The Gospel of Mark - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
The ... Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
These words give us Mark's conception of the value of the story he was about to write. It was wholly good tidings, a story to cause gladness, news which would bring hope to those who should need it. That is a truth which should never be forgotten by those who are called to declare the story. Sometimes the dark and awful facts of human life are in danger of giving an almost gloomy note to the preaching of the Gospel. It never should be so. Sin is a terrible fact, and the more we understand our message the more will its terror be felt. But that message is first, and always, the good news of the possibility of complete deliverance therefrom. The preacher of that good news should always be confident, jubilant, a veritable optimist in all the richest senses of that often much-abused word. He is full of hope, and it is hope well founded. He hopes in God, on behalf of man, and his right to do so is that of the Crucified and Risen Christ. The secrets of the Gospel are suggested in the remaining words - "of Jesus Christ the Son of God." The good news is simply and wholly the story of that Person. His twofold being and relationship are set forth in the first and last of the words describing Him; and the meaning of His presence in the world in the central one. He is Jesus, Man of our humanity. He is the Son of God, and of His very essence He is the Anointed King-Priest, reigning over man, as God, and reconciling man to God as Man. This is indeed a glorious Gospel.
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
That is, even yet, as surely as when it was first uttered, a startling, solemnizing word. In a general, superficial way, men accept it. All must agree in the more positive aspect of it. He certainly did come to call sinners. It is the negative aspect which startles. He plainly declared that He had no message for the righteous. If any man shall refuse to be reckoned among sinners, then, according to this declaration of the Lord, that man stands outside the circle to which His appeal is made. The context shows the true value of the saying. The moral teachers were criticising Him for consorting with sinners, and in these words He gave His reason for doing so, and at the same time made it clear that He had no message for any men who refused to take their place with those very sinners. In such a saying, under such circumstances, there is discoverable a gentle satire, and a great compassion. These self-satisfied men, who will by no means consent to be counted among the sinners, are taken at their own valuation. They are whole, and so have no need of the Physician! They are righteous, and so do not require His call! And yet the deepest note is that of His compassion. He knew their sickness, and so was willing to heal them. He knew they were sinners, and so was calling them also. When we accept the Divine judgment that "There is none righteous," then we find His call is indeed to us. To resent that finding is to put ourselves outside the number of those to whom the Son of God calls.
He surnamed ... He surnamed.
Mark 3:16, 17
This is a very suggestive story. To three of His twelve Apostles He gave surnames. Perhaps He did the same for all. We do not know. The action in regard to these three is illustrative. Perhaps He ever does the same for His own. If so, one wonders how He is surnaming us. The idea is purely speculative, but it is speculation on a profitable level, especially in the light of these revelations. "Simon He surnamed Rock." This Simon was impulsive, restless, inconsistent, lacking cohesion. Yet He surnamed him Rock. The name was an indication of his unrealized natural capacities; and of the Lord's ability to realize them. The sons of Zebedee, James and John, He surnamed Sons of Thunder. They were men of gentle, filial nature, quiet men, content to abide at home in the service of their father. Yet He surnamed them Sons of Thunder; men of authority and power. The principle was the same. In James was the capacity to be so loyal to a Master and a cause as to die for them. In John was the mystic power which would make him a seer, and an interpreter of the great things of life. The Lord was able to bring these things to realization, and to employ them for His own glory in co-operation with His service. And so again we wonder what is He naming us? The consideration is for the hour of lonely communion with Him. In such an hour we shall discover that His surnaming is ever based upon two things; first, our capacities as the result of our first birth; and secondly, His power to realize those capacities. We shall find, moreover, that His power becomes operative when we are wholly yielded to Him.
The earth beareth fruit of herself.
The statement shows the reign of man's responsibility and impotence. In the matter of harvest man has things he can do, and those he cannot do. He can sow. He can reap. These are necessary. Apart from sowing there is no harvest. Apart from reaping the harvest is wasted. Beyond these his place is that of weakness and of waiting. His waiting is not that of restlessness. He goes quietly on with his life, sleeping and rising. His confidence rests upon two things: first, his having done his appointed task; and secondly, the certainty that work is being done which is outside the realm of his power, for "the earth beareth fruit of herself." The statement does not exclude God. The earth is full of His glory. All the wonderful processes of death into life which go forward without fail within the embrace of the soil are operations of the power of God. While they are active, man must wait. And Jesus said: "So is the Kingdom of God." This clearly defines the realm of our responsibility. We must sow. We must reap. There our operations cease. The mightiest work is Divine. The soil in which we sow is the realm in which God alone can work. But it is for us to know that He is working there, even through the long wintry days when the results of our toil are not yet visible. Happy indeed are we if we learn to work in our appointed places, and then to wait in the double assurance of our limitation and of His power.
The child is not dead, but sleepeth.
In these words we discover our Lord's outlook upon death. There was no doubt whatever that the maiden was dead as to her bodily being, her earthly consciousness. Christ's outlook on personality was such that He took in the whole fact. Death of the body was not cessation of being. The child was not dead. She was alive. As to her consciousness of earthly things, she was asleep. Perchance her father and mother had often looked upon her in her sleep in days of health. While she was asleep, she was quite unconscious that they were near her, and they could not communicate with her, save by ending the condition of sleep. Jesus told them that this was so now. From ordinary sleep they could have awakened her. From this deeper slumber they could not. But He could; and that is what He presently did. He used the same word to describe actual bodily death in the case of Lazarus, until the dullness of His disciples compelled Him to say plainly, "Lazarus is dead." This outlook upon death is full of comfort. Our lord always stands by our dead and says to us: "Not dead, but sleeping." He does not always waken them. Indeed He rarely did so in His earthly ministry. Such waking would mean for them return to all life's fitful feverishness. Still they are not dead, and one glad day He will waken them again to bodily consciousness in a new and better order. Then we shall gain them, and with them be for ever with Him.
They told Him all things, whatsoever they had done, and whatsoever they had taught.
That is an account of how the first Apostolic mission ended. After a period of preparation by being with Him, they had been sent out by two and two to do His work, and thus enlarge the area of His activity. They had been successful in all the work to which He had appointed them. As a result of their mission, "His name had become known" more widely. Then they returned to him and they came back to report. The picture suggested is a very beautiful one. The Lord Who had sent them, and Who had never been separated from them during their absence, is seen listening to them as they told Him the things He knew perfectly. The sequel shows that He understood that such work is costly. They were tired, and He called them to rest awhile. Are we not a little in danger of missing the real value of this story? We are more apt to report what we have done, for Him to each other, and to the world, than to Him. Such reporting is not necessarily wrong. But for our own souls' good, and for our more perfect equipment for further service, it is better to report to Him. Yet this is a largely neglected activity. It is not prayer. It is not praise. It is telling Him what we have done and taught. Regularly to do this would be to make us more than ever careful in all our doing, and all our teaching.
He could not be hid.
The explanation of this statement is found in the story which follows, of which story it is the introduction. A mother, whose heart was wrung with anguish by reason of the suffering of her child, sought the aid of Jesus, and from such an appeal "He could not be hid." The declaration is made the more arresting by the fact that it follows the statement that He desired privacy: "He entered into a house, and would have no man know it." And yet again it is interesting in view of the method of apparent reluctance which He adopted with her. These very surroundings serve to add new emphasis and value to the declaration. May we not at once say that here incidentally we have an illustration of the very reason of the Incarnation, and all that it accomplished? From human suffering God cannot withdraw Himself. He cannot be hidden. It appeals to Him irresistibly, because of the grace of His nature. When there is no eye to pity, His eye always pities; when there is no arm to save, His arm brings salvation. Herein, and herein alone, is our hope that at last sorrow and sighing shall flee away. And, moreover, in the fact that it is God, Who is thus compelled by His nature to come to the relief of the sorrowing, is our guarantee that there will be no slight healing of our wounds. He does not deal with symptoms merely, but with the dire root of the disease. As He comes forth from His hiding-place, compelled by human agony, He comes to make no terms with that which has caused the pain; but He comes to end the pain by removing the cause.
Do ye not yet understand?
These are the final words in a paragraph recording how our Lord rebuked His disciples. It begins in verse seventeen, and it is impossible to read it without feeling that there was a note of real severity in what He said to them. Notice the rush of His questions. "Why reason ye because ye have no bread? Do ye not yet perceive, neither understand? Have ye your heart hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? And having ears, hear ye not? And do ye not remember?" What, then, was the fault of these men? They were missing the point of His spiritual teaching, because they were anxious about material things. He recalled them to a remembrance of what they had already witnessed of His ability to deal with material need. It is always a strange story, this. It seems inconceivable that these men, really remembering the facts, as their answers show that they did, should yet have failed to apply those past experiences to present needs. Yet is it strange? Is it not a peculiar and persistent failing of the human soul, that in the presence of some immediate danger, it forgets, or fails to apply, the value of past deliverances? Yet it should not be so; and it was this very thing which our Lord rebuked. The true attitude of the soul is that of being without carefulness, in the consciousness of what has been done for us. The superlative statement of this is found in Paul's words: "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things?"
And Jesus said unto him, If thou canst!
This was the response of our Lord to a man who came to Him haltingly. He was a father, in sore trouble. His boy from childhood had suffered, and nothing could be done for him. The man had heard of the fame of Jesus, and brought the boy to Him, only to find that He was not with His disciples, having gone away to the mountain. In this dilemma he appealed to the disciples, and they were unable to deal with the case. Perhaps it was this inability on their part which made him doubtful as to whether their Master could help. It is probable that men are often hindered from faith in Christ, because of our failure to do things which we could do if our fellowship with Him were more complete. Be that as it may, his cry was that of a great anguish, in which hope and doubt mingled: "If Thou canst do anything, have compassion on us and help us." To this the reply of the Lord was an ejaculatory and rebuking repetition of the man's word, "If thou canst!" He then revealed the secret of His own ability to be that of faith as He said, "All things are possible to him that believeth." He was the file-leader and vindicator of faith. The man immediately understood the principle and applied it to himself as he said: "I believe; help Thou mine unbelief"; and the response of Christ was immediate. It is when our faith is inspired by His that we make contact with His ability to do the things which we cannot do ourselves.
Jesus ... was moved with indignation.
Mark alone of the Evangelists gives us this revealing touch in connection with this story of the reception and blessing of the children. When we recite His words spoken on that occasion, the tone of a great tenderness almost invariably finds its way into our voices. And that is natural, for the words are full of comfort for all those who love little children. It is nevertheless important, for our warning, that we should never forget that when our Lord uttered the words, He was angry. He was moved with indignation that any of His disciples should so misunderstand Him as to endeavour to prevent the children from getting to Him. There is no doubt whatever that these disciples meant well. They were on their way to Jerusalem, and His converse with them had been concerned with His coming sufferings. They were quite unable to understand Him in all this, but at least they knew that His mind was occupied with tremendous things, and they felt that He ought not to be disturbed by children. The story reminds us, then, that it is possible to mean well, and to do ill; and it gives us for evermore to understand the place which the children occupy in His heart. In any way to hinder them from getting to Him is to cause Him to be moved with indignation. Conversely - to help them to Him, is to give Him joy. The children are all about us, and so everywhere are opportunities for giving Him this joy.
Whensoever ye stand praying, forgive.
That is a law of prayer. May it not be that much unanswered prayer is the result of forgetting this? Forgetting is the right word. If we remember it, we either cease to pray, or we forgive. It is impossible to pray easily when the heart is hot and angry with someone who has done us wrong. But in the underlying depths of our consciousness there are often feelings toward others which are those of resentment, even though at the moment we are not occupied with them. If it be so, then, according to this word of Jesus we have no right to expect that our Father will forgive us our trespasses. Let us think what it would mean if we always remembered this word. If we did so, our first inquiry whenever we desired to pray would be: Is there any person whom we have not yet forgiven? Of course, the presupposition is that the person has really wronged us in some way. Apart from that there would be nothing to forgive. Is there such a person? Then, before we can pray, we must forgive that person. Then, after we have prayed, we shall have to carry out our act of forgiveness by seeking the forgiven person, and establishing the relationship that results from forgiveness. What gracious results would follow in the communion of the saints if this word of Jesus were remembered and obeyed? Love would win wonderful triumphs, and prayer would become powerful and prevailing.
Have ye not read even this scripture?
A reference to the previous chapter (verse 27) will show that our Lord addressed these words to "the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders." That is to say, they were spoken to the religious, moral, and civil rulers - that is, to men who were certainly familiar with the Sacred Scriptures. It is impossible to suppose they had not read the words He quoted, many, many times. That it was a familiar passage is suggested by our Lord's use of the word "even" in His asking of the question. And yet, according to His meaning, they had not read this Scripture. Here, then, emerges a matter of supreme importance concerning the reading of Scripture, and that more especially in the case of such as are devoted to the work of teaching and interpretation. A Scripture is not read rightly when its words are known. Nor is it read until God's meaning is discovered. These men were face to face with the events in which the great principle declared in these words was being carried out; and they were blind to the events in their real significance, because they had never truly read the words with unprejudiced minds, and so under the illumination of the Spirit of God. We are constantly in peril of the same superficial and harmful reading of the Sacred Writings. Therefore we should never come to them without a due sense of our own weakness, and in complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away
Perhaps this was our Lord's superlative word concerning His teaching. A statement more definite and plain it would be impossible to frame. Whereas the claim had undoubted reference to the whole of His teaching, it is important that we should remember that He uttered it in connection with His apocalyptic prophecies. It has been the fashion of certain thinkers to discredit the validity of these sayings of Jesus. First it was suggested that the records were not authentic. That view has been largely abandoned; and now it is suggested that He was mistaken in accepting the views of His age. Yet, according to this word, it was in connection with these very things that He made this supreme claim. It is well to remember this today. However difficult it may be to come to perfect agreement in the interpretation of these Olivet discourses in detail, it is unquestionable that their general ideas are far more in harmony with the world conditions in the midst of which we are living, than are the views which have been advanced as to the course of things proceeding gradually, and without upheaval, to the establishment of an order of peace and goodwill among men. This claim is being vindicated in our own times. It is evident that He understood the human heart better than the modern teachers who have thought Him mistaken. We may still rest assured that the march of history will vindicate Him at every point, and in that assurance we shall find our safety and our joy in believing Him and obeying Him.
They all left Him, and fled.
That was the last stage in a process which had been going on almost from the beginning of our Lord's public ministry. He had irresistibly attracted men by the charm of His personality, and the radiant splendour of His ideals. But men could not reach Him. They came so far, and then halted, and went back. First the rulers; then certain of His earlier followers, who went back and walked no more with Him; then the crowds themselves, as they yielded to the influence of the rulers; and now at last the inner circle of His disciples, as they were perplexed and terrified by the force of circumstances which were closing in around Him. And it is all quite understandable. Man can only come to fellowship with Him in thought and life as he is made nigh by the work of Grace which results from His Cross. These men were presently regathered by the fact of the Resurrection, and ingathered by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then they were able to share His Cross. It is always so. Mere admiration of the Person of the Lord, or consent to the perfection of His ideals, will not outlive the experiences through which attempts at following Him will lead men. Men may applaud Him, and be prepared to cast their votes for a Kingdom such as He described; but under the pressure of opposing forces they will only follow Him as they are united to Him in death and resurrection.
He saved others; Himself He cannot save.
This is one of the instances of which there are a number, when the enemies of our Lord, in hatred or in mockery, said things about Him which were profoundly true. That may be said to be the whole truth concerning His dying. In order to save others He could not save Himself. His inability was not, as His enemies suggested, the inability of weakness. It was the inability of eternal strength. It was not that He was unable to save Himself; but rather that He was able not to save Himself. Therefore He is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God through Him. While the great fact is supreme, and in all highest senses lonely in the Person of the Son of God, the principle has perpetual application in the case of those who share His life, and are called into fellowship with Him in the work of saving men. We have no power to save others, save as we have power not to save ourselves. The claims and desires of the self-life are very insistent. They may be perfectly proper within the limits of personality. It is only when we have the ability to deny them, in our determination to serve others, that we are approaching the region of saving strength. This is the real Christian secret. When at Caesarea Philippi, Peter said to his Master, "Spare Thyself," he was uttering the words of worldly wisdom - he was minding the things of men. That was why he was so sternly rebuked by Him Who, minding the things of God, actuated by the heavenly wisdom, could not spare or save Himself, because He desired to save others.
The Lord working with them.
That is Mark's last word about the Lord. He is co-operating with His messengers in the delivery of their message, and confirming the word by deeds of power which are the signs of His presence. The previous statement reveals Him as sitting at the right-hand of God, having been received up into Heaven. These two pictures should ever be in our mind as we go forth on His business. He is the triumphant One. All He came to do, He did. His return to the Father was that of victorious accomplishment. But it was not the return to inactivity. From that supreme place of authority and power He directs and accompanies all the journeyings and activities of those who are His messengers to men. Two matters should be carefully noted. First, that He works with the preachers of the Word, in the actual work of preaching. Too often we are in danger of preaching as though in the act we are alone. It is not so. In proportion as we are true to Him, and His message, we may rest assured that He is Himself actually, by the Holy Spirit, working with us, making His own direct appeal to those who are listening to us. The truth is full of comfort. Then, second, we must recognize that it is He Who gives the signs. It is not for us to choose what they shall be. Sometimes they are wholly spiritual; sometimes they are wrought in the mental and physical realms. We have nothing to do with them. Our only responsibility is that of preaching the Word. He will give such signs as He knows to be necessary for the fulfilment of His purpose, and to the glory of His name.