The Synoptic Gospels.
We come now to a very distinct and new portion of our subject. No one who knows even what the Bible is can fail to see that we have in it the two great divisions of the Old and New Testaments. We have through God's goodness gone over, in some measure, all the books of the Old Testament, finding them divided into four great sections, corresponding you might say, to the first four books of Moses. The books of the Law, the books of covenant-history, the books of the Prophets, and lastly the poetical, or books of experience. That completes the Old Testament. We will not dwell upon the significance of there being four sections in the Old Testament — the book of an earthly people — but just to notice before we take up what is especially before us, that you now have an entirely new subject. It is the second portion of Scripture; it is not, as it were, a fifth section. It is not merely going on with what we had; but there is a complete break, and here, in the New Testament, we have that which is entirely different in its contents and in its character from everything that had gone before.
All that had gone before had to do, in brief, with man according to the flesh. There is one man with whom everything is linked in the Old Testament, and that man is Adam, the first Adam. There is one Man with whom everything is linked in the New Testament, and that is Christ, the last Adam, the Lord out of heaven. These are the two distinguishing men of the two books. Of course I am not saying a word as to the grace and goodness and mercy of God, which shine out here and there all through the Old Testament, but that the person about whom everything hinges is the first man; whether it be in himself or in his descendants — in Abraham or Moses or David — still they are all man according to the flesh, connected with Adam, therefore under law, and therefore to be set aside. What a contrast when we come to the New Testament, which is emphasized for us in its very structure! Instead of the four divisions, we have but one, as though it were now God Himself, one blessed unity before us, though, as we shall see, the book is divided up again and again in the most suggestive way. It is but One as contrasted with four; it is the divine as contrasted with the human; it is salvation as contrasted with failure, this second division of the whole Bible.
It divides as usual into a pentateuch. You have here the books of Gospel history corresponding to Genesis. How suggestive, dear brethren, that is! In Genesis you have the life of seven individuals, as you saw, giving us the history of the divine life in man; here, we have the life in one person; it is life in the Son of God Himself. A new Genesis, blessed be God, a new beginning indeed, not with man, no matter how faithful, but with Christ Himself.
In Acts we have an Exodus, a second division, which is the history of redemption. I do not say that in Acts you have redemption wrought; that, we know, is narrated at the close of the Gospels, in the work of Christ. But here we have redemption history, just as in Exodus we have the account of the deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt, brought away from under the dominion of Pharaoh. So you have in the Acts the deliverance of Israel from under the bondage of Judaism, into the liberty of the gospel of Christ. That is a true Exodus.
In the third book, answering to Leviticus, you have in the New Testament a most beautiful amplification of that. In Paul's fourteen epistles you have a Leviticus, which for fulness, variety; and completeness, and for the wondrous nearness into which it brings us, excels the book of Leviticus, as you might expect the reality to excel the shadow. In Paul's epistles you have our place of nearness, the principles of holiness upon which we are brought near and abide in the holy presence of God, brought out in all their wonderful variety and fulness.
That brings us to Numbers again, to a wilderness experience, and most beautifully have we in the New Testament this, in the epistles of Peter, James, John, and Jude, commonly called the catholic or general epistles. These give us in marked contrast to Paul's epistles, not the place of nearness to God so much as the place of responsibility on earth, and the needed grace for our walk there according to God. Lastly, in Revelation, we have a true Deuteronomy, a glance backward at the history of God's redeemed Church, then a glance forward at the things which must take place after that, and then a still further glance deeper yet into the eternal inheritance, and portion of God's beloved people, whether earthly or heavenly and we close the book of inspiration with our gaze fixed upon eternity, the eternal joy where Christ is, forever. A most beautiful Deuteronomy that is, ending indeed most appropriately, as its number would suggest, God with man," Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them." Thus you see, we have before us a most entrancing and delightful subject of study for the time we have to spend upon it.
And now we take up tonight the Genesis of all this, the beginning of it, that without which none of the rest could possibly be, without which we could not have in the least degree one thing of all the rest. We have the foundation here in these wondrous Gospel accounts, which present to us that unique life, which, as John says, was with the Father, and was manifested unto us. In other words, in the four Gospels we have what no one can for a moment question is the theme — the life of Christ Himself. No one thinks for a moment that it is the history of the twelve apostles; no one dreams for a moment that it is the history of the Jewish nation, or John the Baptist's life. All these and many other subjects come in, but who for a moment dreams that anything is the theme of these Gospels except the person of Christ Himself? Everything else is subordinate to Him, is i n the background, only, as it were, the setting in which we have the jewel, flashing out in all its glorious brilliancy; not to dazzle, but to attract, not merely the eye, but the heart, and draw us out in adoring love to Himself.
But then because of the absolute certainty of what is the theme of the four Gospels, we need to look at them a little more closely in order to see the various elements which make up this theme. You have in most things in nature a blending. What appears to us is the result of a blending of many things. The very clothing we wear is a blended material; the very light in this room is made up of many rays of various colors, perfectly blended together, giving us as a result one ray, by which we see all things clearly. So it is in these four Gospels; there is no question that it is the blessed person of Christ that is presented to us in all its wondrous fulness, but that Person is presented to us in all its varied characters, in such a way that we get a full and not a partial view of Christ; we get a divine view of what He is, and not merely a human view.
If we had been writing a life of Jesus, we would have done exactly what hundreds of devout students of Scripture have since done. Look at the catalogues of books which give us the life of Jesus, and what do you find? Four lives? No; you find that these four Gospels have been, as it were, pushed together and made into one life. And for what reason? As though men would say, It was rather an error to have four gospels, four lives; we want one life. I do not say this is the thought of all who have written lives of Christ — surely not — but they have failed to emphasize the feature of which I speak.
Now we know there is divine wisdom in giving us the four distinct and separate lives. Had God wanted to give us one simple perfect life of His Son, He could have done it, but He had an object in view, and that was that we should see not one side of His blessed Son, but all four sides. And so He has given it to us in four lives, written in the most natural way. All four Gospels present to us the same Person. It is the same Jesus in Matthew that you find in John, you recognize Him at once. No two persons there, but how different the presentation of that Person!
Let us compare this with the typical teachings of the tabernacle, which present to us the person of Christ here upon earth. In that part which speaks of Christ Himself, the curtains of the tent, the tabernacle proper, you have four coverings, displaying the person of the Lord. First of all, there was the tabernacle proper, or first covering which was made up of four blended colors, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen — four distinct colors blended and embroidered together in the form of cherubim. Over that there was the covering of goat's hair; over that again the covering of rams' skins dyed red, and still over that the covering of Badgers' skins outside of all. I do not wish to be fanciful, nor go beyond what one can really see in Scripture; but in these two "fours," just as you have them there, is there not the suggestion of a fourfold view of Christ. Or to go back a little further, is there not a suggestion of the earth; of the creature in dependence, in the place of trial, in the place of obedience here upon earth? Blessed be God, there is something else when we come to Christ, for if you remember, those curtains that made up the first tent were twenty-eight cubits long, and four cubits wide. The element of four coming in twice there, speaks of this earth, and of this fourfold character of Christ; and yet the four being multiplied by seven, tells us that though in the creature place, in the place of testing, of humiliation, of subjection, there was the divine perfection in Him; seven times four making twenty-eight cubits.
Now, as I was saying, we do not want to be fanciful at all, but may there not be found, as we go on to examine more and more carefully, the corresponding Gospel to each of these colors? For instance, if I may suggest for a moment what seems right on the surface: you have the colors of the first covering, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen. Blue is the heavenly color. Have we a heavenly Gospel? I need hardly suggest it, John gives us that. Purple is the color of Jewish royalty. Have we a gospel giving us the King of the Jews? Again, Matthew answers for us that we have the King of the Jews presented to us there. Scarlet speaks of glory, of world-wide glory, and have we a Gospel that presents to us one who first went into death, and then was raised up out of that, and occupies a place of highest glory? and while perhaps not so clearly defined as the others, I think we could answer that Mark suggests that. While for the fine twined linen, that which speaks of His essentially human character, wrought out in all its perfection, the Gospel of Luke gives it to us, will it not?
Or again, take the four several coverings. We have been looking merely at the colors of the first. The first, which is the composite one, with its governmental cherubim, we may say corresponds to that which is fullest and connected with government. I would suggest that we identify it with the gospel of Matthew. Take the goats' hair, which speaks of the sin offering and we can have no question that it is the gospel of Mark that suggests that. Take again the rains' skin dyed red, and there you have the devotion unto death which we will for the time at least, merely feeling our way, connect with John; and then in the badgers' skins, that which links with earth, connected with the gospel of Luke. Now I only suggest this, I do not mean to say that I accept it all, but it is most interesting and most striking to find that there is in some way, at least, a correspondence between the types that present to us the Lord's character in these various ways, and the Gospels, which we are now going to speak of.
Let us not think that all this is a digression. Our subject, you remember, does not permit us to take up and to unfold each book of these gospels in any full way at all. What we want to see is the general theme, the general character of each one, as compared with the rest of the Scriptures. We will go back still to the tabernacle and to that first covering. You remember that you find there cherubim embroidered on the curtain, and when you come to the veil before the holiest, they are there too. We find the cherubim first, with a flaming sword, at the gate of Eden after the fall. We next see them upon the ark, and the mercy-seat, and afterward they appear in Ezekiel, where God is executing judgment. We have them, too, in the fourth of Revelation, where God's throne for judgment is set. Now is there anything in this that gives a little further light upon these Gospels? You remember that we are told without any question of uncertainty, in the epistle to the Hebrews, that the veil is Christ's flesh. The veil presents to us Christ's person in His flesh as man down here, and upon that veil were embroidered these cherubim. Now in the veil you have the person of Christ, but in the cherubim you have with that Person the thought of the One who executes judgment. One verse in the fifth chapter of the gospel of John links those two thoughts together, "And hath given Him authority to execute judgment also because He is the Son of Man." In other words because of our Lord's humanity, because of what He is as presented to us in these Gospels, He has authority to execute judgment, He has the cherubim character, if I may use that word, because He is the Son of Man.
So when we come to the book of Revelation, I would ask you just to notice the description of those beasts, as they are very improperly called there, a most unworthy title, a most unfortunate translation of a word of a very different meaning; "the living ones," is what it ought to be, corresponding exactly to the cherubim in the Old Testament. You have them described for us in the fourth of Revelation in the seventh verse, "And the first beast was like a lion, the second beast like calf, the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle." Living creatures, as I said, the word should be rendered, and they present to us all the energy of God put forth in the execution of His judgment. Now in these living creatures, in these cherubim, you have just what you have on the veil in the tabernacle. They remind us of one thing, that Christ has authority to execute judgment. He is the one, therefore, who has these characteristics, but it is because He is the Son of Man. So when we come to the Son of Man as presented in the Gospels, we find the very characters that are set before us in the cherubim.
First like a lion, secondly like an ox or a bullock — the word is not exactly a calf; — thirdly, with the face of man, fourthly, a flying eagle. Let us connect these with the four Gospels. In this very portion of Revelation from which I have read, you have "the lion of the tribe of Judah" spoken of, connecting it with Jacob blessing His twelve sons, in the forty-ninth chapter of Genesis: "Judah is a lion's whelp." Men commonly speak of the lion as the king of beasts. Thus in the lion we have Christ in His kingly character, and more particularly as King of the Jews. That is the theme of Matthew. The second living creature, the ox, is the animal for the service of man; as Scripture says, "much increase is by the strength of the ox." That is what we have in the Gospel of Mark; Christ the perfect Servant, the one who as it were took a yoke of service upon Himself, — He who had no need to bear any yoke.
Look again at Luke's wondrous chapters. We see there, not kingly authority, not even service merely, but an intensely human Gospel. It is the heart of God speaking in and to man's heart as it were. It is the face of a man. While in the eagle soaring up higher and higher into the very heights of heaven itself, there is no difficulty in tracing the Gospel of John.
Now is it not remarkable that we have in all this imagery, everything grouped about these four Gospels which present to us the person of Christ? Nothing is forced here; I do not think that anything is fanciful in what has been said so far, and I am sure it should awaken the most careful thought, and inquiry on our part as to the wondrous fulness that we have in the Gospels.
I might suggest while we are on this portion of our subject that a very able writer upon this subject has come very near to the truth in many things, and yet has failed to catch the thought of the Spirit, for a very simple reason. He has been thinking of the people for whom the Gospels were written, rather than the wonderful Person who is unveiled in the Gospels, — in other words Christ Himself was not before his soul as the one commanding object, the one whom God would have as the centre of His thoughts. Thus he tells us that Matthew is the Gospel written for the Jews, Jewish Christians, that it has a Jewish habit of thought all the way through. Quite true; but yet how far from the thought that it is Christ Himself the King of the Jews that you have there.
Similarly Mark was written for the Romans, because there you have everything very briefly narrated quite to the point, in a most business-like way passing from one thing to another. That is true again in a certain sense, but it is not because it suits the Roman mind, but because it presents to us a perfect Servant in all the diligent promptness of His service, going from one point to another all the way through.
In like manner he tells us that the Gospel of Luke was written for the Greek, that it suits the Greek mode of thought and expression; and that the entire narrative is characterized by a certain graceful presentation of things with anecdote and illustration. Most short of the truth again, though there may be some element of truth in it, 'but he has lost sight of Christ, and has as it were, the people in his mind.
And then he tells us that John was written for the Church, for those who know Christ. Quite true, but very far short of the fulness of the truth.
Having now gone several times over these Gospels to connect them with their various types, we will now briefly take up each one separately. But first a word as to their connection with each other.
They are four, and that number speaks of the earth and of weakness; therefore, we have the Lord there as man upon earth, in the creature place, subjected to the testing of this world. This and much more did humanity mean for Him.
But these four Gospels are very different from one another, and the first three have a similarity to each other quite distinct from the fourth. We need not be surprised therefore, to find Matthew Mark and Luke together, and John by itself.
But let us pause there. Three Gospels and one. You take the number four and divide it for yourself, and how would you do it? two and two. That is the natural division. But the more we look at numbers the more we find in them. As I suggested to you previously, the even numbers suggest evil and the odd numbers suggest good. We have Genesis, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy; they are the odd numbers. Genesis suggests life from God, Leviticus, access to God, and Deuteronomy, God with man; while the two even numbers, "two" and "four" suggest evil. In Exodus you have the bondage of sin from which they need deliverance, and in Numbers you have the wilderness and failure. Now if the Gospels were divided into two and two, we would have have our blessed Lord's life divided as it were in an evil sense. We would have there a cleaving which would mark weakness and the power of evil, rather than the power of good.
What do we have on the contrary? Three Gospels so clearly linked together that they have been known as the synoptic Gospels from time immemorial. And that word synoptic means "taken together." Taken together — three, — Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John has ever stood alone in all its peerless significance as the one Gospel by itself. Three is the number of divine manifestation. One is the number of divine unity and completeness. When you come to look at these three synoptic Gospels they suggest to us in an amazing way the divine fulness that there was in the Man Christ Jesus down here. All three together in their blended light present to us God manifested in Christ, whether as King, as Servant, or as Man.
We come to John again and find that it stands alone. No need there for any three-fold presentation of it, though most beautifully you have it divided into three portions. Three portions giving us the thought of full manifestation. But it is the one Gospel, it is the Gospel of the Divinity. However still a part of that four; all in the Man Christ Jesus.
Let me remind you of that verse in the first chapter of John. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father." There is the divine glory manifest, but it is manifested in the Word made flesh, the Man Christ Jesus down here. And so I look at that fourfold gospel, and say, Here I have to do with a Man upon the earth, I have to do with the creature under testing. But I look at that Man, — that Man in the place of weakness, of humiliation, of testing — and I see the full manifestation of divine glory there — I look again and I see God — God alone in all His perfection. That is written, as it were, in the very texture of the books themselves, imprinted in their very form and character. We see this even before taking up the contents of them at all. How wonderful that God has written His Word for us in this way, and suggests to us the perfection that we are to find before we think of the contents of the books.
I suppose there is no portion of Scripture that we are more familiar with than the four Gospels, and yet is it not true that we feel how little we have truly fathomed them? Who can worthily portray the perfection that you find there? who can fully set forth the wonders in the character of the blessed Saviour Himself? We need to be learners, to take up that with which we have been most familiar since our childhood, and learn something of the wonders exhibited for our hearts, and for God's glory.
We have three together, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the lion, the ox, and the man. Matthew presents to us the Messiah, the King of Israel. You cannot read the first verse of Matthew without seeing that as the subject of the whole book. "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ Son of David, Son of Abraham." We have His two-fold title. "Son of Abraham" links him with the whole household of faith; shows, as it were, how the vine runs over the walls to the Gentiles.
If He were only the Son of David we would be like the Syrophoenician woman, if we claimed blessing from Him in that way. She said, "Have mercy upon me, O Lord, Thou Son of David." That meant the Messiah, the King of Israel, and our Lord's answer to her was: "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But when I read that He is not merely Son of David, but Son of Abraham, I say, If there is the faith to reach out the hand and claim the blessing; if there is the faith that there was in that poor Syrophoenician woman who could say — and how it delights the Lord to have His argument put back into His very face — if she could say, "Yes Lord, but the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table," — she is a daughter of Abraham, because she has the faith of Abraham, and it is Jesus Christ the Son of David, the Son of Abraham that is presented in Matthew.
Look at that genealogy a moment, at the names of the women in it. There are but four, and every one of them is the name of a Gentile. They are not "mothers in Israel" in the ordinary sense. There you have first, Tamar. She is a Gentile, and alas! her sin is what is prominently brought before us; most shameful history, that one would blush to read in public even. Then we have Rahab, the poor woman of Jericho, another Gentile and one whose character is far, far too faulty for introduction into what would be called respectable society. Then you have Ruth who is a Moabitess, another Gentile. Then you have Bathsheba, as to whom there may be some question, and yet Uriah her husband was a Hittite. But as to the other three, there is no question that they were Gentile women.
Here right in the genealogy to prove that the Lord was the King of the Jews, where the Jews have not the least question, are women's names who would destroy any legal title to the throne.
And yet who are they? Why there is Judah the very progenitor of the whole tribe from which the sceptre should not depart. There is Rahab, the ancestress of David, and Ruth also nearer yet, — and in Bathsheba, one linked with the king himself, the mother of Solomon.
How those names of Gentile women, and sinful women at that, are woven in such a way in the kingship of Israel that to be the Son of David, one has to be the son of these Gentiles. Is there not a significance in that? In the gospel which gives us unquestionably the birth of the King, you have at once the thought that the blessing is wider than Israel. He is the Son of Abraham as well. Thus in the first chapter of that gospel presenting Him as the King of the Jews, you have wondrous grace going out to the Gentiles. Look at the next chapter. He is born King at Bethlehem; He is a little babe in His mother's arms. Who is it that comes to worship Him? Wise men, not from amongst Israel, though there were wise men there who could turn up their bibles and point to chapter and verse as to where He was to be born. But they did not go one step to worship Him. "He came unto His own and His own received Him not." But men from the distant east, representing the nations from afar, could bring to Him their glory and their honor, just as the nations will, in the millennial days, bring their glory and honor unto that city where the Lamb will dwell.
That is the King of Israel, the One you will find all through Matthew. Most beautifully are the character of the King and the principles of His Kingdom traced for us through those chapters. A glance at the prominent portions must suffice. We have already seen the genealogy and birth of the King in the first chapter, and the worship of the wise men in the second, which closes with the persecution of Herod, the flight into Egypt, and the subsequent return to Nazareth in Galilee. All, "that the scriptures might be fulfilled" — a constantly recurring expression in this gospel, characteristic of its theme.
In the next two chapters, three and four, we have the King presented, anointed and owned from heaven, and then proven by His temptations in the wilderness. How blessed it is to think that before He had done one public act, before His trial even in the wilderness, God anointed Him, and set the seal of His approval upon Him. What secrets of a perfect life did those thirty years of retirement contain, for the eye and heart of God alone.
Following, we have three chapters containing the "Sermon on the Mount," where we have the divine principles of the Kingdom unfolded. What holiness, what spirituality shine through it, and yet what consistency with its place in a gospel which deals with the earth.
After the Sermon on the Mount, in lovely contrast with its pure and lofty principles of holiness, and yet in perfect consistency with them, you see the activities of the King in mercy cleansing the leper, curing all manner of diseases, casting out devils, raising the dead — all quickly following one another, in chapters eight and nine.
Not content with this work Himself, He qualifies and sends forth (chap. 10) His disciples on the same errand of love, connecting it with the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom, which will still be preached ere the nation will receive its true King.
In chap. 11, the shadows begin to fall. John is cast into prison, and from his loneliness sends that word of unbelieving faith — if I may use such a contradictory expression, — as to our Lord's being actually the King. In that same chapter we have the woes pronounced on the favored places, where most of His mighty works had been done, for their unbelief. But amid the gloom of unbelief so rapidly settling down upon the people, we hear those words of grace still lingering over those He loved — words which have brought peace to countless thousands of weary hearts, and will to thousands more should He still tarry: "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."
In the next chapter, the twelfth, the lines are drawn more closely, and the enmity comes out undisguised. The leaders accuse Him of doing His miracles through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils, and after this blasphemous slight put upon the Holy Ghost, He can but pronounce their own doom upon such hardened ones.
This brings us to the mystery form of the Kingdom, developed in those wondrous parables of the thirteenth chapter — a sevenfold presentation of the history of things during the absence of the King. I can barely call your attention to the fact that the first four are separated from the last three, and give us respectively the outward form where evil exists, and the inward counsels of God, including in this last the judgment which will take place ere His Kingdom is set up. The pearl is the Church; the treasure in the field is Israel in the world. The purchaser in both cases is the Lord Himself.
From this on to the final scenes we have an evident reserve. Grace continues to act, the hungry are fed and the needy are helped; but the Lord seeks retirement. He avoids, till the time when He should be offered up, all clashing with the Jews, save where faithfulness makes it necessary. But all hope, humanly speaking, has departed. It is a rejected King whose footsteps we are now tracing. And yet here, when the unbelieving nation had closed the door, we have such lovely gospel pictures as that of the Syrophoenician woman, the glimmering foreshadowing of the establishment of His Church, and the full outshining of His glory in the transfiguration.
All the gospels begin the closing scenes with the riding into Jerusalem, which is particularly appropriate to Matthew and is gone into fully, together with those matchless interviews in which He silences His enemies, and the parables in which He unfolds their responsibility, — His prophetic discourse is complete. It includes the future of Israel, the Church and the nations.
Lastly we have the crucifixion of their King — His betrayal by one of His own; His trial and conviction before the Sanhedrim; His sentence pronounced by the unwilling Pilate and written upon His very cross — a fitting echo to which we have in the awful words of the people, "His blood be on us, and on our children." But in all this He is the King, He submits to their taunts and mockery as one who could easily have shaken them off; He confesses His kingship to Pilate; and even in death "dismissed His Spirit," as a King.
This brings me to say a word as to what is familiar to most of you regarding the view of our Lord's death in this gospel. For details you must look elsewhere; but as Matthew is the governmental gospel, so our Lord's death is looked upon in that way. Death is the governmental penalty of sin — of trespass. So you have here death, and what is deeper than death, the forsaking of God. It is the trespass-offering aspect of that death, and gives us the full satisfaction for sins committed.
The last chapter gives us the resurrection of the King. Fitting accompaniment of His triumphant rising is the resurrection of many saints — evidently sharers with Him in that act of power.
The Gospel closes in Galilee — still rejected by His own — but with the Great Commission entrusted to His servants, and the assurance of all power in His hands who is King, and of His being with them till the end of the age.
What a King! what a Gospel!
But I must hasten on to Mark, not now noticing what we have glanced at in Matthew, but merely the characteristic features of the book.
There is a great degree of similarity between it and Matthew, and some have even thought that Mark was a sort of abridgement or a new edition of Matthew. That is worthy of the "higher critics" with all their wisdom. But any one who reads and studies this gospel will find that there is a distinct object running through it all.
In the first place the Spirit of God lops off, if I may use such an expression, all that relates to the birth and infancy of our Lord. We have Him put before us as a mature Man. John the Baptist in a few words heralds Him. He is sent into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, and there, before you have read more than ten verses, you see the faithful Servant engaged in His work.
The Servant of Jehovah, the Prophet of Jehovah is come to bring the blessings of Jehovah to poor sinful man, and He passes as it were from one person to another, laying His hands upon this leper, upon that demoniac,, and upon Peter's wife's mother; whoever it may be that needs divine healing, there He is to minister to that one. And as though he would gather up for us in a single verse the varied activities of our Lord, the evangelist says, at the setting of the sun "They brought unto Him all that were afflicted, and tormented with various diseases, and He healed them all."
That is the character of this Gospel all the way through, He passes from one service to another, from one place to another. There is no lingering, there is no turning away from the work; He lets His work as it were, speak for God and then, as a Prophet of God, all that He has to say is directly, and specifically to that point.
Blessed thought it is, dear brethren, that the One who serves God perfectly here, is the One who serves poor sinful man. How exquisitely touching it is that the gospel of the perfect Servant should have been written by one who had proved himself a very poor servant. Mark had accompanied Barnabas and Paul to a certain point, and then, either from fear, or disinclination to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, had turned back. For this reason, on their next journey Paul refused his company — even though it cost him the companionship of Barnabas. Later we read with comfort "Take Mark and bring him with thee; for he is profitable to me for the ministry" (2 Tim. 4:11). In like manner it is the wandering, but now restored sheep who — in Peter — is entrusted with the lambs. But such is grace.
When we come to the death of the blessed Servant, we find all in appropriate keeping with the gospel. It is as the sin-offering that we see our Lord here. There is the cry of anguish, given doubtless in the very words our blessed Lord used, and not the Hebrew as in Matthew. These are in Aramaic, the vernacular language used in Palestine at that time.
After the death we have the full result of atonement, the veil is rent.
Chap. 16 resembles the first in this way: it rapidly recapitulates the various appearings of our Lord after His resurrection. Even at the very last we see Him, though seated in heaven, still engaged in serving with His servants. What a joy will it be in that day soon coming when it will be true of us, "His servants shall serve Him," and what a privilege even now to do anything for Him who did all for us.
Coming to Luke we are introduced again to the birth of the Man Christ Jesus. The evangelist seems loth to get away from that. He lingers about that birth, and all those holy scenes. We can see the pious mothers of John and of Jesus having sweet intercourse together. We see Zacharias and hear his and Mary's happy songs. We see all this intensely human picture, all centred about the birth of that Man — Christ Jesus. And so the evangelist shows how great that interest is, not merely for human hearts; he gives us a glimpse of the heavens themselves, on that wondrous night when Jesus was born. Heaven is opened, and as though the full chorus of the angels were following their Lord out of heaven, loth to part with Him, longing to be with Him down here where He had veiled His glory, and would not have an attendant host, — we see them there and hear them saying, "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will to men."
All this centres about the babe, about the child; and there in Luke you have the only allusion to the Lord's boyhood. All that is most characteristic of this Gospel; you find it all the way through; He is not presented to us there as King; He is not there before us as One who is claiming authority, nor yet simply as the Servant, but He is there as the Man amongst men. Even His genealogy is traced backward to Adam — thence to God. It is the Son of Man.
You take that wondrous scene in Nazareth where He opened the prophet Isaiah, and read to them. What a beautiful prophecy He selected, and how beautifully human was the whole scene. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor. He hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." Then He goes on and comments upon it, and you remember what their objection to it all was, — that it was the carpenter's son that is telling them all this. They marveled at the words of grace that fell from His lips, but it is a man that is telling us this, it is only a carpenter's son. And yet that is the glory of Luke. He presents to us the Man, the carpenter's Son all the way through, and as you take up one after another of those wondrous portions in this Gospel, how thankful we are for this "Man Christ Jesus."
Look at the poor sinful woman weeping out the tears of shame and sorrow and love over His feet, and anointing them with the ointment. What a scene! It is to such an One the sinner can go, to hear words of forgiveness and love in the house even of the haughty Pharisee. And so all through this Gospel, we have the Man before us, but oh, it is the Man who was alone, none like Him, the Man Christ Jesus.
You know the parables which you find in Luke alone, the parables of the fifteenth chapter — three parables, corresponding to the third place of this gospel, where you have the full manifestation of the heart of God. How home-like, how human are the pictures. Remark, He is going to tell out the heart of God. He is going to tell us the work of the Good Shepherd — Himself. He is going to unfold the work of the Holy Ghost. What kind of pictures will He take to do it? domestic pictures — human pictures, every-day pictures. They could look out on the hills themselves and see a shepherd caring for his sheep. They could go into any house and understand in a moment how the woman with busy care would sweep the house to find a lost piece of silver; and oh, who that was a son and had a father, or who that was a father and had a son could fail to understand how human — alas, how common the sorrow that caused the father to show such love. Blessed be God, it is the love that would take occasion from the sin and sorrow to exhibit itself. It is all human. People might say these are common, every-day pictures; that is the glory of it, dear friends, that they are every-day pictures. Blessed be God, we see the face of a Man, but we see the heart of God.
Coming to the closing scenes in this Gospel, we find all in beautiful keeping with the theme. We sit at the last Supper with Him, as with breaking heart He points out the traitor. We go to the garden and witness, as His poor sleeping disciples did not, His "agony and bloody sweat," We follow to the priest's palace, and thence to Pilate's judgment hall; we see Him arrayed in royal robes and mocked by Herod and his men of war; we see Pilate and Herod shaking hands, as it were, over His death — oh, who that reads all this can fail to have his heart moved to its depths in human sympathy with this lonely "Man of sorrows."
In keeping with its theme we find in Luke our Lord's death as the Peace-offering. There is not the cry of forsaken anguish as in the two first Gospels. On the contrary we have grace going out to enemies even as they drive the nails into His hands and feet: "Then said Jesus, Father forgive them for they know not what they do." In the very hour of His woe, we see the triumph of grace in the salvation of the thief on the cross — the Priest sharing with the guilty sinner who believes, in the preciousness of His death.
Similarly the narrative of the resurrection still displays to us the face of the Man: the journey to Emmaus, the appearing to His own in Jerusalem, His eating before them, — all these are of the same sort as the record of His life had been, and all make very near and very dear this blessed, holy "Man Christ Jesus."
Thus we have gone over these three synoptists, as they are called, finding much in common, and at the same time, very clearly marked differences. How beautifully they blend together, giving, in their threefold fulness, a view of our blessed Lord such as one single Gospel could not!