THE DISCIPLES HAD now had full opportunity of learning their Master's spirit and methods and power; so they were sent forth, and verses 1-6 tell us how they were commissioned. "Then He called . . . and gave . . . He sent . . . He said . . ." The order of the four verbs is very instructive. His is the choice and not ours. But then He not only calls but also gives the authority and power adequate for the service to which He calls. Not until that power is given does He send. And then in sending He gives the specific instructions that are to control and guide them in their service. The instructions He gave them were exactly suited to men who were sent to support the testimony rendered by the Messiah, the Son of Man, present personally on the earth.
The testimony we are called upon to render today is not that, but rather to the Christ who is risen and glorified on high; still any service we can render is subject to just the same conditions. He must call and send. If He calls any of us He will give the power and grace that is needed for the work; and when sent we too must be careful to observe the instructions that He has left us.
The disciples went forth with the power of their Lord behind them, and the testimony thus being multiplied the attention of even an ungodly monarch like Herod was drawn to the Lord. The great question was, "Who is this?" The people asked it and indulged in speculations. Herod asked it with an uneasy mind, for he had already beheaded John. His wish to see Jesus was fulfilled, but hardly in the way he had anticipated-see Luke 23: 8-11.
All details of the disciples' mission are passed over in silence. In verse 10 it is recorded that they returned and told their Master all that they had done, and He took them aside in private. Thus it will be for all of us when we reach Him at His coming. That will mean being manifested before His judgment seat; and it will be in the privacy and rest of His presence.
On this occasion there was very little rest for Him. Desert place though it was, the people flocked after Him, and He turned no one away. He received, He spoke of the kingdom of God, He healed and, when the evening drew on and they were hungry, He fed them.
The disciples were like ourselves: they had much to learn. In spite of having been sent forth as His messengers they had no adequate sense of His power and sufficiency, and hence they judged as to the difficult situation in the light of their own powers and resources instead of judging everything by Him. When He said to them, "Give ye them to eat," they thought of their loaves and fishes-pitifully few and small. They might have said, "Lord, it is to Thee we look: we will gladly give them all that Thou cost give to us."
How easily we can see what they might have said, and yet fail in just the same way as they did! We have to learn that if He commands, He enables. He did enable on this occasion, and the disciples were employed in dispensing His bounty. Thus they were instructed as to the fulness of supply that was in Him.
Before multiplying the loaves and fishes Jesus looked up to heaven, thus publicly connecting His action with God. In verse 18 we again find Him in private prayer, thus expressing the dependent place which He had taken in Manhood. The grace was the grace of God, though flowing to men in Him.
Having given His disciples this glimpse of His fulness, He warned them of His approaching rejection, and of its results as far as they were concerned. The people were still completely in the dark as to who He was, but Peter-and doubtless the other disciples too-knew that He was God's Christ, or Messiah. This confession of Peter's was met by the Lord's command to tell no man that thing. This injunction must have been a great surprise to them, as up to this point the joyful tidings that they had found the Messiah must have been the chief item of their testimony. Now however the moment had arrived for them to know that what lay before Him was not the earthly glory of the Messiah but death and resurrection. In breaking the news of this the Lord spoke of Himself as the Son of Man-a title with wider implications. The Messiah is to rule over Israel and the nations, according to Psalm 2: the Son of Man is to have all things under His feet, according to Psalm 8.
In speaking of Himself in this way, the Lord was beginning to lead their thoughts toward the new developments that were impending, though not as yet unfolding what the developments were. Still He did intimate very plainly to them that if death lay before Him, it would also lie before them. This surely is the significance of the words, "deny himself, and take up his cross daily." To deny oneself is to accept death inwardly-death lying upon the motions of one's own will. To take up one's cross daily is to accept death outwardly, for if the world saw a man carrying his cross it knew him to be under its sentence of death.
Verses 24-26 amplify this thought. There is life according to the reckoning of this world, made up of all the things that appeal to man's natural tastes. If we seek to save that life we only lose it. The path for the disciple is to lose that life for Christ's sake, and then we save life in the proper sense, that which is life indeed. The man of the world grasps at the life of this world and ends by losing himself; and that is loss of an irreparable and eternal kind. The disciple who loses the life of this world is no loser in the end. Verse 26 only speaks of the one who is ashamed. The converse however is true: the one who is not ashamed will be acknowledged by the Son of Man in the day of His glory.
The Lord knew that these words of His would fall as a blow upon the minds of the disciples, and therefore He at once ministered to them great encouragement, not by words so much as by giving them a sight of His glory. This was granted not to all but to the chosen three, and they could communicate it to the rest. In the transfiguration they saw the kingdom of God, since for that brief moment they were "eyewitnesses of His majesty" (2 Peter 1: 16). The expression the Lord used-"taste of death"-is worthy of note. It would cover not only actual dying but also the spiritual experience which He had indicated in verse 23. The same thing stands true for us in principle. It is only as we see the kingdom by faith that we are prepared to taste of death in that experimental way.
Once more we find Him praying, and it is only Luke who puts on record that the transfiguration took place as He prayed. It is a striking fact that it was the praying, dependent Man who shone forth in glory as the King. Long before this David had said, "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in fear of God" (2 Sam. 23: 3). Here we see the One who will take up the kingdom and hold it for God, ruling as the dependent Man. All the elements of the coming kingdom were there in sample form. The King Himself was manifested as the central Object. Moses and Elijah appeared from the unseen, heavenly world, representing heavenly saints who will appear with the King when He is manifested: Moses representing saints who have been raised from the dead, and Elijah those raptured to heaven without dying. Then Peter, James and John represented the saints who will be on earth, blessed in the light of His glory.
While the disciples were heavy with sleep the heavenly saints were conversing with their Lord concerning His approaching death, which is to provide the basis on which the glory must rest. Luke speaks of it as His "departure" or "exodus," for it meant His going out from the earthly order into which He had entered, and His entrance into their world by resurrection from among the dead. When the disciples did awake Peter's only thought was to perpetuate the earthly order, and keep his Master in it. He would have detained Moses and Elijah in it also, had he been permitted to make his three tabernacles. As yet he did not grasp the reality of the heavenly order of things just displayed before his eyes, and he had as yet no proper apprehension of the supreme glory of Jesus.
Hence at that moment there came the cloud-evidently the well-known cloud of the Divine presence-which overshadowed them with its brightness, and silenced them with fear. Then the Father's voice proclaimed the supreme glory of Jesus and marked Him out as the one and only Speaker to whom all are to listen. No Moses, no Elijah is for one moment to be coupled with Him. Jesus is indeed to be "found alone." Though Peter did not at that moment understand the full significance of all this, and therefore "told no man in those days," he did afterwards, as his allusion to it in his second Epistle so plainly shows. It confirmed for him, and for us, the prophetic word, giving the assurance that in anticipating "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" we are not following "cunningly devised fables" but resting in solid truth.
How great the contrast when the next day they came down from the hill! Above, all had been glory, the power and glory of Christ, with its accompanying order and peace. Below, all was under the power of Satan, with disorder and distraction. The nine disciples left at the foot of the hill had been tested by the child possessed by a particularly virulent demon, and had failed. The distracted father appealed to the Lord, though evidently with but little expectation that He could do anything. Jesus instantly acted for the child's deliverance, and "they were all amazed at the mighty power [majesty] of God." The majestic power He displayed amid the disorders at the foot of the hill was equal to the glory that had been displayed on its crest the day before.
Then once more, just when He had thus manifested His power, He spoke of His death. Said He, "Let these sayings sink down into your ears." What sayings? we may ask, for Luke has not recorded any particular sayings in connection with the casting out of the unclean spirit. The words refer perhaps to the saying on the holy mount, where His decease had been the theme. But that was the trouble with the disciples at that moment: they could not tear away their minds from expectations of an immediate kingdom on earth, so as to realize that He was about to die. The sad consequence of this is seen in verse 46.
By nature we are self-important creatures, loving prominence and greatness above all else; and the flesh in a disciple is no different from that in an unbeliever. Jesus countered the thought of their heart by the object lesson of the little child, and by words that indicated that true greatness is found where the littleness of a child is manifested, and where that "least" disciple is truly a representative of his Master. To receive an insignificant child is to receive the Divine Master, if the child comes "in My Name." The significance is in the Name, not in the child.
This episode evidently stirred John's conscience so that he mentioned a case that had occurred some time before. They had forbidden some zealous worker because "he followeth not with us." They had attached far too much importance to the "us" which, after all, is but a group of individuals each of which is of no importance in himself. All the importance, as the Lord has just shown them, lay in the Name. Now the one who had cast out the demons-the very thing they had just failed to do-had done so "in Thy Name." So he had the power of the Name and they had the imagined importance of the "us." The Lord dealt gently with John yet firmly. The man was not to be forbidden. He was for the Lord and not against Him.
Luke now groups together four further incidents in the close of the chapter. It seems that the Lord having displayed to the disciples the power of His grace and of God's kingdom, is now instructing them as to the spirit that befits them as those brought under both; and He also warns them of things which would be hindrances thereto.
The first hindrance is obviously selfishness. This may take an intensely personal form, as in verse 46. Or it may be collective, as in verse 49. Yet once more it may be under cover of zeal for the Master's reputation, and this is the most subtle form of all. The Samaritans were wholly wrong in their attitude. But He was going up to Jerusalem to die, while James and John wished to vindicate His importance-and incidentally their own-by bringing death upon others. Elijah had indeed acted thus when confronted by the violence of an apostate king, but the Son of Man is of another spirit. That was the trouble with the disciples; they did not as yet enter into the spirit of grace-the grace that characterized their Master.
The three incidents which briefly close the chapter show us that if we would be disciples indeed, and fit for the kingdom, we must beware of mere natural energy. An energy which is more than natural is needed if we would follow a rejected Christ. Also there must be no half-heartedness and no indecision. The claims of the kingdom must take precedence over all else.
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