(Meditations in Luke’s Gospel)
It is a high privilege. Perhaps it is the highest privilege ever given, that we should be allowed to contemplate Christ. In a special way this privilege was granted to those four men whom we call “the Evangelists”, who gave us the four Gospels, and in these Gospels the fruits of their inspired meditations on Christ have been preserved for us. Each has written in his own unique way. It is as if Matthew has heard that cry, “Behold your King” Jn.19.14, and has replied with a regal, royal account of the life and ministry of the Messiah. Mark has responded to that word of Isa.42.1, “Behold my Servant”, and has given us his delightful story of Jehovah’s only perfect Servant. John of the fourth Gospel writes of the glory of Him of Whom Isa.49.9 exclaims, “Behold your God”. And in a manner, greater and more reverend than Pilate ever intended or imagined, Luke has heard the exhortation, “Behold the Man” Jn.19.5, and has responded accordingly.
It is befitting that, of the four, it should be the privilege of Luke to particularly emphasise our Lord’s manhood. Luke was, after all, the beloved physician, Col.4.14. He had seen many men in the pursuit of his professional interests. But he had never seen a perfect man like this Man of Whom he now writes. Here was a life of incomparable grace and beauty. Here were thirty three wondrous years indeed. They have been called, “the Holy of Holies in the history of the world”, and from babyhood, through childhood and boyhood, and into the maturity of perfect manhood, Luke gives us devotional and doctrinal glimpses into a life that was lived wholly in dependence upon God and for His pleasure and glory.
We shall look at the preparation in the world for the coming of this Blessed One; then consider the annunciation at Nazareth, and the incarnation at Bethlehem. There follows the adoration of shepherds and angels, the presentation in the temple to Simeon and Anna, and twelve subsequent years of subjection to earthly parents in Galilee. The story unfolds in fragrance as a bud opens into flower and into full blossom, perfect at every stage such as His temptation in the wilderness; His introduction in the synagogue at Nazareth; His compassion and His intercession, and His gracious exposition of gospel truth. There is the account of His transfiguration on the holy mount, from which mount He now begins His journey to Golgotha. As we ponder these things, along with His humiliation in the judgment hall, His crucifixion at Calvary, His resurrection in the Garden, and His ascent from Olivet to glory, may we be moved to exclaim again and again, “What manner of Man is this?”. There is now, bless God, a Man in the glory, but once He was a Man of sorrows down here, and it is our privilege, in the loveliness of Luke’s Gospel, to “Behold the Man”.
Amid saints and sinners, Divine sovereignty moved in the world in preparation for the coming of the Christ. It was J.N. Darby who once said that God was behind all the scenes and that He moved all the scenes that He was behind. Many individuals are named by Luke in connection with this preparation for the advent and ministry of the Messiah.
They are drawn from the two spheres that we have mentioned. On the one hand there were the Caesars and tetrarchs and governors of the pagan world. On the other hand there were godly souls, as Zacharias and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, Simeon and Anna.
Sovereignty knows no boundaries or limitations. The hearts of all men are in Jehovah’s hand for the outworking of His purpose. Whether emperors or carpenters, kings or governors, priests or prophets, daughters of Aaron or daughters of Asher, or the humble maid betrothed to the Galilean, all are in the Divine plan. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, willingly or unwillingly, Jehovah will use whom He will, and this He does in preparation for the coming of the perfect Man.
It is not surprising, considering the momentous happenings of those days, and the exquisite beauty and glory of the life of Jesus, that, as Luke says, many others had already undertaken to narrate the stupendous events. Other narratives, however, have long since gone. Luke’s record remains, with those of Matthew, Mark, and John; Divinely preserved. Luke was accurately acquainted with all those things which were fully believed by the saints of his day. He had the testimony of those who had been eye-witnesses, and who had been attendants on the Word Himself. It seemed good to him, he says, to write with method to one Theophilus, whose name means, “a lover of God”. And all lovers of God will revel in Luke’s story.
Zacharias is at the altar; Caesar is on the throne; Joseph is at his bench. Zacharias is in Jerusalem; Caesar is in Rome; Joseph is in Nazareth. Jehovah will move into the routine of their daily lives. The faith of Zacharias, (as is the case with many of us), was not as great as his prayers. His petitions, nevertheless, will be answered, and he will become the father of the forerunner of the Christ. Joseph will become the husband of the maiden who is to be the virgin mother of that same Christ. Caesar Augustus will, in his supposed sovereignty, issue the decree which, unknown to him, will bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the birth of the holy Child, in fulfilment of the prophecy of Mic.5.2. Roman governors and provincial tetrarchs will ensure that Caesar’s decree is obeyed. And while the preparation goes on in the world, Simeon and Anna wait expectantly, and Elizabeth and Mary will fellowship together in the hill country. Morally elevated from the wilderness world around them these devoted souls rejoiced together and magnified the Lord. They sang together their psalms of joy. He was coming, the Son of God, the Son of the Highest.
Well do we, who live on the other side of their expectations, join in their songs and rejoice with them as we “Behold the Man”. The preparation is eventually complete. The fullness of the time has come, and God may now send forth His Son, born of a woman.
The story of Mary of Nazareth is a delightful one. It is the story of what Divine sovereignty can do with humble piety in the outworking of heaven’s purposes. Mary, who thinks of herself only as a submissive bondmaid, is forever blessed because of her passive yieldedness to God’s will and the favour of God bestowed upon her.
She lived remotely, in Nazareth of Galilee, far removed from the sophistication of Judea and the theological centre in Jerusalem. Nazareth was a town of ill repute. Could there any good thing come out of it? Jn.1.46. But in the midst of the squalor of it all Mary lived tenderly pure, and the eye of God was upon her as a vessel suited to the Divine purpose.
It was Gabriel who visited Mary with the heavenly announcement. Gabriel, whose name means, “God is mighty”; Gabriel, who had touched Daniel centuries earlier and had talked with him about the coming of Messiah the Prince; Gabriel, who had so recently conveyed God’s mind to Zacharias; the same Gabriel now comes to Nazareth and to Mary. His salutation is very beautiful. “Hail, thou favoured one! the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women … Fear not Mary … thou hast found favour with God” Lk.1.28-30, J.N.D.
His message to the virgin was an astonishing one. She was to conceive and bear a son. His human name was to be “Jesus”, Jehovah-Saviour. He would be the Son of the Highest; the Son of El Elyon the God of Melchisidec of Genesis chapter 14. He would inherit the throne of David and reign over the house of Jacob in an everlasting kingdom. It was all reminiscent of Isa.9.6, “A child born … a son given … the government upon His shoulder … His name Wonderful … Prince of peace … of His government no end, upon the throne of David.”
Notice that both Zacharias and Mary say to Gabriel, “How?” For Zacharias, the promise of a son seemed too late. For Mary the promise of a son seemed too early. But there is a difference as they question Gabriel respectively. With Zacharias it is the “how” of unbelief, of incredulity and doubt. It is a failure to trust God’s promises and God’s power. With Mary it is the “how” of a trusting, believing child, asking in simplicity for an enlargement of the Divine message. Zacharias is accordingly rebuked and is stricken deaf and dumb for his unbelief. Mary however, is further blessed with a more full and detailed account of what God was about to do. God delights in the trust of His dependent people and He ministers to them in proportion to that trust.
Mary’s child was to be conceived supernaturally, outside of the order of nature. The Holy Spirit, the power of that same El Elyon, the Most High, would come upon her and overshadow her, and her son would be the Son of God. Heaven was bringing Mary into the Divine plan. Her Child would be the Seed of the woman. She was to be that virgin mother of prophecy. It was a big thing that was being asked of Mary. A virgin mother? The people of Nazareth would never believe her story. Nor indeed would Joseph, apart from divine assurance. Mary must have been aware of what the future held for her. Misunderstanding! Scandal! Slander! Cruel insinuations of immorality from those who were themselves immoral! Mary must have, in that moment, anticipated it all, but in beautiful submissiveness she simply says, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” Lk.1.38. Gabriel, content, departs from her.
In such circumstances, when God is peculiarly working, godly souls are inevitably drawn together. Mary journeys in haste to the hill country, to the house of Zacharias. Mary salutes Elizabeth. Elizabeth blesses Mary. They rejoice together. Elizabeth has, in holy discretion, hidden herself for those five months and hidden in the hill country the two women converse about God’s things. How beautiful a scene is this. An old woman and a maiden with kindred interest in what God is doing. Luke’s Gospel abounds with godly women. It has been likened to the Beautiful Gate of the temple that opened onto the court of the women. Here are two of these women, communing together, morally and spiritually on a higher plane than the world around them, and elevated in their thoughts far above the thinking of the men of Judea and Galilee.
Mary’s song has been preserved for us, enshrined in the Word of God, and called by many, “the Magnificat”. It was Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s blessing. Notice how Elizabeth calls Mary’s unborn Child, “My Lord”! What devotion is this, and faith too, perhaps greater than that of Zacharias, her priestly husband. Mary’s song ranks great with the Psalms. It reveals her heart and her character, and her deep knowledge of God and His Word and His purpose. She sings of might and of mercy, of holiness and of reverence, of love and of power. She sings of the nation, of the fathers, and of the covenant. In it all she magnifies a Saviour God who exalts the lowly and humbles the proud.
For three months these kindred spirits dwell together. What holy converse there must have been! What exulting and praise! Until they part, anticipating the imminent birth of the forerunner, and the advent, six months later, of the Messiah Himself. The incarnation! Of both forerunner and Messiah it is said, “He shall be great” Lk.1.15,32. But the forerunner will one day exclaim, “He must increase; I must decrease” Jn.3.30. He who cried, “Behold the Lamb,” would rejoice to have us “Behold the Man”.
- O ever homeless Stranger,
- Thus dearest Friend to me;
- An outcast in a manger,
- That Thou might’st with us be.
The incarnation of God’s Son is the supreme mystery. Paul acknowledges it to be so, 1Tim.3.16. It is the coming into flesh of a Divine Person. We cannot pretend to understand it. We dare not presume to explain it. It is incomprehensible to the human mind. But where we cannot understand, we can bow in wonder and in worship, and our souls may adore as we contemplate the immeasurable stoop that brought the Saviour from glory into our world of tears.
Every believing heart responds at once to the invitation of the shepherds, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass” Lk.2.15. Bethlehem! It ought to be pointed out again and again that there are two Bethlehems in Israel. There is a Bethlehem in Galilee, perhaps seven or eight miles from Nazareth. But the Bethlehem of the incarnation is in Judea, a few miles south of Jerusalem, and not in Galilee. Note then, the accuracy of Holy Scripture; “Bethlehem in the land of Judah” Matt.2.6; “Bethlehem of Judea” Matt.2.5; “Bethlehem Ephratah” Mic.5.2. It is to this Bethlehem that Caesar’s decree brings Joseph and Mary for the advent of the promised Messiah and the accurate fulfilment of prophecy.
The first mention of Bethlehem in our Bible is most touching. It tells of the birth of a baby boy and the death of his mother. The child is born. Rachel names him “Benoni,” the son of sorrow, and she dies. Jacob buried her at Bethlehem, and, looking at the child, he said, “Not Benoni, but Benjamin,” which means, “the son of my right hand”. That early infant of Bethlehem was, in some senses, a foreshadowing of Another Who was to come. To Israel He would be known only as a Man of sorrows, but in glory He would sit at His Father’s right hand.
Genesis chapter 35 brings to us this first reference to Bethlehem in our Bible but there are are other intervening references before the birth of Christ. This is the Bethlehem of Ruth and Boaz. It is the Bethlehem of David, the shepherd boy who became king. It is a little town, sufficiently removed from the bustle of Jerusalem, nestling in the Judean hills. There is something delightfully picturesque about Bethlehem, but alas, royal David’s city had no room for David’s greater Son. The inn was crowded full. Perhaps money would have bought a room in it somewhere, but the couple who carried the unborn Christ to the inn door were not wealthy. Bethlehem was typical of the world at large, the world that “knew Him not” Jn.1.10. The little town slept on that night, as did the world around it, unaware that the Creator Himself was making His advent into it.
And so He came, to be wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Lord of glory Whose train filled the temple in Isaiah chapter 6, wrapped up, a precious tiny human bundle, voluntarily dependent on Mary. It is to be observed that it was Mary herself, who wrapped Him in the swaddling clothes. Mary, who had just brought Him forth, her firstborn, she herself, alone, laid Him in the manger cradle. Even the slave women of Egypt had midwives, Ex.1.15-18. Mary, in her poverty, had not.
It is important to remember that though our Lord’s conception was miraculous, His birth was natural. He made His holy entry into our world by the common process and trauma of natural childbirth. Conceived in a virgin womb though He was, He came, as others did, by pain and suffering, and very possibly with tears. Might this not be the plain and simple meaning of 1Jn.5.6?
The miracle of the virgin conception is an essential foundational truth of the gospel. It is fundamental, not optional. To challenge it is to question the integrity of such godly persons as Matthew and Joseph and Luke, and Mary herself, from, no doubt, Luke had received many of the details that he gives us. To deny the virgin conception of the Saviour is to deny the inspiration and the authority of the Word of God. The truth of the virgin birth is not dependent upon any disputed meaning of the word “virgin” in Isa.7.14. They argue, some do, that the word but indicates “a young woman”. Even if that were proven to be so, does it in any way detract from the accounts given by Matthew and Luke, and by Joseph and Mary? No! Emphatically no! The young woman was a virgin. Her holy Child was conceived supernaturally by the ministry and power of the Spirit of God. She was still a virgin when her Child was born, Matt.1.25. And so, in the fulness of the time He came of a woman, Gal.4.4, in lowly and humble circumstances, born in an outside place, rejected as it were, from the very beginning.
- Come now, and view that manger —
- The Lord of glory see,
- A houseless, homeless Stranger
- In this poor world for thee.
The beautiful second chapter of Luke’s Gospel is exquisite for its delightful blending of simplicity and profundity. This lovely narrative brings angels and shepherds together in the story of the incarnation. Angels! Heaven’s glorious populace. Shepherds! Humble pastors of sheep at Bethlehem. It is as if the representatives of high heaven and the lowly of earth are joined in unison as Messiah makes His advent. There is today, at the shepherd’s caves outside Bethlehem, a plaque which reads: “The revelation of God’s great condescension was first given to shepherds, poorest of sinners; Still, today, God’s Word is true, that He will behold those that are of a contrite heart, and will dwell with them”.
There are four specific references to the shepherds, and numerous other general references. They were simple, untutored men, of humble occupation. They were not theologians. Heaven passed by Israel’s learned ones, the false shepherds of the nation, and on that memorable night brought the revelation to shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock. Here was true shepherd ministry, staying where the sheep were, watching and guarding the flock by night in a dark world. The Shepherd of Israel was coming, incarnate, to Bethlehem, and it seemed so fitting that Judean shepherds should be the first to hear.
It was a scene unparalleled. An angel to shepherds announcing the glad tidings. “Fear not” … “A Saviour” … “Christ the Lord”. Glad tidings indeed, and great joy. Suddenly, an angelic host, a great multitude with a mighty paean of praise. “Glory to God” … “Peace on earth.” He had come! David’s Son had come to David’s Bethlehem. No wonder that the song should be of glory and peace and joy.
The shepherds obey the angelic directive and make their way at once to Bethlehem. They find it even as the angel had said. The Babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, is lying in a manger. The Shepherd of Israel is tender and meek, as a little lamb, in holy infancy. “Behold your God”!
Artists have often attempted to depict the scene for us. Mary and Joseph; the Holy Child in His manger-cradle; shepherds standing around with bowed heads, wondering, worshipping. Of the details we cannot be sure, but it is easy to envisage these men of the Judean hills surrounding the manger. With the memory of the glory still fresh in their minds, and with the words of the angel still ringing in their ears, they recounted what they had seen and heard. And as they stood, subdued, around that manger-bed of the Christ Child, yet did their hearts exult and adore. “Christ the Lord”, the angel had said, and though “all meanly wrapped in swaddling bands”, this Babe was indeed that Christ, long promised, and now come. They glorified God. They praised God. They spake to others concerning the Child. Others wondered and Mary pondered.
How does God delight to bring glory into the daily routine of the lives of men? Jehovah Who met Moses in the wilderness; Who called Gideon from the threshing floor and the winepress; Who took David from the sheep-cote; Who took Nehemiah from palace servitude; Who called Amos from the herd; and Who, later called disciples from their fishing boats and nets; ’tis He who breaks into the mundane world of shepherds guarding their flock in the night watches and allows them to see the glory. And so He does today. To the sincere and humble heart, desiring to see that glory now, God will direct attention to His Son. To “Behold the Man”, is to behold God’s glory, for that Man is the effulgence of that glory.
Luke does not record the visit of the Magi, the wise men from the east. That was adoration too, but it suits the theme of Matthew’s Gospel rather than Luke’s. Those men were kings of the Orient, but wise men indeed they were, following heaven’s direction to the King of kings Who had now made His advent, though at a distance from them, for they were Gentiles. They teach us how to worship, opening their treasures and presenting their gifts. But Luke does not record that scene. It is kingly. It is regal and royal. The beloved physician, Luke, is telling the story of a Man; a dependent Man; a lowly, a lovely Man. The story of the kings belongs to another context. Luke has responded so beautifully to the sweet request of our hymn:
- Tell me the story of Jesus,
- Write on my heart every word;
- Tell me the story most precious,
- Sweetest that ever was heard.
- Tell how the angels in chorus
- Sang as they welcomed His birth,
- Glory to God in the highest,
- Peace and good tidings to earth.
(Fanny J. Crosby)
Well too, do we sing, “O come let us adore Him”. May we learn well the song which, though sweet in heaven, nevertheless begins for us on earth. It is the song that exalts the Man Whom earth despised. It sings the worth of Him Whom the world rejected. Gladly do we “Behold the Man” and bring our homage to Him, as did those men of old.
We have before remarked upon the beauty of this second chapter of Luke’s Gospel. It has many facets, like a diamond reflecting in such a variety of ways, the glory of Christ. There is an old legend which says that Luke, besides being a physician, an evangelist, an historian, and an author, was also a painter, an artist. Of the truth of the legend we cannot be sure, but he certainly has painted for us the most delightful pictures in words.
The scene before us just now is that of a little group of interesting persons in the court of the women in the temple at Jerusalem. There are two men, two women, and an Infant of almost six weeks, Lev.12.1-4. Simeon and Joseph and Mary are joined by the aged Anna, and the child Jesus is the central figure in the scene.
Simeon’s name means “one who hears”. He was a man sensitive to the voice of God, and the Spirit had indeed spoken specifically to Him. The message of the Spirit to him was about Christ. It is always so. Simeon believed, and in godly patience and piety he awaited the coming of Him Who would be the consolation of Israel. By the Spirit he came into the temple just as the Infant Christ came. It was the moment for which Simeon had waited. He embraced the Child, and with Jesus in His arms, in the temple, he looked upward and blessed God. What a picture of true worship is this, for us of a late day, who stand in a greater sanctuary, embrace the same Christ, and looking upward, bless God as we speak of His Son. Here was a man in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing, and all by the direction of the Spirit of God. Oh to be so controlled as Simeon was.
It has been said that of all those who have, until now, been mentioned in Luke’s Gospel, Simeon had a wider outlook. He saw further than either Zacharias or Elizabeth or Mary, because He saw beyond Israel. He saw further than the angel who said, “Glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people”. “The people” in Scripture is always Israel. But Simeon’s view is of salvation prepared for “all peoples”. He envisages the goyim, the Gentile nations. Notice too, his mention of Gentile blessing first, then adding, “the glory of Thy people Israel”. It was a distant view he had, of a millennial day when the Messiah of Israel would be lifted up as an ensign, a gathering centre for the nations. As another has beautifully said of Jehovah, “Israel was not enough for Him”! There would indeed be glory for Israel, but there was light here for revelation to the Gentiles, and in accord with the grace of Luke’s Gospel, this is mentioned first.
Having blessed God, Simeon now blesses Joseph and Mary. The man who habitually speaks well of God speaks well of God’s people. Simeon had embraced the greatness, the glory, the majesty of Christ in his arms, and for such a man, with Christ in his affections, it is easy to bless God and the saints.
But alas, Simeon must speak not only of glory, but also of a sword and of sorrow. “A sword shall pierce thine own soul”, he says to Mary. And is not Mary but representative of that godly remnant of the nation who were to see, and share, the rejection of the Messiah? Simeon foresaw Calvary. How clearly he saw or understood, we know not, but it is doubtless of the cross that he now prophesies, and of the sorrow that would pierce the hearts of those who loved the Crucified. Remember the sorrow of the two who walked the Emmaus Road with the sad countenances.
At this moment there enters the aged Anna. Her name means ‘gracious’. She is of the tribe of Asher, which means, ‘happy’. In the barrenness of Israel here was a gracious and happy woman indeed, waiting, like Simeon, for the coming of the promised One. Notice that she is of Asher. She was of Israel, of the ten tribes, and not of Judah. Christ is for the whole nation.
For seven years Anna had lived with a husband. But the natural relationship had been severed, and for the eighty four years which followed the death of her husband, Anna had given herself to the service of the sanctuary, and to fastings and prayers. How strange that God often works for our good, in ways which, at the time, are hard to bear and difficult to understand. Jehovah uses the sorrow of bereavement and the early loss of her husband to release Anna for another service. She who had, no doubt, devoted herself to the care of her husband and her home, now devotes herself to the service of God in the temple. Her own house, precious and legitimate as it had been, has now become a secondary thing, and she lives now for the house of God. Have her values been adjusted? Have her priorities been rectified?
Anna is fully acquainted with kindred spirits. There were others in Jerusalem who waited for the Redeemer. Anna spake of Him to them. In fulfilment of the prophecy which concerned her tribe Asher in Genesis chapter 49, she must often have given “royal dainties” to them, about the coming Christ. Now He had come!
It is as if Simeon and Anna and Joseph and Mary surround the holy Infant, to hear the voice of the Spirit say, “Behold the Man”. Their occupation is with Him. May it be likewise true of us all, that we should await His coming as they did, and as we wait, be occupied with thoughts of Him, both in worship, and in testimony too.
There are many things in the story of Jesus which are too big for our tiny minds. That the Omnipotent should become a dependent Infant; that the eternal One should come into time; that the Son of the Father should become the Son of Mary; that He, Whom the heaven of heavens could not contain should sleep in a manger-bed; that He Whose train filled the temple should be wrapped up in swaddling clothes; that the Creator should become a carpenter; these are great and lofty considerations too wonderful for our limited human intelligence.
That the sovereign Lord should become the subject Son of earthly parents is likewise too much for human thought, but this is how it truly was. They, the parents of the Infant Jesus, returned to Galilee and to Nazareth, and in holy subjection He will go with them, and will abide with them there for the greater part of thirty years. Luke will subsequently speak of Nazareth as the place “where He had been brought up” Lk.4.16. Our Lord will be referred to repeatedly as “Jesus of Nazareth”. He would be, in the Divine purpose, a Nazarene.
In the home in Nazareth our Lord was a subject child. From infancy to maturity He lived there, perfectly subject to Joseph and Mary. There was a most delightful development, perfect at every stage, as He grew, and waxed strong, and advanced in wisdom and stature. His life was as the unfolding of a flower from bud to blossom. To borrow His own metaphor from another context, it was “the blade, the ear, and the full corn”, and ever and always, perfection. Luke employs several different words in chapter 2 to describe the holy development. “The babe”, he says in v.16. “The child”, he says in v.27. “The boy” he says in v.43, J.N.D. The word of v.16 brephos; a word so tender that it may be used to describe the unborn infant in the womb, as in Lk.1.41, 44. The word of v.27 is paidion; signifying a little or young child; the babe is growing. The word of v.43 is pais; the infant, the child, is now a boy. The word which Mary later uses in v.48 is teknion, a word akin in its origin to “begotten” or “borne”. “My child whom I have borne”, Mary might have said. And indeed the Scots would have a most accurate idea of it when they speak of “the bairns”, literally, the borne ones.
In every stage of this development there is holy perfection. He remains, in Himself, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, the Son of God. He does not divest Himself of Divine attributes. Yet He grows from infancy, from babyhood, through boyhood to manhood, and develops perfectly, humanly, and grows stronger day by day and year by year, as He lives in subjection in the Nazareth home.
- A child in growth and stature
- Yet full of wisdom rare;
- Sonship, in conscious nature,
- His words and ways declare.
In that same subject spirit Jesus accompanies Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem. He is now a boy of some twelve years. Jehovah would grant us this one glimpse into the early years of the tender plant which was growing for His pleasure in the barrenness of Israel. They came at Passover time. This would allow them to be in Jerusalem for at least three of the feasts, Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits. It was indeed a happy and festive season for the nation. But He alone, of them all, this twelve year old Boy, really knew the deep and prophetic significance of the celebrations.
The celebrations completed, the parents departed, but He lingered. For a whole day they journeyed without Him. Then, missing Him, they sought Him, mistakenly (though they were not to know it) among their natural kinsfolk. After three days they found Him, not in natural surroundings at all, but in the spiritual, in the temple, back in Jerusalem, sitting at ease in the company of the teachers of the law. He was, strictly speaking neither teaching nor learning. To be teaching doctors of the law would not have been in keeping with His moral glory. A boy of twelve presuming to teach the teachers? To say that He was learning would not have been in keeping with His personal glory. The omniscient, incarnate Son learning from men? In beautiful accuracy the Scripture only says that He was both hearing them and asking them questions, and giving them answers to their questions.
The parents having eventually found Him, Mary speaks of her distress. “Why hast Thou thus dealt with us” she asks. “We have sought Thee sorrowing.” In the beauty of that holy submissiveness He simply asks, “Why … did ye not know that I ought to be occupied in my Father’s business?” Lk.2.49, J.N.D. They did not, could not, understand. He went with them, back to Nazareth. For another eighteen holy years He would live with them, in subjection to them. In a world where everything was in revolt and in rebellion, He would live holy, harmless, and undefiled. How often, in many a heart, that question of a later day must have been asked silently, “What manner of Man is this?” How well do we, in the rush and bustle of our day, find time to meditate, and to “Behold the Man”.
- Yet still in meek submission,
- His patient path He trod,
- To wait His heavenly mission,
- Unknown to all but God.
As we approach the holy ground of our Lord’s temptations there are several important considerations which must be borne in mind.
Firstly, let us be clear as to the uniqueness of the humanity of Christ. It has often been pointed out that there have been three kinds of manhood in our world. In Eden, in Adam, there was innocent manhood; after Adam’s disobedience, and in the world ever since, there has been fallen manhood. But the unique manhood of Christ was neither innocent nor fallen; His was holy manhood. He lived in a prepared body which was capable of weariness and pain, but not of sickness, disease, or sin. Neither was it subject to death or corruption. He was God incarnate. In Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. He was the Man of Whom Jehovah said, “The Man that is My Fellow” Zech.13.7. And in this holy Manhood there could be neither shadow nor stain of sin, nor the possibility of it.
Secondly, let us be equally clear that there are two ways of understanding and using our English word “tempted”. How often we use it in the sense of soliciting or enticing to sin. But it does not always have that meaning. When we read that “God did tempt Abraham” Gen.22.1, we know that this has nothing whatsoever to do with enticement to sin. When we read “Your fathers tempted Me” Ps.95.9; Heb.3.9, it cannot have that meaning here either. Too sadly are we aware that there are temptations which come to us as an appeal to our base and fallen natures, and if, after a struggle in our breasts, we overcome in such temptations, it is only by grace and by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. Our Lord never knew such temptation. There was nothing in Him to which any evil suggestion would appeal. In what sense then, could it be said that He was tempted? The answer lies in the other meaning of the word: it means “to test”, “to prove”, “to be tried”.
Abraham was tested by God. God tries men to prove them, for their own good and blessing. The devil would tempt Jesus. But in the heart of the holy One there could be no such inward struggle as we might have. Trial, testing, in the wilderness, will only serve to prove the innate and intrinsic holiness that was His, and the utter impossibility that He should sin.
Thirdly, notice that it was not the devil who brought Jesus to the wilderness. He was driven there by the Spirit. It was as if Jehovah would say to the devil, “You remember the first man? And what you did to Him? In the garden! Come to the wilderness and see the second Man. Test Him! Try Him! Prove Him!” Here is the perfect Man, Who for thirty years has lived holily in Galilee, with no blemish upon Him; no fault, no failure either in word or deed or thought. What a confrontation is this, Satan and Jesus in the wilderness.
It will be noticed that in Luke the order of the three, recorded temptations is different to that given by Matthew. Matthew’s is the historical order; the chronological sequence of the temptations. Luke’s is a moral order. He has told us in the opening words of his Gospel that he writes with method. His method here in chapter 4 is to let us see the temptation in the wilderness first, then the temptation on the mountain, and lastly, the temptation at the temple. Our Lord will be tested as to His dependence, as to His patience, and as to His obedience.
When the forty days of fasting were ended, Jesus was hungry, and naturally so. The devil points to the stones. “Command that they be made bread”, he exhorts. Our Lord replies with a quotation from Deut.8.3. It was a word spoken to the nation in another wilderness. Had Jehovah not cared for them, fed them, clothed them, and kept them? And did He not experientially teach them that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God? Was He not teaching them to be a dependent people, waiting upon Him for every necessity? Jesus in the wilderness is a truly dependent Man. He will not use the power of Deity to meet His physical and human need. Later, He will turn water to wine for others, but He will not turn stones to bread for Himself; His meat was to do the will of Him that sent Him. He will quietly wait in trust upon Jehovah, truly dependent indeed.
The devil now takes Him up into a high mountain, and in a moment of time shows Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. If the first test was physical, the second is political. “All this power will I give Thee, and the glory … If Thou therefore wilt worship me all shall be Thine” Lk.4.6,7. Jesus quotes again from Deut.6.12: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God … Him only” … “Get thee behind Me Satan.” The kingdoms of the world and the glory were already Christ’s by right. In patience He would wait until the appointed hour. In Rev.13.2 another will take from the devil that which Jesus refused, but his glory will be short-lived. It is in the mind and purpose of God to give the glory to His Son, and in patience Jesus will wait.
The third temptation is at the temple. Now the devil will also quote Scripture. On the pinnacle of the temple, looking down into the deep valley below, he says to the Lord, “Cast Thyself down from hence; for it is written, He shall give His angels charge over Thee, to keep Thee … to bear Thee up.” Our Lord’s reply is again a simple quotation from Deut.6.16: “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”. To put God to the test is really mistrust. Testing His promise is akin to doubting His Word. And, in any case, Satan has not fully quoted the Scripture to which he refers, Ps.91.11. He omits, “in all thy ways”. It is the whole life of the child of God that is in view, and when a man really walks in honesty and in true dependence upon God, then Jehovah will protect and keep and preserve that man. The truly trusting man will not seek to test this by deliberately putting himself in the path of danger. He will trust as he walks, and will walk as he trusts. In the wilderness we “Behold the Man”, Whose patience, dependence, and obedience, are all put to the test and proven. He is the perfect Man.
- A perfect path of purest grace,
- Unblemished and complete,
- Was Thine, Thou spotless Nazarite,
- Pure even to the feet!
- The vow was on Thee; Thou didst come
- To yield Thyself to death;
- And consecration marked Thy path,
- And spoke in every breath.
The introduction of the Lord Jesus in the nation was two-fold. There was an introduction in Judea and there was an introduction in Galilee. The first was by John Baptist to the multitudes gathered at the Jordan river. The second was our Lord’s own introduction of Himself to the congregation in the Nazareth synagogue. Between these two events lay the temptation in the wilderness. The introduction by John Baptist is not recorded fully by any of the Gospel writers. Luke, with Matthew and Mark, records only the exhortations and warnings which prepared the way for the coming Messiah. John alone records that historical, memorable moment when Jesus was pointed out as the Lamb of God, Sacrifice and Sin-bearer.
John Baptist, as well as warnings and exhortations, did announce glad tidings to the people. Such is the meaning of the word “preached” in Lk.3.18. It is our word for evangel, evangelist, and evangelism. There were two voices heard on that great day of introduction by John. There was a voice from the wilderness, Lk.3.4, and there was a voice from heaven, Lk.3.22. They were in holy harmony, those voices, introducing the blessed One, Saviour of men and Son of the Father. “This is He,” cried the last of the prophets. “My beloved Son,” says the voice from the heavens.
Jesus immediately leaves for the wilderness, full of the Spirit. In the power of that same Spirit He returns after the temptation, to Galilee, teaching in the synagogues of Galilee until He came to Nazareth, His home town. It was His custom, His habit, to be at the synagogue every sabbath day. The building would be full. Noisy crowds would make their way to and fro, exchanging the traditional greeting “Shabbat Shalom.” Now every adult Jewish male had the right and privilege to read the Scripture portion for the day, and on this day, our Lord assumed this right and stood up to read. The attendant handed Him the book, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. In quiet composure He unrolled the scroll and found the place. We know it now as Isaiah chapter 61. He read but the first verse and part of the second and in the midst of that second verse He abruptly concluded the reading, rolled up the scroll and returned it to the attendant. He sat down and the eyes of all present were fixed upon Him. The formal introduction of Messiah to the nation was about to be made and they would not like it.
Our Lord’s opening comment was an amazing one. “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.” How often, on earlier sabbaths, this same portion had been read to them, but never with a comment like this. Words of grace followed and as they listened and wondered, they whispered one to another “Is not this the son of Joseph?” But what of this Scripture which was even now being fulfilled? How intensely interesting it is to remember that even then as our Lord handled and read the scroll of Isaiah an exact copy of Isaiah’s prophecy was already being preserved in an earthenware jar at Qumran, some 65-70 miles away on the eastern shore of the Dead sea. There it remained hidden until AD 1947, divinely preserved for us from perhaps two hundred years before that public reading in Nazareth.
The glad tidings of Isaiah chapter 61 announced a gospel for the poor, deliverance for the captives, sight for the blind and healing for the crushed and oppressed. Of course, that meant that for a person to avail himself of such glad tidings, there must of necessity be an acknowledgement of poverty, of bondage, of blindness, and of bruising. Sin indeed had done all this to the nation and to every individual. A true acknowledgement of this would produce brokenness of heart in the penitent. This broken-heartedness is in the text of Isaiah chapter 61, but it is omitted here in the account of the reading in Luke chapter 4 (see J.N.D., R.V. and others). Did our Lord deliberately omit it because in His congregation there was no evidence of such brokenness of heart or repentance?
But whether they felt it or knew it, or not, this was their moral condition. They were blind, bankrupt, bondmen, bruised by sin. And now the Redeemer had come. All they needed was in Jesus of Nazareth, but their hearts were too proud and too haughty to acknowledge either their own condition or His power and ability to save.
He knew that they would reject Him. Yet in grace He had announced the acceptable year of the Lord and had not read to them of the day of vengeance. He had not come to bring in a day of vengeance. He had come to save, if they would have Him. But if not, then the day of vengeance would come later. Our Lord reminded them of the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. There were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s day, as there were many lepers in Elisha’s day. But it was the Gentile widow of Sarepta and the Gentile Naaman who came in for the blessing. The men of Nazareth were filled with wrath, and in rage they rose up and led Him out to the brow of the hill on which their town was built. They would have cast Him over the precipice, but He passed through the midst of them and, rejected in Nazareth, He made His way to Capernaum. Was their response on this day of introduction but a foreshadowing of another day, and the brow of another hill, where, three years later, they would crucify their own Messiah?
And so He has come. Messiah long-promised and long-awaited has come. But alas! He is unrecognised, unwanted, and rejected, even in the introductory days of His ministry. We shall though, muse upon His continuing compassion for those who despised Him, and in patience we wait, with Him, for that day when He shall come again, to he glorified and to be admired in all them that believe, 2Thess.1.10.
The Gospel of Luke is fragrant all through with the tender compassion of the Saviour. The Son of God has become truly Man, and being perfectly Man, He ever moves feelingly with sympathy and love in the midst of those whose lives have been maimed and marred by sin. How it pained Him to see the havoc that sin had wrought in the creation. That creation, which once was so fair when it left His hands some millennia earlier, now groaned in the bondage of sin, and sin, when it was finished, brought forth death. Into this world of tears and tragedy the Creator-Son came voluntarily, and moved in grace and in compassion among the creatures, ministering healing to those around Him.
His compassion knew no frontiers. He dispensed blessing without discrimination or reserve. Both men and women, young and old, rich and poor, free and bond, small and great, learned and unlearned, Jew and Greek, were all objects of His love and felt His touch. Luke tells us that his Gospel is a treatise on the things that Jesus began both “to do” and “to teach”. There is a perfect blending of practice and precept, and accordingly there would appear to be twenty miracles and twenty parables in this Gospel, an equal balance of works and words.
This tender compassion of the Saviour is beautifully expounded in chapter 7. It goes out to four persons in particular. Three of these are anonymous. Only one is specifically named. There are two men and two women, of differing backgrounds. Socially, racially, and morally they are different, but the compassion of Christ goes out to each and all. Chapter 7 is a kaleidoscope of the ministry of a compassionate Christ; it is a commentary in miniature on the love that knew no bounds. A centurion and his slave; a widow and her son; a prophet in prison; a woman in the Pharisee’s house; all are the beneficiaries of the love and ministry of Jesus in this delightful chapter.
The centurion is, of course, a Gentile. Is he the first in Luke’s Gospel to know the fulfilment of Simeon’s prophecy of chapter 2? A light to lighten the Gentiles? In the unbelief of Capernaum this centurion is the firstfruits of a Gentile harvest. This man loved his slave. He had too, a certain love for Israel, and had proved this in a practical way, v.5. His slave was sick and dying when the message of the Saviour came to him. He felt unworthy to approach Jesus personally, and unworthy too that Jesus should come to him. He recognised the sovereignty of Christ “I also”, he says, “am a man placed under authority.” Note the force of the word “also”. When the centurion commanded, then all the authority of Rome and the emperor were behind his commands. He duly recognises that it would be likewise with Jesus. If He would but speak a word of healing, then all the authority of heaven and of God would be with that word. He believed. He acknowledged both his own unworthiness and the worth of Christ, and though the Lord was at a distance, compassion bridged that distance and reached the dying slave in instant healing.
The scene now moves from Capernaum to Nain. Two processions are approaching each other in a confrontation at the gate of Nain. “Much people” are going in, v.11 and “much people” are coming out, v.12. At the head of each procession there is an only son. The only son of the mourning widow is dead and on his way out of Nain to burial. The Son of God, the Only Begotten, Prince of Life, is making His way into Nain. Who will give way as life and death meet at the gate? The processions stop. The Lord observes the weeping widow. He has compassion on her, v.13, and speaks to her. He touches the coffin and speaks to the young man. The dead is raised to life. There is a joyous reunion, and God is glorified.
The prophet of chapter 7 is John Baptist. He is in prison and in some despondency. Why should he, the last, and greatest, of the prophets, languish in prison if Messiah had truly come? The bold prophet who had earlier proclaimed with confidence “This is He,” now sadly asks, “Art Thou He?” Poor John! Occupation with self and circumstances breeds doubt. In compassion the Lord continues His ministry. The blind see; the lame walk; lepers are cleansed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised. “Go,” He says, “tell John what things ye have seen and heard.” Occupation with the Person and work and Word of Christ is the antidote to doubt. It is still so with us. To see only ourselves and our circumstances is to engender doubt. Let us look away to Him Who, in compassion, still ministers to His people in the gospel.
In v.36 the Lord graciously accepts an invitation to eat in the house of Simon a Pharisee. How different is this Pharisee to the Roman centurion who said “I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under my roof”. The Pharisee has little or nothing for Christ, but a woman who does have something for Him enters the house. In the culture and informality of the east this was not exceptional, to intrude without invitation. She was apparently a well known city-sinner; she was a woman of the streets. Simon would not be pleased. But it is she who provides the real feast for the Saviour. She gave what Simon did not. Notice her reverence, coming to His feet behind Him. See her emotion as her tears flow. Observe her adoration as she bedews His feet with those tears. Behold her affection as she covers His feet with kisses, and see her deep appreciation of Him as she anoints Him with the fragrant myrrh. Simon is silently critical. “If this Man were a prophet He would know who and what she is,” he reasons in his heart. But He did know “who” and “what” she was. It did not matter. She was, morally, a great debtor, but the compassion of the Saviour was greater than her debt and her sin. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound, and to the forgiven woman He says, “Shalom, Shalom“, “Go in peace.” May we, who have likewise known His love and heard His word and felt His touch, revere and adore Him as did this woman so long ago.
The dependent Man of Luke’s Gospel is a praying Man. This is to be expected. Seven times in this Gospel do we find the Saviour at prayer. In every circumstance of life He will be found in communion with His Father. In joy and in sorrow; in busy service and in quiet solitude, the Saviour will always have time to engage in prayer.
In 3.21 we first find Him at prayer, right at the moment of His introduction to the nation. He is being baptised, taking His place with a believing remnant, responding to the call of Jehovah through John Baptist. This is great humility on the part of Jesus. He had nothing of which to repent, but He stands with a repentant people in Jordan. It was His gracious acknowledgement of John’s preaching and His identification with those who were obedient to the Word. As another has said, “He saw His sheep in the dark waters of death and He fain would be with them.” As He stands in the Jordan water He prays, and upon this dependent Man in prayer, the heavens open in visible and audible approval of Him. The Father speaks, and the Spirit descends, abiding as a tender dove upon the gentle Lamb of God.
In 5.16 His ministry has truly begun. Preaching and healing, and calling disciples after Him, He moves in Galilee. By the lake shore He ministers to a multitude of their sick as the sabbath sun is setting. The sabbath had left them in their sickness. The law cannot help. But the end of the Sabbath is the dawn of the Lord’s Day and the Saviour embarks upon His miraculous ministry. Great multitudes come to hear and to be healed, until He withdraws Himself into the wilderness and prays. Has He given His servants an example? Can we be too busy? Ought we, as the Master, sometimes withdraw ourselves from the bustle of service to engage in holy communion with the Father?
In 6.12 we are allowed to see the intensity of His intercession. On the mountain side He continued all night in prayer to God. This does not imply the endless, vain repetition for which He rebukes the Pharisees. It is continuing, earnest, prevailing supplication and communion with God, after which He will name His twelve apostles and then return to the people again, to minister to them. He came down from the mount of intercession to a great multitude who had travelled from as far away as Jerusalem and Judea and the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon, that they might hear Him and be healed.
In 9.19 He is at prayer again. Notice that, He is “alone”, praying. Note too, that in the previous verses He is ministering to a crowd of some five thousand, but He leaves the thousands and is now alone. From the multitude to the solitude He has retired to pray. Coming from prayer He asks His disciples, “Whom say the people that I am?” It is perhaps well known that chapter 9 is a climactic chapter in Luke’s Gospel. Soon the hour of rejection will come and the Saviour will commence His journey back to Jerusalem, and to Golgotha. What has the nation decided, He is asking. Whom say they that I am? Then, for His own comfort and for theirs, He asks, “But ye, whom say ye that I am?” Peter, bold spokesman for the twelve, answers unhesitatingly, “The Christ of God”. Approaching this crisis moment in His ministry, the Saviour is alone, praying.
In 9.28 we find Him yet again in prayer. Once more He will avail Himself of the privacy of the mountain side. He ascends the mount (Hermon?) to pray, and He takes with Him Peter and John and James. And as He prayed He is transfigured. His countenance and His garments are radiant with glory. They are joined by two more men, Moses and Elijah, and the conversation is about His forthcoming exodus which He would accomplish at Jerusalem. Heaven and earth are united in glory. Peter, John and James, who had come up from the plain below; Moses and Elijah who had come down from the glory above; Jesus, transfigured, all-glorious, in their midst, in an unforgettable hour of communion. All this on the holy mount, the mount where He had prayed. It is almost too much for the men of earth. They are heavy with sleep but when they awake they see His glory. Soon they must descend again, to begin the journey to Calvary.
In 11.1, for the sixth time in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus prays again. His disciples watch and wait and listen, and then ask, “Lord, teach us to pray”. And He taught them. He gave them a pattern prayer, not to be repeated mechanically as in much of Christendom, but to be observed as a model of brevity and beauty, of intimacy and dignity, the language of reverence, of intelligence, and of obedience. There is simplicity and sincerity, and all in a spirit of dependency. What beautiful language is this! We speak as children to a Father; as subjects to a King; as servants to a Master; as pilgrims to a Guide. And the Lord exhorts them, “After this manner therefore pray ye” Matt.6.9.
In 22.41 we see the Saviour in prayer on the eve of Calvary. This is holy ground. We approach with feet unshod. It is a garden on the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane. “Gethsemane” means, “the Olive Press”. It is the place where the oil is crushed out of the olives. And so we see Him, pressed, crushed, in the exceeding sorrows of the garden. He had brought Peter, James and John so far, but no further. In His sorrow He must go beyond them a stone’s cast. They had seen His glory on another mount. Now, on Mount Olivet, they are to witness the beginnings of His agony; earnest, agonising prayer, and blood-like sweat and tears.
- Garden of gloom appalling,
- Where, in His sore amaze,
- Earthward in anguish falling,
- Prostrate, the Saviour prays;
- Prays in exceeding sorrow,
- Prays, on the ground bowed low,
- Facing the dark tomorrow
- Full of unmeasured woe!
In the garden we have the very heart of true prayer. “Not My will, but Thine, be done.” In such a spirit we too must pray, acknowledging God’s rights and bowing to His will; asking, content with what He sends, knowing that it is always for our good and for His glory.
Our Lord’s transfiguration is recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew it is the shining forth of the majesty of the King, and a foregleam of His kingdom. In Mark it is heaven’s vindication of the perfect Servant; Divine approval of that lovely life of devoted humble service. In Luke it is the glory of the one truly dependent Man. Heaven shines upon Him, Who, upon another high mountain some three years earlier, had refused Satan’s offer of the kingdom, Lk.4.5-8. John does not record the transfiguration. His is the gospel of the glory; the Son of God cannot be transfigured.
Of the location of the transfiguration mount we cannot be certain. Tradition says it was Mount Tabor. It is more likely that it was Mount Hermon on Israel’s northern Galilean border, far removed from the unbelief of Jerusalem and Judea.
Both Matthew and Mark say that the transfiguration took place “after six days”. Luke says “eight days” but there is no discrepancy. Matthew and Mark count only the six complete days of the intervening period. Luke counts also the preceding and succeeding part days, and says, eight days. “Six” is the number of man’s day. Man never attains to the perfect seven. When man’s day has run its course then the millennial sun will rise on Messiah’s kingdom. “Eight” is the number of new beginning. The coming kingdom, which is previewed here in microcosm, will transcend all that has gone before in a new order. It is most interesting, and has often been pointed out, that while “666” is the number of the beast, Rev.13.18, the numerical value of the Greek letters which comprise the name Jesus, is “888”. The transfiguration was a glimpse of the coming kingdom.
It would appear to be a night scene. The disciples slept. Also, we read of their coming down from the mount “the following day”. It is kind of God, in the dark night of our Lord’s rejection, to give to His saints a sight of the glory. For Peter, James, and John, this had a special significance. James was to be an early martyr. Peter was to be the bold spokesman and witness to the nation on that historical day of Pentecost, Acts chapter 2. John was to wait for some sixty years more, some of these to be spent in exile, a prisoner for Christ. How these men needed a sight of the glory for their encouragement. What a comfort it must have been, in their darkest hours, to look back and remember the glory of the holy mount.
It is most instructive, and touching too, to compare this mount of glory with Golgotha. Behold His countenance, His face, here shining as the sun, transfigured. At Golgotha it was marred more than any man’s, disfigured. Here on the holy mount the darkness of night was turned to day. At Calvary the brightness of the noonday was turned to darkness. Daylight became midnight on the mount of suffering. “Let us make three tabernacles”, says Peter, on the mount of glory. But three crosses awaited on the other mount of sorrow. Two men appeared with Him on the holy mount, Moses and Elijah, and spake of His decease. Two men, thieves, hung by His side on the mount where He died. From the opened heaven, at the transfiguration, there came a voice, “My beloved Son”. At Calvary heaven was closed and silent, and the Saviour cries, “My God, My God”. On the holy mount His garments shone white and glistering in the glory. At Golgotha they stripped Him and gambled for His garments at the foot of His cross. In the sacred record, the transfiguration precedes the crucifixion, but it is, in fact, a preview of the glory that was to follow. As has been remarked by another, “When the Son began to witness concerning His sufferings, Matt.16.21, the Father witnessed concerning His glory, 2Pet.1.17.” He Who was to be put to shame by men, received honour and glory from the Father.
How fitting it was that Moses and Elijah should be there. Here were two of His greatest servants of times past, representing the law and the prophets. Here is assurance for us that saints in glory hold intelligent communion with one another and with Christ. They spake of His decease; rather, of His “exodus”, which He would accomplish. It was not just the death that He would die, not the sufferings that He would endure, but His exodus which He would accomplish. Men might indeed betray Him, arrest Him, bind Him, mock Him, scourge Him, and crucify Him, but in heaven’s view He is, Himself, accomplishing His exodus out of the world in His own way and in His own time. The saints in glory can converse about this with heavenly intelligence.
As they spake of this we remember that Moses had passed through the Red Sea, Ex.14.22, and Elijah had passed through the waters of Jordan, 2Kgs.2.8. But for both of them, the waves had been stayed, the waters had been held back. Here on the holy mount was the One Who would go into the deep waters and the floods would overflow Him. He would cry, “All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over Me” Ps.42.7.
Then came the cloud and overshadowed the scene. It was a bright cloud. This was no ordinary rain cloud; it was no mountain mist. Doubtless it must be compared with the Shekinah. The men of earth were afraid. The men from heaven withdrew. The disciples feared as they entered the cloud. It was heaven itself come down to earth to embrace the Son; “the excellent glory”, says Peter, 2Pet.1.17.
But they must descend from the mount. Earth with its sickness and sorrow awaited them below. With the quiet remembrance of the glory they must walk with the Son of Man through the sad world to Golgotha. And the glory was not only to be remembered; it was to be anticipated. What they had seen was the promise of what was to come. May we too, in company with the Saviour, walk in the world that has rejected Him, in the full assurance of this, that one day we too shall see and share in His glory.
At nine o’clock in the morning on that dark day, they crucified Him. From Gethsemane with its agony, through Gabbatha with its mockery, He had walked to Golgotha. For this day He had waited. Now His hour had come. It was Passover, and He was the true Paschal Lamb, without blemish or spot. Now He would be slain; His blood would be shed.
The hours of the preceding night had been dark and difficult. The traitor had kissed Him and betrayed Him. Peter had denied Him and had wept bitterly. The chief priests had tried Him and had delivered Him to Pilate. Pilate had sent Him to Herod, and Herod had sent Him back to Pilate. Jew and Gentile were joined in their rejection of Him. He had been mocked and maligned. They had spat on Him, beaten Him, stripped Him and scourged Him. They had crowned Him with thorns and robed Him in purple. And through it all He had remained silent, unmurmuring and uncomplaining; He opened not His mouth, Isa.53.7. A Man of sorrows indeed, condemned to die by crucifixion, and two malefactors led out with Him to the place of a skull.
If we can identify Calvary correctly today, it is the northern tip of the hill which is Mount Moriah. Two hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Maccabees had cut a highway through the hill. The greater, southern part of the hill is the Temple Mount. On the other side of the highway, outside the city wall, is that rocky prominence with the skull features, Golgotha. Centuries earlier another father and son had walked together to Moriah, Genesis chapter 22. It was an early foreshadowing of this scene, Father and Son moving together to the place of sacrifice.
For at least part of the way He carried His cross, He walks calmly amid the tumult, the shouts of the men and the tears of the women. Gently He speaks comfort to these. “Weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” “His blood be on us and on our children”, the multitudes had cried to Pilate. “Weep for them” says the Lord Jesus. Less than forty years later, in AD 70, more than a million Jews perished in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. No doubt some of these were present at Calvary. And today, near to the site of the house of Caiaphas on Mount Zion, there stands a monument to the memory of one million, two hundred thousand Jewish children who died in the holocaust. And the worst is yet to come.
The Gospels do not record all the painful details of the crucifixion. It was an ignominious death, employed by the Romans only for slaves, aliens and traitors. Other offending Roman citizens were beheaded if guilty of death. So does Paul write, “Even the death of the cross” Phil.2.8. For the greater detail and for the feelings of Christ, we must turn to the Psalms, especially Psalm 22. There was the nailing of His hands and feet to the wood. Gentle hands that had been laid on little children and upon their sick, now spiked cruelly to the tree. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of Him that bringeth good tidings”, their prophet had written, Isa.52.7, but those feet were spiked, like His hands, to the cross.
There followed the lifting up of the cross. Crucifixion was known as a “lifting up” Jn.12.32,33. The Son of Man must be lifted up. What shame was this, lifted up, bereft of garments, lifted up to the irreverent gaze of wicked men. “All my bones are out of joint”, He cries, Ps.22.14. “They gaped upon Me.” “They look and stare upon Me.”
The physical weakness of the Crucified was painful. “I am poured out like water … “My strength is dried up.” And with this the awful thirst. For three hours He hung under the burning Jerusalem sun. “My tongue cleaveth to my jaws … I thirst”; and they touched His parched lips with vinegar. They gambled for His clothing while He suffered. He was the gentle hind of the dawn, surrounded by bulls and dogs, by the proud and arrogant bulls of Bashan, the leaders of the nation, and by the fierce dogs of Rome, unleashed upon Him.
From the third hour, 9 a.m., until noonday, the sun blazed upon Him. Then suddenly, supernaturally, the sun withdrew its light. There followed three mysterious hours of darkness which covered the land. The sinless One is now the Sin-bearer. The guiltless Substitute is taking the place of the guilty. He was made sin for us. Jehovah deals with Him accordingly. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani?”
- Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
- In my place condemned He stood;
- Sealed my pardon with His blood;
- Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
(Philip P. Bliss)
At the ninth hour, 3 p.m., He cried with a loud voice. Probably He cried only one word, “Finished!” The saving work was done. The suffering and pain were over. The darkness was past.
- Crucified! Crucified!
- And nailed upon the tree!
- With pierced hands, and feet, and side!
- For you … for me.
(C. Austin Miles)
“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” Gal.6.14.
The days immediately following the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus were dark days for those who had loved Him. The holy body had been taken down from the cross and laid in a rock-hewn virgin tomb in a garden outside the city wall. A great stone had been rolled across the entrance and sealed.
- Gently they took Him down,
- Unfixed His hands and feet,
- Took from His head the thorny crown,
- Brought forth a winding sheet.
- Fine linen, fitly made,
- Wrapped they around His face;
- Where never man before was laid
- Made they His resting place.
As yet the disciples had not seemed to grasp the truth that He would rise again. The two who walked the Emmaus road were typical. Their countenances were sad. Their steps were slow. Their conversation was sorrowful as they communed together about the sufferings and death of the Saviour. Yet even as they walked and talked, the Redeemer was alive and His tomb was empty, except for the grave clothes He had left behind. Had He not said of His life, “I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again”? The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the great and glorious truth upon which both our preaching and our faith depend. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” 1Cor.15.14. The Saviour’s resurrection is the irrefutable proof that propitiation was made at the cross and it is the grand prelude to His ascension and exaltation into the heavens. It is a well attested and proven historical fact, and although acknowledging the impossibility of dealing with it fully in one short meditation, nevertheless we must try to gather together for our encouragement some of the evidence that our Lord is indeed risen from the dead. “He showed Himself alive” says Luke, Acts 1.3, and in a little while there was quite a band of human witnesses, able and willing to testify that He was indeed alive. They had seen Him.
Although John gives more details of the scene in the garden, Luke confirms that it was the women who came first to the sepulchre. Devoted women, last to leave His cross; first to visit His sepulchre. It was early in the morning; sunrise on the first day of the week; they came with spices to anoint Him Whom they had loved. But the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. Angels appeared to them in their perplexity, with a question, and a message, and then another question. “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”, was the first question of the shining ones. “He is not here, but is risen”, was their plain message. “Remember how He spake unto you when He was yet in Galilee?” was the second question. And they then remembered His words, that He would be crucified and the third day rise again.
Mary of Magdala was there, with the other women. Mary, who, next to the man of the tombs in Gadara, is the worst case of demon possession recorded in the Gospels. How she loved Him Who had delivered her from seven demons, Lk.8.2! Mary had followed Him in devotion since her deliverance, ministering to Him with other women. They brought the message to the apostles, and Peter and John ran to the sepulchre. What follows, recorded in more detail by John, is most interesting.
John outran Peter and arrived first at the tomb. But of each of them it is recorded that they “saw” the linen clothes lying in the otherwise empty sepulchre. The word for “seeing” however, is different in each usage of it, and it is important to observe the changes in the word.
John arrived first. He did not go in, but stooped down and looked in, and he “saw” the linen clothes lying. The word here is blepo. It is simple sight with no particular notice of details.
Peter then arrives and goes right into the sepulchre. There was a weeping chamber adjacent to the burial chamber, large enough to hold several persons. Peter “seeth” the linen clothes lie, but the word for “seeing” is now theoreo. It indicates a careful perusal, an intent regard, observing details, wondering about an explanation of that which is seen.
John now goes in also, and he “saw” and believed. What did he see; how did he see; what did he believe; and why? The word now used for “seeing” is the word eidon. It means mental perception; understanding; as one might say, having tried to understand some matter, and now seeing the things clearly, “I see it now!” John saw! He saw the evidence of a miracle as he intelligently regarded the grave clothes.
Both saw the linen clothes “lying”. Why the several uses of this word “lying”? Would it not have been sufficient to say that they saw the grave clothes? No! Both Luke and John say that the linen clothes were “lying”. They lay, extended in the long loose folds as when they had enwrapped the body of the Lord Jesus. But the precious body was gone, and the grave clothes “lay” on the bed of the tomb, perhaps depressed by the weight of the spices, the powdered myrrh and aloes which would still be in the folds. The clothes were undisturbed, lying where the holy body had once reposed.
And the napkin that had been about His head? It was still in its convolutions as when it had been wrapped around the Saviour’s head in burial. It was likewise undisturbed, and not with the linen clothes, but in a place by itself, on the ledge where the Saviour’s head had rested. John saw and believed. The mystery of the undisturbed grave clothes is no mystery to those who see in them the evidence of a miracle. Otherwise they are inexplicable. The Lord is risen indeed. He has vacated the tomb and has vacated also the grave clothes with which they had swathed Him. He has left them miraculously undisturbed, and He has gone, triumphantly, from the sepulchre.
Time and space prohibit the telling of the whole story. What a story it is, of the weeping Magdalene in the garden; of Peter and John; of the two who walked with Him to Emmaus; of the little band of women who met Him on the road and held Him by the feet; of the eleven in the upper room who saw His nail-printed hands and feet and wounded side; of Thomas who cried, “My Lord and my God”, of the seven disciples who dined with Him by the lake-shore; and of those who met Him in the hills of Galilee. Then there were five hundred brethren who saw Him all at once, 1Cor.15.6; and later there were Stephen, and Paul, and John, who saw Him in glory.
Faith has no doubts. He Who suffered and was slain is now alive, risen and ascended. With the eleven we say, “The Lord is risen indeed”. And with a myriad other voices we sing:
- Death cannot keep his prey;
- Jesus, my Saviour!
- He tore the bars away;
- Jesus, my Lord!
Both Mark and Luke record the story of the ascension of the Lord Jesus, but not Matthew or John. Matthew of course, writes the Messianic, royal Gospel and it is fitting therefore that he should keep the King on earth, among His people. John’s is the Gospel of the glory of the Son of God. The Son is ever in the bosom of the Father and the ascension is not necessary in John’s account. But it is befitting in Mark’s Gospel that the perfect Servant of Jehovah should be taken up in vindication to glory. And in Luke’s Gospel we likewise see the ascension to heaven of Him, Who, on earth, walked as a perfect Man for God’s pleasure. Here is heaven’s approval and reception and exaltation of that morally glorious One for Whom earth had no room.
Certain periods of time in the life of the Lord Jesus are delineated in the Gospels. There were thirty years in Nazareth in relative obscurity. There followed forty days in the wilderness of temptation. This was the prelude to three and a half years of public ministry. After His death there were three days of silence as He lay in the tomb. For forty days, as a risen Man, He showed Himself indeed alive. And at the consummation of all these times and periods He ascended, taken up bodily into the heavens from which He had come.
Luke writes twice of the ascension; once in a few words at the ending of His Gospel, 24.50,51, and again in a few words at the beginning of his second treatise, the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 1.9. It is Luke who points out that most interesting observation, that our Lord ascended from Bethany. Why Bethany? We might have understood if He had gone up from Bethlehem, thus completing a circuit of glory, coming in and going out from the city of David. We could have appreciated also if He had ascended from Nazareth where He had been brought up. And had he gone up from Jerusalem in triumph; from the Temple Mount in public splendour, we could have appreciated that. But no; He chose neither Bethlehem or Nazareth or Jerusalem, but led them out as far as unto Bethany.
Bethany was precious to Him. There were hearts there that loved Him. This dusty village lay on the slopes of Olivet, less than two miles from the noise and bustle of Jerusalem. They had received Him there when the proud city had rejected Him. They had made Him a supper there when Jerusalem had no room for Him. He would now be received up in glory from the town which had received Him on earth. This was Bethany’s reward for having extended its welcome to Him. He would imprint His last footsteps on Olivet and Bethany, and would go up from there to glory.
He lifted up His hands and blessed them. It was a priestly gesture. He was going up to become, as we love to call Him, the Man in the glory. He was ascending to a heavenly, priestly, Melchisedec ministry for His people. It was so beautiful that He should leave them with uplifted hands, pronouncing a blessing upon them. Would they have seen the nail prints in those raised hands? Did they see, in His holy palms, the price of their blessing?
While He was in the very act of blessing them He began to be parted from them. “I leave the world and go to the Father,” He had said, Jn.16.28. And in a holy defiance of the law of gravity He began to ascend. Up and up, through the heavens and into heaven itself He ascended in His body of glory and a cloud took Him in. They watched until He had gone beyond the reach of their vision, and even then they continued to gaze into the heavens which had received Him. Did the disciples appreciate or understand what was happening? A real Man, a risen Man, had gone up into glory. Were they aware of the momentous nature of what they had seen? Perhaps they were. Note that they did not grieve over His departure. They did not weep, with a sad sense of losing Him. Indeed, they worshipped, and praised, and rejoiced. There was a Man in the glory now, their Representative and Comforter. It was a time for great joy. They returned for a while to Jerusalem and to the temple. This gospel of the perfect Man begins and ends in the temple. It is a priestly gospel.
What does the ascension mean to the Lord Jesus? What does it mean to me; or to the devil; or to the world? To Him it was a vindication of all that He was and of all that He had done, as the Father said, “Sit Thou on My right hand” Ps.110.1. For me it is the grand assurance and pledge, that where He is, there shall I be also, Jn.14.3. To the devil it is the confirmation of his ultimate doom. The place and position that he coveted has been reserved for and afforded to the risen Saviour. To the world it is a sad and solemn indictment; God has highly exalted the Man Whom it cast out. The world will be judged accordingly. To the church, His body, the ascension is the exaltation of her glorious Head. The Head of the church has gone up far above all principality and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named.
As we review, with Luke, the story of this blessed One, how rightly do we exclaim, again and again, “Behold the Man” and “What manner of Man is this?”
- Without a trace of Adam’s sin,
- A Man unique in origin,
- All fair without, all pure within,
- Our Blessed Lord!