1. The Mission of the Twelve. Ch.9:1-9
1 And he called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.2 And he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.3 And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor wallet, nor bread, nor money; neither have two coats.4 And into whatsoever house ye enter, there abide, and thence depart.5 And as many as receive you not, when ye depart from that city, shake off the dust from your feet for a testimony against them.6 And they departed, and went throughout the villages, preaching the gospel, and healing everywhere.
7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done: and he was much perplexed, because that it was said by some, that John was risen from the dead; 8 and by some, that Elijah had appeared; and by others, that one of the old prophets was risen again.9 And Herod said, John I beheaded: but who is this, about whom I hear such things? And he sought to see him.
As Jesus sent forth his twelve disciples on their first mission he was entering the closing period of his ministry in Galilee. Until now the apostles had been his companions; henceforth they were to be more strictly messengers and representatives. Jesus foresaw his approaching rejection and death, but before leaving for Jerusalem and the cross he wished to offer himself once more to the people of Galilee among whom he had long been laboring; and for this purpose he sent out the Twelve. Their circumstances and the directions given them by Jesus were peculiar to the time and occasion. However, these commands are not without application to the messengers of the Master in all ages of the world. They were given |power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.| Such miraculous gifts were limited to their own day and were designed as credentials of their mission. It is true, however, that those who represent Christ must ever be concerned for the mental and physical conditions of mankind, even though the great purpose is to bring a message of spiritual import. The latter was, of course, the great purpose of the apostles. They went forth |to preach the kingdom of God,| as well as |to heal the sick.|
When Christ commanded the disciples to take nothing for their journey, he did not intend to impose needless hardships or even to suggest peculiar denial. He rather intimated the principle that his heralds must not be encumbered with worldly cares and burdens and that those who proclaim his gospel may expect to be supported by those to whom the message is preached.
In advising the disciples to remain in the first home where they were properly received, he indicated the wisdom of having a fixed center for their work, of being content with their entertainment and surroundings, and of avoiding social complications which might hinder their work. They were instructed, in case they were not received and welcomed as the messengers of Christ, to show their just displeasure as they departed from the place, by shaking off the dust from their feet, an Oriental custom which in this case indicated the disavowal of any possible relationship with the enemies of their Lord.
|And they departed, and went throughout the villages, preaching the gospel, and healing everywhere.| These were the supreme representatives of the great band of heroes who have continued the work and have made known their message in all times and lands. They were prepared by the divine instruction of their Master. It has been said that there is something greater than preaching; it is to prepare preachers. Surely none were ever so trained and none ever accomplished their work so well; but it is possible for every follower of Christ to have some part in making known the gospel of his grace.
The great success of the disciples and the tremendous excitement produced by their mission is indicated by the fact that the reports of their work reached Herod the king and made him tremble on his throne. It was not that he feared what Jesus might do; it was rather because there was something in the rumor which awakened his sleeping conscience and filled him with a secret alarm and dread. |It was said by some, that John was risen from the dead.| Herod had beheaded John, but the memory of his foul deed could not be buried; now he was wondering what might be the real nature of the miracles which were being reported and of the Man in whose name they were wrought. He |sought to see| Jesus. That was mere curiosity. He probably wished to see some miracles performed. Before long an opportunity was to be given him to stand face to face with the divine Man, but it was to be on an unexpected occasion when the latter would stand before him as a prisoner, when Herod might offer him protection or release; but when the occasion came he was disappointed by the silence of the Lord and allowed him to go away to crucifixion and death. One who beheaded John need not have hoped to understand Jesus. One who violates his own conscience to-day and refuses solemn warnings to repent, need not expect that Christ will be revealed to him in his beauty and grace and saving power.
2. The Five Thousand Fed. Ch.9:10-17
10 And the apostles, when they were returned, declared unto him what things they had done. And he took them, and withdrew apart to a city called Bethsaida.11 But the multitudes perceiving it followed him: and he welcomed them, and spake to them of the kingdom of God, and them that had need of healing he cured.12 And the day began to wear away; and the twelve came, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages and country round about, and lodge, and get provisions: for we are here in a desert place.13 But he said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they said, We have no more than five loaves and two fishes; except we should go and buy food for all this people.14 For they were about five thousand men. And he said unto his disciples, Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each.15 And they did so, and made them all sit down.16 And he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake; and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude.17 And they ate, and were all filled: and there was taken up that which remained over to them of broken pieces, twelve baskets.
The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle recorded by all four evangelists, in fact the only incident of the Galilaean ministry of our Lord common to them all. Here this ministry attains its climax. This was the hour of the greatest popularity of Jesus; the multitudes would have offered him a crown, but he saw before him the shadow of the cross.
The Twelve had returned weary with labor but elated by success. Jesus desired for them a season of retirement, of rest, and instruction. They withdrew to a secluded place beyond Bethsaida on the east shore of the lake; but there they were discovered by the eager multitudes. Jesus showed his infinite sympathy by cordially welcoming the crowds which had intruded upon his privacy and interrupted his plans; he gladdened their hearts with the gospel message and healed their diseases. And as the day declined he pitied their hunger and met their needs by miraculously multiplying five loaves and two fishes which the disciples had secured.
For the disciples of to-day there are serious messages in this familiar story; perhaps none is more obvious than that of the measureless compassion of Christ. With something of his sympathy we should look upon the multitudes perishing for lack of physical and spiritual food. Their call for help should not be regarded as an interruption but as a guide in shaping our personal plans. While of ourselves we are unable to give relief, yet if our all is offered to the Master, it will be multiplied marvelously by his divine power. The miracle seems to have been wrought as Jesus looked up in prayer. We must surely look to him and seek his blessing in our service. We must allow no broken fragments to be lost; some families could live on what other families waste; then, too, the followers of Christ must learn a true economy of time and talents and wealth if the Bread of life is to be brought to a famishing world.
3. Jesus Predicting his Death. Ch.9:18-27
18 And it came to pass, as he was praying apart, the disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Who do the multitudes say that I am? 19 And they answering said, John the Baptist; but others say, Elijah; and others, that one of the old prophets is risen again.20 And he said unto them, But who say ye that I am? And Peter answering said, The Christ of God.21 But he charged them, and commanded them to tell this to no man; 22 saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up.23 And he said unto all, If any man would come after me let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.24 for whosoever would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.25 For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose or forfeit his own self? 26 For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in his own glory, and the glory of the Father, and of the holy angels.27 But I tell you of a truth, There are some of them that stand here, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.
The first clear prediction of his death was made by Jesus directly after he had heard the famous confession of Peter. The latter was occasioned by a question Jesus himself had asked, |Who do the multitudes say that I am?| The answer is exactly that given by multitudes in modern days, |And they answering said, John the Baptist; but others say, Elijah; and others, that one of the old prophets is risen again;| that is to say, a reformer, a great preacher, a messenger of God. Such an estimate of himself never satisfied our Lord and so he asked pointedly: |But who say ye that I am? And Peter answering said, The Christ of God.| This is the great affirmation concerning Christ which the world to-day needs to hear; but at that time Jesus earnestly commanded his disciples to |tell this to no man.| The message would then have been misunderstood and the disciples themselves needed first to learn the truth concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus. No man to-day is qualified to testify for Christ who does not know the meaning of his atoning death and |the power of his resurrection.|
Then Jesus told his disciples of the absolute necessity of his approaching sufferings and assured them that on the third day he would be raised up. This prediction of death must have astonished the disciples; quite as surprising was the further statement that every follower of Christ must likewise take up his cross daily, and the cross was not merely a symbol of suffering and shame; it was the instrument of death. Every Christian, therefore, must die daily to self and yield himself wholly to the service of Christ. Such self-denial and sacrifice and obedience will result in the only experience worthy of the name |life;| to refuse is to forfeit |life;| and the loss will be eternal for those who are ashamed to follow the Master now will be rejected by him when he returns |in his own glory, and the glory of the Father, and of the holy angels.| Of this future glory of the coming Christ, three of the disciples were to catch a foregleam only eight days later on the Mount of Transfiguration, and Jesus therefore adds, |There are some of them that stand here, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.|
4. The Transfiguration. Ch.9:28-36
28 And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, that he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up into the mountain to pray.29 And as he was praying, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became white and dazzling.30 And behold, there talked with him two men, who were Moses and Elijah; 31 who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.32 Now Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: but when they were fully awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.33 And it came to pass, as they were parting from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah: not knowing what he said.34 And while he said these things, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye him.36 And when the voice came, Jesus was found alone. And they held their peace, and told no man in those days any of the things which they had seen.
The transfiguration of Christ was closely associated with the predictions both of his death and of his return in glory. It prepared him and also his disciples for the former and it was a symbol and a foretaste of the latter. Just what the physical experience may have been, it is difficult to conjecture. It was not like that of Moses on Mount Sinai when his face glowed with reflected light. In the case of Jesus the glory was from within. A divine splendor shone forth irradiating the body and even the garments of our Lord.
Luke tells us that this occurred as Jesus was praying; and it is more than a mere figure of speech to say that when in prayer his followers find, in some measure, what it is to be transfigured into his likeness from one degree of glory to another by the power of his indwelling Spirit.
Jesus had been accompanied on the mountain top by only Peter, James, and John; but suddenly |There talked with him two men, who were Moses and Elijah; who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.| This, then, was the high purpose of the event; it was to interpret to the mind of Christ more perfectly the meaning of his death, and to encourage him to endure its anguish by this glimpse of the glory that would follow. It is easy to understand why Moses and Elijah should be selected for so august a conference. One had been regarded as the symbol of law and the other of prophecy, and both law and prophecy pointed forward to Calvary; and again both Moses and Elijah had received a special revelation of the grace of God, and he was to manifest his grace supremely in the death of his Son.
It is not strange that Peter longed to linger in such heavenly companionship, and in bewilderment absurdly proposed the erection on the mountain of three booths for the comfort of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. |While he said these things, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: ... and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye him.| There was no need of detaining Moses and Elijah; if the Master remained with his disciples, that was enough. Henceforth all that the Law and the Prophets had foreshadowed would be completely revealed and embodied in Jesus Christ. Part of that revelation was made in his death; the full revelation will come when he returns in that glory of which the Mount of Transfiguration gave a foregleam.
5. The Demoniac Boy. Ch.9:37-45
37 And it came to pass, on the next day, when they were come down from the mountain, a great multitude met him.38 And behold, a man from the multitude cried, saying, Teacher, I beseech thee to look upon my son; for he is mine only child: 39 and behold, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth, and it hardly departeth from him, bruising him sorely.40 And I besought thy disciples to cast it out; and they could not.41 And Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and bear with you? bring hither thy son.42 And as he was yet a coming, the demon dashed him down, and tare him grievously. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.43 And they were all astonished at the majesty of God.
But while all were marvelling at all the things which he did, he said unto his disciples, 44 Let these words sink into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered up into the hands of men.45 But they understood not this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
It is not strange that artists love to paint the contrast between the picture of Jesus on the mountain encompassed by glory and of the demoniac boy surrounded by the multitudes on the plain; yet it requires no canvas or artificial color to heighten the contrast presented by the historian in his simple story. Jesus long before had learned what it was to exchange the glories of heaven for the shadows and sufferings of earth and the compassion which drew him from the skies was never withheld, even at times when he naturally might have been absorbed in thoughts concerning his coming suffering and redeeming work. He was instantly moved with tender pity as he heard the agonizing words of the father and saw the distress of the son. However, he was even more moved by the unbelief and sin and anguish and godlessness of the world which he had come to save, and of which this scene was but a symbol and a picture. |O faithless and perverse generation,| he cried, |how long shall I be with you, and bear with you?| Can it not be said reverently that the contrasted experiences of the mountain and the plain made Jesus for the moment homesick for heaven? Yet Jesus neither hesitated nor delayed in the path of duty or in the presence of human need. He |rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.|
While all were wondering and astonished at his divine power and marvelous works, he turned to his disciples to impress upon them the dark secret which was resting on his soul. He told them that the time was near when he was to be given up to suffer and to die; |But they understood not this saying.| Here was a Man whose sympathy was tender toward all; but who sympathized with him? How often some one of his followers has borne a burden of hidden sorrow, even in the company of friends and when surrounded by admiring throngs!
6. Jesus Rebuking Pride and Bigotry. Ch.9:46-50
46 And there arose a reasoning among them, which of them was the greatest.47 But when Jesus saw the reasoning of their heart, he took a little child, and set him by his side, 48 and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this little child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same is great.
49 And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us.50 But Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against you is for you.
This was no new dispute in which the followers of Jesus were engaged. The question was as to which of them should be the greatest in his Kingdom. There was something admirable in the discussion, for it revealed their faith. To them the Master was yet to be King of kings and Lord of lords, and they desired to have places nearest to his throne. Our conception of his Kingdom may be more correct, but if its glories were as real to us as they were to them, if we had faith enough to see this Kingdom in its real importance, we, too, might at times question what our relative places in this Kingdom are or will be.
However, Jesus rebuked them, for there is no place for pride among the followers of Christ. Our nearness to him is not won by selfish effort or granted by arbitrary decree; it is conditioned upon the humble service we may render in his name. |He took a little child, and set him by his side;| not because a child is a picture of humility -- most children are self-conscious and absurdly proud -- but because the care of a child is a symbol of humble service, and it was this spirit which Jesus praised. To care for a child, or for men and women who like children are in need of our help and sympathy and support, if done for the sake of Christ and in the name of Christ, is a service rendered to the Master himself and not only to him but also to his Father. The willingness to undertake such humble service is the measure of true greatness.
The mention of service in the mind of the Master reminded John of a recent incident which he felt to be quite to his credit; so |John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us.| There was something admirable in the spirit and action of John. He was so devoted to Christ that he wished everyone professing his name to join the company of disciples, to live and to labor and to suffer with them. There is always something admirable in loyalty to a denomination or a sect. If one has found what he believes to be the highest form of Christian life and service, if one feels that he is treading the surest and shortest road to heaven, it is certainly commendable in him to wish others to share his peculiar blessedness.
Jesus, however, rebuked him, and said, |Forbid him not: for he that is not against you is for you.| After all, there is no place for bigotry among the followers of Christ. We may love and admire our sect or society, but we are never to stop the work of a fellow Christian however much he may differ from us. There are only two questions to ask: First, Is he casting out demons? That is to say, is he really accomplishing good? Second, Is he doing the work in the name of a divine, crucified, risen Christ? If so, |Forbid him not.| We must not expect all Christians to repeat the same creed or to enjoy the same ritual or to accept the same polity or to employ the same methods of work. We should remember the word of the Master, |He that is not against you is for you.|