Matthew 3-20

Matthew 3‑20  •  51 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Matthew 3
Years have now passed since the day of the Child of Bethlehem. The long season of subjection to His parents at Nazareth is over, His term of obedience under the law, as the circumcised One; and now, being thirty years old, He is coming forth as the Light from the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, according to the prophet Isaiah.
There is, however, an introduction to this second presentation of Christ to Israel, as there had been to the first. The Child born had His genealogy recorded from Abraham and from David, His legal genealogy, Heir and Representative as He was of the rights made sure to those heads of the nation by the covenants of God; and then He came forth, in solemn form presented as the Bethlehemite of Micah.
In like manner this Light of the prophet Isaiah is now introduced.
The ministry of John, the preparer of the way of the Lord, as Isaiah had spoken, goes before it.
The baptism of the Lord by the hand of John then takes place; for Jesus would fulfill all righteousness. He who, as circumcised, had thoroughly honored God in Moses, or under law, fulfilling righteousness then, would now (as God, in dispensation, was going from Moses to John) follow obediently, and fulfill all righteousness, the righteousness announced by the Baptist, as well as that demanded by the lawgiver.
Then we get His commission or ordination, under the voice of the Father, and by endowment of the Spirit.
Matthew 4
And then the temptation; a necessary part of this great solemnity also, and needful to the introduction of the Lord into His ministry.
If the work which now lay before Him is redemption; if He is about to repair, yes, more than repair, the mischief which the first man had wrought, and which until other men had but witnessed and perpetuated, so must He personally stand where the first man, and all beside, had failed. Hence the temptation. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil. The Spirit, who had descended and rested on Him at His baptism, in a bodily shape like a dove, now puts Him forth to withstand the serpent, who is also the roaring lion; for the dove-like ministry of grace to sinners is one with the full defeat of man’s destroyer. Jesus came to save sinners, and to destroy the works of the devil.
Accordingly, Jesus, in the very outset, and as introducing Himself to His work, withstands Satan. He proves Himself to be impregnable. Eve surrendered God’s word to the serpent; Jesus withstands him by it. No attempt of the enemy prevails. The Holy Thing that had been born is still as holy in full manhood as He had been in the virgin’s womb. He proves Himself not to be in the common defeat and captivity.
 He leaves Satan without any title against Him; and thus He binds him.
 And this binding of him is the first great action of our Deliverer with our destroyer.
 He then comes forth at once, to enter his house and spoil his goods.
 In the due season He will be his Bruiser, as well as his, Binder and Spoiler.
 He will bruise his head on Calvary.
 Then, in the far distance, He will cast him from heaven (Rev. 12).
 Then He will put him into the bottomless pit (Rev. 20).
 And finally, He will cast him into the lake of fire (Rev. 20).
These are the ways of our great Deliverer with our adversary; and these ways He here begins in the wilderness of the temptation. How simple, and yet how glorious! How perfect in order, as well as mighty in action, from first to last! No one binds or bruises Satan but Jesus the Son of God. Samson typifies him as the Stronger Man entering the strong man’s house, to spoil his goods; and all the saints will have Satan bruised under their feet in season; but Jesus the Son of God bound the strong man, and bruised the head of the serpent. These works were all His own, and His only.
And all this was introductory to His ministry. As having fulfilled all righteousness, whether under the law of Moses, or under the baptism of John; as owned and ordained of the Father, in whose eyes the feet of this Messenger were to be more than beautiful, as endowed by the Holy Spirit, and as the Binder of the strong man, the Son comes forth to fulfill His course. John had now been cast into prison, and his service was thus over. And, in order that Scripture might get, in everything, its full answer from Him, the Lord departs into Galilee, and comes and dwells in Capernaum, on the sea-coast, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali; because thus had it been written by the prophet, “The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up.” This great light broke forth in regions which bordered on the great Gentile world, destined as it was, in its full and final power, to lighten every land.
Precious, as well as perfect, all this is. And this great light was the Light of life. It rose as on the shadow of death; for the darkness which it came to scatter was the darkness of death. If ignorance be in man, it is ignorance which is the loss of the life of God. Man is alienated from the life of God, by reason of the ignorance that is in him, because of the blindness of his heart (Eph. 4:1818Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: (Ephesians 4:18)). The Light that was now going forth was, therefore, a quickening Light. The Lord heals. He went about doing good. He preaches and He teaches; but He heals also. Soul and body, all the need and misery of fallen man, were His concern. He would leave behind Him, wherever He went, through the cities and villages of Israel, the voice of health and thanksgiving.
Matthew 5-9
He begins His service, as John had begun his, by calling for repentance; and that, too, on the warranty of the same great truth. “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” was the voice of each of them. And as John had made moral demands upon the people, suited to the repentance which such a ministry as his would challenge, so the Son, the Beloved, now teaches according to the repentance or newness of mind which such a One as He must look for. The Son, in His teaching, must needs go beyond the lawgiver, Moses; nor can He conform Himself to John, who had come “in the way of righteousness.” And this we find in the Sermon on the Mount, the first and great sample of the teaching of the Lord Jesus. There we have morals beyond the measure of Moses, and a largeness of grace, a light of purity, a strength of victory over the world, a humbleness and a self-sacrificing, a goodness of all sorts, and details of mind, character, and conduct, into which the Baptist never entered.
This, however, is not preaching the gospel. It is the morals which suited the school where the Son taught. And with such teaching the Lord meets His disciples on the mount, and then comes down to meet all manner of sorrow, need, and suffering among the people, at the foot of it. The leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s wife’s mother, and the whole multitude of sick folk that come to Him, are made to know the virtue that was in Him, and that it was a divine Physician who had taken up their case. No medicine was needed. It was the Lord of life Himself who was healing them.
And yet it was the sympathizing, as well as the divine Physician. He who was now on His way to the altar as the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world, by the way, or on the road, was taking our infirmities, and bearing our sicknesses. This was Jesus in Israel (Matt. 8:1717That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. (Matthew 8:17)). He had no medicines, nor did He prescribe any care or treatment. He spoke, and it was done. He touched the fever, and it fled; the leprosy, and it was cleansed. There was all this intense personality, so to speak, this full and deep sympathy, this contact as of eye with eye, mouth with mouth, hand with hand; and yet no defilement. It was God’s knowledge of good and evil, and God’s dealing with such things Jesus bore all our burdens and infirmities, whether in sympathy or atonement; but He was unsoiled in the midst of them all. He was in God’s holiness apart from them, and in God’s grace and power in disposing of them.
And yet He was nothing, and had nothing, in the earth. If He is addressed as a Master His followers must count on not having the holes of foxes or the nests of birds; for He Himself had not where to lay His head. He had, in undertaking our redemption, entered into the forfeiture of everything; that forfeiture which man, by sin, had incurred. By personal right this Son of Man owned everything, He had never lost Eden, nor man’s place in the creation of God, in its fullness and order and beauty.
But with all this personal title, having kept up His first estate where Adam had lost it; with all this, I say, He took nothing. He had lost nothing, but still He would have nothing. Judicially He was exposed to no privation or sorrow. The earth on which He was entitled to walk was not one of thorns and thistles; but voluntarily He took up all sorrow and privation, and walked as acquainted with grief all His days. By-and-by He will leave Himself in the hands of wicked men who come to eat up His flesh, though He might have the army of heaven, twelve legions of angels, to rescue Him; so now, with title to all things, He takes nothing “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”
And yet, with all this emptying of Himself, He was above that which was around Him. He stands over disease, and rebukes it. He speaks to winds and waves, and they obey Him. He commands devils, and at His bidding they leave one place and enter into another, though without His word they could boast of their liberty to go up and down in the earth, and to and fro upon it (Job 1,2; 1 Peter 5). He forgives sins also. Peter’s wife’s mother in her fever; the sea of Galilee with its winds and waves; the poor Gadarene in his fury; the palsied man at Capernaum in his sins and disease; all these shall tell of this supreme, universal authority that was in Him.
He is allowed to do His work for a short space (as through the time of Matt. 8), without challenge or hindrance. It was, however, but brief breathing time that the Lord of glory was given in this world. The Child of Bethlehem, for a moment, receives the homage of the Gentiles; but He is speedily, after that, on the road to Egypt. So the Light from Galilee casts out a beam or two across the darkness; but it would then have been put out in obscurity, if man could have prevailed. The world, in the Jew, proves that it loves its own darkness, and will contend for it, resenting the Light that was now shining. The heads of the people are offended in Him, because He was the Son of Joseph, as they said, the carpenter of Nazareth. They accuse Him of blasphemy, when He was forgiving sins; of being the Friend of publicans and sinners, when He was doing the works of grace; of being Beelzebub, because He cast out devils; of breaking the Sabbath, because He relieved the needy and the sorrowful one day as well as another; they ask Him for signs, though He was filling every moment and every place with signs that were clear as the cloudless morning or evening sky; they accuse Him of breaking traditions, when He was insisting on the commandments of God! What concord, we may surely ask, has light with darkness? The enmity may address itself to Him somewhat timidly at first, but it feeds itself as it lives and grows, and soon rages fiercely and fearlessly. And as it had been with Herod and Jerusalem, so it is now with the teachers and the cities. Jerusalem was moved, with Herod, at the word of the wise men from the East; the cities are now one with their teachers, in the rejection of the Light that was shining in the land. Jesus has to lament over them because they repented not. There is indeed a multitude that follow Him, but truly it was a giddy multitude. Disciples are attracted from the mass of the nation, but Jesus had rather to bear with them, than to find refreshment from them; and we know how it ended between Him and them.
Full of solemn meaning it is to us of this day, that the Lord in that day looked on Israel as an unkept, unfed flock. “When He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” And yet (though this was the judgment of the Great Shepherd) there was much religion then. Sects were numerous; feast-days were kept; and there was a great stir in all that which might have marked a day of public religious decency and devotion. That generation were soon to bear witness to themselves that they would not go into the judgment-hall of the Gentiles, lest they should be defiled, and be thereby hindered from keeping the passover. The money that was soon to purchase the blood of a guiltless Man they would not put into the treasury. Excision from the synagogue was dreaded, and Moses was boasted in; the Gentile was despised likewise, and the Samaritan was shunned. Ceremonial cleanness would be preserved. Teachers abounded, and zeal. And yet, under the eye of Him who saw them as God saw them, Israel was without a shepherd, an unkept, unfed flock. The land was as a field which needed the tillage of spring. It was no reaping time then, as it ought to have been, where all this religiousness was, and when the Heir of the vineyard had come. In the thoughts of the Lord of the harvest it was rather a time for “the first works” to be done over again, a sowing time; and the servants had to be sent into the field with the plough and the seed, and not with the sickle.
Matthew 10-12
But as it had been with the Master, so are the servants to count on its being with them. In sending out the Twelve, in Matthew 10, the Lord gives them, as with Himself, a ministry of healing. But He warns them of what lay before them, that they were to be as sheep in the midst of wolves; that they would be called before magistrates and rulers for His sake, find enemies in their own kindred, have to endure to the end, and be called Beelzebub, as He had been. He knew the circumstances that must attend their testimony to God in such a world as this. The Sun with healing in His wings had risen, and Israel should have sung, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits; who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.” But Israel could not learn that song (the Israel of that day); for they refused to be healed. Israel “would not.”
Strange this is; for man knows how to value his own advantages. He knows the joy of restored nature, and how to welcome the return of days of health and activity. But such is the enmity of the carnal mind that if blessings come accompanied with the claims and presence of God, they meet with no welcome here. We love the good things that flatter or indulge us, but not those things which bring God near to us. And yet from Christ we can get no other. He brings God to us with the blessing. Surely He does. This is His good and perfect gift (James 1:1717Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17)), this is His way and His work in the world. He glorifies God as He relieves the sinner. If man has been ruined, God has been dishonored; and Jesus does a perfect work, vindicating the name and truth of God just as surely and as fully as He brings deliverance and life and blessing to man.
This has ever been so, and must needs have been so, in the ways of God in this world. His claims in righteousness have ever been owned, as the need of the sinner has ever been answered. God will not surrender His honor to our blessing. He will secure both; be just, while He is a Justifier. Mere mercy is not known in His ways. It is mercy to the sinner founded on satisfaction to God. It is blood upon the mercy-seat; the blood witnessing that the ransom has been paid, and giving mercy full warrant to open all its stores. Righteousness and peace kiss each other.
This is the power and character of the cross; but this also is the principle of the ministry, the point now before us in this Gospel. When the Lord went forth Himself, as in Matthew 4, He healed all that had diseases and torments, He cast out devils, and cleansed the lepers. But with all that He preached, saying, “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He published God’s claims while He met man’s need. And so now, in Matthew 10. Sending out the twelve apostles as to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, He both commissions them, and empowers them to heal the sick, to cleanse the lepers, to raise the dead, and to cast out devils; but He commands them, at the same time, to preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” God’s rights, again I may say, were to be published, while man’s sorrow was to be relieved.
It is, however, this very thing, this full and perfect work of the Lord that the heart of man is not prepared to welcome. And yet therein is its glory. Man is blessed, but God is brought near. This does not do for man. The manna, if it come direct from heaven, and that continually, will, before long, be loathed; though it be white as coriander seed, and sweet as honey. And so Jesus and His servants will be refused, and have to suffer, though they dispense health through all the villages of the land. Strange it seems, again I say; but, the enmity of the carnal mind may account for it.
In looking at the ministry of the Lord now, as we did at His birth in the First Part of our Gospel, we still find things that are peculiar. All the circumstances attending His birth as the Bethlehemite, as we saw in Matthew 1-2, were exclusively the things of Matthew; and so in this Second Part, he is the only evangelist who introduces the Lord’s ministry as the Light from Galilee, according to the Jewish prophet; and he is likewise the only one who tells us of the limitation put on the mission of the Twelve, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (so strictly Jewish is he); the only one, also, who speaks of the kingdom as the kingdom of heaven, a title which bespeaks the dispensational or national character of the kingdom, rather than its moral, abstract character, which is conveyed to us by its other title, the kingdom of God.
The mission of John the Baptist, with the inquiry as to who the Lord was, our evangelist has together with Luke; and, in considering Luke’s Gospel. I have noticed it. The Lord’s grief over the unbelief of the cities of Israel I have also noticed in the same meditations on Luke. In Matthew this occurs at the close of Matthew 11. The Father, the Son, the headship of all things in Himself and the family taught and drawn of the Father, in sovereign grace, and by the effectual light and power of His Spirit, are the objects present to the mind of our Lord there. He enters the territory, so to speak, which He occupies in John. The occasion naturally called Him that way. He had just been surveying the moral wastes of Israel; and from thence He looks up to the purpose and energy of the Father, in grace quickening souls into the rest which a life-giving Son, under commission from the Father, has for them. And this is more characteristic of John’s Gospel than anything else we get in Matthew. Full of interest I believe this to be.
The narratives or cases in John distinguish themselves from those we get in the other Gospels. In Matthew and Mark, I may say, there are no illustrations of quickening power; no cases in which that divine operation is made the subject or principal business. The call of Matthew himself, in Matthew 9, is that instance which appears most like to this. The cases are, generally speaking, illustrations of exercised faith.
In Luke we have illustrations of each of these; but generally, as in Matthew and Mark, of faith exercised. Still, as in Peter, in the Samaritan leper, in Zaccheus, and in the dying thief, we have cases of the quickening power of God, or of souls beginning to live.
In John, however, on the contrary, we have, I may say, only one instance of faith exercised, but many of the beginning of life. The nobleman of Capernaum illustrates faith; but, in all the other cases, it is the quickening which we contemplate. Blessed sight! In Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael; in the Samaritan woman, and then in the Samaritans whom her word awakened; in the sinner of Matthew 8, in the blind beggar of Matthew 9, and in the Nicodemus of Matthew 3, 7 and 19, we see the beginning of life, or instances of the quickening power of God.
This distinction is remarkable; yet fully characteristic of each of the evangelists. In Matthew, as we have been seeing, the Lord is in the midst of His own people Israel, giving witness of Himself in grace and power, and testing Israel’s condition. So, with some distinguishing beauty, I might say, in Mark. We therefore would not expect instances of quickening there, but cases of faith (where it was found as in a remnant), or the sad witness of general unbelief. In Luke the Lord is more abroad, more free to act as the One who had come to man, as well as to Israel; and consequently we get there a larger exhibition of His work, a more various expression of instances, both of exercised faith, and of quickening power. But, in John, the Lord is the life-giving Son, the Word become flesh, full of grace and truth, giving power to sinners to become the sons of God. And this sets Him immediately and alone with souls, to do His blessed work of quickening. This variety is strikingly and beautifully significant.
In our Gospel the Lord was testing Israel. But He found them wanting. The Light had again done its work in the land. It would willingly have awakened from slumber, and then have cheered and guided, according to its proper virtue; but the darkness “would not.” The Light, therefore, exposed. It judged by exposing; that is, morally judged all that was around it; other judgment the hand of the Lord carried out. He did not strive nor cry, nor let His voice be heard in the street. He would not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. He spoils the goods of the strong man; but, like Samson, He will not touch Israel. He came not to judge, but to save.
The figure of the unclean spirit going out, and then returning, and finding the house swept and garnished, dwelling there again with seven other spirits more wicked than himself, is His picture of the Jewish generation in their last and worst estate. Israel had become Gentile. Their circumcision may be counted for uncircumcision. He had come to His own, but His own had not received Him. So that the mind of the divine Teacher takes a new direction, and the Light that had risen in Galilee, and would have illuminated the whole land, has now (in spirit or in anticipation) to cast its beams on other and distant parts of the earth.
Matthew 13
It is thus as we open Matthew 13.
Here we get, for the first time, a full anticipation of the present age.
The Lord’s action here, at the very outset, has meaning in it. He went out from the house, and sat by the sea-side (vs. 1).
As yet the world of the Gentiles had not been contemplated as the field of His labors. The faith of a Gentile, so early as in the time of Matthew 8, had led Him to speak of those who should come from the East, and from the West, to sit down with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, in the kingdom; but that was only one glance of that eye which surveys all things, and sees the end from the beginning. It was not the fixed gaze of Him who had foreseen and appointed the field of the world to be the place of divine husbandry in the gospel. But now, in chapter 8, that eye looks out to the world of the Gentiles, and fixes itself there; for there, before long, the Spirit and the truth would be dealing with man, and the Lord of the harvest would have His husbandry there, and not in the cities and villages of Israel. “The field is the world.”
And now, likewise, the Lord begins to speak in parables; a circumstance deeply significant of the moment, because this style of speaking was one kind of judgment upon Israel. It was as the raising of the pillar between Israel and the Egyptians; only Israel was now put on the dark side of it. The Lord, as He Himself tells us, was now speaking in parables, so that word of the prophet might be fulfilled, “By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive.” Here lay the reason why He now began to use these dark sayings. They had their own secret, each of them; but it was not given to Israel to know it. The Lord had a people who should be instructed by them, instructed in mysteries, mysteries of the kingdom; but Israel was left in darkness by them. Sentence of blindness of eye was beginning to be executed upon them; their dispersion was not yet.
The Sower, in the parable which opens this chapter, is among men. He has gone forth, and “the field” is the “world”. And thence, throughout the chapter, the Lord as, in spirit or by anticipation, among the Gentiles, tracing, in a series of parables, the history of His gospel in the world, or during this present Gentile age. He looks at the tare-field, the scene of mingled good and evil, such as Christendom now is. He then contemplates in the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven, the prevalency of the evil thing. Then, in the parables of the Treasure and the Pearl, the preciousness, but yet the obscurity, of the good thing. And may I not say that this is graphic, to the very life, of what has come to pass, and which, with our own eyes, we see at this very hour? There is before us a field of mingled seed, the work of the Lord and the work of the enemy, with the prevalency of that which is of the enemy, and the obscurity of that which is precious and of God. What an anticipation of what we see, and cannot but see, all around us! The world of this day, that part of the earth which is the scene of the Sower’s toil, is truly a tare-field, a field of mingled seed. But faith knows that a time of separation is at hand. There is to be a harvest, according to the further teaching of another of these parables.
There is to be the end of the age, when the net, which has been cast into the sea, shall be drawn to the shore, and the good is gathered into baskets, and the bad is cast away.
These things we learn here; and this chapter, in its structure, and generally in its materials, is peculiar to Matthew. Some of the parables are found nowhere else; and those which are common to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, take a peculiar connection here.
It was a distinguished moment in the Lord’s ministry. “Things new and old” were before Him, the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven itself, the rule of the God of heaven over the earth and its nations, was no new thing. Daniel had distinctly told of such a kingdom, and all the prophets gave witness to it, in their way and measure. But the kingdom under such conditions as the Lord presents it in this chapter was altogether a new thing, foreign to all the thoughts and intimations of the prophets. Blindness of eye and hardness of heart executed upon Israel, and, during that season, the seed of God, the word of grace and truth, sown in the distant “field” of the “world,” there passing through such a history as this chapter gives it; this surely was a new thing. Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the creation (Acts 15:1818Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. (Acts 15:18)); but some of His saints have to wait until the due time for their disclosure come; and such a time for the telling out of some of them was the time of this chapter. The Lord, for a moment, in spirit, leaves Israel; and we, by anticipation, are introduced to our own Gentile history.
The occasion, however, quickly passes. Before the chapter closes we find Him again in spirit, as well as in action and reality, in the midst of His Israel; not speaking, as in parables, the mysteries of the kingdom by the seaside, but teaching and healing in the synagogues round about His own country. With the lost sheep of the house of Israel His business was, and He must needs return. And so He does.
Matthew 14-16:27
This fresh period of the Lord’s labors, after this interval of Matthew 13, opens with a very serious event. Herod had put John the Baptist to death.
Herod’s experience at this time is awfully significant of the state of man’s heart. We read of him: “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him.”
A bad conscience is a very lively, stirring inmate of the human bosom—a good one is calm and noiseless. A bad conscience is apt to act hastily, taking alarm at anything and everything, fearing where no fear is. It was that which, in Joseph’s brethren, called up guilt to remembrance, in a day of innocency and false accusation.
Herod’s conscience had kept the image of the murdered John ever before him, and the most distant thing would easily associate itself, in his mind, with that image. The works of Jesus would suggest to him that John was risen from the dead; and the thought was hell to Herod.
For truly the resurrection of a murdered man must be intolerable to the heart of his murderer. It tells him that He in whose hands are the issues of life and death has put Himself on the side of his victim. And thus was it, at this time, in the apprehensions of Herod, and thus is it to be, by-and-by, in the apprehensions of the world; for in the day of the manifestation of the power of Jesus, whom the world is now rejecting, kings, mighty men, bondmen, freemen, chief captains, great men, and rich men, all will call on the mountains and rocks to hide them from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev. 6:1616And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: (Revelation 6:16)).
This experience of Herod has, thus, a voice for the ear of the world. For the resurrection tells the world that God in the highest has set Himself on the side of Him whom man has despised and rejected.
The news of this martyrdom of John is brought to the Lord, and it is evident that He is moved by it. He enters into the bearing of it upon Himself; for it did bear directly upon His own personal safety. If the messenger were thus dealt with, what might the Lord of the temple expect? If John has been put to death what will be done with Jesus? Such would be the natural suggestion of His soul at this time. After this He said to His disciples, speaking of John, “They have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them”; and His spirit, I believe, at this time, was anticipating such an utterance; for we read of Him, that He at once retires to, a desert place apart (Matt. 14:1313When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. (Matthew 14:13)). As we see Him in John’s Gospel again and again leaving Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him (John 7:11After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him. (John 7:1); John 10:31,4031Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. (John 10:31)
40And went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode. (John 10:40)
); so now, on hearing that Herod had put John to death, He retires; and from that moment, for a season; that is, from Matthew 14:1313When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. (Matthew 14:13) to Matthew 17:2222And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: (Matthew 17:22), He continues in distant corners of the land. He was aware of danger, and He would not heedlessly encounter it. He will retire from the reach of it, if that can be done without any sacrifice of what became Him. He, therefore, for a season, is not seen in His usual track, in Capernaum or the parts around it, nor in Judea or at Jerusalem.
And how perfect, like everything else, is this path of our Master, during this solemn and interesting season! Let His personal glory be what it may (and we know that He was none less than God over all, blessed forever), yet was He Man in all the proper sensibilities of humanity. Those touches and passages in His history, which bespeak the weakness of His circumstances among men, are as precious as the mighty works which He wrought for them in that strength which was divine. The weary Traveler at the well of Sychar is as welcome a sight as the transfigured Lord of glory on the mount. And at this season, from the time of Matthew 14:1313When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. (Matthew 14:13) to the time of Matthew 17:2222And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: (Matthew 17:22), we see Him in the weakness of human circumstances. His life is in danger from the hand of man, and He retires; while we track Him, during this time, first in a desert place, then on a solitary mountain, then in Gennesaret, then on the furthest borders to the west, then on a mountain again, then in the coasts of Magdala to the furthest east, then at the highest northern point, and, at last, on a high mountain apart, which, in spirit or in mystery, was heaven itself (Matt. 14:13,23,3413When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. (Matthew 14:13)
23And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. (Matthew 14:23)
34And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret. (Matthew 14:34)
; Matt. 15:21,29,3921Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. (Matthew 15:21)
29And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down there. (Matthew 15:29)
39And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala. (Matthew 15:39)
; Matt. 16:1313When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? (Matthew 16:13); Matt. 17:11And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, (Matthew 17:1)).
Beautiful, perfect, natural path for the feet of this glorious One; at this time the exposed, imperilled One, the David as hunted like a partridge on the hills.
But though consciously in danger, and therefore walking in comparative retirement, not heedlessly exposing Himself, He shows us that He was not afraid of the enemy that threatened Him, nor unmindful of the love and service which, in grace, He owed the people. For it is during this time that He answers, again and again, the challenges of His adversaries, and again and again feeds the multitudes that wait on Him.
How full of moral glory all this is! And this is the Jesus whose path shines before us. He would not despise the danger that threatened Him; and yet He would not be disturbed by it so as to forget how to carry Himself either to friends or foes, towards dependants or persecutors. Precious fruit in season from this Tree, which had been planted by the rivers of water!
And yet there is more than this.
While on the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, during this time, He is sought by a woman of Canaan. She brings her sorrow to Him. She gives Him her confidence.
She would use Him; just what love delights in; the very joy which He came into the world to gather at the hand and heart of sinners. She knows that He is both able and ready to serve her. The occasion is one of very tender and touching interest.
Apparently in spite of all her grief the Lord asserts God’s principles, and passes her by. To the disciples He says, in her hearing “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And to herself He says, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” But she bows. She owns Him to be the Steward of God’s truth, and she would not for a moment suppose that He would surrender that truth to her and her necessities. She lets God be glorified according to His own counsels, and Jesus continues the faithful Witness of those counsels, though she were to remain in sorrow still. “Truth, Lord,” she answers, vindicating all that Jesus had said; “yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
This was lovely; it was perfect in its generation; fruit of divine workmanship in her soul. She would be blessed only in accordance with the principles and ways of God’s grace and government, of which she received the Lord as the sure, infallible Witness.
The mother in Luke 2 is quite below the Gentile of Matthew 15. She did not know that Jesus was to be about His Father’s business. She would rather that He attended to her. This stranger owned that it was His Father’s business He was always to be about; and she would let God’s way, in the faithful hand of Christ, be exalted, though she herself were to be set aside by it. And all this was a beautiful witness of her subjection to God. Her words were deeply welcome to the heart of the Lord; and that, too, at a time when that same heart was saddened enough by all that He was meeting among His own people.
Man would have used such an opportunity for himself. If Israel has slighted Him, the Gentile has sought Him. If dangers from His own people have cast Him out, and strangers have received Him, surely He may change His place. Nature would have reasoned thus. A Syrophenician was suing Him, while Israel was refusing Him. Will He not pass over? Will He not cross the border? No. He was the obedient One. He will not, like another, go over to the king of Gath, or to the land of the Philistines. He confers not with flesh and blood, nor does He take His warrant from circumstances or from providences. He had been sent as the Minister of the circumcision, to confirm the promises made to the fathers; and though Israel may forget the voices of their prophets and the hopes of their nation, He cannot forget His commission. He is theirs, and not the Gentiles; and this He lets this Gentile know: nor will He dispense virtue to her, or let His mercies reach her necessities, until she takes her proper Gentile place in subjection to Israel. Then, indeed, let her take all that she wanted. “O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”
Perfect indeed this is. How full of moral glory the whole of this path, from first to last! Danger separates the Lord to sequestered mountains and wildernesses, but He does not shrink from the face of the enemy through fear, neither does He suspend His services of love through resentment, nor forget the rights of others, though in the midst of wrongs and sufferings from them.
David, under like circumstances, as we see him in 1 Samuel 18-30, does not give us this. In many a way he behaves himself beautifully. But, with all that, David is no model. Sadly he failed then, admirable and amiable man as he was above many. His lies at Nob cost the blood of the priests; his lies at Gath the capture of Ziklag. He conceived vengeance in his heart, and his purpose had to be turned aside by the word of a woman—and he would have been found fighting against the people of God in the ranks of the uncircumcised, had not the hand of God swayed the minds of the princes of the Philistines.
And yet David is indeed among the choicest of the children of men. But the David of 1 Samuel 18-30 is not the Jesus of Matthew 14-16, though in kindred circumstances. They were, each of them, in retirement because of danger, and the threatening of the power that was, in their respective days, in Israel; but the two histories only prove afresh that there is but One. None but He for our sins, and none but He for God’s glory. Good things may be said by them of old time, good things may be done by them of old time, but all perfection of all kinds is with Jesus only. And happy is the thought, welcome indeed is the contrast. None but Jesus! In Him only the sinner finds his relief, in Him only God gets His glory. And these thoughts arise as we track the Lord’s path through this part of our Gospel. Long, if one may speak of oneself, has it been the admiration of the soul; and solemn and interesting it is indeed. But it has its end, and we must look at its end. This we reach in Matthew 17.
Matthew 17
The certainty of our view of an object depends very principally on the light in which it is set; and our enjoyment of a prospect is greatly determined by the way in which we approach it. It was unbelief in Israel which put the Lord in the tare-field, as we have already seen; and it is the same which now puts Him on the hill of glory. We ought to see this in order to appreciate His place in either Matthew 13 or Matthew 17.
Every step of His bright path of blessing on earth, and in the midst of Israel, left traces behind it of One who had come as the Repairer of the breach. He was, as we may say, renewing His covenant with His ancient people, His covenant of health and salvation. But they “would not.” The great man and the poor man, the king and the multitude, bore their several witness to this. They “would not.”
In the palace of the king the harp and the viol and the wine were there, and the blood of the righteous. The sin of Babylon was found in Jerusalem, and more than the sin of Babylon. Herod’s was a feast full of more horrid rites than those which drew forth the fingers of a man’s hand, to write the sentence of death upon Belshazzar and his kingdom. The vessels of the temple were profaned there but the blood of the righteous was slain here. This was the voice from the palace. The solitudes of Caesarea Philippi were heard also, and they witnessed the same, that Israel “would not.” “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” asked the Lord of His apostles, as they were there together. But they had no answer for Him which could tell Him that He had been received by them. The exultation of the prophet, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given,” the proper exultation of Israel over their Messiah, was not taken up by the people. They may have high thoughts and honorable thoughts of Him, as Elias, or as Jeremias; but this will not do; He was not understood.
This was a great moment. We must linger here for a little. It is an occasion which we cannot well pass by.
No confession short of that of “the Son of the living God” will do. The people may have high and honorable thoughts of Jesus, as I have just said. They may speak of Him as “a good man,” or as “a prophet,” as Elias or Jeremias; but nothing of this kind will do; nothing less than the faith which apprehends and receives Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God.
The reason of the need of this faith is simple. Our state of ruin in this world, ruin by reason of sin and death, calls for the presence of God Himself among us, and that, too, in the character of Conqueror over sin and death. And He whom God has sent is such a One. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the living God in flesh; come here for the very purpose of bringing back life into this scene of death, destroying the works of the devil, and putting away sin. This is the One whom our condition demands. Such is our ruin that nothing less than this will do for us; and if we can in our own thoughts, do with anything less than this, we show that we have not yet discovered our real condition, our condition in the presence of God. All acceptance of Christ short of this is nothing. It is no acceptance of Him. He may be a Prophet, He may be a King, He may be a Doer of wonders, or a Teacher of heavenly secrets; but if this be all our apprehension of Him, our all is nothing
Faith has great and noble work to do in such a scene as this world, and in such circumstances as human life furnishes every day. It has to reach its own objects through many veils, and to dwell in its own world in spite of many hindrances. It is the things not seen, and the things hoped for, that it deals with; and such things lie at a distance, or under coverings; and faith has to be active and energetic in order to reach them and deal with them.
In John 11 we look on a scene of death. Such, as I have said, our ruined condition in this world really is. Everyone, save the Lord Himself, seems to have apprehended nothing but death. The disciples, Martha and her friends, and even Mary, talked only of death; and, as far as the present moment went, they have no faith in anything beyond it. Jesus, in the midst of all this, stands alone, eyeing life, and talking of life. He moved onward in the consciousness of it, carrying in Himself light in this overshadowing of darkness and gloom. But there was no faith there doing its duties; that is, discovering Him. Martha represents this absence of faith; just as the multitude do in Matthew 16:1414And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. (Matthew 16:14). She meets the Lord, but her best thought about Him is this; that whatsoever He would ask of God, God would give it Him. But this will not do. This was not faith doing its proper work, discovering the glory that was hidden in Jesus of Nazareth.
The Son will empty Himself. He will take the form of a servant. He will be obedient unto death. He will cover Himself as with a cloud, and he hid under a thick veil, a veil not only of flesh, but of flesh in humiliation, and weakness, and poverty. But while He is doing all this He cannot admit the absence of that faith which does its proper work only when it discovers Him. He will not be in company with depreciating thoughts about Him. He looks for faith’s discoveries of His glory, in the saints that He walks with.
He therefore rebukes Martha. Instead of admitting that God will give to Him, as Martha had said, on His asking Him, He says to her, as on the authority of His own personal glory, “Thy brother shall rise again.” And instead of complying with her afterthought, that He should rise again in the last day, He says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.”
How all this commends itself to our souls! The Lord will give no place to these imperfect apprehensions of Him. Needful it was, in the riches of His grace, that He should empty Himself; our sins could find their relief in nothing less than that. But right it is that faith should make a full discovery of Him under this veil of self-emptiness.
But, happy to add, if Martha represents the unbelief which comes short of a just apprehension of Jesus, Peter, on this occasion, in our Gospel, represents the faith which, of the operation of God, does the due work of faith, discovering the hidden glory. Blessed to see this. Peter had it by revelation of the Father. Flesh and blood was not equal to render this duty, or do this business of faith. It was a revelation to Peter, as it must be to all of us.
On learning the thoughts of the people about Him, Jesus turns to His disciples, and says, “But whom say ye that I am?” And then Peter’s confession is made. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he says.
Jesus was satisfied; nay, He was filled with delight. The glory of a direct revelation from the Father to the spirit and intelligence of one of His own now shone before Him; and He knew the rapture of such a moment. “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona,” says the Lord; “for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven”; and then He recognizes this mystery (that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God) as the foundation of all building for eternity.
Surely this was a great moment. It warrants our tarrying over this place of our Gospel for this little space. We have turned aside to hear the word of the loving Martha in John 11; and taken occasion to contrast the poverty and imperfection of that, calling out a rebuke from the Lord, with this word of Peter uttered under a revelation of the Father, drawing forth the satisfaction and delight of the Lord.
But this moment was pregnant with great results. The darkness of man touching the Son of the living God shared the moment with the revelation of that Son which the Father had made to Peter. All this gave character to this great occasion, and the Lord instructs us by it.
As the unbelief of the earth now stood in proof before Him, from the report which His disciples had brought Him about the opinions of the people concerning Him, there was therefore but a step, so to speak, between Him and heaven. Accordingly, He prepares His apostles for it; for a sight of the kingdom in its day of power and glory, when the One whom the earth was now rejecting should appear in His magnificence. “Verily I say unto you,” speaks the Lord now to His Twelve, “There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
After six days, in accordance with this promise, Peter, James, and John are taken by their Lord to a high mountain apart, and there they are given a sight of Him in His glorified body, with Moses and Elias in glory also.
Up to then there had been no vision like this. Abraham and Jacob had visions of angels and of the Lord of angels; but before them His glory was veiled. Gideon and Manoah had also seen Him, and so had Joshua. The burning bush, the cleft rock, and the top of Pisgah, had put Moses in company with God. Jacob saw the ladder whose top reached to heaven. Moses and the elders of Israel saw the God of Israel with the heavens under His feet, as a paved work of a sapphire stone. Prophets had seen Him in mystic garments, Isaiah in the temple, and Daniel at the river of Hiddekel. Elisha had a peculiar vision; not of the Lord, but of the chariot and horsemen of Israel, and of the ascending prophet, his master. And this, in one sense, was the brightest of any. It soared very loftily into the heavenly purposes of God. It was as the rapture or translation of the saints, as that will be in the day of 1 Thessalonians 4. It was an ascension. Still, however, it was not a vision of men in glory. Elisha did not see a glorified human body, though he did see, in a mystery, the heavenly convoy of it. He was rather in 1 Thessalonians 4 than in 1 Corinthians 15. But now, on the holy hill, Peter, James, and John have a finer sight of his master, than Elisha himself had of him on the other side of Jordan. They saw Elijah in glory, which Elisha did not.
So that hitherto there had been no vision quite equal to this in our seventeenth chapter. Stephen’s, in a day after this, may be said to exceed it. But there was no vision in earlier days wherein men were seen, as now they were, in personal glory, transfigured after the image of the heavenly. And, had we but more desire after the presence of the Lord, we could not live forgetful of this great occasion. The light of the holy hill, where the majesty of Jesus was seen, and where the voice from the excellent glory was heard, would cheer the heart far beyond what it is wont to do; if one may utter his heart for others.
And thus was it now, in the progress of our Gospel. The unbelief of Israel, that is, of the earth, sealed by the answer which the Lord received to His inquiry, “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” led Him to heaven for a moment.
For if the earth were not ready to welcome Him, heaven in its higher glory stood open to Him.
This, however, like His visit to the tare-field of Christendom in Matthew 13, is but for a moment. His business is with Israel and with the earth, and to Israel and the earth He therefore quickly returns.
But we noticed on Matthew 13 that the Lord, in spirit, continues among the Gentiles, or in this present dispensation of ours, all through the important series of parables which forms the material of that chapter. Something like this may now be noticed after this visit to heaven in Matthew 17. For, although the Lord returns to Israel and the earth, still, through this stage of His ministry, which does not end until we enter Matthew 21, there is something of the heavenly mind in Him. He descends the hill, and lays aside His garments of glory; but His words savor of One who had heavenly impressions on His spirit. The light; which had shone forth from Zebulun on the cities and villages of the land, had now imbibed something of the heavenly glory; and, in its shinings from henceforth, some of that glory is seen in it.
Thus, in setting forth the little child, rebuking the pride of His disciples, the Lord speaks of the Church in her unworldly principles, and in her place and authority in the Spirit. And, in the course of these chapters, He comments in such a way on the law of marriage, He prescribes such a rule of perfection to the rich young ruler, He makes such promises of place and honor in the regeneration or the coming millennial kingdom to His servants, that lets us feel that He had returned to the earth from the holy hill with something of the heavenly mind forward and vivid in Him.
This may be gathered. It is indeed so, that He is not glorified at the foot of that hill, as He had been at the top of it; nor does He make the Church, or the heavenly calling, His subject. It would have been out of season. The mystery of the Church had to wait for other ministry, under the gift and presence of the Holy Spirit, and upon His glorification. But now, since there had been a momentary anticipation of heavenly glory, there is enough to let us know that the Light of Galilee had now gathered to itself something of that glory.
And, in company with this, I think we may perceive, that though He has come back to Israel His people on earth, yet He is now, in a measure, taking His distance from them. He is somewhat less with the multitude during the time of these chapters. He receives them, if sought by them; He answers them, if challenged by them. Surely. But still His mind appears to take its distance from them.
This distance, however, is not abandonment. The time for that had not yet fully come. A long and dreary time of His hidden face awaited Israel, but it had not begun in the days of Matthew 18-20. (At the opening of Matthew 19 (vs. 1) the Lord begins to leave Galilee. Since the time of Matthew 4:1212Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; (Matthew 4:12), according to Matthew, He had been in those parts, as the Light from Zebulun and Naphtali; but now He begins to put Himself in the way to Judea. For, as we shall find, it will be in Judea, and not in Galilee, that He is to make the third and last presentation of Himself to Israel.) We have seen Him proposed or presented to Israel as the Bethlehemite of the prophet Micah, and as the Light from Galilee of the prophet Isaiah. We have seen Him slighted and rejected, challenged and watched. We have heard His lamentations over the cities of the land, because of their unbelief. We have seen Him, for two several mystic moments, taking a place either in the world among the Gentiles, as in Matthew 13, or in the kingdom with the glorified, as in Matthew 17. But He has not yet done with Israel. They had been a long-loved people. The Glory in the day of Ezekiel knew not how to leave its ancient dwelling-place in the temple; God knew not how to withdraw His prophets from Israel, still rising up early and sending them, though generations had refused them (Ezek. 8-11; 2 Chron. 36:15-1615And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: 16But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy. (2 Chronicles 36:15‑16)); and now Jesus, the Glory of the temple and the God of the prophets, still lingers about the threshold of the house, and rises up again and again to speak to them.
We have, therefore, still to hear Him pleading with His people, as we are now about to do in the third part or section of our Gospel.