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MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture MacLaren's Expositions
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Mark 3". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ mac/ mark-3.html.
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Mark 3". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://studylight.org/
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WORKS WHICH HALLOW THE SABBATH
Mar_2:23 - Mar_2:28 . - Mar_3:1 - Mar_3:5 .
These two Sabbath scenes make a climax to the preceding paragraphs, in which Jesus has asserted His right to brush aside Rabbinical ordinances about eating with sinners and about fasting. Here He goes much further, in claiming power over the divine ordinance of the Sabbath. Formalists are moved to more holy horror by free handling of forms than by heterodoxy as to principles. So we can understand how the Pharisees’ suspicions were exacerbated to murderous hate by these two incidents. It is doubtful whether Mark puts them together because they occurred together, or because they bear on the same subject. They deal with the two classes of ‘works’ which later Christian theology has recognised as legitimate exceptions to the law of the Sabbath rest; namely, works of necessity and of mercy.
Whether we adopt the view that the disciples were clearing a path through standing corn, or the simpler one, that they gathered the ears of corn on the edge of a made path as they went, the point of the Pharisees’ objection was that they broke the Sabbath by plucking, which was a kind of reaping. According to Luke, their breach of the Rabbinical exposition of the law was an event more dreadful in the eyes of these narrow pedants; for there was not only reaping, but the analogue of winnowing and grinding, for the grains were rubbed in the disciples’ palms. What daring sin! What impious defiance of law! But of what law? Not that of the Fourth Commandment, which simply forbade ‘labour,’ but that of the doctors’ expositions of the commandment, which expended miraculous ingenuity and hair-splitting on deciding what was labour and what was not. The foundations of that astonishing structure now found in the Talmud were, no doubt, laid before Christ. This expansion of the prohibition, so as to take in such trifles as plucking and rubbing a handful of heads of corn, has many parallels there.
But it is noteworthy that our Lord does not avail Himself of the distinction between God’s commandment and men’s exposition of it. He does not embarrass himself with two controversies at once. At fit times He disputed Rabbinical authority, and branded their casuistry as binding grievous burdens on men; but here He allows their assumption of the equal authority of their commentary and of the text to pass unchallenged, and accepts the statement that His disciples had been doing what was unlawful on the Sabbath, and vindicates their breach of law.
Note that His answer deals first with an example of similar breach of ceremonial law, and then rises to lay down a broad principle which governed that precedent, vindicates the act of the disciples, and draws for all ages a broad line of demarcation between the obligations of ceremonial and of moral law. Clearly, His adducing David’s act in taking the shewbread implies that the disciples’ reason for plucking the ears of corn was not to clear a path but to satisfy hunger. Probably, too, it suggests that He also was hungry, and partook of the simple food.
Note, too, the tinge of irony in that ‘Did ye never read?’ In all your minute study of the letter of the Scripture, did you never take heed to that page? The principle on which the priest at Nob let the hungry fugitives devour the sacred bread, was the subordination of ceremonial law to men’s necessities. It was well to lay the loaves on the table in the Presence, but it was better to take them and feed the fainting servant of God and his followers with them. Out of the very heart of the law which the Pharisees appealed to, in order to spin restricting prohibitions, Jesus drew an example of freedom which ran on all-fours with His disciples’ case. The Pharisees had pored over the Old Testament all their lives, but it would have been long before they had found such a doctrine as this in it.
Jesus goes on to bring out the principle which shaped the instance he gave. He does not state it in its widest form, but confines it to the matter in hand-Sabbath obligations. Ceremonial law in all its parts is established as a means to an end-the highest good of men. Therefore, the end is more important than the means; and, in any case of apparent collision, the means must give way that the end may be secured. External observances are not of permanent, unalterable obligation. They stand on a different footing from primal moral duties, which remain equally imperative whether doing them leads to physical good or evil. David and his men were bound to keep these, whether they starved or not; but they were not bound to leave the shew bread lying in the shrine, and starve.
Man is made for the moral law. It is supreme, and he is under it, whether obedience leads to death or not. But all ceremonial regulations are merely established to help men to reach the true end of their being, and may be suspended or modified by his necessities. The Sabbath comes under the class of such ceremonial regulations, and may therefore be elastic when the pressure of necessity is brought to bear.
But note that our Lord, even while thus defining the limits of the obligation, asserts its universality. ‘The Sabbath was made for man’-not for a nation or an age, but for all time and for the whole race. Those who would sweep away the observance of the weekly day of rest are fond of quoting this text; but they give little heed to its first clause, and do not note that their favourite passage upsets their main contention, and establishes the law of the Sabbath as a possession for the world for ever. It is not a burden, but a privilege, made and meant for man’s highest good.
Christ’s conclusion that He is ‘Lord even of the Sabbath’ is based upon the consideration of the true design of the day. If it is once understood that it is appointed, not as an inflexible duty, like the obligation of truth or purity, but as a means to man’s good, physical and spiritual, then He who has in charge all man’s higher interests, and who is the perfect realisation of the ideal of manhood, has full authority to modify and suspend the ceremonial observance if in His unerring judgment the suspension is desirable.
This is not an abrogation of the Sabbath, but, on the contrary, a confirmation of the universal and merciful appointment. It does not give permission to keep or neglect it, according to whim or for the sake of amusement, but it does draw, strong and clear, the distinction between a positive rite which may be modified, and an unchangeable precept of the moral law which it is better for a man to die than to neglect or transgress.
The second Sabbath scene deals with the same question from another point of view. Works of necessity warranted the supercession of Sabbath law; works of beneficence are no breaches of it. There are circumstances in which it is right to do what is not ‘lawful’ on the Sabbath, for such works as healing the man with a withered hand are always ‘lawful.’
We note the cruel indifference to the sufferer’s woe which so characteristically accompanies a religion which is mainly a matter of outside observances. What cared the Pharisees whether the poor cripple was healed or no? They wanted him cured only that they might have a charge against Jesus. Note, too, the strange condition of mind, which recognised Christ’s miraculous power, and yet considered Him an impious sinner.
Observe our Lord’s purpose to make the miracle most conspicuous. He bids the man stand out in the midst, before all the cold eyes of malicious Pharisees and gaping spectators. A secret espionage was going on in the synagogue. He sees it all, and drags it into full light by setting the man forth and by His sudden, sharp thrust of a question. He takes the first word this time, and puts the stealthy spies on the defensive. His interrogation may possibly be regarded as having a bearing on their conduct, for there was murder in their hearts Mar_2:6. There they sat with solemn faces, posing as sticklers for law and religion, and all the while they were seeking grounds for killing Him. Was that Sabbath work? Whether would He, if He cured the shrunken arm, or they, if they gathered accusations with the intention of compassing His death, be the Sabbath-breakers?
It was a sharp, swift cut through their cloak of sanctity; but it has a wider scope than that. The question rests on the principle that good omitted is equivalent to evil committed. If we can save, and do not, the responsibility of loss lies on us. If we can rescue, and let die, our brother’s blood reddens our hands. Good undone is not merely negative. It is positive evil done. If from regard to the Sabbath we refrained from doing some kindly deed alleviating a brother’s sorrow, we should not be inactive, but should have done something by our very not doing, and what we should do would be evil. It is a pregnant saying which has many solemn applications.
No wonder that they ‘held their peace.’ Unless they had been prepared to abandon their position, there was nothing to be said. That silence indicated conviction and obstinate pride and rooted hatred which would not be convinced, conciliated, or softened. Therefore Jesus looked on them with that penetrating, yearning gaze, which left ineffaceable remembrances on the beholders, as the frequent mention of it indicates.
The emotions in Christ’s heart as He looked on the dogged, lowering faces are expressed in a remarkable phrase, which is probably best taken as meaning that grief mingled with His anger. A wondrous glimpse into that tender heart, which in all its tenderness is capable of righteous indignation, and in all its indignation does not set aside its tenderness! Mark that not even the most rigid prohibitions were broken by the process of cure. It was no breach of the fantastic restrictions which had been engrafted on the commandment, that Jesus should bid the man put out his hand. Nobody could find fault with a man for doing that. These two things, a word and a movement of muscles, were all. So He did ‘heal on the Sabbath,’ and yet did nothing that could be laid hold of.
But let us not miss the parable of the restoration of the maimed and shrunken powers of the soul, which the manner of the miracle gives. Whatever we try to do because Jesus bids us, He will give us strength to do, however impossible to our unaided powers it is. In the act of stretching out the hand, ability to stretch it forth is bestowed, power returns to atrophied muscles, stiffened joints are suppled, the blood runs in full measure through the veins. So it is ever. Power to obey attends on the desire and effort to obey.
WORKS WHICH HALLOW THE SABBATH
THE ANGER AND GRIEF OF JESUS
Our Lord goes into the synagogue at Capernaum, where He had already wrought more than one miracle, and there He finds an object for His healing power, in a poor man with a withered hand; and also a little knot of His enemies. The scribes and Pharisees expect Christ to heal the man. So much had they learned of His tenderness and of His power.
But their belief that He could work a miracle did not carry them one step towards a recognition of Him as sent by God. They have no eye for the miracle, because they expect that He is going to break the Sabbath. There is nothing so blind as formal religionism. This poor man’s infirmity did not touch their hearts with one little throb of compassion. They had rather that he had gone crippled all his days than that one of their Rabbinical Sabbatarian restrictions should be violated. There is nothing so cruel as formal religionism. They only think that there is a trap laid-and perhaps they had laid it-into which Christ is sure to go.
So, as our Evangelist tells us, they sat there stealthily watching Him out of their cold eyes, whether He would heal on the Sabbath day, that they might accuse Him. Our Lord bids the man stand out into the middle of the little congregation. He obeys, perhaps, with some feeble glimmer of hope playing round his heart. There is a quickened attention in the audience; the enemies are watching Him with gratification, because they hope He is going to do what they think to be a sin.
And then He reduces them all to silence and perplexity by His question-sharp, penetrating, unexpected: ‘Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day, or to do evil? You are ready to blame Me as breaking your Sabbatarian regulations if I heal this man. What if I do not heal him? Will that be doing nothing? Will not that be a worse breach of the Sabbath day than if I heal him?’
He takes the question altogether out of the region of pedantic Rabbinism, and bases His vindication upon the two great principles that mercy and help hallow any day, and that not to do good when we can is to do harm, and not to save life is to kill.
They are silenced. His arrow touches them; they do not speak because they cannot answer; and they will not yield. There is a struggle going on in them, which Christ sees, and He fixes them with that steadfast look of His; of which our Evangelist is the only one who tells us what it expressed, and by what it was occasioned. ‘He looked round about on them with anger , being grieved .’ Mark the combination of emotions, anger and grief. And mark the reason for both; ‘the hardness,’ or as you will see, if you use the Revised Version, ‘the hardening’ of their hearts-a process which He saw going on before Him as He looked at them.
Now I do not need to follow the rest of the story, how He turns away from them because He will not waste any more words on them, else He had done more harm than good. He heals the man. They hurry from the synagogue to prove their zeal for the sanctifying of the Sabbath day by hatching a plot on it for murdering Him. I leave all that, and turn to the thoughts suggested by this look of Christ as explained by the Evangelist.
I. Consider then, first, the solemn fact of Christ’s anger.
It is the only occasion, so far as I remember, upon which that emotion is attributed to Him. Once, and once only, the flash came out of the clear sky of that meek and gentle heart. He was once angry; and we may learn the lesson of the possibilities that lay slumbering in His love. He was only once angry, and we may learn the lesson that His perfect and divine charity ‘is not easily provoked.’ These very words from Paul’s wonderful picture may teach us that the perfection of divine charity does not consist in its being incapable of becoming angry at all, but only in its not being angry except upon grave and good occasion.
Christ’s anger was part of the perfection of His manhood. The man that cannot be angry at evil lacks enthusiasm for good. The nature that is incapable of being touched with generous and righteous indignation is so, generally, either because it lacks fire and emotion altogether, or because its vigour has been dissolved into a lazy indifference and easy good nature which it mistakes for love. Better the heat of the tropics, though sometimes the thunderstorms may gather, than the white calmness of the frozen poles. Anger is not weakness, but it is strength, if there be these three conditions, if it be evoked by a righteous and unselfish cause, if it be kept under rigid control, and if there be nothing in it of malice, even when it prompts to punishment. Anger is just and right when it is not produced by the mere friction of personal irritation like electricity by rubbing, but is excited by the contemplation of evil. It is part of the marks of a good man that he kindles into wrath when he sees ‘the oppressor’s wrong.’ If you went out hence to-night, and saw some drunken ruffian beating his wife or ill-using his child, would you not do well to be angry? And when nations have risen up, as our own nation did seventy years ago in a paroxysm of righteous indignation, and vowed that British soil should no more bear the devilish abomination of slavery, was there nothing good and great in that wrath? So it is one of the strengths of man that he shall be able to glow with indignation at evil.
Only all such emotion must be kept well in hand must never be suffered to degenerate into passion. Passion is always weak, emotion is an element of strength.
‘The gods approve
The depth and not the tumult of the soul.’
But where a man does not let his wrath against evil go sputtering off aimlessly, like a box of fireworks set all alight at once, then it comes to be a strength and a help to much that is good.
The other condition that makes wrath righteous and essential to the perfection of a man, is that there shall be in it no taint of malice. Anger may impel to punish and not be malicious, if its reason for punishment is the passionless impulse of justice or the reformation of the wrong-doer. Then it is pure and true and good. Such wrath is a part of the perfection of humanity, and such wrath was in Jesus Christ.
But, still further, Christ’s anger was part of His revelation of God. What belongs to perfect man belongs to God in whose image man was made. People are very often afraid of attributing to the divine nature that emotion of wrath, very unnecessarily, I think, and to the detriment of all their conceptions of the divine nature.
There is no reason why we should not ascribe emotion to Him. Passions God has not; emotions the Bible represents Him as having. The god of the philosopher has none. He is a cold, impassive Somewhat, more like a block of ice than a god. But the God of the Bible has a heart that can be touched, and is capable of something like what we call in ourselves emotion. And if we rightly think of God as Love, there is no more reason why we should not think of God as having the other emotion of wrath; for as I have shown you, there is nothing in wrath itself which is derogatory to the perfection of the loftiest spiritual nature. In God’s anger there is no self-regarding irritation, no passion, no malice. It is the necessary displeasure and aversion of infinite purity at the sight of man’s impurity. God’s anger is His love thrown back upon itself from unreceptive and unloving hearts. Just as a wave that would roll in smooth, unbroken, green beauty into the open door of some sea-cave is dashed back in spray and foam from some grim rock, so the love of God, meeting the unloving heart that rejects it, and the purity of God meeting the impurity of man, necessarily become that solemn reality, the wrath of the most high God. ‘A God all mercy were a God unjust.’ The judge is condemned when the culprit is acquitted; and he that strikes out of the divine nature the capacity for anger against sin, little as he thinks it, is degrading the righteousness and diminishing the love of God.
Oh, dear brethren, I beseech you do not let any easygoing gospel that has nothing to say to you about God’s necessary aversion from, and displeasure with, and chastisement of, your sins and mine, draw you away from the solemn and wholesome belief that there is that in God which must hate and war against and chastise our evil, and that if there were not, He would be neither worth loving nor worth trusting. And His Son, in His tears and in His tenderness, which were habitual, and also in that lightning flash which once shot across the sky of His nature, was revealing Him to us. The Gospel is not only the revelation of God’s righteousness for faith, but is also ‘the revelation of His wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.’
‘It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.’ The ox, with the yoke on his neck, lashes out with his obstinate heels against the driver’s goad. He does not break the goad, but only embrues his own limbs. Do not you do that!
II. And now, once more, let me ask you to look at the compassion which goes with our Lord’s anger here; ‘being grieved at the hardness of their hearts.’
The somewhat singular word rendered here ‘grieved,’ may either simply imply that this sorrow co-existed with the anger, or it may describe the sorrow as being sympathy or compassion. I am disposed to take it in the latter application, and so the lesson we gather from these words is the blessed thought that Christ’s wrath was all blended with compassion and sympathetic sorrow.
He looked upon these scribes and Pharisees sitting there with hatred in their eyes; and two emotions, which many men suppose as discrepant and incongruous as fire and water, rose together in His heart: wrath, which fell on the evil; sorrow, which bedewed the doers of it. The anger was for the hardening, the compassion was for the hardeners.
If there be this blending of wrath and sorrow, the combination takes away from the anger all possibility of an admixture of these questionable ingredients, which mar human wrath, and make men shrink from attributing so turbid and impure an emotion to God. It is an anger which lies harmoniously in the heart side by side with the tenderest pity-the truest, deepest sorrow.
Again, if Christ’s sorrow flowed out thus along with His anger when He looked upon men’s evil, then we understand in how tragic a sense He was ‘a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’ The pain and the burden and the misery of His earthly life had no selfish basis. They were not like the pain and the burdens and the misery that so many of us howl out so loudly about, arising from causes affecting ourselves. But for Him-with His perfect purity, with His deep compassion, with His heart that was the most sensitive heart that ever beat in a human breast, because it was the only perfectly pure one that ever beat there-for Him to go amongst men was to be wounded and bruised and hacked by the sharp swords of their sins.
Everything that He touched burned that pure nature, which was sensitive to evil, like an infant’s hand to hot iron. His sorrow and His anger were the two sides of the medal. His feelings in looking on sin were like a piece of woven stuff with a pattern on either side, on one the fiery threads-the wrath; on the other the silvery tints of sympathetic pity. A warp of wrath, a woof of sorrow, dew and flame married and knit together.
And may we not draw from this same combination of these two apparently discordant emotions in our Lord, the lesson of what it is in men that makes them the true subjects of pity? Ay, these scribes and Pharisees had very little notion that there was anything about them to compassionate. But the thing which in the sight of God makes the true evil of men’s condition is not their circumstances but their sins. The one thing to weep for when we look at the world is not its misfortunes, but its wickedness. Ah! brother, that is the misery of miseries; that is the one thing worth crying about in our own lives, or in anybody else’s. From this combination of indignation and pity, we may learn how we should look upon evil. Men are divided into two classes in their way of looking at wickedness in this world. One set are rigid and stern, and crackling into wrath; the other set placid and good-natured, and ready to weep over it as a misfortune and a calamity, but afraid or unwilling to say: ‘These poor creatures are to be blamed as well as pitied.’ It is of prime importance that we all should try to take both points of view, looking on sin as a thing to be frowned at, but also looking on it as a thing to be wept over; and to regard evil-doers as persons that deserve to be blamed and to be chastised, and made to feel the bitterness of their evil, and not to interfere too much with the salutary laws that bring down sorrow upon men’s heads if they have been doing wrong, but, on the other hand, to take care that our sense of justice does not swallow up the compassion that weeps for the criminal as an object of pity. Public opinion and legislation swing from the one extreme to the other. We have to make an effort to keep in the centre, and never to look round in anger, unsoftened by pity, nor in pity, enfeebled by being separated from righteous indignation.
III. Let me now deal briefly with the last point that is here, namely, the occasion for both the sorrow and the anger, ‘Being grieved at the hardening of the hearts.’
As I said at the beginning of these remarks, ‘hardness,’ the rendering of our Authorised Version, is not quite so near the mark as that of the Revised Version, which speaks not so much of a condition as of a process: ‘He was grieved at the hardening of their hearts,’ which He saw going on there.
And what was hardening their hearts? It was He. Why were their hearts being hardened? Because they were looking at Him, His graciousness, His goodness, and His power, and were steeling themselves against Him, opposing to His grace and tenderness their own obstinate determination. Some little gleams of light were coming in at their windows, and they clapped the shutters up. Some tones of His voice were coming into their ears, and they stuffed their fingers into them. They half felt that if they let themselves be influenced by Him it was all over, and so they set their teeth and steadied themselves in their antagonism.
And that is what some of you are doing now. Jesus Christ is never preached to you, even although it is as imperfectly as I do it, but that you either gather yourselves into an attitude of resistance, or, at least, of mere indifference till the flow of the sermon’s words is done; or else open your hearts to His mercy and His grace.
Oh, dear brethren, will you take this lesson of the last part of my text, that nothing so tends to harden a man’s heart to the gospel of Jesus Christ as religious formalism? If Jesus Christ were to come in here now, and stand where I am standing, and look round about upon this congregation, I wonder how many a highly respectable and perfectly proper man and woman, church and chapel-goer, who keeps the Sabbath day, He would find on whom He had to look with grief not unmingled with anger, because they were hardening their hearts against Him now. I am sure there are some of such among my present audience. I am sure there are some of you about whom it is true that ‘the publicans and the harlots will go into the Kingdom of God before you,’ because in their degradation they may be nearer the lowly penitence and the consciousness of their own misery and need, which will open their eyes to see the beauty and the preciousness of Jesus Christ.
Dear brother, let no reliance upon any external attention to religious ordinances; no interest, born of long habit of hearing sermons; no trust in the fact of your being communicants, blind you to this, that all these things may come between you and your Saviour, and so may take you away into the outermost darkness.
Dear brother or sister, you are a sinner. ‘The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified.’ You have forgotten Him; you have lived to please yourselves. I charge you with nothing criminal, with nothing gross or sensual; I know nothing about you in such matters; but I know this-that you have a heart like mine, that we have all of us the one character, and that we all need the one gospel of that Saviour ‘who bare our sins in His own body on the tree,’ and died that whosoever trusts in Him may live here and yonder. I beseech you, harden not your hearts, but to-day hear His voice, and remember the solemn words which not I, but the Apostle of Love, has spoken: ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth upon him.’ Flee to that sorrowing and dying Saviour, and take the cleansing which He gives, that you may be safe on the sure foundation when God shall arise to do His strange work of judgment, and may never know the awful meaning of that solemn word-’the wrath of the Lamb.’
AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST
Mar_3:6 - Mar_3:19 .
A common object of hatred cements antagonists into strange alliance. Hawks and kites join in assailing a dove. Pharisees and Herod’s partisans were antipodes; the latter must have parted with all their patriotism and much of their religion, but both parties were ready to sink their differences in order to get rid of Jesus, whom they instinctively felt to threaten destruction to them both. Such alliances of mutually repellent partisans against Christ’s cause are not out of date yet. Extremes join forces against what stands in the middle between them.
Jesus withdrew from the danger which was preparing, not from selfish desire to preserve life, but because His ‘hour’ was not yet come. Discretion is sometimes the better part of valour. To avoid peril is right, to fly from duty is not. There are times when Luther’s ‘Here I stand; I can do nothing else; God help me! Amen,’ must be our motto; and there are times when the persecuted in one city are bound to flee to another. We shall best learn to distinguish between these times by keeping close to Jesus.
But side by side with official hatred, and in some measure the cause of it, was a surging rush of popular enthusiasm. Pharisees took offence at Christ’s breaches of law in his Sabbath miracles. The crowd gaped at the wonders, and grasped at the possibility of cures for their afflicted. Neither party in the least saw below the surface. Mark describes two ‘multitudes’-one made up of Galileans who, he accurately says, ‘followed Him’; while the other ‘came to Him’ from further afield. Note the geographical order in the list: the southern country of Judea, and the capital; then the trans-Jordanic territories beginning with Idumea in the south, and coming northward to Perea; and then the north-west bordering lands of Tyre and Sidon. Thus three parts of a circle round Galilee as centre are described. Observe, also, how turbid and impure the full stream of popular enthusiasm was.
Christ’s gracious, searching, illuminating words had no attraction for the multitude. ‘The great things He did’ drew them with idle curiosity or desire for bodily healing. Still more impure was the motive which impelled the ‘evil spirits’ to approach Him, drawn by a strange fascination to gaze on Him whom they knew to be their conqueror, and hated as the Son of God. Terror and malice drove them to His presence, and wrung from them acknowledgment of His supremacy. What intenser pain can any hell have than the clear recognition of Christ’s character and power, coupled with fiercely obstinate and utterly vain rebellion against Him? Note, further, our Lord’s recoil from the tumult. He had retired before cunning plotters; He withdrew from gaping admirers, who did not know what they were crowding to, nor cared for His best gifts. It was no fastidious shrinking from low natures, nor any selfish wish for repose, that made Him take refuge in the fisherman’s little boat. But His action teaches us a lesson that the best Christian work is hindered rather than helped by the ‘popularity’ which dazzles many, and is often mistaken for success. Christ’s motive for seeking to check rather than to stimulate such impure admiration, was that it would certainly increase the rulers’ antagonism, and might even excite the attention of the Roman authorities, who had to keep a very sharp outlook for agitations among their turbulent subjects. Therefore Christ first took to the boat, and then withdrew into the hills above the lake.
In that seclusion He summoned to Him a small nucleus, as it would appear, by individual selection. These would be such of the ‘multitude’ as He had discerned to be humble souls who yearned for deliverance from worse than outward diseases or bondage, and who therefore waited for a Messiah who was more than a physician or a patriot warrior. A personal call and a personal yielding make true disciples. Happy we if our history can be summed up in ‘He called them unto Him, and they came.’ But there was an election within the chosen circle.
The choice of the Twelve marks an epoch in the development of Christ’s work, and was occasioned, at this point of time, by both the currents which we find running so strong at this point in it. Precisely because Pharisaic hatred was becoming so threatening, and popular enthusiasm was opening opportunities which He singly could not utilise, He felt His need both for companions and for messengers. Therefore He surrounded Himself with that inner circle, and did it then, The appointment of the Apostles has been treated by some as a masterpiece of organisation, which largely contributed to the progress of Christianity, and by others as an endowment of the Twelve with supernatural powers which are transmitted on certain outward conditions to their successors, and thereby give effect to sacraments, and are the legitimate channels for grace. But if we take Mark’s statement of their function, our view will be much simpler. The number of twelve distinctly alludes to the tribes of Israel, and implies that the new community is to be the true people of God.
The Apostles were chosen for two ends, of which the former was preparatory to the latter. The latter was the more important and permanent, and hence gave the office its name. They were to be ‘with Christ,’ and we may fairly suppose that He wished that companionship for His own sake as well as for theirs. No doubt, the primary purpose was their training for their being sent forth to preach. But no doubt, also, the lonely Christ craved for companions, and was strengthened and soothed by even the imperfect sympathy and unintelligent love of these humble adherents. Who can fail to hear tones which reveal how much He hungered for companions in His grateful acknowledgment, ‘Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations’? It still remains true that we must be ‘with Christ’ much and long before we can go forth as His messengers.
Note, too, that the miracle-working power comes last as least important. Peter had understood his office better than some of his alleged successors, when he made its qualification to be having been with Jesus during His life, and its office to be that of being witnesses of His resurrection Act_1:1 - Act_1:26.
The list of the Apostles presents many interesting points, at which we can only glance. If compared with the lists in the other Gospels and in Acts, it brings out clearly the division into three groups of four persons each. The order in which the four are named varies within the limits of each group; but none of the first four are ever in the lists degraded to the second or third group, and none of these are ever promoted beyond their own class. So there were apparently degrees among the Twelve, depending, no doubt, on spiritual receptivity, each man being as close to the Lord, and gifted with as much of the sunshine of His love, as he was fit for.
Further, their places in relation to each other vary. The first four are always first, and Peter is always at their head; but in Matthew and Luke, the pairs of brothers are kept together, while, in Mark, Andrew is parted from his brother Simon, and put last of the first four. That place indicates the closer relation of the other three to Jesus, of which several instances will occur to every one. But Mark puts James before John, and his list evidently reflects the memory of the original superiority of James as probably the elder. There was a time when John was known as ‘James’s brother.’ But the time came, as Acts shows, when John took precedence, and was closely linked with Peter as the two leaders. So the ties of kindred may be loosened, and new bonds of fellowship created by similarity of relation to Jesus. In His kingdom, the elder may fall behind the younger. Rank in it depends on likeness to the king.
The surname of Boanerges, ‘Sons of Thunder,’ given to the brothers, can scarcely be supposed to commemorate a characteristic prior to discipleship. Christ does not perpetuate old faults in his servants’ new names. It must rather refer to excellences which were heightened and hallowed in them by following Jesus. Probably, therefore, it points to a certain majesty of utterance. Do we not hear the boom of thunder-peals in the prologue to John’s Gospel, perhaps the grandest words ever written?
In the second quartet, Bartholomew is probably Nathanael; and, if so, his conjunction with Philip is an interesting coincidence with Joh_1:45 , which tells that Philip brought him to Jesus. All three Gospels put the two names together, as if the two men had kept up their association; but, in Acts, Thomas takes precedence of Bartholomew, as if a closer spiritual relationship had by degrees sprung up between Philip, the leader of the second group, and Thomas, which slackened the old bond. Note that these two, who are coupled in Acts, are two of the interlocutors in the final discourses in the upper room Joh_14:1 - Joh_14:31. Mark, like Luke, puts Matthew before Thomas; but Matthew puts himself last, and adds his designation of ‘publican,’-a beautiful example of humility.
The last group contains names which have given commentators trouble. I am not called on to discuss the question of the identity of the James who is one of its members. Thaddeus is by Luke called Judas, both in his Gospel and in the Acts; and by Matthew, according to one reading, Lebbaeus. Both names are probably surnames, the former being probably derived from a word meaning breast , and the latter from one signifying heart . They seem, therefore, to be nearly equivalent, and may express large-heartedness.
Simon ‘the Canaanite’ Auth. Ver. is properly ‘the Cananזan’ Rev. Ver.. There was no alien in blood among the Twelve. The name is a late Aramaic word meaning zealot . Hence Luke translates it for Gentile readers. He was one of the fanatical sect who would not have anything to do with Rome, and who played such a terrible part in the final catastrophe of Israel. The baser elements were purged out of his fiery enthusiasm when he became Christ’s man. The hallowing and curbing of earthly passion, the ennobling of enthusiasm, are achieved when the pure flame of love to Christ burns up their dross.
Judas Iscariot closes the list, cold and venomous as a snake. Enthusiasm in him there was none. The problem of his character is too complex to be entered on here. But we may lay to heart the warning that, if a man is not knit to Christ by heart’s love and obedience, the more he comes into contact with Jesus the more will he recoil from Him, till at last he is borne away by a passion of detestation. Christ is either a sure foundation or a stone of stumbling.
‘HE IS BESIDE HIMSELF’
There had been great excitement in the little town of Capernaum in consequence of Christ’s teachings and miracles. It had been intensified by His infractions of the Rabbinical Sabbath law, and by His appointment of the twelve Apostles. The sacerdotal party in Capernaum apparently communicated with Jerusalem, with the result of bringing a deputation from the Sanhedrim to look into things, and see what this new rabbi was about. A plot for His assassination was secretly on foot. And at this juncture the incident of my text, which we owe to Mark alone of the Evangelists, occurs. Christ’s friends, apparently the members of His own family-sad to say, as would appear from the context, including His mother-came with a kindly design to rescue their misguided kinsman from danger, and laying hands upon Him, to carry Him off to some safe restraint in Nazareth, where He might indulge His delusions without doing any harm to Himself. They wish to excuse His eccentricities on the ground that He is not quite responsible-scarcely Himself; and so to blunt the point of the more hostile explanation of the Pharisees that He is in league with Beelzebub.
Conceive of that! The Incarnate Wisdom shielded by friends from the accusation that He is a demoniac by the apology that He is a lunatic! What do you think of popular judgment? But this half-pitying, half-contemptuous, and wholly benevolent excuse for Jesus, though it be the words of friends, is like the words of His enemies, in that it contains a distorted reflection of His true character. And if we will think about it, I fancy that we may gather from it some lessons not altogether unprofitable.
I. The first point, then, that I make, is just this-there was something in the character of Jesus Christ which could be plausibly explained to commonplace people as madness.
A well-known modern author has talked a great deal about ‘the sweet reasonableness of Jesus Christ.’ His contemporaries called it simple insanity; if they did not say ‘He hath a devil,’ as well as ‘He is mad.’
Now, if we try to throw ourselves back to the life of Jesus Christ, as it was unfolded day by day, and think nothing about either what preceded in the revelation of the Old Covenant, or what followed in the history of Christianity, we shall not be so much at a loss to account for such explanations of it as these of my text. Remember that charges like these, in all various keys of contempt or of pity, or of fierce hostility, have been cast against all innovators, against every man that has broken a new path; against all teachers that have cut themselves apart from tradition and encrusted formulas; against every man that has waged war with the conventionalisms of society; against all idealists who have dreamed dreams and seen visions; against every man that has been touched with a lofty enthusiasm of any sort; and, most of all, against all to whom God and their relations to Him, the spiritual world and their relations to it, the future life and their relations to that, have become dominant forces and motives in their lives.
The short and easy way with which the world excuses itself from the poignant lessons and rebukes which come from such lives is something like that of my text, ‘He is beside himself.’ And the proof that he is beside himself is that he does not act in the same fashion as these incomparably wise people that make up the majority in every age. There is nothing that commonplace men hate like anything fresh and original. There is nothing that men of low aims are so utterly bewildered to understand, and which so completely passes all the calculus of which they are masters, as lofty self-abnegation. And wherever you get men smitten with such, or with anything like it, you will find all the low-aimed people gathering round them like bats round a torch in a cavern, flapping their obscene wings and uttering their harsh croaks, and only desiring to quench the light.
One of our cynical authors says that it is the mark of a genius that all the dullards are against him. It is the mark of the man who dwells with God that all the people whose portion is in this life with one consent say, ‘He is beside himself.’
And so the Leader of them all was served in His day; and that purest, perfectest, noblest, loftiest, most utterly self-oblivious, and God-and-man-devoted life that ever was lived upon earth, was disposed of in this extremely simple method, so comforting to the complacency of the critics-either ‘He is beside Himself,’ or ‘He hath a devil.’
And yet, is not the saying a witness to the presence in that wondrous and gentle career of an element entirely unlike what exists in the most of mankind? Here was a new star in the heavens, and the law of its orbit was manifestly different from that of all the rest. That is what ‘eccentric’ means-that the life to which it applies does not move round the same centre as do the other satellites, but has a path of its own. Away out yonder somewhere, in the infinite depths, lay the hidden point which drew it to itself and determined its magnificent and overwhelmingly vast orbit. These men witness to Jesus Christ, even by their half excuse, half reproach, that His was a life unique and inexplicable by the ordinary motives which shape the little lives of the masses of mankind. They witness to His entire neglect of ordinary and low aims; to His complete absorption in lofty purposes, which to His purblind would-be critics seem to be delusions and fond imaginations that could never be realised. They witness to what His disciples remembered had been written of Him, ‘The zeal of Thy house hath eaten Me up’; to His perfect devotion to man and to God. They witness to His consciousness of a mission; and there is nothing that men are so ready to resent as that. To tell a world, engrossed in self and low aims, that one is sent from God to do His will, and to spread it among men, is the sure way to have all the heavy artillery and the lighter weapons of the world turned against one.
These characteristics of Jesus seem then to be plainly implied in that allegation of insanity-lofty aims, absolute originality, utter self-abnegation, the continual consciousness of communion with God, devotion to the service of man, and the sense of being sent by God for the salvation of the world. It was because of these that His friends said, ‘He is beside Himself.’
These men judged themselves by judging Jesus Christ. And all men do. There are as many different estimates of a great man as there are people to estimate, and hence the diversity of opinion about all the characters that fill history and the galleries of the past. The eye sees what it brings and no more. To discern the greatness of a great man, or the goodness of a good one, is to possess, in lower measure, some portion of that which we discern. Sympathy is the condition of insight into character. And so our Lord said once, ‘He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward,’ because he is a dumb prophet himself, and has a lower power of the same gift in him, which is eloquent on the prophet’s lips.
In like manner, to discern what is in Christ is the test of whether there is any of it in myself. And thus it is no mere arbitrary appointment which suspends your salvation and mine on our answer to this question, ‘What think ye of Christ?’ The answer will be-I was going to say-the elixir of our whole moral and spiritual nature. It will be the outcome of our inmost selves. This ploughshare turns up the depths of the soil. That is eternally true which the grey-bearded Simeon, the representative of the Old, said when he took the Infant in his arms and looked down upon the unconscious, placid, smooth face. ‘This Child is set for the rise and fall of many in Israel, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’ Your answer to that question discloses your whole spiritual condition and capacities. And so to judge Christ is to be judged by Him; and what we think Him to be, that we make Him to ourselves. The question which tests us is not merely, ‘Whom do men say that I am?’ It is easy to answer that; but this is the all-important interrogation, ‘Whom do ye say that I am?’ I pray that we may each answer as he to whom it was first put answered it, ‘Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel!’
II. Secondly, mark the similarity of the estimate which will be passed by the world on all Christ’s true followers.
The same elements exist to-day, the same intolerance of anything higher than the low level, the same incapacity to comprehend simple devotion and lofty aims, the same dislike of a man who comes and rebukes by his silent presence the vices in which he takes no part. And it is a great deal easier to say, ‘Poor fool! enthusiastic fanatic!’ than it is to lay to heart the lesson that lies in such a life.
The one thing, or at least the principal thing, which the Christianity of this generation wants is a little more of this madness. It would be a great deal better for us who call ourselves Christians if we had earned and deserved the world’s sneer, ‘He is beside himself.’ But our modern Christianity, like an epicure’s rare wines, is preferred iced. And the last thing that anybody would think of suggesting in connection with the demeanour-either the conduct or the words-of the average Christian man of this day is that his religion had touched his brain a little.
But, dear friends, go in Christ’s footsteps and you will have the same missiles flung at you. If a church or an individual has earned the praise of the outside ring of godless people because its or his religion is ‘reasonable and moderate; and kept in its proper place; and not allowed to interfere with social enjoyments, and political and municipal corruptions,’ and the like, then there is much reason to ask whether that church or man is Christian after Christ’s pattern. Oh, I pray that there may come down on the professing Church of this generation a baptism of the Spirit; and I am quite sure that when that comes, the people that admire moderation and approve of religion, but like it to be ‘kept in its own place,’ will be all ready to say, when they hear the ‘sons and the daughters prophesying, and the old men seeing visions, and the young men dreaming dreams,’ and the fiery tongues uttering their praises of God, ‘These men are full of new wine!’ Would we were full of the new wine of the Spirit! Do you think any one would say of your religion that you were ‘beside yourself,’ because you made so much of it? They said it about your Master, and if you were like Him it would be said, in one tone or another, about you. We are all desperately afraid of enthusiasm to-day. It seems to me that it is the want of the Christian Church, and that we are not enthusiastic because we don’t half believe the truths that we say are our creed.
One more word. Christian men and women have to make up their minds to go on in the path of devotion, conformity to Christ’s pattern, self-sacrificing surrender, without minding one bit what is said about them. Brethren, I do not think Christian people are in half as much danger of dropping the standard of the Christian life by reason of the sarcasms of the world, as they are by reason of the low tone of the Church. Don’t you take your ideas of what a reasonable Christian life is from the men round you, howsoever they may profess to be Christ’s followers. And let us keep so near the Master that we may be able to say, ‘With me it is a very small matter to be judged of you, or of man’s judgment. He that judgeth me is the Lord.’ Never mind, though they say, ‘Beside himself!’ Never mind, though they say, ‘Oh! utterly extravagant and impracticable.’ Better that than to be patted on the back by a world that likes nothing so well as a Church with its teeth drawn, and its claws cut; which may be made a plaything and an ornament by the world. And that is what much of our modern Christianity has come to be.
III. Lastly, notice the sanity of the insane.
I have only space to put before you three little pictures, and ask you what you think of them. I dare say the originals might be found among us without much search.
Here is one. Suppose a man who, like the most of us, believes that there is a God, believes that he has something to do with Him, believes that he is going to die, believes that the future state is, in some way or other, and in some degree, one of retribution; and from Monday morning to Saturday night he ignores all these facts, and never allows them to influence one of his actions. May I venture to speak direct to this hypothetical person, whose originals are dotted about in my audience? It would be the very same to you if you said ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’ to all these affirmations. The fact that there is a God does not make a bit of difference to what you do, or what you think, or what you feel. The fact that there is a future life makes just as little difference. You are going on a voyage next week, and you never dream of getting your outfit. You believe all these things, you are an intelligent man-you are very likely, in a great many ways, a very amiable and pleasant one; you do many things very well; you cultivate congenial virtues, and you abhor uncongenial vices; but you never think about God; and you have made absolutely no preparation whatever for stepping into the scene in which you know that you are to live.
Well, you may be a very wise man, a student with high aims, cultivated understanding, and all the rest of it. I want to know whether, taking into account all that you are, and your inevitable connection with God, and your certain death and certain life in a state of retribution-I want to know whether we should call your conduct sanity or insanity? Which? Take another picture. Here is a man that believes-really believes-the articles of the Christian creed, and in some measure has received them into his heart and life. He believes that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for him upon the Cross, and yet his heart has but the feeblest tick of pulsating love in answer. He believes that prayer will help a man in all circumstances, and yet he hardly ever prays. He believes that self-denial is the law of the Christian life, and yet he lives for himself. He believes that he is here as a ‘pilgrim’ and as a ‘sojourner,’ and yet his heart clings to the world, and his hand would fain cling to it, like that of a drowning man swept over Niagara, and catching at anything on the banks. He believes that he is sent into the world to be a ‘light’ of the world, and yet from out of his self-absorbed life there has hardly ever come one sparkle of light into any dark heart. And that is a picture, not exaggerated, of the enormous majority of professing Christians in so-called Christian lands. And I want to know whether we shall call that sanity or insanity? The last of my little miniatures is that of a man who keeps in close touch with Jesus Christ, and so, like Him, can say, ‘Lo! I come; I delight to do Thy will, O Lord. Thy law is within my heart.’ He yields to the strong motives and principles that flow from the Cross of Jesus Christ, and, drawn by the ‘mercies of God,’ gives himself a ‘living sacrifice’ to be used as God will. Aims as lofty as the Throne which Christ His Brother fills; sacrifice as entire as that on which his trembling hope relies; realisation of the unseen future as vivid and clear as His who could say that He was ‘ in Heaven’ whilst He walked the earth; subjugation of self as complete as that of the Lord’s, who pleased not Himself, and came not to do His own will-these are some of the characteristics which mark the true disciple of Jesus Christ. And I want to know whether the conduct of the man who believes in the love that God hath to him, as manifested in the Cross, and surrenders his whole self thereto, despising the world and living for God, for Christ, for man, for eternity-whether his conduct is insanity or sanity? ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’
THE MISTAKES OF CHRIST’S FOES AND FRIENDS
Mar_3:22 - Mar_3:35 .
We have in this passage three parts,-the outrageous official explanation of Christ and His works, the Lord’s own solution of His miracles, and His relatives’ well-meant attempt to secure Him, with His answer to it.
I. The scribes, like Christ’s other critics, judged themselves in judging Him, and bore witness to the truths which they were eager to deny.
Their explanation would be ludicrous, if it were not dreadful. Mark that it distinctly admits His miracles. It is not fashionable at present to attach much weight to the fact that none of Christ’s enemies ever doubted these. Of course, the credence of men, in an age which believed in the possibility of the supernatural, is more easy, and their testimony less cogent, than that of a jury of twentieth-century scientific sceptics. But the expectation of miracle had been dead for centuries when Christ came; and at first, at all events, no anticipation that He would work them made it easier to believe that He did.
It would have been a sure way of exploding His pretensions, if the officials could have shown that His miracles were tricks. Not without weight is the attestation from the foe that ‘this man casteth out demons.’ The preposterous explanation that He cast out demons by Beelzebub, is the very last resort of hatred so deep that it will father an absurdity rather than accept the truth. It witnesses to the inefficiency of explanations of Him which omit the supernatural. The scribes recognised that here was a man who was in touch with the unseen. They fell back upon ‘by Beelzebub,’ and thereby admitted that humanity, without seeing something more at the back of it, never made such a man as Jesus.
It is very easy to solve an insoluble problem, if you begin by taking the insoluble elements out of it. That is how a great many modern attempts to account for Christianity go to work. Knock out the miracles, waive Christ’s own claims as mistaken reports, declare His resurrection to be entirely unhistorical, and the remainder will be easily accounted for, and not worth accounting for. But the whole life of the Christ of the Gospels is adequately explained by no explanation which leaves out His coming forth from the Father, and His exercise of powers above those of humanity and ‘nature.’
This explanation is an instance of the credulity of unbelief. It is more difficult to believe the explanation than the alternative which it is framed to escape. If like produces like, Christ cannot be explained by anything but the admission of His divine nature. Serpents’ eggs do not hatch out into doves. The difficulties of faith are ‘gnats’ beside the ‘camels’ which unbelief has to swallow.
II. The true explanation of Christ’s power over demoniacs.
Jesus has no difficulty in putting aside the absurd theory that, in destroying the kingdom of evil, He was a servant of evil and its dark ruler. Common-sense says, If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself, and his kingdom cannot stand. An old play is entitled, ‘The Devil is an Ass,’ but he is not such an ass as to fight against himself. As the proverb has it, ‘Hawks do not pick out hawks’ eyes.’
It would carry us too far to deal at length with the declarations of our Lord here, which throw a dim light into the dark world of supernatural evil. His words are far too solemn and didactic to be taken as accommodations to popular prejudice, or as mere metaphor. Is it not strange that people will believe in spiritual communications, when they are vouched for by a newspaper editor, more readily than when Christ asserts their reality? Is it not strange that scientists, who find difficulty in the importance which Christianity attaches to man in the plan of the universe, and will not believe that all its starry orbs were built for him which Christianity does not allege, should be incredulous of teachings which reveal a crowd of higher intelligences? Jesus not only tests the futile explanation by common-sense, but goes on to suggest the true one. He accepts the belief that there is a ‘prince of the demons.’ He regards the souls of men who have not yielded themselves to God as His ‘goods.’ He declares that the lord of the house must be bound before his property can be taken from him. We cannot stay to enlarge on the solemn view of the condition of unredeemed men thus given. Let us not put it lightly away. But we must note how deep into the centre of Christ’s work this teaching leads us. Translated into plain language it just means that Christ by incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and present work from the throne, has broken the power of evil in its central hold. He has crushed the serpent’s head, his heel is firmly planted on it, and, though the reptile may still ‘swinge the scaly horror of his folded tail,’ it is but the dying flurries of the creature. He was manifested ‘that He might destroy the works of the devil.’
No trace of indignation can be detected in Christ’s answer to the hideous charge. But His patient heart overflows in pity for the reckless slanderers, and He warns them that they are coming near the edge of a precipice. Their malicious blindness is hurrying them towards a sin which hath never forgiveness. Blasphemy is, in form, injurious speaking, and in essence, it is scorn or malignant antagonism. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent in revealing God’s heart and will. To blaspheme Him is ‘the external symptom of a heart so radically and finally set against God that no power which God can consistently use will ever save it.’ ‘The sin, therefore, can only be the culmination of a long course of self-hardening and depraving.’ It is unforgivable, because the soul which can recognise God’s revelation of Himself in all His goodness and moral perfection, and be stirred only to hatred thereby, has reached a dreadful climax of hardness, and has ceased to be capable of being influenced by His beseeching. It has passed beyond the possibility of penitence and acceptance of forgiveness. The sin is unforgiven, because the sinner is fixed in impenitence, and his stiffened will cannot bow to receive pardon.
The true reason why that sin has never forgiveness is suggested by the accurate rendering, ‘Is guilty of an eternal sin’ R.V.. Since the sin is eternal, the forgiveness is impossible. Practically hardened and permanent unbelief, conjoined with malicious hatred of the only means of forgiveness, is the unforgivable sin. Much torture of heart would have been saved if it had been observed that the Scripture expression is not sin , but blasphemy . Fear that it has been committed is proof positive that it has not; for, if it have been, there will be no relenting in enmity, nor any wish for deliverance.
But let not the terrible picture of the depths of impenitence to which a soul may fall, obscure the blessed universality of the declaration from Christ’s lips which preludes it, and declares that all sin but the sin of not desiring pardon is pardoned. No matter how deep the stain, no matter how inveterate the habit, whosoever will can come and be sure of pardon.
III. The attempt of Christ’s relatives to withdraw Him from publicity, and His reply to it.
Mar_3:21 tells us that His kindred sent out to lay hold on Him; for they thought Him beside Himself. He was to be shielded from the crowd of followers, and from the plots of scribes, by being kept at home and treated as a harmless lunatic. Think of Jesus defended from the imputation of being in league with Beelzebub by the excuse that He was mad! This visit of His mother and brethren must be connected with their plan to lay hold on Him, in order to apprehend rightly Christ’s answer. If they did not mean to use violence, why should they have tried to get Him away from the crowd of followers, by a message, when they could have reached Him as easily as it did? He knew the snare laid for Him, and puts it aside without shaming its contrivers. With a wonderful blending of dignity and tenderness, He turns from kinsmen who were not akin, to draw closer to Himself, and pour His love over, those who do the will of God.
The test of relationship with Jesus is obedience to His Father. Christ is not laying down the means of becoming His kinsmen, but the tokens that we are such. He is sometimes misunderstood as saying, ‘Do God’s will without My help, and ye will become My kindred.’ What He really says is, ‘If ye are My kindred, you will do God’s will; and if you do, you will show that you are such.’ So the statement that we become His kindred by faith does not conflict with this great saying. The two take hold of the Christian life at different points: the one deals with the means of its origination, the other with the tokens of its reality. Faith is the root of obedience, obedience is the blossom of faith. Jesus does not stand like a stranger till we have hammered out obedience to His Father, and then reward us by welcoming us as His brethren, but He answers our faith by giving us a life kindred with, because derived from, His own, and then we can obey.
It is active submission to God’s will, not orthodox creed or devout emotion, which shows that we are His blood relations. By such obedience, we draw His love more and more to us. Though it is not the means of attaining to kinship with Him, it is the condition of receiving love-tokens from Him, and of increasing affinity with Him.
That relationship includes and surpasses all earthly ones. Each obedient man is, as it were, all three,-mother, sister, and brother. Of course the enumeration had reference to the members of the waiting group, but the remarkable expression has deep truth in it. Christ’s relation to the soul covers all various sweetnesses of earthly bonds, and is spoken of in terms of many of them. He is the bridegroom, the brother, the companion, and friend. All the scattered fragrances of these are united and surpassed in the transcendent and ineffable union of the soul with Jesus. Every lonely heart may find in Him what it most needs, and perhaps is bleeding away its life for the loss or want of. To many a weeping mother He has said, pointing to Himself, ‘Woman, behold thy son’; to many an orphan He has whispered, revealing His own love, ‘Son, behold thy mother.’
All earthly bonds are honoured most when they are woven into crowns for His head; all human love is then sweetest when it is as a tiny mirror in which the great Sun is reflected. Christ is husband, brother, sister, friend, lover, mother, and more than all which these sacred names designate,-even Saviour and life. If His blood is in our veins, and His spirit is the spirit of our lives, we shall do the will of His and our Father in heaven.
THE MISTAKES OF CHRIST’ S FOES AND FRIENDS
Mar_3:31 - Mar_3:35 .
We learn from an earlier part of this chapter, and from it only, the significance of this visit of Christ’s brethren and mother. It was prompted by the belief that ‘He was beside Himself,’ and they meant to lay hands on Him, possibly with a kindly wish to save Him from a worse fate, but certainly to stop His activity. We do not know whether Mary consented, in her mistaken maternal affection, to the scheme, or whether she was brought unwillingly to give a colour to it, and influence our Lord. The sinister purpose of the visit betrays itself in the fact that the brethren did not present themselves before Christ, but sent a messenger; although they could as easily have had access to His presence as their messenger could. Apparently they wished to get Him by Himself, so as to avoid the necessity of using force against the force that His disciples would be likely to put forth. Jesus knew their purpose, though they thought it was hidden deep in the recesses of their breasts. And that falls in with a great many other incidents which indicate His superhuman knowledge of ‘the thoughts and intents of the heart.’
But, however that may be, our Lord here, with a singular mixture of dignity, tenderness, and decisiveness, puts aside the insidious snare without shaming its contrivers, and turns from the kinsmen, with whom He had no real bond, to draw closer to Himself, and pour out His love over, those who do the will of His Father in heaven. His words go very deep; let us try to gather some, at any rate, of the surface lessons which they suggest.
I. First, then, the true token of blood relationship to Jesus Christ is obedience to God.
‘Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and My sister, and mother.’ Now I must not be betrayed into a digression from my main purpose by dwelling upon what yet is worthy of notice-viz., the consciousness, on the part of Jesus Christ, which here is evidently implied, that the doing of the will of God was the very inmost secret of His own being. He was conscious, only and always, of delighting to do the will of God. When, therefore, He found that delight in others, there He recognised a bond of union between Him and them.
We must carefully observe that these great words of our Lord are not intended to describe the means by which men become His kinsfolk, but the tokens that they are such. He is not saying-as superficial readers sometimes run away with the notion that He is saying-’If a man will, apart from Me, do the will of God, then he will become My true kinsman,’ but He is saying, ‘If you are My kinsman, you will do the will of God, and if you do it, you will show that you are related to Myself.’ In other words, He is not speaking about the means of originating this relationship, but about the signs of its reality. And, therefore, the words of my text need, for their full understanding, and for placing them in due relation to all the rest of Christ’s teaching, to be laid side by side with other words of His, such as these:-’Apart from Me ye can do nothing.’ For the deepest truth in regard to relationship to Jesus Christ and obedience is this, that the way by which men are made able to do the will of God is by receiving into themselves the very life-blood of Jesus Christ. The relationship must precede the obedience, and the obedience is the sign, because it is the sequel, of the relationship.
But far deeper down than mere affinity lies the true bond between us and Christ, and the true means of performing the commandments of God. There must be a passing over into us of His own life-spirit. By His inhabiting our hearts, and moulding our wills, and being the life of our lives and the soul of our souls, are we made able to do the commandments of the Lord. And so, seeing that actual union with Jesus Christ, and the reception into ourselves of His life, is the precedent condition of all true obedience, then the more familiar form of presenting the bond between Him and us, which runs through the New Testament, falls into its proper place, and the faith, which is the condition of receiving the life of Christ into our hearts, is at once the affinity which makes us His kindred, and the means by which we appropriate to ourselves the power of obedient submission and conformity to the will of God. ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.’
So, then, my text does not in the slightest degree contradict or interfere with the great teaching that the one way by which we become Christ’s brethren is by trusting in Him. For the text and the doctrine that faith unites us to Him take up the process at different stages: the one pointing to the means of origination, the other to the tokens of reality. Faith is the root, obedience is the flower and the fruit. He that doeth the will of God, does it, not in order that he may become, but because he already is, possessor of a blood-relationship to Jesus Christ.
Then, notice, again, with what emphatic decisiveness our Lord here takes simple, practical obedience in daily life, in little and in great things, as the manifestation of being akin to Himself. Orthodoxy is all very well; religious experiences, inward emotions, sweet, precious, secret feelings and sentiments cannot be over-estimated. External forms, whether of the more simple or of the more ornate and sensuous kind, may be helps for the religious life; and are so in view of the weaknesses that are always associated with it. But all these, a true creed, a belief in the creed, the joyous and deep and secret emotions that follow thereupon, and the participation in outward services which may help to these, all these are but scaffolding: the building is character and conduct conformed to the will of God.
Evangelical preachers, and those who in the main hold that faith, are often charged with putting too little stress on practical homely righteousness. I would that the charge had less substance in it. But let me lay it upon your consciences, dear brethren, now, that no amount of right credence, no amount of trust, nor of love and hope and joy will avail to witness kindred to Christ. It must be the daily life, in its efforts after conformity to the known will of God, in great things and in small things, that attests the family resemblance. If Christ’s blood be in our veins, if ‘the law of the spirit of life’ in Him is the law of the spirit of our lives, then these lives will run parallel with His, in some visible measure, and we, too, shall be able to say, ‘Lo! I come. I delight to do Thy will; and Thy law is within my heart.’ Obedience is the test of relationship to Jesus.
Then, still further, note how, though we must emphatically dismiss the mistake that we make our selves Christ’s brethren and friends by independent efforts after keeping the commandments, it is true that, in the measure in which we do thus bend our wills to God’s will, whether in the way of action or of endurance, we realise more blessedly and strongly the tie that binds us to the Lord, and as a matter of fact do receive, in the measure of our obedience, sweet tokens of union with Him, and of love in His heart to us. No man will fully feel living contact with Jesus Christ if between Christ and him there is a film of conscious and voluntary disobedience to the will of God. The smallest crumb that can come in between two polished plates will prevent their adherence. A trivial sin will slip your hand out of Christ’s hand; and though His love will still come and linger about you, until the sin is put out it cannot enter in.
‘It can but listen at the gate,
And hear the household jar within.’
‘He that doeth the will of God, the same is’-and feels himself to be-’My brother, and sister, and mother.’
II. This relationship includes all others.
That is a very singular form of expression which our Lord employs. ‘Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.’ We should have expected, seeing that He was speaking about three different relationships, that He would have used the plural verb, and said, ‘The same are My brother, and sister, and mother.’ And I do not think that it is pedantic grammatical accuracy to point out this remarkable form of speech, and even to venture to draw a conclusion from it-viz., that what our Lord meant was, not that if there were three people, of different sexes, and of different ages, all doing the will of God, one of these sweet names of relationship would apply to A, another to B, and the other to C; but that to each who does the will of God, all the sweetnesses that are hived in all the names, and in any other analogous ones that can be uttered, belong. Of course the selection here of relationships specified has reference to the composition of that group outside the circle. But there is a great deal more than that in it. Whether you accept the grammatical remark that I have made or no, we shall, at least, I suppose, all agree in this, that, in fact, the bond of kindred that unites a trusting obedient soul with Jesus Christ does in itself include whatsoever of sweetness, of power, of protection, of clinging trust, and of any other blessed emotion that makes a shadow of Eden still upon earth, has ever been attached to human bonds.
Remember how many of these, Christ, and His servants for Him, have laid their hands upon, and claimed to be His. ‘Thy Maker is thy husband’; ‘He that hath the Bride is the bridegroom’; ‘Go tell My brethren’; ‘I have not called you servants, but friends.’ And if there be any other sweet names, they belong to Him, and in His one pure, all-sufficient love they are all enclosed. Fragmentary preciousnesses are strewed about us. There is ‘one pearl of great price.’ Many fragrances come from the flowers that grow on the dunghill of the world, but they are all gathered in Him whose name is ‘as ointment poured forth,’ filling the house with its fragrance.
For Christ is to us all that all separated lovers and friends can be. And whatsoever our poor hearts may need most, of human affection and sympathy, and may see least possibility of finding now, among the incompletenesses and limitations of earth, that Jesus Christ is waiting to be. All solitary souls and mourning hearts may turn themselves to, and rest themselves on, these great words. And as they look at the empty places in their circle, in their homes, and feel the ache of the empty places in their hearts, they may hear His voice saying, ‘Behold My mother and My brethren.’ He comes to us all in the character that we need most. Just as the great ocean, when it flows in amongst the land, takes the shape imposed upon it by the containing banks of the loch, so Christ pours Himself into our hearts, and there assumes the form that the outline of their emptiness tells we need most. To many, in all generations, who have been weeping over departed joys, He says again, though with a different application, turning not away from but to Himself mourning eyes and hearts, ‘Woman, behold thy Son’-not on the cross nor in the grave, but on the throne-’Son, behold Thy mother.’
III. Lastly, this relationship requires always the subordination, and sometimes the sacrifice, of the lower ones.
We have to think of Christ here as Himself putting away the lower claims, in order more fully to yield Himself to the higher. It was because it would have been impossible for Him to do the will of His Father if He had yielded to the purposes of His brethren and His mother, that He steeled His heart and made solemn His tone in refusing to go with them.
That group that had come for Him suggests to us the ways in which earthly ties may limit heavenly obedience. In regard to them the situation was complicated, because Jesus Christ was their kinsman according to the flesh, and their Messiah, according to the spirit. But in them their earthly love, and familiarity with Him, hid from them His higher glory; and in them He found impediments to His true consecration, and would-be thwarters of His highest work. And, in like manner, all our earthly relationships may become means of obscuring to us the transcendent brightness and greatness of Jesus Christ as our Saviour And, in like manner as to Him these, His brethren, became ‘stumbling blocks’ that He had decisively to put behind Him, so in regard to us ‘a man’s foes may be those of his own household’; and not least his foes when they are most his idols, his comforts, and his sweetnesses. If our earthly loves and relationships obscure to us the face of Christ; if we find enough in them for our hearts, and go not beyond them for our true love; if they make us negligent of duty; if they bind us to the present; if they make us careless of that loftier affection which alone can satisfy us; if they clog our steps in the divine life, then they are our foes. They need to be always subordinated, and, so subordinated, they are more precious than when they are placed mistakenly foremost. They are better second than first. They are full of sweetness when our hearts know a sweetness surpassing theirs; they are robbed of their possible power to harm when they are rigidly held in inferiority to the one absolute and supreme love. There need be no collision-there will be no collision-if the second is second and the first is first. But sometimes beggars get upon horseback, and the crew mutinies and would displace the commander, and then there is nothing for it but sacrifice. ‘If thy hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee.’ ‘I communed not with flesh and blood,’ and we must not, if ever they conflict with our supreme devotion to Jesus Christ.
These other things and relationships are precious to us, but He is priceless. They are shadows, but He is the substance. They are brooks by the way; He is the boundless, bottomless ocean of delights and loves. Shall we not always subordinate-and sometimes, if needful, sacrifice-the less to the greater? If we do, we shall get the less back, greatened by its surrender. ‘He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me’ commands the sacrifice. ‘There is no man that hath left brethren or sisters, or father or mother, or wife or children, for My sake and the Gospel’s, but he shall receive a hundredfold now , in this time’ promises the reward.
THE MISTAKES OF CHRIST’ S FOES AND FRIENDS
CHRIST’ S KINDRED
There was a conspiracy to seize Jesus because He is ‘mad,’ and Mary was in the plot!
I. The example for us.
1 Of how all natural and human ties and affections are to be subordinated to doing God’s will.
Obedience to Him is the first and main thing to which everything else bows, and which determines everything.
If others compete or interfere, reject them.
Out of that common obedience new ties are formed among men.
2 Of how all these ties may be doubled in power and preciousness by being based on that obedience.
II. The promise for us.
Of Christ’s loving relationship in which He finds delight; in which He sustains and transcends all these in His own proper person and to each.