Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
first, on the silent deed of Mary; then on the open word of Judas; then we must hear the words of Jesus, who, on this occasion at least, made himself a Judge and a Divider over them.
I. THE DEED OF MARY. (Ver. 3.) No reason for the act is assigned. Is one needed? Was it the offering of gratitude, or duty, or love? Was there goodness enough in that heart to lead it to do a kind action spontaneously, without respect to any previous personal obligation? Was there a sufficiently clear discernment of the true character of the distinguished Guest to compel her to offer her best gifts? We know not. One thing we know - Lazarus was there, "whom Jesus raised from the dead." Then upon that head so hot, and upon those feet so weary, she pours her costly perfume; pours it freely, so "that the house was filled with the odour."
II. Could any one have suspected a spot could be found in this almost heavenly feast? Alas! so is it with all things and all times of earth. Though all the college of the apostles was there; though there was one who had been raised from the dead, and one whose body had been purified and made anew; though all had seen the miracles which he did; though there were renewed and chastened spirits present, types of perfect love and faithful service; and though the Master himself was in the midst, on that sweet last sabbath eve; - yet even in this Eden of blessing was the trail of the serpent to be seen. Hearken (vers. 4-6), poor human nature! Though Heaven itself come down to us, we tarnish it with some earthly foul breath.
III. Jesus, by his words, passes judgment on Mary's deed and on Judas's pronouncement upon it. He appears for her defense. "Why trouble ye her?" (vers. 6, 8, 9). He may have been troubled, but in self-forgetfulness he thinks of her as she did of him. The work was a good one. "She hath anointed my body aforehand for the burying." Did she really know the meaning of her act? Did she really know that he would so soon be taken away? Then, to her quick apprehensive grief, he was dead already. Did she unconsciously predict his burial, or was love quick-witted here? We know not; but who can tell what she learnt at his feet? Probably she knew not on this quiet sabbath evening that on the next he would be in the tomb, or her heart would have been broken as well as her alabaster box. But if her gift of grateful love meant more than she supposed, it was only as all gifts of love do. They go beyond the discernments of intellect and judgment; they reach further; they mean more. So is it with all works done to Jesus. When we comfort the sorrowful, or minister to the sick or destitute, or do any "good work" in him and for him, he makes them symbolize himself. They show forth his praise. They reveal his spirit. As to the poor and our help of them, who, to our disgrace, are always with us. Let us see how Jesus honors even their lot by placing himself in the position of a receiver of doles of charity and human kindness. And let us, undeterred by the misuse which some make of our gifts, still break our alabaster boxes. Let us pour over the world the fragrance of a godly life, the sweetness of our Christian temper, the labor of our Christian zeal, the gifts of our Christian love. - G.
I. "A TIME OF SILENCE AND SOLITUDE PROPERLY PRECEDES THE DAY OF DEATH."
II. "WITH THE HIGHEST ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITY, AND MUCH WORLDLY DENCE, THERE MAY BE GREAT WICKEDNESS" (Godwin). - J.
Mark 14:1-11, 18-21, 43-50. Parallel passages: Matthew 26:1-16, 21-25, 47-56; Luke 22:10-6, 21-23, 47-53; John 18:2-12; John 8:21-35
I. INTRODUCTION TO JUDAS. The individuality of Judas comes prominently before us in this chapter. We make his acquaintance in the house of Simon the leper in Bethany. We are introduced to him in connection with the alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; for though not mentioned here by name, we know from the other evangelists that he was among those who felt indignant at the supposed waste of the ointment, and who expressed that indignation by murmuring against the worthy woman who had poured it on the Savior's head. Either Judas had muttered dissatisfaction, and others of the disciples, in their simplicity, concurred, or Judas was spokesman of others who, accustomed to scant ways and means, were surprised at what naturally enough appeared to such men extravagant expenditure. "When his disciples saw it, they had indignation," according to St. Matthew's narrative; "There were some that had indignation within themselves," is the record of St. Mark; "Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" is the explicit account furnished by St. John. There was only the one single point of contact between Judas and those of the other disciples who agreed with him about the matter of waste. Their motive differed from his; their thoughts were not his thoughts. The large-hearted liberality of this loving woman was, however, rightly comprehended by the Master himself, and justly commended by him. Our curiosity is not gratified by any particulars of information about Simon. Whether he was a brother of Lazarus, or a brother-in-law, being Mary's husband, or some other relative, or only a friend, we neither know nor need to know. The meaning of the epithet πιστικῆς is also little more than a matter of conjecture. Some of the Greek and Latin interpreters understand it to mean genuine or pure, and connect it with πιστός, faithful; others hold the meaning to be potable or liquid, from πίνω; while Augustine derives it from the name of the place whence it came, that is, Pistic nard. The Vulgate and Latin versions render it spicati, and similar, too is our English spikenard, as the name of fragrant oil extracted from the spike-shaped blossoms of the Indian nardus, or nard-grass. The costliness of this unguent was well known among the ancients; hence Horace promised Virgil a nine-gallon cask of wine for a small onyx box of this nard; while the evangelist informs us that the value of Mary's alabaster box of ointment was upwards of three hundred pence, that is, of Roman coinage, each denarius being equivalent to sevenpence halfpenny or eightpence halfpenny of English currency. The amount would thus be about ten guineas.
II. MARY'S LIBERALITY. This liberality of Mary had its origin in deep devotedness to our Lord, but her devotedness was the outcome of enlightened faith. She had a correct understanding of his character and claims. A believer in his Divine commission and in his kingly authority, she did not stumble as many at the prospect of his death. She knew he was to die, and hence she anticipated that sad event by the exceedingly expensive preparation in question. The custom of employing perfumes on such an occasion has an illustration in the record of King Asa in the sixteenth chapter of the Second Book of Chronicles, where we read, "They laid him in the bed which was filled with sweet odors and divers kinds of spices prepared by the apothecaries' art." The disciples of Christ surpassed the generality of their nation in the knowledge of, and belief in, his person as Messiah; but though they had full faith in his Messiahship, they still clung to the notion of a temporal kingdom, with all its high honors and earthly distinctions. From this arose the difficulty which they had in reconciling themselves to his death, or rather the stumbling-block which his death placed in the way of their faith, as the two disciples to whom Jesus joined himself on the way to Emmaus, after speaking of his death and crucifixion, added, "But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel." Mary's faith excelled theirs as much as theirs excelled that of the Jews in general. Her faith did not fail in prospect of Messiah being cut off, her love was not chilled by the coming coldness of his death, nor did her hope go out like a taper in the darkness of his sepulcher. She believed that as Messiah Jesus would die and revive and rise and reign. She believed, and her faith worked by love. She believed, and therefore she poured the precious ointment ungrudgingly on her Savior's person.
III. THE BESETTING SIN OF THE TRAITOR. Judas is usually hold up as a monster of iniquity, and his sin regarded as something diabolical. While we would not diminish by one iota the heinousness of his sin, nor say one word in extenuation or mitigation of his guilt, we feel that, owing to certain exaggerated representations of his criminality, the lessons to be learnt from his character and conduct are to a large extent lost. On the contrary, if we carefully analyze his character and examine his career, we shall find much to learn, at least by way of warning, from the sad lesson of his life. Of course, by placing him outside the pale of humanity altogether, and regarding him more as a fiend than a man, we leave ourselves without any common measure whereby it is possible to compare his career with that of ordinary mortals. Now, we hold that he was just in roll with common men, though by his sin in its results he rose at last to such an exceptionally bad eminence. He was, as is admitted on all hands, a bad man, a wicked man, and a man as wretched as he was wicked. All the elements of evil in his character, however, may be resolved into one besetting sin, and that sin was avarice. His greed of gain was insatiable, and he loved gold much more than God. This inordinate love of money was the root of the evil in his nature. This love of money is a growing sin, for, as the old proverb has it, the love of money increases as much as the money itself increases - nay, it usually increases much faster. He was naturally avaricious, and he gave full swing to his natural disposition. Here we learn a lesson of the greatest utility and of very general application. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read of "the sin which doth so easily beset us." The case of Judas exemplifies the baneful tendency and the fatal result of such a single besetting sin. Most people have some propensity in excess, some strong passion, some evil principle in their nature more likely to overpower them than any other. It is of vital importance to ascertain what the weak point is, in what direction it lies, and where the risk of entanglement is greatest. A physician is careful in the very first instance to discover the seat of the patient's disease, and its nature. So we should look carefully into our heart and out upon our life till we find out the source of weakness; and once it is discovered - nor can the discovery be a matter of any difficulty to the honest inquirer - we must be ever on our guard against it, and use every available means to fortify ourselves in that particular quarter. However strong our character may be otherwise and in other respects, one besetting sin, unless resisted and shunned, will ruin all. One weak link will spoil the strongest chain, and no chain is stronger than its weakest link; one small opening in a dam will flood a district, or even a province.
IV. OFFICIAL DIGNITY, OFFICIAL DANGER. It often happens that a man is placed exactly in that situation in life which, owing to his peculiar disposition, is fraught with greatest danger to him. Thus, for good and wise ends, God in his providence is pleased to try us, as gold is tried, that we may be proved and purified and strengthened. When so situated we need to seek daily increase of faith that we may be kept from falling, and constant supplies of grace that it may be sufficient for us. Judas had been clever at finance, and in consequence became bursar of the little society. This situation of purse-bearer was one of extreme danger to a man like Judas; his hand was too often in the purse, his fingers were too frequently on the coins it contained. With such an opportunity without and such a disposition within, what, in the absence of restraining grace, could be expected? His greedy disposition, combined with the temptation of his office, was too much for him; his covetousness developed into thievishness. He failed to check the evil propensity; he did not resist the strong temptation. The first act of pilfering was committed. The Rubicon was crossed; the line of demarcation between honesty and dishonesty became fainter and fainter, and was gradually effaced. Other acts of petty pilfering succeeded; and though we have little reason to suppose that the disciples' purse had ever been a deep or heavy one, or that it ever contained more than supplied the bare necessaries of daily life, yet we have much reason to believe that the paltry peculations of the purse-bearer were a constant drain upon it. "He was a thief," our Lord tells us plainly, "and carried the bag." Here we have a second lesson, which is the absolute necessity of resisting the first temptation to evil; for as the habit grows by indulgence, the power of temptation diminishes by resistance.
V. DISAPPOINTED AMBITION. The chief attraction to Judas had probably been the prospect of a temporal king and earthly kingdom; and thus of some lucrative position or highly remunerative office in the service of that king and in the affairs of that kingdom. Others of his fellow-disciples had been looking forward to posts of honor - to sit on thrones in the future Messianic kingdom. Judas eared less for honor than for profit, and however he may have esteemed such honor, it was mainly as the way to wealth. But now our Lord had referred in terms unmistakable, once and again, to his death and burial, this gave a rude shook to the hopes of the traitor, and seemed to cut off at once and for ever the prospect of worldly gain. This was a bitter disappointment to the greedy spirit of Judas; the cup of plenty was rudely dashed away as he was about to raise it to his lips; the time of discipleship he looked upon as a dead loss; his profits had been small at best, but the prospect of improving his circumstances is now blighted; and his occupation is gone. Tantalizing, and even torturing, as all this must have been to him, another disappointment, though of a minor sort, is added. A sum of three hundred denarii, or more, that is to say, upwards of ten guineas, had been profusely lavished in a way and for an object with which he had not the least possible sympathy, nay, in a manner as he thought highly reprehensible. It was sheer waste, and worse, for no one gained anything; the poor were not benefited - "not that he cared for the poor," except as a matter of hypocritical pretense; he himself missed the disbursement of a sum from which he could have appropriated a percentage that might have been a crumb of comfort in present disastrous times and during the dull days he must now look forward to. But there was even more than this; he must have felt himself by this time an object of suspicion; conscience must have made him aware of this; he must have known that the Master, at all events, saw through the thin disguises that concealed his real character from ordinary eyes. He did not feel at home with the brotherhood; and, his occupation being gone, a spirit of recklessness was creeping over him. Besides, he was stung into hostility by the severe but well-deserved reproof which our Lord now saw right to administer to him. "The poor always ye have with you," said our Lord; and it was thus hinted that it was his duty - part of his duty - part of his office - to look after them, and that opportunity was never wanting for that purpose. Thus wrought on, Judas bethought himself that it was high time to look to his own interests; and, having failed in one direction, to try the opposite.
VI. WARNINGS WASTED. It is truly astonishing what effect the continued indulgence of a single sin has in hardening the heart, searing the conscience as with a hot iron, blinding the mind, and banishing for a time at least all feelings of shame and even of common humanity. The black crime soon to be committed had cast its shadow before. More than one hint had been given, more than one warning note had been sounded; but all to no purpose. The first intimation appears to have been after our Lord had washed the disciples' feet, impressing by that expressive symbolic action the great lesson of humility on all his followers. On that occasion he said, "Now ye are clean, but not all" (John 13:10). In the second section of this chapter, where the traitor is again referred to, words of warning still more distinct are uttered: "One of you which eateth with me shall betray me;" and while all of them, "one by one," as St. Mark particularly mentions, deprecated with surprise and sorrow such an impeachment, asking, "Is it I?" or literally, "It is not I, is it?" Judas had the amazing effrontery to pretend innocence, and ask with the rest, "Is it I?" The intimation about the betrayer being "one of the twelve, he that dippeth with me in the dish," and the individual who should receive the sop, may have been whispered into the ear of the beloved John, and through him to Peter; but the final fearful warning was uttered aloud and in the hearing of all. And yet that terrible sentence, "Woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born," had no effect on him; at all events, it failed to shake his diabolical purpose. It is possible that during the first shower of questions - each asking, "Is it I?" - Judas had sat silent, either sullenly through contempt, or conscious-stricken; that subsequently, with an air of careless coldness, and in order to conceal the confusion of the moment, he asked not, "Lord, is it I?" but "Rabbi, is it I?" when he received the answer, "Thou hast said," in the affirmative, unheard perhaps except by the disciples John and Peter, who sat close by. The expression, too, which our Lord added, namely, "What thou doest, do quickly," though heard by all, was misunderstood, and referred by them to directions about the purchase of requisites for tomorrow's feast, or making distribution to the poor; but it must have been perfectly comprehended by the traitor himself. At all events, on receiving the sop, he went out immediately, and, in spite of all, pursued his foul and fiendish purpose. All these checks, all these warning, were utterly ineffectual. His besetting sin, growing like the mountain snowball, and gathering within its compass other elements, as disappointment, resentment, ingratitude, and envy, had now become too powerful to be overcome. The sin that might have been checked effectually at the first had now become uncontrollable; the evil one, who might have been successfully resisted at the commencement, had now gained complete mastery over this wretched man. To such a fearful extent was this the case, that the evangelist informs us that "Satan entered into him." In no other way, as it seems, could the enormity of his crime be accounted for. No wonder it is added, "And it was night." It was night with earth and sky - night with all its darkness, night with that dark heart of the traitor, night in every sense with that unhappy man! How all this inculcates, as another and a third lesson, the importance of cultivating prayerfulness of spirit, and enforces the necessity of praying frequently and praying fervently, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one"!
VII. ANOTHER SCENE IN THE TRAITOR'S LIFE. We now open another chapter in his history. The bargain is struck, the sum weighed and delivered, and in the paltry sum thus realized we have another proof of the grovelling spirit of this unspeakably mean and mercenary man. He has secured the thirty pieces of silver, or thirty shekels - some £3 15s. of British money. Both parties seem satisfied with the bargain. The chief priests are glad of the promised opportunity of arresting in private him whom the dread of popular tumult or probable rescue prevented them arresting in public. Public opinion was still so favorable to the Prophet from Galilee, and had such force, that, hostile as the Jewish authorities were, they dreaded, and with good reason, the risk of a public apprehension. Judas, too, is content with his pieces of silver. We almost fancy we see him, like Milton's picture of Mammon in the nether world, eyeing with furtive, downcast glance the proceeds of his bargain. But the satisfaction of the wicked seldom lasts long. We scarcely think that Judas at first realized the consequences of his wickedness; we cannot believe that he at all anticipated the sequel of his crime. Perhaps he thought that he who had wrought so many miracles would work one in self-defense, and not allow himself to be apprehended; or perhaps he thought that, if arrested, he would escape out of the hands of those who came to apprehend him; or it may be he thought Jesus would now be forced to set up the expected kingdom. All his calculations are at fault.
VIII. THE ACTUAL BETRAYAL AND APPREHENSION. Some two hours have elapsed from the revelation of the traitor and his departure from that upper room, when a motley multitude of men, armed with swords and staves-some of them Levitical guards from the temple, others Roman soldiers from the tower of Antonia, together with priests and elders - is marching down the hillside from Jerusalem to the valley of the Kidron. Already they have crossed the brook and reached the garden. But what mean those lanterns, for the Paschal moon is at the full? Perhaps the moon was obscured by clouds, or shining dimly that night; or the deep shadows of the hills and rocks and trees made the light of the lanterns necessary. The concerted signal was not really needed, owing to our Lord's forwardness to meet his fate. Had he pleased, he might have frustrated the attempt, as by a word he felled them to the earth (John 18:6); he might have ordered to his help twelve legions of angels, had he been unwilling to suffer. And yet, willing as he was to suffer, he is equally willing to save; his sufferings were in our stead, and for our sake. His ready willinghood to undertake for us and die for us assures us of equal willinghood to have the benefit of those sufferings transferred to us. The traitor's kiss, which was a fervent one (κατεφίλησεν), was the signal for arrest. From this we learn the terms of familiarity and friendship that existed between Christ and his disciples. Nor is he changed, or become colder in his friendship for his true followers; he is as cordial as ever, and still bends on earth a Brother's eye. His address to Judas, however, is too strongly expressed in the Common Version. The term "friends" (φίλοι) he reserves for his true disciples; the word addressed to Judas is ἑταῖρε, which signifies "companion" or acquaintance, and does not necessarily imply either respect or affection.
IX. THE COWARDICE OF SIN. Cowardice is generally associated with sin, so true it is that "sinful heart makes feeble hand." Our first parents, after their sin against God, hid themselves among the trees of the garden. The chief priests and elders, with the captains, are here charged by our Lord with cowardice. "Be ye come out," he asks, "as against a brigand or bandit (λῃστήν), with swords and staves?" Had he been an evil-doer, why did they not apprehend him publicly in the broad light of day as he taught in the temple? Poor, sinful souls! their cowardly spirits shrank from this; the power of public opinion, or the dread of a rescue, or the danger of a riot, they could not brave; but now skulkingly, secretly, stealthily, at the dead hour of night, they came upon the Savior by surprise, with a strong posse of men well armed. Their sin was seen in their cowardice. Our Lord is now in the hands of his enemies. He had healed the servant's ear - the right ear (St. Luke and St. John) - having asked freedom to stretch forth his arm to touch and heal the wounded ear, saying, "Suffer ye thus far;" if the words do not mean - Excuse resistance to this extent. Judas has betrayed him; all the disciples - even John the beloved and Peter the brave - have forsaken him and fled! - J.J.G.
I. HER ACT OF DEVOTION. The nard or spikenard was an unguent of the East. It was "genuine" and costly. Probably it had been kept against that day. She now entered, probably at first unperceived, and, breaking the neck of the alabaster cruse, poured the precious nard upon the Savior's person (John says his feet; Matthew and Mark, his head; probably both received the anointing). John adds, And wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment." The offering was:
1. Sudden. It was given ere any one could interfere. The breaking of the cruse may also have pointed to the quick, spontaneous impulse which prompted. The woman who had come forward so unexpectedly, at once retired again before the tumult and anger her act had occasioned.
2. It sprang from secret sources of reverence and love. The disciples could not comprehend it. They were not consulted. It expressed her own feeling unshared with any other.
3. It was oblivious of cost. The price put upon it by the disciples - three hundred denarii - was about ten pounds of our money, but of greater actual value at that time. Mary belonged to a respectable family, and could probably afford the gift, although its purchase would tax her personal means. Of that she does not think. It is freely given, poured out without care or stint upon him for whom it had been designed.
II. THE CRITICISM TO WHICH IT EXPOSED. The disciples "had indignation among themselves." It presently broke forth in reproaches and murmurs. The action was stigmatized as purposeless "waste." Another use it might have served, viz. the relief of the poor, was mentioned. This judgment was partly honest, partly knavish; wholly ignorant and wrong. "What is not outwardly useful may be highly proper;" and men ought to be very careful in pronouncing upon religious offerings. A higher platform of principle is often affected by those who are really less spiritual.
III. CHRIST'S VINDICATION. "Why trouble ye her?" They had no business to interfere.
1. The act was commended. "A good [noble, beautiful] work." He saw the inward character of it. In his sight alone was it justified.
2. It was defended as more opportune and urgent than almsgiving. "Ye have the poor always with you,... but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she hath anointed my body aforehand for the burying." Many and mingled feelings prompted the offering - gratitude for the restoration of Lazarus, adoration of the character of Jesus, recognition of him as "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," as the Lord of life and death, etc.; but may not the foremost motive have been the reverent one which sought to do honor to One about to die? She who sat at the feet of Jesus divined his teaching more deeply than his professed followers. How are we to characterize this emotion which overcame her? It was deep, pure, unselfish, overwhelming. May it not fitly be termed "the impulse of the absolute"? It is the essence of religion. Thus the devout soul responds to the infinite sacrifice. Martyrs, apostles, missionaries, have felt its power. It obeyed a higher reason than the rudimentary religious experience of the apostles could comprehend. When the "length, and breadth, and depth, and height" of the passion of Jesus are perceived, no gift can fully express the sense of worship and obligation that arises: The highest sentiments of human nature are appealed to, and all the resources of our life are at his service, at the same time that we are profoundly conscious how far short they fall of his deserts or the claim he has upon us. It is a transaction, when it takes place, which others cannot judge; it is between the soul and its Lord. - M.
I. PURE LOVE RISES ABOVE THE CONSIDERATIONS OF THRIFT. Logic must give place to love. The full heart disdains the question of money expense. Habitual extravagance is one thing, the redundancy grateful affection is another. We are never safe, in conduct or in thought, except when we follow the heart's lead.
II. SYMPATHY PRESERVES THE JUDGMENT FROM ERROR, The disciples did not understand the woman's act. Christ lifted it into the light of truth. There is a narrow scale of judgment - of those who stand too close to the act, and see only its immediate bearings. To see truly we must see far. There is a perspective of acts. This Christ points out. The acts of instinctive faith and love, of obedience and loyalty, are worth more than those based upon prudence and calculation.
III. THE DEATH OF CHRIST MEASURES THE WORTH OF ACTS. This act will go down in history inseparable from his death. It was a forecast and a memento. The loving self-devotion of the Savior attracts the like from those who surround him and who know him.
IV. THE TRUEST REWARD OF GOODNESS IS TO BE HELD IN THE LOVING RECOLLECTION OF OTHERS. "The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance." One great man prays, "Lord, keep my memory green!" A poet turns the wish into song, that he may be "only remembered by what he has done." - J.
I. SELFISHNESS. An exaggeration of the natural principle of self-love. Judas, as chief representative of this spirit, shows the virtues of his great vice, and naturally enough becomes keeper of the bag, containing the earthward dependence of the band. He looks at everything from this point of view. Already his thrift or prudence has degenerated into avarice, the more quickly owing to the grace which he resisted. The money value of the offering is at once appraised, the spiritual worth being wholly discounted.
II. THIS IS REPRESENTED (by St. Matthew and St. Mark) AS NOT CONFINED TO ONE INDIVIDUAL. In truth, every disciple had a share of it, although in a few it was more strongly manifest, and in one it may be said to have become incarnate. St. John, who is more given to this personalization of principles, speaks only of Judas. This, then, is a general danger to which the Church is liable, and requires the most careful self-examination. It can only be washed out of the soul by frequent and copious baptisms of Divine purity; it can only be consumed by the constant fire of the Divine love.
III. HERE IT IS CALLED INTO GREATER STRENGTH BY THE PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF SACRIFICE. It is provoked by the display of self-forgetful affection. Why so?
1. Because it fails to discern the imminence and significance of the Divine event spiritually revealed to the soul of Mary.
2. Because, in resisting that spirit, its own evil is exaggerated and confirmed. It seeks, therefore, to discredit the special manifestation of the spirit of devotion taking place. The indirect form of Divine charity, viz. alms, is declared preferable to the direct, viz. self-sacrificing devotion to God in Christ. How often is this exchange actually made in the history of the Church; almsgiving (with all its attendant corruptions) taking the place of the soul's immediate allegiance to Jehovah! But on this occasion it is only a cloak for a deeper depth of selfishness, perhaps hardly confessed to himself by the chief culprit, he would by-and-by have stolen the worth of the gift, diverting it thus wholly from its rightful destination. Soon this self-seeking will declare itself in selling the Christ himself for money; a lesser sum (thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave) being temptation enough. - M.
Luke 7. Indicate Mary's reasons for loving the Lord, with all her heart and soul and strength, and show that this act of exquisite self-abandonment was the natural expression of her love. Learn from the subject the following lessons: -
I. THAT AN ACT WHICH IS PLEASING TO OUR LORD MAY BE MISCONSTRUED AND CONDEMNED BY HIS DISCIPLES. All the disciples were guilty of murmuring against Mary, but John points out that Judas Iscariot began it. Entrusted with the bag in which the common fund was kept, he had carried on for some time past a system of petty thievery. It has been suggested that, as our Lord knew his besetting sin of avarice, it would have been kinder not to have put this temptation in his way. There is, however, another aspect of this question. Evil habits are sometimes conquered by a tacit appeal to honor and generosity. An outward habit may be got rid of by removal of temptation, but absence of temptation does not root out the sin. In effect our Lord said to Judas, "I know your sin, but yet I put this money in your charge; for surely you would not rob the poor, defraud your brethren, and dishonor me!" This appeal might have saved Judas; but he yielded to his sin till it damned him. Such a man would be likely to feel aggrieved at this generous act of Mary's. He felt as if he had been personally defrauded. He knew that if this spikenard, which had vanished in a few minutes of refreshing fragrance, had been sold he would have had the manipulation of the proceeds. Therefore he was angry with Mary, and angry with the Lord, who had not rejected her offering. We can easily understand the feeling of Judas. But how was it the disciples re-echoed his complaint? They sided with him, although they certainly were not actuated by his base motive. Well, we all know that if a word of censure be uttered in the Church it swiftly spreads, and is like leaven, which soon leavens the whole lump. Suspicion and slander find easier access to men's hearts than stories of heroism and generosity. Weeds seed themselves more rapidly than flowers. The disciples had more to justify their fault-finding than we sometimes have. They were plain peasants, who had never known the profusion of modern life, and they were aghast at the idea of such a prodigality of luxury as this. From all they knew of their Lord they supposed that he would have preferred the relief of the poor to any indulgence for himself, and that he himself would have been disposed to say, "To what purpose is this waste?" Many now imagine that they can infallibly decide what will please or displease their Lord, yet in their condemnation of others they are often mistaken. Mary, no doubt, was discouraged and disappointed. Her gift had been the subject of thought and prayer, and now that her opportunity had come for presenting it she eagerly seized it. She was prepared for the sneers of the Pharisees; but surely the disciples would be glad to see their Lord honored. At their rebuke her heart was troubled; her eyes filled with tears as she thought, "Perhaps they are right. I ought to have sold it." Then Jesus looked on her with loving approval, and threw over her the shield of his defense.
II. THAT ANY SERVICE WHICH IS THE OFFSPRING OF LOVE TO THE LORD IS ACCEPTABLE TO HIM. He perfectly understood and approved her motive, and therefore was pleased with her offering. Whether it came in the fragrance of this ointment, or in the form of three hundred pence, was of comparatively little consequence. It meant, "I love thee supremely," and therefore he was glad. Naturally so. When a child brings you the relic of some feast which you would rather not have, yet because it has been saved from love to you, you eat it with as much gusto as if it were nectar from Olympus. Why? Because you judge of the gift from the love it expresses; and this, in an infinitely higher sphere, our Lord also does. Unlike us, he always knows what the motive is, and about many an act condemned by his disciples he says, "She hath wrought a good work on me." Καλόν, translated "good," means something beautiful, noble, or lovely. Mary's act was not ordered by the Law, nor dictated by precedent, nor suitable to everybody; but for her, as an expression of her love, it was the most beautiful thing possible. She poured her heart's love on Jesus when she poured the spikenard from the broken cruse.
III. THAT A GIFT OR ACT PROMPTED BY LOVE TO THE LORD MAY HAVE FAR MORE EFFECT THAN WE DESIGN. "She is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying." Some argue from this that Mary knew Jesus was about to be crucified, and would rise again from the dead, so that this would be the only time for such anointing. I doubt that. Probably she had no distinct, ulterior design when she simply did what her love prompted. But in commending her Jesus in effect said, "In this act she has done more than you think - more than she herself imagines; for she is anointing me for my burial." In God's Word we find that we are credited for the good or for the evil latent in our actions, by Divine justice or in Divine generosity. We read of some standing before the Judge of quick and dead who are amazed at the issues of their half-forgotten acts for or against the Savior. "When saw we thee an hungred or athirst?" etc. This was the principle on which Christ attributed to Mary's act a result she could not have foreseen.
CONCLUSION. This is true of evil as of good. There is not a sin you commit but it may beget other sins, and in effect as well as in memory the words are true, "The evil that men do lives after them." For the far-reaching effects of sinful words and deeds, of which he may know nothing till the day of judgment, the sinner is responsible to God. What an encouragement is here to steadfast continuance in well-doing! That which has the smallest immediate result may have the greatest ultimately. The story of Mary's inexpressible love has had far greater effect in blessing the world than the distribution of three hundred pence among the poor, which human judgment might have preferred. - A.R.
I. THE CRIME CONTEMPLATED. To deliver up Christ to his enemies. Whether he fully realized how much was involved as a result of this step is uncertain. He might imagine that not death, but the checking of his Master upon the career he had marked out, would ensue. But there is recklessness as to any consequences, provided he himself should be no loser. In robbing the alms from the bag, he was guilty of a breach of trust; in this new development of his master passion the unfaithfulness culminated. It is manifest that the spiritual side of Christ's ministry had for him no value. It was only the earthly rewards that might attend on discipleship that made it attractive to him. Was it to force the hand of the ideal, unpractical Christ that he sought to deliver him up? A miracle of deliverance might then result in a realization greater than his most brilliant hopes could depict, and thus his (passing) act of villainy be condoned. Or was it in sheer disgust and desperation respecting the course affairs seemed to be taking that he conceived of his deed? We cannot tell. In a mind like that of Judas there are depths beyond depths.
II. THE MOTIVE. That selfishness was at the root we may be sure. Avarice is the direction it took. He proposed money, and asked how much (Matthew 26:15). Thirty pieces of silver a small sum? Yes, but he might be at that moment in real or fancied need, or the amount might be looked upon as a mere instalment of further reward, when he might have made himself useful, perhaps necessary, to the rulers. Fear of consequences, if he followed Christ further in the direction in which he was moving, may also have influenced his mind. And there can be no question as to the immediate impulse of wounded feeling, through baffled dishonesty and the sense that Christ saw through him. Falling short of the higher illumination and power of the Spirit, he was at the mercy of his own base, earthly nature.
III. CONSPIRING CIRCUMSTANCES. The background to all this mental and spiritual movement on the part of Judas is the attitude of the chief priests and scribes, "seeking how they might take" Christ. But for opportunity afforded the treachery of Judas might have remained an aimless mood or a latent disposition, instead of becoming a definite purpose. In this consists the danger of unspiritual states of mind: they subject those in whom they are indulged to the tyranny of passing influences and circumstances. - M.
I. What lessons on THE FRAILTY OF THE POOR HUMAN HEART! The hand that received "the sop," that dipped into the same dish with Jesus, received into its hardened palm the miserable pittance - a slave's price. Ah! even in the presence of the holy One could he plot and scheme for his delivery. Let us, when we decry the deed, bow our heads lowly, remembering that we share the same frail nature. How barefaced the lie - walking, reclining, talking with the little band, carrying their common purse, and so trusted by them all, yet stealing away in the darkness to meet his enemies and plot with them how, "in the absence of the multitude," he could deliver him unto them! And going so far as to choose the symbol of brotherly affection - a kiss - to be the sign by which in the darkness they should distinguish him! "Woe unto that man through whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had not been born." Truly so; for what theory or process of restoration could prevent the name Judas from being for ever the symbol of treachery and base desertion and sordid misery. "Woe," indeed! "And he went away and hanged himself." It is impossible to contemplate the heights from which men have fallen into deep abysses, without a feeling of shame and humiliation. But it would be wrong to think of them without being warned by them of the sad possibilities to which we are all exposed.
II. THE INSUFFICIENCY OF OFFICE TO SECURE ITS RIGHTFUL SPIRIT. The parallel of Judas's infamy is found in the men who stood as the head and representatives of the very religion it was Jesus' high mission to fulfill and perfect. How deplorable is the contrast between the sanctity of the position held by these officials and the spirit in which they held it! It was theirs to be the leaders of religious thought, and the embodiment of the religious spirit. But the sad testimony is borne to the insufficiency of official relationship to secure the true spirit of office. Truly may the Shepherd say, "I was wounded in the house of my friends;" and the poor one, "yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me."
III. THE POWER OF COVETOUSNESS. And this was all for money! Well might it be written, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." But it is needful to return to the preceding incident to find the hidden clue to such a deed of darkness. St. John has left the sad record, "He was a thief, and having the bag took away what was put therein." So, yielding little by little to the love of pelf, this chosen one, who harbored the demon of covetousness within the folds of his dress, had lost all strength of virtue, and being overcome of evil, and under the influence of a master-passion, sold his Master for thirty pieces of silver - "the price of him that was priced, whom certain of the children of Israel did price." But our thoughts should rest less upon the faithless disciple or the more faithless priests than upon the patient, submissive One who drank so deeply of our cup. He who descended to that lowest condition of human shame was found, like the slaves in the market, "priced" and sold. Revolting from that unfaithfulness which could sell a friend for gain, from that love of pelf which could crush all the fine and noble and generous feelings of the heart, even closing it to the sweet, winning voice of him who spake as never man spake - revolting equally from that deceitfulness which could occupy holy of[ice without the slightest apprehension of the sanctity of demeanor, or the slightest possession of the purity of spirit due to such a position - let us mark and imitate the lowly, patient, self-possessed, forgiving, trustful spirit of him who endured all that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled, that the will of the Father might be done, that the redemption of the lost might be effected. - G.
I. "THE BEST INFLUENCES FOR GOOD MAY RE RESISTED AND BECOME VAIN."
II. "HYPOCRISY PREPARES FOR DISHONESTY AND ALL WICKEDNESS" (Godwin). - J.
Exodus 12:16) after sunset; that day, corresponding to our 16th of March, was therefore popularly called the first of the festival, because it was the preparation day for it. This preparation of the Passover, i.e. the killing of the lamb, etc., had to take place between three and six o'clock, the ninth and twelfth hours of the solar day. "Sacrificed," or "killed," has the force of "accustomed to sacrifice or kill." The room was to be "furnished," literally "strewn," i.e. the tables and couches were to be laid; and it was to be ready, i.e. cleansed, etc., in conformity with ceremonial purifications. A considerable amount of work had to be carefully gone through ere all things would be ready. The lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, wine, and "conserve of sweet fruits," had to be purchased; the lamb had to be slain by the officiating priest in the temple; and then it had to be roasted with the herbs. From the circumstances connected with this preparation in the case of Christ and his disciples we see -
I. THE REPRESENTATIVE HEADSHIP OF CHRIST. The disciples looked to him for direction. They spoke of him, and not themselves severally, as being about to observe the Passover, which indicated, not that they themselves were not going to observe it, but that they ranged themselves under him as constituting, so to speak, his household· That they should have to seek his direction at the last was no proof of carelessness, but only of habitual dependence upon him; and it pathetically suggested how closely their circumstances corresponded with the typical character of the first celebrants, who as strangers and sojourners partook of the hasty feast. Fittingly enough, he who sought at birth the shelter of an inn, goes to such a place to observe the Passover with his disciples, in a separate and distinct capacity from that of any other household in Israel. They were to ask, "Where is my guest-chamber?" it was he who was to entertain.
II. His REGARD FOR THE OBSERVANCES AND INSTITUTIONS OF THE LAW. This is shown in the careful attention he gave to the details of the feast. Whether the arrangements made were due to the exercise of supernatural foresight, or merely to the natural forethought and human care of Christ, it is impossible to determine. In the former case, the "man bearing a pitcher of water," who was to meet them, would be indicated as a Divine token; in the latter, the man would be simply arranged for with the master or "goodman" of the hostelry. Either way, the feast was really prepared for by Christ, and no regulation was neglected. When the poverty, homelessness, and personal danger of the Savior are remembered, his observance of the Passover will be seen to possess an emphasis and intention quite special.
III. THE CONTINUITY IN WHICH THE "LORD'S SUPPER" STANDS. It was a "moment" or stage of the Paschal feast, and therefore a portion of the same celebration. Doubtless the feast would be protracted, or at any rate the actual eating of the lamb would be distinguished in time from the partaking of the bread and wine, which came a little later, as a new commencement after Judas had withdrawn at the bidding of the Master. In this way the retrospective character of the eating and drinking is quite natural. The two great feasts of Judaism and Christianity are thus vitally connected, the new celebration being a survival of the old one, and a perpetuation of its spiritual meaning. In such instances do we see the continuity of essential ideas, observances, and institutions throughout the varying phases and progressive stages of religious development.
IV. THE SPIRITUAL PREPARATION OF CHRIST FOR THAT WHICH THE PASSOVER SYMBOLIZED. It is just in the attention to these minute details, paid by One to whom in general the "spirit" was ever of so much more consequence than the "letter," that the inward preparedness of the Savior is suggested for his great sacrifice. The whole typology of the sacred festival had been spiritually realized by him, and its connection with his own death. In Matthew's Gospel this foreboding consciousness of doom, elevated into a higher mood by spiritual willinghood, is expressed: "The Master saith, My time is at hand," etc. - M.
I. THE PASSOVER REQUIRED A SPOTLESS VICTIM. In this, as in many other Jewish ordinances, the spiritual was represented by the visible. The victim might be chosen from the goats or from the sheep. (Kids were offered as late as Josiah's reign (2 Chronicles 35:7), although in our Lord's time only lambs were sacrificed.) This was of less consequence than the rule that the victim chosen should be "without blemish." Not deformed, sickly, or injured.
1. Doubtless this taught the worshippers to offer their best, and do so cheerfully, with humble acknowledgment of the Divine right. The Jews learnt the lesson. Their religion cost them something, and they nobly responded to its claims, as we see when the tabernacle was erected and when the temple was built. Christians, in their gifts and in services, too often act as the Israelites would have done had they chosen their blemished and sickly lambs for sacrifice.
2. Besides, this provision was significant of the sacred purpose to which the victim was devoted, and symbolical of the moral integrity of the person it represented. The male of the first year, in the fullness of its life, stood for the firstborn sons of Israel, who were spared, while it died.
3. Nor does this exhaust the meaning. The spotless lamb points to him of whom John Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God!" to him who "offered up himself;" to him of whom we read, "Ye are not redeemed with corruptible things... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish, and without spot."
II. THE PASSOVER REQUIRED PERSONAL PARTICIPATION. It might have seemed to human wisdom hardly reasonable that deliverance from a pestilence should be the result of sprinkling the blood of a slaughtered lamb on the two side posts and lintel of the door; but he would have suffered the penalty of his rashness who had run the risk of his incredulity. Every saved household had its own lamb, and every saved one in that household was compelled to remain, for his safety, in the blood-sprinkled house. This arrangement, on the basis of family relationship, was not made so much for convenience as it was to sanction and sanctify home life, and to teach all who were united by earthly love to find their center in the Paschal lamb. The Israelites were not saved because they were descended from Abraham, but because of the blood sprinkled in faith and obedience.
III. THE PASSOVER WAS TO BE ACCOMPANIED BY PENITENCE AND SINCERITY.
1. The use of unleavened bread was ordained. Leaven, the presence of which was strictly forbidden, was a symbol of moral corruption, which the people were to put away from their hearts. Christ Jesus warned his disciples against "the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." St. Paul (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8), referring to evil in the Church, said, "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." More than anything else our Lord rebuked insincerity. As the King of truth he still says, "He that is of the truth heareth my voice."
2. Bitter herbs were also to be eaten at the Passover. Not because ahoy would give flavor to sweeter food, nor as a mere accompaniment to it, but as an essential part of the feast. The bitter bondage of Egypt was thereby represented, which was overpowered by the sweetness of the lamb. It may symbolize the bitter sorrow with which we should mourn our guilt.
IV. THE PASSOVER WAS A SOURCE OF PEACE, A PLEDGE OF PROGRESS.
1. The Israelites in Egypt knew that judgment was falling around them, and in that ominous dreadful night the peace of each one was proportioned to his trust in the appointed means of deliverance.
2. Those who partook of the feast were prepared for the march through the Red Sea and the wilderness, until Canaan was reached and won. - A.R.
I. THE ELEMENTS. Taking up the common articles of their daily food, he made them symbolize himself. The "bread" his "body;" the "wine" his "blood." Anything more simple could not have been conceived, anything more ready-at-hand, more truly universal. At the same time, he glorified that food by making it to represent, to memorialize, himself - his body given and his blood shed, through which spiritual life and nourishment were secured for them. Thus materials and spirituals are united; and a portion of our daily food may be taken in remembrance of him who gives life to the world, and "feeds the strength of every saint."
II. THE REPRESENTATION. To the simple "This is my body" of St. Mark, St. Luke adds, "which is given for you" - given up unto death on your behalf. He who "gave himself" - his entire personality - for our sins, gave his body "unto death, yea, the death of the cross." This is the sacrifice offered "once for all," "when he offered up himself." The blood represents, he says, "my blood of the covenant;" or, in St. Luke's words, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you." It is "shed for many unto remission of sins." Both are to be taken with the impressive and tenderly touching words, "This do in remembrance of me."
III. THE COMMAND. "Take ye;" "Take, eat;" "Drink ye all of it;" "This do in remembrance of me;" "This do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me." With these words our Lord enjoins on his disciples the observance of this simple, central Christian rite; and they form the warrant for the observance of the Lord's Supper. Gathering together the several words of direct and indirect reference to this Christian service, we see how it is the center from which radiate many lines of relation to the entire circle of the Christian life.
1. It is an affectionate memorial service, bringing to remembrance the entire self-devotion of the Redeemer - "in remembrance of me." It calls up all that the one word me represents, with an especial allusion to the supreme act of self-immolation, "I lay down my life."
2. It is a covenant service. He who drinks of the cup places himself under the bonds of the new covenant, and receives at the same time the seal of the certain inheritance of all covenant blessings (see Hebrews 8:6-12).
3. It is a service of communion. It symbolizes our joint participation with the whole body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:14-17). It. declares the perfect oneness of the Church of Christ: "We, who are many are one bread, one body;" and it affirms our perfect community of interest: we "all eat the same spiritual meat;" we "all drink the same spiritual drink."
4. It is at once a service of lowly confession and humble faith, of exulting hope - "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death till he come" - of brotherly love. It is to the believer the pledge of all blessing and help; while from him it is the pledge of all obedience. And the Eucharistic song speaks of the life, the fellowship, and the joy of heaven. - G.
I. THE DUTIFUL MIND IS THE CLEAR-SEEING AND THE PREPARED MIND. What struck the evangelists was the calm foresight and method of Jesus. It was like the strategy of a general; the presence of mind of one who holds the clue to events, because he knows the moral sequence. On another occasion "Jesus himself knew what he would do." Here the disciples "found even as he told them." So generally, "everything will be found as Jesus has declared."
II. THE PUREST SOCIETY IS NOT FREE FROM AN IMPURE LEAVEN. A Judas among the twelve; and an incipient Judas in the conscience of the rest. Better for us, instead of looking round for the Judas, to look into the heart to discover how much of Judas is there.
III. THERE MAY BE A COINCIDENCE OF ]DIVINE APPOINTMENT AND HUMAN GUILT IN THE SAME ACT. It is in the law of things that the good should suffer from human violence. But it is not in the law of things that any man should take part in that violence. We may not be able to seize the secret unity of principle behind the seeming contradiction of the knowledge of God and the responsibility of man. But the latter is our fact, clear and definite. The former is of the "secret things that belong to the Lord our God." - J.
Mark 14:12-17, 22-25. Parallel passages: Matthew 26:17-19, 26-29; Luke 22:7-13, 19, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-34
I. THE PASSOVER AND THE INSTITUTION OF THE SUPPER.
1. Comparison of the records. The memorial Passover differed from the Egyptian or original Passove
I. THE SHADOW AT THE FEAST, Not fear, as of a criminal under sting of conscience; nor over-anxiety, the specter that sits with the worldling at his board; but moral repugnance expressing itself in sympathetic sorrow. An inward sense of interrupted sympathy and fellowship.
II. THE BETRAYER INDICATED. It is necessary to declare what it is which prevents the full communion of the household of Christ. This is done in order:
1. To awaken the spirit of self-examination and self-distrust. "Is it I?" Therefore the indication given is general and anonymous.
2. To characterize and accentuate the moral hideousness of the crime. It was shown to be an evil foretold from afar. The betrayal is to take place, "that the Scripture (Psalm 41:9) may be fulfilled, He that eateth my bread [or his bread with me] lifted up his heel against me" (John 13:18). And so, anticipatively, a new evidence is furnished by which to identify Jesus as the Messiah (John 13:19). As done by one enjoying the benefits of the Christian household, and reclining in pretended communion with the Lord, it is declared to be an act of the basest treachery and ingratitude.
3. As a personal discovery determining the further action of the guilty one. The special sign given was perceived by Judas alone, although explicitly mentioned. In answer to John's inquiry (the question of spiritual love), the partaking, which is here spoken of as a general thing, is specialized in a definite way with respect to the individual meant (John 13:26). The further command is given, not to do the deed, but, as he is determined even then to do it, to do it quickly (John 13:27, 30). Thus the foulest crime against the Son of God is determined and accelerated amidst communion and sacred celebration - a psychological truth.
4. As an occasion for solemn lamentation over the miserable destiny of Judas. The "woe" is not spoken so much as a denunciation, but rather in commiseration. All the good of life is spoken of as forfeited - and more than forfeited. "The apophthegm is rather remarkable when microscopically examined, for, strictly speaking, nothing would be good to a man who never existed. But our Savior's meaning is not microscopic, but obvious, and most solemn. A man's existence is turned into a curse to him when he inverts the grand moral purpose contemplated in its Divine origination" (Morison). At the feast of love there is ever a sense of mingled reprobation and sympathy with respect to sinners.
III. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE INTERDEPENDENCE OF GOOD AND EVIL STATED. "The Son of man goeth," etc. Evil is overruled and made the occasion of good. Not that it is thereby necessitated: it is still the product of the free-will of the creature. Yet is it foreseen, and the operation of good is modified so as to produce the greater good. That Christ should die was foreordained; it was the expression of an eternal deterruination of the Divine nature; but the particular circumstances affecting the external character of his death were not foreordained. And, therefore, as freely committed, evil is not altered in its moral character by the result flowing from its being divinely overruled. Judas was a criminal awfully and uniquely wicked, and his "woe" is wailed forth by Infinite Love himself! - M.
I. IN RELATION TO THE PASSOVER. The general meaning of the Passover was perpetuated in a spiritual sense. There was:
1. A transfer. Not of the whole Passover, but of a portion. It was during the progress of that meal, "as they were eating," that this particular occurrence took place. "He took bread [or a loaf]," thus adopting that, and the cup which was passing round, as something distinct from the main portion of the Passover meal, viz. the eating of the lamb itself. The cup was usually passed round three times, the bread frequently. We can conceive Christ's manner unusually solemn and impressive, as he raised these otherwise subordinate elements of the Paschal feast into prominent distinctness.
2. An interpretation. He took the brittle cake of unleavened bread and broke it, saying, "This is my body;" and the cup, saying, "This is my blood." The doctrines of transubstantiation and consubstantiation are philosophical refinements upon the simple meaning of the phrases, and lead inevitably to contradiction and absurdity. Christ was alive before them, and using his body, as he spoke. It must, therefore, have been distinct from the bread. "When our Lord said that the bread which he took in his hands was his body, and that the wine which he held in the cup was his blood, he used a simple figure of speech, such as he often employed. He called himself bread, a door, a vine; meaning that these objects resembled and so represented him. The words are understood figuratively by all, and must be so. Controversies merely concern the nature of the figure.... The Romanist interpretation is figurative. It supposes a figure without a precedent, a miracle without a parallel; and it attributes the salvation of men, not to the actual death of Christ, but to what he did with the bread and wine. As the Passover was simply a symbolical service, the addition to it would be regarded as similar" (Godwin). "Note that, according to our Savior himself, the liquid contained in the cup was not literal blood, but the fruit of the vine" (Morison).
II. IN ITSELF.
1. A covenant or testament. It was "a disposition of things," by virtue of which the good to be obtained through the obedience and sacrifice of Christ is secured to those who believingly partake. It is a "testament," inasmuch as it was to have effect after Christ's death, and through the fact and manner of that death believers were to become heirs of the blessings it secured. This "agreement," which is contained in the covenant-idea, is a mutual affair, and involves mutual obligations. It also, after the precedent of ancient Israel, constitutes the true recipients God's people and him their God. The thing handed over is not the body and blood, but that life and grace which they represented.
2. A communion. "Take ye." "He gave to them: and they all drank of it." It is only as a communion that the covenant has effect. To those who have received the life and spirit of Christ there is forgiveness and peace. Their sins are blotted out, and they are passed over in the mercy of God. And so the act of communion is a spiritual one, and involves fresh realization of the meaning of the great facts of atonement, and the duties of the reconciled children of God.
3. An anticipation. There is to be another feast, when the Savior comes to his people, and his people enter with him into the scene of the "marriage supper of the Lamb." It was Christ's last earthly Passover: he looked thence confidently forth to the final victory over sin and death, and the consummation of all things.
4. A thanksgiving. "Eucharist." In view of all the blessings to be conferred through Christ's death, and as acknowledging the mercy and love of God in common viands and (as symbolized by them) in the benefits of salvation. - M.
i.e. a funeral feast for the Savior. Not merely a vain regret, an indulgence of disconsolate affection, but -
I. A CELEBRATION OF DEATH AS COMPLETED SELF-SACRIFICE.
1. Therefore all that was most precious in the life was secured, in the highest degree and the best way, as a blessing for others. The early disciples were not handling mangled, useless remains, but touching a living spirit, pregnant with grace and power and inspiration. The "body" and "blood" of Christ, kept from moral corruption and death, were a spiritual fruit" rich and rare."
2. And believers are made partakers of the spiritual fullness of Christ's perfected nature, in receiving the "elements" of his "body" and "blood."
II. A CELEBRATION OF DEATH AS THE REVELATION AND AVENUE OF IMMORTALITY. This "funeral feast" is full of hopeful, confident anticipation, because in the death that is celebrated:
1. The higher spiritual life is seen as the result of the sacrifice of the earthly nature. It is in the voluntary and obedient laying down of this earthly life that Christ set free his Spirit as an influence to savingly affect mankind, and satisfied and commended that perfect righteousness which is the ground of acceptance and union with God, the true life of the Spirit.
2. A foretaste is given of the final victory of righteousness over sin and death. The Captain of salvation, about to enter into final conflict with the powers of darkness, confidently looks forward, and invites his followers to look forward with him, "to glory, and honor, and immortality." In prospect of the final feast of victory and joy that was set before him, he was ready to go down into the gloom and shadow of death. - M.
Genesis 49:11), poured out from the true Vine (John 15:1), which was its Source. The expression, "This is my body," surely could not have been taken in any literal sense by the disciples, who had their Lord in his physical presence visible amongst them when he spoke. It was equivalent to "This represents my body;" just as elsewhere we read, "The field is the world;" "I am the true Vine;" "Leaven... which is hypocrisy" (see also Galatians 4:24; Hebrews 10:20). What, then, are some of the advantages of this commemorative feast?
I. IT REPRESENTS THE PROPRIETARY CHARACTER OF CHRIST'S DEATH. His blood was shed for many, for the remission of sins. His death was not merely a martyrdom; it was an atonement. He gave his life for the sheep. The prophets foretold this (Isaiah 53); the apostles declared it (Romans 5); the redeemed praise the Lamb who was slain, because he washed them from their sins in his own blood.
II. IT REMINDS US OF THE NECESSITY FOR PERSONALLY PARTAKING OF CHRIST. "Take, eat: this is my body." What we eat and drink becomes a part of ourselves. Once our Lord said, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." Food is useless unless we partake of it. Christ came to us in vain unless we trust him as our own Savior and Lord.
III. IT IS IN ITSELF A MEANS OF GRACE. This is to be proved in experience rather than by Scripture. Just as a word which we can see or hear conveys a thought which we cannot see or hear, so the bread and the wine convey thoughts of Christ, of his sacrifice, of his claims, of his love, which refresh and strengthen our inmost life.
IV. IT IS A PROCLAMATION OF FELLOWSHIP. 1 Corinthians 10:16, etc., "For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." A "communion" is that of which we are common partakers, and St. Paul argues that by eating and drinking together thus we proclaim our unity; just as the Israelites in Egypt, on the night of the Exodus, met in families, each finding its center of thought and safety in the Paschal lamb. It is the idea of the family, and not of the priesthood, that God makes the germ of the Christian Church. Those in it are to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ." By the extension of the Church will come about the true brotherhood, for which the world still sighs.
V. IT IS A PLEDGE OF FIDELITY. The "sacramentum" was the oath taken by the Roman soldier that he would never desert the standard, never turn his back on the foe, and never be disloyal to his commander. By our presence at the sacrament we pledge each other, before God, that with his help we will be true men, more courageous, more pure, more victorious, than before.
VI. IT IS A SIGN OF SEPARATION. The Egyptians had no part in the Passover. The scribes and Pharisees were not invited to the upper room. Judas, so far as we can judge, left before the new rite was instituted. St. Paul spoke of the duty devolving on the Church at Corinth to remove the immoral from fellowship. Yet all true disciples, though they may doubt as Thomas did, or deny their Lord like Peter, are invited to eat and drink with each other, and with their Lord. - A.R.
I. THE SYMBOLIC BREAD AND WINE. Eating and drinking are the most significant physical acts of life. For they are the foundation of life. Hence the act is appropriate as a symbol of the foundation of spiritual life. The appropriation of Christ by the intelligence and will is analogous to the appropriation of food in the process of digestion.
II. THE SERVICE IS THE VISIBLE SEAL OF A NEW COVENANT. Which is a tinuation, an enlargement or evolution of the old; founded on better promises. Objectively, the grace of God is more clearly revealed and abundantly poured forth in the New Testament than in the Old. Subjectively, the conditions of blessing are purer and simpler. The spiritual act of faith includes them all, including the man as a whole.
III. IT IS DESIGNED AS MEMORIAL. The form, the words, the spirit of the loving and suffering Savior, appear and reappear at each celebration. It is the memorial of devotion for our sakes, and the reminder to us of the duty to live not for ourselves, but for the spiritual ideal contained in him.
IV. IT IS DESIGNED TO BE PROPHETIC. "Until that day!" Our purest earthly joys are the buds of celestial flowers. The reunion of the family on feast-days speaks of the reunion in heaven. All our best earthly joys are promises of better joys in heaven. The scene of the Lord's Supper lifts us out of the commonplace associations of life. We realize in it prophetically the truth of our personal and social existence. - J.
I. HUMAN NATURE IS NOT TO BE DEPENDED ON. The most loyal hearts are not fear-proof. Men act much like sheep; are gregarious both in good and in evil. Often they will follow a leader through the greatest dangers; remove the leader, and throw them upon themselves, and courage vanishes, and we know how frail a thing our nature is. Jesus foreknew all this.
II. YET DIVINE LOVE TRUSTS OUR NATURE. Jesus knew that he should return and again gather these scattered sheep. If our salvation depended on ourselves, all were lost. It is the power and the wisdom greater than ourselves which deliver us from ourselves; and there is no worse enemy to be found than the treacherous heart within our breast.
III. IDLE RESOLVES. "Sincere purposes are not sufficient to ensure steadfastness." Good men have said that the more resolves they make, the more sins they find they commit. This may not be strictly so. Still, to add to the original fault the fault of a broken resolve, does hurt to the soul. All experience teaches us our frailty. And the practical lesson is - not to indulge in offensive protestations of humility before our fellow-men, but to see ourselves as we are, and seek strength, not in self-dependence, but in God-dependance. - J.
Mark 14:26-42. Parallel passages: Matthew 26:30-46; Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1
I. SCENE AND SEVERAL CIRCUMSTANCES CONNECTED WITH THE AGONY.
1. Anticipation. From the entrance of our Savior upon his public ministry his life was o
Zechariah 13:7. It taught him how absolutely solitary his position would be in judgment and death, as other passages had done; and suggested to him the reason for it.
I. THE UNIVERSAL DEFECTION OF THE DISCIPLES BEFORE CHRIST'S DEATH WAS A SPIRITUAL NECESSITY. They could not understand or allow it. It seemed so unnatural and unlikely. But their Master felt, by gauging his own spirit, how much would be required to enable them to be steadfast, and how wanting they were in the higher principles of spiritual life. He accepted the situation, and sought beforehand to prepare his disciples for the revelation of their own weakness, that when it took place it might not destroy all hope or desire to return to their fidelity. It was, then, at once in expression of his own inward Messianic consciousness, and in order to their warning and instruction, that he quoted the prophecy. How was this desertion of their Master a necessary experience? Because the realization of absolute oneness with Christ in the spirit of self-denial, or rather of love, would only be possible after his own sacrifice, as its ground or condition. They were, meanwhile, still in a state of pupilage or infancy. They could not understand the reason of his strange path, so unlike what they had anticipated. Had they been able to stand by the Lord when he was delivered up, they might have been their own saviors, and his work would not have been requisite.
II. SELF-CONFIDENCE IN ASSERTING ITS SUPERIORITY TO THIS LAW WOULD ONLY THE MORE SIGNALLY ILLUSTRATE IT. Peter, the representative of theoretic faith, was strong in his contradiction to this statement. It was he who had said, "Lord to whom can we go?" etc., and who had heard the approving response, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17); and who had been called the rock. He therefore goes forward in the strength of his own convictions, and courts the disaster he sought to avoid, and that in an exaggerated form. (The seeming discrepancy between the evangelists as to the crowing and crowing twice is easily explained.) That very day, nay, that night, ere the dawning, he should deny his Lord thrice, i.e. absolutely and utterly; and, that he might test his Master's faithfulness and his own failure, the sign was given - "before the cock crow twice." His bold self-confidence and resolute endeavor to be with Christ were shown in his penetrating the hall of justice, and mingling in the very crowd amidst which the Savior stood. But this only provoked the challenge before which all his manhood quailed. The others did not orally deny Christ, because they had fled beforehand.
III. BUT WITH THE WARNING A WORD OF HOPE AND COMFORT WAS UTTERED. The Shepherd would reassemble his scattered flock, when he went before them into Galilee. But they could not receive the saying upon which that depended - "after I am raised up." It was to be lodged in their consciousness, nevertheless, to be recalled again when its fulfillment took place, and to be put on record as another evidence of the faith. Then they would no longer be told, "Whither I go ye cannot come," as he would give his Spirit to them. - M.
1. Our constant liability to be tempted to evil. Go where we will, temptation assails us. Amidst the blessedness of Eden or the sanctities of the temple, the tempter hides. The felicities of home, the marts of trade, the seclusions of contemplation, are all as open to the evil presence as to the air of heaven. Our steps are dogged, our life assailed. Surely for this - for such an exposure of the precious life-a sufficient justification can be adduced.
2. One end of temptation is to search out existing evil for its exposure and destruction. On the elevated plateau, over the hardened and smooth floor, the wheat is shaken from the sieve. The gentle winds blow aside the chaff, for which the consuming fire is prepared, and the pure grain falls to the ground. Peter little knew that cowardice and fear lay lurking beneath the folds of his dress; but temptation revealed them. As men pass the magnet through the metal dust to discover and separate the particles of iron from more precious metals, and those particles respond, leaping up to the attractive force; and as men test the strength of iron beams by means of heavy weights or blows; so the wily temptation tests the purity of our hearts and the strength of our principles, and draws forth the lurking evil, that, being exposed, it may be separated ere it ruins the whole life.
3. If by temptation a weakness or flaw is discovered, our wisdom is, by penitence and contrition, to return for recovery and healing. We may be sadder and humbler, but we shall be wiser. Happy for us if we have strength so to do, and not, Judas-like, in blank self-despair and self-disgust, sink to rise no more.
4. But a further lesson is to guard against those evils which are the especial cause of danger to our spiritual life. Each has his own especial liability. Peter's was not covetousness; Judas was not in danger from pride of power. Our danger is always as the amount of alloy in our character - the amount of chaff amongst the wheat.
5. Again, let us seek the removal of our own peculiar faults by the winnowing fan and purging fire of the Spirit, that we may not be exposed to the destructive surprises of sudden temptation.
6. An additional lessen is so to guard our spiritual life that the current of our thoughts be pure. How often a colored stream, or one holding earthy salts in solution, gives its own tint to the banks, or determines the growths on either side! Well also is it for us to separate from those habits of life which are condemned by any conviction of right.
7. The great lesson, on the surface of this incident, is the necessity for humility - that we beast not of our religion, that we presume not on our power; but, in lowly dependence on the strength of Divine grace, walk warily, watching lest we enter into temptation. - G.
I. ITS SORROW.
1. The manner in which it was experienced. There were premonitions. All through life there ran a thread of similar emotions, which were now gathering themselves into one overwhelming sense of grief, fear, and desolation: it was crescent and cumulative. He did not artificially create or stimulate the emotion, but entered into it naturally and gradually. Gethsemane was sought, not from a sense of aesthetic or dramatic fitness, but through charm of long association with his midnight prayer, or simply as his wonted place of retirement in the days of his insecurity. As a good Israelite observing the Passover, he may not leave the limits of the sacred city, yet will he choose the spot best adapted for security and retirement.
2. At first awakening conflicting impulses. He craved at once for sympathy and for solitude. The general company of disciples were brought to the verge of the garden, and informed of his purpose; the three nearest to him in spiritual sympathies and susceptibilities were taken into the recesses of the garden, into nearer proximity and communion. And yet ultimately he must needs be alone. All this is perfectly natural, and, considering the nature of his emotion, explicable upon deep human principles: "Sympathy and solitude are both desirable in severe trials" (Godwin). There was a sort of oscillation between these two poles.
3. To be attributed to the influence of supernatural insight upon his human sympathy and feeling. What it was he saw and felt cannot be adequately conceived by us, but that it was not emotion occasioned by ordinary earthly interests or attachments we may assure ourselves. The exegesis which sees in "exceeding sorrowful to die" a reason for concluding that it was the idea of dying which so overwhelmed our Savior, may be safely left to its own reflections. The "cup" he felt he had to drink to its dregs he had already alluded to (Mark 10:38). It had "in it ingredients which were never mingled by the hand of his Father, such as the treachery of Judas, the desertion of his disciples, denial on the part of Peter, the trial in the Sanhedrim, the trial before Pilate, the scourging, the mockery of the soldiery, the crucifixion, etc." (Morison). "He began to be sore amazed [dismayed, sorrowful], and to be very heavy [oppressed, distressed]," are terms which are left purposely vague. He saw the depths of iniquity, he felt the overwhelming burden of human sinfulness.
4. He betook himself to prayer as the only relief for his surcharged feeling. The safest and highest way of recovering spiritual equilibrium. Well will it be for a man when his grief drives him to God! There is no sorrow we cannot take to him, whether it be great or small.
II. THE SOLITUDE.
1. Symbolized by his physical apartness from the three disciples. "Is there any sorrow like unto my sorrow?" We may not intrude. God only can fathom its depths and appreciate its purity and intensity.
2. Suggested by their failure to "watch."
III. THE CONFLICT. The physical effects of this are given by St. Luke. His prayer was a "wrestling," not so much with his Father as with himself. But the struggle gradually subsides to submission and rest. This shows itself in his detachment from his own emotions and attention to the condition of his disciples, and soon in his movement towards the approaching band of the betrayer. There is a complete "grammar" of emotion gone through, however, ere that spiritual result is attained. Uncertainty, dread, the weakness of human nature, are overcome by the resolute contemplation of the Divine will. His own will is deliberately and solemnly submitted to his Father's, and the latter calmly and profoundly acquiesced in as best and most blessed for all it concerns. - M.
here, while I shall pray." The place whereon we stand is holy ground.
I. THE SUFFERING SAVIOR.
1. There is mystery about his agony. Our recognition of the proper deity and humanity of our Lord leads us to expect seeming contradictions in him. They appear in his intercessory prayer. In one breath he speaks as the Son of God, in another he wrestles as a weak man might do. Sometimes he pleads as Mediator, and sometimes he expresses himself with Divine majesty and authority. is so with our Lord's agony, which must ever be a stone of stumbling to all who refuse to recognize that they only know in part and prophesy in part. Thus some assert that this experience contradicts the composure and resolution with which our Lord had previously announced his sufferings; and that his prayer is in antagonism with his omniscience as the Son of God. Here is the Prince of peace seemingly destitute of peace; the world's Redeemer wanting deliverance; the Comforter himself needing consolation. As the old myth reminds us, we sometimes come across a fact which appears like a glittering ring which a child could lift when we walk around it and talk about it; but, when we try to lift it, we find it is no isolated ring, but a link in a chain which we can hardly stir, for it girdles the earth and reaches heaven and hell! "Behold, God is great, and we know him not; and darkness is under his feet."
2. There is a meaning in this agony. We gain some little insight into it when we remember the vicarious nature of Christ's sufferings; that "the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquities of us all." If Jesus Christ were only a great Prophet, who came to enlighten the world, he might now seem to have lost his courage. If he were only an Exemplar of unconditional resignation or heroic endurance, he was surpassed by others. All points to the conclusion that his sufferings were not like those of Job, or Jeremiah, or Paul, or Stephen, but were unique in the world's history. He, the sinless One, was the Representative and Substitute of the sinful world.
II. THE TROUBLED BELIEVER may find instruction and comfort in this experience of his Lord, especially in the consciousness of his sympathy.
1. Sympathy was longed for even by our Lord. He wanted to have near him those who could best understand him, so that in the thought of their affection and prayer he might find comfort. It failed him. They were overpowered by sleep, and when aroused, they fell back into the old drowsiness. It was another pang in his anguish. He trod the winepress alone. How tenderly he feels for lonely sufferers!
2. Absence of sympathy intensified prayer. When our trouble is very heavy it has a tendency to paralyze prayer, and makes the heart stony; but we should rather follow him who, being in an agony, prayed the more earnestly. If, in answer to prayer, the cup is not taken away, still the prayer is not useless. Paul thrice besought the Lord in vain to remove the thorn in the flesh; but he had an answer, "My grace is sufficient for thee." And our Lord came forth from the place of prayer as one who had already gained the victory.
3. Earnestness in prayer led to absolute submission. When we pray we realize with growing intensity that there is another will besides ours and above ours firm and wise and good. If God sees further than we see; if he knows what would harm and what would bless us, when we do not; if he looks not only to this little life, but to the eternity to which it leads; let us seek in prayer to know what his will is, and then say, even though it be with tears, "Nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt." - A.R.
1. The abiding desire of our heart.
2. The habit of our life.
3. The uppermost sentiment in the hour of our trial and suffering.
The former steps lead to the latter. We cannot desire the will of the Lord to be done by our suffering unless we have first learnt to submit to it as the law of our activity.
I. "THY WILL BE DONE!" IS TO BE THE ABIDING DESIRE OF OUR HEARTS. The habitual contemplation of the Divine will is likely to lead us to desire its fulfillment. We shall see, if faintly, the wisdom, the goodness, the pure purpose, which that will expresses. It is a desire for the Divine Father to do and carry out his own will in his own house on earth, "as it is in heaven." Seeing God in all things, and having entire confidence in the unsullied wisdom and unfailing goodness of the Father on high, it desires both that he should do his own will in all things, and that by all that will should be sought as the supreme law. It knows no good outside of the operation of that will. Within its sphere all is life, and health, and truth, and goodness; without is darkness and the region of the shadow of death.
II. As our prayer becomes the true expression of our desire, we shall seek to embody it in our daily conduct. It will then become THE HABIT OF OUR LIFE. Our great Exemplar said, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me;" "I seek not mine own will, but the will of him that sent me;" "I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." And the spirit of his obedience is uttered in one word: "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy Law is within my heart." How blessed to have a "will of the Lord" to turn to for our guidance! How holy a Law is it! The truest greatness of life is to hold it in subjestion to a great principle. There can be no higher one than "the will of the Lord." Devotion to a great principle transfigures the whole life; it makes the very raiment white and glistering.
III. But there are exigencies in life when the crush of sorrow comes upon us. He who has habitually sought to know and observe the will of the Lord in his daily activity will easily recognize the Divine will in his sufferings; and to bow to that will in health will prepare him to acquiesce in it in sickness. To say, "Thy will be done!" when health and friends and possessions all are gone, needs the training of days in which all the desires of the heart have been brought into subjection. Many things transpire which are contrary to the Divine will; but obedient faith will rest in the Divine purpose, which can work itself out by the least promising means. Though held in "the hands of wicked men," it will cry, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." - G.
I. THE SPIRIT'S NEED OF OCCASIONAL SOLITUDE. We need to collect and concentrate ourselves. "We must go alone. We must put ourselves in communication with the internal ocean, not go abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of other men. I like the silent church before the service beans better than any preaching. How far-off, how cool, how chaste the persons look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary! So let us always sit" (Emerson).
II. ITS NEED TO THROW ITSELF ON GOD. We ask advice of others too much, and depend on human sympathy when we ought only to depend on God. But God does not speak his deepest messages to men amidst a mob, but in the desert, when they are alone with him. Amidst the confusion of opinion and conjecture, his will becomes clear to us. In solitude it shines, the pole-star of our night. His will is ever wisest and best. It is ever possible to follow: -
"When duty whispers low, 'Thou must,' "'Tis man's perdition to be safe III. THE NEED OF WATCHFULNESS AND PRAYER. Porphyry says, in his affecting life of the great philosopher Plotinus, that the latter, though full of suffering, never relaxed his attention to the inner life; and that this constant watchfulness over his spirit lessened his hours of sleep. And he was rewarded by an intimate union with, or absorption in, the Divinity. He was ever interrogating his soul, lest it should be yielding to fallacy and error. This was the great man of whom his disciple again says, that he was ashamed of having a body. Even in ascetic extremes, there are lessons for us. "The spirit indeed is forward, but the body is feeble." - J.
"'Tis man's perdition to be safe III. THE NEED OF WATCHFULNESS AND PRAYER. Porphyry says, in his affecting life of the great philosopher Plotinus, that the latter, though full of suffering, never relaxed his attention to the inner life; and that this constant watchfulness over his spirit lessened his hours of sleep. And he was rewarded by an intimate union with, or absorption in, the Divinity. He was ever interrogating his soul, lest it should be yielding to fallacy and error. This was the great man of whom his disciple again says, that he was ashamed of having a body. Even in ascetic extremes, there are lessons for us. "The spirit indeed is forward, but the body is feeble." - J.
III. THE NEED OF WATCHFULNESS AND PRAYER. Porphyry says, in his affecting life of the great philosopher Plotinus, that the latter, though full of suffering, never relaxed his attention to the inner life; and that this constant watchfulness over his spirit lessened his hours of sleep. And he was rewarded by an intimate union with, or absorption in, the Divinity. He was ever interrogating his soul, lest it should be yielding to fallacy and error. This was the great man of whom his disciple again says, that he was ashamed of having a body. Even in ascetic extremes, there are lessons for us. "The spirit indeed is forward, but the body is feeble." - J.
I. THE CUP OF EXPERIENCE may be represented by the cup which was the symbol of the mockery and shame and grief the Savior suffered.
1. The phrase reminds us that our joys and griefs are measured. A cup is not illimitable. Full to the brim, it can only hold its own measure.
(1) Our joys are limited by what is in us, and by what is in them. If a man prospers in the world, his wealth brings him not only comfort, but care, anxiety, and responsibility, so that he may occasionally wish himself back in his former lowlier lot. And family joys bring their anxieties to every home which has them. No one drinks here of an ocean of bliss but he thanks God for a "cup" of it, measured by One who knows what will be best for character. This is true even of spiritual joys. The time of ecstasy is followed by a season of depression. The Valley of Humiliation is passed, as well as the Delectable Mountains, by Christian in his pilgrimage. Nowhere on earth can we say, "I am satisfied;" but many, like the psalmist, can exclaim, "I shall be satisfied."
(2) Our griefs are limited also. They are proportioned to our strength, adapted for our improvement. Even in the saddest bereavement there is much to moderate our grief if we will but receive it: gratitude for all our dear one was and did; gladness over all the testimonies of love and esteem in which he was held; hope that by-and-by there shall be the reunion, where there shall be no more sorrow and sighing, and where "God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes." God does not let an ocean of sadness surge up and overwhelm us, but gives us a cup, which we may drink in fellowship with Christ in his sufferings.
2. The phrase in our text suggests not only measurement, but loving control. Our Lord recognized, as we may humbly do, that the cup was filled and proffered by him whom he addressed as "Abba, Father." In one sense the events in Gethsemane and on Calvary were the results of natural causes. Integrity and sinlessness called forth the antagonism of those whose sins were thereby rebuked. Plain-spoken denunciations of the ecclesiastical leaders aroused their undying hate, and no hatred is more malignant than that of irreligious theologians. Judas, disappointed and abashed, was a ready instrument for evil work. Yet, behind all this, One unseen was carrying out his eternal purpose, fulfilling his promise, "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." Hence Jesus speaks not of the plot accomplished by his foes, but of the cup given him by the Father. We are at an infinite remove from him, yet, as the same law which controls worlds controls insects, so the truth which held good with the Son of man holds good also with us. We may recognize God's overruling in man's working, and accept every measure of experience as provided and proffered by our Father's hand.
II. THE PURPOSE OF ITS APPOINTMENT. That it comes from our "Father" shows that it has a purpose, and that it is one of love, not of cruelty. It is not like the cup of hemlock Socrates received from his foes, but like that potion you give your child that he may be refreshed, or strengthened, or cured.
1. Sometimes the purpose respects ourselves. Even of Jesus Christ, the sinless One, it is said he was "made perfect through sufferings;" that as our Brother he might feel for us, and as our High Priest might sympathize, being "touched with the feeling of our infirmities." Much more is the experience of life a blessing to us who are imperfect and sinful; correcting our worldliness, and destroying our self-confidence.
2. Sometimes the purpose respects others. It was so with our Lord pre-eminently. He "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." "None of us liveth unto himself." If our cup of blessing runs over, its overflowings, whether of wealth, or strength, or spiritual joy, are for the good of those around us. If our lot be one of suffering, we may in it witness for our Lord, and from it learn to console others with the comfort wherewith we ourselves have been comforted of God. - A.R.
I. THE SIN-FORGETTING CHURCH is represented by the disciples who failed their Lord.
1. They did not understand the necessity and dreadfulness of Christ's struggle with the powers of darkness. They allowed natural weariness to overcome them, so that they had no share in the conflict endured near them and for them. As little does the Church share the purpose of Christ in the redemption of the world from sin; nor does she see the need for being in an "agony" about it. Is there the feeling about sin, even about our own sin, that there should be? Are we not too often like those who, under the shadow of Christ's sorrow, slept, though he himself had said, "Tarry ye here, and watch"?
2. Nor did these disciples reach the source of power that night. It was impossible to find victory through human passion, as Peter discovered after he had drawn and used his sword. Indiscriminate zeal, which will attack heretics and sceptics with bitter words and penalties, is sure to fail. Power to overcome is found in obedience to the command, "Watch and pray." To watch without praying is presumption; to pray without watching is fanaticism. The difference between our Lord and his disciples was this: they refreshed themselves by natural means, and he by spiritual; they fell back on sleep, and he on prayer - just as too often we rely on human agencies, and not on Divine.
3. Their confusion and indecision increased as they diverged from their Lord. He became more calm, and more sure of victory. They became more heavy with sleep, more cowardly and unprepared, till they all forsook him and fled. Only when they assembled again in his Name to pray in the upper room were they endued with power from on high. "Let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober," lest again he should say, "Sleep on now, and take your rest.... . Behold, the Son of man is betrayed."
II. THE SIN-COMMITTING WORLD. (Ver. 43.)
1. While the disciples slept, the hostile world was alert. This vigilance was a rebuke to their sloth. Still it is so. Frequenters of haunts of pleasure are often more eager than members of Christ's Church to invite their companions to join them.
2. Those who assail the cause of Christ are animated by different motives. Some are malignant, as the priests were; others join in the popular cry, though it be "Crucify him!" The mob in Jerusalem had little idea what they were doing - casting out of the world the Son of God, who had come to be their Savior and Friend. Men's acts have more in them than appears; and some who are simply careless will be amazed to find themselves reckoned amongst his foes! The world had no power over Christ except through the traitor Judas. The weakness of the Church, the inconsistency or apostasy of Christians, ever lead to the most successful attacks. Judas knew where Jesus resorted, and betrayed him by a kiss. The fall of one sentinel may prove the destruction of the camp.
III. THE SIN-BEARING SAVIOR. It is no figment of theological imagination that he himself took our infirmities, that "he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities." He made atonement for us, as well as learnt sympathy with us. He took the cup of bitterness that we might receive the cup of blessing. - A.R.
I. THE PRETENDED FRIENDS OF CHRIST ARE HIS WORST ENEMIES. Only a disciple can betray as Judas did. The kiss and salutation of respect, "Rabbi!" have become classical.
II. NOT THE SKILL OR FORCE OF HIS CAPTORS, BUT HIS OWN MEEKNESS AND MERCIFUL PURPOSE, RENDERED THEIR SCHEME EFFECTUAL. There was no surprise, for the Victim of the treachery was fully aware of it, and, indeed, warned his disciples of the approach of the band (ver. 42). As a stratagem, the midnight expedition was therefore a failure. And there is something unspeakably ludicrous in the portentous weapons which were thought necessary, and the large number of men. This is the sting of many a carefully hatched villainy, viz. that eventually it loses even the merit of originality or cleverness. The wisdom of this world is in any case no match for the wisdom of God.
III. THE INTERESTS OF CHRISTIANITY ARE NOT SERVED BY FORCE OR VIOLENCE. It was Peter whose impulsiveness had betrayed him into the thoughtless act. Hidden probably by the darkness, he was not detected, save by the eye of the Master. Had it even been expedient to oppose force with force in the general conflict of Christ with the world-power, on that occasion the odds were tremendous (cf. Matthew 26:52).
IV. THE SON OF MAN HAD TO MEET THE ONSET OF EVIL ALONE. His prediction was fulfilled (ver. 27). - M.
I. A TRANSCENDENT CRIME. Because of:
1. The character of Jesus.
2. The betrayer's relations to him. Ingratitude. Callous selfishness. Breach of trust.
3. Circumstances of the act. Intrusion upon holy retirement. Simulation of highest regard and purest sentiment. The spiritual interests of humanity trifled with.
II. A SUPREME FOLLY AND FAILURE. Overdone. Foreseen. Ending in contempt and misery. - M.
I. THE INFLUENCE OF SELF-COMMAND SELF-COMMAND. HOW majestic does the Savior appear in this refusal to employ force against force! Moral grandeur is illustrated against the background of brute violence. It is but the show of violence that can ever be opposed to the majesty of truth. The Divine and the spiritual is conscious that it cannot be hurt. Evil, having no real substance nor personality, flees from it.
II. IN THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IS OUR SURE REFUGE AMIDST THE PREVALENCE OF EVIL. "Thus it is, and thus it must be." Chance is an unmeaning word, when the soul is bound up in God's will.
"This is he men miscall Fate,
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE EVIDENCE AGAINST HIM.
1. Not in support of any clear and definite indictment.
2. Encouraged by a desire on the part of the judges to incriminate. "They sought witness." The death of the Prisoner a foregone conclusion.
3. The accusations unreliable and conflicting.
II. HIS REPLY TO HIS ACCUSERS. Silence:
(1) Because of their character, and
(2) his own.
The impressive dignity of this attitude. He would not justify himself before an earthly tribunal.
III. His ANSWER TO THE HIGH PRIEST'S QUESTION. He declared himself the Messiah and the Judge of all the earth. This was done out of respect to the representative character of the high priest, and in order to assure and inform faithful Jews.
IV. HOW THIS WAS CONSTRUED. As blasphemy: either
(1) on the ground of imaginary, or feloniously represented, resemblance of the words, "I am," to Jehovah's Name; or
(2) because the claim was a priori assumed to be false.
V. HE WAS REJECTED AND DISHONORED BY THOSE HE CAME TO SAVE, OUT OF SHEER WANTONNESS AND UNBELIEF. - M.
I. JUDICIAL INJUSTICE. Optimi corruptio pessima. The judge who should represent on earth the equal dealing of God, may turn the name of justice into a mockery. Names will not influence men to right if the heart be not right. Under the name and garb of judge, men have sometimes concealed the worst passions, the most arbitrary instincts. So do extremes meet in human life. Only in God do names and realities perfectly correspond.
II. TRUTH ITSELF MAY BE REPRESENTED AS IMPOSTURE. The Savior is here made to appear an impostor. It is the triumph of party-spirit. Misrepresentation within every one's power. Insight into character is rare. We ought to take no second-hand estimate of character. The wrong we do to others by false construction is great; still greater may be the wrong we do ourselves.
III. YET IN THE END TRUTH IS ELICITED BY OPPOSITION. The majesty of the Savior is enhanced in proportion as he is assailed. God is revealed in him and upon him, and his glory is reflected from human falsehood and villainy.
"Though rolling clouds around his breast are spread, IV. THE TEMPORARY SUCCESS AND ETERNAL FAILURE OF CONSPIRACIES. Here the noble and mean combined to dishonor the Christ of God, to treat him as if he had been the offscouring of the earth. So later were his disciples treated. But where are those conspiracies and conspirators now? For a small moment they triumphed; everlastingly they are branded with shame and defeat. What feeble folly were those blows aimed at the head of the meek and unsuffering kingdom! "This is he who, fell'd by foes,
IV. THE TEMPORARY SUCCESS AND ETERNAL FAILURE OF CONSPIRACIES. Here the noble and mean combined to dishonor the Christ of God, to treat him as if he had been the offscouring of the earth. So later were his disciples treated. But where are those conspiracies and conspirators now? For a small moment they triumphed; everlastingly they are branded with shame and defeat. What feeble folly were those blows aimed at the head of the meek and unsuffering kingdom!
"This is he who, fell'd by foes,
Mark 14:53-72. Parallel passages: Matthew 26:57-75; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:13-27
I. THE CAUSES THAT LED TO PETER'S SIN
1.- The first cause of Peter's sin. The first cause, as we may infer from this very chapter, was self-confidence. Our Lord foretold the smiti
I. AN EVIDENCE OF THE POWER OF EVIL IN GOOD MEN. This is the great lesson of the sins of the saints. There ought to be continual watchfulness, and living and walking in the Spirit.
1. It is not well to expose one's self to temptation unless from the highest motives. Curiosity seems to have been the ruling principle in Peter's mind. He was following the highest good, but not as perceiving it to be so, or truly desiring it - a perilous state of things. There are many unworthy followings of Christ, which have the "greater condemnation." Duty and self-sacrifice will, on the other hand, carry men safely through the most terrible trials.
2. Low views of Christ's character and office tend to unworthy conduct. The whole spiritual state of Peter was such as to expose him to the perpetration of the worst actions, and this arose from prevalence of false conceptions of Christ's person and work. His attitude and occupation immediately beforehand ("afar off;" " warming himself") have been regarded by many as symbolical of his spiritual position with regard to his Master. Scepticism and mental confusion on religious subjects, if not corrected or neutralized by close fellowship with Christ, or loyalty to the highest truth one knows, have sad moral results. Peter was still clinging against hope to his idea of a worldly Messiah.
3. Evil words and actions, if once indulged in, are the more easily repeated and aggravated. He proceeds from an equivocation - "I neither know nor understand what thou sayest" - to a stronger and more direct negative, and then to oaths and profanities.
II. AN EVIDENCE OF THE NECESSITY AND POWER OF CHRIST'S ATONEMENT. Even good men like Peter, if left to themselves, will grievously err and sin. How are men in such a position to be recovered?
1. There must therefore be a saving principle outside, and independent of ourselves. It is by virtue of his completed sacrifice in spirit that Christ by a look recalls his fallen disciple, and thus shows:
2. The power of his Spirit to redeem. In connection with such a power over spirit and conscience the greatest sins may be made the turning-points of repentance. Memory was appealed to, and the outward signs predicted by the Savior served as a spiritual index or clock of conscience. The cockcrowing has also an element of hope in it; it marked the dawning of a new day of penitence and enlightenment. - M.
I. SOME MOTIVES WHICH SHOULD HAVE INDUCED PETER TO FOLLOW CLOSELY.
1. The remembrance of his own professions. When Jesus had asked, "Will ye also go away?" Peter had made a noble response; and when an earnest warning had been uttered a few hours before this, he had exclaimed, "Though all shall be offended, yet will not I." He meant his promises, and to abide by them; but though the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak. The world is fair in expecting more from those who are professed followers of Christ. Flight is more disgraceful to a soldier in uniform than to a campfollower.
2. Peter's recognized leadership of his brethren was another reason for close following. The Lord indicated that Peter would be their leader from the first, and the disciples acquiesced in this, always making way for him to speak and act on their behalf. His responsibility was the heavier. If he had continued to watch, they would have done so; if he had followed closely, they might have rallied. The failure of one was the failure of all. Each one is responsible to God for the talent, position, or force of character which constitutes him a leader of men. To whom much is given, from him much is required.
3. The loneliness of the Lord ought to have appealed to Peter's heroism and generosity. We can hardly understand holy, with his noble impulses, he could have left Jesus alone amongst his foes. Yet how often do Christians now fail to stand forth like men to rebuke wrong-doing at any risk! The fact that they alone represent their Lord amid evil companions, is an appeal to all that is chivalrous in them to speak.
4. The remembrance of Christ's personal love to him might have drawn him nearer. Jesus had dealt gently and generously with Peter. He had chosen him, with two of his brethren, to see his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, and to see something of his dire agony in the garden. He had been faithfully warned of danger, and assured of the intercession of his Lord. Yet all seemed forgotten, and he only "followed afar off." It is when we realize the words, "He loved me, and gave himself for me," that we can say," My soul followeth hard after God."
II. SOME EXCUSES WHICH PETER MIGHT HAVE URGED FOR HIS CONDUCT.
1. It seemed as if he could do no good to his Lord. He had tried in his own way to defend him, but had been rebuked, and no other way seemed open. He forgot that, though his Master had refused the use of physical force, he would have gladly welcomed human sympathy. John had deeper insight. Amid the sea of hatred which surged around him, our Lord saw at least one face which expressed love and sympathy. Utilitarianism sometimes keeps us from beautiful and graceful acts, because we do not see immediate, practical good in them. We should probably not have poured out the spikenard as Mary did, but should have joined with those who asked, "To what purpose is this waste?" Let us never follow afar off because we do not see the practical advantage of walking closely with our Lord. Heaven's best blessings are too subtle to be tabulated.
2. It seemed as if evil would befall himself if he stood close beside his Master. On entering the palace amongst this excited rabble, he might fear personal violence, especially if he were recognized as the assailant of Malchus. He wished, therefore, to conduct himself as one of the miscellaneous crowd. In doing so he put his soul in danger, instead of his body. "He that sayeth his life shall lose it," his Lord had said, and Peter learnt the meaning soon. This mingling of courage and cowardice puts many a man in danger. May God give us the whole-hearted fidelity which even Peter failed that night to show! - A.R.
I. SELF-CONFIDENCE AND WEAKNESS. What is a man without self-reliance? Yet it seems to fail, and offers no security in temptation. In a true self-reliance is contained dependence and trust. Confidence in our thought is right, if we recognize that our true views are revealed to us; that it is not we who think, but God who thinks in us. Separated from our root in God, whether in thought or will, we become mere individuals. Once isolate the picture of yourself and your powers and activities from the Divine whole to which it belongs, and it will soon be found that you are in a false position.
II. IMPETUOSITY AND DELIBERATION. We admire the generous eagerness of Peter, but it topples over into precipitous haste. And the hasty falsehood is followed by the deliberate persistence in it. Brazening it out one moment, the next he breaks into a flood of remorseful tears. "Who can understand his errors?" Easy to criticize Peter, not easy to act better. Let us humbly own that he represents us all, in greater or less degree. Our life oscillates between extremes. God can make profitable to us the experience of our sins and errors. The chemistry of his love can bring our tragic scenes to a happy ending. - J.
1. The unmeasured love of Mary of Bethany shines radiantly beside the unexampled treachery of Judas Iscariot.
2. Contrasts occur also in the experience of our Lord. He passes from the fellowship of the upper room to the solitude of Gethsemane; from the secrecy of prayer to the publicity of a mock-trial before his foes.
3. There are also great changes visible in the spiritual condition of certain disciples. Judas appears amongst the chosen disciples, listening to the Master's words and eating at the same table with him; and a few hours after he is seen at the head of a band of ruffians, betraying his Lord with a traitorous kiss. Peter, in the garden, starts forth as a hero in defense of his Master; but in the palace of the high priest, with trembling heart, denies all knowledge of him. To this last scene our text points us. (Describe it.)
I. THAT THERE ARE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH THE CAUSE OF CHRIST'S AROUSES UNCOMPROMISING HOSTILITY. Peter was experiencing this in the palace of Caiaphas.
1. Paganism was instinctively hostile to Christ's teaching. Far-seeing men amongst the Gentiles soon saw its drift. They spoke of the apostles, not inaptly, as men who would turn the world upside down. Christ's doctrine of brotherhood would be the destroyer of slavery. His inculcation of purity and righteousness threatened licentious pleasures and tyrannous exactions. Men who could win high positions by force or fraud, and immoral people, who loved brutal or sensual amusements, would unite in antagonism to the Christian faith. Some would hate it the more intensely because their worldly interests were associated with the continuance of paganism. Many a Demetrius saw that his craft was in danger, and priests, with their crowds of attendants, would contend zealously for the idolatry which gave them their living. They would have granted Christ Jesus a niche in their Pantheon; but his followers claimed that he should reign supreme and alone.
2. The Jews, however, were the first instigators of opposition. Christianity threatened to destroy their national supremacy by inviting the Gentiles to all the privileges of the kingdom of God. They hated a Messiah who came not to deliver them from political bondage, but from their own prejudices and sins.
3. Heathenism in our own day, whether at home or abroad, is at enmity with Christ. The vicious, who live to gratify their passions, the worldly, who would make this life their all, as well as the idolaters in distant lands, hate the teachings of our Lord.
4. Even in nominally Christian society there is sometimes seen an ill-suppressed dislike to earnest fidelity to Christ's cause.
II. THAT A DISCIPLE OF CHRIST, IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES, MEETS WITH A TEST OF HIS MORAL COURAGE. We all appreciate the heroism of the apostles, who, with their lives in their hands, witnessed for their Lord before Jews and pagans, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for his sake. Equal courage is occasionally exhibited lives which are unromantic and prosaic, which endure each day the bitterness of scorn and shame,
1. Sometimes a Christian shows heroism by speech. Profanity is thus rebuked, slander is silenced, impurity is indignantly reproved, and the cause of Christ defended against mockery. It is well when this can be done without any sign of a Pharisaic spirit or of a censorious temper; so that from the tone of the defense the godless are compelled to say, "These men have been with Jesus, and have learnt of him."
2. Silence may also be on occasion the display of courage. If one, by reason of youth or sex, cannot speak, witness may be borne by quitting the scene where Christ is dishonored. The responsibility for witness-bearing is the heavier in proportion to the weight of our influence. The effect of Peter's denial was the greater because he was like a standard-bearer in the army of Christ. Even although his testimony might not have changed the opinion of one in the crowd around him, he was none the less bound to give it; and our Lord was grieved because he withheld it.
III. THAT VERY TRIVIAL THINGS MAY SOMETIMES REVEAL ASSOCIATION WITH JESUS CHRIST. Peter had no expectation of being discovered. He was a stranger; the crowd was large, and the excitement great; it was dark, and attention seemed centred in Christ Jesus, to the exclusion of all beside. A question unexpectedly put necessitated an answer, and his rough Galilean brogue increased the suspicion to a certainty that he was a peasant who had come up with Jesus from Galilee, and was intimate enough with him to know of his secret and sudden arrest.
1. Even the nominal connection with Christ which we all have as Englishmen is betrayed by speech in foreign parts; and how often is the work of our missionaries hindered there by dishonest traders, or profligate sailors and soldiers, who are supposed to be "Christians," but who by word and act deny the Lord!
2. Others, who have been under direct Christian influences in their homes, are sometimes tempted, at school or in business, to keep that fact secret, as if it were something to be ashamed of. But when some small phrase or act unexpectedly betrays the truth, and one of those standing by says, "Surely thou art one of them,... thy speech agreeth thereto," then comes the crisis, the turningpoint, on which the whole future will hinge. Happy is it if then they are saved from Peter's fail!
3. Occasionally those who are devout disciples wish, like Nicodemus, to remain secretly so. They wish to avoid all responsibility, and therefore make no profession of their love. Little do they suspect how many are discouraged by their failure to avow their loyalty to their Lord. Let all our influence everywhere be consecrated to him.
CONCLUSION. The hall of judgment is still standing. Christ Jesus is being examined and questioned now by men who resent his claims. Still we hear the cry, "Prophesy! who is it that smote thee? Tell us something new. Work some miracle now, that we may believe thee." And to it all Jesus answers nothing. His Church is keeping close beside him, as John did, and is glad to share his reproach. But many are like Peter; they have followed afar off, so that the world should not notice them. They would not be so near as they are, but that others have led them, as John led his brother apostle. Yet, after all their friends have done, they are still outside, in the courtyard, among the foes of their Lord. They hope that all will end well; they dare not help in the conflict, so they keep far enough away to retain their popularity, and yet to see the end. As the light of the fire revealed Peter, as his speech further betrayed him, so something has called attention to these, and companions begin to say, "Surely thou art one of them." What shall the answer be? Shall it be, "I know him not;" or shall it be, "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee"? - A.R.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com