THE OPENING of this chapter brings us near to the closing scenes of the Lord's life. He was on the farther side of Jordan but near the borders of Judaea, and the Pharisees appeared, opposing Him by tempting Him. By raising questions as to marriage and divorce, they expected to entangle Him in some contradiction of the things that Moses had commanded, and so find a point of attack. The Lord did not contradict Moses, but He went behind him to God's original thought in the creation of man and woman. The Pharisees were great sticklers for the law of Moses, but He showed them that in this instance the law did not enforce God's original thought. It is important to notice this, for it supplies us with one reason why the law is not made the rule of life for the Christian.
The law fell below the height of God's thought, but Christ did not: He fully maintained it. Verse 9 lifts the whole matter of marriage from the level of man and human expediency to the level of God and His action. It is a divine institution and not a human arrangement, and therefore is not to be tampered with by men. If God joins, man is not to put asunder.
This verse states a great principle which is true universally. The converse also would be true-man is not to join what God has put asunder. It is a sad fact that ever since sin came in man has been consumed with a desire to undo what God has done. It is so in natural things, and many of the ills we suffer come from our tampering with things given of God, even in matters of food, etc., and generally upsetting the balance of things which He established. It certainly is so in things spiritual. Many a difficulty and much needless soul trouble springs from misunderstanding as to things which God has joined together in His Word, or things which He has sundered.
Having set marriage before them in the right light, the Lord deals, in verses 13-16, with children. As to these, the disciples share the ordinary thoughts of the world, which fall far below the thoughts of God. The disciples judged them to be too insignificant for the Master's attention, but He thought far otherwise. He received them gladly, took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them and blessed them. He also showed that the only way of entrance into the kingdom of God is by having the spirit and mind of the little child. If anyone approaches that kingdom as a significant somebody he finds the entrance barred. If he comes as an insignificant nobody he may enter.
Then, verses 17-27, we get the Lord's teaching in regard to possessions. It is striking how marriage, children and possessions follow one another in this chapter, for so much of our lives in this world is occupied with these three things. All three are perverted and abused in the hands of sinful men; and all three are put in their right place in the teachings of our Lord.
The one who came running to Jesus exhibited many commendable features. Matthew tells us he was young, and Luke that he was a ruler. He was earnest and reverent and recognized in Him a great Rabbi, who could direct men to eternal life. He took it for granted that the life was to be obtained by human doings, according to the law. Evidently he had no idea of the Deity of Jesus, and hence the Lord's words in verse 18. He repudiated goodness apart from His being God, saying in effect, "If I am not God, I am not good."
As the young man asked his question with the law in his mind, the Lord referred him to the law, particularly to the commandments dealing with man's duty to his neighbour. He could claim to have observed these, at least as regards his acts, and Jesus beholding him loved him. This shows that his claim to correct observance of these things which the law enjoined was a true one. He was an exceptionally fine character, with features which in themselves were pleasing to God. The Lord did not belittle these pleasing features. He admitted them, and looked upon him with eyes of love.
Yet He tested him. One thing he lacked, and that was the God-given faith, which would have seized who Jesus was, and led him to take up the cross and follow Him; the faith which would have made treasure in heaven preferable to treasure on earth. He expected the Lord to direct him to some work of the law by which life should be reached; instead he was directed to a work of faith. Sad at heart he went away. He did not possess the faith, so it was impossible for him to show his faith by his works. The same test comes to us. How have we answered to it?
This is a tremendous question. How slow we all are to give up law-keeping for Christ and earth for heaven! No wonder the Lord speaks of the difficulty with which the rich enter the kingdom. Verse 23 speaks of them "that have riches," and verse 24 of "them that trust in riches." The fact is, of course, that it is very difficult to have them without trusting in them. We naturally cling to riches and earth. Christ offers the Cross and heaven.
The disciples, accustomed to regard riches as a sign of God's favour, were very astonished at these words; they felt that they cut the ground away completely from under our feet. So, indeed, they do. "Who then can be saved?" is a momentous question. Verse 27 gives a definite answer. Salvation is impossible with men, though possible with God. In other words it was as though the Lord said, "If it is a question of what man can do, nobody can be saved: but if a question of what God can do, anybody can be saved."
We emphasize that word. Salvation with men is not improbable, but IMPOSSIBLE. The door, as regards our own efforts is barred against us. God has opened another door however, but that is by death and resurrection, to which the Lord was now turning the thoughts of His disciples.
Though death and resurrection were before the mind of the Lord, earthly glory was still before the mind of Peter, and he betrayed it by his remark recorded in verse 28. He referred of course to the test which the Lord had just presented to the rich young ruler. Peter felt that, though the ruler had failed before the test, he and his fellow-disciples had not: indeed, he actually added, as Matthew records, "What shall we have therefore?" His mind, enquiring and impetuous, wished to anticipate the good things to come. The Lord's answer indicated that in the present age there should be great gain, though with persecutions, and in the coming age eternal life.
This saying of our Lord is illustrated by Paul's life of service, as seen in such scriptures as, Acts 16: 15; Acts 18: 3; Acts 21: 8; Romans 16: 3, 4, 23; 1 Corinthians 16: 17; Philippians 4: 18; Philemon 22. Houses were at his disposal in many a city, and many counted it an honour to fulfil the part of brother, sister, mother or child toward him. Persecutions certainly were his. Eternal life in the world to come lies before him. Such is the lot of those who follow and serve this perfect Servant of God.
Verse 31 was evidently uttered as a warning and corrective to Peter. Forwardness here may not mean the first place there. All depends upon the motive underlying the service. If Peter wished to drive a bargain-so much following for so much reward-that alone would show defective motive. Still it does not say that all that are first shall be last, and all last first. Paul went ahead of all in his day, and who can challenge the purity of his motive, or the reality of his devotion to his Lord?
The thing that Peter and the rest greatly needed was to realize and understand the fast approaching death and resurrection of their Master. There is nothing that we today, nineteen centuries after the event, more deeply need to realise and understand. Not only is it the basis of all our blessing but it imparts its own character to all Christian life and service. No intelligent service can be rendered save in the light of it.
Verses 32 to 34 give us the fourth occasion on which the Lord instructed His disciples in regard to it; and the request of James and John, recorded in verse 37, furnished the Lord with a fifth occasion. Their minds were still filled with expectations concerning a glorious kingdom on earth, and they wished to advance their own interests in that kingdom. Now the Lord Jesus was here as the perfect Servant of the will of God, and this involved for Him the cup of suffering and the baptism of death. Places of honour in the coming kingdom will be apportioned to those who have served this wonderful Servant, according to the measure in which they had accepted suffering and death on His behalf. Yet, even so, He does not apportion these places of distinction. All that is at the discretion of the Father, for He remains true to the place of Servant which He has taken. Except we remain true to the place in which we are set, the place of identification with our rejected Lord, we cannot expect any place of special recognition in the glory of the kingdom.
This unblushing place-hunting on the part of James and John might incline us to blame them above the rest, were it not for verse 41, which shows that the same selfish desires were entertained by all, and that they objected, not because of the request the two had made, but because they had been forestalled in the way the two made it. Their annoyance however only gave further occasion for the display of the perfect grace of their Lord.
How easy it was, and is, for the disciples of Jesus to accept and adopt the standards and customs of the world that surrounds them, to take for granted that, because everybody seems to be doing it, it is the right thing to do. Again and again our Lord would say to us, "But so shall it not be among you." The nations have their great men, who exercise their authority in a lordly way. Amongst disciples of the Lord greatness is manifested in an entirely different way. There true greatness is displayed in taking the lowly place of service to others-serving the Lord in serving them.
The Son of Man Himself is the shining example of service of this kind. Who so great as He in His original estate? Then "thousand thousands ministered unto Him" (Dan. 7: 10). Who took so lowly a place, ministering to others? Who carried service to such a length as "to give His life a ransom for many"? For this reason alone, apart from other considerations, the place of pre-eminence must be His. They, who follow Him most closely in lowly service in this day, will be chiefest in that day.
In verse 45, the Lord not only brings His death before His disciples for the fifth time, but He explains its significance. Previously He had emphasized the fact of His death, so that the minds of the disciples might no longer be obsessed by expectations of a coming visible kingdom. Now the meaning of the fact appears. He would die to pay the ransom price for many. Here then we have a plain statement as to the substitutionary and atoning character of His death from His own lips. It is "many" here, for the actual, realized effect of His ransoming death is the point. In 1 Timothy 2: 6, where the bearing and scope of it is in question, the word is "all."
These dealings with His disciples took place "in the way going up to Jerusalem" (verse 32). In verse 46 they arrive in Jericho, and the closing scenes of His life begin. Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, furnished Him with a striking opportunity of setting forth the mercy of God. Mercy was what the blind man craved, though the people, who did not understand mercy of a divine sort, would have silenced him. Mercy however he got, and it went beyond his thoughts, for it not only gave him sight but enlisted him as a follower of the One who extended the mercy. The faith of Bartimaeus was shown in that he addressed Jesus as the Son of David though others spoke of Him only as Jesus of Nazareth. His may only have been little faith, for he did not rise to the height of calling Him Son of God; yet little faith receives an abundant answer as surely as great faith does. Let us be thankful for that.
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