quietness for fellowship with their Master, which never failed to soothe and refresh their souls. And Jesus was quick to note their need. "Come ye yourselves apart," He said to these tired and excited men, "into a desert place, and rest a while. For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat" (Mark 6:31). Mr. David Smith, in his recent Life of Christ, finds the reason for this retreat across the lake in Jesus Himself. There was a plot on foot among the people, he suggests, to force Christ's hand, and make Him declare Himself King; and the disciples were privy to it. The ringleaders were intent on the business, and Jesus observed them going to and fro, so eagerly that they had not leisure so much as to eat. And it was to escape this zeal, which was not according to knowledge, that Jesus took Himself and His disciples away from the excitement of Capernaum to the quietness of the uninhabited lake. But, though it is quite likely there was some such excitement as Mr. Smith describes, his version does not tally with the Evangelist's story. It was not for His own sake, but for His disciples' sake that Jesus withdrew to a desert place apart. He was thinking, not of Himself, but of them, and so now I get another illustration of that quality so characteristic of Jesus His tender consideration for others.
The Tender Consideration of Christ.
"Christ pleased not Himself" (Romans 15:3), the Apostle says. His concern was never for Himself, but for others. He forgot His own great grief and heavy burdens in His compassion for the griefs and burdens of others. "Weep not for Me," He said to the women of Jerusalem, as He toiled along up Calvary's slope with the cross upon His back, "but weep for yourselves, and for your children" (Luke 23:28). Indeed, Christ's life might be summed up from first to last in that little phrase, "for others." For Bethlehem was for others; and Nazareth was for others; the labours of Galilee were for others, and the cross of Calvary was for others. Now, at the right hand of the throne on high, He is still busy interceding for others. And that is what we see here: Jesus forgetting Himself in His tender care for others. He had just received news of the death of His kinsman and forerunner, John the Baptist. In itself that would have been a deep and piercing sorrow. Yet His own unfathomable grief did not make Him insensible to the lesser need of others. He saw these disciples of His tired and excited. He forgot His own sorrow in care for them. "Come ye yourselves apart, and rest a while." "Have this mind in you," says the Apostle, "which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). It is the unselfish mind. We, too, should think about others and care for others. We are in the footsteps of Jesus when we cultivate
"A heart at leisure from itself
To soothe and sympathise."
The Costliness of Service.
"Come ye yourselves apart, and rest a while." In that call of Christ I get a hint of the costliness of service. In a sense these twelve men were used to hard work. The majority of them were horny-handed fishermen. They knew what it was to battle with the gale, to fight grim fights with wind and wave. They knew what it was to labour all through the long dark night. In some respects, I suppose, there is no task physically more wearying and toilsome than the fisherman's. But they had discovered that, toilsome and fatiguing though it was to catch fish, the work of catching men was more toilsome and fatiguing still. The one cost them physical energy and sweat, this latter made a drain upon soul and spirit. Their missionary tour left them spent and worn and exhausted. So spiritual service always costs. It exacts its toil from the man who renders it. There may be easy posts and places in life; I do not know but there are no easy places in Christ's service. Fishing- for souls is an exhausting business. For prayer is no mere form of words glibly repeated; prayer is a wrestle, an agony. Teaching is no easy performance; it is a pouring forth of the soul; it makes a drain upon the vital energies; it costs blood and tears. Think of Jesus Himself; how His teaching drained Him of strength, and left Him spent. Look at Him falling into a sleep in the stern of the boat a sleep so deep that not even the roar of the storm could wake Him. That is only an illustration of the costliness of service. And these disciples were suffering in their measure from the same weariness and exhaustion. Their preaching tour had cost them nothing in money, but it had made vast demands upon their emotions and sympathies and spiritual energies.
The Provision for Refreshment.
"Come ye," said Jesus to these tired men, "yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while." Here is our Lord's provision for the refreshing and renewal of these tired men. "Come apart into a desert place, and rest." The body needs periodic rest to recoup and refresh itself. God draws the curtain of night. He gives us the boon of sleep, and in the quiet restfulness of our sleeping hours Nature repairs the physical losses caused by the labours of the day. And the soul too needs rest. Indeed, by so much as soul work is more costly and exhausting, by so much is the soul's need of rest and quietness the more urgent. And so Christ calls to us still to come aside and rest. The Christian life has a double aspect. It is a life of service, and of communion. Communion that does not end in service is unhealthy, but service without communion is sterile and barren, and in the long run impossible. It is the communion I am anxious about. I am not afraid of lack of activity, but do we give the soul its quiet times? Is our ineffectiveness due to the fact that our spiritual energies are exhausted? We must pay more regard to the soul's quiet times...." Enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee" (Isaiah 26:20). We shall emerge with new stores of power. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isaiah 40:31).
Chapter 4. The Feeding of the Five Thousand
"And Jesus, when He came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and He began to teach them many things. And when the day was now far spent, His disciples came unto Him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto Him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. And He commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, He looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided He among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men." Mark 6:34-44.
The Search for Retirement.
You will remember the events that led up to this great wilderness feast. The Apostles had just returned from their first missionary journey, tired and excited by their attempts at preaching. Jesus Himself had been pierced to the quick by the murder of John the Baptist in Machærus. Both the Master and the disciples were in sore need of quietness and rest quietness and rest which they could not possibly secure in Capernaum, where it was all bustle and excitement, and where there were so many coming and going that they had no leisure so much as to eat. Jesus accordingly proposed to the disciples that they should escape out of the tumult and excitement of Capernaum, by taking ship and crossing over to the quiet uplands on the other side of the lake. And so, with what privacy they could, they made their way down to the boat, and set sail for a desert place, apparently near the other Bethsaida, known as Bethsaida Julias.
A Baffled Quest.
But Jesus was the hero of the hour. As the result of His wonderful works He was the object just now of a perfervid enthusiasm. The people never allowed Him out of their presence. And so it came to pass that He could not steal away to that quiet place to which He had invited His disciples unobserved. Some eyes were upon Him as He and His, perhaps in the gathering dusk, launched out upon the bosom of the lake. The news soon spread that He was gone, and in their eager enthusiasm the people began to crowd out of Capernaum, and hurried along the shores of the lake in the direction in which they had seen Him go. The number of people who did this is an index to the excitement earned by Christ's teaching and miracles for all the evangelists agree that there were 5000 men, besides women and children. This vast number of people trudged it along the shore, "running all the way," says Dr. Bruce, with the result that when Jesus and His disciples reached the spot they were aiming for, instead of finding the quiet they desired, they found this excited and eager crowd there waiting for them. "And He came forth and saw a great multitude" (Mark 6:34). And so our Lord's quest for privacy was baffled. The quiet He sought He could not get. In the desert uplands of Bethsaida Julias, just as much as in the crowded streets of Capernaum, the multitude was ever with Him.
The Trial of Interruptions.
There is nothing so trying, as Dr. Chadwick says, "as the world's remorseless intrusion upon one's privacy." Supposing that you and I had been in Christ's place. Supposing that we had set out to gain quiet, and, instead of quietness, found a crowd, the very crowd we were trying to avoid. How should we feel? Supposing that you or I were the subject of this paragraph, how would it read: "And He came forth and saw a great multitude"? Yes; what would be the next sentence, if you and I had been the subject of it? Would it read like this: "And He was angry, and would not land. He was sore vexed, and returned back again"? For we get petulant and annoyed when our best-laid plans and cherished purposes are frustrated by the intrusion of other people. When I have promised myself half an hour or an hour's quiet reading and the very rarity of the opportunity makes it the more welcome when it comes I know how easily and quickly I become impatient, when a ring at the telephone or a knock at the door tells me that I have to surrender my promised quiet to attend to other people's affairs. But how different it was with Jesus! He sorely needed quiet quiet to talk to His disciples, quiet to talk with God, for His own heart was well-nigh breaking with sorrow. And yet, when He came forth and saw the multitude, and realised that there was after all to be no quiet for Him, there is no suggestion of petulance in His voice, as there was no shade of anger in His soul.
The Lord's Compassion.
"And He came forth and saw a great multitude, and He had compassion on them" (Mark 6:34). What an exquisite touch this is! And what a beautiful light it throws on the character of Jesus! It is just another illustration of that wonderful love that never sought its own, but always forgot its own needs and worries and sorrows in sympathy and care for the burdens and sorrows of other people. That was the feeling the sight of the crowd stirred in Jesus not annoyance or vexation, but a deep compassion.
The Shepherdless Multitude.
And this was what excited His compassion " because they were as sheep not having a shepherd" (Mark 6:34). Just think of the figure for a moment. You can scarcely conceive of a more pitiable object than an Eastern sheep without a shepherd to care for it. For, to begin with, pasture grounds were not easily found. It was part of the shepherd's duty to lead his flock into the green pastures and by the still waters. But a shepherdless sheep in a land of such partial and scanty pasturage might very easily perish for lack of sustenance. Then, in the second place, not only was pasturage scanty, but wild beasts were plentiful. A shepherdless sheep might easily fall victim to some prowling savage beast. And when Jesus looked out on that vast crowd, His heart was stirred within Him, for to Him they seemed just like poor shepherdless sheep. He saw before Him starving souls. You remember John Milton's line, "The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed." That is exactly how it was with these people. They had their pastors and teachers. But these never led them into the green pastures of God's Word or broke to them the bread of life. They talked to them about the traditions of the elders, and neglected mercy and truth. And so the peopled souls were well-nigh perished with hunger. But He saw not only famishing souls He saw also wandering souls, lost souls, souls in very imminent peril, because of those enemies that lie in wait to destroy. For scribes and elders were but blind leaders of the blind, and did nothing to guide their feet into ways of godliness and truth. He saw souls lost and out of the way, because there was no one to guide them and care for them. And as He looked at this great multitude of shepherdless sheep, famished and lost, the Lord had compassion on them and "began to teach them many things." "He began to teach them many things," i.e. He Himself shepherded these shepherdless souls. "He taught them many things." He led them into the green pastures of the Word. He spoke to them those words which were spirit and life. And how eagerly they listened! "The common people heard Him gladly." The hungry and famished sheep were being fed.
And the Good Shepherd.
But He not only fed the hungry, He went after the wandering and the lost. He had always some word of hope and entreaty and appeal for the sinner. He followed them out into the wilderness of their sin. And He rescued many. Matthew the publican, the woman who was a sinner, Zacchæus, the Samaritan woman these are just specimens of lost sheep whom Jesus brought back into the safety of the fold. "And He taught them many things." Tired and weary though He was, He went on teaching the whole day. He spent Himself in the work. It was not a mistake; nor is it for us. It is worth any sacrifice to feed a fainting soul, to save a lost soul. It is worth our while to become all things to all men, if by all means we can save some.
The Marvellous Meal.
But Jesus did more than teach them that day. He fed them too. He provided a meal out there in the wilderness for this vast crowd, and provided so bountifully that not only did all eat and were filled, but there were gathered up of broken fragments after the feast was done twelve baskets full. Now, avoiding more familiar ground, let me call your attention to a point that perhaps is not often thought about by us; I mean the motive of the miracle. For, as Dr. A. B. Bruce points out, this miracle appears to be a miracle without a sufficient reason. It cannot be said to have been urgently called for by the necessities of the multitude. There is that difference between the feeding of the four thousand and the feeding of the five thousand. The feeding of the four thousand was an act of, shall I say, necessity? The multitude had been with Jesus three days, and had nothing to eat, and if He had sent them away fasting, they would have fainted by the way, for some of them had come from far. But there was no such necessity in the case of the feeding of the five thousand. The people had only been with Him a few hours. There were villages near by, where, as the disciples suggested, the people could buy for themselves. Or, if worst came to worst, the disciples had sufficient money in the common purse to buy some £40 of bread; so that at any rate every one could have a little. There was clearly no necessity for the miracle. Why, then, did our Lord perform it? For, as Mr. David Smith puts it, it was never His wont to exert His miraculous power unless it was needed, and there was no other way.
A Foreshadowing of the Cross and Passion.
It is not enough to answer that it did not need dire necessity to stir our Lord's compassion into exercise. As a matter of fact, except in this case He was a severe economist in the exercise of power. What, then, is the reason for this divergence? I think that Mr. David Smith and Dr. Bruce suggest to us the right answer. The real explanation of the miracle is to be found in the great discourse that in the Fourth Gospel succeeds it (John vi.). That discourse on the bread of life, and on eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man, has always been considered to throw light upon the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. But at its delivery it was a discourse on this miraculous feast. Its applicability also to the Last Supper is due to this fact that this desert meal in a very deep and real fashion foreshadowed the Communion Feast of the Upper Boom. Let us call to mind again the mental and spiritual condition of our Lord on the day on which the miracle took place. He had just heard of the death of John the Baptist. And the news of the tragic end of His forerunner had made Him realise afresh that He too was marching straight to a cruel death. The cross rose stark and naked and cruel before His vision. And His soul was sore troubled within Him. It was because the thought of His own great sacrifice was filling His mind; it was because He was realising with fresh vividness that He could only save the world by giving Himself for it, that He performed this miracle. It was an anticipation of that other feast, when He took the bread, and blessed and brake, and gave to the Twelve in the Upper Room, and it was meant to teach exactly the same lesson. The succeeding discourse shows that all this was in Jesus' mind. And there is a little touch in John's account of the miracle itself that points the same way. John gives a note of time, "The passover was at hand" (John 6:4). Now that is not a note of time simply. It is meant as a clue to the meaning of the whole incident. This is how Dr. Bruce puts it: "It was Passover time, and Jesus was thinking of it, though He went not up to the feast that season." He thought of the paschal lamb, and how He, the true Paschal Lamb, would soon be slain for the life of the world; and He gave expression to these thoughts that were in His soul in the incident we are considering. Yes, this feast was prophetic of our Lord's cross and passion. By it He said to the multitudes, "I, the Son of God, am the Bread of life. What this bread which I break and give you is to your bodies that I am to your souls. "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have not life in you" (John 6:53). If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:51).
A Sifting Incident.
By the very fact that the, feast had this mystical and sacramental significance, it became a means of testing and sifting that vast crowd that participated in it. There were some casually-minded people who saw in the feast nothing but bread and fish, and in Jesus no more than one who could minister to their material needs. The feast stirred their casual and worldly ambitions, and they were all for making Christ King instead of Herod. They saw no hint of its spiritual meaning. They discerned not the Lord's body. But there were some, just a few, who saw its deeper meaning, and who welcomed it as a sign and seal of the Saviour's saving grace. The next day the sifting became visible. For when Jesus explained it all, and talked to them about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, many of them "went back, and walked no more with Him" (John 6:66). And the abandonment of this materialistic and casual crowd left Jesus with just the few who were in spiritual sympathy with Him. "Will ye also go away?" He said to His disciples. "Lord," said Peter, "to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). That is the significance of this volunteered miracle. It is an anticipation of the Last Supper. It is a foreshadowing of the cross. The broken bread was just the sign and symbol of Christ's body broken and given for the life of the world.
And now, out of the many points in the narrative of the miracle itself that suggest themselves for our notice, I mean to confine myself to just one.
The Multiplication of Resources.
"Give ye them to eat," said Jesus to His disciples, and pointing to the vast crowd before them. And the disciples were staggered by the command. It would take at least £40 worth of bread, they protest, to feed that host. "How many loaves have ye?" said Jesus. And they come back and say, "Five, and two fishes." And without sending to Bethsaida for the £40 worth of bread, He bids them feed the crowd with the scanty provision they had. Five loaves and two fishes, and a crowd of 5000 men to be fed! It looked absurd, did it not? But, after Christ had blessed them, those loaves and fishes multiplied in the giving, so that all had enough, and there were twelve baskets full of fragments left over; 5000 men fed on those loaves and fishes, and more was left at the end than there was at the beginning.
Duty not measured by Human Ability. The Power still with us.
Bushnell has a great sermon on that phrase, "Give ye them to eat," which he entitled, "Duty not measured by Ability." Christ is always bidding us do impossibilities. He commands us to do things which are quite obviously beyond our power. But the marvel is, they get done. "Give ye them to eat"; it sounded foolish, but it was done. No; "duty is not measured by ability." Christ can empower us to do the seemingly impossible things. But there is another word also to be added. Duty is not measured by ability, but ability is not measured by the sum-total of our resources. It was not with five loaves and two fishes that the disciples fed the crowd, but with five loaves and two fishes blessed and multiplied by Christ. The blessing and multiplying Christ is with us still, ready to make our scanty resources equal to any task to which He summons us. There are no impossibilities to men or churches, however weak, who have with them the blessing and multiplying Christ. We have giant tasks confronting us unbelief and sin at home, the vast millions of paganism abroad; and we sometimes compare our resources with the tasks, and we grow faint-hearted and despairing sometimes. But why should we? We have the blessing and multiplying Christ. When the modern missionary movement started with William Carey and £13, it did look absurd, did it not? No wonder sceptics laughed. But look at what has actually happened. The movement so begun bids fair to evangelise the world. Christ multiplied our poor loaves and fishes. Let us have faith in our Lord. Let us trust His power. There are no tasks impossible to us. "With three shillings Theresa can do nothing; but with Jesus and three shillings there is nothing Theresa cannot do." And let us bring our own poor resources for Him to bless and multiply small gifts, scarcely the one talent. But in His hands what may they not accomplish! He may do much with you and me. For all through the ages we have been using weak instruments to do impossible things. "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the things which are mighty" (1 Cor. i 27).
Chapter 5. The Storm
"And straightway He constrained His disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while He sent away the people. And when He had sent them away, He departed into a mountain to pray. And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and He alone on the land. And He saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them; and about the fourth watch of the night He cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them. But when they saw Him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: For they all saw Him, and were troubled. And immediately He talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And He went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened." Mark 6:45-52.
The Change of Plan.
And "straightway," that is, as soon as ever the great feast was over, "He constrained His disciples to enter into the boat" (Mark 6:45). Now why did our Lord do this? It seems a complete reversal of all His plans. He had Himself invited His disciples to cross over with Him to this spot, in order that they might have a little respite from toil, and opportunity to talk quietly together over their preaching experiences. Why, then, did He send them away? The natural and obvious thing would have been for Jesus to dismiss the multitude, and then for Him and the Twelve to enjoy the quietness they had come to seek. And it is quite clear the disciples did not want to go. Christ had to exercise pressure, to exert His authority. "Straightway He constrained His disciples to enter into the boat." What is the reason for this seemingly contradictory action of Jesus?
The reason may be found in a sentence in John's account. "Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take Him by force, to make Him a King" (John 6:15). That explains everything. The miracle of the great feast had stirred the people to a wild and dangerous enthusiasm Herod's castle was not very far off, and they were for marching on to it, deposing that blood-stained monarch, and installing Christ as King in his stead. Even the disciples were infected with the same spirit. Their dreams still were of thrones and an earthly dominion. They were quite ready to join hands with these excited but worldly-minded enthusiasts from Capernaum, and inaugurate there and then a political revolution. They were very far from understanding that Christ's Kingdom was not of this world, and that He was marching not to a crown, but a cross. It was to get them out of this excited atmosphere, and to dissipate the carnal hopes that they had already begun to cherish, that Christ constrained, compelled, forced the disciples to go before Him unto the other side, to Bethsaida.
They went unwillingly. I should not be surprised to hear that they went resentfully. It must have seemed to them like throwing the chance of a lifetime away. Here was the crowd ready to follow Him anywhere, and to risk everything for Him. Why did He not seize His opportunity, and win the promised throne? Perhaps the beginning of Judas' treachery dates back to this night. What was the use of following a Master who would not take the kingdom when it was within His grasp? It was all a mystery and a folly to these disciples. Christ's ways were not their ways, nor His thoughts their thoughts. They were a discontented, sullen company, as Christ constrained them to enter into the boat and to go before Him unto the other side.
The Master's Constraint.
Does it not happen sometimes still that Christ constrains us to walk along paths which, left to ourselves, we should never dream of taking? Does He not sometimes constrain us to walk the way of suffering, to enter the wilderness of temptation, to face tempests of trial? I wonder sometimes whether St Paul wanted to take that last journey to Jerusalem. Friends tried to dissuade him. He himself knew that bonds and imprisonment awaited him. Still, on he went. And the reason for it was, he was under constraint, he was "bound in the spirit!" When Christ constrains us, let us implicitly obey. Even though we cannot understand His reason, let us obey. Even though we see it means trouble and distress, let us obey. After events will justify our obedience, for they will show our Lord knew best. Paul never regretted that, "bound in the spirit," he set his face to go to Jerusalem. All the troubles that befell him as the result of that journey turned out in the long run for the furtherance of the Gospel. Nor shall we ever regret our obedience. Christ's ways are love.
"Though they transcend
Our feeble range of sight,
They wind through darkness to their end,
In everlasting light."
The Praying Christ.
"He constrained His disciples to enter into the boat, and to go before Him unto the other side" (Mark 6:43), but He Himself, after He had taken leave of the multitude, "departed into the mountain to pray" (Mark 6:46). You will have remarked how that Jesus met every crisis of His life by prayer. He was at a great crisis perhaps the supreme crisis of His life just now. At the moment He was the popular hero; on the morrow He was going to destroy His popularity and deliberately choose to become the despised and rejected of men. It does not need any great subtlety to see the crisis which confronted Jesus now.
In the Face of Temptation.
We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the temptations of Jesus were concentrated into those forty days He spent in the wilderness. But they were not. As if, indeed, to guard us against forming any such mistaken notion, the Evangelist tells us that the devil only departed from Him "for a season" (Luke 4:13). For a season! He returned again and again to the assault. He returned to the assault on the day of the feeding of the 5000. You remember that the second temptation wherewith he assailed the soul of Christ in the wilderness was that of the offer of the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, if Jesus would only fall down and worship him. A short cut to the power that had been promised Him a short cut that would avoid the garden and the cross; that was the bait Satan held out before the mind of Jesus.
It was with precisely the same temptation he assailed Him now. The people wanted to come and take Jesus by force and make Him King. Power was in His grasp. The kingdom, in the earthly sense, was being thrust upon Him, "all the kingdoms of the earth, and the glory of them." The dazzling offer was being pressed upon Him afresh. We do no honour to our Master by saying this temptation could have had no sort of appeal to Him. It could. It did. Here was an opportunity of securing at once many things on which He had set His heart. His very passion for doing good lent force to the temptation. And, besides, it promised escape from so much. Yes, Jesus felt it. It was just because He felt it so much that He departed into the mountains to pray. And it was wrestling, agonizing prayer in which our Lord engaged that night. He faced the issues. A throne without trouble, or rejection, shame and death the world's way, or God's way. He anticipated the agony of the garden on the hilltop that night. But He won His fight.
The Victory Won.
Once again the devil had to depart foiled and beaten. Christ rejected the glittering offer of the crown, and deliberately chose the Via Dolorosa of the cross. "The cup which the Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it"? (John 18:11). And the very next day He let the crowd know that, if they were thinking of a throne, He Himself was thinking of a cross. He spoke to them of sacrifice and death. "The bread which I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:51). It shattered His popularity on the instant. "Upon this many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him" (John 6:66). He became from this time onward "the despised and rejected of men."
The Struggling Disciples.
But while the Master was fighting out His great fight on the summit of the hill, the disciples were having a great struggle for life against the fury of wind and wave. The Lake of Galilee is notorious for the suddenness of its storms. What is a placid smiling lake one hour may be a seething, furious cauldron the next. One of these wild and sudden tempests overtook the disciples on this particular night. They had launched their boat about sunset; but they had not got very far, not more than halfway across, when they found themselves in the clutches of the gale. With that gale they fought hour after hour. Not until the fourth watch did succour come to them; that is to say, not until towards daybreak between three and four o'clock in the morning. For all those weary hours the disciples only barely held their own against wind and wave. And as hour after hour passed, and hope began to give place to despair, it may be that they thought hard things of Jesus. Why had He constrained them to get into the boat? If He had only allowed them to remain with Him, as they wished, they would all have been safe and sound on the shore. Why, if He felt they ought to cross over, had not He Himself come with them? Some such thoughts, I have no doubt, passed through the minds of the disciples; possibly even some such remarks they may, in the bitterness of their souls, have made one to another. When troubles assail us it is hard not to throw the blame on God. We are all tempted to murmur and complain. We can understand Job's wife when, embittered by the trouble, she said, "Renounce God, and die" (Job 2:9, R.V.).
The Watchful Master.
Yet the disciples were not the neglected and forgotten people they bitterly imagined themselves to be. Look at Mark 6:47: "And when even was come, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and He alone on the land." The boat on the sea, Jesus on the hill; the disciples in the storm, Jesus in God's secret place. They are far apart. There seems to be no connection between them. But read on: "And seeing them distressed in rowing,... about the fourth watch of the night He cometh unto them" (Mark 6:48). There was a very close and intimate connection after all. Jesus on the hill was watching His disciples on the sea. The disciples on the sea were safe, because Jesus was watching on the hill. Let me give you almost a companion picture. Down in the valley Israel and Amalek had met in the clash and shock of battle. Away yonder on the hill there was an old man, with his hands uplifted in prayer. They stand far apart. There seems to be no connection between them. But as a matter of fact the connection was most close and intimate. Moses on the hill was watching the course of battle in the plain. Israel down in the valley proved victorious because Moses held up his hands in prayer for them on the hill. And so now, Jesus was watching the disciples in their struggles, and seeing them distressed in rowing, "about the fourth watch of the night He cometh unto them, walking on the sea" (Mark 6:48).
His Abiding Care for His Own.
Here is a truth of quite infinite comfort. Jesus sees, and Jesus knows. We are often tempted, as these disciples were, when the storms of trouble buffet us and press heavily upon us, to think that our Saviour does not see, and cannot care. If He saw and cared, He would surely hasten to our succour. We forget that the very storm may have its work to do; we forget that whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth; we forget that in battling against storms we knit thews and sinews of strength in our souls. And so we cry that our way is hid from the Lord, and our judgment is passed over by our God. But that is a faithless cry. Our way is not hidden from Him. Our judgment is not passed over by Him. He sees, and He cares. And though because He sees it may be well for us He delays His coming, you may depend upon it that at the right hour He will come with help and succour. Seeing them distressed, He came to them. Their extremity was His opportunity. He would not allow them to be tried more than they were able. Seeing them distressed, He came to them, and the wind ceased. And so He will come to us and bring us deliverance. "He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday" (Psalms 37:6).
"Through waves and clouds and storms,
He gently clears thy way;
Wait thou His time, so shall this night
Soon end in joyous day."
The Lesson to Faith. Safety with Christ.
All the commentators agree that this miracle, like the last, was symbolic of spiritual truth. Mr. David Smith, for instance, thinks that, as the feeding of the 5000 with the broken bread was symbolic of Christ's death, the breaking of His body to give bread to the world, so this miracle, with its story of Christ's walking upon the water, was symbolic and prophetic of the Resurrection, when Christ would be possessed of a body raised above the laws which govern these earthly and material bodies of ours. The suggestion seems to me a little far-fetched. But I can see another truth, which I am quite sure this incident was meant to teach. It was meant to impress upon the disciples this fact that they were in Christ's keeping, even when physically He was absent from them. I do not think they would have feared the tempest very much, if Jesus had been with them. For after the great experience of the previous storm recorded for us in chap. iv., they must have felt that "with Christ in the vessel," as our old hymn puts it, they could "smile at the storm." The trouble on this occasion was as John's account explicitly states "it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them" (John 6:17). The lesson they needed to learn was, that they were just as much in His keeping when He was hidden from their eyes as they were when He was with them in the boat.
Whether Absent or Present
That was the great lesson this incident taught them. In a few months Jesus, would be leaving them altogether. They would have Him no more for their daily companion. They would have to face their difficulties and temptations apparently alone. But Jesus assured them that though their eyes could not see Him He would yet be with them always unto the end of the world. With them always! And they believed the promise. They remembered how on this night of storm and peril the unseen Christ was watching over them and guarding them. And so they went to their work, and braved their manifold dangers with the joyful faith that their Lord was with them, and was keeping them, and that nothing could separate them from the love of God which was in Christ Jesus their Lord. Even so He is with us always. Our eyes have never seen Him: our hands have never touched Him; but He is with us always. We are safe in His keeping. No one can pluck us out of His hand.
The Misunderstood Christ.
Let us notice, however, the reception the disciples gave to Jesus when He did appear for their succour. When they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was an apparition, and they cried out, for they were troubled. In their terror they did not recognise Jesus, and so they were afraid of Him. It is always because men do not know Christ, because they do not recognise Him, that they fear Him and reject Him. It is always some unreal Christ, some caricature Christ, that men repudiate and renounce. The real Christ is never unwelc6me. When the Lord saw the disciples' panic He said, "Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid" (Mark 6:50). And when they heard His voice, when they heard Him speak for Himself, they were glad enough to welcome Him into their boat. When Christ is allowed to speak for Himself, men will gladly receive Him. Only let them hear Him who spake as never man spake, and they will gladly welcome Him.
The Slow Scholars.
And when they received Jesus, the wind ceased, and they were sore amazed in themselves, "for," says the evangelist, commenting upon this amazement, "they understood not concerning the loaves, but their heart was hardened" (Mark 6:51-52). Why should they have been amazed? Had not Christ demonstrated His power only the day before? The amazement of the disciples was evidence of the hardness of their hearts and their slowness to believe. They were poor scholars. The lesson of the previous day had been practically in vain. Are we, too, not slow scholars? Is it not a fact that we, too, fail to understand? Are not our hearts often hardened? Ought not the marvellous deliverance of past days to teach us to expect great deliverances for all the days to come? Our panics of fear, our transports of surprise, are alike evidences of weak faith. Let the great things which our Lord has done for us have their due effect upon us, and teach us to ask great things of God, and to expect great things from God.
Chapter 6. The Things That Defile
"And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore. And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew Him, And ran through that whole region round about, and began to carry about in beds those that were sick, where they heard He was. And whithersoever He entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought Him that they might touch if it were but the border of His garment: and as many as touched Him were made whole. Then came together unto Him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why walk not Thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer Him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. And when He had called all the people unto Him, He said unto them, Hearken unto Me every one of you, and understand: There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And when He was entered into the house from the people, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. And He saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And He said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man." Mark 6:53 to Mark 7:23.
The Lapsed Multitude.
The brief verses at the close of chapter vi. form a connecting link between the wonderful story of the walking upon the sea and that of our Lord's controversy with the Pharisees about the washing of hands. We know as a matter of fact that this incident did not follow immediately upon the miracle. For John tells us that on the day following the night of storm Jesus preached the wonderful sermon in which He announced Himself to be the Bread of life, and said that only by eating His flesh and drinking His blood could men gain eternal life. The result of that sermon was that Christ's popularity was shattered, and the multitudes who up to this point had been enthusiastic in His cause "went back, and walked no more with Him" (John 6:66). Indeed, Christ found Himself practically reduced to His twelve disciples as the only followers in whose devotion He could trust, and upon whose loyalty He could rely. After the crisis He appears to have left Capernaum, and visited Gennesaret.
And their Eagerness for Material Benefits.
But though the people had turned their backs on His teaching, they had by no means lost faith in His power. So His coming to Gennesaret converted the place into a kind of field hospital; for the people "ran round about that whole region, and began to carry about on their beds those that were sick, where they heard He was. And wheresoever He entered into villages, or into cities, or into the country, they laid the sick in the market-places, and besought Him that they might touch if it were but the border of His garment: and as many as touched Him were made whole" (Mark 6:55-56). You notice that, if these people were not prepared to accept the spiritual truths Christ taught, they were only too eager to profit by the material blessings He bestowed. If they were not ready to take upon their necks His easy yoke, they were quite ready to fly to Him to get healing for their sicknesses and cure for their diseases. It is a curious phenomenon, this repudiation of Christ's authority, combined with willingness to make a convenience of Him. But it is by no means a rare phenomenon. There are plenty of people who refuse to obey Christ, and still fly to Him to help them in their troubles. There are plenty of people who turn their backs on Him when He speaks to them about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, who yet appeal to Him when they are in distress. This making a convenience of Christ wanting His gifts, but not wanting Him is a pitiful business.
The Breadth of Christ's Love.
But the marvel is that Christ responds to the cry even of those who have refused to obey Him. "He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil" (Luke 6:35). For see what happened in this case. These people were amongst those who "went back, and walked no more with Him." And yet, when they came seeking Christ's help, this is what I read, "As many as touched Him were made whole" (Mark 6:56). He did not withhold His help because they had refused their obedience. "As many as touched Him were made whole." And He is the same compassionate and loving Christ still. We are often unthankful and disobedient. But when trouble drives us to Him, He does not cast our unthankfulness and disobedience in our teeth. He hurries to us with help and succour.
"Unwearied in forgiveness still,
His heart can only love."
Hostility at Work.
Now it was about Passover time, as John tells us, that the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, and the incident of the storm, and the subsequent crisis amongst Christ's followers took place. Perhaps, as Mr. David Smith suggests, the rulers had expected that He would come up to Jerusalem for the feast, and that they would be able to compass His overthrow. Disappointed in this, they seem to have sent down from Jerusalem a deputation of Scribes and Pharisees, to co-operate with the local authorities of Capernaum in scrutinising the actions of Christ lying in wait for opportunities of bringing Him to book.
The Charge against Jesus.
It was not very long before they found ground for complaint. As in their previous accusation against Him with reference to the Sabbath, it was apparently the conduct of the disciples, rather than that of Jesus Himself, that was at fault. But probably they argued and they were perfectly right in so arguing that the conduct of the disciples in a measure reflected the teaching of their Master, and that, if they neglected a certain ritual observance, it was because Jesus had made them feel that the observance in question was trivial and unimportant. Now the particular thing that scandalised these spying Pharisees and Scribes was the fact that the disciples ate bread with defiled i.e. unwashen hands. And then Mark proceeds to explain to the Gentile readers how it was that a trumpery omission of this kind could be construed into a mortal offence. "For," he says, "the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders: and when they come from the market-place, except they wash themselves, they eat not: and many other things there be, which they have received to hold, washings of cups, and pots, and brasen vessels" (Mark 6:3-4).
The Law and Tradition.
Moses had, as Dr. Glover says, very freely commanded washing. Partly for sanitary reasons, and partly also to emphasize the separateness of the chosen race, the Law required ablution on certain occasions. But these occasions, the "tradition of the elders" had indefinitely multiplied. They not only washed in cases of actual defilement, as Moses commanded; but they washed, for fear of possible and unconscious defilement. And so, for instance, as Mark here mentions, when they came home from market they washed, lest in the market they should have contracted defilement by unconscious contact with a Gentile. And a multitude of similar puerile rules tradition formulated, until life became a veritable slavery. And any breach of these rules was counted a heinous sin, to be punished by excommunication. This was the charge these Scribes and Pharisees brought against the disciples. "Why walk not Thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with defiled hands?" (Mark 6:5). They had committed the monstrous crime of breaking one of the multitudinous trumpery rules with which Rabbinism had burdened and encumbered human life.
The Charge Met.
What had Jesus Christ to say in answer to this charge? If it would be right to use the epithet "scornful" of Jesus, I believe it would be right to use it of Him here. There is a kind of splendid scorn of the blind folly that could exalt the washing of the hands into an article of religion. His answer to the charge is to brand those who made it as hypocrites. "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites." And what is a hypocrite? Well, literally, he is a man who plays a part on the stage. That was what these Scribes and Pharisees, with their insistence upon petty and trumpery rules, were mere play-actors, men who wore a mask of religion. They paid outward deference to God, but their heart was far from Him. What they had was not really a religion, but a ritual; and, as Isaiah reminded the Jews long before, you may have the ritual without the religion. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the Lord.... Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth;... I am weary to bear them" (Isaiah 1:11, Isaiah 1:14). It was a case of ritual without religion. It was the publican, and not the Pharisee who boasted of his punctiliousness in the observance of religious duties, who went down to his house justified. God had no pleasure in the Pharisee and his prayers. They meant ritual without religion.
Ritual without Religion.
It was so in the case of these Scribes and Pharisees in our paragraph. They were scrupulous about ablutions, they held up their hands in pious horror at the bare thought of eating bread with unwashen hands, but they were careless about mercy and love and truth. Jesus calls them "hypocrites" mummers, play-actors. Their punctiliousness was but ritual without religion. And I may go further, for not only may ritual exist without religion, but emphasized ritual is a dangerous enemy to religion. Laying undue importance upon the outward forms, you obscure the importance of the inner spirit. Once you exaggerate the importance of external rules, you minimise the importance of faith and love. Once ceremonialism comes in by the door, genuine religion has a way of flying out by the window.
An Example of its Working.
Palestine in our Lord's day is an illustration of the truth of this. Religion had been smothered beneath ritual. Washing the hands counted for more than the devotion of the heart. They were careful of petty rules, and careless of the great commands of God. Take the glaring and monstrous case which Jesus cast up against them. The fifth commandment in the Decalogue was this: "Honour thy father and thy mother." And by honouring them is meant not simply outward deference, but obedience in youth, and assistance, if required, in age. This filial duty is not only commanded by God, but it is ratified by the instinct of universal human nature. But Jewish casuistry had invented a way by which greedy and selfish men could evade that plain and obvious duty, and do so in the name of religion. Whatever was vowed to God was sacred to the uses of religion. It was corban an offering and must pass into the hands of the priests. It need not, and often was not paid at once; the money so dedicated was often employed by the owner during life, and only actually passed into the Temple treasury at his death. But the fact that it was corban placed it beyond the reach of ordinary claims; for they held it sacrilegious to apply to other uses what had once been dedicated to God. Now wicked and shameless men used this tradition about corban to evade some of their plain and primary responsibilities. Selfish sons, for instance, played this trick upon needy parents, and answered their piteous appeals for help by this very formula which our Lord here quotes, "That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is corban" (Mark 6:11). The peculiar odiousness of it lay in the circumstance that it was done in the name of God. Religion was used to justify selfishness and greed; or rather, devotion to ritual was allowed to stifle and destroy religion; "making void," said Jesus, "the word of God by your tradition, which ye have delivered" (Mark 6:13).
A Modern Peril.
Now, has all this any message for us? Has it any pertinency to our time? I am persuaded that it has. These are days of developed ritualism. But let us never forget that ritual is not religion. The one can never take the place of the other. Religion is not a posture of the body; it is an attitude of the heart. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. In so far as ritual tends to emphasize the external rather than the internal, the form rather than the spirit, it is to be jealously guarded against, rather than fostered and encouraged. For you cannot magnify the little external things of religion, without thereby minimising the great and vital things.
Defilement External and Vital.
All this talk about externalism had arisen from the complaint made by the Scribes and Pharisees about the "unwashen" hands of the disciples. It was only outward defilement that they seemed to have any notion of. Christ proceeds now to show what the true sources of defilement are. It was a lesson that not only these spying enemies of His, but the whole body of people, needed to be taught. So He called to Him the multitude, and said to them, "Hear Me all of you, and understand: there is nothing from without the man, that going into him can defile him: but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man" (Mark 6:15). It was one of those great sweeping truths that Christ delighted to utter. It went right beyond ceremonial conditions to moral verities beyond the outward to the inward. By this one word He swept away all those multitudes of regulations that tradition had accumulated, and indeed struck at the artificial distinction which the Mosaic law made between things clean and unclean a regulation which had perhaps been useful in its day, but had served its time.
The Distinction and Difference.
The disciples realised that it was a broad and sweeping statement, whose bearings they did not all at once take in. And so when they were alone in the house they asked Him as to the parable. He, with some words implying rebuke, condescends patiently to explain it to them. And the gist of His explanation comes to this that, as Dr. Glover puts it, defilement arises not from food, but from faults. The centre of pollution is the evil heart. "Out of the heart of men, evil thoughts proceed, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetings, wickednesses, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, railing, pride, foolishness: all these evil things proceed from within, and defile the man" (Mark 6:21, Mark 6:23). "This He said," remarks the Evangelist, "making all meats clean" (Mark 6:19). Yes, He did that; but He did much more. He revolutionised the whole notion of defilement. In the deepest sense there is no defilement, save moral and spiritual defilement. The only thing that really pollutes a man is an unclean heart.
A Personal Application.
Have we learned the lesson? I wonder whether even in Christian England there are not a great many people who are far more troubled about dirty hands than they are about a dirty soul! I wonder whether even to this day Society at large does not lay a great deal more stress upon correct behaviour than it does upon a clean heart! But, at any rate, let us be under no delusion. Our Lord "looketh upon the heart." He tests and measures everything by what He sees there. A man is clean or defiled according as his heart is clean or defiled; and what defiles the heart is the evil thought. Go through this list, and examine yourself by it. Perhaps we can honestly say that some of the things that are in this terrible list are not in our hearts fornication, thefts, murders, adulteries. But what about covetings? And what about deceit? And what about the evil and envious eye? And what about pride? Are none of them there? And none of them enter the heart without leaving a black and ugly smudge upon it. When I think of it all, I am tempted to cry out, like the leper, "Unclean! unclean!" For, like John Bunyan, I feel that sin and corruption do as naturally bubble out of my heart as water bubbles out of a fountain, until, like him, at the sight of my own vileness I fall deeply into despair. But there is One who can make my defiled heart clean again. No external cleansing can wash away the stains that evil thoughts make. "Though thou wash thee with lye, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before Me, saith the Lord God" (Jeremiah 2:22). "And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). And so I turn to Him with the prayer, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."
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Jones, J.D. "Commentary on Mark 6". Jones' Commentary on the Book of Mark. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent