In the last chapter, Jesus was teaching on the western side of Judea; and now He came to “the farther side of Jordan,” which was quite on the eastern side. And here, as was His custom, He taught the people who assembled themselves to hear Him. From one end of the country to the other, He went about healing their bodies, and preaching for the benefit of their souls; and what a lesson this is for us! Those who profess to be disciples of the Lord Jesus must not be content to live selfish lives – ministering only to their own ease and pleasure, and promoting the same pleasure-loving spirit in others. If we have anything of the mind of Christ, we shall be anxious to promote the real good of others; and we will especially try to guide them into the way which leads to everlasting life.
When the Pharisees thought that they could perplex our Lord by asking His opinion on the subject of divorce, He answered them in exact accordance with that declaration which He had made when He said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” He directed them to the original law of God concerning marriage, which Moses had set down in the early part of his writings; and even though this law was afterwards relaxed in its strictness, the reason was one which ought to have made them ashamed! It was on account of the sinfulness of the Jewish people that divorce had been permitted at all, but now the Lord reinforced the original command and made it doubly binding upon everyone. Let “a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife,” said He; “and they twain shall be one flesh.” “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” In respect to marriage, the Savior’s mind is certainly very clear and precise; and every one of us is bound to regard it in a serious light. We ought to pray for guidance and grace as this binding relationship is entered upon, so that there may never be a reason for even wishing that it would be broken.
From the next few verses (13-16), we learn two things. First, a child-like frame of mind – that is, a humble and teachable spirit – is absolutely necessary for a right receiving of the Gospel of Christ. We must stoop low, in order to rise high in the Kingdom of God. Second, we observe the willingness of Christ to receive children into His favor; and in light of that fact, we are taught that it is the duty of all who have the care of them to bring them to Christ for His blessing! This is done by teaching them from their earliest youth to know and love the Good Shepherd. Parents who wish their children to prosper – both in time and also throughout eternity – must take care to not neglect this means of doing them good. Those parents who brought their little ones to Christ for His blessing acted wisely. And although Christ is not visibly present now to take them in His arms, as He did when He ministered on earth; we may still believe in His readiness to embrace our dear sons and daughters in the abundance of His love and mercy!
Next we have a record of Jesus’ conversation with a rich young man (verses 17-22). He certainly seemed to be very earnest about his soul, for he came running and he kneeled down before Christ – as though he were eager to learn from Him, and to ask Him that question which is of more importance than anything else: “What shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life?” When the rules of the moral law were put before him, he answered, “All these have I observed from my youth up.” And then these words are added: “Jesus beholding him, loved him!” He felt tender pity for this amiable but ignorant young man – who imagined that he was ready to do anything to obtain eternal life, but who really loved the world better than his soul. In order to prove this, and to show him the real state of his case, our Lord said unto him, “One thing thou lackest; go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor.” This, no doubt, was a hard trial for a rich man; but it was just the very thing to prove to him that his anxiety for eternal life was not equal to his love of present enjoyment. A true regard for his immortal soul was just the one thing which he lacked. We are not told whatever became of this man later in his life. However, we have good reason to hope that he was indeed a child of God, and that he eventually came to love Jesus more than his worldly wealth; for it is expressly noted that Jesus loved him, and we know that Jesus never loved anyone who went down to the grave as a hypocrite or a reprobate.
But for now, this disclosure of the true state of the young man’s heart made him sad; “he went away grieved” that he could not enjoy this world, and also secure heaven at the same time. And how many there are of this kind among us! They are amiable and kind-hearted people who attract the affections of all around them, and who are willing to do many things for their souls’ good; but they cannot give up the world. When a decision has to be made between God and this world, the sad truth appears; they cannot take up the cross and follow Christ. They cannot sacrifice present ease for the sake of their everlasting souls – not even when the trial is something as small as being ridiculed by the people of the world, and being thought peculiar because of our zeal in our Master’s service. No, they must do as others do – even though conscience makes them sad when they hear its inward voice, calling them to come out from the world and be separate; for they are grieved that they cannot serve two masters.
Now, in our own strength, we cannot renounce the world; for the present over-powers the future in the blinded eyes of natural man. But by the grace of God, which is given to all who seek it, we are enabled to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. We may rest assured that God will never put our faith to such a trial as we cannot bear. The entire loss of wealth and worldly comfort has been endured cheerfully by many for the sake of Christ, as well as other trials which are ten thousand times greater. Fearful tortures – worse than death itself – have been patiently endured by Christians in times past. And if the same persecutions for righteousness’ sake should arise again in our day, God will enable His people to bear up under them. But if we are not now willing to renounce the world, to deny the flesh, and to follow Christ – then of course, such phony “religion” will fail us entirely in days of fiery trial. In times of affliction and persecution, and finally in the hour of death and in the Day of Judgment, it is our relationship with Jesus alone which can support us.
In verses 23-31, we may learn further lessons from the narrative of the young man who went away from Christ, because he was not willing to part with his great possessions. The disciples of our Lord had been taught by the scribes of their times to value riches, and to consider them as a proof of God’s favor; so they were very much astonished when they heard their Master say that it was “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (verse 25). This was a common saying among the Jews, when they wanted to express a thing that was extremely difficult. But notice how our Lord makes it very clear that it is not having riches, but trusting in them, that ruins a person’s soul. Trusting in riches means looking to them for happiness, instead of seeking it in the favor of God. There are many among us whose happiness would be completely gone if they were reduced to poverty. But those who are ready to sacrifice everything here below at the call of duty may expect a blessing to rest upon them, even in this life; and they are also assured of being made partakers hereafter of life everlasting (verses 29-30). Let us pray for grace to take up our cross and follow Christ, for we are well-assured that the way to be really happy is to carry out the self-denying principles of His Gospel.
The language which our Lord had spoken to His disciples after the departure of the rich young man filled them with astonishment and fear (verses 32-34). But in order to strengthen His disciples to endure what might befall them in the future, He pointed out to them what was to be His own sufferings. Not only was He looking forward to a dreadful death, but also to the most cruel mockings and scourgings; and all of this, He was about to endure for us! He willingly dedicated Himself, for our sakes, to suffering and death. And it would not be proper for the followers of a crucified and thorn-crowned Savior to live a life of nothing except ease and pleasure. No! If we hope to reign with Him in glory, we must now deny ourselves and follow in the footsteps of the One Who was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
In verses 35-45, the conduct of James and John is set before us as a warning. They greatly erred in asking their Master to promise to do for them whatever they should desire, without the least doubt or hesitation as to the wisdom of the request which they were about to make. It is right that we should come to God with our petitions, in full reliance upon His willingness to grant us everything that is for our good. It is right that we should pray with childlike confidence in the tender love of our heavenly Father. But from a humble sense of our own ignorance, we should always be ready to add, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” Our Lord explained to these ambitious disciples that the high place in His Kingdom which they desired could only be reached through a course of very bitter suffering – for which, perhaps, they were not prepared. And even though they still boldly professed their readiness to suffer for His cause, the promise could not be made to them that they would sit on His right hand and on His left in His Kingdom; for that place of honor must be given to those for whom it was prepared.
The same sort of spirit which animated James and John was exhibited also by the conduct of the other Apostles. The anger that they expressed proved that they were not inclined to quietly take the lowest place, either. Even while we are earnestly seeking the highest gifts of grace and holiness, let us remember that they are always coupled with the lowliest humility. If we really wish to rise as members in the Body of Christ, it must be by stooping low. Real greatness is found by those who do not desire it. Those who forget themselves in their labors for others will take a higher place in the Kingdom of Christ than those who have made it their chief objective to rise. This is one great difference between the people of the world and the children of God. And we are given a pattern of this spirit in the conduct of our Savior Himself. He did not come into the world for any purpose of His own, but simply for our good – to set us an example of meekness and lowliness, and then to suffer death for us. Oh! When we think of this, can anything be more hateful than pride and selfishness?
Blindness is universally felt to be one of the heaviest afflictions that can befall us; but this, like every other affliction that God sends, is intended for good. And, as in the case of poor Bartimaeus (verses 46-52), it often proves to be the means of leading the sufferer to know the value of Christ – thus bringing light to shine upon the soul, which is so much more to be desired than light in the physical eye; because that, before long, must be closed in death. Let us learn a lesson from blind Bartimaeus; and let us imitate the example of him who cried so earnestly, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” For by nature, we cannot see our Savior any more than the blind man could; and unless God has mercy on us for Christ’s sake, we must perish everlastingly.
Lord Jesus, we lament the sorrowful fact that our hearts are too often in love with this world. We pray for grace to remember that our cross is appointed for us by Divine love; help us to cheerfully carry it as we follow in Your footsteps! Amen.
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