Chapter 9:: the Unwearied yet Rejected Servant

 •  35 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Mark 6:1-4, 7-9, 12-16, 30-371And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. 2And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. 4But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. (Mark 6:1‑4)
7And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits; 8And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: 9But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats. (Mark 6:7‑9)
12And they went out, and preached that men should repent. 13And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them. 14And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. 15Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. 16But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead. (Mark 6:12‑16)
30And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. 31And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. 32And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. 33And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. 34And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things. 35And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: 36Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. 37He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? (Mark 6:30‑37)
, first clause, 45-51
I have read the different portions of this scripture, beloved friends, to which I invite your attention for a little this evening, intending that by the grace of God you should fill up the parts of it that are left out for yourselves at your leisure. I think you will find that the portions we have read are the portions that convey to us the three great facts or truths which I desire to bring before you tonight. The first is the unwearied yet rejected Servant; that is how the scripture opens. He Himself is presented in His unwearied yet rejected ministry. The second is the mission of the twelve, and its effects; and the third is the Lord’s absence, and the vicissitudes and trials that His servants during that period have to pass through. These three subjects I desire to bring before you this evening as a kind of finish to that part of the gospel which has been occupying us these last few weeks, and may form a suitable termination to our thoughts upon it so far.
Now it is blessed to begin with Christ, and I need not say it is blessed also to leave off with Him. He is the first and He is the last; and this characterizes this chapter in a very remarkable way; it begins with Him and it closes with Him. It begins with Him rejected, and yet, as I have already said, unwearied. He is a contrast in that way to every other servant that was ever known in this world. When persons are refused in their service, a kind of mortification comes over them, a kind of spirit which is natural to us as fallen creatures with the taint and nature of Adam in us; so that we, as it were, retreat into our littlenesses when we suppose that there is some sort of slight passed upon us. If we are refused in our anxieties to serve, if the very persons that we delight to minister to, decline the purpose of our heart in it, the tendency in every man as such is to retreat into his own smallness in a sort of self-mortification. But you never find that with the true Servant. And, beloved friends, it is not only that there is that great contrast, and it must ever be so, between us and the One who was in His own blessed nature a man and as a servant in this world—a perfect man, yet unlike all else, a man of His own order as a man, the one solitary exception to every other man here, the God-Man I need not say, blessed for ever be His name; but you find that combination in Christ that is peculiar to Him, and that is most blessed to dwell upon, rejected yet unwearied in service; and indeed, not only unwearied in service, but, if possible, more earnest; if possible, devising other means and other modes of expressing His goodness and kindness and grace in this world, even in this rejection; so that the very refusal of Him in His prophet character, which of course is the subject of the Gospel of Mark, elicited and brought out the infinite depths, the largeness, the fulness, the completeness that was in His heart; shall I call it, beloved friends, the infinity of love that marked Him here. I trust through grace we are all ready enough to own the infinite power, but it is most blessed to see infinite love, infinite goodness, infinite kindness, infinite mercy, unwearied even though refused and despised and rejected and scorned of men. And that which makes the Gospel of Mark in that way so striking is that whilst in Matthew it is the rejection of the king, in Mark it is the rejection of the servant. This is a very striking analogy between the two gospels, He is as much rejected in Mark in His prophet and servant character as He is rejected in Matthew’s Gospel as the Messiah of that people. He was rejected, beloved friends, everywhere; He is rejected as king in Matthew, He is rejected as Servant-prophet in Mark, He is rejected as the Man amongst men in Luke, and He is rejected as the light that shone in this world, the true Light, a divine Person, in John. Only there is this difference, that in John He is rejected from the outset; in Matthew He is presented to Jewish responsibility; in Mark He is presented in His ministry to the responsibility of men generally; in Luke He is presented as the Man amongst men in His compassions but in John it begins with “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own things [J Ç’4"], and his own people received him not.” That gives the Gospel of John its peculiar character; from the very outset He is refused; but in all the other gospels He is presented to man’s responsibility in various aspects of His gracious mission here in this world.
Now, beloved friends, you will observe how distinctly it comes out in the beginning of our chapter to-night. And I desire that you should take particular notice of the expression they use, the terms of their rejection, as I have a special object in my mind in speaking of it. They saw His wonder- working power, they were astonished at His doctrine and wisdom; this made itself felt and could not be denied; but you remember what they said, because it is given us here by the Holy Ghost, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses?” Now that one scripture is the only scripture I know of where you find that word at all; it is not in any other gospel; you will find “the carpenter’s son,” but nowhere else will you find this expression, “Is not this the carpenter?“ Now it is well for us to bear in mind how that this was a jeer and a taunt of His despisers and rejectors, and I can have no hesitation in asserting my conviction that I believe it is going too far to attach to that taunt which these unbelieving Jews flung at Him in the enmity and hatred of their heart, any divine intimation that He ever really was a carpenter. It was clearly their taunt; it was what they said; and therefore is recorded as such. I would say for myself that I feel increasingly in all that relates to our adorable Lord and Master, whether in His glory, or in the vail of His manhood, through which it shone, we do well to tread softly, with unshodden foot and reverent approach; let us never forget what has been so blessedly and touchingly thus expressed
“Love that made Thee a mourner,
In this sad world of woe,
Made wretched man a scorner
Of grace, that brought Thee low.”
But if indeed it is so, if indeed He did work at the carpenter’s bench, and He was pleased in the grace of His heart not merely to take the lowly place which He did take, of being the reputed son at least of a carpenter, and the son of a woman that was poor in circumstances and lowly in origin—if, I say, along with that He was also pleased to be a carpenter by trade and to work, then all I would say is, my soul adores Him for it when I think of it, I bow down in holy worship before Him as I contemplate it, and I say to myself that trade is to me for ever consecrated by the fact that the Son of God, my own Savior and Lord, having become a Man, was pleased to humble Himself so as to work at it. I feel that it is important that we should hold these things in that way, and that we should have in our hearts all that affectionate reverence due to His blessed Person.
Now look for a moment at the other side of this. We are confronted at the present time with all kinds of divergence from the truth in various ways. Some, and perhaps they are a very large class comparatively speaking, and for a very considerable time, have hesitated and stumbled over His divinity. You know there are those who have not hesitated to refuse the Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ; that is now an old blasphemy against Christ as well as a departure from the truth. Such persons will allow Him to have been the first of teachers, they will allow that His moral instructions were magnificent, beyond anything that was ever known or heard of in this world; they say there never was such a teacher or such doctrine, there never were such words or such works of mercy and kindness but they limit the whole testimony that is conveyed in it to the fact of His position as a teacher and as a man here in this world; and they positively refuse to believe that He was, whilst man, truly and as really God. Now, beloved friends, I need not enter into any argument with regard to that, but I do earnestly press this one fact upon you: if Christ was not God, truly and really the mighty God, “God over all, blessed evermore”—if it be not true that we—
“There see the Godhead glory
Shine through that human veil”
—if He was not really and absolutely and positively in His own nature very God, as we know He was very Man—then all I say is, I cannot understand the argument which seeks to present Him as in any sense exalted; because, remember this, His whole claim, His whole testimony, His whole life, His works, His words, were always given as the proof of His divine origin. Therefore if any one rejects or has a question about the fact that He was God (though I trust there is no one here through grace that has the smallest tendency in that direction); then I say, beloved friends, you cannot dwell upon the excellencies and merits and worth of anything that is connected with Him as man, because all these were laid claim to by Him in proof of His divine nature. To my mind that argument is unanswerable; I do not believe it can be overturned. Christ through His whole ministry, and in His whole life and testimony in this world, appealed to His works and to His words that He was God. Thank God, we know that He was God.
But look at the other side a moment more. What we are confronted with more in modern days is not so much a question of His being truly and really God; but, beloved friends, we have to grapple with another error and on another side, and that is with regard to His being truly and really man. Now we cannot affirm of our Lord Jesus Christ’s divinity and of His Godhead glory in such a manner and in such a way as to detract from the reality of His manhood; as on the other hand you cannot affirm of His manhood and of His ways in this world in such wise as to detract from His glory as God. Therefore, what we find in scripture is this, that though unique in His own blessed character and way down here, apart from man and of an order peculiar to Himself “the second man,” says the scripture, “is the Lord out of heaven”—yet that He was as truly and as really a Man here in this world as He was truly and really and always “God over all, blessed evermore.” And we have to hold both; and when we assert the reality and the glory, too, of His manhood, we do not in any wise oppose another part of the glory of Christ to lessen the truth of that. This would be to set one glory of His Person against another. The truth is, we adoringly bow and hold both, we do not separate and divide His blessed Person; we hold and own in our hearts’ most reverent and tenderest affections, too, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was both God and Man, and that His divine nature shone forth in Him as truly and really as the perfection of His human nature as man was also seen.
“Is not this the carpenter”; was then, as I see it, the taunt of the enemy, and I only refer to it to give to you my own thought and interpretation of the passage. I do not dogmatize; God forbid: I dare not go beyond what I see as to any part of God’s word, and would only present to you what I have myself received; and as I have said, to me it seems going too far to assert that because those who refused Him and rejected Him in consequence of His lowly origin called Him “the carpenter” that the Lord necessarily worked at this trade. Scripture as to this is silent; it gives us their taunt, but it does not say He was a carpenter; but if He did work, then all I say is, He ennobled and consecrated and exalted that trade for evermore.
There is one other little thought which connects itself with this. I earnestly wish to press it upon you, and it is a practical one, too. I learn the lesson of His grace as I look at this manner and way of refusing Him—as I see Him rejected, as I see that they stumbled over His lowly blessed path here. Oh! the perfection of Christ’s humiliation, and the perfection of His abasement in this world! If He were not the mighty God, He could not have humbled Himself. Remember, the point of departure in His humiliation was Godhead; “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not an object of rapine to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant.” Divinity was the point from which He came down to be a man; and they- stumbled over the lowliness with which the Godhead glory was veiled in His humiliation. But apart from that altogether, I believe there is a wholesome lesson and word for every one of us with regard to that very fact. No doubt they were accustomed to come in contact with Him as a child at Nazareth; no doubt His blessed, holy, wondrous life both of childhood and manhood so far was before their eyes. I have no doubt they saw Him every day, they were witnesses possibly of the humiliation through which He passed; but mark this, there is a kind of familiarity which comes from an unholy and undue acquaintance with divine things; and I feel assured we need to guard against it, and I desire very earnestly to press that upon my beloved brethren here to-night. I believe we need to watch against this, we who handle so constantly holy things. You may rest assured of it, beloved friends, all undue familiarity of that kind with the things of God correspondingly weakens the effects of those things upon our souls. One of the greatest ethical writers and thinkers perhaps this country has produced, the great Bishop Butler, has laid down this as truth, that I do not think can be disputed, a principle of very great importance, namely—that “passive impressions, by being produced, grow weaker.” By “passive impressions” he means impressions produced that have no active outlet, as it were, in the shape of relieving the distress which produced them or ministering to it, but simply and only the sight of it. The illustration would be that of a person every day accustomed to sights of distress; the first feelings that would be created by those sights of distress would gradually give way, and the tenderness created in the heart at the first, by constantly beholding them and coming into contact with them, would, without any active operation with respect to them, soon diminish. If you were to look at some terrible sight day after day, the first feelings of revolt or fear or terror or pity or concern that were in your heart would all gradually give way. So it is, beloved friends, with regard to divine things. If our souls are not maintained in fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, the constancy of our occupation with divine things without this communion will promote in us a carnal familiarity. I feel that is a thing we ought especially to guard against, and therefore we can never touch or deal with the things of God apart from our own actual state and condition of soul. There must be a state of soul suitable to occupation with them, watchfulness and prayerfulness are called for, a sense of our own insufficiency to touch these things, a sense of their infinite nature, a sense of their being beyond us. Who am I, or who are you, or any mere mortal, save as God is pleased in His wonderful grace by His Spirit to reveal these things to our consciences—who are we, to “rush in,” as the saying is, “where angels fear to tread,” to rush in with our minds and reasonings on the things of God as if we were competent to deal with them? And therefore we do need to watch, and I think this simple incident of our precious Lord and Master’s life at Nazareth, and His rejection by His own people, and His refusal by those who witnessed His holy childhood, and saw Him there every day before their eyes—I say that incident has a very special and pointed voice to us, and is calculated to lead our hearts into deep exercise with regard to it, that we should be guarded and preserved and kept by His grace from all such unholy familiarity. That is the first thing which I see presented to us here.
The second is just one of those cases that prove His unwearied kindness and goodness though He was rejected; for in the mission of the twelve, you find that, though rejected, still for all that He is the patient blessed servant. Further, when we look at this mission of the twelve and see Him sending them out, and the character in which they are sent out, too, it is such a contrast, for instance, with the history of the fiery prophet of Israel of old. You know that when Elijah was threatened by a woman, he longed to die; he was no better than his fathers, he said, and he asked God to take him away. And it is one of the most remarkable instances of how the grace of God comes in and overrides all those unbelieving fears of our hearts; because he did not die, he got something a great deal better than death, he was taken up to heaven without dying; but you remember how chafed Elijah was, how he sat down under a juniper tree; you remember the sulk the prophet got into, how he was ready to give up his ministry and retire from it. But when I look at this great Prophet, this great contrast to all other prophets, what I find is, that though personally rejected Himself He continues His blessed mission in others. That, I believe, introduces the mission of the twelve, and they are sent forth.
Look, too, at the manner in which they are sent. I will only note one or two things I regard as exceedingly instructive about their mission. First of all, they are sent out two and two; that is the divine order, and I can well conceive what cheer and what help and what comfort two servants of God truly and really yoked together in His service would be to one another. It is, remember, a peculiar mission; it contemplates tremendous opposition, it contemplates a certain measure of solitariness and loneliness and isolation, which must ever be the case with the servant of God in a world like this. Therefore I see the greatest consideration for the servants in pairing them off by two and two in that way. That is the first thing.
The second is—and here I must expect but little sympathy—they were sent out in exactly the sharpest contrast to all modern modes of mission work: they were sent out bereft of everything, without the ordinary common provision of what people are pleased to call in these days indispensables—though I do not know what the meaning of an “indispensable” is; I only know one “indispensable,” and that is Jesus Christ. What I mean by that is, that you may positively do without everything else but Him. O that we might believe so thoroughly in His divine sufficiency and power that we could go bereft of everything but Jesus Christ, and find in Himself our all. Now they were sent out without any supply; they were to have no scrip, and further they were to be without the great world power of to-day, namely, money. Money is what is worshiped by this world, yet they were not to carry that. Why? Because, beloved friends, they were being sent out by the One in whom all true provision was found. Would to God the church of God would awake up to the great reality and truth of that. O that the mission of God’s servants had in the eyes of the church a more divine character about it, that it is not merely that people go forth to preach or to work or to labor, blessed as that is, but that they are sent. Now I want to press that on you; I feel there is just now a sad lack of that amongst Christians generally. “How,” says the apostle, in Rom. 11, “how shall they preach except they be sent?” It is not enough for a man to say, I would like to preach. The point is, are we sent? Have we a mission? I join issue at once, for I am assured any thought such as the church sending persons to preach has no foundation or authority in scripture; the church is taught and is instructed, but the church does not teach or send to preach; it is the Master who sends the servants to preach, it is the Master who selects the servants, it is the Master under whose authority the servants have to act. It is a very important thing to hold these things in their true proper connection and order. Jesus Himself sent them forth, He was the Master of His servants, and therefore He both called and commissioned. If you will show me anything to-day that can positively claim His divine rights and authority in that respect, I trust one is gladly ready to own and recognize it, but, failing this, we must stick fast to what the scripture saith, and again I assert there is only One who has divine right and title to send His servants in this world, and that is the exalted, glorified Man at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. He is the source of all true ministry, it is with Him they who minister have to do. But this helplessness as to man’s resources, this absence of all human ways and means, so that they were entirely and wholly cast on Him, is to me exceedingly instructive.
Again, their preaching was not of a very ordinary nature either. They had neither money, nor purse, nor scrip, they were what would be termed destitute men; but yet they were the men that moved hearts, they were the men that got at people’s consciences, these were the men that smote the seared conscience of that despicable man, the Ahab of the New Testament, as he has been rightly called, Herod, a monster who had gratified his carnality and his lust, and then had been guilty of a foul, vile, mean murder; that man had got rid of the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the moment the tidings reached his ears of the fame of Jesus through the ministry of His servants, that moment his conscience got awakened, and he said, Ah! that is John! Have not you often found that when the word of God has come in power to your soul, and there is some hidden sin lying there coiled up and concealed like a snake, then how it has been brought out by the light and heat and power of the word of God? That was Herod: “It is John,” says he at once when the word reaches him. And what adds to the strength of that is this: that Herod was simply steeped in Sadducean notions, and the Sadducees believed in no resurrection or angel or spirit or anything of the kind. Yet, steeped though he was in those ideas, a very Sadducee in theology, as we should say, notwithstanding all, such is the power of the truth preached by these servants of Christ upon his conscience, that the witness within, now awaked, asserts itself and he says, “It is John whom I beheaded.” Ah! how God can bring men’s sins to light before them! How God can wake up a slumbering conscience, and can deal with people’s souls in that condition! This then is the first great proof of the power of this divine mission and ministry.
There is only one thing more upon this, and then we will pass on to the last subject. I want you to notice, and I think it is most solemn, even though a real awakening comes into a person’s conscience under divinely-sent ministry and power, yet how gradually it can cease, as it were, to take account of the first springs and movements that touched it. There may be the deadening and stupefying of conscience, the drugging of it by the devil’s drains. That is what we see in Herod, a hardening process goes on; at last it ceases to sting altogether. I do not know how to speak of Herod of Galilee; I have the most supreme contempt for such a character—an unmixedly wicked wretch was Herod. You see in him the first movements of terror and fear and of slavish horror when his sins have found him out; but mark what happens afterwards; how that is all lulled into quiet and into rest; and then what takes its place? Curiosity! First fear, and when fear is drugged or rocked to sleep in the devil’s cradle, then curiosity. Oh, what an amount of curiosity there is at the present time! Men that were once afraid are now curious. That is what marked Herod, a wretched, prurient curiosity. What he wanted was to see Jesus; he had heard often of Him and would patronize Him, he thought he would see some work of wonder, some miracle done by Him; and therefore he sent for Him to commune with Him. Now I want you to observe this. You may be deceived sometimes, perhaps, by mistaking mere curiosity for some divine interest; I am sure I have often seen it; people may mistake mere curiosity for some spiritual awakening, whereas it is only mere empty curiosity that has seized the person’s mind, just as it is in this world. Now mark what succeeds that—you will be struck with it if you take the gospel history of our Lord Jesus Christ, especially on the very eve of His passion—namely, mocking. Terror being quieted down, curiosity succeeds; that in turn changes into mocking. “Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.” Just think of these two men passing the Lord of life and glory backwards and forwards one to another! What a history it is! My brother or sister here to-night, let me entreat of you not to trifle with conscience; cultivate it—thank God you have it; do not drug it; one of the most solemn things is not to have a good conscience. Every man and every woman in this world has acquired it by the fall. God in His infinite grace and mercy help us to be sensitive about it, tender about it. It can be lulled, it can be stupefied, until it ceases to act altogether, as in this sadly solemn case.
Now these are the great points which the mission of the twelve brings before us first of all, its divine character, then its effects, and its effects in a certain case, this case of Herod.
Now I want to speak to you for a few moments about our last subject here, that is our Lord’s figurative departure from the scene, and the vicissitudes of His servants. That is introduced by a most touching incident, and one that has a special voice to us to-night, which I want you distinctly to take in, through grace. There was a large multitude of hungry people around Him, and the time was far passed; circumstances were pressing, and the disciples come to the Lord and say, “Send them away.” Now I am afraid the disciples were very like some of us in these days. “Send them away,” they say; “we do not want to be burdened with this hungry multitude, we do not want to be troubled with their wants.” Observe how their wants are not questioned, their need is not denied, there is no doubt but that hunger and distress were fully represented. “Let them go,” say the disciples, “into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: there is nothing here; send them away”; which meant, send them away from Jesus. O beloved friends, do we say that now? Well, I am afraid sometimes we do. “Give ye them to eat,” says the Lord. May God make our ears hear that to-night. My beloved friends, do you ever think of giving other people to eat, or do you think only of eating yourselves? Have you ever thought that there are spiritually hungry men and women in multitudes at our doors, that there are people all round about you starving for the bread of life? And have not you heard the Master’s words, “Give ye them to eat”? These blessed, gracious words of His might well be an everlasting reproach upon the church of God, an ever- lasting reproach upon the saints of God; words which might well ring in our ears for ever, “Give ye them to eat.” They were thinking only of their miserable provision, and they say, How can we poverty stricken people give to them? Then we find what is so blessed, and gives us the contrast between Him and all else beside. Hearken to His blessed words, “I have compassion.” I love those words; O the sweetness and tenderness of those words to the heart, “I have compassion on the multitude.” O that our blessed Master would give us more of His compassions! O to think of this great city, with its millions of immortal souls; here we are surrounded by a multitude of perishing ones; we are positively living in a kind of modern heathendom. Alas! that is what Christianity, so- called, is; thickly-populated places, cities and towns teeming with multitudes of immortal souls perishing for the bread of life. And think of our unconcern; I marvel at our little thought about it. I ask you affectionately to-night, do the walls of your room bear witness to your pleadings with God about it? I think I hear you say, “Oh! I am not sent.” Ah! what a very convenient way to escape from your responsibility; numbers of people think they get out of it like that. “I am not sent.” Shall I tell you what strikes me? It is this, whether you would go if you were called! Bear with me in the plainness of the words, but the one who says “I am not sent,” be assured of it, that person would not go if he were sent. I see this very same unwillingness manifesting itself in the excuse. But what I do press upon you is this, while I fully grant we are not all sent to do the same kind of work, and are not all sent to preach, what I maintain is, that if the love of Christ were in our hearts as the grand constraining power, no need, or misery, or distress, however great or pressing, would hinder us from seeking in every way to give the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the true bread of life, to every hungry soul with which we come in contact. I confess I do not understand what Christianity and the religion of Jesus Christ is, nor what the ways of Jesus Christ were, if one of His own true, beloved people in this world, let them be ever so simple, let them be ever so feeble, refused to follow in His ways—- assuredly they could by grace tell of what had satisfied their hunger and of what had met their thirst; assuredly they could say, “I know what met the cravings of my soul, and I can tell you it will meet yours. Who do you think knows the value of bread? The chemist? Not he; but the starving man that has eaten it. I have eaten that bread, he says. There is too much mere head-work, I fear, about us; hence our reasonings and our speculations and so forth, in reality a poverty-stricken state of soul. “Give ye them to eat” rings in our ears to-night. The Lord in His grace give us to hear it, and to heed it as well.
That is what introduces His departure in figure here; He sends His disciples, and He goes up into a mountain to pray; He goes on high, as it were—that is what is represented by His going up into the mountain—and the disciples cross the water in a boat, and you have their vicissitudes. O how blessed it is to think what it says here, “He saw them.” Now I want my brothers in the Lord here to-night to share with me the comfort that passage brings; “He saw them toiling in rowing.” Ah! brother, you are laboring, it may be in some sphere of service or work, and it is very uphill, very hard, and it takes a great deal out of you, and you are very often depressed. Now think of this, “He saw them toiling in rowing.” Not the shades of night, nor the earnest vigil, which He kept in prayer on the mountain-top, nor the storm-lashed lake that they were crossing, none of these things had hidden His poor servants from the Master’s eyes: “He saw them.” O what a comfort that is! What a comfort for us all, whatever may be the character of the “rowing,” whatever may be the character of the labor or danger as we sail over the sea of life, “He saw them.” O what words these are! Those blessed eyes looked down in a tenderness which was all His own! And now mark this, in the darkest part of the night Jesus came to them. That is always the time Jesus comes. The fourth watch is just upon day dawn, and the dawn of day is, as we know, preceded by the darkest part of the night. Have you never watched by the bedside of some beloved one, and have you not witnessed (I know some here have) the struggle between darkness and dawn? There is a sort of struggle between night and day at the very moment just preceding day dawn. That is the time Jesus comes. And observe how beautiful it is; He came walking on the water. Let us delight in contemplating the majesty of His love! It is not only that I see His divine power as He steps the waves, but I see the majesty of His mighty love. They could not be upon the stormy sea without His walking those waves too; they could not be, as it were, in difficulty and in danger without His drawing near to them; they could not be surrounded by the fury and hurricane of the tempest that came down from the mountain side and threatened to destroy their little bark, without His going near to them too. He came to them walking upon the water. There is a little touch here of great beauty; have you ever thought of it? “He made as though he would have passed by them.” What do you think the meaning of that was? Do you think it was a mere accident that this is recorded for us here? Do you think it is a mere little trifling circumstance in the history that the Spirit of God brings out? I believe it is exactly the same thing that you find in Luke 24, when He joined those two poor, heart-broken, weary ones upon the morning of His resurrection, as they walked and were sad, and had given up all hope in this world, and said, “This is the third day since these things were done”; it says, “He made as though he would have gone farther.” It is the same kind of action here; He “would have passed by them.” Why? To call out from them the faintest cry of want and need of Him; that is what it is. It was not that He was indifferent, that He did not feel; oh, assuredly, it was not that!
It could not be as to Him of whom it is so sweetly said,
“That tender heart that felt for all,
For all its life-blood gave”—
oh no; He was never insensible to the distresses of His poor servants in their vicissitudes; but He delights to draw out confidence. Oh! if there is the feeblest confiding of trust in any of your poor hearts here to-night, if nearly everything has fled but this one hope in Him, small though it be, be assured He wants that. That is the meaning of this action here; He would have passed them by; but only that He might awake up, and draw out, as it were, and minister to, the dying embers of that faith which was in the heart. Then they “cried out” How grateful to His heart that cry! Was not He attentive? Did He not delight in that confidence so expressed? Mark what He says; there are three words here, “Be of good cheer,” “Be not afraid”; but note especially the words between them. Our beautiful old translation has it, “It is I”; but that in reality means “I am,” ¦(f ,Æ:4, the same as in John 8, “I am.”
Mark the connection, “Be of good cheer”; “I am”; be not afraid.” O beloved friends, what a trinity of blessedness there is in these three expressions! “Be of good cheer”; might not that well wipe away every tear from every eye? “I am”: the mighty God in the glory and dignity and majesty of His own person walking the waves and waters. “Be not afraid”: the very word He is saying to us to-night. Now, brother or sister (thank God we can all of us be engaged in work in different ways), you are “toiling in rowing”: God in His infinite grace give us that blessed confidence in Christ’s care and love, that amid every wind and storm and our toiling through them, we may ever hear Him say, “Be of good cheer”—“I am”—“Be not afraid.” Oh the luxury of being the means of blessing to some poor heart! The one who is so used knows its sweetness; but it must be tasted to be known and thus enjoyed. “There is that scattereth and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, and it tendeth to poverty.” But remember, in all the vicissitudes of service, and in all the ups and downs so-called of life, whether it be at home or in the service of God, in the world or in the church, whether it be in the counting house or at the counter, wherever you are, remember this, there will be “toiling in rowing” while Jesus is absent; but in the darkest part of your night He is near, so we can sing,
“In darkest shades, if He appear
My morning is begun.”
And “He talked with them.” How blessed the rest of that intercourse! the divine familiarity; oh how precious the intimacy expressed in those words, “He talked with them.” O to hear those beautiful words, those wonderful words! The Lord in His grace just use His own precious tidings to-night to encourage our hearts, beloved friends, that we may all go forth with a little more of the fire of Christ’s love in our souls, and that we may have the comfort, whatever position we are in, as we toil through this world where He is not, of knowing for ourselves the solace and cheer of Himself, for His name’s sake.
From G. Morrish printing, n.d.