A very great multitude, we are told, followed our Lord (verses 1-9); and we cannot wonder at this, for there were many reasons which might draw a crowd around Him. The power which He exercised over all nature was something so astonishing that many might follow Him only with the wish of seeing Him perform His miracles. Others, perhaps, went in the hope of personally benefiting by His acts of mercy; and some, no doubt, went with a real desire to hear Him preach – wishing to know the plan of salvation which He proposed to mankind. In the same way, there are various motives which draw together the great crowds that sometimes surround eminent ministers of the Gospel in our own times. Some come for one reason, and some for another; but it is to be feared that, in general, the great majority of hearers are not really in earnest about their souls. Still, there is cause for rejoicing when we see multitudes coming together to hear the preaching of the Gospel. The Word that is preached may prove to be a blessing beyond what was either expected or desired. But no matter what the motives were which guided this multitude to follow our Lord, He had compassion upon them all! He knew their circumstances. He knew that many had come from afar; and their zeal in following Him, even though it might not have been of the highest and purest kind, was still rewarded. They were permitted to share His bounty, and to see and feel His miraculous power in feeding the huge crowd with the seven loaves and few fishes.
The Pharisees, we are told, came forth to question our Lord (verses 11-13); but it was with no wish to be instructed. They were not inquiring after truth; and they would not admit that they were in danger of suffering God’s wrath forever, on account of the sins they had committed. If they had confessed themselves to be in such a state, how differently they would have acted! For instead of asking for a sign from heaven, with a contemptuous feeling that they were asking for more than Jesus Christ had the power to give, they would anxiously have sought to know if it really were true that He had come to save them. And then how gladly would the compassionate Jesus have relieved their anxiety, and assured them of safety through the atonement which He was about to offer. But since He knew the thoughts of their hearts, and since He knew that they were only tempting Him, “he sighed deeply in his spirit” and left them. And let each one of us remember that a feeling of compassion for the souls of our fellow-creatures, and a spirit of pity for those who are evidently in the wrong road, is the natural and certain result that will transpire when we ourselves have found life and peace through Christ. How do you feel when you see or hear of sinful conduct in your fellow human beings? Do you heave the sigh of tender pity, like our blessed Lord? Or are you vexed and irritated, and inclined to use expressions that reveal more bitterness than compassion? Where there is no love for sinners, there can be nothing of the mind of Christ; for He loved them so far as to actually die for them! And if we are joined to Him by faith, our feelings of compassionate tenderness toward all mankind will be constantly increasing; and they will become a characteristic feature of our hearts and minds.
The conduct of the Pharisees greatly distressed our Lord; and therefore, He very naturally warned His disciples against following their example (verse 14-21). But alas! They did not understand Him. In speaking of the unbelieving opinions of the Pharisees, He used the word leaven as a symbol of the evil thing which He was talking about. Such was the way in which He often spoke in His discourses – by parables. He explained spiritual things by temporal things; and certainly His disciples ought to have understood His meaning, even if no one else did. And they would have understood, except for the lamentable fact that their thoughts had were too much occupied with earthly things. Bread for the body was what they were thinking about; they were upset with themselves because they had forgotten to bring some bread with them when they crossed the lake. If their minds had not been thus distracted by the cares of this world, they would have easily understood what our Lord meant by leaven.
Now, in the same way, it is because our hearts and minds are so much occupied with the affairs of this world, that the truths of Scripture are not properly understood by so many among us. While a minister is preaching upon the most important subjects, the thoughts of many among the congregation are often entirely upon something else. And if this is the case, it gives the answer to our Lord’s question: “How is it that ye do not understand?” No wonder people are ignorant of the Gospel! No wonder that they know nothing of the deep and important mysteries which are contained in the Bible when they take no pains to study them. There is no other learning that can make us wise unto salvation, except that which is found in the written Word of God. And what will anything else that we trouble ourselves about in this world do for us, if we are lost in the end? O let us learn from the errors of Christ’s disciples! May we be preserved from thinking so much about the bread that perishes, that we begin to neglect the Bread of Life. One thing is needful; are we taking pains to secure it?
Whether the people of Bethsaida felt it or not, it was certainly a very bad sign for them when our Lord Jesus was about to perform a miracle upon a blind man, but led him out of the town to do it (verses 22-26). Many mighty works had already been performed there, and He had preached the glad tidings of the Gospel in that place; but all in vain. So now, seeing that their case was hopeless, Jesus turned away from them; and He bade the man whom He healed to not go back into the town, nor tell what had been done to any of its inhabitants. We naturally feel distressed at the idea of people being thus left to themselves – left to perish eternally. Therefore, let us profit by the lesson, and take warning from them. Let us beware how we slight reproof, reject good advice, or neglect the means of grace which are placed before us. God is very merciful, and He will not allow us to be lost until He has given us a sufficient opportunity of being saved. But He will not strive with sinners beyond a certain point, and no one can know when that last opportunity for repentance will have come and gone forever. Those who turn their backs upon the Lord and His Gospel-mercy would do well to just plainly say to themselves, “I reject this gracious invitation, and perhaps I may never have another.” This thought might cause a profitable fear in their hearts; but if such fears are set aside and forgotten, and if the pricks of conscience are unattended to – then woe be to that person, for his end will be the same as that of the people of Bethsaida; he will be left to himself and left to perish.
In reflecting upon this particular miracle, we may observe that it differs from other miracles performed by our Lord in this one detail: this blind man was not healed all at once. At first, he could not distinguish men from trees – except that he saw them walking. It was an imperfect sight. Now we know that all of our Savior’s actions were intended to convey some spiritual instruction. And here we may learn that when the soul of a person is turned from darkness to light, the work is not finished all at once. The awakened sinner is enabled to see things of which he was formerly ignorant, and a great change for the better takes place; but still, it is only like the morning light which will shine more and more unto the perfect day. Therefore, if the mercy of Christ has led us to see the value of the soul, the evil of sin, and the immense importance of preparing for eternity, let us not give way to despair when we are painfully distressed by our remaining infirmities and corruptions! Rather, let us believe that He who has begun a good work in us will indeed bring it to perfection in due time. And although we may now only see men like walking trees (so to speak); let us pray and trust that the Lord will soon lay His hand upon us again, and restore us perfectly!
As Jesus and His disciples were passing through the region of Caesarea Philippi (verses 27-33), He asked them two questions. The first was, “Whom do men say that I am?” And the second: “Whom say ye that I am?” This teaches us that it is not enough for us to consider what the majority of people think upon any religious subject. We must judge for ourselves, and it would be good for us to remember that what the world thinks is often very wrong – just as it was in this case.
It is interesting to note that even though the disciples of our Lord answered rightly in saying, “Thou art the Christ” – yet He charged them that they should tell no man of Him. There might be many reasons why they were not to speak of Him at that time; but one reason appears very plainly, and that is the simple fact that they themselves still had much to learn about Him. Even Peter – who had professed a firm belief in Christ as the promised Savior – showed, at the same time, how little he understood the way in which mankind’s salvation was to be worked out. For when he heard our Lord’s declaration that He would suffer many things, and that He would “be rejected, and be killed, and after three days rise again” – he was so distressed that he began to rebuke Him! And this fearful boldness was sharply reproved by our Lord with these words: “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” As yet, Peter’s love for his Master was of an earthly nature. He did not understand that Christ’s honor as the Savior of mankind was to be perfected through suffering.
In verses 34-38, we are told that our Lord called the attention of the people to listen as He made known to His disciples the true matter of Christianity. He wished them to rightly understand that it requires painful self-restraint, for a person cannot follow his own natural inclinations at the same time that he is following Christ. Now it is well that we should all consider this; for it is to be feared that many easy-going people flatter themselves that they are followers of Christ, but they will find out their mistake when it is too late. Crosses of some kind or another must be endured; but when duty and desire are opposed to each other, we must decide between them – and then it is seen whether the love of Christ or the love of self has the true mastery over our lives. But alas! Our sense of duty may be very defective; and so we are often too ready to say, when anything unpleasant is to be done, “Oh, I do not think that this is to be my duty!” The eyes of our understanding are blinded by the great enemy of souls, who – being a liar from the beginning – persuades people to think that each particular act of self-denial is unnecessary. O how earnestly we ought to pray against this sort of delusion, and to watch against the love of ease! Let us consider the priceless value of our soul; and then we shall think nothing too much to do or suffer, in order to enjoy that salvation which Jesus has purchased for us at the highest price. In our modern times, there are many places where Christ’s people are not (yet) called upon to suffer death for His cause; but even if we were, how much better it would be to lose our present life which cannot last more than a few years, than to lose that other life which will endure forever and ever. In order to bear up under the trials which a distinctly Christian lifestyle will bring upon us, we must keep in mind that Jesus will soon return – as suddenly as a thief in the night. On that glorious Day, we shall not only see His glory, but we shall also share in it; and then how thankful we shall be to all eternity, that – for a little while – we were willing to be thought very silly by the world!
Thank You, dear Savior, that You have not left us to ourselves; for we have been brought near in a covenant-relationship with Yourself, so that we may know Your love and grace, which satisfies all our needs! Amen.
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