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TRUE SABBATH OBSERVANCE
Luk_13:10 - Luk_13:17 .
This miracle was wrought, unasked, on a woman, in a synagogue, and by all these characteristics was specially interesting to Luke. He alone records it. The narrative falls into two parts-the miracle, and the covert attack of the ruler of the synagogue, with our Lord’s defence.
What better place than the synagogue could there be for a miracle of mercy? The service of man is best built on the service of God, and the service of God is as truly accomplished in deeds of human kindness done for His sake as in oral worship. The religious basis of beneficence and the beneficent manifestation of religion are commonplaces of Christian practice and thought from the beginning, and are both set forth in our Lord’s life. He did not substitute doing good to men for worshipping God, as a once much-belauded but now all-but-forgotten anti-Christian writer has done; but He showed us both in their true relations. We have Christ’s authority for regarding the woman’s infirmity as the result of demoniacal possession, but the case presents some singular features. There seems to have been no other consequence than her incapacity to stand straight. Apparently the evil power had not touched her moral nature, for she had somehow managed to drag herself to the synagogue to pray; she ‘glorified God’ for her cure, and Christ called her ‘a daughter of Abraham,’ which surely means more than simply that she was a Jewess. It would seem to have been a case of physical infirmity only, and perhaps rather of evil inflicted eighteen years before than of continuous demoniacal possession.
But be that as it may, there is surely no getting over our Lord’s express testimony here, that purely physical ills, not distinguishable from natural infirmity, were then, in some instances, the work of a malignant, personal power. Jesus knew the duration of the woman’s ‘bond’ and the cause of it, by the same supernatural knowledge. That sad, bowed figure, with eyes fixed on the ground, and unable to look into His face, which yet had crawled to the synagogue, may teach us lessons of patience and of devout submission. She might have found good excuses for staying at home, but she, no doubt, found solace in worship; and she would not have so swiftly ‘glorified God’ for her cure, if she had not often sought Him in her infirmity. They who wait on Him often find more than they expect in His house.
Note the flow of Christ’s unasked sympathy and help. We have already seen several instances of the same thing in this Gospel. The sight of misery ever set the chords of that gentle, unselfish heart vibrating, as surely as the wind draws music from the Aeolian harp strings. So it should be with us, and so would it be, if we had in us ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ’ making us ‘free from the law of’ self. But His spontaneous sympathy is not merely the perfection of manhood; it is the revelation of God. Unasked, the divine love pours itself on men, and gives all that it can give to those who do not seek, that they may be drawn to seek the better gifts which cannot be given unasked. God ‘tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men,’ in giving His greatest gift. No prayers besought Heaven for a Saviour. God’s love is its own motive, and wells up by its inherent diffusiveness. Before we call, He answers.
Note the manner of the cure. It is twofold-a word and a touch. The former is remarkable, as not being, like most of the cures of demoniacs, a command to the evil spirit to go forth, but an assurance to the sufferer, fitted to inspire her with hope, and to encourage her to throw off the alien tyranny. The touch was the symbol to her of communicated power-not that Jesus needed a vehicle for His delivering strength, but that the poor victim, crushed in spirit, needed the outward sign to help her in realising the new energy that ran in her veins, and strengthened her muscles. Unquestionably the cure was miraculous, and its cause was Christ’s will.
But apparently the manner of cure gave more place to the faith of the sufferer, and to the effort which her faith in Christ’s word and touch heartened her to put forth, than we find in other miracles. She ‘could in no wise lift herself up,’ not because of any malformation or deficiency in physical power, but because that malign influence laid a heavy hand on her will and body, and crushed her down. Only supernatural power could deliver from supernatural evil, but that power wrought through as well us OB her; and when she believed that she was loosed from her infirmity, and had received strength from Jesus, she was loosed.
This makes the miracle no less, but it makes it a mirror in which the manner of our deliverance from a worse dominion of Satan is shadowed. Christ is come to loose us all from the yoke of bondage, which bows our faces to the ground, and makes us unfit to look up. He only can loose us, and His way of doing it is to assure us that we are free, and to give us power to fling off the oppression in the strength of faith in Him.
Note the immediate cure and its immediate result. The ‘back bowed down always’ for eighteen weary years is not too stiff to be made straight at once. The Christ-given power obliterates all traces of the past evil. Where He is the physician, there is no period of gradual convalescence, but ‘the thing is done suddenly’; and, though in the spiritual realm, there still hang about pardoned men remains of forgiven sin, they are ‘sanctified’ in their inward selves, and have but to see to it that they work out in character and conduct that ‘righteousness and holiness of truth’ which they have received in the new nature given them through faith.
How rapturous was the gratitude from the woman’s lips, which broke in upon the formal, proper, and heartless worship of the synagogue! The immediate hallowing of her joy into praise surely augurs a previously devout heart. Thanksgiving generally comes thus swiftly after mercies, when prayer has habitually preceded them. The sweetest sweetness of all our blessings is only enjoyed when we glorify God for them. Incense must be kindled, to be fragrant, and our joys must be fired by devotion, to give their rarest perfume.
The cavils of the ruler and Christ’s defence are the second part of this incident. Note the blindness and cold-heartedness born of religious formalism. This synagogue official has no eye for the beauty of Christ’s pity, no heart to rejoice in the woman’s deliverance, no ear for the music of her praise. All that he sees is a violation of ecclesiastical order. That is the sin of sins in his eyes. He admits the reality of Christ’s healing power, but that does not lead him to recognition of His mission. What a strange state of mind it was that acknowledged the miracle, and then took offence at its being done on the Sabbath!
Note, too, his disingenuous cowardice in attacking the people when he meant Christ. He blunders, too, in his scolding; for nobody had come to be healed. They had come to worship; and even if they had come for healing, the coming was no breach of Sabbath regulations, whatever the healing might be. There are plenty of people like this stickler for propriety and form, and if you want to find men blind as bats to the manifest tokens of a divine hand, and hard as millstones towards misery, and utterly incapable of glowing with enthusiasm or of recognising it, you will find them among ecclesiastical martinets, who are all for having ‘things done decently and in order,’ and would rather that a hundred poor sufferers should continue bowed down than that one of their regulations should be broken in lifting them up. The more men are filled with the spirit of worship, the less importance will they attach to the pedantic adherence to its forms, which is the most part of some people’s religion.
Mark the severity, which is loving severity, of Christ’s answer. He speaks to all who shared the ruler’s thoughts, of whom there were several present Luk_5:17 , ‘adversaries’. Piercing words which disclose hidden and probably unconscious sins, are quite in place on the lips into which grace was poured. Well for those who let Him tell them their faults now, and do not wait for the light of judgment to show themselves to themselves for the first time.
Wherein lay these men’s hypocrisy? They were pretending zeal for the Sabbath, while they were really moved by anger at the miracle, which would have been equally unwelcome on any day of the week. They were pretending that their zeal for the Sabbath was the result of their zeal for God, while it was only zeal for their Rabbinical niceties, and had no religious element in it at all. They wished to make the Sabbath law tight enough to restrain Jesus from miracles, while they made it loose enough to allow them to look after their own interests.
Men may be unconscious hypocrites, and these are the most hopeless. We are all in danger of fancying that we are displaying our zeal for the Lord, when we are only contending for our own additions to, or interpretations of, His will. There is no religion necessarily implied in enforcing forms of belief or conduct.
Our Lord’s defence is, first of all, a conclusive argumentum ad hominem , which shuts the mouths of the objectors; but it is much more. The Talmud has minute rules for leading out animals on the Sabbath: An ass may go out with his pack saddle if it was tied on before the Sabbath, but not with a bell or a yoke; a camel may go out with a halter, but not with a rag tied to his tail; a string of camels may be led if the driver takes all the halters in his hand, and does not twist them, but they must not be tied to one another-and so on for pages. If, then, these sticklers for rigid observance of the Sabbath admitted that a beast’s thirst was reason enough for work to relieve it, it did not lie in their mouths to find fault with the relief of a far greater human need.
But the words hold a wider truth, applicable to our conduct. The relief of human sorrow is always in season. It is a sacred duty which hallows any hour. ‘Is not this the fast [and the feast too] that I have chosen . . . to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?’ The spirit of the words is to put the exercise of beneficence high above the formalities of worship.
Note, too, the implied assertion of the dignity of humanity, the pitying tone of the ‘lo, these eighteen years,’ the sympathy of the Lord with the poor woman, and the implication of the terrible tragedy of Satan’s bondage. If we have His Spirit in us, and look at the solemn facts of life as He did, all these pathetic considerations will be present to our minds as we behold the misery of men, and, moved by the thoughts of their lofty place in God’s scheme of things, of their long and dreary bondage, of the evil power that holds them fast, and of what they may become, even sons and daughters of the Highest, we shall be fired with the same longing to help which filled Christ’s heart, and shall count that hour consecrated, and not profaned, in which we are able to bring liberty to the captives, and an upward gaze of hope to them that have been bowed down.
THE STRAIT GATE
Luk_13:22 - Luk_13:30 .
‘Are there few that be saved?’ The questioner’s temper and motives may be inferred from the tone of Christ’s answer, which turns attention from a mere piece of speculative curiosity to the grave personal aspect of the condition of ‘salvation,’ and the possibility of missing it. Whether few or many went in, there would be many left out, and among these some of the listeners. Jesus speaks to ‘them,’ the multitude, not to the questioner. The men who approach solemn subjects lightly, and use them as material for raising profitless questions for the sake of getting religious teachers in a corner, exist still, and are best answered after Christ’s manner.
Of course, the speaker meant by being ‘saved’ participation in Messiah’s kingdom, regarded in the carnal Jewish fashion; and our Lord’s reply is primarily directed to setting forth the condition of entrance into that kingdom, as the Jew expected it to be manifested on earth. But behind that immediate reference lies a solemn unveiling of the conditions of salvation in its deepest meaning, and of the danger of exclusion from it.
I. We note, first, the all-important exhortation with which Christ seeks to sober a frivolous curiosity.
In its primary application, the ‘strait gate’ may be taken to be the lowliness of the Messiah, and the consequent sharp contrast of His kingdom with Jewish high-flown and fleshly hopes. The passage to the promised royalty was not through a great portal worthy of a palace, but by a narrow, low-browed wicket, through which it took a man trouble to squeeze. For us, the narrow gate is the self-abandonment and self-accusation which are indispensable for entrance into salvation.
‘The door of faith’ is a narrow one; for it lets no self-righteousness, no worldly glories, no dignities, through. Like the Emperor at Canossa, we are kept outside till we strip ourselves of crowns and royal robes, and stand clothed only in the hair-shirt of penitence. Like Milton’s rebel angels entering their council chamber, we must make ourselves small to get in. We must creep on our knees, so low is the vault; we must leave everything outside, so narrow is it. We must go in one by one, as in the turnstiles at a place of entertainment. The door opens into a palace, but it is too strait for any one who trusts to himself.
There must be effort in order to enter by it. For everything in our old self-confident, self-centred nature is up in arms against the conditions of entrance. We are not saved by effort, but we shall not believe without effort. The main struggle of our whole lives should be to cultivate self-humbling trust in Jesus Christ, and to ‘fight the good fight of faith.’
II. We note the reason for the exhortation.
It is briefly given in Luk_13:24 last clause, and both parts of the reason there are expanded in the following verses. Effort is needed for entrance, because many are shut out. The questioner would be no better for knowing whether few would enter, but he and all need to burn in on their minds that many will not .
Very solemnly significant is the difference between striving and seeking . It is like the difference between wishing and willing. There may be a seeking which has no real earnestness in it, and is not sufficiently determined, to do what is needful in order to find. Plenty of people would like to possess earthly good, but cannot brace themselves to needful work and sacrifice. Plenty would like to ‘go to heaven,’ as they understand the phrase, but cannot screw themselves to the surrender of self and the world. Vagrant, halfhearted seeking, such as one sees many examples of, will never win anything, either in this world or in the other. We must strive, and not only seek.
That is true, even if we do not look beyond time; but Jesus carries our awed vision onwards to the end of the days, in the expansion of his warning, which follows in Luk_13:25 - Luk_13:27 . No doubt, the words had a meaning for His hearers in reference to the Messianic kingdom, and a fulfilment in the rejection of the nation. But we have to discern in them a further and future significance.
Observe that the scene suggested differs from the similar parable of the virgins waiting for their Lord, in that it does not describe a wedding feast. Here it is a householder already in his house, and, at the close of the day, locking up for the night. Some of his servants have not returned in time, have not come in through the narrow gate, which is now not only narrow, but closed by the master’s own hand. The translation of that is that, by a decisive act of Christ’s in the future, the time for entrance will he ended. As in reference to each stage of life, specific opportunities are given in it for securing specific results, and these can never be recovered if the stage is past; so mortal life, as a whole, is the time for entrance, and if it is not used for that purpose, entrance is impossible. If the youth will not learn, the man will be ignorant. If the sluggard will not plough because the weather is cold, he will ‘beg in harvest.’ If we do not strive to enter at the gate, it is vain to seek entrance when the Master’s own hand has barred it.
The language of our Lord here seems to shut us up to the conclusion that life is the time in which we can gain our entrance. It is no kindness to suggest that perhaps He does not shut the door quite fast. We know, at all events, that it is wide open now.
The words put into the mouths of the excluded sufficiently define their characters, and the reasons why they sought in vain. Why did they want to be in? Because they wished to get out of the cold darkness into the warm light of the bountiful house. But they neither knew the conditions of entrance nor had they any desire after the true blessings within. Their deficiencies are plainly marked in their pleas for admission. At first, they simply ask for entrance, as if thinking that to wish was to have. Then, when the Householder says that He knows nothing about them, and cannot let strangers in, they plead as their qualification that they had eaten and drunk in His presence, and that He had taught in their streets. In these words, the relations of Christ’s contemporaries are described, and their immediate application to them is plain.
Outward connection with Jesus gave no claim to share in His kingdom. We have to learn the lesson which we who live amidst a widely diffused, professing Christianity sadly need. No outward connection with Christ, in Christian ordinances or profession, will avail to establish a claim to have the door opened for us. A man may be a most respectable and respected church-member, and have listened to Christian teaching all his days, and have in life a vague wish to be ‘saved,’ and yet be hopelessly unfit to enter, and therefore irremediably shut out.
The Householder’s answer, in its severity and calmness, indicates the inflexible impossibility of opening to such seekers. It puts stress on two things-the absence of any vital relationship between Him and them, and their moral character. He knows nothing about them, and not to be known by the Master of the house is necessarily to be shut out from His household. They are known of the Shepherd who know Him and hear His voice. They who are not must stay in the desert. Such mutual knowledge is the basis of all righteousness, and righteousness is the essential condition of entrance.
These seekers are represented as still working iniquity. They had not changed their moral nature. They wished to enter heaven, but they still loved evil. How could they come in, even if the door had been open? Let us learn that, while faith is the door, without holiness no man shall see the Lord. The worker of iniquity has only an outward relation to Jesus. Inwardly he is separated from Him, and, at last, the outward relation will be adjusted to the inward, and departure from Him will be inevitable, and that is ruin.
III. Boldly and searchingly personal as the preceding words had been, the final turn of Christ’s answer must have had a still sharper and more distasteful edge.
He had struck a blow at Jewish trust in outward connection with Messiah as ensuring participation in His kingdom. He now says that the Gentiles shall fill the vacant places. Many Jews will be unable to enter, for all their seeking, but still there will be many saved; for troops of hated Gentiles shall come from every corner of the earth, and the sight of them sitting beside the fathers of the nation, while Israel after the flesh is shut out, will move the excluded to weeping-the token of sorrow, which yet has in it no softening nor entrance-securing effect, because it passes into ‘gnashing of teeth,’ the sign of anger. Such sorrow worketh death.
Such fierce hatred, joined with stiff-necked obstinacy, has characterised the Jew ever since Jerusalem fell. ‘If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee.’ Israel was first, and has become last. The same causes which sent it from the van to the rear have worked like effects in ‘Christendom,’ as witness Asia Minor and the mosques into which Christian churches have been turned.
These causes will produce like effects wherever they become dominant. Any church and any individual Christian who trusts in outward connection with Christ, and works iniquity, will sooner or later fall into the rear, and if repentance and faith do not lead it or him through the strait gate, will be among those ‘last’ who are so far behind that they are shut out altogether. Let us ‘be not high-minded, but fear.’
CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO HEROD
Luk_13:32 - Luk_13:33 .
Even a lamb might be suspicious if wolves were to show themselves tenderly careful of its safety. Pharisees taking Christ’s life under their protection were enough to suggest a trick. These men came to Christ desirous of posing as counterworking Herod’s intention to slay Him. Our Lord’s answer, bidding them go and tell Herod what He immediately communicates to them, shows that He regarded them as in a plot with that crafty, capricious kinglet. And evidently there was an understanding between them. For some reason or other, best known to his own changeable and whimsical nature, the man who at one moment was eagerly desirous to see Jesus, was at the next as eagerly desirous to get Him out of his territories; just as he admired and murdered John the Baptist. The Pharisees, on the other hand, desired to draw Him to Jerusalem, where they would have Him in their power more completely than in the northern district. If they had spoken all their minds they would have said, ‘Go hence, or else we cannot kill Thee.’ So Christ answers the hidden schemes, and not the apparent solicitude, in the words that I have taken for my text. They unmask the plot, they calmly put aside the threats of danger. They declare that His course was influenced by far other considerations. They show that He clearly saw what it was towards which He was journeying. And then, with sad irony, they declare that it, as it were, contrary to prophetic decorum and established usage that a prophet should be slain anywhere but in the streets of the bloody and sacred city.
There are many deep things in the words, which I cannot touch in the course of a single sermon; but I wish now, at all events, to skim their surface, and try to gather some of their obvious lessons.
I. First, then, note Christ’s clear vision of His death.
There is some difficulty about the chronology of this period with which I need not trouble you. It is enough to note that the incident with which we are concerned occurred during that last journey of our Lord’s towards Jerusalem and Calvary, which occupies so much of this Gospel of Luke. At what point in that fateful journey it occurred may be left undetermined. Nor need I enter upon the question as to whether the specification of time in our text, ‘to-day, and to-morrow, and the third day,’ is intended to be taken literally, as some commentators suppose, in which case it would be brought extremely near the goal of the journey; or whether, as seems more probable from the context, it is to be taken as a kind of proverbial expression for a definite but short period. That the latter is the proper interpretation seems to be largely confirmed by the fact that there is a slight variation in the application of the designation of time in the two verses of our text, ‘the third day’ in the former verse being regarded as the period of the perfecting, whilst in the latter verse it is regarded as part of the period of the progress towards the perfecting. Such variation in the application is more congruous with the idea that we have here to deal with a kind of proverbial expression for a limited and short period. Our Lord is saying in effect, ‘My time is not to be settled by Herod. It is definite, and it is short. It is needless for him to trouble himself; for in three days it will be all over. It is useless for him to trouble himself, or for you Pharisees to plot, for until the appointed days are past it will not be over, whatever you and he may do.’ The course He had yet to run was plain before Him in this last journey, every step of which was taken with the Cross full in view.
Now the worst part of death is the anticipation of death; and it became Him who bore death for every man to drink to its dregs that cup of trembling which the fear of it puts to all human lips. We rightly regard it as a cruel aggravation of a criminal’s doom if he is carried along a level, straight road with his gibbet in view at the end of the march. But so it was that Jesus Christ travelled through life.
My text comes at a comparatively late period of His history. A few months or weeks at the most intervened between Him and the end. But the consciousness which is here so calmly expressed was not of recent origin. We know that from the period of His transfiguration He began to give His death a very prominent place in His teaching, but it had been present with Him long before He thus laid emphasis upon it in His communications with His disciples. For, if we accept John’s Gospel as historical, we shall have to throw back His first public references to the end to the very beginning of His career. The cleansing of the Temple, at the very outset of His course, was vindicated by Him by the profound words, ‘Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ During the same early visit to the capital city He said to Nicodemus, ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.’ So Christ’s career was not like that of many a man who has begun, full of sanguine hope as a possible reformer and benefactor of his fellows, and by slow degrees has awakened to the consciousness that reformers and benefactors need to be martyrs ere their ideals can be realised. There was no disillusioning in Christ’s experience. From the commencement He knew that He came, not only to minister, but also ‘to give His life a ransom for the many.’ And it was not a mother’s eye, as a reverent modern painter has profoundly, and yet erroneously, shown us in his great work in our own city gallery-it was not a mother’s eye that first saw the shadow of the Cross fall on her unconscious Son, but it was Himself that all through His earthly pilgrimage knew Himself to be the Lamb appointed for the sacrifice. This Isaac toiled up the hill, bearing the wood and the knife, and knew where and who was the Offering.
Brethren, I do not think that we sufficiently realise the importance of that element in our conceptions of the life of Jesus Christ. What a pathos it gives to it all! What a beauty it gives to His gentleness, to His ready interest in others, to His sympathy for all sorrow, and tenderness with all sin! How wonderfully it deepens the significance, the loveliness, and the pathos of the fact that ‘the Son of Man came eating and drinking,’ remembering everybody but Himself, and ready to enter into all the cares and the sorrows of other hearts, if we think that all the while there stood, grim and certain, before Him that Calvary with its Cross! Thus, through all His path, He knew to what He was journeying.
II. Then again, secondly, let me ask you to note here our Lord’s own estimate of the place which His death holds in relation to His whole work.
Notice that remarkable variation in the expression in our text. ‘The third day I shall be perfected . . . . It cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.’ Then, somehow or other, the ‘perishing’ is ‘perfecting.’ There may be a doubt as to the precise rendering of the word translated by ‘perfecting’; but it seems to me that the only meaning congruous with the context is that which is suggested by the translation of our Authorised Version, and that our Lord does not mean to say ‘on the third day I shall complete My work of casting out devils and curing diseases,’ but that He masses the whole of His work into two great portions-the one of which includes all His works and ministrations of miracles and of mercy; and the other of which contains one unique and transcendent fact, which outweighs and towers above all these others, and is the perfecting of His work, and the culmination of His obedience, service, and sacrifice.
Now, of course, I need not remind you that the ‘perfecting’ thus spoken of is not a perfecting of moral character or of individual nature, but that it is the same perfecting which the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks about when it says, ‘Being made perfect, He became the Author of eternal salvation to all them which obey Him.’ That is to say, it is His perfecting in regard to office, function, work for the world, and not the completion or elevation of His individual character. And this ‘perfecting’ is effected in His ‘perishing.’
Now I want to know in what conceivable sense the death of Jesus Christ can be the culmination and crown of His work, without which it would be a torso, an incomplete fragment, a partial fulfilment of the Father’s design, and of His own mission, unless it be that that death was, as I take it the New Testament with one voice in all its parts declares it to be, a sacrifice for the sins of the world. I know of no construing of the fact of the death on the Cross which can do justice to the plain words of my text, except the old-fashioned belief that therein He made atonement for sin, and thereby, as the Lamb of God, bore away the sins of the world.
Other great lives may be crowned by fair deaths, which henceforward become seals of faithful witness, and appeals to the sentiments of the heart, but there is no sense that I know of in which from Christ’s death there can flow a mightier energy than from such a life, unless in the sense that the death is a sacrifice.
Now I know there has been harm done by the very desire to exalt Christ’s great sacrifice on the Cross; when it has been so separated from His life as that the life has not been regarded as a sacrifice, nor the death as obedience. Rather the sacrificial element runs through His whole career, and began when He became flesh and tabernacled amongst us; but yet as being the apex of it all, without which it were all-imperfect, and in a special sense redeeming men from the power of death, that Cross is set forth by His own word. For Him to ‘perish’ was to ‘be perfected.’ As the ancient prophet long before had said, ‘When His soul shall make an offering for sin,’ then, paradoxical as it may seem, the dead Man shall ‘see,’ and ‘shall see His seed.’ Or, as He Himself said, ‘If a corn of wheat fall into the ground it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit.’
I do not want to insist upon any theories of Atonement. I do want to insist that Christ’s own estimate of the significance and purpose and issue of His death shall not be slurred over, but that, recognising that He Himself regarded it as the perfecting of His work, we ask ourselves very earnestly how such a conception can be explained if we strike out of our Christianity the thought of the sacrifice for the sins of the world. Unless we take Paul’s gospel, ‘How that He died for our sins according to the Scriptures,’ I for one do not believe that we shall ever get Paul’s results, ‘Old things are passed away; all things are become new.’ If you strike the Cross off the dome of the temple, the fires on its altars will soon go out. A Christianity which has to say much about the life of Jesus, and knows not what to say about the death of Christ, will be a Christianity that will neither have much constraining power in our lives, nor be able to breathe a benediction of peace over our deaths. If we desire to be perfected in character, we must have faith in that sacrificial death which was the perfecting of Christ’s work.
III. And so, lastly, notice our Lord’s resolved surrender to the discerned Cross.
There is much in this aspect in the words of my text which I cannot touch upon now; but two or three points I may briefly notice.
Note then, I was going to say, the superb heroism of His calm indifference to threats and dangers. He will go hence, and relieve the tyrant’s dominions of His presence; but He is careful to make it plain that His going has no connection with the futile threatenings by which they have sought to terrify Him. ‘Nevertheless’-although I do not care at all for them or for him-’nevertheless I must journey to-day and tomorrow! But that is not because I fear death, but because I am going to My death; for the prophet must die in Jerusalem.’ We are so accustomed to think of the ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ that we forget the ‘strong Son of God.’ If we were talking about a man merely, we should point to this calm, dignified answer as being an instance of heroism, but we do not feel that that word fits Him. There are too many vulgar associations connected with it, to be adapted to the gentleness of His fixed purpose that blenched not, nor faltered, whatsoever came in the way.
Light is far more powerful than lightning. Meekness may be, and in Him was, wedded to a will like a bar of iron, and a heart that knew not how to fear. If ever there was an iron hand in a velvet glove it was the hand of Christ. And although the perspective of virtues which Christianity has introduced, and which Christ exhibited in His life, gives prominence to the meek and the gentle, let us not forget that it also enjoins the cultivation of the ‘wrestling thews that throw the world.’ ‘Quit you like men; be strong; let all your deeds be done in charity.’
Then note, too, the solemn law that ruled His life. ‘I must walk.’ That is a very familiar expression upon His lips. From that early day when He said, ‘Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business,’ to that last when He said, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up,’ there crops out, ever and anon, in the occasional glimpses that He allows us to have of His inmost spirit, this reference of all His actions to a necessity that was laid upon Him, and to which He ever consciously conformed. That necessity determined what He calls so frequently ‘My time; My hour’; and influenced the trifles, as they are called, as well as the great crises, of His career. It was the Father’s will which made the Son’s must . Hence His unbroken communion and untroubled calm.
If we want to live near God, and if we want to have lives of peace amidst convulsions, we, too, must yield ourselves to that all encompassing sovereign necessity, which, like the great laws of the universe, shapes the planets and the suns in their courses and their stations; and holds together two grains of dust, or two motes that dance in the sunshine. To gravitation there is nothing great and nothing small. God’s must covers all the ground of our lives, and should ever be responded to by our ‘I will.’
And that brings me to the last point, and that is, our Lord’s glad acceptance of the necessity and surrender of the Cross. What was it that made Him willing to take that ‘must’ as the law of His life? First, a Son’s obedience; second, a Brother’s love. There was no point in Christ’s career, from the moment when in the desert He put away the temptation to win the kingdoms of the world by other than the God-appointed means, down to the last moment when on His dying ears there fell another form of the same temptation in the taunt, ‘Let Him come down from the cross, and we will believe on Him’; when He could not, if He had chosen to abandon His mission, have saved Himself. No compulsion, no outward hand impelling Him, drove Him along that course which ended on Calvary; but only that He would save others, and therefore ‘Himself He cannot save.’
True, there were natural human shrinkings, just as the weight and impetus of some tremendous billow buffeting the bows of the ship makes it quiver; but this never affected the firm hand on the rudder, and never deflected the vessel from its course. Christ’s ‘soul was troubled,’ but His will was fixed, and it was fixed by His love to us. Like one of the men who in after ages died for His dear sake, He may be conceived as refusing to be bound to the stake by any bands, willing to stand there and be destroyed because He wills. Nothing fastened Him to the Cross but His resolve to save the world, in which world was included each of us sitting listening and standing speaking, now. Oh, brethren! shall not we, moved by such love, with like cheerfulness of surrender, give ourselves to Him who gave Himself for us?
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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Luke 13". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent