To describe the beauty of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is a task for which even the angelic mind is inadequate. How apt the words:
The Father only, (glorious claim!)
The Son can comprehend.
What mind other than the Divine, could fully appreciate the words of Him Who spake as never man spake and Whose works were such as no other man had done? Yet it is of the greatest possible blessing for the believer to ponder deeply that precious life and to be thus transported to realms of light, there to share, in measure, the Father’s thoughts concerning His Son.
That we are about to study a unique ministry is evident. Who but He could use such language as that found in Jn.8.38, "I speak that which I have seen with My Father" or that of Jn.6.63, "The words that I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life?" Who but He could say, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" Jn.14.9? Of Him alone can it be said, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" Jn.1.14.
THE OUTLINE OF HIS MINISTRY
To present a detailed account of the Lord’s movements with guaranteed accuracy would be a formidable task and will not be attempted in this brief chapter.
It is evident that there was an early ministry in Galilee as seen in Jn.2.1-11. It is clear from Jn.2.13 that there was a visit to Jerusalem at the beginning of His ministry when the purification of the Temple took place, also the interview with Nicodemus. The early "Judean" period finishes in Jn.4.1-3 when the Lord departed into Galilee going through Samaria on His way. Valued work was done in Samaria and precious truth was revealed to the Samaritan woman. The Galilean ministry seems to have occupied an extended period of the Lord’s time. On several occasions He left the area for a period.
Luke presents in detail the Lord’s last journey to Jerusalem commencing in ch.9.51. Many areas were visited on this journey until, finally, He came into the city and the Temple, where He encountered the interrogation of the chief priests, elders, scribes, Pharisees and the Sadducees. Mk.12.34 presents a suitable commentary on the outcome of these interviews: "And no man after that durst ask Him any question."
Matthew, Mark and Luke make reference to the forty days in the wilderness during which the Lord was tempted by the Devil. At the close of His ministry there was another great battle with the foe. In Lk.22.53 He said to the chief priests and captains of the Temple, "… this is your hour and the power of darkness." These words indicate the terrible conflict with Satan, which His suffering and death involved. In that conflict are depths that are unsearchable. The victory at the beginning, in the desert, not only manifests His true Messiahship, but also declares His fitness to undertake the final battle at the cross.
If the "first man" was tested, so also must the "second man" be put to the test. Adam was tested in the most favourable circumstances, in the Garden of Eden with an abundance of succulent fruit to satisfy his hunger. The existence of that barren wilderness where the Lord was tempted was surely one of the sad results of Adam’s fall. No one will ever fully know the suffering, which those forty days of temptation brought to the Son of God. Refusing to turn the stones into bread, He manifested His perfect submission to the Father’s will. Refusing to worship Satan, He declared His undeviating love and devotion to God, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve" Lk.4.8. Refusing to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, He manifested His perfect confidence in God. The One Who was triumphant in the wilderness is thus declared to be perfectly fitted for His unique public ministry. As already stated, He is also seen to be the assured Victor of the battle of the ages, fought and won at the cross.
THE BEAUTY OF HOLINESS IN HIS MINISTRY
The public ministry of the Lord Jesus is flanked by two remarkable acts of judgment in the Temple, one at the beginning, and the other towards the close of His ministry, Jn.2.13-17 and Mk.11.15-17. Those who love and understand true holiness see its beauty in the consuming passion with which the Lord separates the mundane from the sacred as the changers’ money is poured out and their tables overthrown, Jn.2.15. His holy zeal would not admit that the Temple courts be used as a convenience or short cut for the transport of vessels.
The concept of the Lord as "Gentle Jesus meek and mild" may be suitable for a children’s hymn. It is not an erroneous image, but that essentially Holy One could do no other than manifest something of "the wrath of the Lamb" Rev.6.16, as He came into contact with evil in His house. How impressively solemn later on to listen to the pronouncement of judgment on the scribes and Pharisees by the One to Whom all judgment has been committed, Jn.5.22. His woes cut deep into their hypocrisy and grievous falsehood. Perfect holiness is outraged and could only be, in the presence of such gross departure from God’s ways.
Moving forward in thought to the dark hour in which the officers of the chief priests and Pharisees approached the Lord to arrest Him, we seem to witness the beauty of the repulsive power of holiness when before His words "I am He" the men of evil went backward and fell to the ground, Jn.18.5-6.
Admirable are the words of Ps.29.2, "Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." The inference is clear: Divine holiness is most deeply appreciated by those who approach God in the beauty of personal holiness of life and character.
THE PRAYERS OF THE LORD JESUS
At the outset of any study of the prayer life of the Lord Jesus, it must be recognised that there will be much that will distinguish it from that of others. There will be no confession of sin or of failure. It is also noteworthy that there is no record of the Lord ever joining in prayer with others. The study must be approached with a certain reverent reticence. How will a perfect Man, incapable of sinning, pray? How will One Who is God, pray? It is clear that the Son of God became a dependent Man, "I was cast upon Thee from the womb" Ps.22.10. Perfection then, was seen both in the faith of His dependence and in the prayers which He uttered.
In the Gospel of Luke at least ten passages tell of prayers, which the Lord offered. Many of them are recorded only by Luke. The references are as follows: 3.21; 5.16; 6.12; 9.18,29; 10.21; 11.1; 22.31-32, 39-46; 23.34. The Lord’s prayers involve the communication of one member of the Trinity with another, thus those few instances where we have His actual words, will lead us on to very high ground indeed. Pondering such passages as Lk.10.21; Jn.11.41, 12.28 and chapter 17, it becomes apparent the Lord never came into the Father’s presence as One Who had been at a distance. He speaks as One Who was ever in the Father’s immediate presence. He was ever in the bosom of the Father, Jn.1.18. His was a life of unbroken communion.
The prayer of John chapter 17 is by far the longest of any of which we have a record. The Lord speaks to His Father as an equal. He is conscious of perfection in the accomplishment of the work given Him to do. In v.24 He says: "Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given me." Here is the intimacy of absolute equality. None but He could use such language. The relationship between the Father and the Son is of inscrutable intimacy. No one will ever fully know what the Son meant to the Father from all eternity. The Father alone could fully evaluate His life down here. Never did He listen to such prayers as those uttered by His Son during His sojourn here.
Morning by morning Thou didst wake
Amid this poisoned air,
Yet no contagion touched Thy soul,
No sin disturbed Thy prayer.
THE AUTHORITY OF HIS MINISTRY
At the beginning of the Lord’s ministry in Capernaum, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and taught them, Mk.1.21-22. We read that they were astonished at His doctrine for He taught them as One that had authority. Those who had felt the weight of the authority of His teaching soon witnessed His authority over the unclean spirits, v.27.
The exorcism of the unclean spirits enhances before our vision the authority of His teaching. It was not the doubtful authority of the loud voice or the sweeping statement, but a genuine authority clearly demonstrated by His power over the unclean spirits. There were no ‘grey’ areas in His teaching. Such exist even in faithful servants through lack of clear vision, weakness and doubt. His was a teaching, the moral claim of which was irresistible, even though many turned away from it. It might be seen as undesirable; it could never be seen as wrong. In His sermon as presented in Matthew chapters 5-7, He speaks as the authoritative interpreter of the law, with unquestionable authority to expand upon it. Six times in ch.5, by simply saying "… but I say unto you", He raises the standard in relation to murder, vv.21-26, adultery, vv.27-30, divorce vv.31-32, swearing, vv.33-37, attitude to evil, vv.38-42, and attitude to enemies, vv.43-48.
It may be asked how it could be possible for man to rise in practical living to this higher standard, seeing he could not keep the Law of Moses. According to John’s ministry, Matt.3.11, the coming Messiah would baptise in the Holy Spirit. That day was approaching. In His exaltation He sent the Spirit Who not only became the element into which believers were baptised, but also personally indwelt them. In the practical power of this, the righteousness of the Law may be fulfilled in those who "walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" Rom.8.4.
The phrase "thus saith the Lord" was characteristic of the ministry of the prophets of old. This indicated sufficient authority, but presents a contrast to the authority of Him Who so often said: "Verily I say unto you." On 25 occasions the expression is found in John’s Gospel with the double "verily." He needed to quote none other as His authority, though He ever gave Scripture its rightful place. Being God, authority was essentially His.
THE PARABLES OF HIS MINISTRY
In Matthew chapter 13, the Lord began to teach by a series of parables. Great multitudes were there to hear His words. The disciples seemed to be amazed that He spoke to them in parables and inquired as to this. The Lord, by His reply, indicated that the parabolic method on that day was intended to be enigmatical to ‘them’, v.11, (the multitudes), but revelatory to the disciples to whom the unfolding of the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven", was most relevant. The Lord explained that "in them" was fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand: And seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them" Matt.13.14-15.
The term "the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven", v.11, is seen to refer to a sphere of profession that clearly goes beyond the true children of the Kingdom. The thought is different from that presented in Jn.3.3 and Col.1.13, where membership of the Kingdom is clearly limited to the truly saved.
The first four parables present developments in the sphere of Christian profession, commencing with the sowing of the "word of the kingdom", v.19. With the teaching of this parable, servants of Christ who labour in the Gospel have ever received a very necessary preparation. There will be labour that ‘seems’ fruitless. There will be those who will endure but for a while even after an apparently joyous reception of the message. Thankfully there will be some who will bring forth fruit that will remain and will thus prove to be genuinely saved, though even amongst these some will yield but thirty fold.
In the parable of the tares, the good seed is explained as representing the true children of the kingdom. The tares are the children of the wicked one, v.38. We read that while men slept an enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat. Both were to be left to grow together until the harvest. As to the meaning, evidence is clear that with the passage of time, even in the first century, "men slept." The warnings of the final epistles of the New Testament went unheeded by many. The Enemy sowed his tares and unreality had its baneful influence in the sphere of Christian profession.
This opened the way for abnormal growth, which is the thought underlying the parable of the grain of mustard seed, vv.31-32. The small mustard seed becomes a tree to which the birds of the air come to lodge in its branches. Something large appears, but it has given room for evil forces to operate.
From this it is but a stepping-stone to that which is suggested in the parable of the leaven, which a woman hid in three measures of meal, v.33. Evil women in Scripture are often suggestive of corrupt religion. Thus a truly lamentable state of things is predicted to take place so that true servants may be prepared.
Two further parables must be examined in view of the dark picture already presented. Will all be lost? Will the faithful be overcome? The parables of the treasure and of the pearl of great price bring a resounding ‘no’! A sacrificial purchase of a field has been made because of a treasure therein. A merchantman has sold "all that he had" to buy a pearl of great price. Here are transactions that take our minds to the cross and the "mighty sum" that was there paid in terms of indescribable suffering and in the giving of a life most precious. Nothing can ever undo either the value of that work or the everlasting stability of its results.
The treasure in the field may well have Israel in view. The man has bought the field. The treasure is still hidden in it. One day the Lord will reclaim His rights to the "field" i.e. the world, and manifest the "treasure" i.e. Israel, as the leading nation in His millennial kingdom. The teaching of the pearl of great price may well be expressed in the words of another: "Out of the turbulent dark waters of sin, God will yet be presented with the brightest, fairest and most resplendent jewel that will ever flash upon His bosom in all the ages of eternity." That jewel is the Church wherein are found "the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" Eph.1.18. The Enemy may work. A sleeping condition may mark God’s people. All collective testimony may seem to be endangered, but the fruits of Calvary will be gathered. Israel will yet be the ruling nation in the Millennial Kingdom, and in this day, whatever may happen, the Risen Lord will build His Church. The picture presented by the parabolic ministry of the Lord Jesus in this chapter may be dark from one standpoint, but from another and a higher; it is radiant with the full assurance of hope.
The parable of Luke chapter 15 was directed to the Pharisees and scribes. The chapter is generally viewed as presenting three parables, but the reference to "this parable" in v.3 seems to take in the three parts. The blessed Saviour was the perfect Preacher. To show God’s evaluation of the salvation of those despised by the Pharisees and scribes, great illustrative detail is used.
The importance of one lost sheep is clearly under emphasis as the Lord speaks of the man with his hundred sheep, who loses one, and goes after it "until he find it". Here is seen the attitude of the Lord Himself to the lost and despised. How different it was to that of His opponents!
Then attention is drawn to a woman. The image of a woman more readily lends itself to the concept of pecuniary needs. Thrift or other means may have brought in the ten pieces of silver, but the loss of one is very serious. It cannot be done without and diligent search must be made "until she find it". No doubt the Pharisees and scribes could well do without the "publicans and sinners." But the heart of God is different. Their salvation is of the utmost importance!
The third part is the most detailed. Involving as it does "sons", it fully lends itself to present the seriousness of sin and rebellion against God, as well as the reality of repentance. Grace reaches out in abundance to the repentant son. This story makes clear that God’s compassion for the outcast in no way causes Him to waive the need for conviction of sin and repentance before entering into the joy of forgiveness. The elder brother refused the free offer of full participation in all that was provided. Religious pride and hypocrisy marked the Pharisees, but it all blinded their eyes to the activity of grace as seen in the Lord’s acts of forgiveness to the outcasts of society.
In His last week of public ministry, the Lord made use of several parables. They are marked by a deep solemnity with serious overtones of judgment. Mark’s Gospel presents but one of these several parables, Mk.12.1-9. It was directed to the chief priests, scribes and elders. Its meaning was clear. Indeed v.12 states, "… they knew that He had spoken the parable against them." No vineyard owner ever showed the patience of this one. Though the first to be sent were maltreated and in some cases killed, yet he sent others and then in marvellous grace sent his son. The talk "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours" v.7, unveils the intention of these leaders of the nation to shut God out of the order He Himself had set up, that they might make their gain from it. The parable shows the coming judgment to be fully justified.
Before leaving the parables, it may be of interest to note some of the self-portraits of the Lord in a few of them. The merchantman of Matt.13.45-46 who sold all that he had to buy the pearl of great price, surely sets forth the awful cost at which the Saviour purchased His own at Calvary. 2 Cor.8.9 beautifully expresses the thought as applied to the Lord, "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich."
The Parable of the Vineyard as presented in Mark’s Gospel gives very eloquent testimony to the eternality of the Sonship of the Lord Jesus. The statement is: "Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also …" Mk.12.6. It was an already possessed son who was sent. Compare Jn.3.16. God could not give a Son He didn’t have! The relationship of Son is eternal. It had no beginning. The same must be said of the relationship of infinite love for He was eternally the "Wellbeloved".
It may be difficult to support from Scripture the view that the Samaritan in the parable of Lk.10.30-35 sets forth the Lord Jesus. Yet there seems but One who fully answers to the features displayed. Think of the compassion of the Samaritan. Note his preparedness – all that was needed to attend the victim was to hand. Note his strength in v.34, "he … set him on his own beast." No helper was needed! He was all-sufficient. How like the Saviour of men! See his infinite wealth in v.35, "… whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee." Who but the Lord Himself places His infinite wealth at the disposal of those He has rescued and of those who serve them?
THE MIRACLES OF HIS MINISTRY
Ada R. Habershon in "The Study of the Miracles" lists 36 miracles as having been performed by the Lord during His ministry. It is clear that to these must be added many more, which are not specifically mentioned. Matt.8.16 tells of a day when "He … healed all that were sick." Again in Matt.9.35 it is said, "Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people."
There is a spiritual significance in the Lord’s miracles. They were, at least in many cases, illustrative of spiritual truth. As well as demonstrating power, they demonstrated love and grace. They expressed the compassionate heart of God toward fallen humanity and expressed His willingness to bring relief to the distressed and even life to the dead. The spiritual meaning of the miracles is greatly emphasised in John’s gospel where they are called ‘signs’. The feeding of the 5,000 surely met a great immediate need, but it also clearly set forth the One Who is "the living bread which came down from heaven" concerning which it is promised: "if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever" Jn.6.51.
Of the three cases of restoration of life, that of Jairus’ daughter is presented three times, i.e. in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The account of the raising of the widow of Nain’s son and the raising of Lazarus each occur but once. The case of Lazarus is presented in great detail, commencing with his sickness and continuing right through to the adverse reaction of the chief priests and Pharisees. The chapter will repay careful meditation.
In Jn.10.18 the Lord guarantees His own resurrection by the words: "No man taketh it (My life) from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." In ch.11 the Lord guarantees the resurrection of all His own (see vv.25-26).
The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead is expanded into a detailed account of the ways of God with His own. The supreme purpose of trial in the believer’s life is that in the end "the Son of God might be glorified thereby" v.4. Interestingly, the manifestation of the Lord’s glory is seen in connection with the first sign in John’s Gospel, 2.11, and again with this sign of ch.11. These references to His glory bring to mind the evangelist’s words in 1.14, "… we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father …". There are those who limit this reference to the display of glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, but the occasions to which reference has been made seem to indicate that a wider manifestation of His glory than that of the mount is in view. Indeed it is quite clear that in the Divine concept, so clearly presented in John’s gospel, even His death is viewed as a manifestation of His glory, Jn.12.23.
As soon as the Lord announces that the sickness is for the glory of God, there comes a declaration of His love for the tried family. Note the precise wording of v.5, "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." In spite of this love He abode two days in the same place where He was, v.6. He is not only able to control the circumstances, but even to adjust them in accordance with His infinite wisdom and perfect knowledge as well as the fulfilment of His purpose. His delay may have suggested lack of love, but that could not be farther from the truth. In love He planned a richer experience than could have been possible had He gone instantly. (It seems to the present writer that the Lord had a greater opportunity to show Himself as the Author of resurrection in a future yet distant, by allowing Lazarus to remain four days in the tomb before raising him. The corruption of days, years or centuries will make no difference to Him).
In the hour of deep trial, the Lord is not only willing to perform a miracle, but also and perhaps more so, to instruct the bereaved in important Divine truth. Thus to Martha He manifested Himself in the great words "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" vv.25-26. Such words would bring comfort even had no miracle been performed. In the first part He shows what it means to the believer to have a Saviour Who is "the Resurrection". Physical death is only temporary – the body will be raised. In the second part He shows what it means to have a Saviour Who is "the Life". The life eternal imparted to the believing one is unaffected by death. There was a certain indication of this at the grave of Lazarus when to that physically dead man the Lord said: "Lazarus, come forth".
When Mary came to meet her Lord, she was unable to avoid her deep emotion and flowing tears, vv.32-33. No instruction was given to her. It was not the time. The Lord, ever so ready to instruct, withheld such in view of her emotional state. But even amidst her distress she no doubt witnessed His groans and saw Him weep. Such an unspoken revelation surely unfolded aspects of her Saviour, which she had never known before.
Another subject of great importance to believers in trial is brought out in the Lord’s words to Martha in v.40, "Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?" God desires to reveal Himself in days of trial. Trouble and bereavement can give rise to doubts and questionings. Martha might well have wondered who ever saw the glory of God at a tomb. In the raising of her brother she was about to have that very experience in no small measure. However great the trial, the believer must cleave to His God in simple faith. He may not see actual miracles performed, but may be granted a view of God’s glory in unforeseen ways as He goes through the trial in fellowship with Him.
The nature of many of the Lord’s miracles brings to mind the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 35, where in vv.5-6 it is recorded, "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing." These prophecies will be fulfilled in the Millennium. Thus it is apparent that in the miracles of the Lord there are fore-views of that glorious Millennial age. But the years of the Lord’s miracles may project the mind even further. Two important verses seem to be linked together: The first part of Jn.1.14 reads literally, "And the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us" (Newberry). This calls to mind Rev.21.3, "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold the tabernacle of God is with men …’". For a few years, the Son of God tabernacled among men. His ministry, with all the Messianic miracles, suggests clearly the Divine intent and purpose yet to be fulfilled in the eternal state, to which attention is drawn in Revelation chapter 21. In miracles such as the raising of the dead and the healing of the sick, the thoughtful believer obtains a preview of the coming universe of bliss where "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" Rev.21.4.
THE TRAINING OF HIS DISCIPLES
In Mk.3.14 the writer says: "And He ordained (‘appointed’ – Newberry) twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach." The clear indication is, not only that they would be His companions, but rather that in His presence and by His example and teaching they should be prepared for their future role. It is noteworthy that in Mark they are named as individuals whereas in Lk.6.14-16, they are named in pairs. Two important lessons are suggested: Each servant is individually responsible to His Lord. That is suggested by Mark’s individual listing. But all must learn to work harmoniously with others. That is suggested by Luke’s grouping of the list in pairs. The Lord’s work often involves working with partners that would never have been selected by personal choice.
The Lord taught His disciples by direct instruction. They must have been the prominent listeners to the teaching of Matthew chapters 5-7. Compare 5.1 with 7.28. In this teaching they are shown the way of true blessedness, 5.1-12, the influence they could have in the world, 5.13-16, the standards they must maintain, 5.17-48. In 6.1-18 they are taught the need for sincerity, and then the priorities they ought to have, 6.19-34. This is followed by instructions concerning their relationship with others, 7.1-12, and finally the need to distinguish between mere talk and the sincere performance of God’s will, 7.13-29.
Interspersed throughout the instruction is the constant assurance of a Father’s provision, One Who is ever ready to strengthen and supply need. He is the Rewarder of those who tread the path of pilgrim blessedness, 5.3-12. They serve a Father Who sees in secret and rewards openly, 6.4,6,18. He knows the needs of His children before they ask, 6.8. In the matter of forgiveness, He deals with His own in accordance with their readiness to forgive others, 6.14-15. It may be important in relation to these verses to distinguish between ‘judicial forgiveness’ and ‘paternal forgiveness’. The first is the forgiveness received through faith in Christ and which brings irreversible clearance from every charge, Rom.8.1. The second has to do with believers as children in the family of God. An unforgiving spirit, the holding of grudges, will prove to be seed sown, to be reaped later. A heavenly Father may well deal more harshly with such, even though their standing before God as ‘justified’ is untouched.
In these chapters the resource of prayer is given great prominence. It became an essential part of the disciples’ lives. So they are taught to pray in secret, 6.6, in the assurance of definite recompense. In their necessities they could "ask", "seek" and "knock", 7.7, in the certainty of God’s gracious answer.
On a later occasion, reported in Matthew chapter 18, the disciples listened to very weighty ministry from their Lord on the important subject of how to treat their brethren. In v.1 it began by a question from the disciples as to who was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? The reply turned into an extended treatise. In vv.1-14 attention is drawn to "these little ones", vv.6,10,14. The reference may bring into focus those recently saved, or those whose disposition has denied them much acceptance. They must not be despised or stumbled, but rather lovingly cared for. In vv.15-20 the emphasis is on "thy brother". The blessedness of harmony between brethren in vv.19-20 is set in contrast to the seriousness of sin between brethren and this must be dealt with in accordance with vv.15-18. The final portion of the chapter speaks of "fellow-servants", vv.28,29,31,33. It is an expansion of the answer to Peter’s question on forgiveness. The concept of "fellow-servants" suggests the great work of God in which the disciples and later, so many others, would be involved. The servants in this great work having been forgiven a ten thousand talent debt, should find therein every incentive to forgive fellow-servants and thus to promote the unity and loyalty among such which is necessary for effective service.
The application of all of Matthew chapter 18 to the disciples may well cause a difficulty to the reader in view of the solemn threats of hell fire in the second person plural in vv.8,9. As in the ‘sermon on the mount’, there may well have been an extended audience. It may also have been the Lord’s intention to place in the hands of His disciples important instruction of which they could make use in their labours for the Lord. Certainly over the last part of the chapter we could write the comment: "An unforgiving person is often an unforgiven person!"
Various passages show that the Lord taught His disciples by means of the experiences through which they passed with Him. In Lk.5.4, after a night of toil without results, the Lord commands Simon Peter to launch out into the deep and to let the nets down. Simon obeyed and the result was a great multitude of fishes. Here was a great lesson as to the limitless power of the Lord that no doubt was intended to be applied to the work of "catching men". But there was another great lesson for Simon Peter. He knew that the Lord, who saw the fish in the sea, saw into his heart and immediately a deep sense of unworthiness came over him as expressed in his words, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord" v.8. To learn in the presence of God one’s nothingness and sinfulness is an important lesson for all who would be used of Him.
Further lessons were to be learned on the sea. In Lk.8.22 the Lord indicates His decision to go over, with His disciples unto the other side of the lake. His request would surely guarantee all that was necessary to reach the other side, but amid the storm that arose, the disciples could not rise to such thoughts. That day they must needs learn that neither His presence, nor the fulfilment of His command guarantee exemption from storms. They also learned that He was Lord of creation and therefore able to calm the storm. There was a further lesson as to their own hearts. When put to the test by the tempest, they proved very weak in faith! v.25. No reader will feel like being too hard on them!
Reading the four Gospels, those who desire to learn in the school of the Master can sit in and benefit while He calls His disciples to join Him as He feeds the five thousand or as He goes through a busy period of cures, Matt.8.1-17. Many incidents will yield much instruction, just as they must have done to the disciples. With the three favoured disciples the reader of the Gospels can behold something of the glory of His coming Kingdom as he ponders the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration. He can observe with Peter, James and John, the distinction between the superficiality of feigned sympathy and the undeniable power of the Saviour as the noisy minstrels are put out and Jairus’ daughter is raised to life. Keeping the distance which reverence demands, the reader, once again with the favoured three, can contemplate the cost to the Saviour of going to the cross, as amidst the trees of Gethsemane, He, contemplating the cup shortly to be His, is seen in His agony and exclaims the sublime words, "Nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt" Mk.14.32-42.
It seems clear then, that the lessons which the disciples learned of old as their Divine Teacher prepared them for their great commission, are still available to all who will become willing pupils in the school of God.
THE FATHER’S DELIGHT IN THE MINISTRY OF HIS SON
Long before the Incarnation of the Son of God, Jehovah had expressed, not only His delight in His yet future path of service, but also His absolute confidence in the perfection of His Servant in the performance of all that was committed to Him. That confidence is eloquently expressed in Isa.42.1-4. In these verses the beauty of the Servant’s ministry shines forth. He was the dependent Servant, ever upheld by Jehovah. He is called "mine elect." He was chosen for a work that only He in the entire universe could undertake. He not only fulfilled His task, but also did it in such a way as to bring infinite delight to His Father. These verses from Isaiah chapter 42 are quoted in Matt.12.18-21. They harmonize with the Father’s words in Matt.3.18 on the occasion of the Lord’s baptism. The expression of the Father’s pleasure made clear that the Son-Servant corresponded in every detail to all that was expected of Him. Failure in the least degree or in the smallest detail was never a possibility.
The renewed manifestation of the Father’s pleasure on the Mount of Transfiguration, Matt.17.5, may well anticipate the future when He will reign over all the earth and all will "hear Him". How complete was the Father’s assurance that "the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand," Isa.53.10, in that coming joyful day.
A further manifestation of the Father’s pleasure occurs in Jn.12.28, as "the hour" drew near. The Lord’s prayer, "Father, glorify Thy name" seems to refer to the Lord’s death and reveals the Son’s intense desire to glorify the Father’s name by going to the cross and accomplishing there a work for which He alone was fitted. When the voice returned: "I have both glorified it …", the Father referred to every step, yea every heartbeat in the Saviour’s life and ministry. In saying, "… and will glorify it again" He gave His unquestioning assurance not only of the Son’s willingness to go to the cross, but also to accomplish by His death the means to provide man’s salvation in such a way as to glorify God for ever.
HIS CONCLUDING MINISTRY
Attention has already been drawn to the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and its relevance to the disciples. When that sermon is compared to the Lord’s ministry to His own in the Upper room, John chapters 13-17, a very definite progression in doctrine can be discerned. Of course the Lord Himself needed not to make progress in doctrine. He knew it all, but there is a gradual unfolding of doctrine right through the Old and New Testaments. In the 19th century a book was published entitled "The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament" by T. D. Bernard. This work, which is now difficult to obtain, presents this deeply interesting subject in a most helpful way
The Sermon on the Mount relates more to the Old Testament and the language of the prophets. The Upper Room ministry relates to the New Testament epistles and the language of the apostles. Observe the absence of references to the Holy Spirit in the Sermon, and the many references to Him as the Comforter in the Upper Room ministry. That unfolding of the Spirit’s ministry is amplified in the remainder of the New Testament. The same may be said of the reference in Jn.14.3 to His coming to receive His own to Himself. Through the ministry of Paul this most precious truth was presented in detail in I Thess.4.13-18 and 1 Cor.15.51-54 etc.
When the Lord speaks of prayer in Matthew chs.5-7 He indicates the method of approach as "Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name …" Matthew chs.6.9. In Jn.14.13,14; 15.16; 16.23, His disciples are instructed to ask in His name. The prayer of the Lord Jesus in John chapter 17 unfolds much of the preciousness of His present intercessory work on behalf of His own in the presence of God. Such a revelation serves to enhance the assurance of Divine provision found in the earlier ministry, Matt.6.4,6,8,18 etc.
There is a very evident contrast between the Lord’s ministry as given in Matthew chapters 24 and 25 and that given in the Upper Room. Both have in view His approaching departure. It is evident that in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, the Lord speaks to His disciples as representatives of the Jewish remnant. In the Upper Room, He speaks to them as the nucleus of the future Church, which He is to build, Matt.16.18.
It was said of the wartime speeches of Sir Winston Churchill, that on the one hand he did not make any attempt to cover up the seriousness of the situation and the "many long months of struggle and suffering" to be faced. On the other hand he did not hesitate to set before the people the assured hope of final victory. That blessed Leader of men, before Whom all others pale into insignificance, long ago used a similar tactic to perfection. Thus He warns: "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for My name’s sake … But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" Matt.24.9,13. The struggle is sure, but final salvation is even surer. When v.13 is seen in its context of severe persecution it serves as a marvellous incentive to patience and courage under pressure and in no way interferes with the eternal security of the believer or the freeness of his salvation.
Matthew chapter 24 clearly moves forward to the dark days of the Great Tribulation. V.24 reads, "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, to deceive (Newberry) the very elect." But if the Lord uses a "shall" to assure of coming trials, He uses it again with great force in v.30, "… then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." Dark days will certainly come, but final victory to that faithful remnant is assured by the certainty of the coming of the Son of Man to the earth: "… He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds and from one end of heaven to the other" Matt.24.31.
In the Upper Room ministry the Lord presents for the first time the hope of His return for His own, to receive them to Himself and to conduct them to the prepared place, Jn.14.2-3. That glorious event may take place at any time, and certainly before the Great Tribulation.
There is great emphasis in the ministry of John chapters 13-16, on the full provision for every need in the Lord’s work in His absence. Much is said of the intimate union of the Son with the Father and of the influence for blessing of His presence with the Father, Jn.14.12. The resulting power for blessing extends to the performance of the works that He has done, and even beyond that to "greater works." He will answer prayer to the Father in the Son’s name, and in so answering, the Father will be glorified in the Son, Jn.14.13. Here is truth of the highest order and leads us to ponder with reverent limitations, the deep meaning of the union of the Father and the Son above.
In answer to the request of the Son, the Father will send "another Comforter" Who will never leave His own. He will not only be with them but in them, Jn.14.17. To the one rendering loving obedience, the Father and the Son will manifest their love in all its Divine intensity, 14.21. Indeed both Father and Son will make their abode with him, 14.23.
It is clear from chapter 15 that the Lord’s absence will be no hindrance to the enjoyment of the most intimate communion with Him and such communion will be the secret of fruitfulness. The promise is clear, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me" v.4. Closely linked with fruitfulness is effectual prayer, and this too is promised to those abiding in Him, v.7.
The Lord concludes His ministry with words of good cheer, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" 16.33. The disciple lives in an enemy world, but he belongs to another sphere. His links with a living Saviour open up the way for peace and good cheer in a world of rejection and scorn.
HIS FORTHCOMING DEATH
Early in His ministry the Lord Jesus made a very significant reference to His death in conversation with Nicodemus. It is found in the well-known words of Jn.3.14-15, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Much truth is indicated in this verse concerning the absolute necessity and the saving nature of the death of the Son of Man on the cross. In John’s record of the Lord’s earthly ministry, His references to His death are very profound. Think of His words in Jn.10.17-18, "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." These are amazing statements and indicate something of the inscrutable nature of the infinite sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the cross. John chapter 12 unfolds much of the deep meaning of the death of the Lord. Mary’s anointing of His body while He was yet alive, but "against the day of His burying" makes clear that one woman had some insight into the special significance of the forthcoming death of her Lord. When the Greeks desired to "see Jesus", v.21, the Lord made the amazing statement, "The hour is come, that the Son of Man should be glorified" v.23. Something of the meaning of this statement is explained in the next verse: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." In His death the Son of God made salvation available to men. His death became the means of their blessing. The hour of His suffering is thus the hour of His greatest glory. The glory may be hidden from the eyes of men, but it is there nonetheless.
The blessed One, soon to die, will by His death have the power of attraction to men of every race. He will draw them to His Person, v.32. How clearly the Lord’s triumphant resurrection and exaltation are involved in this verse. Indeed, seeing the attraction is to find salvation in Him, the verse may well find its complete fulfilment only in the scene of Rev.22.3-4: "… His servants shall serve Him: and they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads."
To study the beauty of the ministry of the Lord Jesus is surely to tread on holy ground. It transports the student from the mundane things of life to the realm of the holy and the inscrutable. We may well wonder if the promised "hidden manna" in Rev.2.17, will not be some unfolding, throughout eternity, of those years in which the Son of God graced this earthly scene with His footsteps.