Daily Bible Readings
in the Life of Christ
by J.R. Miller, 1890
You have saved the best until now!
"Everyone brings out the choice wine first . . . But you have saved the best until now!" John 2:10
The world gives its best first — and the worst comes afterwards!
It is so in all sinful pleasures: first exhilaration — and then bitter remorse.
It is so in the chase for wealth, power, and fame: gratification first — and then painful disappointment. At first money brings gladness — a sort of satisfaction. But as time rolls on and wealth increases — cares multiply, anxieties thicken, burdens grow heavier, and at last — the rich man finds that in all his riches, he has less satisfaction than he had in the days when he was just a poor boy!
It is so in all mere worldly ambitions: the first cups of fame are sweet — but soon they pall upon the taste.
This truth holds especially in the sinful life: we need not deny that at the beginning, sin is sweet — but bitterness is found at the bottom of the cup!
In grace, however, this is reversed — the good wine is kept to the last! Christ Himself first had humiliation, darkness, and the shame of the cross — and then exaltation, power, glory!
In the Christian life, the same law holds:
First there comes bitterness — but out of the bitterness, sweetness flows.
There is first the deep sorrow of penitence — but this gives way to the blessed joy of forgiveness.
First comes self-denial and cross-bearing — but out of these experiences comes a holy peace which fills all the heart.
Sorrows are to be endured — but the good wine of comfort is poured into the emptied cup.
There is also a constant progression in the blessings of the divine life. We never get to the end of them! Indeed, we never get to the best! There is always something better yet to come. Christ keeps the really best wine until the very last — in Heaven! As sweet as Christ's peace now is to the Christian — he will never know the fullness of the love of God, until he gets home to the Father's house!
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When surrounded by an ungodly society!
"In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah . . . and his wife Elizabeth . . . Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly." Luke 1:5-6
It makes a great deal of difference in what times and amid what circumstances and influences, a man lives. In days when godliness pervades society — it is not remarkable that one should live righteously. But when the times are ungodly, and the prevailing spirit is wickedness — the life which is holy and devout shines with rare splendor, like a lamp in the darkness!
Such were the times and the spirit of "the days of King Herod," and such were the lives of the blameless elderly people, who are here mentioned. Amid the almost universal corruption of the society and religious leaders — they lived in piety and godly simplicity!
The lesson is — that it is not necessary for us to be and live like other people — if other people are not holy. The prevailing standard of living ought not to satisfy us — if the prevailing standard is below Scripture. No matter how corrupt the times — we should strive to live righteous and godly lives!
Nor is this impossible. God is able and willing to give us all the grace we need, to enable us to live a true and holy life — in the most unfavorable circumstances! God makes no mistakes in planting His people in this world. He does not put any of us in a spiritual climate in which we cannot grow into spiritual beauty and strength; and wherever He plants us — He sends the streams of grace to refresh and nourish us.
So, whatever our circumstances may be — it is possible for us to live a godly life! The darker the night of sin around us — the clearer and steadier should the light which streams from our life and conduct be.
Any Christian should be able to live godly — in the midst of friendly influences and favoring circumstances; but it is doubly important that we be loyal and true to Christ — when surrounded by an ungodly society!
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We should learn a lesson from the old heathen artist!
"In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah . . . and his wife Elizabeth . . . Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly." Luke 1:5-6
This is a beautiful thing which God said of them. Yet, after all, that is the test which every life must endure. It is not enough to have human commendation. The question is — How do we stand before God? How does our life appear to Him? It does not matter how men praise and commend us — if God sees that we are living wrong. The Pharisees were righteous before men; but if you would see how they stood in God's eye — read the twenty-third chapter of Matthew: "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to Hell!" (verse 33)
We are in reality — just what we are before God — nothing less, nothing more! The question we should always ask ourselves is, "What does God think of me?" If we would meet His approval, we must first have our hearts right — and then we must be blameless and upright in every part of our life.
One of the old heathen artists was chiseling the back part of his marble statue with great pains. "Why do you carve the tresses on back of the head of your statue so carefully?" asked one; "it will stand high in its niche against the wall — and no one will ever see its back." "The gods will see it," was the reply.
We should learn a lesson from the old heathen artist! We should do our work just as honestly, where it will be covered up and never seen by human eyes — as where it is to be open to the scrutiny of the world. For God will see it! We should live just as purely and beautifully in secret — as in the glare of the world's gaze!
There really is no such thing as secrecy in this world. We imagine that no eye is looking — when we are not in the presence of men. But really, we always have a spectator — we are living all our life in the presence God Himself! We should train ourselves, therefore, to live for the Divine eye in all that we do — that our life may stand the Divine inspection, and that we may have the approval and commendation of God Himself!
"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account!" Hebrews 4:13
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When earth's wine runs out!
"When the wine ran out, Jesus' mother said to Him: They have no more wine." John 2:3
This incident is a very fitting illustration of the failure of all this world's joys. The wine ran out at a wedding-feast. There was not enough of it to last through to the end of the feast.
It is just so with all earth's pleasures. It comes in cups — not in fountains; and the supply is limited — and soon exhausted.
It is especially so with sin's pleasures. The prodigal son soon ran out of money, and began to be in need. A poet compared the pleasures of sin to a snowflake on the river, "a moment white — then gone forever!"
But it is true in a sense also — of pure earthly pleasures. Even the sweetness of human love is but a cupful, which will not last forever. The joy which so fills us today — tomorrow is changed to sorrow. Amid the gladness of the marriage altar — there is the knell of the end, in the words "until death do us part." One of every two friends must hold the other's hand in farewell at the edge of the valley of the shadow of death — and must stand by the other's grave, and walk alone for part of the way. The best wine of earthly life and of love — will fail. If there were nothing better in this world — how sad it would be!
But it is here that we see the glory of Christ's gospel. When earth's wine fails — Jesus comes, and gives Heaven's wine to supply the lack. How beautiful and how true is the picture here: the failing wine — and then Jesus coming with power and supplying the need! That is what He is doing continually. He takes lives which have drained their last drop of earthly gladness — and He satisfies them with spiritual good and blessing, so that they need nothing more.
When human joy fails — Jesus gives new joy, better than the world's, and in unfailing abundance! How sad it is for those who have not taken Christ into their lives, and who have nothing but the empty cup — when earth's wine runs out!
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Ah yes! He does!
"The Mighty One has done great things for me!" Luke 1:49
It is astonishing that the mighty God, so great, so holy — should ever think of a poor, lowly sinner on this earth!
But does He really? It scarcely seems possible! Only consider how many millions of people there are in this world. Can it be, that the glorious God ever gives a personal, special thought — to any one person, among so many? He may give personal thought to a few great people — to kings and rulers, and to certain very good men and women; but surely He does not think of anyone so small and obscure as I am. Ah yes! He does!
You remember that a child was once dying of thirst in a desert — and God heard its cries amid all the noise of the world, and sent an angel to point out a spring of water, and thus save its life.
You remember, too, that story of the little baby, which the mother could no longer herself shelter, and which she put into a little basket and laid among the reeds beside the river; and you remember how God cared for that helpless infant and provided for it in a wonderful way.
Then you remember, that Jesus said that our heavenly Father even cares for each small sparrow and feeds it, and that He even clothes each little flower in the field.
If there is not a bird or a flower that God does not think of and care for — then surely He gives thought and care to us, His people! We are better than a sparrow, better than a flower. We have immortal souls. We are God's own children; and was there ever a true father who did not think of, and love and care for his children? God calls each one of us by name. He hears our prayers. He knows when anything is going wrong with us, or when we are in any trouble. He watches over us, and sends blessings to us every day. What a wonderful thought — that the awesome and almighty God thinks of each one of us, and does great things for us!
"I am poor and needy — yet the Lord thinks upon me!" Psalm 40:17
"Casting all your care upon Him — because He cares about you!" 1 Peter 5:7
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You are My friends!
"I have called you friends!" John 15:15
If Jesus is our Friend — then . . .
no need can be unsupplied;
no sorrow can be uncomforted;
no evil can overmaster us;
we are safe for time and eternity!
"You are My friends — if you do what I command." John 15:14
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He asks for absolute surrender!
"Follow Me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19
"They immediately left their nets, and followed Him." Matthew 4:20
Their nets were probably all that they owned! It was with these, that they earned their living. Yet at the call of Christ — they gave up all, cut themselves off from their means of support, and in simple obedience and faith, went with Him.
That is just what we all should do — when Christ calls us. We should obey instantly and without questioning. No matter how much the sacrifice involves — we should make it cheerfully for His sake. Though to obey cuts us off from all our ordinary means of livelihood, and leaves us without provision even for tomorrow — we should not hesitate. Christ takes care of His servants — when they are faithfully doing His will. He asks for absolute surrender to Him. He wants us to trust Him — while we obey Him unquestioningly.
The faith in Christ which the gospel requires — is the utter, unreserved devotement of the whole life to Him, and the unquestioning commitment to Him for time and for eternity — of every interest and hope. The question of what He will do with us or for us, or how He will provide for us — should not be raised for an instant. There must be no 'conditions' — in the following and the consecration. We may not 'bargain' with Jesus for an easy time, for 'smooth and pleasant paths' — but should simply give ourselves to Him absolutely and forever, to follow where and to whatever He may lead us.
The "immediately" is also important. Many people are forever postponing duties. But every call of Christ should be answered immediately. Many people obey so laggardly, so reluctantly, and so long after they are called — that half the value of their obedience is lost! Christ always wants instant obedience. There is no 'tomorrow' with Him. Tomorrow He may not have any need of us, or we may not be here to do the duty which He now asks of us.
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Study the 'two pictures' together — to see what grace can do for a man!
"He appointed the Twelve: To Simon, He gave the name Peter" Mark 3:16
In an art gallery in Europe are shown, side by side — the first and the last works of a great artist. The first is very crude and most faulty; the last is a masterpiece. The contrast shows the results of long culture and practice.
These two names — are like those two pictures:
"Simon" shows us the crude fisherman of Galilee, with all his rashness, his ignorance, his imperfectness.
"Peter" shows us the apostle of the Acts and the Epistles; the firm and secure rock; the man of great power, before whose Spirit-filled eloquence, thousands of proud hearts bow; the gentle, tender soul whose words fall like a benediction; the noble martyr witnessing to the death for his Lord.
Study the 'two pictures' together — to see what grace can do for a man!
It is not hard to take roses, lilies, fuchsias, and all the rarest flowers — and make forms of exquisite beauty with them. But to take weeds, dead grasses, dried leaves, and trampled and torn and faded flowers — and make lovely things out of such base materials — is the severest test of skill.
It would not be hard to take an angel — and train him into a glorious messenger. But to take such a man as Simon, or as Saul, or as John Newton, or as John Bunyan — and make him into a holy saint or a mighty apostle — that shows great power and ability!
Yet that is exactly what Christ did with Peter — and has been doing ever since. He takes the poorest stuff, despised, worthless and vile — ofttimes the outcast of men; and when He has finished His gracious transforming work — we behold a saint whiter than snow!
The sculptor beheld an 'angel' in the rough, blackened stone, which had been thrown away. And when he was finished — behold! men saw an angel cut from the rejected block!
Just so, Christ can take us, as rough, as unpolished and as vile as we are — and in His hands, our lives shall grow into purity and loveliness, until He presents us at last before the celestial throne, faultless and perfect! "For those God foreknew — He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son!" Romans 8:29
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"Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same — will be called least in the kingdom of Heaven." Matthew 5:19
A great many people are careful about breaking large commandments and committing heinous sins — while they commit 'little sins' continually and without scruple.
They would not tell a direct lie for the world — but their speech is full of little falsehoods!
They would not steal money from the purse or drawer of another — and yet they continually commit small thefts! For example, by mistake the grocer gives them a penny too much change — and they do not think of returning it. Through the carelessness of a postal worker, the postage stamp on a letter is left uncancelled — and they take it off and use it a second time.
They would not purposely try to blacken a neighbor's name or destroy his character — and yet they repeat to others the evil whispers about him which they have heard, and thus soil his reputation.
They would not swear or curse in the coarse way of the ungodly — but they are continually using such minced oaths such as, Gosh! Gees! Heck! and other mild, timid substitutes for overt swearing.
They would not do flagrant acts of wickedness to disgrace themselves — but their lives are honeycombed with all kinds of little meannesses, impurities, selfishnesses, and bad tempers.
We need to remember, that little disobediences — harm our witness for the kingdom of Heaven.
Little sins — mar the beauty of our character.
Then, little sins are sure to grow! The trickling leak in the dike — becomes a torrent deluging vast plains!
Ofttimes, too, little sins are infinite in their consequences.
We ought never to indulge even the smallest faults or evil habits — but should aim always at perfection of character, and perfection is made up of 'littles'.
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Surely there could be no truer picture taken of Jesus!
"Blessed . . . Blessed . . . Blessed . . . Blessed . . . " Matthew 5:3-10
The Blesseds of the Scriptures shine all over the inspired pages — like stars in the midnight sky! The Bible is a book of beatitudes and blessings. God's mercy lies everywhere. Wherever we see Christ — He is imparting blessings, as the sun imparts light and warmth.
While He was here on earth — He was always reaching out His hand to give a benediction to some life which sorely needed it. Now it was on the children's heads, now on the leper, now on the blind eyes, now on the sick, now on the dead — that He laid those gracious hands, and always He left some rich gift of blessing!
Then we remember one day, when those gentle hands were stretched out by brutal enemies — and with iron nails, were fastened to the cruel cross! Yet even then — it was in blessing that they were extended — for it was for our sins that they were thus transfixed on Calvary's cross. As we see them thus stretched out as wide as they could reach — the posture suggests the wideness of divine mercy. Thus the arms of Christ are open to the utmost — to receive all who will come to seek refuge. There is room for the worst of sinners within those blessed arms!
Finally, it is a striking fact that the last glimpse we have of the Savior in this world — shows Him in the attitude of blessing. He had been talking with His disciples as He led them out, and then "He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them — He left them and was taken up into Heaven!" Luke 24:50-51. Surely there could be no truer picture taken of Jesus at any point in His life — than as He appeared in that last view of Him which this world enjoyed.
In Heaven now, He is still a blessing Savior — holding up His pierced hands before God in intercession, and reaching down gracious hands full of blessings for our sad, sinful earth.
If any life goes unblessed with such a Savior — it can be only because of sinful unbelief and willful rejection.
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When He comes to us in the garb of pain or sorrow
"He came unto His own — but His own did not receive Him." John 1:11
We say that the Jews, "His own," were very ungrateful to treat their Messiah in this way; and also that their rejection was a terrible wrong to themselves, for they thrust away in Christ, the most glorious things of Heaven and eternity!
But how is it with ourselves? Christ comes to us. He is continually coming. His hands are full of blessings. Do we really take from the hand of Christ — all that He offers to us? Do we not daily grieve Him and rob ourselves of blessings — by declining what He brings?
Especially do we reject Christ often — when He comes to us in the garb of pain or sorrow. Many times the blessings which He brings to us then — are the very richest and the most precious in all His treasury of grace!
But how many of us receive Christ as gladly, and take the gifts from His hand as cheerfully and gratefully, when He comes in grief or suffering — as when He comes in the garb of joy or worldly prosperity?
Why should we not do so? Can we not trust His love and wisdom?
He never sends pain — unless pain is best for us.
He never chastens us — unless there is a blessing in the chastening.
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The darling child whom we love so much, lies dead in our arms!
"Then He got into the boat and His disciples followed Him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat!" Matthew 8:23-24
Had the disciples put out to sea without Christ's bidding — they would not have had the same reason to expect His protection and deliverance.
The lesson we learn here is, that storms may arise, even when we are in the plain line of Christian duty. We should not be discouraged by the difficulty or trouble which comes — and conclude that we are in the wrong path.
We see, also, that Christ's presence with His disciples, does not keep the storms away. There are no promises in the Bible that Christian people shall not have trials. The Gospel builds no high walls around us — to break the force of the stormy winds. Troubles come to the Christian — just as surely as to the worldly man.
There are the storms of temptation — these sweep down with sudden and terrific power from the cold mountains of this world! Then, there are storms of sickness, of disappointment and adversity, of sorrow — which make the waves and billows to roll over the soul.
On the Sea or Galilee, travelers say that a boat will be gliding along smoothly over the glassy surface, unbroken by a ripple — when suddenly, without a moment's warning — a tempest will sweep down, and almost instantly, the boat will be tossed upon the angry waves.
Just so, do many of life's storms come. Great troubles come when we least expect them. We may be at peace in a happy home. At an hour when we think all is calm, without warning — the darling child whom we love so much, lies dead in our arms! The friend we trusted, and who we thought would never fail us — proves false! The hopes cherished for years — wither in our hands, like flowers when the frost comes!
The storms of life are nearly all sudden surprises. They do not hang out danger-signals days before, to warn us. The only way to be ready for them — is to have Jesus with us in our boat.
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With the eye of tenderest love!
"He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them." Mark 6:48
Jesus always sees our toils and distresses in this world. We do not see Him — and sometimes we think that He has forgotten us; but that is never true. He never forgets us, nor is He indifferent for a moment.
On the heights, while the battle was in progress, stood a group of men watching the struggling armies on the plain below. In this group was the American general Sheridan, who watched the mighty strife with the keen eye of a soldier. King William was also there; but his interest was different from Sheridan's. His son was in the thick of the fight — and he watched the battle with the eye of a father, as well as of a king.
Just so, Christ looks down upon our struggles in this world. He sees us straining and toiling; He beholds all our battles and strifes. He sees us in the waves and in the storm. He sees us, not merely with the eye of the calm spectator — but with the eye of tenderest love!
This is a great thought! If we can only get it into our hearts — it will give us wondrous courage in the hour of toil, sorrow, or struggle. Jesus knows . . .
when the battle is hard,
when the night is dark,
when the temptation is more than we can bear.
The winds were against His disciples — even though Christ sent them out to sea. We learn here, that even when we are doing the things God which has bidden us do — we may encounter great opposition and difficulty. We may even be beaten back, and find the trial too great for our strength. Many of the Lord's disciples have to make their voyage over very stormy seas — on their way to glory. For some, duty is often very hard. Indeed, a true, noble, courageous, holy life — must always exist in the face of opposition and contrary winds.
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There are few things at which people enact greater farces!
"Then Jesus said to His disciples: If anyone would come after Me — he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me!" Matthew 16:24
There are few things at which people enact greater farces — than in their feeble and foolish efforts at self-denial. Very few seem to have the remotest conception of what self-denial is!
One does without meat on Fridays, eating fish instead — and thinks that he has denied himself in a most commendable way.
Another gives up candy or a certain amusement for forty days in Lent — and is proud of over his great self-denial.
Others make themselves miserable in various ways: inflicting pain, making useless and uncalled-for sacrifices — as if God were somehow pleased when they suffer!
But none of these things constitute self-denial. There is no merit or virtue in . . .
giving up anything,
suffering any loss or pain, or
making any sacrifice — merely for its own sake.
True self-denial is the renouncing of SELF — and the yielding of the whole life to the will of Christ. It is SELF — coming down from the heart's throne, laying crown and scepter at the Master's feet — and thenceforth submitting the whole life to His sway.
True self-denial is living — not to please ourselves, not to advance our own personal interests — but to please our Lord and do His work. It is denying ourselves anything which is sinful in His sight. It is the glad making of any sacrifice which loyalty to Him requires. It is the giving up of any pleasure or comfort for the good of others — which the living out of His gospel may demand. The essential thing is that SELF gives way altogether to CHRIST — as the purpose and end of life.
True self-denial, like all other traits of Christlikeness, is unconscious of itself. We deny ourselves when we follow Christ with joy and gladness, through cost and danger and suffering — wherever He leads!
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He does not come in the sunshine only!
"When they saw Him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking He was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw Him!" Mark 6:49-50
It seems strange to us, that the disciples would ever have been afraid of their own Master. They had been in great distress all through the night — just because He was not with them. There was nothing they had desired so much all through those long dark hours — as that Jesus would come to them. Yet now, when He did come — they were in terror at the sight of Him. It was because they did not know that it was Jesus — as His very unusual presence so affrighted them.
It is ofttimes just so with us. We are in some need or danger, and Jesus does not come to us. We call upon Him, and most earnestly desire His coming; yet He does not come. At length He comes, but often it is not as we had expected — in lovely visage and gentle deportment — but in the form of terror! It is in some great trial — that He comes. Death enters our door and carries away a loved one. Or we experience some loss or some misfortune — at least it seems to us, loss or misfortune. We cry out in terror! We do not know that it is Jesus, veiled in the dark robe, who has come! We do not know that this is the answer to our prayer for His presence and His help. We are affrighted at the unusual form that moves over the waters in the dark night. We think it is new danger — when really it is the very divine love and divine help — for which we have been longing and pleading!
We ought to learn that Jesus is in every providence that comes to us. He does not come in the sunshine only; quite as frequently — it is in the dark night that He draws near. It is our duty as Christians to train ourselves to see Christ in every event. Then, whether it is sorrow or joy which knocks at our door — we shall give it loving welcome, knowing that Jesus Himself is veiled in whatever form it is, that He enters. Then we shall find, that when we welcome Him in the somber garments of affliction — He will always have a rich blessing for our lives!
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Nestle in our Savior's arms!
"He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in His arms," Mark 9:36
This picture of "Jesus with the little one in His arms" is very beautiful. In all the Bible there is scarcely another picture which so well represents the attitude both of the soul and of the Savior — in salvation, and in all Christian life.
Jesus takes the child in His arms — there is love, tenderness and protection.
The bosom is the place of warmth, of affection, of intimacy, of confidence.
The encircling arms — imply safety, support and shelter.
Jesus lifted up the child and held it in His arms — just so does He carry His people through this wilderness world! He does not merely tell them what path to travel — but He takes them on His shoulders, carrying not only their burdens — but themselves! Thus He bears them on through life and through death — to Heaven, where they shall forever be with Him!
Then look at the picture the other way — the child in the Savior's arms. The child's attitude speaks of trust, confidence, repose, peace, love, joy — just the feelings which belong to the true Christian. What a place the bosom of Christ is — in danger, in storm, in sorrow, in death! Shall we not likewise learn — to nestle in our Savior's arms in all our troublesome experiences?
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Flying through the air with an angel-escort!
"The beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." Luke 16:22
Nothing is said about his funeral. Of course, if he had one — it was only a pauper's funeral. Earth had no honor for the beggar, no splendid coffin, no flowers. But the angels came — and were his bearers and escort to glory!
Notice also, that nothing is said about what became of his body. The body is of little matter, for the man himself — was no longer in that old, worn-out, battered frame. He was soon far away in the realm of eternal glory! When his body was dropped into the ground — the beggar, the real man, was carried away to Heaven! We see him there, no longer a beggar — but enjoying eternal blessedness.
There is still another thought here. We dread death. It seems like the end of existence. But really, to the Christian — death is only a fleeting incident in his life. It is just a moment's passage through an experience which we never can understand; and then — eternal glory!
One minute, this poor beggar lies at the rich man's gate — despised, suffering, and starving!
The next moment, a strange sensation passes over him, and all is confusion.
And then he awakes — flying through the air with an angel-escort!
And in a moment — he is inside the celestial city, to dwell forever with the Lord!
There is no break in his life.
Death came also to the rich man. His riches could not save him from death. No doubt he had a splendid funeral. There would be a long procession, many mourners, a luxurious coffin, and every show of honor.
But who would not rather have the beggar's escort after death — than the finest funeral earth ever gave to a mortal?
There have been funerals of rich men at which there was genuine sorrow, where those who had been blessed by their benevolence came and wept by their coffins. But in this rich man's case, there were no sincere mourners, for the man had allowed the needy to lie hungry at his gates! He had lived for himself only — and no one really missed him when he was gone. "The rich man also died and was buried. In Hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus in his bosom!" Luke 16:22-23
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"What shall it profit a man — if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matthew 16:26
That is putting the case in its most favorable light! The whole world is the largest possible gain. But suppose a man does gain the whole world —
it cannot keep him from trouble;
it cannot give him peace of conscience;
it cannot comfort him in sorrow;
it cannot make a soft pillow for him when he is dying;
it cannot purchase Heaven for him when he is gone!
All that he can do with the world, after he has it — is to keep it for a short time until he dies! He cannot carry any part of it with him into eternity!
"How much did he leave?" asked one, referring to a millionaire who had just died. "Every cent!" was the reply. He left all. So it is easy to see that there is no profit — but rather a fearful and eternal loss, in gaining even all the world — at the price of one's soul.
Then, think for how much smaller price than 'the whole world' which many people sell their souls for!
Some sell their soul for a few hours' guilty pleasure!
Some sell their soul for a political office!
Some sell their soul for filthy lucre!
Some sell their soul for honor which fades in a day.
They are selling their souls also in many other ways — for pitiable trifles.
Like Esau, they are bartering their heavenly birthright — for a bowl of stew!
What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Ah! that's the trouble. When the soul is lost — there is no way of recovering it. When we have made our choice, and lived our life, whether right or wrong — there is no possibility of changing the results! Life is given to us only once; and if we live it wrongly, there is no chance to live it over again. A lost soul cannot be gotten back; it is irretrievably lost!
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Leaning on Jesus
"One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was leaning on Jesus' bosom." John 13:23
We are not told the name of this disciple — but we know him by his place and posture. What were the traits in John's character which made him the beloved disciple? One was his humility; another was his love — artists always paint his face in features of gentleness and affectionateness. Another of his winning traits was his trust. He never seems to have doubted.
When was it, that he reclined on Jesus' bosom? It was in a time of great darkness. The Master was about to go away, and all the hopes of the disciples were being destroyed. But where was John in that darkness? Leaning on Jesus' bosom! Just so, sorrow, instead of driving us into despair — should drive us nearer to Christ — to His bosom!
Where was it, that John learned? On Jesus' bosom!
Not merely on His arm — the place of strength;
nor upon His shoulder — the place of upholding;
but on His bosom — which is the place of love and tenderness.
It is a great thing to know that divine omnipotence is underneath us in all our weakness; but mere omnipotence is cold. How much better it is — when omnipotence has the heart of love within it.
But what did John do? He leaned. He rested his weight — on the omnipotent love of his Lord. Christ wants all His friends to lean upon Him. He wants to carry our burdens for us — He wants us to lay all our sins and all our cares upon Him; but more than this — ourselves! He wants to bear us — as well as our burdens.
"Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?" Song of Songs 8:5
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A great and noble army of holy women
"And many women were there beholding from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto Him" Matthew 27:55
These were the earliest of a great and noble army of holy women — attached to Christ by deep, personal love — following and ministering unto Him. In all the ages since, Christian women have shown similar devotion and constancy to Christ — and similar heroic love in serving Him. The record of women's ministry to Christ, is one of the brightest in all the world's history!
Women owe an incalculable debt to Christ. He has lifted them up from base thraldom, and from degradation. Women have always been grateful too, and have served Christ with great devotion.
Women are found in every sickroom, bending over the sufferer with unwearying solicitude, with matchless tenderness ministering to bodily comfort, and pouring the warmth of affection upon feverish spirits. They are found in the wards of hospitals, and upon battlefields, moving like God's angels in blessed, loving ministry.
Faithful Christian mothers are following the Master and doing work which will shine forever in glorious luster!
Faithful Christian Sunday school teachers are doing quiet service in lowly paths — which in God's sight, is nobler than that of many of earth's famous ones!
Everywhere, too, there is an open field for woman's ministry. Christ is no longer here in person to be served — as He was served by these women who followed Him from Galilee; but in His needy and suffering followers — He is ever present; and whoever will, may minister unto Him! For He said that in doing acts of kindness to the least of His people — we do them unto Him.
Much practical teaching is in this picture, which is here held up before every woman, inspiring her to wholeheartedly follow Christ.
Why do so many young Christian girls choose a life . . .
of love of pleasure,
of aimless, purposeless existence,
of mere dressing, promenading, and trifling —
when such a life of glorious service is open to them?
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We may be doing Satan's work!
"Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him: Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to You! But He turned and told Peter: Get behind Me, Satan!" Matthew 16:22-23
It was Peter's love for Christ which made him so rebel at the thought of such a dire fate for Him. In his love — he sought to hold the Master back from so throwing away His life. But in doing this, he was acting the part of Satan in seeking to tempt Jesus away from His great work of atonement. This way of the cross was not an accident; it was the way marked out for Christ; to swerve from it, would be to fail in His mission.
Our best friends may become our tempters in the same way. In their love for us — they may seek to keep us from entering paths of duty which will lead us to great sacrifice. Mothers may seek to restrain their children from going to foreign mission fields. Any of us, in the warmth of our affection for our friends, may seek to dissuade them from perilous or costly service — which it may be their duty to undertake. We need to guard ourselves at this point.
The path of true success does not always lie along the sunny hillside! Sometimes it goes down into the dark valley of self-sacrifice! And if we try to hinder any from entering upon hard duties, urging them to choose easier ways — we may be doing Satan's work! We may be plucking the crown from the brow of our friend — by holding back his feet from the way of the cross.
We all need to guard, too, against the counsels of friends who would restrain us from costly or perilous service. In matters of duty — we must know only one guide, and follow the call of only one voice.
We are not put in this world to have a pleasant and easy time! We are not put here to consult our own inclinations at all. We are here — to go where Christ leads; to follow Him to sacrifice and to death — if He leads us in these paths. We dare not allow ourselves to be turned aside by any tenderness of human love. It is the way of duty, however hard, that takes us home to Heavenly glory!
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A slave to his own slave!
"No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one — and love the other; you will be devoted to one — and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon!" Matthew 6:24
We had better look very carefully into the meaning of these words, remembering that it was our blessed Lord who spoke them. "Mammon" means riches. To "serve" means to be the slave of. Paul loved to call himself the servant or slave of Christ.
Now Jesus says here that we cannot be both God's slave — and mammon's slave too. We cannot belong to any two masters at the same time. If we are mammon's slave — then we are not God's slave. If we belong to God — then mammon is not our master.
Think, too, what a degrading thing it is for any human being — to be the slave of money! To use the word "serve" in its mildest English sense — no man should ever be the servant of money. Riches are meant to be man's slave. Now think how degrading it would be for any man to become a slave to his own slave! A man should be ashamed to call riches, his master.
Money is meant to be man's servant, and so long as he is its perfect master — it may be a blessing to him, and an instrument with which he may do great good. But when he gets down on his knees to it, and crawls in the dust for its sake, and sells his manhood to get it — then money is only a curse to him! Thus, it is easy to see why anyone who serves God — cannot also serve mammon. God must have all the heart, and must rule in all the life. He will not share His throne with the god of gold!
God's true servants may have money, and may even be very rich — but they must use their money as a means for honoring God and blessing the world in Christ's name.
They must own their money — their money must not own them.
They must carry it in their hands — not in their hearts.
This is a very important thing for us to learn. Many professors are in danger of forsaking the sweet, blessed service of Christ — for the servile, slavish service of mammon!
Surely there was no more royal moment in all of Christ's life!
"Today shall you be with Me in paradise!" Luke 23:43
This was the second saying of the Savior on the cross. Something touched the heart of one of the robbers — may it not have been the Savior's prayer for His murderers? He became penitent in his dying hour, and cried to Jesus for mercy: "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." Quickly from the lips of the dying Redeemer, came the gracious response, "Today shall you be with Me in paradise!" The words are full of meaning, of which only broken hints can here be given.
Though in the agony of death — Jesus could yet give life to a dead soul. Though draining the dregs of the cup of woe — He could give a cup of blessedness to a penitent sinner. Though His hand was nailed to the cross — it yet carried the key of paradise, and opened the gate to allow a repentant soul to enter. Surely there was no more royal moment in all of Christ's life, than this!
The promise itself tells us what death is for the believer. "Today shall you be with Me!" There is no long, dark passage, therefore, through which the freed soul must go to reach blessedness. There is no "purgatory" in which it must punished for its sins for long years — before it can enter Heaven. At once, the redeemed spirit goes into the presence of Christ!
Paul teaches us the same truth when he describes death as departing to be with Christ; and says that to be absent from the body — is to be at home with the Lord. That same day, said Jesus — this penitent would be in paradise! We ought not then, to be afraid to die — if we are Christ's redeemed and holy ones.
The words tell us also, what Heaven's blessedness really consists of. "You shall be with Me." Being with Christ — is glory! No sweeter, more blessed Heaven can be conceived of!
We know but little about Heaven as a place — where it is, what it is like; but this much we know — that there we shall be with Christ! Is not that enough to know?
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The key to many of the painful or mysterious providences of our lives
"You do not realize now what I am doing — but afterward you will understand." John 13:7
Like many of Christ's other words — this saying of His has a much wider application than its primary reference to Peter's perplexity. It furnishes the key to many of the painful or mysterious providences of our lives. We do not understand them at the time. We do not see how they can have any blessing in them for us. They seem altogether dark. But we have no right to judge of our Master's work in us, or with us — until it is finished. "You do not realize now what I am doing." How could we be expected to understand all the Master's transcendent thoughts and plans?
Yet this is not the end. "Afterward you will understand." This mystery is to be explained. This perplexity is to be resolved into the clearness of noonday. You do not understand now — because you cannot yet see the end — you cannot perceive the blessing and the beauty. The Master Himself knows just what He is going to bring out of each mysterious work of His — and therefore He is not perplexed.
Jesus assures us that "Afterward you will understand." We shall see the tangles resolving into lovely grace and beauty!
What is the lesson? That we should always trust God's heart — when we cannot understand His hand. No doubt, divine love and infinite wisdom has planned all His ways with us. No doubt, there is blessing in the outcome, as it lies now in God's mind. No doubt, we shall see the blessing, too, afterward!
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You say that you want to be like Christ
"The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28
The art of photography is now so advanced, that a whole page of a newspaper can be taken in miniature so small — as to be carried on a little button, and yet every letter and point be perfect.
Just so, the whole life of Christ is photographed in this one little phrase, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28
He did not come to be served — if this had been His aim, He would never have left heaven's glory, where He lacked nothing, where angels praised Him and ministered unto Him. He came to serve. He went about doing good. He altogether forgot Himself. He served all He met, who would receive His service. At last He gave His life in serving — He gave it to save others, to redeem lost souls.
You say that you want to be like Christ. You ask Him to print His own image on your heart. Here then, is the image: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."
It is not a vague dream of human greatness which we are to think of, when we ask to be like our Master.
The old monks thought that they were becoming like Christ — when they went into the wilderness, away from men, to live in cold cells. But surely, such a dream of uselessness is not the thought which this picture suggests. "To serve — to give our life" that is the Christ-like thing! Instead of fleeing away from people — we are to live with others, to serve them, to live for them, to seek to bless them, to do them good, to give our lives for them — that is the meaning of the prayer for Christ-likeness.
Christ also tells us that this is the stairway to the highest reaches of the Christian life. "Whoever wants to become great among you — must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first — must be slave of all." Mark 10:43-44. To worldly men — this seems indeed, to be a strange way of attaining greatness. According to this, all men's scrambling for place and power — is really scrambling downward! The real heights in the human life — are self-forgetfulness and service. We are to use all our redeemed abilities, in doing good to others in Jesus' name. That is what Jesus did in His blessed life — and we are to follow in His steps.
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"Each one had six wings!" Isaiah 6:2
There is something unusual and very impressive in the description of the seraphim in this vision. "Each one had six wings!" Wings are for flight — it is the mission of angelic beings to fly on God's errands. The six wings would seem to signify special readiness to do God's will. But they suggest here, more than their normal use — to fly.
The modern Christian would probably use them all for flying — and would be intensely active. We live in an age when everything inspires to activity. We are apt to run, perhaps too greatly, with our 'wings'.
But we should notice that two of the seraphim's wings were used in covering his face when before God — teaching reverence. Two of them also were used in covering his feet — humility. The other two were used in flying — activity. Reverence and humility — are quite as important qualities in God's service as activity!
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No matter how far we have wandered!
"But while he was still a long way off — his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him!" Luke 15:20
The boy had, in the far-away country, a vision of his old home. As he sat there and thought of his dishonor and his ruin — a picture flashed before him, which made him very home-sick. The vision brought back the old home in all its beauty and blessedness. There was plenty there — while here in the far country, the once happy favored son, was perishing with hunger!
It was a blessed moment for the debauched prodigal. It was God's message to him, inviting him to return home.
When a child is stolen away from a lovely and tender household, it may be kept among wandering gypsies or savage Indians even to old age — but there are always broken fragments of sweet memories which hang over the soul like trailing clouds in the sky — dim, shadowy memories of something very lovely, very pure — reminiscences of that long-lost, long-forgotten past, when the child lay on the mother's arms, and was surrounded by beauty and tenderness.
Just so, there is something in the heart of every one who has wandered from God — which ever floats about him, even in sin's revels — a fair, dreamy vision, dim and far away perhaps — but as splendid as the drapery of the sunset. It is the memory of lost innocence, of the Father's love, the vision of a heavenly beauty — which is possible of restoration to the worst and most debauched.
When the prodigal reached home — he found his vision realized. His father was watching for him — had long been watching for him. It is a picture of the heavenly Father's loving welcome of every lost child of His, who comes back home. Thus He receives the worst — who penitently return. Our sweetest dreams of God's love, are a thousand times too poor and dim — when compared to the reality. A great way off God sees the returning prodigal — and runs to meet him. No matter how far we have wandered, there is a welcome waiting for us at home!
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Here then, is the picture:
"The younger son got together all he had, set off for a far country and there squandered his substance in wild living." Luke 15:13
It is not long after a man has shaken off his subjection to God — before he begins his departure from Him. He first gets the reins into his own hands — and then the old paths are too straight and narrow for him.
He has taken "his substance" into his own keeping — that is, he has assumed charge and control of all his own abilities, possessions, and energies; and now he will go out and try life in his own way — the way of sin and self-gratification. Everyone who is not at home with God, who is not living as a child in the Father's house — has actually departed from God and gone into the far country.
The "far country" is a costly place to live in. When the prodigal got there — his substance soon began to dwindle; and it was not very long until it was all gone — wasted in wild living.
This story is the literal history of a great many young men. There are thousands of them who are wasting large fortunes every year in this same loose living — in drinking and all kinds of debauchery.
But how must we interpret this, in its spiritual application? The "substance" of the sinner consists in his possessions, talents, abilities, opportunities, and possibilities. He "squanders his substance" — whenever he does not use it for God and for the good of the world — which are the uses for which God bestowed it. He wastes it also, when he squanders it in sin.
Here then, is the picture: a man endowed with abilities fitting him for nobleness and usefulness — rushing into evil courses; spending his strength in sin; destroying his body, mind, and soul — in revelry and sensual pleasure.
The man with one talent, who only hid it away and did not use it at all, keeping it as it was, to be returned in the end — was condemned to outer darkness! How much severe will be the doom of those who squander their many talents in sin, and use them to curse the world and drag down other souls to eternal destruction!
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The broken remnants of tired days
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship." Romans 12:1
The ancient sacrifices were killed — but it is a living sacrifice which we are to present. That means that we are to dedicate our bodies to be God's temples — places for God to dwell in. We are to live for God in the very best sense, giving Him all our powers, keeping our lives unspotted and holy for Him, and devoting them to His service in all sweet ways.
Too many of us give to God only the broken remnants of tired days — the fragments that are left over — after we have served our own selfishness with the best. We need to learn to give Christ the best of everything we have.
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Will worrying make matters any better?
"Who of you by worrying, can add a single cubit to his height?" Matthew 6:27
So it is useless to worry! A short person cannot, by any amount of anxiety, make himself an inch taller. Why, therefore, should he waste his energy and fret his life away — in wishing he were taller?
One worries because he is too short — another because he is too tall;
one because he too lean — another because he is too fat;
one because he has a lame foot — another because he has a mole on his face.
No amount of fretting will change any of these things!
People worry, too, over their circumstances. They are poor, and have to work hard. They have troubles, losses, and disappointments which come through causes entirely beyond their own control. They find difficulties in their environment which they cannot surmount. There are hard conditions in their lot which they cannot change.
Now why should they worry about these things? Will worrying make matters any better? Will discontent . . .
cure the blind eye, or
remove the ugly mole, or
give health to the infirm body?
Will chafing make . . .
the hard work, lighter;
or the burdens, easier;
or the troubles, fewer?
Will anxiety . . .
keep the winter away, or
keep the storm from rising, or
put coal in the cellar, or
put bread in the pantry, or
get clothes for the children?
Even human reason shows the uselessness of worrying, since it helps nothing, and only wastes one's strength and unfits one for doing one's best!
The Christian gospel goes farther, and says that even the hard things and the obstacles, are blessings — if we meet them in the right spirit. They are stepping-stones lifting our feet upward — disciplinary experiences in which we grow.
So we learn that we should quietly, and with faith, accept life as it comes to us — fretting at nothing, and changing hard conditions to easier if we can. And if we cannot — then we must use them as means for growth and advancement.
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If we are quick to perceive blemishes and faults in others
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye — and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" Matthew 7:3
It is strange how oblivious we can be of our own faults and blemishes — and how clearly we can see those of other people! One old writer says: "Men are more apt to use a magnifying glass to behold other men's faults — than a mirror to behold their own." A man can see a little speck of dust in his neighbor's eye — while utterly unaware of the great plank in his own eye! He observes the most minute fault in his brother — while unconscious of his own far greater fault!
We would say that a plank in a man's eye would so blind him — that he could not see the speck in another's eye. As our Lord represents it, however, the man with the plank, is the very one who sees the speck and thinks himself competent to remove it!
So it is in morals. No man is so sharp at seeing a fault in another — as he who has the same or a similar fault of his own! A vain man — is the first to detect the indications of vanity in another. A bad-tempered person — is most apt to be censorious toward a neighbor who displays bad temper. One with a sharp uncontrolled tongue — has the least patience with another whose speech is full of poisoned arrows. A selfish man — discovers even specks of selfishness in others. Rude people — are the very first to be hurt and offended by rudeness in a neighbor.
So it is always. If we are quick to perceive blemishes and faults in others — the probability is, that we have far greater blemishes and faults in ourselves! This truth ought to make us exceedingly careful in our judgments, and exceedingly modest in our expressions of censure — for we really are telling the world our own faults! It is wiser, as well as more in accordance with the spirit of Christ — for us to find lovely things in others, and to be silent regarding their faults.
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People with sore and bruised hearts
"When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house — she brought an alabaster jar of perfume" Luke 7:37
It is wonderful how genuine goodness draws to itself the unfortunate, the troubled, the friendless, the outcast, the fallen. Wherever Jesus went — these classes always found Him out and gathered about Him. It was because He was the true, unselfish friend of all men. They found sympathy in Him. He would listen to their story. Though He was the sinless One, there was yet no air of "I am holier than you" about Him. He was just as gentle to an outcast sinner — as to a religious Nicodemus. No matter who reached out a hand for help — He was ready to grasp it. One of the truest things ever said of Jesus, was the prophetic word concerning him, "He shall not break a bruised reed!" He always dealt most gently with sore spirits and with bruised hearts!
Those who want to be useful in this world — must have the same qualities as Jesus. There is a kind of false "holiness" which draws nobody to itself — but rather repels. Genuine holiness, however, wins its way everywhere into men's hearts. The secret of it all, is in living "not to be served — but to serve;" in considering one's self not too good to serve the unworthiest of God's creatures. If we live in this world to be served — we shall be of no use to anyone. But if we live to minister to others, yearning to be of service to everyone we meet — then our life will be of great worth. The hungry-hearted and the soul-needy will be drawn to us — and God will love to put work into our hands.
We need, too, to train ourselves to exceeding gentleness in dealing with human souls in their spiritual crises. Many earnest people, in the excess of their zeal — do incalculable harm to those whom they greatly desire to help. People with sore and bruised hearts — usually need loving sympathy and strong, kindly friendship — much more than they need a lecture in theology!
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How dear we are to Christ!
"And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home!" Luke 15:5-6
He does not drive the poor weary sheep home. This is not the way of the gentle shepherd. He stoops down and lifts it up, and lays it on his own shoulder and carries it back. There is a wonderful lesson in this little touch in the picture — let us be sure that we understand just what the words say.
We all know that Christ carried our sin when He went to the cross. We know, too, that we may cast our burdens upon Him. But here we learn that Christ wants to carry, not our sins only, not our burdens and cares only — but we ourselves! The shepherd took up the sheep itself and laid it upon his shoulders!
Jesus does this "joyfully". Can this be true? Has Jesus really interest enough in any human being on this earth — to be concerned by his wandering, and joyful by his recovery? The thought overwhelms me!
We can understand a shepherd's rejoicing when he bears home a sheep that has been lost. We can understand a mother's joy when her lost child is brought to her door. But that the heart of Jesus rejoiced when He finds us, and joyfully puts us on His shoulders — seems too amazing to be true! Yet here the word stands!
Then listen to Zephaniah: "The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing!" (Zephaniah 3:17)
How dear we are to Christ!
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His love for us — not our love for Him
"So the sisters sent word to Jesus: Lord, the one You love is sick!" John 11:3
In their trouble — the first thought of the sisters was of Jesus, and they sent at once to Him. This lesson we should not overlook. No doubt they sent for the physician; but they sent also for Christ. We should never fail to send word to Christ — when anything is wrong in our home. We should want Him always in our sick-rooms — when our loved ones are suffering.
We must notice also, the message which the sisters sent to Christ. It was very short and simple. They did not beg and plead with Him to come — indeed they made no 'request' whatever; they merely told Jesus that His friend was sick — and left Jesus to decide what He would do. They knew that He would do the right thing, from the prompting of His own compassionate heart.
Notice also the plea. They did not say, "He who loves You is sick," but, "He whom You love is sick." They made their appeal to Christ's own heart — rather than to any personal claim. This is always our best plea with Christ: His love for us — not our love for Him.
There is something also in this message which speaks of a deep feeling of peace in the midst of danger. Many people in such experiences lose all their courage and ofttimes their faith; but these sisters, though in such deep distress, maintained their composure. They had learned lessons of peace from Christ in the bright, sunny days beforehand; and when the trouble came — they were ready for it, and were not disturbed.
Just so, if we would get Christ's sweet comfort when sorrow comes — we must welcome Him in the days of gladness. If this Bethany family had shut Christ out of their home when they were all well and happy — they could not have had His blessed comfort in their sore distress. We must be intimate with Christ in the bright days — if we would have Him comfort us when it grows dark.
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Christ knows His people by certain distinguishing marks
"I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own sheep — and they know Me!" John 10:14
The Jewish shepherds had certain marks by which they knew their own sheep. Even in this country, the farmers put "brands" on their sheep — their own initial, or an "ear-mark," or some other particular sign by which they will know them anywhere. Christ knows His people by certain distinguishing marks.
He knows them by their faces. There is something in every true child of God, which shows to whom he belongs — some family likeness, some feature of the Divine image shining out. The prodigal's father knew his son when he saw him a long way off. In his rags, in his beggary — the eye of love recognized the child. Just so, Christ knows His own people, however dim the likeness — by their faces. The crowds do not recognize heaven's princes, in the humble Christians they meet; but Jesus does!
Not only does Christ know His own by their faces — but also by their voice. The mother knows her child's voice anywhere, even in the darkness, and can distinguish it among a thousand voices. Christ knows the voices of His own, wherever He hears them speak or cry.
He knows them also by their character. Even if the outside is rough and uncouth, it does not hide from His eye, the inner life — the spirit, the heart. He saw the future Peter with all his grandeur of character — in the crude Simon who was brought to Him.
He knows His friends by their obedience. He knows His disciples — by their following where He leads.
He also knows the white garments of righteousness which His redeemed ones wear.
He knows the penitent heart — by the fragrance it puts forth. It is an altar of incense. It is a box of ointment broken open. As we find out the hiding-places of flowers by their fragrances — so God knows the home of the penitent heart by the sweetness that wafts up from it.
"I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own sheep — and they know Me!"
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"I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture." John 10:9
The shepherd takes care that his sheep are well fed. Christ also feeds His people, and leads them out to find pasture.
The Bible is His pasture-land, and the pasturage there is always good. Every chapter is a field of rich grass. Some of these fields seem at first to be bare and sterile; but even in the barest — there is enough pasture to feed a hungry soul.
Then there are the pasture-fields of prayer. These lie very close to the border of Heaven. They are always up in the quiet valleys among the mountains. The Good Shepherd leads us to them through the gates of prayer. We bow down in lowly humility, and enter with Him into the green pastures, and feed our souls until their hunger is satisfied.
The church is another of our Shepherd's pasture-fields. We enter the gates of the sanctuary, and at once we find spiritual food. We find it in the preaching of the Scriptures, in the ordinances, and in the fellowship of other believers.
In our common life in this world, if we are faithfully following Christ, we are continually in fields of rich pasture. Christ never leads us into any places in which there is nothing to feed us. Even in the hot plains of trial and sorrow — there is food. We sometimes think there is only barrenness in our toilsome life, filled with temptations, cares and sacrifices; but the Good Shepherd is ever with us — and there is always pasture.
Thus the whole world is a rich field — when Jesus leads His flock. If any Christians are not well fed — it is because they will not feed. The trouble must be that they do not hunger for spiritual food.
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"No one ever spoke the way this man does!" John 7:46
In all of literature — there are no words like those which Christ spoke. We remember what wonderful power his words had.
One of them dropped upon the wild sea — and quieted it in a moment;
another touched the blind man's eyes — and opened them;
another fell upon the jugs of water — and changed them into wine;
another fell into a dark grave — and caused a dead man who lay there to arise and come forth!
Then we remember how his words comforted sorrow and gave peace to troubled ones; how they reached men's hearts and changed the whole purpose of their lives. Those who heard His words rose up from their business and from their sins — and left all to follow Him in His homelessness and loneliness. Demons listened trembling when He spoke, and instantly recognized his power, and cowered and obeyed.
These words of Christ still have the same power. They are yet giving . . .
comfort to sorrowing ones,
and hope to despairing ones,
and forgiveness to penitents.
They are still . . .
sweetening bitter fountains, and
making flowers bloom where thorns grew before.
If you lean upon a word of Christ — you will find the everlasting arm underneath it. If you are sinking in the waves of trial and grasp one of these blessed words — you will find the divine hand gloved in it, and will be upheld by it. If you are pursued by spiritual enemies and seize a word of Christ — you will find in your hand an all-conquering sword, before which all foes will fly. If you are weary, or in sorrow, and pillow your head on one of these precious words — you will find that you are lying on your Father's bosom, close to his warm, beating heart. The world's richest treasures today — are the words of Christ. "No one ever spoke the way this man does!"
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They are not thirsty!
"If any man thirsts — let him come unto Me, and drink." John 7:37
Every word here is full of meaning!
"If" marks the one condition to which the Savior's invitation is addressed. Of course, if we do not thirst — then we will not care to come to the well and drink. Souls are dying all around us, not because there is no water near — but because they are not thirsty! Intense thirst is a pitiable condition; but the lack of soul-thirst — is infinitely more pitiable! It is eternally hopeless.
The words "any man" show us how universal is our Lord's invitation. The cry was not to "any Jew," nor to "any man of good character," but to "any man." No one is left out.
The word "thirsty" describes the need which Christ is able to supply. It is not bodily thirst — but thirst of the soul — which He offers to quench. For the soul as well as the body has its thirst — and there is no earthly spring at which the soul can be satisfied.
The words "let him come" show us that the gate to the fountain flung wide open! There is no barrier in the way. "Let him come" reminds us, however, that if we would have our thirst quenched by Christ — then we must sincerely come to Him. We must leave our dry wastelands where there is no water — and come to Christ. We cannot find Christ — while we stay in our sins!
The word "drink" tells us that we must sincerely receive Christ Himself into our hearts — if we would have our thirst satisfied in Him. Merely going to a spring and looking at its sparkling waters — will never quench anyone's thirst; we must actually drink of the waters. Just so, merely looking at Christ is not enough to bless us; we must receive Him into our life — and His Spirit will fill our hearts.
This new picture of Christ — presents Him as a great well in the dry and barren desert. The water gushes from a cleft in the rock. We understand the meaning of the cleft — Jesus died that there might be living water for our soul's thirst!
"Smite the rock — and water will come out of it for the people to drink!" Exodus 17:6
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The finest heroism of all history!
"Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem!" Luke 9:51
We do not know what lies before us in life. Some great sorrow or anguish may be awaiting us tomorrow; but it casts no gloom over our spirits today — because we are ignorant of it. So us not knowing the future — is a merciful provision in our lives. If some of us knew all that we must pass through in the future — it would make our lives very bitter, even while our joys are unbroken! It is a great deal better that we should not know — until God leads us into the afflictive experience.
But there was no such kindly veiling of the future from Christ's eyes. He saw every step of the sorrowful way — to the close of His life! Yet this makes the scene before us all the more grand. Knowing all the intense suffering He would shortly experience — see how eager He is to press on in His path. He could not be held back. Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem — and bent His steps with intense haste to His journey, which He knew would lead Him to Gethsemane, Gabbatha, and Golgotha.
In this, as in all things, He left us an example — that we should follow His steps. It is thus that we should ever go forward in the path of duty — no matter what the dangers, the sufferings, the sacrifices, which lie in our path. We are too apt to hesitate and count the cost, when hard tasks are assigned to us — instead of eagerly pressing on in duty's path.
That walk to Jerusalem, every step a step toward the cross always in plain view — is the finest heroism of all history! Let us not forget why the walk was taken. That cross meant salvation and eternal blessedness for millions of lost souls. Love was the heart of that heroism. Jesus pressed on with intense earnestness — because the accomplishment of His mission would be eternal life for His people — and glory for His Father. We ought to bow our heads in reverence — as we see Jesus thus hastening to His cross! It was for our sakes — that He "resolutely set out for Jerusalem!"
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A wonderful secret which all of us ought to learn!
"As the time approached for Him to be taken up to Heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem!" Luke 9:51
There were a great many painful steps to take before our Lord could reach this blessed hour and be received up to Heavenly glory. The immediate future was full of unfathomable struggle, loss, and pain. Yet, on yonder heights — His eye saw the radiance of Heaven, with its opening gates and its welcome home. But before His feet could enter the shining portal — there was a broad battle-plain to pass through, and it was full of enemies! There were days of toil and nights of loneliness. At last He must pass through Gethsemane's gloom, and then travel all that Via Dolorosa which led to Calvary. He must die and go into the grave. All this — before He could be taken up to Heaven!
But He He did not let His eye rest on the shadows that lay in the valley — but lifted it up to the mountain-top beyond, where the splendors of Heaven blazed. Keeping His thoughts always forward on the glories that were to be His when He had ended the journey — He looked past the toils and the tears, and fainted not.
Here is a wonderful secret which all of us ought to learn — not to think so much about the toil and hardness of the way — but to look beyond to the glory of the end! It does not matter how long or rough the road is — if it only brings us home to Heaven at last!
Many of us go worrying all through this life, keeping our eyes always downcast on the path which we are treading. We see all the troubles, the difficulties and discouragements — but we never raise our eyes to see the eternal joys and the blessings which are waiting for us! We ought to learn this life-secret which made Christ look past the shame and sorrow of His cross — and see the glory beyond! Learn to look up toward Heaven! Think of its joys, its blessedness — until earth's trials shall melt away in the brightness, and its griefs and losses be forgotten in the hope of Heavenly glory!
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him — endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God!" Hebrews 12:2
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Cut it off!
"If your hand or your foot causes you to sin — cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled — than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire!" Matthew 18:8
Our life is so full of temptation and peril — that even its best things may become stumbling-blocks. Our very qualities of strength — may become fatal forces driving us to eternal ruin.
Human beauty is a blessing from God — and yet beauty has proved a snare to many a woman, drawing her away from God.
Ability to make money is a perilous gift — which has led many a man to spiritual ruin. It is better to altogether throw away the money-making ability, and go poor through life with the talent wasted and shriveled, and reach Heaven — than to exercise the ability and grow rich, and be lost forever! These are illustrations of our Lord's meaning when He speaks of 'cutting off' the hand or the foot which causes us to sin.
The appetites, desires, and affections — are part of the glory of humanity; and yet, when they are unbridled — they have whirled many a noble life to eternal destruction!
A steam-boat came into port which had long been out on the sea. An accident had happened which caused delay. The coal gave out; then all that would burn — cargo, stores, furniture — had to be burned up, in order to bring the vessel home. At last she gained the shore — but stripped of everything of value. Yet it was better to burn up all her cargo and stores — than perish at sea.
Some men can get to Heaven — only by sacrificing every earthly pleasure and crucifying every sinful desire; but who will say that the prize is not worth the sacrifice? The hand would be better chopped off — than steal or strike down another. The foot would be better cut off — than carry one into crime or sin. The eye would be better plucked-out — than by its lustful gazing set the soul on fire. A man on a wrecked vessel had better throw his bags of gold into the sea and have his life saved — than hold on to the gold and sink into the waves!
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Love flowing out in little gentlenesses
"I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in My name because you belong to Christ — will certainly not lose his reward!" Mark 9:41
It seems indeed astonishing — that God should keep note of such a little thing, as the giving of a cup of water to a thirsty Christian. It shows how dear to Him His people are — since the smallest things done to one of them — He accepts, remembers, and rewards.
The mention here of the giving of a cup of water suggests that this promise is for little, commonplace acts — rather than for great showy deeds. We are too stingy with our helpfulness. God has put His gifts of love into our hearts — not to be kept locked up and useless — but to be given out.
We would call a man selfish — who would refuse a cup of water to one who was thirsty; yet many of us do this continually. It is the heart which 'thirsts' — and the 'water' we refuse to give, is human kindness.
Kindness is just the word for these small acts. Kindness is simply love flowing out in little gentlenesses. We ought to live our lives — so that they will be perpetual blessings wherever we go. All that we need for such a ministry — is a heart full of love for Christ; for if we truly love Christ — e shall also love our fellow-men; and love will always find ways of helping. A heart filled with gentleness — cannot be miserly of its blessings.
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Christ's special friends!
"Jesus took Peter, James, and John" Matthew 17:1
These three disciples belonged to the inner circle of our Lord's friends. There must have been something in them which peculiarly endeared them to Him. We know . . .
that Peter was a leader among the apostles, and also a bold confessor;
that John was "the disciple whom Jesus loved;" and
that James was the first of the band to die as a martyr.
It is very encouraging to look at Peter, who was admitted to such high privileges. He was a man with so many faults, who made so many mistakes, who even at the last, shamefully denied Christ! And yet we remember that he was one of our Lord's closest friends. It gives encouragement to us that, with all our faults — we may yet be very dear to Christ.
It does not seem so strange that John was allowed to enter the inner circle. His disposition was gentle and amiable, very much like the Master's. Yet it is probable that John owed his sweetness and gentleness of character — to his being with Jesus. It could be, that this "Son of Thunder" was not always a man of love.
There is a Persian fable of a piece of clay made fragrant by lying on a rose; the perfume of the rose passed into the clay. So it probably was with John. He crept into his Master's bosom, and lay close to His heart; and his Master's spirit of love and gentleness passed into his life and transformed it! Thus we have a lesson, too, from John: constant and loving communion with Christ will change us into His likeness!
The lesson from this choosing of three out of the whole band for peculiar privileges, is that while Jesus loves all His friends — there are certain ones whom He takes into closer confidence than the others. There are 'degrees of nearness' to Him, even in this world. Should we not strive to be among those who, by disposition and by service — win their way closest to His heart?
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A window through which we catch a glimpse of the heart of Jesus
"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd." Mark 6:34
Here we have a window through which we catch a glimpse of the heart of Jesus. Every scene of sorrow touched Him. It is a great thought, that the heart of the Son of God is actually moved at the sight of human distress or need. It was this compassion for lost sinners — which brought Christ from Heaven. Does God care now, if we are in suffering or in need? "Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him." Does Jesus, since He has gone up into glory, have any such compassion for human sorrow on the earth? "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are." Hebrews 4:15
It is worth while to notice what kind of trouble it was, which so stirred the compassion of Jesus at this time. It was because He saw the people as sheep not having a shepherd. It was not their hunger, nor their poverty, nor their sickness — but their spiritual need which so deeply touched His compassions. There were no wise, gentle, thoughtful pastors watching over the higher interests of their immortal natures, feeding them with heavenly bread, protecting them from the wolves of sin and lust, and leading them in right paths.
We learn here, that no condition is so sad — as that of spiritual neglect. Soul peril is far more pitiable than bodily danger or distress. Nothing moves the Divine heart so deeply — as His child exposed to the world's enmities, uncared for — and wandering from the fold amid sin's pitfalls. Happy are those people, old and young, who are safe in the Good Shepherd's keeping! If we have "the mind of Christ," we also shall be moved with compassion for all souls that have no shepherd.
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He can go out on any wave!
"He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night — He went out to them, walking on the sea." Mark 6:48
It was a long night for the tempest-driven disciples; they were in great distress. But Jesus saw their struggle and danger. He put up prayer for them. Then at length, He went to rescue them.
It is the same in every Christian's life. Sometimes Christ seems to have forsaken His people. For a long while they are left to struggle alone — and to be driven back by contrary winds. They call — and get no answer. Then at last, Jesus comes!
When people are in great trouble of any kind — they are like those disciples that night out in the midst of the sea. No human aid can reach them. Human friends eagerly want to help, and they come to offer sympathy and consolation. But in such hours, the most helpful of us are only like men standing on the shore of a dark and stormy sea — while our friends are far out on the wild waves! We cannot go to them to give help or rescue. Our little boats cannot ride in the wild surges. All we can do, is to stand on the shore, as it were, and look with pitying eye and heart — at the struggling ones in the angry sea. That is the very best that the richest human love can do.
A father stood on the shore opposite the wild cataract, and with unutterable anguish saw the boat that bore his own son swept into the angry torrents — and could do nothing.
Thus it is, in all life's deep needs. It is in such hours, that we realize the blessedness of Christ's power to help. He can go out on any wave — into the wildest sea — to reach those who are helplessly driven and tossed about. He can carry help to all who are troubled. He can comfort in any sorrow, and give victory in any strife.
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A picture of what true faith in Christ always does
"He took the blind man by the hand, and led him outside the village." Mark 8:23
That was a very gentle thing to do. Let us look very closely at the picture — Jesus is leading a poor blind man along the street. What thoughts does it start in our minds?
The blind man represents each one of us in our sinful state, in the midst of a world of beauty — but seeing nothing; groping in the gloom, unable to find the way alone; doomed to perish forever in the darkness — unless someone takes us by the hand and leads us.
As Jesus came to this man in his blindness — so He comes to each one of His people, taking us by the hand and be our guide, to lead us, through the gloom and the dangers — home to eternal glory. We can never stumble in the darkness — if He leads us.
The blind man entrusting himself to be led by this stranger, without fear or questioning, and quietly and confidingly going with Him — is a picture of what true faith in Christ always does. It is in this way, that we are to commit ourselves to Christ. It is not enough to lay our sins on Him; we must entrust our whole life to His wise and loving guidance. We can never find the way ourselves in this world's intricate paths — but we may entrust ourselves with unquestioning confidence, to Christ's leading.
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He never loses any of them!
"The sheep listen to His voice. He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all his own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice!" John 10:3-4
The shepherd does not drive his sheep — but leads them wherever he wants to take them. At night he leads them into the fold for safety. In the morning he leads them out to pasture. Just so, Christ never drives His people; He goes on ahead of them and leads them — and they follow Him.
Sheep need to be led. They have no such instinct for finding their own way, as most other animals have. Christ's people are just like them. Sheep wander away, and a lost sheep never finds its way back. "All we like sheep have gone astray;" and we never could find the way home again — if the Good Shepherd did not seek us and lead us back.
Christ leads His people gently. He goes on ahead of His sheep. He is very thoughtful for the weak ones. "He gathers the lambs in His arms, and carries them in His bosom." He never leads His sheep too fast. He takes them sometimes over rough and dangerous ways — but He never loses any of them! Not a sheep of Christ's was ever yet lost along the way, under His guidance, even in the most perilous paths.
Christ never lost one of His sheep. He has led millions of His people home over this world's paths — but not one of them ever perished along the way. "Those whom You gave me — I have kept, and not one of them is lost!"
Christ leads His sheep to the green pastures and by the still waters. Sometimes He leads them over deserts, and along thorny paths, and through dark gorges; but He is always just ahead of them; and where He is — they are safe. At the last He leads them through the valley of the shadow of death — into the heavenly fold. There they shall be safe eternally, and be forever blessed in the enjoyment of His love.
"My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish — ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand!" John 10:27-28
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We have strange thoughts of Christ's love
"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?" Luke 15:4
Does the shepherd care when one of His sheep has left the fold? He has a hundred in his flock — does he care that one of them has gone? Does he miss one among so many?
Christ has millions of holy beings about Him — angels and redeemed saints — who never go astray. Does He care when on earth, in the heart of a great city, or out in some lonely country town — one soul wanders away into the darkness?
Christ misses even one, no matter who, that strays away. Did any mother ever have so many children, that if one of them wandered from home — she would not miss it?
We have strange thoughts of Christ's love — if we think He loves us only as a one large mass, and not as individuals.
The father of a stolen child said, "So long as I live — I will continue to go up and down the country, looking into the face of every boy I meet, trying to find my own lost child!" Think of that weary, broken-hearted father going from city to city and giving up everything in this one sad search!
Then think of Christ seeking the lost believer who has wandered away from His home of love. Behold the Good Shepherd, weary, with bleeding feet — as He goes on and seeks His lost sheep — until He finds it!
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The Rent Veil
"At that moment, the veil of the temple was rent in two from top to bottom!" Matthew 27:51
The veil was the symbol of separation from God. In the Holy of holies behind it — was the place where God's presence dwelt. Men could not pass the veil. The teaching was, that God could not be approached by sinners — the way was not yet opened.
Once in a year the high priest went behind the veil, implying that there was access to God — but only through a priest. He went with blood — never without it — signifying that only by blood, by sacrifice — could God be approached. The priest was a type of Christ, and his yearly entrance with blood into the Holy of holies — was a constant prefigurement of Christ's once entering with His own blood, to make full and final atonement.
The rending of this veil at the time of Christ's death — was part of the symbolism of the end and completion of the old legal economy. Men were no longer to be excluded from God's presence, since the great sacrifice had now been made. The separating wall between the holy God and sinful man, had been broken down by Christ's death. Hence the symbol of this separation was also removed. This rending of the veil was therefore a supernatural act, teaching that the way of access to God was now and forever open to all.
The fact that the veil was rent from top to bottom (that is, torn in two pieces) signifies that the way is entirely opened! The Holiest of all, now stands wide open with its mercy-seat accessible to every sinner, without the intervention of any earthly priest.
The time at which this rending took place is important. It was just after Christ had died — after He had cried, "It is finished!" It was because the great atonement was now made — that the way to God was thrown open to all.
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"Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God — went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body." Mark 15:43
Joseph had been a disciple of Christ for some time before — but had lacked the courage to come out boldly. He was rich and influential, and had feared the consequences of a public identification with Jesus. But now, he throws away his timidity, and comes out boldly as a friend of Jesus!
He did it at a time when all the other disciples, even the apostles, were paralyzed with fear and afraid to speak. He did it, too, at a time of greatest peril — when shame covered the name of Jesus, and the bitterness against him was intensest. He did it also at a time when faith had died in the hearts of Christ's friends, and when there could be no hope of personal gain, as a reward for his act.
There were several reasons why Joseph made this bold confession at this time. One was because he was a true disciple — and true love for Christ cannot always hide itself. Then, when he saw Christ suffering so at the hands of His enemies, the loyalty of his own heart was strengthened, and he felt that he must avow it. When he saw Jesus dead — all the warm and long pent-up affection in his soul awoke! Then he saw how unworthy his conduct had been — in hiding his friendship for Christ, at a time when confession would have done him good. It looks as if his act were an effort to atone for the imperfectness of his former discipleship.
We must ever be grateful that Joseph gave Jesus such noble burial. Yet we cannot but remember, that his love blossomed out too late. It is evident that his discipleship was incomplete, that it missed much of the blessing of open discipleship, and that even to himself, it was far from satisfactory when the great crisis came. Secret discipleship cannot always remain secret; it must at some time and in some way — confess itself, regardless of what it may cost!
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Go and tell Peter!
"Go your way, tell His disciples and Peter." Mark 16:7
Why "and Peter"? Why was Peter named — and none of the other disciples? Had Peter been the most loyal and faithful of all the Master's friends, that he deserved such a mark of distinction as this? Oh no! We remember how Peter had fallen. The last word that had dropped upon the ear of Jesus from His lips — was a bitter word of denial. Peter had acted worse than any other of the disciples!
Why, then, did Jesus send this special word to Peter? It was just because he had sinned so grievously. That last look of the Savior broke his heart, and he went out into the night — a penitent man, weeping bitterly. Those had been dark days for him, since Jesus died. Not only was he overwhelmed with sorrow at the death of his Lord, whom he truly and most dearly loved — but his grief was made bitter beyond endurance — by the remembrance of his own base denial at the very last! Deep must his sorrow have been, and all the deeper because he would never be able to ask forgiveness. How he must have longed to have Jesus back, if but for one moment, to confess his sin and beg pardon!
Jesus left this special word for Peter — because He knew of the bitterness of His disciple's sorrow. Peter might have been saying, when he heard Jesus had risen, "Perhaps He will not own me any more," and so Jesus sent this message with Peter's name in it specially — just to let him know that he was forgiven — and would not be cast off.
What a world of comfort there is in this "and Peter" — for any who have grievously sinned and are sincerely penitent! Those who have deeply fallen — are the very ones who receive the deepest, tenderest compassion from Jesus, because they need it most, and because He would help them to rise again.
The gospel always has its special word for the penitent; Christ still comes to call the sinner!
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Truly, the sword was piercing through her!
"When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, 'Dear woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' From that time on, this disciple took her into his home." John 19:26-27
This was the third saying of the Savior on the cross. Not far away, in some quiet spot amid the multitude, stood a little group of His dearest friends. Most of them were women. As His eye looked down upon them — He saw His own mother among them. Truly, the sword was piercing through her — as she beheld her divine Son on His cross!
As Jesus saw His mother in her deep grief, though suffering untold anguish Himself — His heart went out in compassion and love for her. He thought of her unsheltered, as she would be, when He was gone. He remembered what she had been to Him in His tender infancy and defenseless childhood — as she had blessed Him with her rich self-forgetful love.
"Stripped of everything," says Godet, "Jesus seemed to have nothing more to give. Nevertheless, from the midst of this deep poverty, He had already made precious gifts: to His executioners, He had bequeathed the pardon of God; to His companion in punishment, He had bequeathed paradise. Could He find nothing to leave to His mother and His friend? These two beloved people, who had been His most precious treasures on earth — He bequeathed to one another, giving thus at once a son to His mother — and a mother to His friend."
In this beautiful act of our Lord, we have a wondrous commentary on the fifth commandment, "Honor your father and your mother." Every young person, or older one, with parents yet living, who reads this fragment of the story of the cross, should remember the lesson, and pay love's highest honor to the father or the mother to whom he owes so much. No suffering or pain of our own should ever make us forgetful of our parents, and we should honor them to the last moment of their life.
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Lying cold and dead, with her arms yet full of sea-weed
"He saved others; let Him save Himself" Luke 23:35
It was because He would save others — that He could not save Himself.
Three little children wandered from home one afternoon. Evening found them playing by the sea-shore. It grew suddenly dark and cold, and they could not return. In the morning they were found, the two youngest sleeping warm and safe under covering of garments and sea-weed; and little Mary, the oldest, lying cold and dead, with her arms yet full of sea-weed. She had taken off nearly all her own warm clothing to cover the younger children, and then carried grass and sea-weed to pile upon them — until she died in her loving devotion. She did not save herself — because she would save the little ones entrusted to her care.
This incident illustrates Christ's devotion to death for sinners. Sinful men could not be saved — unless someone would suffer and die in their place — and Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for sins. In one sense He could have saved Himself — but then the world would have been lost. His death was voluntary. He gave His life for the sheep. We are saved — because He saved not Himself.
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He prayed for His murderers!
"Father, forgive them — for they know not what they do." Luke 23:34
This was the first saying spoken by our Lord on His cross. It was uttered just when the soldiers were in the act of crucifying Him — driving the cruel nails through His hands and feet. It was a moment of excruciating, inconceivable anguish. Yet He uttered no cry of pain, no word of execration upon those who were causing Him such suffering — but calmly prayed for His brutal, pitiless murderers, "Father, forgive them — for they know not what they do."
The moment the sacred blood began to flow — the intercession for sinners began. May we not believe that many of those who on the day of Pentecost and afterward were brought to repentance — were forgiven and saved because on His cross Jesus made intercession for them?
This saying of Jesus teaches us a great lesson on Christian forgiveness. He prayed for His murderers! Just so, we should pray for those who injure us. There are some fragrant trees which bathe the axe that gashes them in perfume. So should it be with Christ's people. Instead of resentment and injury for injury — we should show only sweet, tender love to those who harm us!
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Mamma, this little hand never struck me
"Why? What crime has He committed?" asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify Him!" Matthew 27:23
That was a fair question. The Jews wanted Pilate to put Jesus to death; but Pilate had a right to ask why such sentence should be pronounced. No man should ever be condemned without a trial.
We have a right to ask the same now, of those who condemn and reject Christ. What wrong thing has He done? What flaws are there in His character? Whom has He injured? The Jews attempted no answer to Pilate's question; indeed there was no answer possible, for no accusation could be brought against Jesus. He had never injured anyone!
A little girl kissed her young brother's hand as he lay in the coffin, and said, "Mamma, this little hand never struck me." It could well have been said of Christ when He lay in death:
"This hand never struck anyone.
These lips never spoke a word that gave pain.
This heart never cherished an unkind thought of feeling."
On the other hand, the life of Christ was a perpetual blessing to all who knew Him. His hands were ever stretched out in healing — until finally they were stretched out on the cross and fastened to it — but outstretched still in blessing. His lips were ever speaking words of comfort, of love. His heart was ever full of love and grace.
Who could ever bring any accusation against Him? In truth, no one ever did! He was hurried to death by men's hatred, without reason or charge of any kind.
"Why? What crime has He committed?" asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify Him!" Matthew 27:23
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He who holds the knife!
"He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit; while every branch that does bear fruit — He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." John 15:2
Christ taught many lessons on the sin and doom of uselessness. One of His parables told of a tree which bore no fruit. The soil was good, and the tree was carefully planted and well tended; still, when the master came at the proper season, expecting to find fruit — he found none. Fruitlessness is cursed. The tree with nothing but leaves — is made to wither. There is no place in the Lord's kingdom for uselessness.
We must notice here that it is the fruitful branch which is pruned. The gardener does not prune the unfruitful branch; it would do it no good. It is the true Christian, whom the Father chastens and causes sometimes to suffer under sore discipline. The wicked are let alone; but in their luxuriance there is no spiritual fruit.
Another thing to be noticed here is, that the object of the Father's pruning — is that the branch may be made to bear more fruit. It seems sometimes as if the pruning were destructive; but He who holds the knife, knows that what He is doing will make the vine far more luxuriant in the end, and its fruit sweeter and more luscious. The aim of God in all His pruning — is greater fruitfulness.
If we would but remember this when we find ourselves suffering under God's chastening hand — it would help us to bear the pain with patience, and also to engage with God in His design of blessing for us. Earthly prosperity often is to the Christian — like the luxuriance which the gardener must cut away to save the vine's life.
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Without the drawing of the Spirit
"But I, when I am lifted up from the earth — will draw all men to Myself." John 12:32
As we read the gospel story we are surprised to see how few people were really drawn to Christ during His life. Crowds followed Him — many from curiosity — but very few were savingly drawn to Him in heart and life. We see at the last, how few; there was but a little handful of clinging friends about His cross.
It was not until He had made His great atoning sacrifice — had been "lifted up" on the cross — that all men began to be drawn to Him. Why was the influence of a crucified Jesus so much greater than that of a living, miracle-working Jesus?
For one reason, the death of Christ revealed the wonderful love of God. All of His sweet, gentle, helpful life told of love, too; but it was when He went to His cross that the full, rich glory of the Divine love was manifested. And love always draws. It is love which men need, and wherever they find it — they want to come and rest in its warmth and tenderness.
Another reason why Jesus drew most powerfully after He had be "lifted up," was because then the Divine Spirit was present to work on human hearts and lives. Without the drawing of the Spirit — none would ever come to Christ!
There was an old legend that when Jesus was dying a dove came and settled on His cross. It is only a legend; yet it suggests the truth that even after His precious blood had been poured out, men would not have come to Christ — had they not been drawn by the Holy Spirit.
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We have two options
"The man who loves his life — will lose it; while the man who hates his life in this world — will keep it for eternal life." John 12:25
We have two options. We may live for SELF, take good care of our lives, not exposing them to danger, not making sacrifices, looking out for our own interests — and we may prosper in the world. People will commend our prudence, and congratulate us on our success. We may reach old age healthy, and greatly enjoy our accumulated honors and possessions. This is one way of living. There seems to be something pleasant about such a life; but it has been no real blessing in the world. It has done nothing for the glory of God. It has won no reward. That is the whole outcome of a life of selfishness. "The man who loves his life — will lose it."
The other way to live, is to forget self; not to pamper one's own life — but to sacrifice it in obedience to God and in unselfish service. People will say you are foolish thus to waste your golden life, thus to sacrifice yourself for the sake of others, or in Christ's cause. But was Christ Himself foolish when He went to His cross? Let the redeemed Church be the answer. Were the martyrs foolish when they threw their lives away for Christ's sake? Ignatius said, when facing the fierce lions in the arena, "I am grain of God. Let me be ground between the teeth of lions — if I may thus become bread to feed God's people." Were such martyred lives wasted, thrown away? Is any life wasted which becomes seed to produce bread by-and-by for the world?
The way to make nothing of our lives — is to be looking out for our own interests. The way to make our lives eternal successes — is to do with them just what Christ did with His. "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many!" Matthew 20:28
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"We want to see Jesus!" John 12:21
These men had heard of Jesus — but they wanted to see Him for themselves. It does not do for us to see Jesus only through other people's eyes. No matter how vividly they may portray His beauty before us — this is not the seeing which blesses us and prints His image on our souls. We must behold Him for ourselves.
It is through seeing Christ — that all spiritual blessings come to us.
When we are burdened with sin — we are pointed to the Lamb of God who takes away sin.
Keeping our eye on Christ — will lead us from chains of sin to eternal glory.
When we seek to grow more holy — we are exhorted to behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, and thus be transformed into His image.
When we ask for a model for our life — we are told to look unto Jesus.
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus!" Hebrews 12:2
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"She has done what she could!" Mark 14:8
This was a wonderful commendation to come from the lips of Jesus. Mary could not have done better than this — if she had been a thousand times as gifted. We get two lessons here:
One is, that all Christ wants — is what we have ability and opportunity to do. He asks no impossibilities. The poorest things, the smallest offerings, are acceptable — if they are really our best in the circumstances.
A child in a mission school offered her teacher a handful of weeds and grasses, wilted and soiled — which she called a bouquet. Did the teacher refuse the gift, and criticize the poor withered weeds? No, she accepted them with as sincere gratitude and as many thanks as if some wealthy friend had offered her an elegant bouquet of flowers. The child did what she could; and the teacher looking behind the gift — saw the love in the little heart, and that transfigured her poor gift. Just so, Christ accepts our poorest work, or our plainest offering — if it is our best.
But the lesson has another side. "She did what she could." It is this, then, which pleases Christ. Are we doing what we could do? Do we always bring to Him our very best gifts? Do we never put Him off with the faded flowers — keeping the fresh and fragrant ones for ourselves? Do we do for Him our very best work? Are we faithful?
If we are only doing half of what we might — we cannot take the comfort of this commendation. The widow's two mites were very acceptable coming from her, because they were all she had; but they would not have elicited any such commendation if one of the rich men had given them. A little child's ministry is very beautiful for a child — but it would not be as fitting in the father or mother. We must really do the very best we can — if we would have this commendation.
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At Jesus' feet
"Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." John 12:3
We see Mary three times in the gospel, and each time she is in the same posture, "at Jesus' feet." When we have our first glimpse within the Bethany home, we find Martha in her characteristic attitude, serving; and Mary we see sitting at the Master's feet, eagerly listening to His words. Our next view of Mary is when Jesus came back to Bethany after the death of Lazarus, and the sisters went out to meet Him. Again she is at the feet of Christ, this time in deep sorrow, seeking comfort. Here a third time we find her at Christ's feet, and now it is in honoring her Lord.
We think of Mary, therefore, as a woman who was always at Christ's feet. In the bright, common days — she sat there as a learner, looking up into His face, drinking in His words, and absorbing His spirit into her soul. When grief came — she went to His feet for comfort, pouring out her sorrow there, looking up into His face for consolation. Then, when the trouble was over, and there were joy and victory instead — we find her again in her habitual place, honoring Jesus with her heart's richest gifts. There is no fitter place for the redeemed life — than at the Savior's feet.
In Mary's gift — she brought the best she had, the richest gift in all her possession. We should always bring our best to Christ. No ointment in the world is half so precious to Him — as the love of human hearts. We should bring Him our best love — giving Him the first place in our affections. We should give Him the best of our lives — our youth in all its freshness and purity, our body and mind when they are at their best. We should give Him the best of our time — not the weary moments of languor only — but the hours when we are most alert. We should give Him the best of our services — doing our finest work of all kinds for Him.
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Beyond the 'incident' which we call death
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me — will never die!" John 11:25-26
Martha believed in the resurrection at the last day; but that seemed far away, while her heart craved a present comfort. It was to this feeling, which many another mourner besides Martha has experienced, that our Lord spoke these wonderful words. His answer shows that He Himself is the bridge of life which unites the shores of eternity and time — filling up the dark chasm, and bringing the resurrection and eternal life — close to earth's death.
The resurrection is not far away, for it is all in Christ's hands. When His believing ones die — they but sleep in Him. They are not really dead; indeed, those believing on Him never die at all! What we call dying is only "passing through the gate" — into the immediate presence of Christ! Christ has abolished death. To Him, death was real and full of terrors. But because it was so terrible to Him — it is only an entrance of glory for His people. He absorbed the blackness and the gloom in His own soul, as He passed through the valley — and left it a valley of brightness for His followers.
If we could all get into our hearts the truth of the immortal life as revealed in the gospel — it would take away all the gloom from the graves of our believing dead. Those who live here are in Christ, and those who have passed over are with Christ; thus in Him — we are still united. There is but one family in Christ: part already gone over — and part crossing now. Soon all will be together!
This truth of the endless life, is one of marvelous power when we have, even in the least measure, realized it. Death is not the end of anything really profitable to us — but only the end of mortality, imperfection, and sin. Life goes on fuller, richer, nobler, with enlarged capacities — beyond the 'incident' which we call death. We shall never die!
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The only true preparation for affliction
"When Martha heard that Jesus was coming — she went out to meet Him" John 11:20
The coming of Jesus to this Bethany home was never so welcome as on that day. It is the same still, in people's homes, even in those where He is most loved: Christ is never so dear and precious to us — as when we are in trouble! Our need reveals His preciousness.
Many people who do not desire the minister's presence during their days of prosperity and gladness — are quick to send for him when sorrow comes. This was not Martha's way, however; she had welcomed Christ to her home in the happy days when there was no sorrow — and that was what made His coming such a blessing to her now.
We get this lesson: that the only true preparation for affliction — is personal friendship with Christ. If we never turn to the Bible for comfort until some great grief is upon us — it will not give us much light. But if we meditate on it in the bright days, and its words are hung up then like lamps in our heart's chambers — then when it grows dark, the beams will shine out and change night into day.
When visitors to the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky are preparing to enter that astonishing cavern, the guide puts a lighted lamp into the hand of each tourist. It is noonday, perhaps, and it seems very foolish to walk down the green bank carrying little lamps in the bright sunshine. But when the party enters the mouth of the cave and goes a little distance — they then understand the use of their lamps. In the utter darkness they would perish — but for their little light.
Some people do not think, when they are moving along in joy and gladness, that they need Christ; but by-and-by it grows dark in some path of sorrow — and then they learn the blessing of having Christ beforehand. If they have Him in their hearts, they find it light all around them; if they have Him not, the gloom is turned to despair.
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When sickness comes into our households
"Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha." John 11:1
This home at Bethany was wondrously favored. The family seems to have been somewhat wealthy.
It was a loving home, the three members named being bound together by very close and tender ties. This we know from the fact that Jesus found it such a congenial home for Himself. He surely would not have chosen a quarrelsome household for His own abiding-place. He could not have found a refuge there — if it had been anything but a home filled with love's sweetness.
We know that it was an affectionate household, also, from the sorrow of the sisters when their brother was dead. As we read the matchless story, we are sure that it was no ordinary tie which bound the family together. In too many homes, brothers and sisters are not to each other what they ought to be. Ofttimes there is at least a lack in the showing of the love. Brothers and sisters should not only love one another — but they should be kindly and affectionate in their fellowship together.
Then it was a favored home, also, because it was the one which Jesus chose to be the resting-place for His heart in the still evenings after the fierce strifes with His enemies in the temple. It was His love for the members of this family, and the honor He put upon their home — by which the little town of Bethany was immortalized.
Yet, as highly favored as this home was — sickness came into it. We get some lessons here. No home can be made — which will shut sickness out of its chambers. Wealth cannot keep it away — love cannot.
We learn, also, that sickness in our home is no proof that Christ does not love us. Into the households that are dearest to Him — pain and sorrow come. But we shall see that in the end — blessing to the family and glory to God, come from the trial. These thoughts should comfort us when sickness comes into our households.
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The child preached the sermon!
"He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children — you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child — is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven." Matthew 18:2-4
The child preached the sermon! He said to those ambitious disciples, "Shame on all you quarreling about prominence and high places. Look at me. I am much higher up in the kingdom of Heaven than you. You must get clear of all your proud thoughts — and become humble and simple-minded and childlike — or you will have no place at all in the kingdom of Heaven, much less a high place!"
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Cast out the demon in the child's heart!
"I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not heal him." Jesus replied, 'Bring the boy here to Me!' Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment!" Matthew 17:16-18
The disciples had failed in their effort to cast out the demon — but there yet was hope. The Master Himself was now at hand, and He could not fail. There should be a great deal of encouragement in this, for all who are trying to change people's lives into spiritual beauty.
When parents have done all they can to make their children true and beautiful in their character, and have failed — they can take them to Jesus. He can cast out the demon which is in them. He can give them new hearts. He can put His own Holy Spirit within them, and thus transform them into Christlikeness and noble beauty.
It is to Christ — and not merely to the church or the minister — that we should try to lead our lost children. The minister cannot regenerate the child, renew its nature, or cast out the demon in the child's heart. Unless we truly bring our children to Christ — they must remain unchanged. Baptism does not wash the heart, or put grace into the life. We must bring our lost children directly to Christ!
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Take up his cross
"Then Jesus said to His disciples: If anyone would come after Me — he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me!" Matthew 16:24
The cross is to be taken up — not simply borne when laid upon the shoulder. This implies willing, cheerful suffering for Christ. Some people endure trials — but always with repining. The spirit of these words requires cheerfulness in suffering for Christ. Half the trial is gone — if we meet it in this glad spirit.
Notice again, it is his cross — and not some other man's — which each one is to take up. It is the particular cross that God lays at our own feet — which we are to bear. We are never to make crosses for ourselves — but we are always to accept those which are allotted to us. Each one's own cross — is the best for him. Sometimes we think our situation is peculiarly hard, and we compare it with the situation of this or that other person — and wish we had his cross instead of our own. But we do not know what other people's crosses really are. If we did — we might not want to exchange. The cross that seems woven of flowers, if we put it on our shoulders — we might find filled with sharp thorns under the flowers. The cross of gold that seems so bright — we would find so heavy that it would crush us. The easiest cross for each one to bear — is his own.
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Souls have ears
"At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly!" Mark 7:35
It is a great thing to have deaf ears opened. In many places in the Bible we find the words, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." This suggests that there are people who have no ears, and also that there are those who, having ears — hear not. He who cannot hear — is a great loser. The world is full of harmonies of sound. The deaf man misses all the pleasure which others derive from the songs of the birds, the tones of human speech, the charms of music. It is a great thing, when closed ear-gates are opened.
Also, souls have ears — ears fitted to hear the voice of God and the harmonies of heavenly music. Yet there are many who are utterly deaf to these spiritual utterances. They neither hear God in the voices of Nature, nor in the whisperings of conscience, nor in the sacred words of Holy Scripture. Christ is also able to open these spiritual ears, that our souls may listen on this earth to the music of Heaven. What blessing it would be to Christians, if they would but ask Christ to open their ears to His Word.
Then it is a great thing also to have our tongues loosed, that we may talk of these things to others. Some people, however, who seem to have their ears opened — still have their tongues tied. They do not speak of God's redeeming love. They have such an impediment in their speech when they talk of spiritual things — that they stammer and hesitate and break down altogether; although on other themes they can talk plainly and fluently. There are Christian men who are eloquent when they talk of business, of science, of farming, or of whatever may most occupy their thoughts and hands; but the moment the subject of Christian experience is approached — their eloquence forsakes them! They are tongue-tied Christians. What a blessing it would be to them — if Christ would some day loose their tongue, that they could speak plainly!
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A Christian cannot be hidden
"Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet He could not be hidden." Mark 7:24
The fame of Christ had gone out too widely over the whole country, for Him to travel anywhere without being recognized. No doubt there was something in His bearing that distinguished Him from other men and soon revealed Him. There must have been a rare sweetness in His face, and the outpouring of the great love from His heart. There was no halo over His head, as artists represent Him in their pictures; yet there must have been a glow of grace which attracted sad and hungry hearts to Him.
But really, Christ never can be hidden. He can be in no place in this world very long — and His presence not be recognized. You may hide fragrant flowers so that they cannot be seen — but soon the fragrance will reveal their hiding-place. Just so, the sweetness of the Savior's life and love — will always tell when He is near.
When He enters a human heart — He cannot be hidden; for soon His Spirit begins to breathe out in all the words, actions, and life of the new follower.
When He enters a home — He cannot long be hidden, for the home is changed. Worldliness, bitterness, and sin — give place to prayer and praise, to the spirit of love and gentleness, and to purity and holiness.
When He enters a community — He cannot remain concealed. The stories of missionary work illustrate this. Cannibal islands are changed into God-fearing, man-loving settlements.
Christ will always reveal His presence in this world.
The same is true also of all faithful discipleship. A Christian cannot be hidden. If the love of Christ is in his heart — people around him will very soon know it. They will see it in his bearing, in his disposition, in the way he honors God, in the way he treats his fellow-men.
When a man can hide his religion — he has not much of it to hide. True religion breathes out in fragrance, shines out in light.
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Live for the immortal things!
"Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life." John 6:27
We would call a man very foolish who, in building a great and costly house, would look only after the outside, spending large amounts of money in exterior decoration — while he left the interior in a rough, unfinished state — the walls unplastered, the rooms filled with rubbish and without furniture or decorations of any kind. No one can get comfort from a beautiful exterior of his home and from fine grounds — if within all is bare and crude. The wise man will think more of the inside — than of the outside of the house in which he is to live. He will provide beauty, warmth, and comfort — and thus make a true home for himself, in which he may dwell in peace and in real enjoyment.
Still more foolish, is the man who thinks only of the needs of his physical nature, and gives no thought to the needs of his immortal soul. He is looking only after the outside, and neglecting the true inner life. He is providing for his body — which will soon perish; and giving no care to his soul — which will endure forever. He is planning only for the present — and neglecting his eternal interests.
How pitiable is such a life, deliberately turning away from all the best, holiest, most beautiful, and most enduring things — and seeking only the poor, miserable, worthless trifles — which are only burdens and impediments, not enriching him who has them!
Our Lord's counsel is, that we should look first after our spiritual necessities. It is a fearful mistake to toil all one's days for bread and clothing, or for wealth and pleasure — and never do anything for the eternal soul's life. At the end, there will be nothing left to show for all the toil and pain and sacrifice.
If we look after the interests of our souls, then when this life is ended — we shall find ourselves in possession of eternal life! A good motto for life is, "Live for the immortal things!"
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But the second part is harder to repeat!
"Forgive us our sins — as we have forgiven those who sin against us." Matthew 6:12
The first part of this petition, "forgive us our sins" is not so hard to say. Most people are willing to confess, at least in a general way — that they have sinned.
But the second part is harder to repeat: "as we have forgiven those who sin against us." When someone has done us an injury, and we are feeling bitter over it — then it is not so easy to ask God to forgive us — as we forgive. Perhaps we do not forgive at all — but keep the bitter feeling in our heart against our brother.
What is it, then, that we ask God to do for us when we pray, "Forgive us — as we forgive"? God has linked blessing and duty together in this petition. If we will not forgive those who have wronged us — it is evident that we have not the spirit of penitence to which God grants forgiveness of sins. If we would enjoy the sweet peace of God in our own hearts — we must keep our minds free from all bitterness and anger and all feelings of unforgiveness.
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Do not worry!
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?" Matthew 6:25
Of course we are to think about these things. Why were we made with brains — if we are not to think with them? It would be as if God bade us not to walk — after He had given us feet; or not to talk — after giving us tongues. We are to train our minds and to think with them, and think about the future too — laying plans with a long reach into the years before us. It is not forethought that is forbidden — but anxious worry and fear. We shall see as we go on, just what we are to do — instead of being anxious. At present let us get the simple lesson, that we are never to worry. This is not a rule with exceptions. It is not a bit of creed, that will not work in life. It is a lesson that we are to strive to carry out in all our days, however full they may be of things calculated to worry us.
But why are we not to worry? The "therefore" helps us to the answer: "You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore do not worry." So, then, worry seems to be serving mammon. We say we are God's children — and yet when mammon seems in danger of failing us — we get worried. Practically, then we trust mammon — more than we trust our Heavenly Father! We feel safer when mammon's abundance fills our hands — than when mammon threatens to fail, and we have only God. That is, we trust God and mammon. Anxiety about the supply of our needs, is therefore, distrust of our heavenly Father.
If we serve God only, we would not worry though we have not even bread for tomorrow; we would believe in our Father's love. Money we may lose any day, for "riches make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward Heaven;" but we never can lose God. Nothing can rob us of His love, nor rob Him of the abundance He possesses from which to meet our needs. So if we trust God — we ought never to be anxious, though we have nothing else.
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We should go instantly and tell Jesus all about it
"Calling two of them, John sent them to the Lord to ask: Are You the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" Luke 7:18-19
John the Baptist was in perplexity about certain matters. There were some things that were baffling him, that he could not make out himself, and he sent to Christ to ask Him about them. That is just what every one of us should do when perplexities of any kind arise in our lives or affairs — we should carry them straight to Jesus. Even the Lord's children have their disappointments and trials. They have discouragements. Now they ought not to worry about these matters. Of course they cannot always understand them; how could they expect to understand everything in such a vast world as this? But is it not a great thing to know that Jesus understands it all? He knows what He is doing!
So the true way for us, is just to do what John did — tell Jesus whenever anything appears to go wrong, or when anything happens we cannot understand. That is the rule Paul gives for keeping clear of anxiety. "Do not worry about anything; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." Then He promises that if we only do this — we shall never have worry: "The peace of God shall keep your hearts and minds."
The meaning of all this is that we should never carry a worry of any kind even for a moment — but whenever any matter begins to perplex us — we should go instantly and tell Jesus all about it, and leave it in His hands, that He may manage it for us. The leaving it is the hardest part. We can easily take it to Him — but we are so apt to pick it up again and carry it back with us, and keep it — just as if we had not taken it to Him. We should learn to tell Jesus of our perplexities and sorrows — and then commit all to Him without further anxiety. This is faith, and is the way to find peace.
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We are amazed at every other person's blindness, or dullness, or unbelief
"Calling two of them, John sent them to the Lord to ask: Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" Luke 7:18-19
John the Baptist was in prison — it certainly was not a very cheerful place to be in. We ought scarcely to be astonished at his temporary loss of bright faith. Yet a good many people think it strange that the grand, brave John the Baptist, could really have been in doubt, and scarcely believe it. "It is not possible," they say, "that such a great, heroic man should ever waver in his confidence." They forget that John lived just in the dim dawn of the gospel, before the full day burst upon the world. He had not the thousandth part of the light that we have in our day; and yet do we, with all our light — never get depressed? The truth is, there is not one of us who is not sometimes disheartened — without a hundredth part of the cause John had!
But that is always the way. We are amazed at every other person's blindness, or dullness, or unbelief — but not at our own! Other people's failures look very large to us — but we never see our own at all. We wonder how Moses once, under terrible provocation, lost his temper and spoke a dozen hasty and impatient words; while we can scarcely get through a single sunny day, without a much worse outbreak upon a far slighter provocation.
We wonder how the beloved disciple John, with all his sweet humility, could once show a carnal ambition for a place of honor, while we ourselves are forever scrambling for preferments. We say, "Isn't it strange that people would not believe on Christ when they saw all His power and love?" Yet we do not believe in Him — any more fully than they did. We can scarcely believe that John the Baptist grew despondent when his trials were so great — though most of us are often plunged into gloom by the merest trifles. Many Christian people get more despairing over the gain or loss of a few dollars, or a little pain — than John did in his really great trials!
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These reeds are growing everywhere
"What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?" Luke 7:24
The picture is of a man wavering and unstable, easily swayed and bent from uprightness. That is what a good many men are. A reed grows in soft mud by the water's edge. Then it is so frail and delicate that every breeze bends it and shakes it. Jesus did not intimate that John was a man of that stamp — but meant just the reverse. John was not like a reed swayed by the wind. He was a man whom nothing could bend or sway. Rather than preach soft words to please Herod, and keep quiet about sins that the king was committing — John charged home the sins without flinching — losing his head at last as the reward for his faithfulness.
Yet there are some people who are like wavering reeds. Instead of being rooted in Christ, their roots go down into the soft mud of this world, and of course they are easily torn up. Then they have no fixed principles to hold them upright and make them true and strong; and they are bent by every wind, and moved and swayed by every influence of fear or favor. The boy that cannot say 'no' when other boys tease him to smoke, or drink, or do a wrong or mean thing — is a reed swayed by the wind. The girl who is influenced by frivolities and worldly pleasure, and drawn away from Christ and from a beautiful life, is likewise a reed bent and swayed by the wind.
These reeds are growing everywhere — and the wind shakes them every time it blows. Who wants to be a reed? Who would not rather be like the oak-growing in soil as solid as a rock, which no storm bends or even causes to tremble?
There is one apparent advantage in being like a reed — one seems to escape persecution. John would hardly have met the fate he did meet — if he had been easily shaken. People who are like reeds, do not often lose their heads on the martyr's block. But they are in danger of losing their souls — and that certainly is worse!
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Imagine an angel taking up his abode in some millionaire's palace!
"The Bread of God is He who comes down from Heaven" John 6:33
No bread which grows on the earth — will furnish food for a human soul. In all our worldly strivings and ambitions — we are thinking only of our perishing part, we are looking only after the poor, frail tabernacle — while we are allowing the dweller within to die of hunger.
Recently in an opulent house in a city — a family was found starving! Just so, there are many starving souls — in bodies that are luxuriously cared for. A soul cannot feed on meats and fruits. The finest luxuries of earth — will never quench a soul's hunger.
Manna is called once in the Bible "angel's food," but this was only a poetical designation, referring to its falling from the sky. Manna did not really come down from Heaven. It was not really angels' food. It was food for bodies, not for souls. Angels could not have lived on it. Imagine an angel taking up his abode in some millionaire's palace on the earth. Would he care for the magnificent things filling every room? Would he sit down and feed at the rich man's luxurious table?
Souls and angels are much alike in their needs; both are spirits, unable to exist on material food. Yet many people live as if their souls could be clothed in earth's finery, and fed and satisfied with earth's dainties!
Bread for souls must literally come down from Heaven. It is the nature of the soul — to feed upon immortal things. Its hungers and cravings are for pardon of sin, for peace and communion with God, for holiness of character, for Christ-likeness, for restoration to the Divine favor. The bread for these spiritual hungers — must come down from Heaven. It must come in the form of mercy, of grace, of love, of Divine friendship, of gifts of life. Such food is found on no table on earth; it grows in no earthly climate; it can come only from God. It is for God, the living God — that our souls hunger and thirst.
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He loves them — for He died for them!
"All whom the Father gives Me — will come to Me; and the one who comes to Me — I will never cast out!" John 6:37
We need not worry ourselves trying to harmonize the two parts of this verse; we can believe them both, and find great comfort and joy in them. Together they bring to every Christian a glorious and double confidence. Surely it is a blessed thing, to know that God has planned for our salvation — and then has given us to Christ to be His.
If this is true — then it is easy to understand the other part of this verse. Of course, Christ will never cast out any whom His Father gives to Him! They are His own; He knows them by name, and He loves them — for He died for them. Surely He will not pass by one of His own people — when He finds him lying by the wayside or among the thorns, wounded, bleeding, dying — but will take him up and bear him home in safety.
We need not give ourselves any anxiety about the former part of this verse; the latter part is all that really concerns us. If we truly come to Christ, we are here assured that He will never cast us out; but we must come. Then we shall find room enough, and a most loving welcome.
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The sympathy of Christ
"He looked up to Heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, 'Ephphatha!' (which means, 'Be opened!')." Mark 7:34
How it must have saddened the heart of Jesus to walk through this world — and see so much human misery! There is a story of a sculptor who wept as he saw at his feet — the shattered fragments of his breathing marble, on which he had spent years of patient, loving toil.
Jesus walked through this world, amid the ruin of the noblest work of His own hands. Everywhere He saw the destruction wrought by sin. So His grief was twofold:
1. tender sympathy with human suffering;
2. sorrow over the ruinous work of sin.
It is a precious thought to us, that we are so dear to Jesus — that the beholding of our grief touches and stirs His heart. What a wonderful revelation it is to us — that we are thought of by Him, and that He cares enough for us to be moved to sorrow by our woes and sufferings!
Then Christ's help does not end in the mere thrill of sympathy. That is about as far as human help usually goes. People stand over us when we are in misfortune or trouble, and heave a sigh — and then pass on. Sometimes this is all they can do. Human sympathy in suffering is a wonderful help; but the assurance of divine sympathy is infinitely more uplifting.
Then, Christ gives real help. He was moved with compassion as He saw the widow of Nain in her lonely sorrow — and restored her dead son to her. He wept with Mary and Martha — and then raised their brother. He sighed as He looked on the misfortune of this deaf man — and then opened his ears. He is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities," and then gives "grace to help in time of need."
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"I have compassion for these people; they have already been with Me three days and have nothing to eat." Mark 8:2
This word of Christ shows first, how earnest the people were in their desire to be with Christ. They had been three days with Him, and even when their provision was exhausted — they would not leave Him. They would rather stay with Him hungry — than leave Him to go away to seek food. It would be a good thing if there was such devotion to Christ in these days. Some people can scarcely sit through one short hour with Jesus in the church, or spend a few minutes with Him morning and evening, communing with Him. If we had real spiritual hunger — we would not weary so soon of waiting upon Christ.
Another thought suggested by these words is, that Christ will take good care of those who are earnestly following Him. The reason for this multitude being so long in the wilderness — was their desire to be with Jesus; and it was this fact especially, which stirred His compassion when He saw them growing hungry. "They came here to find Me, and they have lingered here, forgetting their own needs, that they might be near Me. I will not allow them to suffer — but will provide for them."
We may draw the lesson that Jesus will take care of those who are enduring hardness for His sake. He may not always save them from suffering — but He will always watch over them and provide for them in the best way. His heart is just as tender now in the midst of Heaven's glory, and as thoughtful of His friends in their need — as it was when He was on the earth.
We must not overlook the fact that it is care for the people's bodily needs, that we find here in our Lord. We are constantly in danger of limiting our faith in Christ to spiritual things; but He looks just as lovingly after the supply of our physical needs — as after the needs of our souls.
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Opinions about Christ
"But what about you? Who do you say I am?" Matthew 16:15
It is to us a great deal more important question what we think personally about Christ — than what the world thinks about Him. We may be able to state the doctrines of all the creeds of Christendom concerning His person; and yet the question remains: "Whom do you say that I am? What do you think of Christ?"
It is vitally important that we have right views of Christ. Who is He? Is He divine, or only human? If He is only human, we may get much profit from His teachings and from His example — but that is all. In our days of struggle and temptation — we cannot turn to Him for personal help. The holiest saints in Heaven cannot impart to us any strength in our weakness. They cannot reach down their hands to lead us, to defend us, to help us over the hard places. If we fall — they cannot lift us up again. We can get no help from John or from Paul.
If Jesus was no more than a good and holy man — He can do nothing for us now — excepting through His teachings and His example; but if He is divine, He can be to us all that we need as — friend, helper, guide, comforter, refuge. So we see that it does matter what we believe concerning the Person of Christ. Doctrines are important.
Then, when the doctrinal question has been answered, there are other questions that come still more closely home: "What is Christ to you personally? Is He only in your creed? Is He only a person about whom you believe a great many blessed and glorious things? Is He in your thoughts only as the mighty Savior of all who believe on Him? Is He anything to you personally? Is He your Savior, your Friend, your Helper?"
These are the questions that tell just where we stand with regard to Christ and eternal life. Opinions about Christ, though ever so true and orthodox — are not enough; only living faith in Him saves!
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The shadow of His cross
"He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again." Mark 8:31
Peter had made a noble confession of his faith in Christ as the promised Messiah, and now Jesus tells him what that Messiahship meant, and how He was to fulfill His mission. It was not as the disciples expected. They were looking for His manifestation as an earthly king. But He tells them that the way to His throne — was through suffering, and by the cross!
It is to be noticed, that while the way He marked out lay through darkness and sorrow — at the end there would be glory, "and after three days rise again." Thus there was to be no failure in His mission.
Paul taught the believers in Christ: "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God!" The tribulation was hard — but they would go through it; and beyond was the kingdom of Heaven!
In the Twenty-third Psalm there is a verse often quoted: "Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow." In these words there is a suggestion of gloom — but the writer is going through it; then comes "and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever!" So here the dying of the Savior seemed to be failure; but the rising again meant glory, victory, and eternal blessedness. He was simply going through death — as the appointed way to His glorious throne.
This quiet announcement by our Lord of what was in store for Him, reminds us of an element of sorrow in Christ's life from which we are mercifully spared. He knew beforehand, every inch of His path of woe. The shadow of His cross lay upon His soul through all His earthly years. We sometimes rashly say that we wish we could see our future; but really it is a most gracious provision of our own life — that we cannot see an hour before us. To know the future — would only darken the present, and unfit us for duty. It is far better that it is hidden.
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Two kinds of prayer set side by side
"God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are!"
"God be merciful to me, a sinner!" Luke 18:11, 13
Here we have two kinds of prayer set side by side for our instruction. The first really is no prayer at all; it is only a bit of self-congratulation in the presence of God. Yet it was not much comfort, after all, that the Pharisee found. He was better than certain other men, he said. He never thought of comparing himself with God, the only true thing to do.
This Pharisee has many followers. A great many people's whole stock of piety — consists in not being as bad as some other one. The dishonest man felicitates his conscience, with the reflection that he is sober and temperate. The false-tongued man is thankful that he pays his debts. The gossiping woman finds great comfort in the fact that she is not a heathen like her neighbor, who never goes to church at all. But it is a poor kind of virtue, which has nothing better to build on than such imperfect relative goodness. One may be clear of a great many ugly faults that his neighbors have — and yet not be a saint himself.
The other man's prayer was different altogether. There was in him no measuring of himself with other men — to see whether he or they were the worse. Then there was no going over sins he had not committed. He said nothing about his neighbor's sins — but was very free in speaking of his own sins. He stood before God burdened with the consciousness of his own personal guilt, and cried to God for mercy — mercy wholly undeserved, to be granted only through grace. It is very obvious, which was the true and acceptable prayer.
It is the penitent's prayer which reaches Heaven. God wants honesty in our supplication; He wants humility. It is not enough to be worried about other people's sins. The particular sinner with whose sins each man ought to be most concerned, is himself.
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He will always send an answer!
"Men ought always to pray, and not give up." Luke 18:1
A great many people get discouraged in praying, because the answer does not come at once. It should be settled in the mind, first — that God always hears the true prayer, and that He will always send an answer — though it may not always be the answer which we desire. He never despises nor disregards the cry of one of His children; but sometimes for wise reasons, He delays His answer. Perhaps it is not the right time. God's plans reach out widely — and He works slowly.
Look at Joseph in Egypt — a slave, and then a prisoner. No doubt he was praying every day for release; and he may have thought at times that the answer was long in coming. But when it came — he could see that one reason for delay was that all things might be gotten ready. It took years to prepare the answer — which came at last with such blessing.
Or the reason for God's delay may be to draw out our faith, and to increase our earnestness. The story of the Syrophenician woman illustrates this. At first Jesus "did not answer her a word;" but it was for her sake, that He kept her waiting. She received a far better answer at last, than she could have received at first. Suppose she had "given up" after her first apparent repulse, think what she would have missed.
No doubt thousands of prayers are never answered — because men give up at God's delay. Perhaps you have lost many a joy and blessing — because you lost heart and faith before the answer came. A little longer patient perseverance, would have brought you a great reward.
After spending thousands of dollars in drilling for oil, the owner became discouraged and sold out for a trifle. The new purchaser started the drill, and in six hours found a flowing oil well. We see what "giving up" cost the first owner. Many Christians lose heart — just when the answer is about to be granted.
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The widow's mite
"I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others!" Mark 12:43
It is good to have here our Lord's estimate of our giving. We know that as He saw the offerings that day, and spoke of their worth, so He always beholds how we give, and always weighs our gifts in the same balances. It is most cheering to us to note that it is not the size of our offerings that makes them either great or acceptable in Heaven's sight. The widow's mite outweighed the rich man's heavy coins.
No doubt this poor woman felt that her gift was so small that it was scarcely worth while to give it; but in the eyes of the divine Lord — its value was very great.
There are two scales weighing all human acts, and all human gifts and offerings. There are the earthly scales, which weigh in ounces and pounds; and there are the "balances of the sanctuary," which weigh spiritual values. In the latter scales, this widow's mites weighed more than the great glittering coins of the rich which were given with so much ostentation.
This was not only because her gift was proportionally larger — the rich still having much left after giving, and she having nothing left — but also because of her motive and spirit in giving. She gave because she loved God's house, and wished to do her part in maintaining its ordinances. She gave humbly, not to be seen of men — but to honor God and win His approval. She gave also largely according to her ability, putting to shame the rich men who gave so much — and yet had riches left. Christ sees into the heart, while we make our offering; and if our heart is right, and we give as we are able, and give out of love for God and desire for His glory — even the smallest offering that we can bring will be acceptable in God's sight, and will bring down heaven's commendation. God does not estimate our gifts by dollars and cents. Many a million dollar gift is exceedingly small — when He weighs it.
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"Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come Mark 13:33
These words refer to the time of our Lord's coming again. He is surely coming; but when, no one can know. He will come suddenly, without warning. Since, then, we cannot know what moment the Lord may appear, we must "Be on guard! Be alert!" lest He come and surprise us unprepared. This does not mean that we are always to be talking and thinking of the event — and waiting for it in dreamy idleness and useless gazing. What Christ wants us to do, is so to live at all times, that His coming at any moment of the day or night will not find us unprepared.
For one thing, we should be sure of our personal salvation. If we are not saved — we should instantly see to the matter; for He may come the next hour, and there will be no time then to seek salvation. We should keep our work faithfully done, day by day, leaving nothing unfinished any evening — for before morning He may come. We should live at peace with all men, never allowing the sun to go down on our anger or on any enmity or bitterness; for before another day dawns — He may come, and we would not want Him to come and find us in strife and bitterness. We should be careful what we do — for he may come suddenly and find us in sin! We should watch where we go — lest His coming may surprise us in some place where we would not want Him to find us.
This truth, kept ever as a living force in our consciousness, would be the weightiest motive to faithfulness in every duty, and watchfulness against every sin. His coming will be so sudden and so unexpected — that there will be no time then to set wrong things right, to finish uncompleted tasks, to get sin-stains washed out, to undo evil deeds. The only safe way to live — is to make each task complete — a fit ending for all of life.
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Our Great Intercessor
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message" John 17:20
Thus in this wonderful intercessory prayer, our Lord reached out beyond the little circle of imperilled disciples who stood around Him that night, and gathered in His arms — all those who would believe on Him. It embraced us, therefore, who in these days believe on Christ. He looked down along the ages, and saw us and our dangers, and amid the deepening shadows of His cross — He prayed for us. How sweet to be prayed for by Christ!
Even that is not all, as precious as it is; for we are told elsewhere that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for His people. We are not to think of Him as losing interest in this earth when He went away. This intercessory prayer, whose sentences we catch as we read this chapter, is but a momentary revealing to us of Christ's continual pleading for us in Heaven. We are to think of Him as in Heaven, watching us perpetually and praying for us in every time of danger. He sees each stealthy temptation as it approaches, and asks, "Father, keep your imperilled child!"
It is a very precious comfort even to know that a dear human friend is praying for us. Many a time in my youth, I was kept from doing wrong things, by the thought that in my quiet home far away, my father and my mother, every morning and every evening, stretched out holy hands in earnest, loving prayer — that God would keep their boy. I could not do the wrong thing, with this vision in my mind. Still more powerful in its restraining influence upon us — should be the assurance that day and night Jesus in Heaven is thinking of us, watching us from His holy height in glory, and at every appearance of evil, prays for us. How could we do the evil thing — if we but stopped long enough to think of this Divine intercession for us?
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The Man of Sorrows
"My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death!" Matthew 26:38
We ought often to sit down with our Lord in the garden of Gethsemane — and look upon Him while He suffers. We never can understand more than a very little of the anguish of that hour in the garden — yet we should often study it. Some hints of its meaning may be reverently mentioned.
Before our Lord, there lay the betrayal, the arrest, the trial with all its mockery and humiliation; and then death amid the ignominy of the cross. These physical sufferings alone made an anguish that was terrible to endure. Another element of our Lord's suffering was the falseness of the human hearts about Him. There were the traitorous kiss of Judas, the sad denial of Peter, the flight and desertion of the other disciples, the rejection and crucifixion by the people He had come to save. All of this, He foresaw from Gethsemane.
But that which made the very essence of the anguish of Gethsemane, was the fact that Jesus was bearing our sins. What that meant to Him — we never can know. We know only what is most dimly shadowed for us in the deep words of Holy Scripture, which speak of His vicarious sacrifice. They are such words as these: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." "He bore our sins in his own body on the tree." "He has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us."
We are sure, at least, that the death of Jesus — was not like the death of any other man, even though the other could endure all the physical suffering which attended our Lord's agony. In some way, though innocent and holy Himself, and without sin — He died for sinners. The mystery, we never can fathom — but the fact, we must remember as we watch with our Lord in Gethsemane.
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Jesus' devotional habits
"Jesus often resorted there with His disciples." John 18:2
These words give us a glimpse of Jesus' devotional habits. The deep quiet of the Olive garden, was His prayer closet. Here He had been accustomed to go for seasons of prayer. There were other places, too, which were sacred resorts to Him. There were mountain-tops, where He often spent whole nights in communion with His Father.
Our Lord's example teaches us, that we should spend much time in devotion. Some people manage to get along without much praying; but it is always at the expense of their spiritual life. Not feeding their souls — they grow very lean. There really can be no beautiful, strong, helpful Christian life — without much closet work. Every tree has a root, which people do not see, which has no beauty — but which in secret, in the darkness, performs service for the tree, without which the tree could not live. What the root is to the tree — that is what the Christian's secret devotional life is — to the external and visible life which the world sees. We shall flourish and be fruitful in spiritual life — just in proportion to the earnestness, the reality, and the intensity of our devotional life. A great deal of praying — needs to go with a very little working.
Our Lord's example teaches us also, the importance of regular habits of praying. Some people say that praying should be spontaneous, and that stated times and places make it formal, and take the life out of it. But we are such creatures of habit that if we do not pray at regular times each day — we shall very soon not pray at all. But if we always go to our closet at the same time, our devotions will become part of our daily life, and we shall never live a day without its moments of prayer. If our Lord's holy life required regular habits of prayer and communion — then how much more do our broken, imperfect lives require the same!
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Why have You forsaken Me?
"My God, my God — why have You forsaken Me?" Matthew 27:46
This was the fourth saying of the Savior on the cross. It is too mysterious for explanation, and we may only ponder it with hushed hearts for a little. "My God, my God — why have You forsaken Me?" It was not the nails in His flesh, nor the insults of scoffing enemies, nor the ignominy of the cross — but the fact that Jesus for the time — had lost the sense of the Father's presence, which made the grief of the hour.
"My God, my God — why have You forsaken Me?" What had He, the beloved son, done — that the Father should forsake Him? It would not have seemed so strange if He had forsaken the angels or the saints living in glory; but why should He forsake His own Son?
"My God!" Why does He not say "My Father"? He said "Father" in the first saying on the cross, and in the very last; why is it "My God" here? Has He in the darkness lost the consciousness of sonship? Does He seem pushed far away from home, from the Father's heart, from the bosom where from all eternity He had reposed? So it seems! Yet mark how His faith clings in the darkness: it is still "My God!" He has not lost faith, even in the darkness. His faith holds — though He cannot see His Father's face. No matter how dark the night about us — how heavy the cross that weighs us down — how lonely and deserted we may feel — we should never lose faith in God. Behind the blackest clouds — His face ever beams with love! He is still our God, though for the time He may have left us alone.
"Why have you forsaken me?" Can we answer this "WHY"? We only know that Jesus was bearing our sins, and that it was for our sake, that He had to endure this hiding of His Father's face. He was forsaken then for a small moment — that for all eternity we might enjoy the favor of God and dwell in communion with Him.