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The transfiguration, as a matter of fact witnessed by the eyes of chosen witnesses, introduces naturally the great change that was about to be effected by the mighty power of God; for that wondrous scene was the passing vision of a glory that shall never pass away. Therein certain disciples were admitted to a sight of the kingdom of God coming with power, founded upon the rejection of Christ by man, and the maintenance and manifestation by-and-by of the power of that Jesus rejected of man, but glorified by God. Of course, our Lord's ministry had this double character. It was, as is everything in Scripture, presented to human responsibility before its result is established on God's part. There was every evidence and proof that man could ask; there was every moral manifestation of God; but man had no heart for it. Hence the only effect of such a witness was the rejection of Christ and of God Himself as thus morally represented here below. What, then, will God do? Surely He will make good His counsel by His own power; for nothing fails that is of Him, and every testimony of His must accomplish its aim. But then God waits; and, even before He lays the foundation for that great work of establishing His own kingdom and power, He gives a sight of it to those whom He is pleased to elect. Hence it is that the transfiguration was a kind of bridge, so to speak, between the present and the future, confronting men even now with God's plans! It is really the introduction, as far as a testimony and even a sample could go with believers, of that kingdom which should be set up and displayed in due time. Not that the rejection of Christ ceases after this, but, on the contrary, goes on up to the cross itself. But in the cross, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see, by faith, the issue complete; man's rejection on the one side, and God's foundation actually laid on the other. Notwithstanding a testimony to it was on this holy mount brought before the sight of the disciples according to the sovereign choice of our Lord, He takes even out of the chosen twelve a chosen few to be the witnesses of His glory. But this gives it a very important and emphatic place in the synoptic gospels, which bring before us the Galilean progress of Christ; more particularly in the point of view of ministry we have this in our gospel.
The Lord having then taken up James and John, as well as Peter, was transfigured before these disciples. The glorified men, Elias with Moses, are seen talking with Him. Peter lets out his lack of appreciation of the glory of Christ, and the more remarkably, because only in the scene immediately before Peter had in striking terms testified to Jesus. But God must show that there is but One faithful witness; and the very soul that stood out brightly, we may say, for a little moment in the scene that preceded the transfiguration, is the same that manifests the earthen vessel more than any other in the transfiguration. "It is good," says Peter, "for us to be here. Let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias." It is evident, that although he might put the Saviour at the head of the three, he counted the others to be in a measure on a level with Him. At once we see the cloud overshadowing, and hear the voice out of it which maintains supreme undivided glory for the Son of God. "This" (says the Father; for He it was who spoke) "this is my beloved Son: hear him."
You will observe that in Mark there is an omission. We have not here the expression of complacency. In Matthew this was made prominent, as we know. InMatthew 17:1-27; Matthew 17:1-27 it is, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him," I apprehend the reason was to set this in the most absolute contrast with His rejection by the Jewish people. So again, in the gospel of Luke, we have the testimony of Christ being God's Son on the ground of hearing Him rather than Moses or Elias. "This is my beloved Son," he says: "hear him," omitting the expression of the Father's complacency in Him. Assuredly He was always the object of the Father's delight; but still there is not always the same reason for asserting it. Whereas, on comparing the testimony in 2 Peter 1:1-21, there is an omission of "hear him" found in the three gospels. "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." It is evident that the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ over the law and the prophets is not the point in Peter. The reason, I think, is obvious. That question had been already decided: Christianity had come in. It was not the point here to claim for Christ a place above the law and the prophets, but to show simply the glory of the Son in the eyes of the Father, and His delight or loving satisfaction in Him; just as afterwards he makes it plain that in all the word of God the one object of the Holy Ghost is Christ's glory; for holy men of old spake as they were moved of Him. Scripture was not written by man's will; rather, God had a great purpose in His word, which was not met by the transient application of certain parts of it to isolated facts, to this person or to that. There was one grand uniting bond throughout all prophecy of Scripture. The object of it all was this the glory of Christ. Separate prophecy from Christ, and you divert the stream of the testimony from the person of Him to whom that testimony is most due. It contains not mere warnings about peoples, nations, tongues, or lands; about facts providential, or otherwise; about kings, empires, or systems in the world: Christ is the Spirit's object. So on the mount we hear the Father there witnessing to Christ, who supremely was the object of His delight. The kingdom was ensampled there; Moses also, and Elias; but there was One object pre-eminently before the Father, and that object was Jesus. "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The point was not exactly hearing Christ, but hearing the Father about Him, so to speak. Such was the emphatic object here; and therefore, as I believe, are the words "hear him" omitted. In Matthew we have the fullest form of all, which the more enforces the call to hear Him. Luke gives the "hear him," but the expression, both in Mark and Luke, of personal complacency was not so much the ruling aim. Of course, there were common points in all, but I just notice this for a little passing moment to illustrate their differences.
Then we find, without dwelling upon all the particulars, that our Lord tells the disciples that the vision was to be kept hid till the rising from the dead. His own resurrection would introduce an entirely new character of testimony. Then it was that the disciples could make manifest, without hindrance, this great truth. The Lord was thus teaching them their total incapacity, until that great event brought in a new work of God, the basis of a new and unrestricted testimony, old things being passed away, and all things made new to the believer.
This, I think, was very important, if we look at the disciples here as called to service. It is not in man's power to take up the service or the testimony of Christ as he will. From this is evident the weighty place that the rising from the dead holds in Scripture. Outside Christ sin reigned in death. In Him was no sin; but, until the resurrection, there could not be a full testimony rendered to His glory or His work. And so in point of fact it was. After this follow, passingly, a notice of the difficulties, which shows how truly our Lord had measured their incapacity; for the disciples were really under the influence of the scribes themselves at this time.
At the foot of the mountain another scene opens. At the top we have seen, not the kingdom of God only, but the glory of Christ; and, above all, Christ as the Son, whom the Father proclaimed now as the One to be heard beyond the law or the prophets. This the disciples never did understand till the resurrection; and very manifest is the reason, because the law had naturally its place till then, and the prophets came in as corroborating the law and maintaining its just authority. The raising from the dead does not in any wise weaken either the law or the prophets, but it gives occasion to the display of a superior glory. However, at the foot of the mountain there is an awful evidence to present facts, just after the sample of what is to come. Meanwhile, before the kingdom of God is established in power, who is the potentate that influences men and that reigns in this world? It is Satan. In the case before us most manifest was his power a power that the disciples themselves could not eject from the world because of their unbelief. Here, again, we see how manifestly service is the great thought all through this gospel. The father is in distress, for it was an old story; it was no new thing for Satan to exercise this power over man in the world. From his childhood such was the case; even as from the earliest day it was the history of man. In vain had the father appealed to those that bore the name of the Lord in the world; for they had wholly failed. This drew out from our Lord Jesus a severe reproof of their unbelief, and especially for the reason that they were His servants. There was no straitness in Him; no stint of power on His part. It was really unbelief in them. Hence He could only say, when this manifestation of the weakness of the disciples was brought before Him, "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming." For the Lord would not hide the full extent of the power of Satan, but allows the child to be torn by his power before their eyes. There could be no question that the spell was unbroken up to this. The disciples had in no way subdued, suppressed, or crushed the power of Satan over the child. "And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child." It was really the history of this world in contrast with the new creation. Of the world, or rather kingdom, of God, a vision at least had just been seen in the transfiguration.
Thus the chapter is first of all founded upon the announced death of Christ in utter rejection, and the certainty of God's introducing His kingdom of glory for the Christ rejected of men. In the next place, the uselessness or impossibility of testifying the transfiguration till the rising from the dead is affirmed: then it would be most timely. Lastly follows the evidence of what the power of Satan really is before the kingdom of God finally comes in power, where the testimony of it even was unknown. The fact is, that under the surface of this world viewed by the disciples, and brought to light by the presence of our Lord Jesus, there is this complete subjection of man from his earliest days, as it is said. The power of Satan over man is too plain, and the servants of the Lord only proved how powerless they were, not from any defect of power in Christ, but because of their own lack of faith to draw it out. The Saviour at once proceeds to act, letting the man see that all turns on faith. In the meantime, what Christ brings into evidence is the power that deals with Satan before the kingdom is established. Such is the testimony at the foot of the mountain. The kingdom will surely in due time be established, but meanwhile faith in Christ defeats the enemy's power. It is beyond doubt that this was the true want and only remedy. Faith in Him alone could secure a blessing; and so, accordingly, the father tremblingly appeals to the Lord in his distress. "Lord," he says, "I believe; help thou mine unbelief." "When Jesus then saw the people running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee come out of him, and enter no more into him." The work was done. Apparently the child was no more; but the Lord "took him by the hand, lifted him up, and he arose." In the house He gave the disciples another profitable lesson in the way of ministry.
Such, then, it is easy to see, is the point that comes out here. The Lord shows that, along with the unbelief, is the lack of the sense and confession of dependence on God. This alone also judges the energy of nature, "This kind," he says, "goes not forth, but by prayer and fasting." While the power is in Jesus, faith alone draws it out; but that faith is accompanied by the sentence of death upon nature, as well as the looking up to God, the only source of power.
Next, we have another lesson, still connected with the service of the Lord, while the power of Satan is at work in the world, before the kingdom of God is established. We must learn the state of these servants' own hearts. They desire to be something. This falsifies their judgments. They departed thence, and passed into Galilee; and He would not that any man should know it. For He taught His disciples, and said unto them, "The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. But they understood not that saying." At first sight how singular, yet how frequent, is this lack of ability to enter into the words of Jesus! To what is it owing? To self unjudged. They were ashamed to let the Lord know what the true reason was; but the Lord brings it out. He came to Capernaum, and being in the house He asked them, "What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?" "But they held their peace; for by the way they bad disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest." No wonder there was little power in the presence of Satan; no wonder there was little understanding in presence of Jesus. There was a dead weight behind this spirit of thinking of themselves, of desiring some distinction to be seen and known of men now. It was evident unbelief of what God feels, and is going to display, in His kingdom. For there is but one thought before God He means to exalt Jesus. They were thus quite out of communion with God about the matter. Not only had those failed who were not on the mount, but just as plainly James, Peter, and John, all had failed. How little has special privilege or position to do with the humility of faith! This, then, is the true secret of powerlessness, either as against Satan, or for Jesus. Further, the connection of all this with the service of the Lord must, I think, be manifest.
But there is another incident, too, peculiar to Mark, of which we hear directly after this. The Lord rebukes them by taking a child, and thence reading them humility. What a withering censure of their self-exaltation! Even John proves how little the glory of Christ, which makes one content to be nothing, had entered into his heart now. The day is coming when it would all take deep root there when they would really gather everlasting profit from it; but for the present it was the painful demonstration that there is something more needed than the word even of Jesus. So it is, then, that John immediately after this turns to our Lord, complaining of some one that was casting out demons in His name the very thing they had failed to do. "Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name." Was not this, then, a matter for thankfulness of heart to God? Not a bit of it! Self in John took fire at it, and became the mouthpiece of the strong feeling which animated them all. "Master, we saw" not "I" merely; he spake for all the rest. "We saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followed not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us." It is evident, then, that no previous reproof had in any way purged out the self-exalting spirit, for here it was again in full force; but Jesus said, "Forbid him not." Another most weighty lesson in the service of Christ is this. The question here is not one of dishonour done to Christ. None in this case contemplates or allows any act whatever contrary to His name. On the contrary, it was a servant going forward against the enemy, believing in the efficacy of the Lord's name. Had it been a question of enemies or false friends of Christ, overthrowing or undermining His glory, he that "is not for him is against him; and he that gathereth not with him scattereth abroad." Wherever it is a question of a true or a false Christ, there cannot be a compromise of one jot of His glory. But where, on the contrary, it was one who may have been unintelligent, perhaps, and who certainly had not been so favoured in point of circumstances as the disciples, yet who knew the value and efficacy of His name, Jesus graciously shields him. "Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part." He certainly had faith in the Lord's name; and by faith in that name he was mighty to do what, alas! disciples were feeble to do. It was evident that there was a spirit of jealousy, and that the power which manifestly wrought in one who had never been so privileged outwardly as they, instead of humbling the disciples to think of their own shortcoming and lack of faith, led even John to cast about for some fault to find, some plea for restraining him whom God had honoured.
Hence, our Lord here brings out an instruction, not of course at variance with, but totally different from what we had in Matthew 12:30. Their distinctive use in the right time and circumstances, I cannot but hold to be by no means unimportant. Mark's, you will remember, is the gospel of service; and it is the question of ministry here. Now the power of God in this does not depend upon position. No matter how right (that is, according to God's will) the position may be, that will not give ministerial power to the individuals who are in the truest position. The disciples, of course, were in an unimpeachable place as following Christ there could be nothing more certainly right than theirs; for it was Jesus that had called them, gathered them round Himself, and sent them out clothed with a measure of His own power and authority. For all that, it was evident that there was weakness in practical manifestation. There was a decided want of faith in drawing upon the resources of Christ, as against Satan. They were, then, quite right in cleaving to Christ, and in following none other; they were right in abandoning John for Jesus; but they were not right in letting any reason hinder their acknowledgment of God's power, which "ought in another who was not in that blessed position which was their privilege. Accordingly our Lord rebukes this narrow spirit sternly, and lays down a principle seemingly counter, but really harmonious. For there is no contradiction in the word of God here, or anywhere else. Faith may rest assured that nothing in Matthew 12:1-50 opposes Mark 11:1-33. No doubt at first sight there might appear to be such a difference; but look, read again, and the difficulty vanishes.
In Matthew 12:30 the question was totally different. "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad." There it was a question of Christ Himself of the glory and the power of God in Jesus here below. The moment it comes to be a question of His person, assailed by adversaries, then he that is not with Christ is against Christ. Do persons allow anything to lower His person now? All questions are secondary in comparison with this, and any one who is indifferent to it would deliberately take the part of the enemy against Christ. He who would sanction the dishonour of Jesus proves, no matter what his pretensions may be, that he is no friend of the Lord, and that his work of gathering can but scatter.
But in the mind of the Lord given in Mark, wholly different matter was before them. Here it was a question of a wan who was exalting Christ according to the measure of his faith, and certainly with no inconsiderable power. The disciples, therefore, in this case ought to have acknowledged and delighted in the testimony to Christ's name. Granted that the man was not so favoured as they; but surely the name of Christ was exalted in desire and in fact. Had their eye been single, they would have owned that, and thanked God for it. And here, therefore, the Lord impresses on them a lesson of another kind altogether: "He that is not against me is for me." Thus, wherever it is a question of the Spirit's power put forth in Christ's name, it is evident that he who is thus used of God is not against Christ; and if God answers that power, and uses it for the blessing of man and the defeat of the devil, we ought to rejoice.
Need I say how applicable both these lessons are? We know, on the one hand, that in this world Christ is rejected and despised. Such is the main groundwork of Matthew. Accordingly, in Matthew 12:1-50, we have Him not merely the object of loathing, but this even to those who had the outward testimony of God at that time. Hence, no matter what way be the reputation, the traditional respect or reverence of men; if Christ be dishonoured, they that prize and love Him can have no fellowship for an instant. On the other hand, take the service of Christ, and in the midst of all that bears the name of Christ around, there may be those whom God employs for this or that important work. Am I to deny that God makes use of them in His service? Not for an instant. I acknowledge the power of God in them, and thank Him; but this is no reason why one should abandon the blessed place of following Jesus. I say not, "following us," but "following Him." It is evident that the disciples were occupied with themselves, and forgot Him. They were wishing ministry to be their monopoly, instead of a witness to Christ's name. But the Lord puts everything in its place; and the same Lord who in Matthew 12:1-50 insists on decision for Himself, where His enemies had manifested their hatred or contempt of His glory, is no less prompt in the gospel of Mark to indicate the power that had wrought in the ministry of His unnamed servant. "Forbid him not," says He. "for he that is not against me is for me." Was he against Christ who used, on John's own showing, His name against the devil? The Lord thus honours, in any quarter or measure, the faith that knows how to make use of His name, and gain victories over Satan. Hence, therefore, if God employs any man say, in winning sinners to Christ, or delivering saints out of the bondage of wrong doctrine, or whatever else the snare may be Christ owns him, and so should we. It is a work of God, and homage to Christ's name, though not a around, I repeat, for making light of following Christ, if He have graciously accorded such a privilege. It is a most legitimate ground, no doubt, for humbling ourselves, to think how little we do as entrusted with the power of God. Thus we have to maintain Christ's own personal glory, on the one hand, always holding that fast; we have, on the other hand, to acknowledge whatever ministerial power God is pleased in His own sovereignty to employ, and by whomsoever. The one truth does not in the slightest degree interfere with the other.
Further: let me draw your attention now to the appropriateness of the place of, the incident in this gospel. You could not transpose either it or the solemn word in Matthew. It would altogether mar the beauty of the truth in both. On the one hand, the day of despising and rejecting Christ is the day for faith to assert His glory; on the other hand, where there is the power of God, I must acknowledge it. I may have been myself rebuked for my own lack of power just before; but, at least, let me own God's hand wherever it is manifest.
Our Lord follows this up with a remarkably solemn instruction, and in His discourse shows that it was no question merely of "following us," or of anything else, for a time. Now, no doubt, the disciple follows Him through a world where stumbling-blocks abound, and dangers on every side. But more than that, it is a world into the midst of whose snares and pitfalls He deigns to cast the light of eternity. Hence it was not a mere question of the moment; it was far beyond the objects of party strife. Our Lord, therefore, strikes at the root of what was at work in the mistaken disciples. He declares that whosoever gives a cup of water in His name the smallest real service rendered to need "because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward." Yet more, it was not merely a question of rewards on the one side, but of eternal ruin on the other. They had better look to themselves while they yet may. Flesh is a bad and ruinous thing. No matter who or what the person may be, man is not safe in himself, especially, let me add, when in the service of Christ. There is no ground where souls are more apt to get astray. It is not merely in questions of moral evil. There are men that pass us, and. that, so to speak, run the gauntlet of such seductions unscathed; but it is quite another and a very much more dangerous thing, where, in the professed service of the Lord, there is the nursing of that which is offensive to Christ, and grieves the Holy Ghost. This lesson comes out, not merely for saints, but also for those that are still under sin. "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off: if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out." Deal unsparingly with every hindrance, and this on the simplest moral ground; most urgent, personally, and imminent is the peril they entail. These things would test a man, and sift whether there be anything in him Godward.
The end ofMark 9:1-50; Mark 9:1-50 reminds one of the end of1 Corinthians 9:1-27; 1 Corinthians 9:1-27, where the apostle Paul, no doubt also speaking about service, deepens in his tone of warning, and intimates that service may often become a means of detecting not state only, but unreality. There may not be open immorality in the first instance, but where the Lord is not before the soul in constant self-judgment, evil grows apace out of nothing more than ministry, as, indeed, the fact proved among the Corinthians; for they had been thinking much more about gift and power than about Christ; and with what moral results? The apostle begins by putting the case in the strongest way to himself; he supposes the case of his own preaching ever so well to others, but abandoning all care about holiness. Occupied with his gift and others, such an one yields without conscience to that which the body craves after, and the consequence is total ruin. Were it Paul, he must become a castaway, or reprobate ( i.e., disapproved of God). The word is never used for a mere loss of reward, but for absolute rejection of the man himself. Then, in 1 Corinthians 10:1-33, he applies the ruin of the Israelites to the danger of the Corinthians themselves.
Our Lord in this very passage of Mark similarly warns. He deals with the slight which John put upon one that was manifestly using the name of Christ to serve souls, and defeat Satan. But John had unwittingly ignored, if not denied, the true secret of power altogether. It was really John that needed to take care holy and blessed man as he was. There was an evident mistake of no ordinary gravity, and the Lord proceeds from this to the most solemn warning that He ever gave in any discourse that is recorded of Him. No other sets eternal destruction more manifestly before us in any part of the gospels. Here, above all, we are admitted to hear continually ringing in our ears the awful dirge, if I may so call it, over lost souls: "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." On the other hand, our Lord turns the occasion also to the profit of His own, though this too be a solemn warning. Hence observe, before the subject closes, how He lays down grand principles that involve the whole of this question. Thus we are told, "Every one shall be salted with fire." It is well to remember that grace does not hinder this universal test of every soul here below. "Every one," says He, "shall be salted with fire;" but besides that, "Every sacrifice shall be salted with salt." These are two distinct things.
No child of man, as such, can escape judgment. "It is appointed unto man once to die, but after that the judgment." The judgment, in one form or another, must be the portion of the race. Whenever you look at what is universal, man, being a sinner, is an object for divine judgment. But this is far from the whole truth. There are those here below who are delivered from God's judgment even in this world who have even now access into His favour, and rejoice in hope of His glory. What then of them? They that hear Christ's word, and believe Him who sent the Saviour, have eternal life, and enter not into judgment. But are they not put to the proof? Assuredly they are; but it is upon another principle altogether. "Every sacrifice shall be salted with salt" It is clearly not a question there of a mere sinful man, but of that which is acceptable to God; and, therefore, not salted with fire, but salted with salt. Not that there is not that Which tests and proves the ground of the heart in those that belong to God; but even so their special nearness to Him is borne in mind.
Thus, whether it be the general dealing in a judicial manner with man, with every soul as such; whether it be the special case of such as belong to God (i.e., every sacrifice acceptable to God, as brought in by Christ on the foundation of His own great sacrifice), the principle is as clear as it is comprehensive and sure for every one; not only for every sinner, but for every believer, however truly acceptable to God by Jesus Christ our Lord. With the glorified saints, although it be not, of course, the judgment of God, certainly there is no concealment of the truth, though there is that also which God in His grace makes to be mighty to preserve; not pleasant, it may be, but the preservative energy of divine grace with its sanctifying effects. This, I think, is what is meant by being "salted with salt." The figure of that well known antiseptic does not leave room for the pleasant things of nature with all their evanescence. "Salt," says our Lord, "is good." It is not an element which excites for a moment, and passes away; it has the savour of God's covenant. "Salt is good; but if the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it?" How fatal is the loss! How dangerous to go back! Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another; "that is, have purity first, then peace mutually, as the apostle James, too, exhorts in his epistle. Purity deals with nature, and resists all corruption it preserves by the mighty power of God's grace. Following this, but of no worth without it, is "peace one with another." May we possess this peace also, but not at the cost of intrinsic purity, if we value God's glory!
This closes, then, our Lord's ministry the connection of ministry, as it appears to me, with the transfiguration. That manifestation of the power of God could not but impress a new and suited character upon those concerned.
In the next chapter our Lord introduces other topics, and very strikingly, because it might be hastily gathered, that if all is founded upon death and resurrection, and is in view of the coining glory, such a ministry as this must take no account of relationships which have to do with nature. The very reverse is the case. It is precisely when you have the highest principles of God brought in, that everything God has ever owned on the earth finds its right place. It was not when God gave the law, for instance, that the sanctity of marriage was vindicated, most. Every one ought to know there is no relationship so fundamental for man on earth there is nothing that so truly forms the social bond as the institution of marriage. What is there naturally in this world so essential for domestic happiness and personal purity, not to speak of the various other considerations, on which all human relationships so much depend? And yet it is remarkable that, during the legal economy, there was the continual allowance of that which enfeebled marriage. Thus, the permission of divorce for trivial reasons, I need not say, was anything but a maintenance of its honour. Here, on the contrary, when in Christ the fulness of grace came, and, more than that, when it was rejected, when the Lord Jesus Christ was announcing that which was to be founded upon His approaching humiliation unto death, and when He was expressly teaching that this new system could not be, and was not to be, proclaimed until His own rising from the dead, He also insists on the value of the various relations in nature. I admit the connection with the resurrection is only shown in Mark; but, then, this points out the true import of it, because Mark naturally indicates the importance of that epoch and glorious fact, for the service of Christ in testimony, for bringing the truth out to others.
Here, however, the Lord having disposed of that which was eternally momentous, having traced it up to the end of all this passing scene, having shown the results for those that have no part nor lot in the matter, as well as for such as enjoy the grace of God in its preservative force, namely, those that belong to Christ, now takes up the relation of these new principles to nature, to what God Himself acknowledged in what you may call the outside world.
The Lord here, then, stands up as the vindicator, first of all, of the relationship of marriage. He teaches that in the law, important as it was, Moses did not assert the vital place of marriage for the world. On the contrary, Moses permitted certain infractions of it because of Israel's state. "For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother." That is, even the nearest other relationship, so to speak, disappears before this relationship. "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." To this it came; but for this most simple yet thorough. exposition of God's mind, we are indebted to the Lord Jesus, the great witness of grace, and of eternal things, now connected with His own rejection and the kingdom of God coming with power, and the setting aside of the long spell of the devil. It is the same Jesus who now clears from the dust of ruin God's institutions even for the earth.
A similar principle runs through the incidents that follow here. "They brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them." Had His followers drank deeply into that grace of which He was full, they would, on the contrary, have estimated very differently the feeling that presented the infants to their Master. The truth is that the spirit of self was yet strong; and what so petty and narrow? Poor, proud Judaism bad tinctured and spoilt the feelings, and the little ones were despised by them. But God, who is mighty, despiseth not any; and grace, understanding the mind of God, becomes an imitator of His ways. The Lord Jesus rebuked them; yea, it is said, "He was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God." In both these particulars, so all-important for the earth, we find the Lord Jesus Christ proving. that grace, far from not giving nature its place, is the only thing that vindicates it, according to God.
Another lesson follows, in a certain sense even more emphatic, because more difficult. It might be thought that God's mercy occupies it specially with a child. But let us suppose an unconverted man, and one, too, living according to the law, and in great measure satisfied with his fulfilment of its obligations, what would the Lord say of him? How does the Lord Jesus Christ feel about such a one? "When he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God." The man was totally in the dark; he had no saving knowledge of God; he had no knowledge really of man; he had no sense of the true glory of Christ; he did honour Him, but merely as one differing in degree from himself. He owned Him to be a good Master, and he wanted to glean what he could from Him as a good disciple. He put himself, therefore, so far on a level with Jesus, assuming his competency to carry out the words and ways of Jesus. It is evident, therefore, that sin was unjudged, and that God Himself was unknown in the heart of this young man. The Lord, however, brings out his state fully. "Thou knowest the commandments," He says, putting expressly forward those duties that touch human relations. "He answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth." The Lord does not refuse his statement raises no question how far he had fulfilled the second table. On the contrary, it is added, that "Jesus, beholding him, loved him." Many find a serious difficulty in that assertion of the Spirit of God. To my own mind it is as instructive as it is beautiful. Not that the man was converted, for he was clearly not; not that he knew the truth, for the difficulty arises from the fact that he was a stranger to it; not that the man was following Jesus, for, on the contrary, we are told that he went away from Jesus; not that his heart was made happy in God's grace, for in truth he turned back sorrowing. There was the deepest reason, therefore, to regard him with pain and anxiety, if you judged the man according to what was eternal. Nevertheless, it remains true that Jesus looked upon him, and beholding him, loved him.
Is there nothing in this which traverses ordinary evangelicalism? An important lesson for us, I cannot doubt. The Lord Jesus, from the very fact of His perfect perception of God and His grace, and the infinite value of eternal life before His Spirit, was free enough, and above all that crowds human judgment, to appreciate character and conduct in nature, to weigh what was conscientious, to love what was lovable in man simply as man. So far from grace weakening, I am persuaded it always strengthens such feelings. To many, no doubt, this might seem strange; but they are themselves the proof of the cause that hinders. Let them examine and judge whether the word does not reveal what is here drawn from it. And let it be noted that we have this emphatic statement, too, in the gospel which reveals Christ as the perfect servant; which gives us, therefore, to know how we are to serve wisely as we follow Him. Nowhere do we see our Lord bringing it out so distinctly as here. The same truth substantially is given in Matthew and in Luke; but Mark gives us the fact the He "loved him." Nor do Matthew and Luke say a word about there being the perception of the reason why the Lord thus loved the young man: only Mark tells us that, "beholding him," Christ loved him. Of course, that is the great point of the case. The Lord did admire what there was naturally lovely in a man that had been preserved providentially from the evil of this world, and sedulously trained in the law of God, in which he had hitherto walked blamelessly, even desiring to learn from Jesus, but without divine conviction, of his own sinful lost estate. Certainly the Lord did not deal with either the narrowness or the roughness which we so often betray. Indeed we are, alas! poor servants of His grace. The Lord far better knew, and far more deeply felt than we, the state and danger of the young man. Nevertheless there is much for us to weigh in this, that Jesus, beholding him, loved him.
But, further, "He said unto him, One thing thou lackest." But what a thing it was! "One thing thou lackest." The Lord denies nothing that he could in any way or ground commend; He owns everything that was naturally good. Who could blame, for instance, an obedient child? a benevolent and conscientious life? Am I, therefore, to attribute all this to divine grace? or to deny the need of it? No! these things I own as a boon belonging to man in this world, and to be valued in their place. He that says they have no value whatever slights, to my mind, evidently, the wisdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, he who would make this, or any thing of the sort, a means of eternal life, evidently knows nothing as he ought to know. Thus the subject calls, no doubt, for much delicacy, but for what will find a true recognition in Jesus, and in the blessed word of God, and nowhere else. Our Lord therefore says, "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor." Is not this what Jesus had done, though in an infinitely better way? Certainly He had given up all things, that God might be glorified in the salvation of lost man. But if He had emptied Himself of His glory, how infinite were the results of that humiliation unto death itself?
The young man wanted to learn something of Jesus; but was he prepared to follow even in the earthly path of the Crucified? was he willing only to have the thing he lacked supplied? to be a witness of divine self-renunciation in grace to the wretched? to abandon treasures on earth, content to have treasure in heaven? If he had done this, however, Christ could not but ask more; even as here He adds, "And come, take up the cross, and follow me." The Saviour, as we may thus see, goes not before the light of God; He does not anticipate what would be brought out in a day that was at hand. There is no premature announcement of the astonishing change which the gospel in due time made known; but the heart was fully tested. Man in his best estate is proved to be lighter than vanity, compared with Him who alone is good; and this revealed in Christ, His only adequate image and expression. Yet could He who thus (not to speak of the unfathomable depths of His cross) distanced man look on this young man with love, as He beheld him spite of evident shortcoming. Still, whatever he was, this did not in the smallest degree take the man out of the world. His heart was in the creature, yea, even in the unrighteous mammon: he loved his property, i.e., himself, and the Lord in His test dealt with the root of the evil. And so the result proved. For it is said, "He was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions." Now, it appears to me that our Lord's way of dealing is the perfect pattern; and first in this, that He does not reason from that which was not yet revealed by God. He does not speak of His own bloodshedding, death, or resurrection. They were not yet accomplished, and it would have been quite unintelligible. Not one of the disciples themselves knew anything really, though the Lord had repeatedly spoken of it to the twelve. How was this man to understand? Our Lord did what was of all importance He dealt with the man's own conscience. He spread before him the moral value of what He had done Himself, giving up all that one had. This was the last thing the young man thought of doing. He would have liked to have been a benefactor a generous patron; but to give up everything, and to follow Christ in shame and reproach, he was in no way prepared to do. The consequence was, that on his own ground the man was left perfectly convicted of stopping short of good brought before him in the good Master to whom he had appealed. What the Lord may have done for him afterwards is a matter for the Lord to tell. As it is not revealed in the word, it is not for us to know; and it would be vain and wrong to conjecture. What God has shown us here is, that no matter what the extent of moral following the law, even in a most remarkable case of outward purity and of apparent subjection to the requirements of God, all this does not deliver the soul, does not make a man happy, but leaves him perfectly miserable and far from Christ. Such is the moral of the rich young ruler, and a very weighty one it is.
Next, our Lord applies the same principle to the disciples; for now He has done with the outward question. We have seen nature in its best estate seeking Christ in a sense; and here is the result of it: after all the man is unhappy, and leaves Jesus, who now looks upon His disciples in their utter bewilderment, and enlarges on the hindrance of wealth in divine things. Alas! this they had thought to be an evidence of God's blessing. And if they were only rich, how much good might they not do! "How hardly," says Christ, "shall they that have riches enter the kingdom of God!" He further says to them, already astonished, "Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." The Lord insists only the more solemnly on this lesson, so little understood even by disciples. They, beyond measure surprised, say among themselves, "Who, then, can be saved?" which gives the Lord the opportunity to explain what lies at the bottom of the whole question; that salvation is a question of God, and not of man at all. Law, nature, riches, poverty no matter what, that man loves or fears has nothing in the least to do with the saving of the soul, which rests entirely on the power of God's grace, and nothing else: what is impossible for man is possible with God. All turns, therefore, on His grace. Salvation is of the Lord. Blessed be His name! with God all things are possible: otherwise how could we, how could any, be saved?
Peter then begins to boast a little of what the disciples had given up, whereon the Lord brings in a very beautiful word, peculiar to Mark. "There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the gospel's, but he shall receive a hundredfold." Be it noted that only Mark mentions "and the gospel's." It is service that is so prominent here. Others may say, "for His sake;" but here we read, "for my sake, and the gospel's." Thus the value of Christ personally is, as it were, attached to the service of Christ in this world. Whosoever, then, is thus devoted, He says, "shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life." It is a wonderful conjunction, but most true, because it is the word of the Lord and the reckoning of faith.
All things that Christ possesses are ours who believe in Him. No doubt such a tenure does not satisfy the covetous heart; but it is a deep and rich satisfaction to faith, that, instead of wanting something to distinguish self by, one has the comfort of knowing that all the Church of God possesses on the earth belongs to every saint of God on the earth. Faith does not seek its own, but delights in that which is diffused among the faithful. Unbelief counts nothing its own, save what is for selfish use. If, on the contrary, love be the principle that animates me, how different! But then there is an accompaniment "with persecutions." These you must have somehow, if you are faithful. They that will live godly cannot escape it. Am I only to have it in that way because they have it? It is better to have it myself in the direct following of Christ. In His warfare, what eau be so honourable a mark? But it is a mark that is found especially in the service of Christ. Here, again, we see how thoroughly Mark's character is preserved throughout. "But many that are first shall be last, and last first," we find solemnly added here as in Matthew. It is not the beginning of the race that decides the contest; the end of it necessarily is the great point. In that race there are many changes, and withal not a few slips, falls, and reverses.
The Lord then goes on to Jerusalem, that fatal spot for the true prophet. Man was wrong in averring that never a prophet had arisen in Galilee; for, indeed, God left Himself not without witnesses even there. But, assuredly the Lord was right, that no prophet should perish out of Jerusalem. The religious capital is exactly the place where the true witnesses of God's grace must die. Jesus, therefore, in going up to Jerusalem was well understood by the disciples, and so, amazed, they follow Him. Little were they prepared for that course of persecution which was to be their boast in a day that was coming, and for which they would be surely strengthened by the Holy Ghost. But it was not so yet. "Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, saying, Behold, we go up" (how gracious! not only "I," but "we," go up) "to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles." Then we have the persecution unto death (and what a death 1) fully laid before us. James and John at this critical time show how little flesh, even in the servants of God, ever enters into His thoughts. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh," no matter in whom. Again, it was not in obscure ones, but in those that seemed to be somewhat, that the ugliness of the flesh especially betrayed itself; and therefore it is these who furnish the lesson for us. "Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire." Their mother appears in another gospel in the gospel where we might expect such a relationship after the flesh to appear; but here, alas! it is the servants themselves, who ought to have known better. As yet their eyes were holden. They turned the very fact of their being servants into a means of profiting the flesh even in the kingdom of God itself. They seek to gratify the flesh here by the thought of what they would be there. So the Lord brings out the thought of their heart, and answers them with a dignity peculiar to Himself. "Ye know not," He says, "what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with. the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine. to give; but [it shall be given] to them for whom it is prepared." He is the servant; and even in view of the time of glory He preserves the same character. A high place in the kingdom is only for those "for whom it is prepared."
But it was not merely that these two disciples betrayed themselves; the ten made the secret of their heart manifest enough. It is not alone by the fault of one or another that the flesh becomes apparent; but how do we behave ourselves in presence of the displayed faults of others? The indignation which broke out in the ten showed the pride of their own hearts, just as much as the two desiring the best place. Had unselfish love been at work, their ambition would assuredly have been a matter for sorrow and shame. I do not say for lack of faithfulness in resisting it; but I do say, that the indignation proved that there was a feeling of self, and not of Christ, strongly at work in their hearts. Our Lord, therefore, reads a rebuke to the whole, and shows them that it was but the spirit of a Gentile that animated them against the sons of Zebedee; the very reverse of all He, could not but look for in them, even as it opposed all that was in Himself. Intelligence of the kingdom leads the believer into. contentedness with being little now. The true greatness of the disciple lies in the power of being a servant of Christ morally, going down to the uttermost in the service of others. It is not energy that ensures this greatness in the Lord's estimate now, but contentedness to be a servant, yea, to be a slave in the lowest or least place. As for Himself, it was not merely that Christ did come to minister, or be a servant; He had that which He alone could have the title, as the love, to give His life a ransom for many.
From Mark 10:48 comes the last scene the Lord presenting Himself to Jerusalem, and that too, as we are all aware, from Jericho. We have His progress to Jerusalem, beginning with the cure of the blind man. I need not dwell on the details, nor on His entrance on the colt of the ass into the city as the King. Neither need I say more about the fig tree (one day cursed, the next day seen to be thoroughly withered up), nor the Lord's call to faith in God, and its effect in and on prayer. Nor need we enter particularly into the question of authority raised by the religious leaders.
The parable of the vineyard, with whichMark 12:1-44; Mark 12:1-44 opens, is very full on that which concerns the servants responsible to God. Then we hear of the rejected stone that was afterwards made the head of the corner. Again, we have the various classes of Jews coming before Him with their questions. Not that there are not important points in every one of these scenes that pass before our eyes; but the hour will not permit me to touch upon any of them at length. I therefore pass by advisedly these particulars. We have the Pharisees and the Herodians rebuked; we have the Sadducees refuted; we have the scribe manifesting what the character of the law is; and, indeed, in answer to his own question, the Lord shed the full light of God upon the law, but at the same time accompanied by a remarkable comment on the lawyer. "When Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." It is a beautiful feature in our Lord's service this readiness to own whatever was according to truth, no matter where He found it. Then our Lord puts His own question, as to His own person, according to the Scripture, gives a brief warning as to the scribes, and marks in contrast the poor blessed widow, His own pattern of true devotedness and of real faith in this most spiritually destitute condition of the people of God on earth. How He passes completely by the wealth that merely gave what it felt not, to single out, and for ever consecrate, the practice of faith where it might be least expected! The widow that had but the two mites had cast in all her living into the treasury of God, and this at a time decrepit and selfish beyond all precedent. Little did that widow think that she had found even upon earth an eye to own, and a tongue to proclaim, what God could form for His own praise in the heart and by the hand of the poorest woman in Israel!
Then our Lord instructs the disciples in a prophecy strictly conformed to the character of Mark. This is the reason why here alone, where you have the service of the Lord, the power by which they could answer in times of difficulty is introduced into this discourse. Hence our Lord passes by all distinctive reference to the end of the age an expression which does not here occur. The fact is that, although it be the prophecy which in Matthew looks to the end of the age,, still the Spirit does not so specify here; and for the simple reason, that a prophecy which was forming them for their service accounts for what is left out and what is put in, as compared with Matthew. Another thing I may notice is, that in this prophecy alone He says, that not only the angels, but even the Son does not know that day (Mark 13:32). The reason of this peculiar, and at first sight perplexing, expression seems to me to be, that Christ so thoroughly takes the place of One who confines himself to what God gave to Him, of One so perfectly a minister not a master, in this point of view that, even in relation to the future, He knows and gives out to others only what God gives Him for the purpose. As God says nothing about the day and the hour, He knows no more. Remark also how characteristically here our Lord describes both Himself, and the workmen, and their work. There is no such dispensational description, as in Matthew's parable of the talents, but simply this: "The Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch." The features of difference in Matthew are plain. There is far greater augustness. He who goes a long way provides as it were for the length of His absence. Here, no doubt, He goes; but He gives "authority to His servants." Who can fail to note the suitability for the purpose of Mark? Again, He gives "to every man his work." Why, may we not ask, are these expressions found here? Surely, because in Mark it is the very subject-matter of the gospel all through; for even in a prophecy the Lord would never abandon the great thought of service. Here it is not so much the question of giving gifts or goods as of work to be done. Authority is given to His servants. They wanted it. They do not take it without a title. It is doing His will, rather than trading with His gifts. We find this last most appropriately in Matthew; because the point in the earlier gospel was the peculiar chance to follow the Lord's leaving the earth, and the Jewish hopes of Messiah, for the new place He was going to take on ascending to heaven. There He is the giver of gifts a thing quite distinct in its character from the ordinary principle of Judaism; and the men trade with them, and the good and faithful enter finally into the joy of their Lord. Here it is simply the service of Christ, the true servant.
In Mark 14:1-72 come the profoundly interesting and instructive scenes of our Lord with the disciples, not now predicting, but vouchsafing the last pledge of His love. The chief priests and scribes plot in corruption and violence for His death; at Simon's house in Bethany a woman anoints His body to the burying, which discerns many hearts among the disciples, and draws out the Master's, who next is seen, not accepting an offering of affection, but giving the great and permanent token of His love the Lord's Supper. The state of Judas's heart appears in both cases conceiving his plan in the presence of the first, and going out to accomplish it from the presence of the last. Thence our Lord goes forth; not yet to suffer the wrath of God, but to enter into it in spirit before God. We have seen all through the gospel that such was His habit, to which I merely call attention now in passing. As the cross was of all the deepest work and suffering, so most assuredly the Lord did not enter upon Calvary without a previous Gethsemane. In its due season comes the trial before the high priest and Pilate.
The crucifixion of our Lord is in Mark 15:1-47, with the effect upon those that followed Him, and the grace that wrought in the woman men betraying their abject fear in the presence of death, but women strengthened, the weak truly made strong.
Finally, in Mark 16:1-20, we have the resurrection; but this, too, strictly in keeping with the character of the gospel. Accordingly, then we have the Lord risen, the angel giving the word to the women "Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter" a word found only in Mark. The reason is manifest. It is a mighty consideration for the soul. Peter, despising the word of the Lord really, though not intentionally; Peter, not receiving that word mixed with faith into his heart, but, on the contrary, trusting himself, was pushed into a difficulty where he could not stand, even before man or woman, because he had never borne the temptation upon his spirit before God. So it was then that Peter broke down shamefully. From the Lord's look he began to feel his conduct acutely; but while the process went on he needed to be confirmed, and our Lord therefore expressly named Peter in His message the only one who was named. It was an encouragement to the faint heart of His fallen servant; it was an acting of that same grace which had prayed for him even before he fell; it was the Lord effecting for him a thorough restoration of his soul, which mainly consists of the application of the word to the conscience, but also to the affections. Peter's was the last name, according to man, that deserved to be then named; but it was the one who needed most, and that was enough for the grace of Christ. Mark's gospel is ever that of the service of love.
On the cross and resurrection, as here presented, I need not speak now. There are peculiarities both of insertion and of omission, which illustrate the difference in scope of what is here given us from that which we find elsewhere. Thus we have the reviling of the very thieves crucified with Him, but not the conversion of one. And as in the seizure of Jesus we hear of a certain young man who fled naked when laid hold of by the lawless crowd that apprehended the Saviour, so before the crucifixion they compel in their wanton violence one Simon a Cyrenian to bear His cross. But God was not forgetful of that day's toil for Jesus, as Alexander and Rufus could testify at a later day. Not a word here of the earth quaking, either at the death of Christ, or when He rose; no graves are seen opened; no saints risen and appearing in the holy city. But of the women we hear who had ministered to Him living, and would have still ministered when dead, but that the resurrection cut it short, and brought in a better and enduring light, the Lord employing angelic ministry to chase away their fright by announcing that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth was risen. How admirably this is in keeping with our gospel need scarcely be enlarged on.
I am aware that men have tampered with the closing verses (Mark 16:9-20) ofMark 16:1-20; Mark 16:1-20, as they have sullied with their unholy doubts the beginning ofJohn 8:1-59; John 8:1-59. In speaking of John, it will be my happy task to defend that passage from the rude insults of men. Assured they are wrong, I care not who they may be nor what their excuses. God has given the amplest array of external vouchers; but there are reasons far weightier, internal grounds of conviction, which will be appreciated just in proportion to a person's understanding of God and His word. Impossible for man to coin a single thought, or even a word fit to pass. So it is in this scene.
I also admit that there are certain differences between this portion and the previous part of chap. 16. But, in my judgment, the Spirit purposely put them in a different light. Here, you will observe, it is a question of forming the servants according to that rising from the dead for which He had prepared them. Had the gospel terminated without this, we must have had a real gap, which ought to have been felt. The Lord had Himself, before His resurrection, indicated its important bearing. When the fact occurred, had there been no use made of it with the servants, and for the service, of Christ, there had been, indeed, a grievous lack, and this wonderful gospel of His ministry would have left off with as impotent a conclusion as we could possibly imagine. Chapter 16 would have closed with the silence of the women and its source, "for they were afraid." What conclusion less worthy of the servant Son of God! What must have been the impression left, if the doubts of some learned men had the slightest substance in them? Can any one, who knows the character of the Lord and of His ministry, conceive for an instant that we should be left with nothing but a message baulked through the alarm of women? Of course, I assume what is indeed the fact, that the outward evidence is enormously preponderant for the concluding verses. But, internally also, it seems to me impossible for one who compares the earlier close with the gospel's aim and character throughout, to accept such an ending after weighing that which is afforded by the verses from 9 to 20. Certainly these seem to me to furnish a most fitting conclusion to that which otherwise would be a picture of total and hopeless weakness in testimony. Again, the very freedom of the style, the use of words not elsewhere used, or so used by Mark, and the difficulties of some of the circumstances narrated, tell to my mind in favour of its genuineness; for a forger would have adhered to the letter, if he could not so easily catch the spirit of Mark.
I admit, of course, that there was a particular object in the earlier verses as they now stand, and that the providence of God wrought therein; but surely the ministry of Jesus has a higher end than such providential ways of God. On the other hand, if we receive the common conclusion of the gospel of Mark, how appropriate all is! Here we have a woman, and no ordinary woman, Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus, who was now dead and risen, had once cast seven devils; and who, therefore, so fit a witness of the resurrection-power of God's Son? The Lord had come to destroy the works of the devil; she knew this, even before His death and resurrection: who then, I ask, so suitable a herald of it as Mary of Magdala? There is a divine reason, and it harmonizes with this gospel. She had experimentally proved the blessed ministry of Jesus before, in delivering herself from Satan's power. She was now about to announce a still more glorious ministry; for Jesus had now by dying destroyed Satan's power in death. "She went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept." This was untimely sorrow on their part: what a thrill of joy that ought to have sent to their hearts. Alas! unbelief left them still sad and unbiassed. Then "he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them." Here was an important practical element to remember in the service of the Lord the dulness of men's hearts, their consequent opposition and resistance to the truth. Where the truth does not concern men much, they slight without fear, hatred, or opposition. Thus, the very resistance to the truth, while it shows in a certain sense, no doubt, man's unbelief, demonstrates at the same time that its importance leads to this resistance. Supposing you tell a man that a certain chief possesses a great estate in Tartary; he may think it all very true, at any rate he does not feel enough about the case to deny the allegation; but tell him that he himself has such an estate there: does he believe you? The moment something affects the person, there is interest enough to resist stoutly. It was of practical moment that the disciples should be instructed in the feelings of the heart, and learn the fact in their own experience. Here we have it so in the case of our Lord. He had told them plainly in His word; He had announced the resurrection over and over and over again; but how slow were these chosen servants of the Lord! what patient waiting upon others should there not be in the ministry of those with whom the Lord had dealt so graciously! There again we find, that if it be of moment, it is most especially so in the point of view of the Lord's ministry.
After this the Lord appears Himself to the eleven as they sat at meat, and "upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them Which had seen him after he was risen." Yet a most gracious Master He proves Himself one that knew well how to make good ministers out of bad ones; and so the Lord says to them, immediately after upbraiding them with their incredulity, "Go ye into all the world, and. preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." There is the importance not only of the truth, but of its being openly and formally confessed before God and man; for clearly baptism does symbolically proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ; that is the value of it. "He that believeth and is baptized." Do not you pretend that you have received Christ, and then shirk all the difficulties and dangers of the confession. Not so: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." There is not a word about baptism in this last case. A man might be baptized; but without faith, of course it would not save him. "He that believeth not shall be damned." Believing was the point. Nevertheless, if a man professed ever so much to believe, yet shrank from the publicity of owning Him in whom he believed, his profession of faith was good for nothing; it could not be accepted as real. Here was an important principle for the servant of Christ in dealing with cases.
Further, outward manifestations of power were to follow: "These signs shall follow them that believe: in my name shall they cast out devils." By-and-by the power of Satan is to be shaken thoroughly. This was only a testimony, but still how weighty it was! The Lord in this case does not say how long these signs were to last. When He says, "Teach [make disciples of] all nations [or the Gentiles], baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them all things whatsoever I have commanded you," He adds, "And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world [or age]." That is, He does connect His continuance with their discipling, baptizing, and teaching all the Gentiles what He had enjoined. This work was thus to go on till the end of the age; but as for the signs ofMark 16:1-20; Mark 16:1-20, with marvellous wisdom He omits all mention of a period. He does not say how long these signs were to follow them that believe. All He said was, that these signs were to follow; and so they did. He did not promise that they were to be for five, or fifty, for a hundred, or five hundred years. He simply said they were to follow, and so the signs were given; and they followed not merely the apostles, but them that believe. They confirmed the word of believers wherever they were found. It was but a testimony, and I have not the slightest doubt, that as there was perfect wisdom in giving these signs to accompany the word, so also there was not less wisdom in cutting the gift short. I am assured that, in the present fallen state of Christendom, these outward signs, so far from being desirable, would be an injury. No doubt their cessation is a proof of our sin and low estate; but at the same time there was graciousness in His thus withholding these signs towards His people when their continuance threatened no small danger to them, and might have obscured His moral glory.
The grounds of this judgment need not be entered into now; it is enough to say that undoubtedly these signs were given. "They shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." Thus there was a blow struck at the prolific source of evil in the world; there was the expression of God's rich grace now to the world; there was the active witness of the beneficence of divine mercy in dealing with the miseries everywhere occurrent in the world. These are, I think, the characteristics of the service, but then there remains a striking part of the conclusion, which I venture to think none but Mark could have written. No doubt the Holy Ghost was the true author of all that Mark wrote; and certainly, the conclusion is one that suits this gospel, but no other. If you cut off these words, you have a gospel without a conclusion. Accepting these words as the words of God, you have, I repeat, a termination that harmonizes with a truly divine gospel; but not merely that here you have a divine conclusion for Mark's gospel, and for no other. There is no other gospel that this conclusion would suit but Mark's; for observe here what the Spirit of God finally gives us. He says, "After the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven." You might have thought, surely, that there was rest in heaven now that Christ's work on earth was done, and so perfectly done; more particularly as it is here added, ,and he sat on the light hand of God." If there is such a session of Christ spoken of in this place, the more it might be supposed that there was a present rest, now that all His work was over; but not so. As the gospel of Mark exhibits emphatically Jesus the workman of God, so even in the rest of glory He is the workman still. Therefore, it seems written here that,, while they went forth upon their mission, they were to take up the work which the Lord had left them to do. "They went forth and preached everywhere " for there is this character of largeness about Mark. "They went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following." Thus Mark, and no one else, gives us the picture most thoroughly, the whole consistent up to the last. Would a forger have kept up the bold thought of "the Lord working with them," while every other word intimates that He was then at least quiescent?
Thus have we glanced over the gospel of Mark, and have seen that the first thing in it is the Lord ushered into His service by one who was called to an extraordinary work before Him, even John the Baptist. Now, at last, when He is set down at the right hand of God, we find it said that the Lord was working with them. To allow that verses 9 to the end are authentic scripture, but not Mark's own writing, seems to me the lamest supposition possible.
May He bless His own word, and give us here one more proof that, if there be any portion in which we find the divine hand more conspicuous than another, it is precisely where unbelief objects and rejects. I am not aware that in all the second gospel there is a section more characteristic of this evangelist than the very one that man's temerity has not feared to seize upon, endeavouring to root it from the soil where God planted it. But, beloved friends, these words are not of man. Every plant that the heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up. This shall never be rooted up, but abides for ever, let human learning, great or small, say what it will.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Mark 12". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany