AS WE OPEN this chapter, we see the Pharisees and scribes attempting to confine the actions of the disciples, and then also the gracious power of the Lord, within the limits of the Jewish sabbath, as they were accustomed to enforce it. This illustrates His teaching at the close of chapter 5, and in result the "bottle" of the Jewish sabbath burst, and grace flows forth in spite of them.
The words, "The second sabbath after the first," refer we believe to Leviticus 23: 9-14, and are intended to show us that the "wave-sheaf" had already been offered, and hence there was no objection to the action of the disciples except the Pharisees' own strict enforcement of the sabbath. The Lord's answer to their objection was twofold: first, His position; second, His Person.
His position was analogous to that of David when he went into the house of God and took the shewbread. David was God's anointed king and yet rejected, and it was not the mind of God that His anointed with his followers should starve in order to uphold small technicalities of the law. The whole system of Israel was out of course by the refusal of the king, and it was no time for concentrating upon the smaller details of the law. So here, the Pharisees were concerned about trivialities whilst rejecting the Christ.
Verse 5 emphasizes His Person. Man, as originally created, was made lord over the earthly creation. The Son of Man is Lord over a far wider sphere. He was not bound by the sabbath, the sabbath was at His disposal. Who then is this Son of Man? That was what the Pharisees did not know, but the Lord indicated His greatness by this claim which He made.
The incident concerning the man with the withered hand follows in verses 6-11. Here again the sabbath question came up, and the Pharisees would have pushed their technical objections to the length of forbidding the exercise of mercy on that day. Here we see, not the assertion of the Lord's position, nor of His Person, but of His power. He had power to heal in grace, and that power He exercised whether they liked it or not. He accepted their challenge, and making the man stand forth in the midst, He healed him in the most public way possible. The lords of the Philistines attempted to tie the hands of Samson with "seven green withs," but they tried in vain. The lords of Israel were trying to make cords from the law of the sabbath, wherewith to tie the gracious hands of Jesus, and they also tried in vain.
Failing to do it, they were filled with madness, and they began to plot His death. In the face of their rising hatred Jesus retired into the solitude of communion with God. In the last chapter we saw Him retiring for prayer when multitudes thronged Him and success seemed to be His. He does just the same when dark clouds of opposition seem to surround Him. In all circumstances prayer was the resource of the perfect Man.
It is significant further that what followed this night of prayer was the selection of the twelve men who were to be sent forth as Apostles. Amongst the twelve was Judas Iscariot, and why he should have been included appears to us mysterious. The Lord chose him however, and thus his selection was right. No mistake was made after that night of prayer.
From verse 17 to the end of the chapter we get a record of the instruction which He gave to His disciples, and especially to these twelve men. We may give a general summary of His utterances by saying that He instructed them as to the character that would be produced in them by the grace of God that He was making known. The discourse much resembles the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5-7, but the occasion appears to have been different. No doubt the Lord again and again said very similar things to varying crowds of people.
On this occasion the Lord addressed His disciples personally. In Matthew He described a certain class, and says that theirs is the kingdom. Here He says, "yours is the kingdom," identifying that class with the disciples. His disciples were the poor, the hungry, the weepers, those hated and reproached. A description such as this shows that already He was treating His own rejection as a certainty, and the succeeding verses (24-26) show that He was dividing the people into two classes. There were those identified with Himself, sharing His sorrows, and those who were of the world and sharing its transient joys. Upon the head of the one class He called down a blessing: upon the head of the other a woe. This of course involved a tremendous paradox. The sad and rejected are the blessed: the glad and the popular are under judgment. But the one follow in the footsteps of the Son of Man and suffer for His sake: the other follow in the way of the false prophets.
Having thus pronounced a blessing upon His disciples, He gives them instructions which, if carried out, would mean that they reflected His own spirit of grace. He does not actually send them for the moment, but He instructs them in view of their going out to represent Him and to serve His interests. The spirit of grace is specially marked in verses 27-38. The love that can go forth and even embrace an enemy is not human but Divine; whereas any sinner can love the one who loves him. The disciple of Jesus is to be a lover, a blesser, a giver; and on the other hand he is not to be one who judges and condemns. This does not mean that a disciple is to have no powers of sound judgment and discrimination, but it does mean that he is not to be characterized by the censorious spirit that is quick to impute wrong motives and thus judge other people.
These instructions were exactly fitted to those who were called to follow Christ during His sojourn upon earth. The spirit of them equally applies to those called to follow Him during His absence in heaven. This is the day of grace, in which the Gospel of grace is being preached, and it is therefore of the utmost importance that we should be marked by the spirit of grace. How often, alas, has our conduct belied the cause with which we are identified. A great deal of gracious preaching can be totally nullified by a little ungracious practising on the part of the preacher or his friends. By the manifestation of love we prove ourselves to be the true children of God-the God who is "kind to the unthankful and to the evil."
It is not so easy to discern the sequence of the teaching contained in verses 39-49, but a sequence there undoubtedly is. These disciples were to be sent forth as apostles before long, so they must be seeing persons themselves. If they were to be seeing they must be taught; and for that they must take the humble place at the feet of their Master. They were not above Him: He was above them, and the goal set before them was to be like Him. He was perfection, and when their "college course" was completed they would be as He is.
That this might be so, a spirit of self-judgment is to be cultivated. Our natural tendency is to judge others and perceive their smallest faults. If we judge ourselves we may discover some very substantial faults. And faith fully judging ourselves we may be able eventually to help others.
From verse 43 the outward profession of discipleship is contemplated. The Lord may have had such an one as Judas specially in view, in speaking thus. Amongst those who took the place of being His disciples there might be found "an evil man," as well as "a good man." They are to be discerned by their fruits, seen in both speech and action. Nature is revealed in fruit. We cannot penetrate the secrets of nature either in a tree or in a man, but we can easily and correctly deduce the nature from the fruit.
This leads to the consideration that mere profession counts for nothing. Men may repeatedly call Jesus their Lord, but if there is no obedience to His word, there is no discipleship that He acknowledges. The kind of foundation that cannot be shaken under the testings is only laid by obedience. The mere hearing of His word apart from obedience may erect an edifice which looks like the real thing; but it means disaster in the day of testing.
Let us all bring ourselves under the searching power of this word. The truest believer needs to face it, and not one of us can escape it. It applies to the whole circle of truth. Nothing is really and solidly ours until we yield to it the obedience of faith-not only the assent of faith, but the OBEDIENCE of faith. Then, and only then, we become established in it, in such a way that we are "founded upon a rock."
These words of our Lord uncover for us, without a doubt, the secret of many a tragic collapse as regards their testimony, on the part of true believers; as also collapse and abandonment of the profession of discipleship on the part of those who have taken it up without any reality.
Reality is that, which above all things, the Lord must have.
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