By J.G. Bellet
"THE beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
Nothing can be simpler, more thoroughly divested of all ceremoniousness and form, than this; and fully does it suit One Who was coming forth in service.
The whole Person is verified. But this is done without solemnity of any kind. For it is not the Lord's person that is about to be before us, nor is it His rights, but His ministry. The introduction which He is to receive here is, therefore, only that which is necessary to set Him at His gracious and blessed task.
John the Baptist announces Him as He Who was coming to baptize; that is, coming forth in ministry. But Mark does not add, as Matthew and Luke do, "Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor"--because that action belongs to the Lord in His judicial, rather than His ministerial, place, and was, therefore, not within the purpose of this Gospel.
We then read of the Lord's own baptism at the hand of John; and then of His temptation; each of these things being a needful part of His introduction to ministry.
In our evangelist's account of the temptation there is one circumstance that is peculiar to him. He tells us, speaking of the Lord in that scene, that "He . . . was with the wild beasts."
This is full of interest and very fitting it is to put this mark of dignity, personal dignity, at once (ere the course of services began) upon the One Who, however He might humble Himself to the form of a servant, was none less than Jehovah, and the unspotted, stainless Son of man. He "was with the wild beasts." It was a dreary spot in itself, a wilderness. But, at this time, there was a Man there Who had never forfeited Eden. Jesus had man's original place in the creation of God. He was in the midst of the creatures of God's hand, as Adam had been in the days of his uprightness. In His presence the wild beasts were as though they were not wild, as they had been in Genesis 2.
There was no forfeiture of Eden in the person of this Son of man. The temptation now comes, as in Genesis 3, to let it be known that He will keep His first estate, as Adam did not.
The serpent enters upon the scene a second time, and the temptation takes its course. We need not say how "the last Adam" answered the serpent. When the devil left Him, angels came and ministered to Him as the Victorious One; angels, who had withstood the first Adam as the defeated one, keeping every way the way of the tree of life. Eden, as far as title went, was never lost to Jesus. These august witnesses, as I may call them, the beasts of the wilderness and the angels of heaven, in their several way, seal this truth to us--therefore, all which He went through, after this, in borrow and weariness and hunger, as in a world of thorns and thistles, was in obedience to God, and in grace to sinners. It was a willing entrance into the forfeiture of all things. He exposed Himself to all of it; He was liable to none of it.
This is, after this manner, impressed on the person and condition of our blessed Lord, as He practically enters on His life of service. Deeply welcome it is to us, but it is quickly disposed of; and all is soon left behind. His baptism, with its attending voice from heaven and descent of the Spirit, as well as this scene in the wilderness, and the notice of John's imprisonment, all is quickly disposed of, and, after thirteen or fourteen short verses, we find Him in actual service.
Rapidity or diligence marks this service at once, and that, too, very advisedly--for a servant is to be known by his diligence--"not slothful in business"--and thus we find the word "straightway," or "anon," or "forthwith," or "immediately," so common in the first chapter.
And from this onward, through these chapters, it is in service we see the Lord engaged. To be passing from one action to another, and still doing good, is His way. And He is rather doing than teaching; for doing is the humbler work. We have few parables, and no lengthened discourses, as in Matthew and Luke; while several of His acts of grace and power are more detailed by Mark than by either of them--as in the case of Legion, and of the woman with the issue of blood, of the deaf man at Decapolis, and of the blind man at Bethsaida.
And, in all these records, there are touches and strokes that beautifully manifest the design of the Spirit. The human tones of the mind of Christ are vivid here.
Thus, in the healing of Peter's wife's mother, Mark is the only one who tells us that the Lord "took her by the hand" when He was raising her up, after the fever had left her.
So it is Mark only who tells us that, in like grace, the Lord took up the little children in His arms.
But such actions not only express the tenderness and the grace of One Who was perfect in service; they are also beautiful from their significancy. Take, for instance, this action respecting the little children, just alluded to.
On this occasion, in Mark 10, it is in His arms the Lord takes the little children; on another, in Matt. 18, He sets one in the midst of the disciples; or, as we see it in Luke 9, by Himself, or at His own side.
There is beautiful significancy in these different actions.
It was when the disciples were rebuking those who brought the children to Him, that He took them up in His arms. He would fain give the place of nearest and fondest affection to those whom ignorance of Him, and the mistakes of the poor, foolish heart of man, would have kept at a distance.
But when the disciples were disputing among themselves who should be the greatest, He takes a little child, and either sets it in their midst, or at His own side; for, whether conspicuously in the centre of the group, or distinguishingly at His own right hand, He was giving the little child the place of honour, rebuking the pride of life or love of distinction which was then working among them.
Beautiful, therefore, again I say, in their significancy, are these different actions of the Lord touching the little children. He takes them into the place of endearment, when unbelief would have kept them at a distance; He puts them in the place of honour, when pride or worldliness would have sought such a place for itself.
And again. Though we read of His looking round in anger, yet we soon learn that this was not the anger of one who has taken the seat of judgment, but of Him Who was grieved at heart for the hardness and unbelief of men. It was the sensitiveness of the spirit of holiness.
His sympathies are much noticed by our evangelist, as He is doing His deeds of mercy. And so His sensibilities. At the sight of sorrow He sighed--at the sight of sin He sighed deeply. Mark 7: 34; 8: 12.
In Mark's account of the rich young ruler we read that Jesus beholding him loved him; but neither Matthew nor Luke mention this emotion of the Lord's heart.
So, on two occasions, where the healing was very similar, one recorded by John, and the other by Mark, we still find the sympathy of Jesus noticed only in Mark. In the ninth chapter of John the Lord employs His spittle, and applies His hand; and then, as in the sense of authority and power, He says to the blind man, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam." In Mark, 7, He again employs His spittle, and applies His hand; but, with that, He enters personally and intensely into the occasion. He looks up to heaven, as owning the Father there; He sighs, as sensible of the sorrow here; and then, but not till then, He speaks the word, and the healing comes.
These were some of His sympathies with us, and with our infirmities. They were among His ways of service; and by them He was learning to fill, in like infinite grace, His present service in heaven, as the compassionating High Priest. "In that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted."
Nor is there the same authority in His way of vindicating His glory in the face of the unbelief and scorn of man, nor the same tone of severity in His rebukes, in this Gospel, as in the others.
The ordination of the Twelve is not given so fully here as in Matthew. And it is very significant of our evangelist that he tells us that Jesus ordained the apostles, not merely that He might send them forth, as Matthew speaks, but that also they might be with Him, His companions, as it were, as well as His apostles; as though He were, which truly He was, their Fellow-labourer in the gospel.
These and such like touches and strokes may be faint, and pass notice at times; but they give character. They show Jesus as the Servant--they point out the girdle wherewith He was girded. They form the ways of One Who was skilful in showing kindness, and knew the art of serving others to perfection.
"He is beside Himself," was the language of some, as recorded by Mark. And it was true, in a sense which they thought not of. He was wanting to Himself in that prudence which man has learnt to value--for "men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself."
Consistent with all this He is seen here rather in the valley--a self-emptied, hidden One, as becomes a servant. Phil. 2: 7. He is, at times, called "Master" here, where in Matthew He is called by the higher title, "Lord." And it is only in Mark that we read that the people called Him "the Carpenter." Nor do we trace His spirit in the same conscious elevation at times--we have no Matthew 11: 25, nor Luke 10: 19, in Mark.
His miracles verified Him as the Son of David in the thoughts of the people, as Matthew tells us. Matt. 12: 23. But they are not so spoken of in our Gospel. Nor do we find the same carefulness in the Spirit here to identify Jesus of Nazareth with the promised Messiah, by constant reference to the prophets, applying their words to Him and His doings. For it is not so much His claims on the world that the Lord is here vindicating, as man's call on His power and grace that He is ever waiting to answer.
His retirements, too, are but recruitings for fresh service. Therefore He suffered such retirement to be intruded on, if people and their necessities would have it so; for He did not claim His time for Himself.
We have an instance of this in chapter 1. After labouring in various toils from morning till evening in Capernaum, we see Him, the next morning rising a great while before day, for prayer; but His retirement being interrupted by the demands of the people, and by the word of Peter, He at once allows it, and comes forth.
So, in Mark 4, He is teaching by the seaside. He begins this day's work there, on the banks of the lake of Galilee. It proves to be a toilsome day, and in the evening of it He would fain retire. Accordingly, His disciples take Him as He was, a wearied Working-man, in the ship, and, in the care of their love for Him, they provide Him a pillow, and He falls asleep. Was it ever said with such emphasis as now, "For so He giveth His beloved sleep"? They put off from the shore; and the wind shortly rises to a storm, and the waves beat into the ship. The interruption again comes, for the fears of the disciples awake Him, and awake Him rudely. But He would know no measure of His sleep and refreshment but such as the need of others would prescribe; and therefore He at once rises to quiet the winds and the waves and the fears of His people.
So again in Mark 6. The apostles had returned from their mission, and, providing for their comfort, He takes them to a desert place, that they might rest and eat. But the multitude, who had watched them, surprise them in their retreat. It would have been a valued moment to Him, thus to have been alone with the companions of His labours, hearing from them both what they had done and what they had taught. But at the intrusion of the multitude He at once turns, and begins to teach them many things. The deeper necessity of the people calls Him off from that of the apostles. It was but one service giving place to another; but the scene does not close till He has provided for both, teaching the people, and feeding all so full were His hands, so continuously girded His loins.
And this Servant, as we have now seen, was weary betimes. There is, however, a difference to be observed in the two instances of this; I mean that in our fourth chapter, at which I have just been looking, and that in the fourth chapter of John. He finds sleep for His relief in Mark; He was independent of all refreshment in John. Here was a striking difference. But the common sensibilities of our nature will, when we inspect the two occasions a little, easily account for this.
In Mark 4 He had gone through a day of toil, and in the evening He was tired, as nature will be after labour. Sleep is then provided for Him, to restore Him to His work when the morning came. In John 4. He is weary again, hungry and thirsty also. He sits thus on the well at Sychar, waiting till the disciples return from the neighbouring village with food. But when they come back they find Him feasted and rested already. He had had a different refreshment from any which they could have brought Him, or sleep have provided Him. He had been happy in the fruit of His labour. He had known the joy of harvest, as well as the toil of sowing. A poor, careless sinner had been made happy by Him.
How simple! How intelligible, again I say, on the principles of our common humanity! There had been no woman of Samaria in Mark 4, no sinner sent away in the joy of salvation. He therefore needed sleep to restore Him. But in John 4 His Spirit is refreshed by the fruit of His labour, and He can do without food or sleep. "I have meat to eat that ye know not of," is His word here, in the stead of His using the pillow which they had provided.
We can all understand all this. Our common human sensibilities are in the secret.
But with all this nearness to us, this fellowship in these ways and experiences and sympathies of the nature He had assumed, He was still and ever a Stranger in the world. He takes His distance as He shows us His intimacy. Perfect in moral glory this is! And this is seen in Mark 6, just referred to.
The disciples return to Him, as we saw, after a day's labour. He cares for them He brings their weariness very near to Him. He takes account of it just as it is, and provides for it at once, saying to them, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile." But, the multitude following Him, He turns with the same readiness to them, taking knowledge of them as sheep not having a shepherd; and He begins to teach them.
In all this we see Him near - for some human need or another had demanded Him.
But the disciples, resenting His attention to the multitude, and moving Him to send them away, He lets them learn how distant He was, in the spirit of His mind, from them. He acts altogether contrary to their suggestion, and, at last, tells them to get alone into the boat, while He sent the multitude away.
The need of men shall bring Him near, the spirit of man shall keep Him distant.
But again, when the disciples in the boat get into fresh trouble, then is He again at their side to succour and deliver them.
How consistent in the combinations of holiness and grace all this is! His holiness ever kept Him apart in such a polluted, selfish world; His grace ever kept Him at hand and active in such a needy world. And these were shinings of that full moral glory that was in Him. Surely, we may say, His life was a lamp in the sanctuary of God, which needed no golden tongues or snuff-dishes. No dimness ever soiled it.
The Lord meets the same hindrances and contradictions here, in Mark, as He met with in the other Gospels. Pharisees and scribes resent Him, and challenge Him, and watch to ensnare Him. The fickleness of the multitude is the same, and the slow-heartedness and unbelief of His disciples. But onward He passes from one service to another, "doing good" being His purpose and His business.
Here, however, I would turn aside for a little, and observe that in the midst of all His services and humiliations, whether we find them here or in the other Gospels, personal, divine glory will at times brightly shine out. For this Serving-man is Jehovah. In the form of a servant, obedient to the deepest, most perfect point of self-emptying, yet was He in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God.
He deals with leprosy as the Jehovah of Israel alone could deal with it. He feeds the thousands of His people as Jehovah of old had fed them. The elements bowed to His word. Devils trembled at the majesty of His presence, and men felt it at times. He imparted the power to work miracles, to heal the sick, to cleanse the lepers, to raise the dead, to cast out devils; and, as another has said, while any man, if empowered by God may work a wonder, none but God can impart the power to do so. Elijah's mantle fell on Elisha; but, in using it, Elisha says, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" But it was in His name, the name of Jesus, that the disciples whom He had sent cast out devils. They used in His name the power that He had imparted to them. "The seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Thy name."
What were all these but tokens of a hidden glory that was divine!
He may hide that glory which was His, and hide it deeply under thick veils of humiliation and weakness and service; but it was His, and it can assert itself. And let me say, though He hide it Himself, yet if unbelief obscure or mistake it, He gives no place to unbelief in such wise. He may rest for the present under the scorn and rejection of men, but He leaves not the slow-heartedness of His saints unanswered. Martha said, "I know that . . . whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee;" and again, "I know that he shall rise again . . . at the last day." But the Lord gives no place to all this. He rebukes such thoughts, clouding His glory as they do. "I am the resurrection and the life," He says; "he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die." And He adds, as with intense meaning addressing Himself to Martha's condition, "Believest thou this?" It was neither God giving an answer to the asking of Jesus, nor was it the virtue of the last day, that He could allow the mind of Martha to rest in; He must have her, in thought and faith, reach Him in His place of full, personal glory.
"Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip?" is of the same spirit. And deeply welcome to faith all this is. It sees the veil, and approves it for the present; but it will not, it dare not, it cannot, be careless about the glory that is under it.
This, however, only for a moment by the way, lest we might be less mindful of Who He is that is thus in service before us.
And now (to return to our own Gospel) I may further observe, that there is an unobtrusiveness in the midst of these activities that further adorns or perfects the character of this blessed Servant of God. At Decapolis He takes the poor deaf man aside; and when He has got him by himself He opens his ear, charging him to say nothing about it. Mark 7.
In the borders of Tyre and Sidon, though the necessities of sinners may discover Him there, as everywhere else, yet He "would have no man know it." Mark tells us this, but Matthew passes over the same occasion without an allusion to it.
And again, at Bethsaida, He takes a blind man by the hand, and leads him out of the town, and there in secret gives him sight--and sending him away, healed as he was, charges him not to go into the town, neither to tell it to any in the town. Mark 8.
For though, as the Witness of God, He had to be aggressive, and thus to encounter the hatred of the world, as we read in John (John 7: 7), yet, as the Servant of God, here in Mark, He was, after the manner we have now seen, hiding Himself, as far as His service admitted it. Service is never perfect without that. A servant is not to know himself. He is to know only his master, and to be very willing that others likewise should not know him, but only his master. And it is thus with the Lord. He goes on with His work; and, if that gather notice, His way is still to go on, and, under fresh services, still to hide Himself. This is seen in chapter 1. Simon and other disciples follow Him into His privacy, Saying, "All men seek for Thee," as though the multitude would make Him public, make Him an object--but He only hides Himself under fresh labours, answering Peter, and saying, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for therefore came I forth."
And, according to this character of His walk, we find Him, on certain occasions, more carefully veiling His glory in this Gospel than in others.
In reasoning with the Pharisees about the Sabbath He speaks of Himself, in Matthew, as "One greater than the temple." This is passed by here. And on the same occasion, both in Matthew and Luke, His lordship of the Sabbath is pleaded in a style of conscious authority. But here it is grounded simply on this, that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."
So, though, in this Gospel, we have the vision on the holy mount, still there is something even there of this veiling of Himself.
This was the one ray of the heavenly glory that illumined the dreary path of this rejected Son of man on earth. His spirit, it is true, was ever in the light of His Father's countenance during these years of service through the cities and villages of the land; but His circumstances among men were lonely and uncheered. But this scene of the transfiguration was a visitation of the glory that crossed His path for a moment, and it was full of the kingdom of heaven.* But our evangelist has some notice of it which is peculiar to him. He tells us that, on the Lord's coming down from the hill, "all the people, when they beheld Him, were greatly amazed, and running to Him saluted Him." I suppose that, in some measure, the glory was still lingering about Him, as Moses' face shone when he got down to the foot of Mount Sinai, and stood among the people again. This might have brought the Lord into a place of honour and notice; but it only shows Him forth in the more perfect form of a Servant, Who would empty Himself, or make Himself of no reputation. The robe is speedily put off, and the girdle as speedily put on. The Lord turns from the salutation of the multitude to the sorrow of the poor dumb child, whose father had brought him with a cry for mercy--so perfect was He in the spirit of service, that neither the glory at the top of the mount, nor the salutations at the foot of it, could weaken or interrupt it.
*It is the kingdom in power which is seen in the transfiguration; its heavenly department being principal.
And so, on the same occasion, it is when He sees the crowd running together, as to a sight, that He at once heals the poor child, avoiding, all He can, the publicity of the miracle--and when the child is healed He takes him by the hand, and lifts him up. All this is peculiar to Mark.
I have already observed that, in this Gospel, the Lord is more the Doer than the Teacher. There is, however, one piece of teaching, one parable, which is found only here. I mean the parable of the Seed that grew Secretly, in Mark 4. It occupies the same place in Mark that the parable of the Wheat and the Tares does in Matthew--each of these, in its several Gospel, following the parable of the Sower.
Now in this, small as it is, the character of Mark's Gospel is still preserved. The parable of the Wheat and the Tares gives us a sight of the Lord in the place of authority--for He has both servants and angels at command, and He orders the harvest as He pleases. The parable of the Seed that grew Secretly, on the contrary, exhibits Him in the place of service, and not of authority; for it is He Himself Who, at the first, is the Sower, and, at the end, the Reaper.
This is full of character. What at first might seem to be an exception to the general bearing of the Gospel (which does not, as we said, present our Lord so much as a teacher), is found to be in perfect keeping with it; thus introducing one witness of its unities, or its divine consistency with itself, of a very interesting kind.
And now, in closing this portion of our Gospel, and leaving our Lord in these scenes of His service, let me notice here (what indeed I have already noticed in another place), that He never claimed the person whom He healed.
This is to be seen alike in all the evangelists; but it is a very striking and beautiful feature in His ministry.
He never made a claim for Himself to the one that He had healed, as though the blessing He had conferred should create a title in His own favour. It is to one, "Go in peace;" to another, "Go thy way;" to another, "Take up thy bed, and walk;" to another, "Go into thine house"--or words of like spirit.
He would not let the poor Gadarene be with Him, though he sought it. Jairus's daughter He left in the bosom of her family. The child whom He healed at the foot of the holy mount He delivered to his father. The widow of Nain's son, whom He restored to life, He delivered to his mother. He claims nothing on the ground of what He did in the way of service. Grace, I may say, would not so dishonour itself. Its nature is to give, and not to receive; to impart to others, and not to enrich itself. The time for healing must not be the time for demanding. The spirit of Elisha resented the thought of receiving money, and garments, and sheep, and oxen, after he had been cleansing a leper. And the spirit of the prophet was but the faint breathing of the spirit of the Son. Jesus did good, and lent, hoping for nothing again. Grace would have been wanting in one of its finest expressions had it been otherwise; but we know that He came in order that in Him and His ways it might shine, full of the exceeding riches and glory that belong to it.
He found servants in this world, it is true, but they were the fruit of His call, and of the energy of His Spirit--the fruit, too, of affections kindled in hearts constrained by His love. He called Levi, and Levi followed; Andrew and Simon, likewise, and James and John; and they followed. But He did not heal them, and then claim them. Mary clung to Him with fervent, grateful love, for He had cast out seven devils from her. But He had not claimed her. The love of a kindled heart constrained her; but that was quite another thing.
I know not that we can sufficiently admire this. It has great excellency in it. And the first duty of faith, as well as its highest privilege and sublimest acting, is to stand before Him and His ways, adoring. We should charge our hearts to know this secret. Instead of painfully inquiring of ourselves whether we are making suited returns to the saving, life-giving grace of the Son of God, we should awake to the enjoyment of Him in His exercises of this grace. Our first business with the light that shines in Him is to learn from it what He is--calmly, thankfully, joyfully learn that, and not begin by anxiously measuring ourselves by it, or seeking to imitate it.