Three would-be disciples. The Lord , in plain terms , tells them what is required of men who seek his service. The first two of these incidents in the life of Jesus are related by St. Matthew ( Matthew 7:19-22 ), but he places them in an earlier period. They evidently did not occur together, but most probably they took place about this time in the ministry. They are placed in one group as examples of the way in which the Master replied to numerous offers of service made to him under different conditions.
And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. In this case the Master was the Summoner. Something he read in this man's heart, or words he had heard him speak, moved the Redeemer's great love, so he gave him a special call. This was a very different character from the last. Whereas that seeker for work from Jesus was impulsive, and even thoughtless in his enthusiasm, one who would begin to act without counting the cost, this one was overcautious, cold and calculating to an ungenerous excess; yet there was evidently sterling stuff in the character, for Jesus argues and remonstrates with him; there was, too, much gold mingled with the earth of that man's disposition, for the Lord lightly to let it go. It is thus that the Spirit pleads still with the selfishness which disfigures many a noble and devoted servant of high God. He seems to say, "My call is too imperative to yield to any home duties, however orderly and respectable." During the official days of mourning (in the case of a funeral, these were seven) the impression now made by his summoning words would have worn off. It is noticeable that the home duties, which Jesus suggested should give place to other and more imperative claims, were in connection with the dead. It was not the living father who was to be left to hirelings, only the inanimate corpse. It was rather a society call than a home or family duty which was to give place to work for the Master. St. Chrysostom makes some quaint, but strikingly practical, remarks here. "He might need, if he went to the funeral, to proceed, after the burial, to make inquiry about the will, and then about the distribution of the inheritance, and all the other things that followed thereupon; and thus waves after waves of things coming in upon him in succession might bear him very far away from the harbour of truth. For this cause, doubtless, the Saviour draws him, and fastens him to himself."
The face steadfastly set.
Very pathetic and sublime is the announcement of the fifty-first verse. The bright, joyous spring-time has gone. The cornfields and gardens, the hill and dale, the "lake's still face sleeping sweetly in the embrace of mountains terraced high with mossy stone"—all the scenery which the Son of man so dearly loved, must now be left behind. No more for him the crowds of simple fisher-folk hanging on his words; no more for him the circuits from village to village, returning to the quiet Capernaum home; no more for him the happy work which marked the earlier years of the Prophet of Nazareth. Now there are only the deepening opposition of scribe and Pharisee, and the lengthening shadow of the cross. He is the Man of men. Not without pain must he have left Nazareth in the distance, and taken his way through the Plain of Esdraelon, past Nain and Shunem, bound for Jerusalem. But this is sublime: "He steadfastly set his tree." It implies that there were solicitations, temptations in another direction. The Christ of God needed to gird up all his energies. Flesh and blood cried, "Stay a little longer at least." The mind of the Son made answer, "Nay, how am I straitened until the baptism be accomplished!" It is of an hour in this journey that Mark speaks, when he says that "Jesus went before the disciples: and they were amazed; and, as they followed, they were afraid." Why they were afraid, we are not told; but we may well conceive that there was the print of a secret agony on his brow, that there was something in his aspect, as he walked a little way ahead of them, which awed and silenced. His face was "steadfastly set." And would that we better knew the secret of this steadfast face! How we shrink from the duty which our Father lays on us! How we withdraw our gaze from the cups of suffering, from the cross-bearing, which our Father assigns us! How we run away from what is irksome! or, when we must do it, how often we meet it with a countenance awry! Lord, we cannot penetrate the mystery of thy way. At times even thy presence seems dreadful. But lead us in the truth of thy steadfastness, and keep us following thee, even although amazed and afraid! Two features of the beginning of the journey are set before us in the passage under review.
I. THE ONE , THE REJECTION OF THE LORD BY A VILLAGE OF THE SAMARITANS . And this for a reason which suggests to us many similar mistakes and misjudgments. Bigotry dethrones reason, and stirs up what is worst against what is best in the heart. To these rude villagers, the one condemning circumstance is that his face is towards Jerusalem. If he had been only going in the other direction, they would have been forward with welcomes, and in return would have received unspeakable blessings. Let us not be too ready to cast the stone. We are all apt to be carried away by the appearance of a person or thing, and, in advance of rational considerations, to judge, sentence, or condemn. Thus many a time the messengers of the Lord, with blessings in their hand, seeking to make ready for him a place in human charities and kindnesses, are repelled. "What wonder," says an old Latin Father, "that the sons of thunder wished to flash lightning!" (verse 54). There have been many such Boanerges since the days of James and John. They are the exponents of a tendency too frequently illustrated in the ecclesiastical world, to meet Samaritan disdain and rebuke by the terrors of the Lord, by the mere force of authority, in mistaken zeal to denounce and excommunicate. Ah! how often has the voice of the Gentlest repeated the rebuke in the ears of his followers, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."
II. THE OTHER FEATURE (though it does not seem clear when it occurred) is, THE WORD BEARING ON DISCIPLESHIP GIVEN IN REPLY TO THE THREE MEN WHO ARE INTRODUCED TO US AT THE CLOSE OF THE CHAPTER . These three men are types of classes whose representatives we need not go far to seek.
1 . There is the hasty disciple. (Verse 57.) "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest." There is no discernment of what is implied in the "whithersoever." There is no counting of the cost. He is the man of impulse and fresh warm feeling, who has "received some word of Jesus with joy, yet has no root in himself." The" "I will" stands forth in its own strength, which is but weakness. Observe how the Lord deals with him. He does not reject the offer made; only he sends the man to prayer and self-review, giving him, in one far-reaching sentence, to see what in his rashness he had been undertaking. "Follow me whither soever I go? Knowest thou not that I am the poorest of all; that, in my Father's world, I am the One despised and rejected. No throne, no royalties, no kingdom as thou conceivest of a kingdom? The fox has its hole, the bird has its nest, the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. Think, then, on that to which thou wouldst pledge thyself." A word still called for! The will which is eager to follow is sometimes slow to receive the Law of the spirit of the life which is in Christ Jesus.
2 . As the hasty disciple passes out of sight, lo! I another appears, he who may be called the dilatory. Notice the difference between the two. In the former, the initiative is taken by the man; in the latter, the initiative is taken by Jesus, with the short, peremptory "Follow me." The one has no misgivings; the other desires to follow but has not courage enough to express his convictions. And the mind is not decided. Secretly there is the attraction to the Lord, but there is also the home, the aged father, the circle in the quiet village. No; he is nearly, but not quite, ready. It is on him that the Lord looks. He sees him trembling at the word that is working in his soul, and forth comes the calling, empowering, "Follow!" Was it not so natural (verse 59), "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father"? And will not he whose commandment is, "Honour thy father and mother," at once consent? No; the Lord's need, the Lord's call, sets the private and domestic claims aside. Hence the enigmatical reply of verse 60. "Thou hast neighbours, brethren, who have not received the life that is pulsing in thee; to them may be left such a charge as that which thou hast named. But thou, with that life in thee, hast something else to do. Life must live; go thou, the living, and fulfil the living man's charge—preach the kingdom of God."
3 . Finally, there comes into view the tender-hearted disciple. (Verse 61.) "I will follow thee"—only first let me say farewell at home; a last look, a last adieu is all. Ah! this may not be. The rejoinder is somewhat stern (verse 62). Now, what is the lesson? It is this. On the rocks and reef of the seashore we find creatures rooted to them. Scarcely can we separate the anemone from its reef. How terrible it would be for a human being, with a human soul, to be doomed, like that zoophyte, to cleave to that rock, with no variety except what is caused by the ebb and flow of the sea! Yet, is the life actually lived by many much better? Day following day, and always the monotone of a mere worldly life; no higher end, no higher reference; all of the earth, earthy! O piteous sight—a soul cleaving to the dust! Have we not seen a nobler truth? Looking into the face of Christ, is there not a voice bidding us higher? What but death and darkness could be if this earth of ours moved only in its own little diameter, around its own axis? Is it not the recipient of life and light because of its higher orbit as a member of the great solar system? And have we not spiritual life and light because the centre of our being is God? Then, disciple of Jesus, as he who has put his hand to the plough is intent on guiding it to the end of the furrow, ploughing on though the clod be hard and the work severe, be thou steadfast, thy face set with thy Lord toward his Jerusalem; no looking back, precursor of going back; this the prayer of all thy praying, "Lord, unite my heart, that I may love and fear thy Name."
The secret of successful work.
We saw that the Transfiguration was the result of prayer; but it was not the end of the prayer. This was preparation for further service. The glory is not the end , but only an incidental accompaniment, of devotedness of spirit. It is work for God , further service in his kingdom, which is the aim of all means of grace. And now these verses bring out in different aspects the secret of successful work. Let us notice
I. SUCCESSFUL WORK MUST BE PRAYERFUL . ( Luke 9:37-42 .) We have here a case of failure on the part of the nine disciples, and of success on the part of the descended Christ. The difference between the two cases was that Christ had been praying on the mountain while they had been prayerless in the valley. Prayerlessness and powerlessness go hand-in-hand. Work done in a prayerless spirit cannot succeed as it ought to do. The transfigured ones alone can meet the emergencies of Christian work, and succeed where others fail. Some cases are doubtless more difficult than others, and some demons make a harder fight of it than others; but there are none of them who can stand a prayerful Christian who faithfully follows Jesus in his line of attack.
II. SUCCESSFUL WORK MUST BE IN SPITE OF MALIGNANT OPPOSITION . ( Luke 9:43-45 .) Our Lord, as the crowd are wondering at his success, tells the disciples plainly that he is destined to be delivered into the hands of men. This is a sufficient set-off to his success. Men will take and kill him, notwithstanding all his philanthropy and exorcising power. This crucifixion of Jesus is but the type of the world's recognition of the best work done by human hands. A long line of noble workers have followed Jesus along the path of martyrdom. Let no worker, then, be surprised at the world's malignity.
III. SUCCESSFUL WORK MUST BE DIVESTED OF BASE AMBITIONS . ( Luke 9:46-48 .) Notwithstanding recent failure through want of prayer, the disciples are soon selfishly contending about the first places, and who is to be greatest. It is wonderful how soon we forget our failures and betake ourselves to our ambitions. Now, one characteristic of base ambition is pride about work. Certain lines of work are thought to be beneath our dignity and worth. To correct this in the disciples, our Lord sets a little child before them, and shows that such a child might be received in such a spirit as would be recognized by God himself. The nursing of a little child may be done for the sake of Jesus Christ, and in such a case it is such a work as he will regard, and the Father who sent him also. It is not a great work, therefore, that is needed, but a great heart carried into the smallest work. We think of quantity; Christ thinks of quality. We will not "take our coats off," so to speak, unless it is some work eminently creditable; Christ could throw his great spirit into the fondling of a little child, and do the little one everlasting good. Hence we must do any work clearly laid to our hand with large-heartedness, and we shall find it successful in the best sense. It is the meek ones who are ready to put their hand to anything who are great in the kingdom of God.
IV. SUCCESSFUL WORK DEMANDS , BESIDES , A TOLERANT SPIRIT . ( Luke 9:49-56 .) John and James, after the Transfiguration privileges, seem to have got very excited and ardent in Christ's service. Two cases in particular show how heated and hasty they were. The first was a case of exorcism through Christ ' s Name. Some Jew had witnessed the exorcisms of Christ, and, abandoning the Jewish methods and traditions, had tried the new plan, and proved the power of "the Name which is above every name." But because he did not join the disciples, and so preserve their monopoly of delegated power, he is forbidden by them to do such work. This was intolerance misplaced. The worker, though not uniting with the disciples, was promoting the Master's glory by showing the power of his Name. He was an ally, though not a disciple of the same set. Hence Jesus instructs them always to act on the tolerant principle that "he that is not against us is for us." £ The second case in which the sons of Zebedee exhibited unholy zeal was in a certain Samaritan village, during Jesus' journeys to Jerusalem. The last journey has begun (verse 51), and nothing will keep him flora accomplishing it. The Samaritans would have liked him to linger with them, and avoid his enemies and theirs. But he would not listen to their syren voice, but insisted on going up to Jerusalem. Taking umbrage at this, one Samaritan village denied him the usual hospitalities when his forerunners sought it. Incensed at this, John and James inquire if they should not call down fire from heaven to consume the inhospitable Samaritans, as Elijah had done. Samaria was the scene of that fiery ministry. But Elijah's spirit would not suit the Saviour's times. Had the prophet descended from the Mount of Transfiguration, he would not have insisted on any such policy as this. lie had doubtless got less fiery in the peaceful abodes above! As a destructive force, he had served his generation, but the disciples were to remember that saving men, not destroying them, was to be their mission. From both these cases we learn that the true evangelical spirit must reject all intolerance if it is to secure the highest success.
V. SUCCESSFUL WORK REQUIRES FAITHFUL DEALING WITH INDIVIDUAL CASES . (Verses 57-62.) As Jesus was moving upwards to the capital, the people perceived that a crisis was at hand. Hence the desire of some on insufficient grounds to cast in their lot with him who is to be the conquering King. Here is a case in point. A man comes and professes his willingness to be a follower of Jesus wheresoever he goeth. But Jesus undeceives him by indicating that he is not going to be sure of any lodging in this world. Perhaps the man was hoping to reach a palace by following him; but Jesus shows that the birds and beasts have more certain lodgings than he. He thus laid bare the man's danger, and prevented a rash decision. The second case is an invitation to the individual by Jesus himself. It is a case of bereavement, and Jesus seizes on it to secure a disciple. He knew that the best thing this broken-heart could do would be to become a herald of his kingdom. The bereaved one naturally enough asks leave to go and bury his father, but Jesus assures him that there are sufficient dead hearts at homo to pay due respect to his father's remains, and the formalities of the funeral may only change his promptitude into delay and neglect; and so he urges him to become a preacher at once. A third case is that of one who is ready to follow Christ, but wishes to bid those at home farewell. Our Lord tells him the danger of looking back. The farewells at home might have resulted in a farewell for ever to Jesus. It is thus Jesus shows the importance of dealing faithfully with individual souls. We have the secret of successful work laid clearly before us.—R.M.E.