Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Luke 4:1, 2 (first part)Matthew 4:1), that our Lord was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tempted by the evil one: to take that view would be to mistake the force of the Hebrew idiom. All that is intended is that Jesus was constrained ("driven," Mark says) to retire into the solitude of the wilderness where he would have to undergo the temptation which did actually befall him. He was led, by Divine direction, into retirement, and there, by Divine permission, into spiritual struggle.
I. THE DIVINE DIRECTION. As Moses in Midian, as David around Bethlehem, as Elijah at Horeb, as John in the wilderness of Judaea, as (afterwards) Saul in Arabia, so Jesus prepared for his great work in the depth of "the solitary place." There we Can well believe that he held much communion with God; that he looked down into the secret places of his own soul and communed carefully with himself; and that he pondered long on the great work - the Father's business - which lay before him. We may be sure that this period of solitude produced very rich fruit in after-days, not only in the truth which was spoken, but in the life which was lived and the sorrow which was endured. This period should find its Counterpart in our history; if it does not find it by our consent, it may do so without any choice of our own. For:
1. God commends such retirement to us. He does so by the way in which he led the greatest and the wisest of his servants (see above); by the faculties of devotion, introspection, and forecast which he has given us; by the example of our Lord. But:
2. God compels us to such retirement. He does so by his holy providence, when he lays us aside, when he takes us away from the busy scenes of toil, from "the strife of tongues," from the excitements of society, and even from the distractions of the home circle; when he shuts the door upon us and draws round the curtain and leaves us alone with himself. Of that time, if we are wise, we shall make good use. It is a time for spiritual renovation; then we may learn lessons we should never gather even in the sanctuary; then we may enter on an upward path which otherwise we should never take, and so reach a goal we should otherwise never gain. It is a sacred opportunity, inciting to
(2) introspection or self-examination;
including the solemn and determined rededication of our whole selves and our entire future to the service of our Savior.
II. THE DIVINE PERMISSION. By the permission of God the evil one came to our Lord and tempted him (see following homilies). God allows the tempter to assail us even as he did his "beloved Son." There are some temptations which are more likely to beset us in the period of solitude than at any other time - temptations of the wilderness. They are:
1. A morbid sensitiveness as to
(1) our own condition - a disposition to look too much to our own feelings, and to dwell too little on the goodness and the love of God; also as to
(2) our own reputation, and the estimation in which we are held among men.
2. Excessive disappointment and consequent disheartenment concerning
(1) the life we are living before God;
(2) the work we are doing for our fellowmen;
(3) the progress of the kingdom of God.
But though we may pass through these struggles we may come safely out of them. The remedies are these:
(1) An appeal to God for his guidance and inspiration;
(2) a resort to the promises of his Word;
(3) a timely return to the activities of daily work, of public worship, of active usefulness. - C.
perfect revelation of the Father's will, of a perfect inspiration to do that revealed will, and of an assurance of Sonship during the trying ordeal. We are now to notice three temptations, corresponding very accurately to these three gifts, and so presenting in most artistic fashion the great drama of Messiah's life. But before taking them up as they are here presented by Luke, let us direct our attention to one or two preliminary matters. And first we must notice that Jesus was "led," or, as Mark puts it still more graphically, was "driven" of the Spirit into the wilderness (Mark 1:12). This clearly implies that our Lord did not "court temptation," nor rush with a light heart into it, nor shirk it, but accepted bravely what was forced upon him. It is only in such a spirit that we can hope successfully to resist it. There is no premise of Scripture to sustain any one who rushes madly into temptation. But, secondly, we observe that a great baptism of the Spirit is usually to prepare the recipient for some victoriously-to-be-met temptation. Jesus went to the wilderness filled with the Holy Ghost, and so was enabled to vanquish his tempter. Thirdly, the scene of the temptation is significant. While its exact location is not indicated, its general characteristics are. It was some wilderness, where nature affords no food or sustenance to man. What a contrast to the happy garden where the first Adam was tempted! Messiah meets the tempter in the most trying circumstances, and the tempter's defeat there is promise of his defeat everywhere. Moreover, Mark tells us he was "with the wild beasts" (Mark 1:13). It is a new Daniel braving the lions and subduing them. Fourthly, we must observe that he is here tempted in his public capacity, as Messiah. He had doubtless been tempted previously as a private individual; he had been urged by Satan most probably to leave the privacy of Nazareth for a more public position, and had put away all these temptations manfully. Now that he has dedicated himself as Messiah in the Jordan, he must undergo corresponding temptations.
II. NOTICE THE TEMPTATION THROUGH APPETITE. (Vers. 3, 4.) After forty days' fast, during which time he was suffering temptation from Satan, he finds himself famishing. The spectacle in the wilderness and among the wild beasts is, therefore, that of a famishing Messiah. Never was he nearer death than on this occasion, except when death actually came. It is at this juncture that Satan first tempts him through his hunger. He claims to be the Son of God; this assurance was given him in his baptism; and as the Son he believes he possesses, though as yet he has not exercised, miraculous power. Let him, then, use his power for self-preservation, which is the first law of nature, and transform the stones of the wilderness into bread. The fallacy which underlies this temptation is one to which men are now most prone, viz. that "men must live," and then this false principle passes through degrees of comparison, and men say to themselves they must, if possible, live well, and, lastly, they must, if possible, live very well But is it necessary that any of us should live? Who has given us this revelation? May not God's revelation be that the best thing we could do would be to die for truth and righteousness? Hence our Lord, instead of listening to the voice of appetite, declares his resolve to listen to the voice of God, and upon that revelation he will live. "It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." It is surely instructive in these times, when appetite is accepted by many as man's one certain revelation, to have our Lord directing our attention to a higher revelation and a more sustaining voice. Bread cannot sustain the whole man; it can only prop up the physical nature; but the spiritual needs other food and higher help, and finds it in God's Word alone! Amid the fierce struggle for bread, let us listen to him who speaks about the better bread which comes out of the mouth of God!
II. NOTICE THE TEMPTATION THROUGH AMBITION. (Vers. 5 - 8.) Matthew puts this temptation last, instead of here, and in this is probably chronologically more accurate than Luke. But we need not transpose it in order to profit by it. Messiah, then, though famishing, abides by the revelation of God rather than make a miraculous banquet in the wilderness. But of the revelation the Father gave him this was a chief part - that he was to become Conqueror and Ruler of the world! Universal empire was, therefore, his legitimate ambition. It is here that Satan tempts him. Taking him to some mountain-top, he shows him, in some miraculous fashion, all the kingdoms of the inhabited world in a moment of time. Next he claims to be the rightful ruler of these kingdoms, but is willing to make a bargain with the ambitious Messiah that, if he will only acknowledge his sovereignty and pay him the homage due to earthly kings, all the kingdoms shall be made over to him. The temptation here is to gratify ambition at the cheapest rate. No self-denial, no self-sacrifice, no consuming spirit, shall be needful, but simply a little homage paid to the world's prince. It was such a bargain as a worldly mind would have welcomed eagerly. But Jesus refused the terms. He would not acknowledge Satan to be the world's rightful ruler. He regarded him as a usurper whom he had come to depose. Hence, in impatience with the arch-fiend, our Lord exclaimed, "Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." The question in the first temptation was that of revelation, corresponding to the first of the baptismal gifts; the question in this temptation is that of inspiration, the spirit of service, and corresponding to the second of the baptismal gifts. Jesus will not render any homage to the world's betrayer, but will serve God alone! Once more may we see the grand spirit of self-sacrifice which this implies. Jesus will seek and obtain a universal empire, but by making no truce with the world; rather would he himself suffer unto death and be followed by myriads of martyrs, than gratify a poor ambition in Satan's suggested and worldly way.
III. NOTICE THE TEMPTATION TO PRESUMPTION AND OSTENTATION. (Vers. 9-12.) As Messiah Jesus must consider what plan would be best for beginning his public work. This must have been with him a distinct subject of thought. And now Satan suggests that if he precipitated himself from the pinnacle of the temple into the court, and did so with impunity as God's Son, the people could not but hail him as the promised Messiah. He should put his Sonship, the tempter suggests, to the test. He should test the promise about angels bearing up the believer and preventing him from dashing his foot against a stone. It was a temptation to carry faith into presumption, and becoming ostentatious in doing so. Our Lord, then, having resolved to live by faith, is as firmly resolved to avoid presumption. He will not tempt his Father by claiming support in ostentatious circumstances. And so he repels the insinuation, and resolves not to presume upon his Sonship. Hence we find that, instead of entering in any such spirit upon his work, he enters upon it publicly when he drives the traffickers from the temple. It was an amazing method of beginning Messianic work, and yet it was the best way. These temptations have their little counterparts in our own experience. We are tempted through appetite, through ambition, and through presumption. We must resist the enemy in the Master's spirit. The apt quotations from the Divine Word show where the sword of the Lord lies, and it is for us not to let it rust in a napkin, like Goliath's at the tabernacle, but to have it in constant readiness for active service and faithful resistance. And now, in conclusion, we have to notice the fact that angels came and ministered unto Jesus when the crisis was past. We know not what they brought to him-ambrosial food, the corn of heaven, perhaps; at all events the most delightful food of which he ever partook. Then, like Elijah, he went in the strength of the food received, not, indeed, to the mount of God and the wilderness, but from the wilderness to the busy haunts of men, and in the power of the Spirit. Satan, meanwhile, having "completed" the temptation, having done his worst to make him fall, leaves him for a season free. It must have been a heaven of happiness to be consciously free from his incessant wiles and snares, and to have won the freedom. So may we in our little measure win some respite from the enemy, if we faithfully follow our Lord in resisting temptation! - R.M.E.
I. THE SEVERITY OF THE TEMPTATION. "He hungered" after long fasting. Hunger, in its severer forms, is unknown to us. In a country like this we have no experience of it. We can only judge of it from the testimony of those who have endured it; and, thus judging, we are sure that it is a very urgent, imperious, almost irresistible craving. The extremities and inhumanities to which it has driven men who are not naturally inhuman tell their own tale with terrible force. Our Master was suffering, we may well believe, from the most severe pangs of want. There were stones of the size and color of such a loaf as he would have given everything (it would be right to give) to obtain. By an easy exertion of his miraculous power he could turn the one into the other. Why not do so? Because to do that would be to take himself out of the hands of that heavenly Father to whose care he was committed, and manifest distrust in his providential goodness. Or because to do so would be to employ his Divine power first on his own behalf, instead of using it, as on the occasion of its first exercise it behoved him to employ it, on behalf of others. Or because to do that would be to give present and bodily cravings precedence of the great concerns of the kingdom of God. For some such reason our Lord thought that it would be wrong or, at any rate, undesirable for him to act on the suggestion, and he forbore. Temptation of the fleshly kind comes to us in the shape of hunger, or thirst, or sexual passion.
1. These trials of our moderation and self-government are more or less severe according to
(1) our temperament and
(2) our circumstances.
2. They may lead us into errors and evils which are
(1) mistakes to be avoided; or
(2) indiscretions to be condemned and regretted, and, of course, forsaken; or
(3) vices and sins which are shameful and deadly,
which stain the conscience, which ruin the reputation, which lead down to swift destruction.
II. THE WAY OF VICTORY. When the hour of conflict comes we must gird ourselves for the fight; and though the peril may be great because the enemy is strong, yet have we great resources, and there is no reason why we should not win the battle. We should call to our help our regard for:
1. The will of God as revealed in his Word; that "sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God," should be at hand with us as it was with our great Leader: "It is written."
2. The penalty of disobedience - a very heavy one in its ultimate issues.
3. The example of our Divine Master, calmly putting aside the false suggestion, preferring to suffer rather than to sin.
4. The consideration that sin excludes us from other and higher blessings. Better far, in the thought of Christ, to rest in bodily hunger, committing himself to the faithfulness of the holy Father. And how much better than any physical enjoyment is the satisfaction of spirit which attends purity and piety! Not the bread of bodily comfort, but the sense of God's abiding favor, the continuance of the friendship of Christ, the cherishing of a heavenly hope, - that is the good thing to prize and to pursue. - C.
I. THE APPEAL THAT WAS MADE TO OUR LORD, and the corresponding attack that is made on ourselves. Christ was tempted to seize "power and glory" for himself by an act of unholy submission. These were the prize which the worldly minded Jews of his age imagined to be within reach of their Messiah. To one of his humble circumstances but limitless capacity, and also of rightful and honorable ambition, there might very easily be presented a most powerful temptation to aim at a great and glorious supremacy - a throne like that of the Caesar himself, on which imperial power might be exercised and human glory at its topmost height be enjoyed. And the force of this temptation would be very greatly intensified by the fact that such a throne as this would be gained by very different measures from those Jesus had been contemplating in his solitude. The collecting of multitudes by appealing to their national passions, the leading of armies and gaining of victories, the command of great bodies of men, the excitements of political strife, - all this is full of enjoyment to the ambitious soul. A vastly different experience this (and to all that was human in the mind of Jesus Christ immensely more attractive) from that of speaking unappreciated truth, living a life too noble to be understood, suffering from keen and malignant persecution, dying in the pangs and shame of martyrdom! The price to be paid for surrendering the higher for the lower aim, and the distressing for the delightful means, was "worshipping" Satan; in other words, declining the course which he most disliked, and adopting the course which he most desired. The attack which is now made on us, corresponding to this, is the suggestion that we should turn aside from the higher aspiration (whatever it may be) to the lower ambition. It may come to the Christian minister in his study, to the statesman in his cabinet, to the doctor in his consultingroom, to the author or editor at his table: it is a suggestion to leave the straight line of duty, of faithfulness, of service, of truth, of loyalty to conviction, of moral and spiritual integrity, and take the lower path of popularity, of honor, of temporal success. To do this is to take a course which we may dignify by some fair name, but which, in Scripture language, is worshipping the devil.
II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH IT WAS REPELLED BY HIM, and in which it should be defeated by us. This was one of holy indignation: "Get thee behind me," etc. Our Lord indignantly refused to entertain a suggestion so utterly opposed to his spirit of consecration, so subversive of all his high purposes and lofty hopes. He met it by the quotation of a word which demanded entire obedience to the will of God and full devotedness to his service. In this spirit of holy indignation let us repel the first advances of a temptation to leave the higher and the heavenly road of truth and service for the lower and the earthly one of mere temporal success. To take that lower course would be to play into the hands of the evil one; to lose the commendation of our conscience and to live under the shadow of its rebuke; to lower ourselves and to degrade our life in the estimate of all the true and wise on earth and in heaven; to lose our true and high reward; to break the word and depart from the will of the Lord our God. - C.
I. THE EVIL SUGGESTION. The idea conveyed to the mind of Jesus, now on the point of commencing his ministry, was this (as I understand it): "Here is a glorious opportunity to make a most successful beginning; alighting from this height among the assembled worshippers below, who are all ready to welcome the Messiah, you will gain such a prestige from so brilliant a miracle that the battle of conviction will be almost won by a single blow. There need be no fear; the angels will sustain you," etc. But to act in this way would be to proceed along a line totally unsuited to the kind of work which Jesus came to do. It would be very gratifying, very stimulating, very agreeable to human feeling, but it would not be the right course to pursue. Christ came to build up a vast spiritual empire, and he was to lay its foundations carefully and steadily, and therefore deliberately and slowly, in the minds of men. This victory was not one to be snatched by a sudden impetuous charge; there must be a long and a hard campaign. Everything could not be done by a brilliant stroke, appealing to the imagination; there must be a long, laborious process, by which the judgment and the conscience of mankind would be convinced. There would be fatal folly in an endeavor to force an issue. There would be Divine wisdom in "beginning at the beginning," in gradually working onwards, in toiling upwards amid fatigues and sorrows until the height was reached. Such are the victories before us now - triumphs over ignorance, over vice, over unbelief, over superstition, over indifference, over indecision, over spiritual languor. We should like to be working faster, to be winning the battle at a greater pace. Then cometh the evil one, and he says, "Leave these slow processes; mix a little error with the truth you preach; be more careful to produce an effect than to deliver the Divine message; sacrifice purity to power; introduce into the method's of the kingdom of Christ the principles and the weapons of the kingdom of the world; hasten to the goal and snatch the crown of success, instead of working so hard and waiting so long."
II. THE FIRM REFUSAL. Christ declined to adopt the suggestion; he said that to do so would be "tempting the Lord his God." It would be expecting God to work a miracle in order to gratify his unholy eagerness. We must not try to precipitate the cause of righteousness by an unholy impatience, which is a practical distrust of God's Word. To expect God to bless means which he has not sanctioned, to own and honor methods which are not in accord with the principles he has revealed, - this is to lose his favor and to draw down his condemnation; it is to invite discomfiture. "He that believeth shall not make haste." "Our wisdom as well as our duty, as "workmen together with God," is to
(1) adopt God-given methods;
(2) ask for the Divine help and inspiration;
(3) confidently await the Divine blessing in God's own chosen time and way. - C.
John 2:1-13). He prefers to sum up for us his early Galilaean ministry in two verses, before proceeding to a detailed account of his visit to Nazareth and his rejection by his countrymen. Let us consider -
I. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF HIS PUBLIC REPUTATION BEFORE APPEARING IN NAZARETH. (Vers. 14, 15.) Had he gone to his own city first without a reputation, he would not have received the attention he did. Jesus knew that a prophet has no honor in his own country; he knew that he need not go among his old companions without having achieved something remarkable; hence he made a name for himself in other parts of Galilee before advancing to the difficult task at his old home. And the method he pursued was significant. He did not create rival institutions to the existing Churches. He went into the synagogues and availed himself of the opportunities they offered. He read the Word, expounded it, and made a reputation for himself as a popular Teacher. Of course, along with his teaching, there was a measure of miracle. But his wonderful works were merely to secure increased attention to his still more wonderful words. His expositions of truth were really the important element to which all else was but subsidiary. It was, therefore, with an established reputation that he advanced to Nazareth to test his countrymen as to their cordiality towards him.
II. LET US NEXT CONSIDER HIS VISIT TO NAZARETH. (Vers. 16-21.) We are not informed on what day of the Jewish week he came to Nazareth; but we are told what happened on the first sabbath day after his arrival. We shall notice the significant facts as they are told us by Luke.
1. He shared in the public worship. If any one ever had a right to absent himself on the ground of knowing more than others could tell him, it was surely Jesus. Yet we find him subjecting himself to family training, and putting all honor he could upon social and public worship. Moreover, it was his "custom." The habit of waiting upon God at the sanctuary has thus the highest warrant. In this, as in all else, our Lord is the perfect Example. But:
2. He took part in public worship. The Jews in their synagogues seem to have encouraged greater freedom than Church forms now admit of. They welcomed the help of young men as readers, and took exhortation from strangers when they happened to be present. Our Lord, then, took the place of reader on this occasion, and, as Isaiah's prophecy was handed to him, he selected as his text the notable passage about the mission of Messiah. The Anointed One was sent to "preach the gospel to the poor," etc. And here it is instructive to notice
(1) the class Messiah gathers round him. Not those whom the world would choose, but the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, the blind, the bruised, the imprisoned! What a. policy to inaugurate! Again,
(2) it is significant what treatment he gives them. He gives the gospel, not wealth, to the poor; healing, not freedom from trial, to the broken-hearted; freedom from sin to the captives; the recovering of sight to the blind; liberty to the bruised in spirit; and acceptance and jubilee joy to all imprisoned ones. In short, iris spiritual comfort over and above physical which he brings to them I It is here that the world's wisdom fails. It may do something to alleviate physical distress, but is as helpless as the doctor in Macbeth in "ministering to minds diseased."
3. He embodied and illustrated his text. When he had read the text he gave the book back to the minister and sat down before the congregation, and proceeded to expound the passage. He had to speak of himself. He was the Person referred to in it. No wonder the eyes of all were fastened on him. The Anointed One was in their midst, and he was ready to heal the broken-hearted and to work the wonders in the spiritual realm which were so important. The exposition was really the embodiment of blessing in his own Person. The Healer was there, the great Physician of souls.
III. LET US NEXT CONSIDER THE EFFECT OF HIS SERMON. (Vers. 22, 23.) The first effect was wonder and admiration. He had evidently interested them by his spiritual exposition. No such sermon had ever been heard before in Nazareth. It was a case of ministerial joy at the glad reception of a message. But if these were the lights of joy in the picture, they were speedily followed by the shadows of ministerial disappointment. Their admiration gave way before familiarity. They began to say, "Is not this Joseph's Son?" They knew his antecedents, and so will put the worst construction possible upon his work. But the contempt of familiarity was not their only danger; they imagined that, as his countrymen, they were entitled to demand such miraculous credentials as he had given elsewhere. He had lived among them for the most of thirty years a sinless life, the greatest of all miracles in a sinful world; but they demand something more, and think that he will have but a sickly reputation if he does not accede to their request. The physician who cannot cure himself will not be in much demand to cure others; so if Jesus will not, by a miraculous display at Nazareth, establish his reputation which familiarity is undermining, they are prepared to say it is because he cannot. The mistake they make is in forgetting that Nazareth had no right to the treatment of Capernaum, since it had thirty years of the sinlessness of Jesus, which the seaside town had not.
IV. CONSIDER OUR LORD'S SOVEREIGN REFUSAL OF THEIR DEMAND. (Vers. 24-27.) The notion of the Nazarenes was that they had a right to a miraculous display from Christ. As Jews, and as his own townspeople, they fancied they had a claim which could not be got over. This self-righteous spirit must be put down. Hence our Lord declares, in the first place, that "no prophet is accepted in his own country." To this law of limited influence through familiarity Jesus himself has to bow. It is the principle which secures a missionary enterprise. Men are more influential away from home than they can ever be at home. Better leave the plain of Shinar than wait only to have one's tongue confounded and one's influence gone. But, besides, our Lord from history recalls two illustrations of God in his sovereignty passing all the Jews by and selecting Gentiles and outsiders for blessing. The first case was in Elijah's time, when many an Israelitish widow was famishing for want of bread; but none of them was visited by the prophet, or got her barrel of meal miraculously replenished, as did the heathen widow at Sarepta. Again, there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet, but they were all passed over, and Naaman, the Syrian general, was cured. It was in both instances to show that Jews, as such, had no claim upon God's bounty, who could, if he pleased, pass them all by. This humiliation is one of the great lessons we must all learn if we are to profit by Christ's salvation. Divine sovereignty is to humiliate in order to exalt; but if sovereignty is denied to God, the curse comes instead.
V. CONSIDER THE SAD ISSUE OF THE VISIT. (Vers. 28-30.) The Nazarenes are filled with wrath. They will not accept the invitation, but will contend for their rights, so called. So indignant are they as to meditate his destruction. Hence they take him towards the brow of the hill, with the intention of casting him headlong over it. It was a diabolical attempt. It was frustrated, however, by the majestic bearing of the Redeemer. He went through them by simple majesty of bearing, and they dare not touch him. Over the hills he passed in judicial separation from the misguided city. And now we are surely taught by this history not to be surprised if we are apparently unsuccessful in our work. It was the same with the Master. All, in such circumstances, we can do is to lay the truth of God before men's minds, and show them at once their unworthiness to receive it, and their responsibility in rejecting it. Moreover, if old acquaintances do not receive our testimony with that eagerness and respect we imagine it deserves, let us remember that our Master was subject himself to the same law, and accepted the situation. Patience under disappointment is the great lesson of comfort from such a passage. - R.M.E.
I. BY THE POOR DIVINE TRUTH IS MOST NEEDED. Their life on earth is the hardest; it is often one of unremitting toil; often one of severe privation, almost destitute comfort and enjoyment; often one of serious and hard oppression, in which the strong will of another robs of all liberty of action. The past is sad, the present gloomy, the future dark. There are no pleasures in recollection, and there is no relief in hope. How precious, how necessary, to these are the joys which earth cannot give and cannot steal - the treasures which enrich the heart, the hopes which reach beyond the grave!
II. BY THE POOR, DIVINE TRUTH IS MOST APPRECIATED. "How hardly do they that have riches enter the kingdom of heaven!" Their time is occupied, their minds are filled, with pursuits and pleasures which are on an earthly plane, and things higher and worthier are hidden from view. The poor, though they have indeed their own temptations and their own errors and failings, are yet more likely to see the Divine hand beckoning to them, and to hear the heavenly voice calling them to wisdom and service and eternal joy. And, as a fact, they do. The common people still hear Christ gladly, while the wealthy and the strong and the famous are sitting at the feet of "the world," to learn its wisdom and to seek its favor.
III. TO THE POOR, DIVINE TRUTH IS CLEARLY AND MARKEDLY OFFERED. It was, in fact, a very great thing to say, "To the poor the gospel is preached." It was one of the "watermarks" of Christianity that our Master made his appeal, not, as philosophy and theology had done before him, and as science in our day is doing, to human learning and influence, but to the unlettered and the lowly, to the multitude and the millions among men, to the common human heart. Other systems had tried to reach the lower levels by affecting the heights of society first. The gospel of Jesus Christ "moves upward from below." It teaches, cleanses, raises the people; and so it purifies and exalts the nation. This is the Divine method, and must be ours. It is for the Church of Christ to follow its Divine Master, to see that the signs of truth are about its handiwork, and amongst them this leading sign, that "to the poor the gospel is preached." If this feature should be absent, it will be time for the Church to be considering where it stands - how near to or remote from its Master. - C.
I. THE BROKEN HUMAN HEART. There are two things which break hearts:
1. One is intolerable shame; the shame which comes from a crushing sense of sin; it may be of flagrant sin, such as commands the deep indignation and strong censure of our fellowmen, and involves the loss of our own self-respect; or it may be a sense of that common sin of which all the souls of men are guilty in the sight of God - the keeping back from him of all that has been due to him, all the reverence and love of our hearts and all the service of our lives. Under a deep sense of sin, and therefore of condemnation, affected and afflicted with the consciousness of Divine disapproval and the fear of Divine punishment, the heart cries out for refuge.
2. The other is overwhelming sorrow; it may be some crushing disappointment, or it may be some wearing and trying sickness, or it may be some heavy and humiliating loss, or it may be some terrible bereavement and consequent loneliness of heart and life; under one or more of these overwhelming burdens the heart may be bowed down even to breaking.
II. THE ONE DIVINE REFUGE. There is but one availing "Refuge of our soul" to whom we can flee with perfect assurance that in him we shall find what we need. Christ came "to heal the broken-hearted," and he does so by:
1. Offering us the most tender sympathy. He is the High Priest who is "touched with a feeling of our infirmities, having been in all points tried even as we are," and therefore able to enter perfectly into our griefs, whether of mind, body, or estate.
2. Ministering to us Divine comfort. By his Holy Spirit's ministry he comes to us, and dwells within us, and acts powerfully though graciously upon our hearts; thus he lets the gentle dews of his comfort cool the heats of our fevered spirit, making himself known to us as the "God of all comfort," as that "One who comforteth them that are cast down."
3. Granting us effectual help; enlightening our minds, energizing our spirits, making us capable of doing that which has to be done, animating and reviving us, fitting us to take our part and do our work. In proportion as we are reverent and pure of heart in the time of our prosperity and joy, may we look for his indwelling and outworking in the "day of desperate grief" and of heart-brokenness. - C.
I. THE BONDAGE OF SIN. Sin is at first a transgression, but it soon becomes a tyranny. It grows into a power; and it becomes a power which holds the soul in its grasp, so that it is practically enslaved; it attempts to rise, to move, to do that which befits it and for which it was created, but it finds that it cannot; it is held down; its way is barred. This is true of sin in all its forms, and it is true in a number of degrees, varying from an objectionable constraint down to an almost hopeless despotism. It applies to:
1. Error, which becomes an inveterate prejudice through which no light will break.
2. Folly, such as that of procrastination, which in no length of time weaves itself round the soul.
3. Vice, such as intemperance, or profanity, or impurity (more especially in some of its forms). There is no bondage more thoroughly deserving the name than this. The victim of vice is, indeed, "holden with the cords of his sins" (Proverbs 5:22); they have him fast in the saddest and most degrading thraldom in which a human being can be held.
4. Vanity. How many a man is a wretched slave to the judgment of other men! The fear of their condemnation, or still oftener of their ridicule, impels him in a direction in which he knows he ought not to be going, ties him to a position from which he is longing to break away.
5. Rebellion against God; disloyalty, estrangement, the withholding of the heart and life from God's service, so long maintained, that, when the soul thinks of repentance and return, it finds itself held to its wrong and sinful state.
II. THE FREEDOM WHICH IS IN CHRIST. The gospel announces "deliverance to the captives." And how does it effect this blessed emancipation?
1. By giving to the sinner a deep sense of his sin, and filling his soul with shame of himself and loathing of his iniquity. When men have come to hate sin they are well on the road toward its conquest.
2. By taking back the penitent to the favor and love of God. Through Christ sin is pardoned and the sinner is restored. As one that loves God, and seeks above all things to enjoy his favor, the man "cannot sin;" he has acquired a reason and motive for purity and integrity which gives him the victory over sin. How can he grieve his heavenly Father, his Divine Redeemer, the Holy Spirit of God?
3. By giving him access to a source of Divine power. God is ready to dwell effectually within, and to work mightily upon the soul that seeks his presence and asks his power. We can do "all things in Christ who strengtheneth us." He makes us to know "the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe," in snapping the bonds that bound us, and investing us with "the glorious liberty of the children of God." - C.
I. THE BADNESS OF BLINDNESS, and its degrees. "It must be very bad to be blind," we say; probably we but faintly realize what it means.
1. It is bad to be physically blind - to look on no scenery, to read no book, to behold no countenance, to recognize no love in a human face, to grope our way in the thick darkness.
2. It is worse to be mentally blind - to see, and not to see; to open the eyes on the beauty and wonder and glory of the universe and to recognize nothing beautiful, wonderful, glorious, there; to be as lonely in a library as in a cell!
3. It is worse still to be morally blind - blind of soul, so that a man can see nothing degraded in drunkenness, nothing shameful in vice, nothing revolting in obscenity and profanity, nothing repelling in selfishness; so that a man can see nothing noble in generosity, nothing beautiful in beneficence, nothing regal in righteousness and duty, nothing sacred in human love.
4. It is worst of all to be spiritually blind - worst, because that is the root and source of all the others; blindness of spirit, a darkness in which the soul fails to see the Highest of all beings, the loftiest of all truths, the greatest of all facts; a darkness in which the soul fails to recognize the essential truth that in God we "live, and move, and have our being," and that to him we are responsible for all we are and have; in which it is blind to our sorrowful state of guilt and condemnation in the sight of God.
II. THE WORST FEATURE OF SPIRITUAL PRIVATION. That which is the best feature in physical is the worst in spiritual blindness. Under the merciful principle of accommodation, the blind became not only submissive, but contented and even cheerful in the darkness in which they dwell. They are able not only to speak of it, but to feel about it that it is "the shadow of God's wing." That is a very happy thing; but that is the very worst feature of spiritual blindness. It is spiritual insensibility that is the most deplorable - the fact that men don't know that they don't see; that they suppose themselves to know everything when they know nothing; that they are not aware what a world of truth and blessedness is around them and is accessible to them. Who shall reveal this to them?
III. CHRIST THE GREAT RESTORER of our spiritual vision. And how does he make us see that to which, but for him, we should have remained blind?
1. By making quite plain and certain that which would have remained shadowy and uncertain. Many truths of vital importance men would, in his absence, have speculated upon and discussed, but they would not have known them. Coming to us from God, the great Teacher has turned these uncertainties into living and sustaining truth. He tells us authoritatively and decisively that God is the one Divine Spirit, the righteous Ruler of all, the Father of souls, condemning them in their sin, pitying them in their estrangement, inviting them to return; that God has determined that when we die we shall live again, shall come forth to a resurrection of condemnation or of life.
2. By bringing the truth close home to the eye of the soul. When our Lord lived on earth he did this himself in his own Person; e.g. in the cases of the woman of Samaria, the rich young ruler, Nicodemus, he brought the truth of the kingdom home to the heart and the conscience. Those lips are closed to us now; Christ speaks not now as he spoke then. But his Spirit is with us still, speaking through his Word and through his faithful servants, and through his providence.
3. By more fully enlightening the minds of those who go in faith to seek and to serve him. Unto all seeking and trusting souls he manifests his truth in ever-enlarging fullness; them he leads "into all the truth" they need to know; and to them it becomes gloriously true that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed him, their Savior, for "the recovering of sight to the blind." - C.
I. BRUISED SOULS. We find these in:
1. Those who are chafed with the worries of life; whose disposition is such, or whose circumstances are such, that they are harassed and fretted by a multitude of minor conflicts with men and things; who are in danger of losing or have lost their mental equilibrium as the result of the perpetual strife.
2. Those who are perplexed with the problems of life; who want to be mentally satisfied and to see that their theories agree with the existing facts, and who, finding these two things in frequent antagonism, are troubled thereby in soul; - such men are never fixed in their convictions, but always thinking that these require readjustment.
3. Those who are smitten by the persecutions of life; who are continually coming into collision with men. They may have a combative habit, or they may be placed in human surroundings unfavorable to peace; but, from whatever cause, they are always in conflict, and are perpetually finding themselves the object of attack, of the ribaldry and the scorn of men; they bear a bruised feeling about them.
4. Those that are worn with excessive toil.
5. Those that are wounded by the heavier sorrows of life; from whom health, or reputation, or position, or fortune, or the object of strong and deep affection has been suddenly taken away.
II. THE REFUGE THEY HAVE IN CHRIST. Jesus Christ does not "set at liberty" bruised souls as a deliverer releases bruised prisoners; but he does emancipate them by taking from them their suffering, and giving to them a large measure of spiritual freedom. He blesses these bruised souls, and proves to them a Divine Refuge.
1. By his sympathy. In each one of their distresses they can feel sure of the tender sympathy of their High Priest, "touched with the feeling of their infirmities."
2. By his example. In all points he has been tempted, or tried, even as we are. We bear no cross which he has not carried before us, and his was heavier than ours.
3. By his aid. He is ready, at our appeal, to strengthen us by his indwelling Spirit, and to grant us such strong sustaining grace that, instead of groaning under our blows, we may even glory in them (2 Corinthians 12:9).
4. By his promises; those "exceeding great and precious promises," which not only cover the whole path of life, however long that may prove, but reach on beyond the horizon-line of death into the blessed and eternal future. - C.
I. THEIR SUBSTANCE. They were not, indeed, without seriousness, and at times not without severity. Christ did say, when the occasion required it, things which startled his hearers, things which are well fitted to make us pause and even tremble if we are obnoxious to their severity. He is, as a Divine Teacher and Revealer of God, as far as possible removed from the easy good-naturedness which would represent it as a matter of indifference what men hold and how they live, - the "good God" will make it all right in the end. No man can listen attentively and reverently to Christ and settle down into comfortable unbelief or self-complacent sin. Yet were his words predominantly and pre-eminently "words of grace." By the truths he preached he made known to mankind that:
1. God is accessible to all; the Approachable One, who is always willing to receive his children, and who welcomes back those who have wandered farthest away.
2. That a noble life is open to all; we may be in character and spirit, as well as in name and in position, the children of God (Matthew 5:45-48); we are to be "the light of the world," "the salt of the earth."
3. That a glorious future is within the reach of all; "in the Father's house are many mansions."
4. That salvation is very near to all; the Scripture is fulfilled; the Redeemer is come; the blind may see; the captives may be delivered; this is "the acceptable year," "the accepted time;" "to-day is the day of salvation." Or whether we consider -
II. THEIR FORM. There is about the gracious words of Christ:
1. An accent of persuasiveness. He does not angrily threaten, he cordially invites us; he says, winningly, "Come unto me... I am meek and lowly;" "Abide in me, and I [will abide] in you;" "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock," etc.
2. A note of considerateness. "Come into a desert place, and rest awhile;" "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now;" "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
3. A touch of tenderness. "I will not leave you comfortless;" "Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart."
(1.) It is perilous to abuse the grace of Christ. There is such a thing as "the wrath of the Lamb."
(2.) It is perfectly safe to trust in his grace. He means everything he says; the worst may obtain his mercy, the most diffident may confide in his redemption of his word. - C.
I. THE CHARACTER OF HIS PREACHING. (Vers. 31, 32.) Entering on the sabbath days into the synagogue, he taught with authority and with success. His teaching was a great contrast to that of the scribes. They seem to have contented themselves with quoting authorities. Unless they could back up their views by some great name, they were not sure about their doctrines. It was a prodigious use of commentators which they indulged in. But Jesus came and preached what he himself knew as a matter of certainty. There was a directness and "dead certainty" about his utterances which struck all the hearers as something new. And surely it is on this line that preachers still will find the path of safety. What we preach ought to be experience, the verities of our own spiritual life. And this preaching of certainties had its due effect in spiritual power. The word went home to the hearers' hearts - they had never heard truth so clearly presented before; and so they were lost in wonder and astonishment. The secret of success lies here. It is not by radiating a series of uncertainties upon men; it is not by bolstering men up in "honest doubt" and leaving them in the haze, that men will be won to what is high and holy. It is by telling them what we have learned ourselves - the glorious certainties of spiritual experience. Like the psalmist, we must gather men around us to tell them what God has done for our souls. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," and speaketh well!
II. OUR LORD DEMONSTRATED HIS POWER OVER DEVILS AS WELL AS OVER MEN. (Vers. 33-37.) In the synagogue there happened to be an unfortunate man possessed by what is called an "unclean devil;" his "inspirations" from this unhappy source being perhaps of a lustful and sensual character. The possession of men by demons was a struggle upon the diabolical spirit's part for a physical instrument to bring him into relations with the sensible and material world. The humanity of the man became the slave or hack of the demon, he used the man's voice to utter his unholy thoughts, and reduced the poor subject to utter wretchedness. The presence of the holy Saviour aroused the demon's fears, He saw that his hour of judgment had come; and so, as a last resort, he tried to injure the reputation of Jesus by bearing witness to his holy character. There are some people from whom it is not desirable to hold certificates or receive testimonials. And in this appeal to Jesus he speaks for the man as well as for himself, as if he had a commission to do so. "Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us?" etc. We have thus set before us:
1. The separating power of sin. The fellowship of the holy is not desired.
2. The inherent dread of judgment. The demon felt he deserved destruction.
3. The overweening sense of success in sin. The demon imagined that the poor possessed one would be involved in his own destruction. And now Jesus first silences the spirit, indicating that he desires no such witnesses; and, secondly, commands him to come out of the possessed one. In this way the demon is bidden back to that spiritual realm which he seemed so anxious to escape. There is nothing for it but to obey Christ. In doing so, however, he does his worst upon the poor possessed one; he throws him down, and to all appearance has once more the mastery over his prey. It is a last and unsuccessful effort. The man is found to have come unscathed through the ordeal. The restoration of human nature to freedom from demoniacal temptation is one great object of the Saviour's work. Clothing men in their right mind again, enabling them to think and act for themselves, and to resist the subtle temptations to impurity and sin, - this is a glorious function of the Holy One of God! The result of the miracle was the recognition of Jesus as the Sovereign of that spiritual world below man, from which he is liable to assault. His mighty word not only controlled human hearts, but extended to demons too. They had to obey his commands, no matter how loath they might be to do so. And this should comfort us in our temptations.
III. OUR LORD CARRIES ON IN PETER'S HOUSEHOLD THE HEALING WORK WHICH HE HAD EXERCISED IN THE PUBLIC CONGREGATION. (Vers. 38, 39.) Peter's mother-in-law was ill of a great fever; and when he was come in they besought him for her. We are thus taught that our Lord likes to be asked for the blessings he is so ready to afford. Prayer is the natural cry of need, or of intercession, to One who is able to meet man's difficulties and bless him. And so our Lord, being besought, goes to the patient, rebukes the fever, takes her by the hand, and lo! it leaves her; and she rose to the activities of health again. Her ministration showed the immediate and complete character of the cure, and also the gratitude which should characterize one who is saved by Jesus. And are we not thus taught that we should bring our fevered souls to Jesus as the great Physician? He can take away the fever instantaneously. There is nothing so wonderful as the way in which we regain spiritual health at the throne of grace. But let us see to it that it leads to ministration. He gives us back our health that we may use it for his glory and the benefit of those about us.
IV. OUR LORD IS NEXT SEEN TAKING DISEASES AND POSSESSED ONES BY WHOLESALE, AND HEALING THEM. (Vers. 40, 41.) At sunset, when the sabbath ended, and when under the friendly shades of night the poor sick and deformed ones could conveniently be brought to him, he finds an immense opportunity confronting him. Peter's house is turned into a consulting hospital, and, like famous physicians, he is well-nigh overwhelmed with work. Possessed ones are also brought to him; and the demons adopt the same plan as the one noticed already - they begin to testify to his Messiahship and Sonship. This mass of suffering humanity he takes in hand, and with infallible certainty heals them every one. He accomplishes the healing, too, in the most sympathetic fashion, laying his tender hand on each, and conveying through contact the needful blessing. It was truly "a night much to be remembered" by all these sons and daughters of affliction whom Jesus thus lovingly healed! As for the demons, on the other hand, they receive nothing from him but rebuke. He will not have their testimony to his nature or his mission. At the same time, he shows his sovereignty over them in dooming them to silence and solitude, at least so far as possessing men was concerned.
V. OUR LORD SHOWS US HIS NEED OF RETIREMENT AFTER LABOUR, AND ALSO WHAT HIS GREAT COMMISSION WAS. (Vers. 42-44.) After these mighty works he feels the need of retirement to commune with God, and keep his soul in proper tune for further work. If Jesus felt the need of prayer, how presumptuous in minor minds to excuse themselves from it! They seem to have given him an invitation to settle in Capernaum. And if he had, he would have had a famous physician's practice, doors besieged from morning to night, and no time for any other work. Hence he resolved to itinerate rather than settle down. His wandering from place to place secured him from overwork of a purely physical character, and enabled him to be the Missionary he was meant to be. It is an interesting question why he did not make Palestine a healthful land from end to end. He might have organized deputations and sought out all the sick, and made the land free from all disease and suffering. But while he healed all who came or were brought to him, and sent disciples forth on similar errands, he did not undertake this wholesale cure. And two answers may be given in the way of valid reason about it. In the first place, the people did not deserve such a blessing, and would not likely have been the better for it. A world of sinful men would not be improved if they were all made and kept healthy men. Health of soul and perfect health of body are to synchronize in the great future which lies before us. But secondly, if he had undertaken this physical work, he would have lost his opportunities of purely spiritual work, the preaching of the gospel, for which more especially he had come. Hence we must admire his resolve to be an itinerant Missionary rather than a settled and famous Physician. Preaching is really the highest work of man, if it is done conscientiously. The sphere is spiritual, and the results are for evermore. It is well to magnify the office as magnified by the Master. - R.M.E.
I. THE WORTHLESSNESS OF FAME.
1. The fame of Jesus Christ, as a man, is remarkable indeed. Born in a little Judaean village, of humble parents, receiving a very scanty education, enjoying no patronage, teaching truths too deep to be understood by the multitude and too broad to be appreciated by the orthodox of his time, arousing the hatred of the powerful, and dying while yet a young man a death of utmost ignominy, - his name has become known, his doctrine has been received, he himself has been honored and even worshipped by countless millions of mankind under every sky. This is fame of the first magnitude; there are very few names "under heaven given among men" that can aspire to stand in the same rank, on the ground of human fame.
2. Jesus Christ shunned rather than sought fame. "Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it" (Matthew 9:30; Matthew 8:4; Matthew 12:16; Matthew 17:9). "Great multitudes came together to hear and to be healed... and he withdrew himself into the wilderness" (Luke 5:15, 16; see also Vers. 42, 43).
3. He appears to have been embarrassed by his fame rather than gratified, and his work seems to have been hindered rather than helped by it (see John 6:15). And it is obvious that, as his great and high purpose was one which was far removed from the superficial and worldly hopes of the people, popularity or fame would not further but rather retard the work he had in hand. It is worth no man's while to be seriously concerned about his fame. To seek for and strive after an honorable reputation is what every man owes to himself, to his family, to his Church, to his Master. But no man need concern himself greatly about the acquisition of fame.
(1) It is obvious that only a very small minority of mankind can attain it; therefore any extensive endeavor after it must end in disappointment.
(2) It is of very slight intrinsic worth; for it is possessed and enjoyed by the bad as well as by the good, by the notorious as well as by the celebrated.
(3) It does not usually crown its hero until he has gone where it will no longer affect him; useless to the martyred patriot himself, however valuable to his country, is the costly tomb, or the splendid monument, or the elaborate elegy contributed to his memory.
(4) Its effect on living men is exceedingly doubtful; it may gladden and stimulate, but it may elate and injure.
II. THE EXCELLENCY OF POWER. "Power belongeth unto God" (Psalm 62:12). And power belonged to the Son of God. "Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit" (ver. 14).
1. Christ possessed and exerted power - the power of the prophet, speaking truth; "his word was with power" (ver. 32; Matthew 7:28, 29); the power of the Son of God, working miracles; the power of holiness and innocency (John 7:30; John 18:6); the power of love and sympathy, attaching disciples, men and women, to himself with bonds of affection that no dangers or sufferings could break.
2. He aspired after other and still higher power than any he exercised - the power which could only be gained by a sacrificial death. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." That pure and holy aspiration has been and shall be gloriously fulfilled. It is well worth our while to seek after a true, living, spiritual power.
(1) It is attainable by us all; it is within the reach of those who seek it in the fellowship and the service of Christ, and who ask it of the Spirit of God.
(2) It is of real intrinsic worth; it is a Divine, a Christ-like, an angelic thing; it is a source of benefit and blessing to mankind.
(3) It will enlarge our heritage both here and hereafter; for to every man God will give sacred and blessed opportunity of service "according to his several ability." - C.
I. THE SUPREME MALADY. The malady of maladies from which we suffer is sin. For sin is to the soul just what sickness is to the body.
1. Its essential nature. It is the radical disorder of the human spirit. The faculties of the soul, instead of doing that for which they were created, are helpless or are perverted, so that the man himself no longer walks with God, no longer speaks his praise, no longer works in his cause. The soul that was meant to find its life and its heritage in revering, honoring, rejoicing in, serving, glorifying God, is out of all happy relation with him, cannot do his will, may not even know who he is. Everything is in a state of disorder and helplessness.
2. Its various forms. As there are "divers diseases" of the flesh, as the sickness of the body takes a variety of forms - blindness, paralysis, fever, etc. - so does sin in the soul and in the life of man. It may appear as doubt, or disbelief, or even impious denial of God; or as the deliberate and determined rejection of his claims; or as a flagrant violation of his laws; or as a guilty inattention to his voice as he speaks to us in conscience, or in his Word, or in his Son; or as a prolonged and presumptuous procrastination, ever delaying to do what is recognized as the right and the wise thing.
II. THE ONLY CURE. As many of these sick ones knew not what else to do, to whom else they could apply; as they felt that the ordinary remedies and the human skill accessible to them must prove unavailing, and that, if this new and wonderful Healer did not help them, they must bear their burden of pain and helplessness through their future days; so may we feel respecting the supreme malady. Nothing merely human will prove to be a cure. Only a Divine hand can heal these deep wounds, these fatal ills. And how does Jesus Christ prove himself the one Healer of the heart?
1. By showing us our sin in its true light, as a grievous wrong done to our heavenly Father, and thus filling our souls with sorrow and shame concerning it.
2. By offering himself as that Divine One through whom it may be forgiven, and we be restored to the favor and friendship of God.
3. By leading us in every path of holiness and purity, and forming in us a righteous character and an obedient spirit.
III. AN EFFICACIOUS METHOD. "He laid his hands on every one of them." The touch of that Divine hand communicated health to the body, and at the same time hope and joy to the heart. It was not absolutely necessary that he should touch them; he could "speak the word only," and the patient would be healed. But he preferred to do so; it brought him, the Healer, into close and loving contact with those, whom he was healing. We, too, in our way, are healers after Christ. We aspire to move through our life, dispensing health and happiness to them that are sick and sad of soul. If we fail in part to do this, may it not be because we do not get into close enough contact with those whom we are endeavoring to bless? We must learn to be like our Lord, and lay our hands on every one of them, and then shall we be most likely to heal them. - C.
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