Matt. xi. 16-30
On the Words and Ways of the Lord Jesus
by Henry Dyer
It was the saying, I have been told, of a child and servant of God, that he found a single study of his Lord and Master, as seen in the Gospels, seemed to set his soul right for the day. To this good end, as we all know, the fourfold portrait of Him in the four Gospels is given us.
In Matt. x. we have our Lord sending out His twelve apostles, and giving them purest Divine instruction for their path as His public servants. How fittingly this is followed in Matt, xi., with a view of the world's hostility to God's servants—John the Baptist in prison, and Jesus rejected by the populous towns of Galilee. Christ's perfection as a public servant shines out in this chapter in peculiarly difficult circumstances. John, as His forerunner, was already suffering the eighteen months' imprisonment which ended in his martyrdom, and that, too, after only about eighteen months of public preaching. Worse still, John the Baptist's confidence in Jesus' Messiahship had given way under the severe pressure of not seeing the cause and course of the Nazarene at all outwardly prospering. All the magnates of the nation were still rejecting Him. For it appears it really was despondency in John, not in John's disciples only, as some have supposed, that led to the enquiry, for it was to John himself that the Lord sent back word of the public evidences of His Messiahship. Nor need we wonder at this effect on John of his long and cruel imprisonment, when we see how many public servants of God have become faint hearted in our own time under far less severe tests, and that, too, although the Holy Ghost Himself now indwells us.
But this failure of a mortal and fallible public servant of God in the former part of the chapter serves only to bring out into brighter foreground Jesus Himself as the servant whom God always upheld, and who was not to "fail nor be discouraged till He have set judgment in the earth, and the isles shall wait for His law" (Isa. xlii. 4). At this point our Lord might have been content to show Himself in only bright contrast to John's weakness. But He does much more than this—Jesus stands in front of His downtrod and fainting fellow-servant to uphold and defend his character. Jesus never forgot that John had baptized Him—albeit John did it with trembling and worshipping hands. Thus had they in Jordan's river together fulfilled "all righteousness." And the loving and generous heart of Jesus could not forget it. Unlike us, who, alas! can easily renounce connection with a fellow-servant of our God if he faints and stumbles in his service, Jesus, our Master, speaks as well of His fellow-servant as He possibly could do with truth. Is not this one of the lessons we have to learn from the ways of the Lord Jesus in this chapter?
Thus it was that David spoke all he could to the honour of Saul and Jonathan in 2 Sam. i., as Abigail had before told David his honours of other days when she met him on his angry way to murder her husband Nabal. Thus, also, Paul says every good thing he can of the saints at Corinth (1 Cor. i.) before he begins upon their faults—albeit they had so wounded him and ill-treated him. And thus, also, does our Lord to the seven churches. He praises them where He can.
But a second lesson shows itself in His very different way toward the "idle" and unbelieving "generation" amongst whom both He and His forerunner had laboured. Upon them He fixed without reserve the guilt of their unbelief. John had come to them in a way of solemn yet righteous severity, and they had spoken ill of him, as if he were a man of a morose and ascetic spirit. He had Himself come with not a whit less hatred of their sins, but mingling with them in family life, and joining even in their social joys (see John ii. 1-10), but they only spoke of Him as if He favoured their vices. Thus had they blamed God's messengers instead of blaming themselves, and coming as sinners to repentance. Christ charges upon them the full guilt of all this, and points out that Wisdom's children recognize and honour her, and hence they could not be of that number. Is not this His faithfulness to unbelievers (of whatever rank of life they be)—another point in which Jesus, as God's public servant, is an example to us?
In Matt. xvi. 1-4 we see the same condemning of men's unbelief as their sin. Pharisees and Sadducees there unite in demanding of Him some miracle as conclusive proof of His Messiahship. Our Lord's answer is, that in the earthly things of weather a very small evidence or token was quite enough for them, because they were quick and ready on such matters; and their difficulty and slowness in Divine things was because they were "a wicked and an adulterous generation;" just as in Matt. xi. He rebukes them as the idlers of the market-place. Do we not need such a preaching of the Gospel as shall first deeply convict the hearers of their guilt, and especially of the guilt of their unbelief? Must they not be made to feel what Belshazzar saw written on his palace wall—"Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting?"
Perhaps a third lesson to us upon Matt. xi. is our Lord preaching to Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum a coming doom which should accurately correspond to what their Gospel privileges had been. Our Lord no more preached an equal hell to all the rebellious than He did an equal heavenly recompense to all His saints. In each case, it will bear an exact and righteous correspondence to the lives that all have lived. True—hell-torments will be as endless and eternal to all who enter it as eternal joys will be to all the saints. But in both cases there will be different degrees. There will be "a lowest hell," and also "an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom. The hell of the finally impenitent sinners of Capernaum our Lord here declares to be far less tolerable than the hell of the sinners of Tyre and Sidon, or of Sodom; and this is important to us in our preaching. All presenting of God's truth of future eternal punishment makes our preaching hated by the pride of the wicked of course—and this difficulty we cannot even wish to avoid; but to show them God's hell to be as varied in its degrees as the varied characters and guilt of those who are sent there, has at least this in it—that it leaves the present scoffer and the finally unsaved with no excuse for their scoffing. For it shows all the lost, to have made for themselves their own punishment. As it is so solemnly said of specially guilty Judas Iscariot, "that he might go to his own place"—that place which his surpassing guilt had made to be especially "his own."
A fourth, and more cheering point in Matt. xi. is this—That our Lord evidently maintained His own joy in God and His communion with His Father even whilst thus solemnly denouncing the wickedness of the wicked (see verse 25). In our own case we know how apt we are to become hard and Pharisaic in our spirit when the sin and the punishment of the wicked is our ever necessary theme. To inflict punishment in the family, or in the Church, and all the while to have our own spirits still kept in the bosom of our God, is indeed difficult to us. Nor is it easy when only pronouncing the doom. Jude gives it as one of the honours of Michael, the archangel, that when contending even with the devil, he used no railing language; but, like a reverent servant of his God, only said, "The Lord rebuke thee." How much less should we grow hard or rough when actually needful warnings are being uttered by us?
"At that time Jesus answered and said" (even at the time of pronouncing such awful "woes"): "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth," &c. The word "answered" is remarkable, for there is no mention of any voice of His Father to Him beyond that constant presence and voice of His God which we know He always had with Him in His soul. Surely we also, as public servants of God, should have the same. It should be no difficulty, nor even an effort, for us to turn from speaking to the most thoughtless and hardened audience before us to speaking TO the God whose servants we are, and that even audibly. But, alas! our spirits get ruffled, and our communion with our God disturbed; and especially when our service is very public, and is much gainsayed and resisted.
In Acts vii. we see Stephen very much like the Master in this point. He condemns the Jewish council in most direct and unsparing words; but, as at the outset of his address, when they looked on his countenance it was as "the face of an angel," so at the close he still was "full of the Holy Ghost," and "looked up steadfastly into heaven" and breathed a prayer for his murderers, which was answered (in part) in Saul of Tarsus' conversion; for, as Augustine says, "The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen."
When once the eternal home of glory comes, it is said of ALL God's saints, "His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads." That is to say—never shall any of their service distract them from the fullest communion with God and the Lamb. But the difficulty is for us to have this true of us now in any goodly measure in this time of indwelling sin and outside temptations. The subject also of Christ's thanksgiving in Matt. xi. agrees well with this unbrokenness of His soul's communion.
His own will was set aside, and He was accepting thankfully the small and feeble Galilean band of apostles and disciples that His God and Father had assigned Him. "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight." How true it is that the essential to sustained nearness to God and communion with Him is to have our own will subjected to His. As has been often said, "There is only one will in heaven," What follows this delighting in God's will and deep subjection to it is very instructive.
Our Lord next opens mercy's door only wider than ever to the self-willed human race in the memorable words, "Come unto Me ALL ye that labour and are heavy laden," &c. Let no one, therefore, think that when God's sovereignty much occupies the soul of God's public servant it narrows him in his Gospel openness and warmth to the unsaved—far from it. Rightly understood and inwardly yielded to, God's sovereignty becomes as the backbone and the strength of the Gospel arms of tenderness which we stretch out to this world's willful wanderers. The joy we find in being ourselves subject to God and His throne only makes us long to see others delivered from the vain "labour" of making fig-leaf garments of their own, and from being "heavy laden" by Pharisaic scribes and teachers (see Matt. xxiii. 4); for this I take to be our Lord's meaning in the words "labour and are heavy laden." How much we see of both these things in the religious "dead works" and the growing Ritualism of the present time we too well know. And how deeply we need Christ's own strength of soul, and His outflow of Divine tenderness to maintain us in real Gospel warmth, in such a state of things. To us naturally it is far easier to feel for the grossly and openly depraved than for such as thus "labour and are heavy laden." In Luke xv. the special glory of our Lord's Gospel parables is that they were directed to the fault-finding Scribes and Pharisees mentioned in Luke xv. 2, rather than to only the publicans and sinners.
The sunbeams that can warm a broad plain or a deep valley show something of what the sun can do; but its special triumph is when it melts Alpine snows and loosens far-up glaciers. Oh to shine in our Gospel preaching with some such warmth on the Christianized Pharisaism of this nineteenth century!
One more lesson seen in the Master's own ways in Matt. xi., closes the chapter. It is this; He commends to us, as His disciples, the yoke of lifelong service to His God that He Himself wore—"Take My yoke upon you and learn of ME, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall FIND rest to your souls," &c. To be set free from the "labours" and toil of our own will and efforts to get our sin put away, was our first Gospel mercy. But our further mercy is to be freed from our own will as to life-work and service, now that we are Christ's and God's. The individual "yoke" worn by one person seems here intended, for our Lord says, "MY yoke and MY burden; "such a yoke, that is, as the water carrier or the yoke the milkman uses.
What new discoveries of rest and peace and joy did our Lord make as He moved on—albeit He always was outwardly "the Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief." How similar His words in John iv. "I have meat to eat that ye know not of . . . My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work!" And our privilege is to experience also the combination of outward sorrows with inward joy and peace. As the Bride says in Solomon's Song, "I am black but comely . . . as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon." Oh to prove this in fellowship of spirit with the Master all through our brief day below! Amen