The message is new-at least in the absolute and complete character it
assumes, and in its direct and immediate application. It was not the Jewish
privileges which should be obtained by repenting and returning to the Lord.
The Lord was coming according to His promise. To prepare His way before
Him, John was preaching repentance for the remission of sins. It was this
they needed: remission of sins for the repentant was the great thing, the
formal object of John's mission.
Repentance and remission of sins refer clearly to the responsibility of
man, here of Israel, in his natural standing with God; and clearing that as
to man's state relatively to God, morally and responsibly qualify him for
the reception of purposed blessing-morally in that he judges the sins in
principle as God does, and responsibly by God's forgiving them all. Hence
also remission is necessarily a present actual thing. There is a
governmental forgiveness as well as a justifying one, but the principle is
the same, and the latter is the basis of the former. Only where it is
governmental it may be accompanied by various accompanying dealings of God,
only the sin is no longer imputed as to present relationship with God, as
in justifying, this is eternally true. In justifying forgiveness as in
Romans 4, shewing by its use of Psalm 32, the common character of
non-imputation-it is founded on the work of Christ, and hence is absolute
and unchangeable. Sin is not imputed and never can be, because the work is
done and finished which puts it away out of God's sight: that-eternal,
absolute, and immutable in itself-is the basis of all God's dealings with
man in grace. Grace reigns through righteousness. Hebrews 9, 10 unfolds
this, where the conscience and coming to God, and that in the holiest, are
concerned. So Romans 3-5, where the question is judicial, a matter of
judgment, wrath, and justifying. It is the basis of blessings, not the end,
great as it is in itself-peace with God and reconciliation. Here it was the
ground of all the blessings Israel will have by the new covenant (founded
on Christ's death), but being rejected, those who believed entered into
better and heavenly blessings. In Exodus 32: 14, 34, we get governmental
forgiveness, not justifying. In the case of David's great sin, it was
pardoned when owned, the iniquity of it put away, but severe chastisement
connected with it because he had given occasion to the enemies of the Lord
to blaspheme. God's glory in righteousness had to be maintained before the
world (2 Sam. 12: 13, 14).
Here it was a proposal of present forgiveness to Israel, which will be
accomplished in the last days; and then, as their long rejection will have
closed in governmental forgiveness, they will also through the death and
blood-shedding of Christ at least the remnant, be forgiven and justified
for the enjoyment of the promises under the new covenant (compare Acts 3).
The prophets had indeed announced pardon if the people returned to the
Lord; but here it was the present object of the address. The people go out
in a body to avail themselves of it. Conscience at least was stirred; and
whatever might be the pride of their leaders, the sense of Israel's
condition was felt by the people, as soon as anything outside the routine
of religion acted on the heart and conscience-that is to say, when God
spoke. They confess their sins. With some perhaps it was only natural
conscience, that is, not a really quickening work; but at any rate it was
wrought upon by the testimony of God.
But John, rigidly separate from the people, and living apart from human
society, proclaims another, mightier than he, whose shoe-latchet he was not
worthy to unloose: He would not merely preach repentance accepted by the
baptism of water; He would bestow the Holy Ghost, power, on those who
received His testimony. Here our Gospel passes on rapidly to the service of
Him whom John thus declared. It only sets forth summarily that which
introduces Him into this service.
The Lord takes His place among the repentant of His people, and, submitting
to John's baptism, He sees heaven open to Him, and the Holy Ghost
descending upon Him like a dove. The Father acknowledges Him as His Son on
earth, in whom He is well pleased. He is then led by the Holy Ghost into
the wilderness, where He undergoes the temptation of Satan for forty days;
He is with the wild beasts, and angels exercise their ministry towards Him.
Here we see His whole position-the character which the Lord takes on
earth-all its features and relations with that which surrounded Him,
gathered into these two or three verses. It has been treated of in its
details in Matthew.
After this John disappears from the scene, giving place to the public
ministry of Christ, of whom he was only the herald; and Christ Himself
appears in the place of testimony, declaring that the time was fulfilled;
that it was now no question of prophecies or of days to come; that God was
going to set up His kingdom, and that they ought to repent and receive the
good news which at that very moment was proclaimed to them.
Our evangelist passes
[see note #1]
rapidly on to every branch of the service of Christ. Having presented the
Lord as undertaking the public ministry which called on men to receive the
good news as a present thing (the time of the fulfilment of the ways of God
being come), he exhibits Him as calling others to accomplish this same work
in His name by following Him. His word does not fail in its effect. those
whom He calls forsake all and follow Him.
[see note #2]
He goes into the city to teach on the sabbath-day. His word does not
consist of arguments which evidence the uncertainty of man, but comes with
the authority of One who knows the truth which He proclaims-authority which
in fact was that of God, who can communicate truth. He speaks also as One
who possesses it; and He gives proof that He does. The word, which thus
presents itself to men, has power over demons. A man possessed by an evil
spirit was there. The evil spirit bore testimony, in spite of himself, to
Him who spake, and whose presence was insupportable to him; but the word
that aroused him had power to cast him out. Jesus rebukes him-commands him
to hold his peace and to come out of the man; and the evil spirit, after
manifesting the reality of his presence and his malice, submits, and departs
from the man. Such was the power of the word of Christ. It is not
surprising that the fame of this act should spread through all the country;
but the Lord continues His path of service wherever work presented itself.
He goes into the house of Peter, whose wife's mother lay sick of a fever.
He heals her immediately; and when the sabbath was ended, they bring Him
all the sick. He, ever ready to serve, (precious Lord!) heals them all.
But it was not to surround Himself with a crowd that the Lord laboured; and
in the morning, long before day, He departs into the wilderness to pray.
Such was the character of His service-wrought in communion with His God and
Father, and in dependence upon Him. He goes alone into a solitary place.
The disciples find Him, and tell Him that all are seeking Him; but His
heart is in His work. The general desire does not bring Him back. He goes
on His way to fulfil the work which was given Him to do-preaching the truth
among the people; for this was the service to which He devoted Himself.
But, however devoted to this service, His heart was not made rigid by
pre-occupation; He was always Himself with God. A poor leper comes to Him,
acknowledging His power, but uncertain as to His will, as to the love that
wielded that power. Now this dreadful disease not only shut the man himself
out, but defiled every one who even touched the sufferer. But nothing stops
Jesus in the service to which His love calls Him. The leper was wretched,
an outcast from his fellow-creatures and from society, and excluded from
Jehovah's house. But the power of God was present. The leper must be
re-assured as to the good-will on which his dejected heart could not
reckon. Who would care for such a wretch as he? He had faith as to the
power that was in Christ; but his thoughts of himself concealed from him
the extent of the love that had visited him. Jesus puts forth His hand and
The lowliest of men approaches sin, and that which was the token of sin,
and dispels it; the Man, who in the might of His love touched the leper
without being defiled, was the God who alone could remove the leprosy which
made one afflicted with it miserable and outcast.
The Lord speaks with an authority that declares at once His love and His
divinity: "I will, be thou clean." I will-here was the love of which the
leper doubted, the authority of God who alone has the right to say I WILL.
The effect followed the expression of His will. This is the case when God
speaks. And who healed leprosy except Jehovah only? Was He the One who had
come down low enough to touch this defiled being that defiled every other
that had to do with him? Yes, the only One; but it was God who had come
down, love which had reached so low, and which, in thus doing, shewed
itself mighty for every one that trusted in it. It was undefilable purity
in power, and which could therefore minister in love to the vilest and
delights to do so. He came to defiled man, not to be defiled by the
contact, but to remove the defilement. He touched the leper in grace, but
the leprosy was gone.
He hides Himself from human acclamations, and bids the man who had been
healed to go and shew himself to the priests according to the law of Moses.
But this submission to the law, bore testimony in fact to His being
Jehovah, for Jehovah alone, under the law, sovereignly cleansed the leper.
The priest was but the witness that it had been done. This miracle being
noised abroad, by attracting the multitude, sends Jesus away into the
Afterwards (chap. 2) He goes again into the city, and
immediately the multitude gather together. What a living picture of the
Lord's life of service! He preaches to them. This was His object and His
service (see chap. 1: 38). But again, in devoting Himself to the humble
accomplishment of it as committed to Him, His service itself, His love-for
who serves like God when He deigns to do it?-bring out His divine rights.
He knew the real source of all these evils, and He could bring in its
remedy. "Thy sins," said He to the poor paralytic man, who was brought to
Him with a faith that overcame difficulties, persevering in spite of
them-that perseverance of faith which is fed by the sense of want, and
certainty that power is to be found in Him who is sought-"thy sins are
forgiven thee." To the reasoning of the scribes He gives an answer that
silenced every gainsayer. He exercises the power that authorised Him to
pronounce the pardon of the poor sufferer.
[see note #3]
The murmuring of the scribes brought out doctrinally who was there; as the
verdict of the priests, who pronounce the leper clean, put the seal of
their authority upon the truth that Jehovah, the healer of Israel, was
there. That which Jesus carries on is His work, His testimony. The effect
is to make it manifest that Jehovah is there, and has visited His people.
It is Psalm 103 which is fulfilled, with respect to the rights and the
revelation of the Person of Him who wrought.
Jesus leaves the city; the people flock around Him; and again He teaches
them. The call of Levi gives occasion for a new development of His
ministry. He was come to call sinners, and not the righteous. After this He
tells them that He could not put the new divine energy, unfolded in
Himself, into the old forms of Pharisaism. And there was another reason for
it -the presence of the Bridegroom. How could the children of the
bridechamber fast while the Bridegroom was with them? He should be taken
from them, and then would be the time to fast. He proceeds to insist on the
incompatibility between the old Jewish vessels and the power of the gospel.
The latter would but subvert Judaism, to which they sought to attach it.
That which took place when the disciples went through the cornfields
confirms this doctrine.
Ordinances lost their authority in the presence of the King ordained of
God, rejected and a pilgrim on the earth. Moreover the sabbath-a sign of
the covenant between God and the Jews-was made for man, and not man for the
sabbath; therefore He, the Son of man, was Lord of the sabbath. As Son of
David rejected, the ordinances lost their force, and were subordinate to
Him. As Son of man possessor (in the sight of God) of all the rights which
God had bestowed on man, He was Lord of the sabbath, which was made for
man. In principle the old things were passed away. But this was not all. It
was in fact the new things of grace and power, which did not admit of the
old order of things. But the question was, whether God could act in grace,
and bestow blessing, in sovereignty, on His people-whether He must submit
to the authority of men availing themselves of His ordinances against His
goodness, or do good according to His own power and love as being above
all. Was man to limit the operation of God's goodness? And this, in truth,
was the new wine which the Lord brought to man.
Such was the question raised in the synagogue (chap. 3) on the occasion of
the man with the withered hand. The Lord sets it publicly before their
conscience; but neither heart nor conscience answered Him; and He acts in
His service according to the goodness and rights of God, and heals the man.
[see note #4]
The Pharisees and their enemies, the Herodians-for all were against God and
united in this-consult together how they might destroy Christ. Jesus
departs to the sea-coast of the sea of Tiberias. There the multitude follow
Him, because of all that He had done; so that He is obliged to have a boat,
that He may be outside the crowd. Spirits are subject to Him, compelled to
own that He is the Son of God; but He forbids them to make Him known.
Service in preaching, and in seeking souls, in devoting Himself to all,
shewing Himself by His acts to be the possessor of divine power, hiding
Himself from the notice of men, in order to fulfil, apart from their
applause, the service He had undertaken-such was His human life on earth.
Love and divine power were disclosed in the service which that love
impelled Him to accomplish, and in the accomplishment of which that power
was exercised. But this could not be circumscribed by Judaism, however
subject the Lord was to the ordinances of God given to the Jews.
But, God being thus manifested, the carnal opposition of man soon shews
[see note #5]
Here, then, the description of Christ's service ends, and its effect is
manifested. This effect is developed in that which soon follows, with
respect both to the iniquity of man and to the counsels of God. Meanwhile
the Lord appoints twelve of His disciples to accompany Him, and to go forth
preaching in His name. He could, not merely work miracles but, communicate
to others the power to work them, and that by way of authority. He goes
back into the house, and the multitude re-assemble. And here the thoughts
of man display themselves at the same time as those of God. His friends
search for Him as one who was beside Himself. The scribes, possessing
influence as learned men, attribute to Satan a power which they could not
deny. The Lord answers them by shewing that in general all sin could be
pardoned; but that to acknowledge the power, and attribute it to the enemy,
rather than own Him who wielded it, was taking the place not of ignorant
unbelief but of adversaries, thus blaspheming against the Holy Ghost-was a
sin that could never be pardoned. The "strong man" was there; but Jesus was
stronger than he, for He cast out the devils. Would Satan endeavour to
overthrow his own house? The fact that the power of Jesus manifested itself
in this manner left them without excuse. God's "strong man" was then come:
Israel rejected Him; and, as regards their leaders, by blaspheming against
the Holy Ghost, they brought themselves under hopeless condemnation. The
Lord therefore immediately distinguishes the remnant who received His word
from all natural connection He had with Israel. His mother or His
"brethren" are the disciples who stand around Him, and those who do the
will of God. This really sets aside Israel at that time.