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THE INTEREST WHICH THE GALILEAN COURT TAKES IN THE
PERSON OF JESUS, AND HIS RETREAT INTO THE DESERT.
(Chap. ix. 7–50.)
The glory of Jesus had now nearly reached its highest point in Galilee; and in this Fle recognised the turning point of His life, with which its obscuration, the path of suffering, leading to the cross, should begin. The Evangelist Luke has placed together in a thoughtful manner the last marks of honour which were rendered to Him in Galilee, and has thereby brought into prominent view the fact that the Lord did not permit Himself to be allured by them into the false path of outward self-glorification, but regarded and accepted them as occasions of selfhumiliation, as signals announcing His approaching death. It was in the spirit of the Hellenic Gospel to show us how Christ, with full consciousness, sacrificed the outward glory of His manifestation among men, in order to preserve the truth and depth of His inward life, and, amidst the deep shame and sorrow of His death on the cross, to obtain the new glory of the resurrection both for Himself and His redeemed people.
These elements present themselves in several well defined contrasts.
The first contrast is found in the circumstance, that the Galilean court begins to be interested in Jesus; that Herod wishes to see Him; but that He retreats into the desert, and there provides a plentiful meal for the poorest of Herod’s subjects.
Herod the tetrarch heard of all that had been done by Jesus, and fell into a state of great uncertainty in regard to His person. For some were of opinion, that He was John the Baptist raised again from the dead; others, that Elias had re-appeared ; and
others, that one of the old prophets was risen again. And Herod said, 'John have I beheaded; but who is this, of whom I hear such things?' He seemed inclined to salute Him as John raised from the dead, and endeavoured to see Him.
Thus had the Lord the prospect placed before Him of a brilliant reception at the court of Herod. This prospect threw its shadow on the return of the twelve apostles. They returned at this conjuncture, and told the Lord all that they had done. But He seemed for the moment to have no time to
Himself with them. The wish cherished by Herod drove Him away. He took them, and escaped with them secretly into a desert place, near (eastern) Bethsaida. The people became acquainted with His departure, and followed after Him. And He received them, although He had desired to be alone with the disciples; spoke
to them concerning the kingdom of God, and healed them that · had need of healing. Meanwhile the day began to decline, and
the Twelve reminded Him, to send the people away, that they might disperse themselves in the surrounding towns and villages in order to find victuals and lodging, neither of which could be had in the desert. And He said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they said, “We have no more but five loaves and two fishes. Should we go and buy food for all this people?' For they were about five thousand men. But the Lord had no thought of purchasing food. Make them sit down,' He commanded, " by fifties in a company. They did so, and made them all sit down. Then He took the five loaves and the two fishes, and, looking up to heaven, He blessed them and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. And they • did eat, and were all filled; and there were taken up of fragments that remained to them, twelve baskets. Thus did the Lord hold a miraculous feast with the poor in the desert, when He had withdrawn Himself from the prospect of sharing in the festive entertainments of the royal palace of Herod.
The second contrast is the following :- The Lord now, for the first time, finds His disciples so far advanced, that, with a divinely wrought conviction, they are able to confess Him as the Christ of God; and the foundation for His acknowledgment as the Messiah seems to be laid by them among the people. Yet just at this conjuncture He announces to them His sufferings, and calls upon them to take up His cross and follow Him.
After the people had been sent away, He withdrew Himself to a solitary place and prayed. Only His disciples were with Him. Then He put to them the question, "Whom say the people that I am ?' They answered, “John the Baptist-so at present the majority, as it appears ;—but some say, Elias; and others, that one of the old prophets is risen again. “But whom say ye that I am ? asked He further. The answer was expressed by Peter— The Christ of God.'
This longed-for moment would have appeared to the subtle apprehension of the world as an occasion ripe for the proclamation of the Messiahship of Jesus. But Jesus straitly charged the disciples, and commanded them to tell that thing to no man. And, as a ground of explanation, He adds, "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.' With this announcement He connected the exhortation to all : 'If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take
his cross daily, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall find it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?' But how one has to keep himself in his relation to Christ is now also added : "For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me, and of My words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels. But I tell you of a truth—He continues, with a view to
a calm their minds—there be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the kingdom of God,'—which doubtless means, till they have seen it come into manifestation, in its centre, the risen Saviour, and in the first beginnings of the Church of the Risen One; and thus have disclosed to the eye of contemplation His entire glory, in these bright anticipations of His coming
The third contrast consists in His actually celebrating on the mount the first revelation and manifestation of His higher life, in the circle of His most trusted disciples, and in His then suddenly descending with them from this eminence into the valley of human sorrow.
1 The loss of the soul is here characterized from its active, and then from its passive side.
It was about eight days after these communications, that Jesus took Peter, and John, and James, and went up into a mountain pray.
And He prayed the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias, who appeared in glory, and spake of His decease wbich He should accomplish at Jerusalem.—The noblest heroes of the ancient dispensation appeared in the brightness of their perfected glory as heralds of the darkness and the sorrows of Calvary, and thus witnessed to the higher, hidden glory of His sufferings. But Peter, and they that were with him, were heavy with sleep; and when they were awake, they saw His glory, and the two men that stood with Him. And when these were about to depart from Him, Peter said unto Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here: let us make three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.' He knew not what he said, remarks the Evangelist. Meanwhile there came a cloud and overshadowed them; and the disciples feared when they were lost to view in the cloud,—when thus in a figure the world of their theocratic hopes, their kingdom of heaven, was transformed before their eyes, from a kingdom of outward manifested glory into a world of faith, enveloped in a cloud.—But there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son; hear Him!' Who was meant by the voice was not left in doubt; for when it was past, the envelopment was gone—both the men of the Old Dispensation had disappeared, and Jesus stood alone before them.
It seemed as if the God of their fathers would Himself show them that they were no longer, as servants of the law, under obligation to Moses and Elias, but that, as children of the Gospel, they should hear alone His beloved Son.
They treated this event, in the first instance, as a secret. They kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.
One day only did the Lord spend with the disciples in this blessed retirement. He then descended again with them into the valley. The sorrows of the valley met Him immediately on His descent. A great company of people came to Him, having amongst them a man lamenting, and crying, “Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son; for he is mine only one. And, lo! a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him, that he foameth again; and, having bruised him, hardly then departeth from him. And I besought thy disciples to cast him out, and they could not.' And Jesus answering, said, “O faithless and distracted (dissipated in mind) generation, how long shall I be with you and suffer you? Bring thy son hither. And while he was yet coming, the devil threw him down and tare him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father. And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God. But while they all wondered at the things which Jesus did, He said unto His disciples, 'Let these sayings sink down into your ears; for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men.'
The Evangelist adds, They understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask Him of that saying. Because, in their present frame of mind, they evaded the innermost sense of the word, and would not understand it, its meaning, in accordance with divine right, was sealed up, so that they could not apprehend it. The same cause, however, which prevented them from understanding the saying, restrained them also from asking for further explanation.
For their thoughts now ran in a totally different direction. This the last contrast sufficiently shows. The disciples are full of high-minded plans and expectations; but to this excitement of mind, the Lord opposes the strength of a humility which He places itself on a level with little children.
There arose, we are told, a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest,-greatest in the kingdom of heaven, now about to begin. The Lord perceived the thoughts that were revolving in their hearts, took a child, set him beside Himself, and said unto them, “Whosoever shall receive this child in My name, receiveth Me; and whosoever receiveth Me, receiveth Him that sent Me. For he that is least among you, the same shall be great. On this, John gave it to be known as his opinion, that if any man did anything in the name of Jesus, he must also outwardly have united himself with His followers. • Master," he said, ' we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. The verdict returned by Jesus was, · Forbid him not; for he that is not against us is for us.'