Mark's Gospel

J. N. Darby.

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Mark 9

Now the Lord finds the occasion to manifest this personal glory of His to establish the disciples' faith, and also to shew that His presence in grace as Messiah, in the midst of Israel, was soon to come to an end; and that the new glory of the Son of man with His own was soon to be inaugurated, although it would be necessary to await the time when all the co-heirs should be gathered together. "Verily I say unto you," says the Lord, "There be some of them that stand here which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." Six days afterwards the Lord went up into a mountain with Peter, James, and John, and was transfigured before them; His raiment became shining and exceeding white as snow; Elias and Moses appeared with Him glorified in like manner, speaking with Him. We know that this apparition was the manifestation of Christ's glorious reign over the earth.

We read in 2 Peter 1-16, "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his Majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, 'This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased'; and this voice which came from heaven we heard when we were with him in the holy mount." These are the words of the apostle Peter when he relates that which happened to him when he saw the wonderful vision of the mountain of the transfiguration. From this we learn what the kingdom is as regards its manifestation upon earth, for they were upon earth. The bright cloud which covered them was the Father's dwelling-place, whence the voice came and into which, according to Luke, they had entered.

What a privilege for poor mortals, for sinners to have been able to gaze upon the Son of God in glory, and to have been manifested with Him in the same glory upon earth; to be His companions, to converse with Him; to possess the testimony that they have been loved as He has been loved (John 17:23); to be with Him, and like Him in everything as Man, for His own glory; wonderful proof of the value of the redemption He has accomplished! And the nearer we shall be to Him, the more shall we adore Him, being with Him as we shall be in the Father's house. But here our evangelist does not speak of their entering; comparing however Luke 9 we find it nevertheless true that they entered into the cloud out of which came the Father's voice.

274 It was according to God's counsel that we should be with Christ, the second Man, the last Adam, and in the same glory with Him. We are predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son in order that He may be the first-born among many brethren. It is for this that He became man: He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one, for which cause He is not ashamed to call us brethren. What would a Redeemer be without His redeemed? It is most certainly a far better thing to be a companion of the Lord Jesus in the Father's house, than co-heir of His glory before the world: yet both the one thing and the other are wonderful for poor creatures like ourselves. Elias and Moses are in the same glory; and we shall be like Him when He shall appear.

But the Lord's personal glory is always maintained; Peter wishes to make three tabernacles, putting Christ, Moses, and Elias upon the same footing - the three grand characters of Israel's history. But Moses and Elias disappear immediately, and the Father's voice recognises Jesus as His beloved Son; it is to Jesus' testimony that we must listen. All that Moses and Elias said is the truth, God's word, and by their means we learn God's thoughts; but they give testimony to Christ, not with Him. It is from Him alone that we learn fully the will of God, and His truth fully revealed. Jesus is the truth, and grace and truth came by Him. The death of Christ, His resurrection and completed redemption have put everything upon a new footing for men.

The believers who lived before the Lord's coming, believed in the promises and prophecies which announced His arrival; and they were accepted by faith; their sins committed during the time of God's patience, and which He bore with because He knew what He would do later on, are forgiven; and God's righteousness in forgiving them is manifested, now that Christ has died. But now God's righteousness is manifested, and the power of divine life is shewn forth in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All is new in our relationship with God; the veil is rent, and we enter freely into the holiest. "The righteousness of God without law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets." Behold Moses and Elias; but the glory in which both Moses and Elias appeared is the fruit, not of the law nor of the prophets, but of the work of Jesus Christ; and one can only possess it in the resurrection state. The Lord's resurrection too was absolutely necessary, as being the power of life beyond death, and as a proof that God had accepted the death of Christ as having answered to the question of sin. The glory belonged to another world, gained for those who believe by the sacrifice of Christ, the Son of God, although this had to be fulfilled in this world. It belongs, therefore, to the state into which Christ, the second Adam, has entered by resurrection, and is based upon accomplished redemption.

275 Thus, although this was well-suited to strengthen the faith and increase the intelligence of these three, columns of the future church, it was not to be talked about before the Lord's resurrection, and Jesus forbade the disciples to tell the things they had seen until the Son of man should be raised from among the dead. Notice the expression, "The disciples kept these words to themselves, asking one another what the rising from the dead should mean." This indeed throws quite a new light upon the resurrection. Christ rose alone from amongst the dead, and left all the others in the grave; and His resurrection is a proof that the God of righteousness has accepted His work - His sacrifice - as a full and entire satisfaction given to His righteousness and His holiness; and the man who believes in Him is accepted according to the value of Christ's sacrifice.

The resurrection of the faithful also takes place, because God is fully satisfied as to them because of Christ's work. These alone will be raised when the Lord comes, to be for ever with Him. All the disciples believed in the resurrection of the dead, having been taught thus by the Pharisees; they were not like the Sadducees, but believed that all the Jews would be raised at once; and they did not understand the meaning of a resurrection which should separate the good from the bad, and should leave the latter behind for a certain time. Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the saints, not of the wicked. Those who are Christ's shall rise at His coming, and their vile body shall be changed and made like unto His glorious body. There are many Christians who, like the disciples, do not understand the Lord's words. One finds many Christians who have a faith like that of the Pharisees; they believe indeed that there will be a resurrection. and, like Martha, that all will rise at the last day. The only difference is that Martha and the Jews believed in the resurrection of the Jews only; and these Christians believe in a resurrection where good and bad will be raised together.

276 It is quite true that all will rise, but true faith in Christ (notice, dear reader), true faith makes the distinction already. The unbeliever remains in his sins, and will rise for the judgment, and the true believer will rise for the resurrection of life; he will rise (as we find in 1 Cor. 15) in glory. When the Lord comes, He will change our vile body and fashion it like unto His glorious body. Christ is the first-fruits of the resurrection, but certainly not of the wicked: in no part of the word do we find a common resurrection of good and bad: we find in Luke 14:14, a resurrection of the just, and again (20:35), "they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from among the dead." Thus we find expressly in 1 Corinthians 15, "Every man in his own order, Christ the first-fruits, afterwards they that are Christ's at his coming."

Thus also in 1 Thessalonians 4, "The dead in Christ shall rise first": it is always thus. People quote Matthew 25, but in that chapter it is no question of resurrection, nor of raised bodies; it is not a universal judgment, but a judgment of Gentiles upon the earth, of those to whom the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14 had been sent at the end of the age. There are not two classes only here, but three; the sheep, the goats, and the brethren of the Judge. The principle of the judgment here is not the principle of a universal judgment. It is just according to the manner in which they have received and esteemed the Judge's brethren; that is, the messengers of the everlasting gospel, called in Matthew 24:14, "this gospel of the kingdom."

The principles of the general judgment of the nations are explained in Romans 1 and 2; these are quite different. I speak of Matthew 25 because it is the only passage that is quoted as a reply to the uniform testimony of the Holy Scriptures to a distinct resurrection of believers, according to the declaration of John 5:24: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment; but is passed from death unto life." We shall all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, certainly, and every one will give account of himself to God. But when the believers shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, they will have been glorified already, raised in glory, and made like unto the glory of Christ, as man. "When he shall appear, we shall be like him" - it is for this that "every one who hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure."

277 The first coming of Christ put away sin as regards judgment; for believers He will appear the second time unto perfect salvation to receive them to Himself, to glorify them. Their spirits are with Him in heaven, whilst they await this hour-the resurrection of their bodies will take place when He shall return, and then we shall all be for ever with the Lord. When glorified however, we shall give account of everything; we shall know as we have been known. There is thus a resurrection from among the dead.

The difficulty of which the scribes talked (that Elias ought to come before the Messiah) presents itself to the disciples. Now the scribes still exercised great influence over the disciples. And in truth, this is to be found in Malachi's prophecy; it will be surely fulfilled, whatever the manner of fulfilment may be, before the Lord's coming in glory. But He came first in humiliation, and hidden, as it were, as to His external glory; He entered by the door as the shepherd of the sheep, in order that faith seeing through the darkness of His position and of His daily life, might discern not merely a Messiah, come to Israel according to the promises, but the love and power of God Himself - and might find itself in the presence of His holiness.

The Jews would have received with joy a Messiah who should liberate them from the Roman yoke; but the presence of God is unsupportable for men, even when He appears amongst them in goodness. To the coming which is still future, the Lord alludes when He says in Matthew 10:23, "For I tell you ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel until the Son of man be come." But now He appears in humility, made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death; that is, in order to be able to suffer. Thus also John the Baptist comes in the spirit and power of Elias, according to Isaiah 11 and Malachi 3, to prepare the way of the Lord. Thus the Lord answers; John must come; the scribes are right; John shall come and restore all things. But it was necessary too that the Son of man should suffer, and that He should be thoroughly despised. "But I tell you that Elias hath already come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed."

278 But if the Lord was manifested in His glory before the disciples' eyes in the transfiguration, He occupies Himself now with the misery of the earth; and that which took place is very remarkable for the display of His patience, and of the ways of God. When He comes down from the mountain, He finds a great crowd, and the scribes reasoning with His disciples. It is blessed to notice that if the Lord is recognised as Son of God, and will be manifested in glory, and we with Him, He nevertheless comes down into this world - as He does still by His Spirit - and meets with the crowd and the power of Satan for us; and again (it is well for us to notice it) He speaks as intimately with His disciples as He does with Moses and Elias. Oh, how great is His grace! But the exercise of this grace develops the position and state of man and of the disciples.

A poor father has recourse to the Lord for his suffering son, who is possessed of an evil spirit, and cannot speak. He tells the Lord that he had brought him to the disciples, and that they could not cast out the unclean spirit. This is their position; not only does the Lord encounter unbelief, but although divine power be in the earth, believers even do not know how to use it; it was in vain then that the Lord was present in the world. He could work miracles, but man did not know how to profit by this, or to use it by faith. It was a faithless generation; and He could not stay down here. It was not the presence or the power of the devils that drove Him away, for indeed it was this that brought Him down here; but when His own do not know how to profit by the power and the blessing which He has brought into the world and placed in their midst, the dispensation characterised by these gifts must be drawing to its close. And this, not because there is unbelief in the world, but because He own cannot realise the power placed at their disposal; and in consequence the testimony of God falls to the ground destroyed, instead of being established; since the followers of this testimony meet with the power of the enemy and cannot do anything - the enemy is too strong for them.

"O faithless generation," says the Lord, "how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?" His service upon earth was finished. But see the patience and goodness of the Lord; He cannot deny Himself. All the time He is down here upon earth He works according to His power and grace, and that notwithstanding the unbelief of His own. He finishes the sentence in which He reproves their unbelief in this manner - "Bring him to me." Faith, however small it be, is never left without an answer from the Lord. What a consolation! whatever be the unbelief, not only of the world, but of Christians - if only one solitary person were left in the world who had faith in the goodness and power of the Lord Jesus, he could not come to Him with a real need and simple belief without finding His heart ready and His power sufficient.

The church may be in ruins, as was Israel, but the Head is sufficient for everything, knows the state of His own, and will not fail to supply their needs. The child's state was very dangerous, and the devil had possessed him from his infancy. The father's faith was feeble, but sincere; he says to the Lord, "If thou canst do anything, have pity upon us, and help us." The Lord's reply is remarkable: "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." Power connects itself with faith; the difficulty is not in Christ's power, but in man's believing; all things were possible if he could believe. This is an important principle; Christ's power never fails to accomplish all that is good for man; faith, alas! may be wanting in us to profit by it. However the Lord is full of goodness; the poor father says with tears, "I believe, help thou mine unbelief": sincere words from a moved heart in which the Lord had already awakened faith. It was the anxiety for his son that weakened this faith.

Now the Lord, avoiding the empty curiosity of the people, thinking rather of the needs of the father and son, commands the unclean spirit with authority to come out and not to enter again into the child. And he comes out of him, shewing at she same time his power (tearing the child, so as to leave him as dead), but absolutely subject to the Lord's authority. It is very beautiful to see that the Lord upon leaving the glory went to meet the unbelief of the world and of His own, and the weakness of the faith of those who have need of it, and that too in the presence of the enemy's great power. The Lord does not keep at a distance from us, He takes part in our sorrows, He encourages our weak faith, and with a single word drives away all the power of the enemy. Neither His own glorious state, nor the unbelief of the world which rejected Him, prevented Him from being the refuge and the remedy for the poorest faith. He interests Himself in us, thinks of us, and helps us.

280 Although the Lord be placed in glory according to His rights, these do not weaken His love for poor human-kind. But again we find an important lesson at the end of this history. Energetic faith which works (whether the miracles which happened at that time or the great things of the kingdom of God) is sustained by intimate communion with God, by prayer and fasting. The heart comes out from God's presence to drive away the enemy's power; but whatever might be the Lord's grace, whatever His power, a greater work had to be accomplished, a great work for the Lord Himself, a work of which He alone was capable - difficult indeed for the heart of man to learn, but absolutely necessary for the glory of God and for our redemption and salvation: a lesson which one must learn in order to walk in the Lord's ways. This is the work of the cross; and the wholesome lesson it teaches us is this - that we must bear our own cross.

Now that the future glory, the glory of the kingdom, has been revealed; - now that the Lord has shewn forth His power and His perfect goodness in spite of the unbelief of the world, and of His departure after having been rejected by the world - He takes His disciples aside, passing through Galilee to make them understand that the Son of man would be given into the hands of men who would put Him to death. He speaks of His title as Son of man, because He could not any longer remain upon earth as the promised Messiah, but He must accomplish the work of redemption. However after that He should have been put to death, He would rise again on the third day. Behold then redemption completed and everything made new: man is put upon an entirely new footing, at least the believer in Jesus.

Risen man does not stand upon the same footing as Adam in his innocence. I do not speak now of the lost, although it be true for them, but it is quite a different thing. Adam was in the natural blessing of a creature, but his faithfulness was put to the proof, a proof in which he failed. True enough the sinner is not in the condition of the redeemed; but in Adam's case all depended upon his responsibility. In Christ risen man had been fully tried and shewn to be perfect, proved even unto death, where He glorified God Himself. Further, He bore our sins and put them away for ever; He submitted to death, but has conquered it, and has come forth out of it; He has borne the stroke of God's judgment against sin. Satan had already employed all his power as the prince of this world, in the death of Jesus, although it was not possible that He should be holden of death: so that instead of being under trial where He had placed Himself in His love for us and in order to glorify His Father, Jesus risen (and we in Him by faith and by the hope which the Holy Ghost who unites us to Jesus inspires) is beyond the reach of all these things.

281 Death, to which Adam subjected himself through sin, is conquered, our sins are abolished before God; we are perfected for ever as to our conscience; a new state of life has begun for us, a life which is entirely new and heavenly; and heavenly glory at the end, already realised for Christ there where He was with the Father before the foundation of the world. "As He is," says John, "so are we in this world" (that is, as in the presence of God's judgment) - and we await the resurrection of the body. But Christ's position as a glorified man, is the fruit of having fully glorified God; and we, sharing His life by the operation of the Holy Spirit, participate in the fruit of His work already at this present time, as to our position before God; and later we shall be like unto Him perfectly. Adam's state when innocent was happy, but it depended upon his obedience. Christ's state as man is the fruit of an obedience perfectly complete, after it had been proved even to the point of drinking the cup of death and of malediction, when He was made sin for us.

The first state was exposed to change, and complete ruin came in by the fall; the other remains unchangeable, established upon a work that can never lose its value. We are already brought, by participating in the life of Jesus, into the relationships into which He introduces us with the Father. "I ascend," said He after His resurrection, "to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God." Only in order to accomplish all this it was necessary for Him to pass through death, to bear the cross, in order to drink the cup which His Father had given Him. He engages them then with the cross, and teaches them to expect it. But what a thing man is! We learn it in what follows.

The Lord, having the consciousness of His glory in which the Father had recognised Him a little while ago as His beloved Son, and knowing at the same time that this glory made the cross absolutely necessary to bring many sons to glory, speaks of it to His disciples; He insists that it will be necessary for them to carry it. Such was the path of the glory of which His own death was the foundation. The Lord's heart was full of the thought of the sufferings which accompanied it; of the cup He had to drink, and of the necessity of His disciples' understanding this path, and of taking up their cross. But of what were the disciples' hearts full? They were thinking who should be the greatest. Alas, how incapable our heart is to receive God's thoughts, to think of a Saviour humbled unto death for us! It is true that the Spirit of God puts in contrast here the reign of Messiah which the Jews expected, and the glorious heavenly reign which the Lord was establishing, and for which His death was necessary; but the contrast comes out strongly thus in the heart of man. He would like to be great in a kingdom established according to man's glory and man's power; he esteems it a good thing that God should condescend to this; but that His glory should be morally exalted and established, and the vain glory of man brought to nought, the manifestation of what man is; the love, holiness, and justice of God brought to light - all this is what man neither seeks nor desires; and when the Lord's heart, full of these solemn truths and of the sufferings by which He must needs pass to fulfil them, speaks of them to His disciples, the latter dispute as to who shall be greatest. How poor and wretched a thing is man's heart!

282 What incapacity to understand God's thoughts, and to feel the tenderness and faithfulness of the heart of Jesus, and the thoughts passing through it; divine love manifesting itself in the heart of a Man, and as a Man in the midst of men, in which is found a moral incapacity to enter into His thoughts; but this opens the way at the same time to the manifestation of our thoughts which are in full contrast with those of Jesus. May God grant us in His grace to hold the flesh so entirely subject, that the Holy Spirit may be the source of all our thoughts and of the movements of our hearts. Nevertheless the conscience does not keep silence if the Lord's word touches us: we know well that the desire of vain glory is a bad thing, that it is not meet for Christ, for Him who speaks, and we are ashamed. The disciples are silent because their conscience speaks.

283 Now the patient love of the Lord sets itself to teach them; He sits down (v. 35), and calls the twelve: He always thinks of us. He then teaches several principles, in which we see the consequences of the world's opposition to Christ, and the introduction of a new relationship with God in Christ risen; these principles demand some explanation. The important point here, the foundation of all the Lord's exhortations, and of all He says is this, that the glory of the kingdom to come has been revealed, and with this revelation comes the cross. It is the end of all the relationships between God and Israel, and indeed between God and man, except indeed that of sovereign grace, and the principle of a new and heavenly relationship by faith. But Christ, the Messiah according to the promises in Israel, God manifest in flesh, the last hope for man as he was upon earth, was rejected. The relationship between God and man was broken. Could one seek glory upon an earth of this kind? What kind of disposition is fitting for a disciple of Christ? Humility: he who would be first shall be the last and servant of all. Then He takes a child and declares that he who receives such an one in His name receives Christ; and he who receives Christ receives the Father who sent Him. The name of Christ is the touch-stone, the only thing upon earth really great by faith.

Then we find a reproof for a thing which in itself was love, though rough and coarse, but which dresses itself in very deceitful forms, and seems to consider Christ's glory; for love in itself is not upright: it is quite disposed to maintain the glory of Christ's name, if it can attach itself to this glory. "We saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us, and we forbade him because he followeth not us." See here the word "us" betrays the most subtle love of self: subtle, it is true, but none the less dangerous. But the Lord's answer shews how absolute is His rejection: "He who is not against us is on our part," because the whole world in its natural state was against Christ, and is still against Him; and no one could perform miracles in His name and at the same time speak evil or lightly of Him. The name of Christ is everything. Let us avoid this wretched "us," and hold fast to Christ.

Verse 41 shews how the name of Christ is everything in a world which has rejected Him.

284 But what a testimony to man's state, and to his inward opposition to God revealed in Christ! If any one was not against Him, he was for Him, otherwise he was completely God's enemy. Some important consequences follow this state: first of all the least manifestation of love for Him, which interested itself in Him, having the power of His name at heart, should not be forgotten before God. What a picture of the state of things and of the patience of Christ, who humbled Himself even to being rejected and despised, yet does not forget the least token of affection for Him, and of desire for His glory! Now we see another consequence of this position. The Lord does not wish that a little child who believes in Him should be despised; He esteems these, because their hearts recognise His name, believe in Him; and hence they have a great value before God. Woe be to him who despises them and who places a stone of stumbling before their feet; it would have been better for such an one to have been drowned in the depth of the sea. And nevertheless, as regards themselves, all depends upon the faithfulness of Christ; and on this account they need free themselves from all the things which tend to separate from Christ, which lead into sin, and bring on apostasy in the heart as well as outward apostasy. God will keep His own, I believe, but He will keep them in making them obedient to His word.

However much it may cost us, if it should be an eye that offends us, we must pluck it out; if a hand, we must cut it off; in a word, the most valuable thing possible; for an eternity of blessing with Christ is better than to keep a right hand and to find oneself in eternal torments, "where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched." Besides this, God puts all to the proof: the fire of His judgment is applied to all, both to saints and sinners. In the saints, it consumes the dross, in order that the pure gold may shine in its true lustre; in the case of sinners, the fire of God and the eternal pains according to His just judgment, fire that is not quenched. "Every sacrifice must be salted with salt"; this refers to Leviticus 2:13. The salt represents the power of the Holy Spirit, not exactly to produce grace alone, but to keep us from all that is impure, and to produce holiness in a heart devoted to God, and which introduces God into its path; and in the heart there is a link with Himself which keeps us from all corruption. We are called to keep this in the heart, and to apply the sense of His presence to all that passes within us, and to judge by this means all that is within us.

285 But observe that the believer is the true sacrifice offered to God. "I beseech you," says the apostle in Romans 12, "then, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." Here we see the true sacrifice, a reasonable service: and besides, this holy grace, which keeps us from all that is evil and impure, makes good its influence within us; and the Christian filled with practical holiness is a witness in the world. This indeed is the true state of Christians in this world; a witness in the midst of the world of a power which not only purifies but which keeps from the corruption in it. Salt influences other things and is apt to produce this effect; but if the salt itself lose its savour, wherewithal can it be seasoned? If Christians lose their practical holiness, what can they be good for? "Have salt in yourselves," said the Lord. He wishes us to exercise diligence in order that our souls, in our walk, may be thus sanctified before God, and then manifest themselves before the world; that we should judge in ourselves all that might diminish in us the clearness and purity of our testimony; and that we should walk with others in peace, governed by the spirit of peace in our relationships with them.

Mark 10

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We find some important principles in this chapter, which terminates the history of Christ's life. In the first three Gospels the account of the circumstances attending His death begins with the healing of the blind man near Jericho, which we find in verse 46 of this chapter. The first principle we find here is the corruption and ruin of that which God created down here; and in the relationships which He has established sin has entered and exercises its pernicious influence. The very law of Moses was obliged to permit things in the relationships of life down here, which are not according to the thoughts and the actual will of God, for the hardness of the heart of man.

But if God bears with men, incapable as they are to live up to the height of their relationships with Him, in things which are not according to His will and the perfection of the relationships which He has established, He does not condemn them, nor does He ever cease to recognise them as being that which He had established in the beginning. That which was established from the beginning by God Himself always holds good, and He maintains these relationships by His authority. Creation itself is good, but man has corrupted it; nevertheless God recognises that which He has made, and the relationships in which He has placed man, who is responsible in maintaining their obligations. It is true that God has brought in a power after the death of Christ which is not of this creation (that is, the Holy Spirit); and by means of this power, a man may live outside all the relationships of the old creation, if God calls him to this: but then he will respect the relationships where they exist.

286 The Pharisees, drawing near, ask Jesus if it is permitted that a husband should put away his wife. The Lord takes the occasion to insist upon this truth, that that which God had established from the beginning of the creation was always valid in itself. Moses had allowed a man to put away his wife in the law; but this was only the patience of God with the hardness of man's heart; but it was not according to God's own heart and will. In the creation at the beginning God made that which was good - weak, but good. He allowed other things when He ordered provisionally the state of His people, of fallen man; but He had made things differently when He created them. God had united husband and wife, and man had no right to separate them. The bond is not to be broken.

Again they bring little children unto Him; and the disciples forbid those who bring them. But Jesus is displeased at this. Although the root of sin be found in the children, nevertheless they were the expression of simplicity, of confidence, and of the absence of the craftiness and of the corruption caused by the knowledge of the world, of the depravity of nature. They present to the heart the simplicity of uncorrupted nature, which has not learned the deceit of the world. And the Lord being a stranger in the world recognises in them that which His Father has created.

Now is there really any good in man? The remains of what God created are found in that which is purely creature; that which is beautiful and pleasant; that which comes from God's hand is often beautiful and should be recognised as coming from Him. Nature around us is beautiful; it is God who created it, although thorns and thistles be found in it. We find that which is lovely sometimes in a man's character and also even in the disposition of an animal. But it is a question of man's heart, of his will, of what he is toward God-and not of what is natural, the fruit of creation: there dwelleth in him no good thing. There is nothing for God; but all is against Him; and this was manifested in the rejection of Christ.

287 This is the lesson we learn in the account which follows of the young man who runs and kneels at Jesus' feet, asking Him, "Good master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He was amiable, well disposed, and ready to learn that which is good; he had witnessed the excellence of the life and works of Jesus, and his heart was touched at what he had seen. He had all the fine ardour of youth, he was not depraved by the habit of sin, for sin depraves the heart. Outwardly he had kept the law, and believed that Jesus could teach him the highest precepts of the law; for the Jews even believed that some commandments were of greater value than others.

The young man neither knew himself, nor the state in which man really was before God. He was under the law; and Jesus sets forth the law first as the rule of life, given by God as the measure of righteousness for the sons of Adam. The young man does not ask how he may be saved, but how he may inherit eternal life. The Lord does not speak of eternal life, but takes up the young man at the point where he places himself; the law said, "Do these things, and thou shalt live." The young man declares that he has kept all these things from his youth up: the Lord neither denies nor disputes it; and we read that He looked upon him, and loved him. We see here that which is amiable and loved of the Lord. But what is the true state of this young man? The Lord draws the veil, and man stands before God in his nakedness; and God stands before man in His holiness. Doing anything is out of the question: how to be saved is another thing.

Let us examine what the Lord says about the state of man. The young man addressed the Lord not as Son of God, but as a rabbi, that is, as a teacher in Israel: he calls Him "Good master." The Lord will not admit that man is good; not one righteous man can be found amongst men - no, not one. He says, "Why callest thou me good? No one is good except one: that is God." Certainly Christ was good, but He was God, although He made Himself man in His perfect love. He was always God, and God became man without ceasing to be, or being able to cease being, God; only He had hidden His divinity in human nature (at least His glory) in order to come nigh unto us; for by faith divine power and love are more clearly manifested than ever. But here the young man comes as to a human teacher, a rabbi; and the Lord answers him in the same manner as he asks; but He establishes this important principle, that no one amongst the sons of fallen Adam is good; it is a humiliating truth, but one of immense weight. We cannot now find a man who is good by nature; we have seen that certain qualities remain of the first creation; but that which God had created good and declared to be good has been corrupted by the fall. Man goes in quest of his own pleasures, of his own interests, and not of God and His glory; he may seek these things honestly or dishonestly in the quagmire of sin, but he always seeks to satisfy his own will; he has lost God, and looks after himself.

288 Then the Lord, after having presented to him the commandments of the law, in which a man has life whilst he keeps them, adds in an exhortation the commandment which made Paul feel what the law produced, in the state in which man was - in death. "One thing thou lackest," says the Lord: "Go, sell that thou hast, and come and follow me." Here we see the lust of the heart exposed, the young man's true state laid bare by the Lord's powerful but simple word, which knows and tries the heart. The fine flowers of the wild tree are worth nothing; the fruits are those of a heart alienated from God: the sap is the sap of a bad tree. The love of riches ruled this young man's heart, interesting as it was as to his natural disposition: the base desire of gold lay at the bottom of his heart; it was the mainspring of his will, the true measure of his moral state. If he goes away grieved and leaves the Lord, it is because he prefers money to God manifested in love and grace.

How solemn a thing it is to find oneself in the presence of Him who searcheth the heart! But the thing that governs the heart, its motive is the true measure of man's moral state, and not the qualities which he possesses by birth, however pleasing these may be. Good qualities are to be found even in animals; they are to be esteemed, but they do not at all reveal the moral state of the heart. A man who has a hard and perverse nature, who tries to control his bad disposition by grace, and to be amiable to others and pleasing to God, is more moral and better before Him than a man who, amiable naturally, seeks to enjoy himself with others in a pleasant way, but without conscience before God; that is, without thinking of Him; loved by men, but displeasing to the God whom he forgets. That which gives moral character to a man is the object of his heart; and it is this the Lord shews here in so powerful a manner, that it touches to the quick the pride of the human heart.

289 But then the Lord goes father; the disciples, who thought that men could do something to gain eternal life, like all the Pharisees of every age, and that man ought to gain heaven for himself, although they recognised the need of God's help, were astonished. What! a rich man of a very good disposition, who had kept the law, and who only sought to know what was the most excellent commandment from their Master in order to perform it - could such an one be far from the kingdom of God? Could it be extremely difficult for such an one to enter into it? If we do not understand that we are lost already, that we need to be saved, that it is a question of the state of the heart, that all hearts are naturally at a distance from God, and that they seek an object, the object of their own desire far from Him, that they do not wish Him to be present, because the conscience feels that His presence would hinder the heart in following this object; if we do not learn this truth by grace, we are altogether blind.

At the moment at which we have arrived in this passage, it was too late to keep concealed from man (at least from the disciples) the true state of his heart. This state had been manifested; man had been unwilling to receive the Son of God. Thus it had been proved that with the best natural disposition, man, even whilst preserving outward morality, preferred to follow the object of his desire, rather than the God of love present upon earth, or a master whom he had recognised as having the highest knowledge of the will of God. Man was lost; he had shewn this fact in rejecting the Son of God; and he must learn it, and that with all his most excellent qualities he cannot save himself. "Who then can be saved?" The Lord does not hide the truth: "With men it is impossible." Solemn words, pronounced by the Lord, pronounced by Him who came to save us. He knew that man could not save himself, that he could not emerge from the state into which he had fallen, without the help of God. With men it is impossible; but then God comes in His boundless love to save us, not to conceal our state, and the need of this free salvation.

290 We must know our state; it is not a thing to be lightly esteemed that the glorious Son of God should have made Himself of no reputation, and have died upon the cross: the only means of redeeming and saving lost man. We must know ourselves, and know that we are condemned, in our hearts, in order to be able to understand that Christ has borne this condemnation in our place, and that He has accomplished the work of our salvation, according to God's glory: let the state of condemnation and sin be proved; and let the love, the perfect righteousness, and the holiness of a God who cannot tolerate the sight of sin (however patient He may be) be brought out clearly and glorified. "With men it is impossible … with God all things are possible." By the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by this work alone, a work which the angels desire to look into, all this can be done; salvation is obtained by faith - by faith, because all is accomplished. To God be the praise! The Lord is glorified as man in heaven, because this work has been done, and because God has recognised its perfection; it is on this account that He has placed Christ at His right hand, because everything has been done. God is satisfied, glorified, in the work of Christ.

With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. But what an immense grace which shews us what we are and what God is! "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Think of this, brethren. This means that we must expect a cross in this world. Be ready to receive the Lord's words, to take up the cross, in order to have the true knowledge of yourselves; that is, that you are lost in sin, that salvation is purely of grace, impossible for man; but that the work of salvation is perfect and complete, and the righteousness of God is upon all men who believe in Him who has accomplished it. In no part of scripture is the fundamental truth of the need of God's salvation and of man's state more clearly stated.

Now the Lord adds His teaching about the path of the cross, and the promises which accompany it: let us look at these. It is easy to see how much this story resembles that of the apostle Paul; only grace had changed everything in him. As to the righteousness which is by law, he was blameless; but when the spirituality of the law had operated in his heart, lust was discovered. Then he found out that in him, that is, in his flesh, there dwelt no good thing. But being convinced of sin, God revealed His Son in him, and then he understood that what was impossible with man was possible with God; God had done for him that which he could not do himself (that is, to gain a righteousness according to the law); and this sin in the flesh is found to be condemned in the cross of Christ, and a sacrifice for sin accomplished by Him. Instead of finding himself to be lost in this state of sin, he becomes a new man.

291 But the young man remains in his former state, and abandons the Lord in order to keep his riches; whilst in Paul's case the things which he counted gain he counted but loss for Christ. "Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ." See here the difference between the effect of grace and human nature. There was wisdom to be found in Paul; and, notice, he did not only count all things as dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ from the outset, when first Christ was revealed in him, but he continued, whilst walking in communion with Him, to count all things as dung for Him.

Now follow the promises made to those who have walked thus, and the path itself, as the Lord Himself represents it. Peter suggests that they had left all in order to follow Him, as He had proposed to the young men: what should they have? The Lord declares in His answer that no man who had left house, or brethren, or sisters, etc., for His sake and the gospel's, but should receive an hundredfold such in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting. They should enjoy much more than the wretched things of this life, but with persecutions; and thus they have the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come; not of riches, perhaps, but the true enjoyment of all that is in the world according to God's will, and as gifts from God; but they will have to do with the opposition of a world that does not know God. But those who were the first in Judaism shall be the last amongst Christians.

The Lord now sets Himself in the way going up to Jerusalem. The heart of the disciples was full of presentiments of the danger which awaited them in this city. They followed the Lord in fear and trembling, because the flesh fears the malice of a world, which, if it cannot do anything against God, can persecute those who serve Him down here. Here again we see the difference of the effect of grace in Paul, who, having given up everything for the love of Christ, rejoices in the thought of the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death, knowing and wishing to know the power of His resurrection. This the disciples did not know, and the flesh can never understand. But the Lord does not wish to hide the truth; He wishes the disciples to understand the place He was just going to take, and which they would have to take. He begins to tell them the things that should happen to Him, and what should be the lot of the Son of man. He should be given into the hands of the priests, condemned, and delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, who would treat Him with the greatest ignominy, and would put Him to death; but the third day He would rise again. Thus ends the story of the Son of man amongst men. His own people were the first to condemn Him; and the Gentiles, by their indifference, were ready to complete the terrible act of the Saviour's rejection in this world. The people of God (the Jews) joined with sinful man to cast out the Son of God, come down here in grace. It was important for the disciples to know what should be their Master's end. The Son of man must die. This is the teaching, the foundation, of all blessing; but it was a foundation which destroyed all the hopes and all the expectations of the disciples; which shewed also that man was bad, and God infinitely good.

292 Now these thoughts of the disciples manifest themselves at once, and are put in contrast with that which the Saviour solemnly announces. Indeed the disciples seemed to be impenetrable to the truth up to the last; by grace they loved the Saviour, they rejoiced in the thought that Jesus possessed the words of eternal life (for even the Pharisees' system spoke of eternal life). Now all this was not enough to drive away thoughts of a kingdom which they believed would be established upon earth, nor a carnal desire of a high position close to the Lord's person in this kingdom. The Lord could not find a single person who could understand Him, who could enter into the thoughts of His heart, and could be touched by His sufferings; or could comprehend what He was explaining to His disciples about His death at Jerusalem, when He had led them by themselves apart.

293 James and John ask to sit, one at His right hand, and the other at His left, in His glory. There was faith in this, for they believed that He would reign; but the desire of the flesh was always at work. But the answer of the Lord, who is always full of goodness for His own, turns the fleshly question into an occasion for instruction for His disciples. He was not the only one who was to bear the cross. He alone could accomplish redemption by the offering of Himself: the Son of God who gave Himself in His love to be the Lamb of God. But as to the path, it was necessary that the disciples should enter into the same path in which He was going, if they wished to be with Him. Here the Lord shews His deep humility and submission to the place He had taken. He had made Himself of no reputation; and He accepts this place with a willing heart, not insensible to the humiliation and the sufferings of the cross, but accepting everything from the hand of His Father, and submitting to all that should be found upon this path.

"To sit at my right hand and my left is not for me to give, but for those for whom it is prepared." He does not possess the right of preferment in His kingdom. He leaves to the Father the right of choosing, and gives the special glory appointed to special work to those for whom it is prepared, and whom grace has prepared for this glory. His portion is the cross; and the cross can give the glory, if any one will follow Him as His disciple: this is now the lesson which His people must learn. He was subject to His Father, and received from His hand all that was prepared for Him according to His will; and if the disciples wished to follow Him, they must take up the cross which was in this path, and which is always in it. Besides, to follow the Lord Jesus, the disciple must humble himself like the Lord; not to be like the great of this world, which makes itself great apart from God, but to be the servant of all in love, as the blessed Saviour was, although by right the Lord of all. Love is the most powerful of all things, and loves to minister, not to be ministered to. It is thus that God manifested Himself, in the Man Jesus, in this path: it is our duty to follow Him. He who is smallest in his own eyes is the greatest.

294 Here ends the history of the Saviour's life upon earth: the account of the events attending His death begins. He presents Himself again, and for the last time, at Jerusalem both as Son of David, the object of the promises made to Israel, and also in order to be received by His people, and by the beloved city: but in fact to be rejected, and put to death. Up to this time (v. 45) He spoke of "the Son of man who had come to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." But now He presents Himself in the only relationship in which He could be with His people according to the prophecies.

He enters by Jericho, the cursed city, but He enters it according to the grace which surpasses the curse; indeed He was going to bear it Himself. The Son of David comes in grace, with divine power, able to accomplish all things, but in humility and lowliness. He answers, therefore, to this name of Son of David, shewing forth His power in grace in healing the blind man. The crowd accompanying Him does not wish Him to be disturbed, but He stops and listens to the needs of His people in His grace. He orders Bartimaeus to be brought, who runs to Him with joy. His felt needs make him run to Christ, who is just the One to meet his needs, and to apply an effective remedy.

The blind man was a speaking picture of the dark state of the Jews; but in that which took place we see the Lord's work in producing by His grace the feeling of need in the heart of a Jew at that time. No doubt it is true for every time, but especially in this case, of the Jews in their state at that moment. The crowd, when Bartimaeus asked what the noise was, said to him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. This was a name which did not convey any idea to the Jews; Nazareth was rather a name with which reproach was connected. But there was faith to be found in the blind man's heart, according to the place that Jesus took with regard to His people: the man says, "Son of David." He recognises the truth that Jesus of Nazareth had the right to that title. Jesus responds to his faith, and heals the blind man. He receives his sight, and follows Jesus in the way.

This is a touching picture of Israel's position, and of the work which was going on in the midst of this people. The Son of God, the Son of David according to the flesh, the fulfilment of the promises was come in grace, and was able to heal Israel. There, in the place where the Son of David was recognised, the power which He brought with Him, and which was in Him, took away blindness. Israel was totally blind; but divine power was present to heal; and if there was faith enough to recognise the Son of David in Jesus, the blindness vanished. It is beautiful to see grace enter there where the curse had fallen; but it is grace which works there where Jesus is recognised as Son of David; grace which opened the eyes of the blind man, from henceforth made His disciple.

Mark 11

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We have already seen that the Lord assumes here the title of Son of David, a name which spoke of the accomplishment of the promises and constituted Him true king of Israel. The name which He took habitually and by preference was that of Son of man. This name had a much wider signification and announced the right to a power and a lordship much more extensive than those of the Son of David; it put Christ into strict relationship with all men, but asserted His right to all the glory that belonged to the Son of man according to the counsels of God. In Psalm 2 we find the two titles, of the Son of God - the one which was given to Jesus as born down here in this world, and that of King of Israel, though in rejection. Then in Psalm 8 (after shewing forth the state of His people in Psalms 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) we see His glory, the extent of His power, as Son of man, who is set over all things. In Daniel 7 we find again the Son of man brought before the Ancient of Days, from whose hand He receives dominion over all nations.

In chapters 11 and 12 of the Gospel by John, Christ being rejected by man, God wills that a full testimony should be rendered to Him in the three characters of Son of God, Son of David, and Son of man. The first is the resurrection of Lazarus; the second at the entry into Jerusalem, seated upon the ass; the third when the Greeks come to ask to see Jesus: then the Lord says, "The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fallen into the ground die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." In order to take possession of these titles, He must have His co-heirs with Him; - He must die.

296 In our chapter He takes the second title, and presents Himself to the Jewish nation for the last time upon earth according to the prophecy of Zechariah. He will present Himself later in the glory and take possession of the throne of His father David; but now all He does is to present Himself to His people as the One who fulfils all the promises made to them. He knew well what would be the result, and that He was about to take the larger title of Son of man; and this in order to have His co-heirs with Himself; when, according to His Father's counsels, He should take His great power and reign. But it was necessary that this last testimony should be rendered to the people on the one hand, and to the Lord on the other, on God's part; that is, by the mouth of little children and sucklings He would take His glory, anticipating thus the establishment of the kingdom in power.

Now this king was Emmanuel, the Lord Himself, and Jesus acts here in this character. He sends His disciples to bring an ass' colt from a neighbouring village, and when its owners asked what the disciples were doing in taking it, they answered according to the Lord's command: "The Lord hath need of him"; and the man sent him at once. All was done in order that the word of the prophet might be fulfilled; because in this Gospel we have always facts presented not only as the effects of sovereign grace, as indeed they were, but as the accomplishment of the promises made to His people. Notice that a part of the verse quoted is left out; that is, two expressions which have to do with the Lord's coming in power to take possession of His kingdom. These are the words, "just" and "having salvation"; as the "just," Christ will execute vengeance upon His enemies: as Saviour, He will deliver the remnant; it was not yet time for these two things.

The disciples therefore brought the colt to Him; and then the Lord Jesus entered into Jerusalem as king. A very great multitude, moved by the power of God, having also seen His miracles, and especially the resurrection of Lazarus, go before and surround Him, spreading their garments in the way, and cutting down branches from the trees in order to cast them upon His path, giving Him the place and glory of a king, and in fact recognising Him as the royal Messiah. An admirable scene in which it is not the cold reasoning of man's intellect which is in question - nor is it merely the effect of His miraculous deeds, although a fruit of this - but the mighty working of God upon the minds of the crowd, compelling it to give testimony for a short time to the despised Son of God. The testimony also of Psalm 118 is cited; a remarkable prophecy of the last days in Israel, often quoted. The Lord Himself spoke of the verses which precede those which God put into the mouth of the crowd, "The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner."

297 There the crowd used the verse which announced the recognition of the Son of David by the remnant of the people Israel: "Hosannah!" (a Hebrew word meaning "Save now!" which becomes a kind of formula for asking the Lord's help when the true Christ or Messiah is recognised), "Hosannah to the Son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; hosannah in the highest." Now this cry recognised Jesus as the Son of David, the Messiah. Such was the will of God; that His Son should not be left without this testimony, without being honoured in this manner. Now He acts in Jerusalem according to this position.

All the city was moved, asking who this could be; and the crowds said that He, Jesus of Nazareth, was the prophet who was to come. Jesus enters the temple, and purifies it with the actual authority of Jehovah, driving out those who profaned it. He judges the nation and its rulers, saying, "It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves." But if He is Jehovah present in the temple, He is always Jehovah present in grace for all the needs of His people: He heals the blind and the lame. But no testimony is sufficient to penetrate the hard covering of unbelief which envelopes the hearts of the chief of the people, when they see the miracles. Hearing the children crying "Hosannah!" they become indignant. The Lord teaches here that the time for convincing them is past, and appeals to the testimony of Psalm 8 as to this. God had foreseen and foretold these things: "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained praise." If the people refused Him, God took care that He should have the praise which became Him.

But all is over for the people, until the sovereign grace of God shall act to awaken a part of it in the midst of the tribulation which its unbelief will have brought upon it; and this remnant, awakened to repentance, will cry like the children, "Hosannah to the Son of David!" but then all will be grace. According to man's responsibility all was over, and the people judged: and this is what the Lord shews in the incident which follows. He will not stay in rebellious and unbelieving Jerusalem, but goes to Bethany where the power of the resurrection had been manifested; where He can find an object and a refuge for His heart amongst men, after that His people have rejected Him.

298 Then when He returns to the city, He is an hungered, and seeing a fig-tree upon the roadside, He seeks fruit but finds none at all upon it - nothing but leaves. He curses the tree, saying, "No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever"; and the fig-tree is dried up at once. This is Israel according to the old covenant, man according to the flesh; this is man in the place where God has spent all His care and employed all His means - man for whom God could give up even His only-begotten Son, in order to get some good from his heart, and to reach him to gain him over to that which is good, and to Himself. All was in vain; He had spared the tree this year also, upon the intercession of the dresser of the vineyard (Luke 13); He had digged about it and dunged it, but it had produced no fruit. What could He have done to His vineyard which He had not done? It is not all that we are sinners; we are still sinners after that God has done all that is possible to gain man's heart. This shews us the importance of Israel's history, and our history as told by God, and that of His patience and of all His ways, except that we have afterwards the supreme testimony of His love in the death of Christ, so that we are still more guilty. Plenty of leaves, but no fruit; pretence to piety - religious forms, but the true fruit according to God's heart, that which He seeks in His own, is not to be found in man.

Israel according to the old covenant, that is, man according to the flesh, cultivated by God's care and set aside for ever, will never bear fruit for God. It has shewn itself to be useless and to have been unable to repay all the care God bestowed upon it. Man, naturally, is condemned to everlasting barrenness. This miracle is all the more remarkable, as all Christ's miracles were not only signs of power but a witness of the love of God. Divine power was there, but to heal, to cure, to free from the power of Satan and from death, to destroy all the effects of sin in this world. But all this did not change man's heart; on the contrary, by the manifestation of God's presence, it awakened the enmity of his heart against Him - too often hid from man himself in the depths of his heart. Here only do we find a miracle which bears the character of judgment.

299 Now all is brought out clearly; man can be born again, can receive the life of the second Adam. Israel can be restored by grace according to the new covenant; but man in himself, man in the flesh who is judged, after all that has been done to bring forth fruit, is shewn to be incapable of bearing anything good. God saves men, God gives them eternal life. Man in receiving Christ receives a life which brings forth fruit; the tree is grafted, and God seeks fruit on the grafted branch; but He has done with man in the flesh, except as concerns the judgment which must come upon him for his sins; and thanks be to God, He is free to liberate him from this state by grace, to save him by the blood of Jesus Christ, to beget him again, to reconcile him with Himself, to adopt him as His child, and make him the first-fruits of His creatures. Israel is left, and man judged; but the grace of God remains, and Christ is the Saviour of all those who believe in Him.

But what a scene is this in which Christ, the Messiah, the Son of David, Emmanuel upon earth, enters His house, there with His holy eyes looks upon all that which man does in it, and shews His indignation against the sacrilege which had made it a den of thieves. He vindicates the glory and the authority of Jehovah in driving out those who desecrate the temple. Then He finds Himself face to face with all His adversaries, who come, one set after another, to condemn Him: but they find the light and wisdom which shew clearly their position; so that, in wishing to condemn, they find themselves all condemned; and the Saviour is left free to follow up His work of grace and redemption in the presence of His adversaries now reduced to silence. But before judging them by His answers, each class of the people shews forth the fundamental principle which would give His disciples the power to overcome the obstacles which these condemned classes of Jews would bring up against them; since outwardly the power and established order were in their hands.

"Have faith in God," says the Saviour, when Peter wonders that the fig-tree is so soon dried up. All the power which presented itself to the weakness of the disciples would vanish before faith. A most important principle in a Christian's walk and service: only this faith must be exercised without any doubt at all, bringing God into the scene; and must not be the motion of the will, but the consciousness of the presence and of the intervention of God. Thus it happens that, where faith is found, and that requests are made by faith, the effect follows surely. Yet with all this, the presence of God is the presence of a God of love; and when we pray asking that our desire may be accomplished, we must be in communion with Him, and then we realise His power in answer to faith, and then the spirit of forgiveness towards others is found in the heart. For example, if I were to cherish revenge upon my enemies, I could not hope that my prayers should be answered; and even if I were heard, I should be punished. God would not intervene in this manner, for He would refuse such an evil desire; or even if He found it well to answer the prayer, we should draw down the chastisement upon ourselves. For God in His government always acts according to His character.*

{*As this thought may be a little obscure for some, it may be presented thus in other terms: "Faith, which finds an answer to its prayer, must have found God, and be in the enjoyment of communion with Him; but then God is love; and in order to realise His power to get the answer, one must know what it is to be in His presence, which faith has discovered; but this communion cannot be known if there is no love. Consequently, when we present ourselves in faith to ask for the fulfilment of our desire we must forgive our brother that which we may have against him; otherwise, we are in God's presence as regards His government and thus subject to the effect of our sins."}

300 Now He enters again into Jerusalem; He will not lodge in the city now given up by God. Here He begins to pass in review, to examine all the heads of the people, of which I have spoken; and first of all we find the examination of the authority which sets itself up against His own. He walks in the temple, where the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders come, and ask Him by what authority He does these things, and who has given Him this authority. Thus we see them set one against the other; the authority of either is questioned. The official authority, that which is outward, was in the hands of the priests; the truth and obedience to God were in Jesus. If His power had been manifested already, it shewed no sign of avenging itself at present: it was useless to shew any more signs of power; they were already condemned; having seen sign after sign, and having hardened themselves in unbelief, it was now high time for judgment, not indeed of its execution, but of moral judgment; they were left without an answer.

301 The heads of the people ask by what authority He had purified the temple. There was no zeal for the holiness of God to be found in them, plenty of zeal for their own authority; and this is characteristic of prelates - they think about their own authority and not about God. The Lord Jesus thought only about the authority of God; and that which He did was the effect of it. If the conscience of the rulers had not been hardened, even though they had not been pleased with that which the Lord had done, they would have kept silence, ashamed of the state in which the temple was found to be whilst under their care. Having rejected the Lord, they could not recognise His authority; proofs were useless, from this time forth. But the Lord's divine wisdom makes them recognise their own incapacity to resolve questions relating to authority and divine testimony.

He asks if John the Baptist's mission were divine. If they said, Yes, then John had witnessed to Jesus; if no, their authority was compromised before the people. Where was their right to ask, "What is the truth?" They knew it; yet they were glad enough to have the honour, long lost, of having a prophet in the midst of Israel. To own their sins did not suit them; and so the light was soon put out for their hearts; but the people always accounted John to be a prophet. Thus they dared say neither Yes nor No. This was their confession, that they were not able to judge of the claims of a man who professed to have a mission from God; because they could not say whether John was a prophet or not. If this was the case, Jesus need not answer them, nor satisfy them about His mission, as persons armed with God's authority, to which one is bound to tell the truth.

Mark 12

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The incapacity and incompetency of the governors among the Jews is clearly shewn forth. They had pretended to judge the Lord, but the word of divine wisdom in His mouth had judged them and compelled them to confess their incompetency. Now the Lord begins in His turn to shew all the classes of the Jews the state in which they were, and first that of all the people. Israel had been Jehovah's vineyard; He had let it out to certain husbandmen in order to receive its fruit in due season. He had done all He could for His vineyard; it was impossible to do more than He had done. Israel enjoyed all the privileges which a nation could enjoy. At fruit-time, the Master sends His servant to receive the fruit of the husbandmen.

302 The prophets sought these fruits from the people on God's part, for He was Master of the vineyard; but the husbandmen took one servant and beat him, they killed another, and rejected all of them. Thus Israel treated all God's servants sent by Him to call them back to their duty. At last, having yet one Son, His well-beloved, He sent Him also to them, saying, "They will reverence my Son." But they took Him, killed Him, and cast Him out of the vineyard. They wanted to take possession of the vineyard by killing the rightful heir.

Let us look a little into this parable. With what dignity and calmness the Lord exposes the past conduct of the people of Israel, and also their conduct at that very moment! He was ready to suffer, He had come to die; but His enemies' acts must be clearly shewn forth; they filled up the measure of their iniquity with their eyes open. Poor Jews! God in His sovereign grace will have compassion upon them, and will restore His people (by a new covenant) to its place of the people of God owned by Him. Mark always narrates everything rapidly. The consequence of Israel's sin is shewn; but we know from the other Gospels that the Jews in their answer were obliged to pronounce their own sentence; and that they understood well what the parable meant. Here the simple fact of their ruin is told, and that of the rejection of the Christ, the Son of God. The Master of the vineyard, the Lord of Hosts, would come and destroy the wicked husbandmen and would give His vineyard to others.

Then He quotes once more Psalm 118, and asks the chief of the people (a question which applied directly to Himself), "Have ye not read this scripture? - The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes." What a plain prophetic declaration of the position of Israel and its consequences! All Israel's history, presented in brief, perfectly described in a few verses: all their conduct from Moses' time till the cross set forth in a few words; their sin towards Jehovah, towards Christ, towards the prophets, and the fearful consequences for the nation, and God's ways towards it. God takes away all its privileges, and gives over His vineyard (where He would seek for fruit) to others. Thus with this great fact of man's sin and Jewish unbelief - that is, with the rejection and crucifixion of the Lord - He would be exalted to the right hand of God, and would become the head of the corner. Here also we have the key of Old Testament scripture by prophecy; for with a single glance we see all God's ways communicated to spiritual intelligence. It is only divine wisdom and divine revelation which can reveal to us God's thoughts and man's deeds, and which can announce them to us.

303 We have seen that all classes of the Jews come, one after the other, to judge the Lord; but in fact to be judged. The Pharisees and Herodians present themselves first to catch Him in His words. They did not dare to lay hands upon Him, although they would willingly have done so, because they had fully understood that the parable of the vineyard and husbandmen had been spoken against them; but the people were still under the influence of His words and His works. The rulers feared the people, slaves not merely to their own passions and unbelief but to the people itself; and they feared still more to do anything against the Lord, believing that the people would favour Him, since they had neither the power of faith, nor the freedom which is the result of uprightness; but they were dependent on the favour of the people.

The Lord's hour was not yet come. They sent certain spies to catch Him in His words. The Pharisees, filled with pride as to the privileges of the people, and ever ready to stir up it against the Romans, flattered its passions. They were subjected to the Gentile yoke on account of their sins, and were no longer recognised as God's people. The promised Messiah had been sent in the person of the Lord, and they had not been willing to receive Him, because He manifested God upon earth, and their hardened heart did not wish for God; they wished to possess the glory of being God's people, but not to receive God and submit themselves to Him. The rebellion of their heart against God was united to the rebellion of their national pride against the Gentiles.

The Herodians, on the contrary, accepted the Roman authority, and did not trouble themselves about Israel's privileges: but they were ready at all costs to seek the good favour of that powerful people, who held the people Israel under its heavy yoke by God's judgment. Now if the Lord had said that they ought not to pay tribute, He would shew Himself hostile to the Romans sway, and the Herodians would be ready to accuse Him; if He said that they ought to pay, He was not the Messiah who should free His people from the hated Roman yoke. They did not think of any other deliverance: and hence He would have lost the favour of the people. The Herodians and Pharisees were reconciled for the purpose of getting rid of the Lord: but divine wisdom answers to every difficulty.

304 The Jews ought to have submitted to the yoke which God Himself had placed upon their neck until the time when grace should free them, and they should receive the Deliverer who should come according to God's promises; and until these should be fulfilled they must humbly render to God His due, always accepting their chastisement at His hands. But they did neither the one thing nor the other; they were hypocrites before God, and rebellious towards men. The Lord asks them to give Him a coin with the Emperor's head upon it, and asks, "Whose image and superscription is this?" The Jews reply, "Caesar's": and Jesus says, "Render to Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and to God the things which be God's." And the Jews go away astonished. A just reply, which not only answered their accusation, but which recognised at the same time Israel's true state and the judgment of God.

Next come the Sadducees, another sect of the Jews, which did not believe in the invisible world, nor in angels, nor in the resurrection: God had given a law to His people Israel, that was all. Accustomed to the arguments of men, they did not expect to meet with divine wisdom, nor the irresistible force of the word of God. They present a case which (supposing that to be true which their folly imagined) rendered the resurrection ridiculous and impossible: for they suppose that the relationships and state of this world continue in the other. This is what men do: they mix up their thoughts with God's word, and since these thoughts do not agree with it, they think it unintelligible and reject it. But in this case a vital and fundamental truth is in question: and the Lord not only reduces His enemies to silence by the wisdom of His answer, discovering their hypocrisy, but clearly reveals the truth itself which is taught in a hidden manner in the Old Testament, and furnishes it with His own authority.

305 Everything depends upon this truth; it is the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God, and that God has accepted His sacrifice. It is the victory over death: all that belongs to man's wretched condition is left behind; it is the entry into man's new estate according to God's counsels; the introduction into the eternal state of glory and full conformity of Christ. It is true that the wicked will be raised for judgment, but the Lord looks upon His own and their state, as also does 1 Corinthians 15. The Lord means to say that the Old Testament contains the revelation of this truth. As to His person it is clearly taught in Psalm 16; but it is said that the Sadducees only received the law of Moses; now this law first of all has to do with that which God had established upon earth for His earthly people: and life and incorruptibility have been brought to light by the gospel and by the resurrection of the Lord Himself. And although this light was clouded in Old Testament times, nevertheless it was not wanting to those who, pilgrims and strangers upon earth, sought a better country and a heavenly city. The immediate teaching referred to God's government upon earth, but by faith the hearts of the faithful could amply find in it that which they needed to point them towards an eternal and heavenly country.

The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, and, as to this, they had the understanding of the truth; but the Lord wished to shew that if the Sadducees only received the law, the law itself, God had at all times given that which was enough to lead the spiritual understanding to expect better things than the earthly, and by faith to bring it into closer relationship with God than could be enjoyed in His government either of the world or of His people, however real this government might be. The Lord then condemns the Sadducees entirely; they were quite ignorant of the scriptures and of the power of God. The Lord first reveals the truth; as soon as a person is raised from the dead, he is like the angels and it is no longer a question of marrying or giving in marriage. Then he shews that in its first elements the first expression of the relationships of God with men (when God spoke to Moses) contained a life beyond death, and consequently the resurrection; since man consists of body and soul, according to God's counsels. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been dead a long time, but God was always their God; and yet they were still alive; and they would not consequently remain always under the power of death, but would rise again.

306 The Sadducees, who only believed in the law, needed a clear proof of the truth taken from the law itself. And whatever may be the truth as to the Sadducees, it is important for us to understand that from the beginning, when God enters into relationship with man, sin and death having entered, God always takes resurrection ground. There is no other true foundation of blessing. The very promises made to Israel are founded upon this truth; at least the fulfilment of them (Acts 13:34). Thus the first thing which the gospel reveals is rooted in the first distinct manifestation of God in relationship with men, a relationship founded upon redemption (an external thing in Israel, it is true, but eternally accomplished in Christ). But as the great truth of Christianity, the new state of man, is established by the Lord's word, so also the perfection of the law, as the standard of man's duty, is brought into light.

One of the scribes, who had heard the Lord's reasoning with the Sadducees and perceived that He had answered with true and divine wisdom, drew near and asked Him, "Which is the first commandment of all?" The scribes believed that the commandments differed in value, and that some were worth more than others to make up the sum of righteousness to which a man ought to attain. The Lord answers again in this instance without turning back the question upon those who asked it to their confusion, but He establishes the two great pillars of man's responsibility: the unity of God, and man's duty towards Him and towards his neighbour. This was Israel's faith, and his duty towards all. The Lord does not quote the ten commandments, but the great principles of the law as to the whole duty of man. The Lord knew how to bring them out, divinely hidden as they are in the books of Moses; Deut. 6:4-5; 10:12; Lev. 19:18.

The sense of duty was perfect in Him, as also grace and divine love; One greater than these. It is beautiful to see this perfection in the Lord: the grace and the love of God were manifested in all His life; we have seen them. But here we find also the perfect rule of walk and of the duty of man upon earth according to the law; not that which was evident to all men (that is, the ten commandments, which are the first thing to come to mind), but principles scattered here and there throughout the books of the Old Testament, which shone out everywhere for Him - for a heart which understood and possessed the perfection of manhood before God; for He shewed forth divine perfection before men. His heart saw the one, and understood it, whilst the expression of the other sprang naturally from the same heart. The conscience and heart of the scribe are touched; he gives testimony to the perfection of the Lord's reply, adding that to do thus was worth more than sacrifices and burnt-offerings. He was not far from the kingdom of God. A heart which understands God's thoughts about man loves that which God loves; the moral difference of that which is good is far removed from the capacity of receiving that which God reveals for the blessing of His people. Now from this time forth they durst ask Him no question. The Lord's wisdom was too great for their hearts.

307 But the Lord in His turn asks them a question, and all the truth relating to His and to their own position depended upon its answer: "Whose son is Christ?" The Jews said, "David's." It was true, but then the Lord said, "How then doth David call him his Lord if he is his son?" Jesus was the Son of David, but He must sit upon the right hand of God as Lord in man's nature. This was the key to the situation. But the Lord's relationships with the Jews were at an end; each class had presented itself before Him and had been judged.

Verses 31-40. Here the Lord denounces the scribes who corrupted the word of God which they pretended to explain; they took the form of godliness, and sought their own glory and other people's money, even that of widows, to whom they obtained access under the pretext of piety. For this cause their judgment would be all the more terrible; but God does not forget His own in the midst of the hypocrisy of the seeming religious. They may make mistakes: perhaps the widow's mite helped to pay Judas; but it was given to the Lord, and the widow's heart which was occupied about the mite did not escape the Lord's eyes, nor the notice of His love. The rich had given much, but the widow offered herself as a living sacrifice to the Lord; she gave all her substance. Perhaps she might have employed better means, but she gave her mite from the bottom of her heart to the Lord, and it was received on His part: we should think of this.