|Previous: St. Matthew||Up: The Tree of Life||Next: St. Luke|
The Gospel of the Kingdom
Chapter 1. "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Life is an eternal cycle. The regenerate life begins again with repentance in preparation for a new measure of Christian grace. We read again of the Lord’s baptism. The sign disappears when the mind turns to its signification in cleansing the heart and mind from impure feelings and thoughts in penitence. Temptations are closely associated with this frequent experience. And so, after the Lord’s baptism "the spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts (falsities springing from lusts); and angels ministered unto him." An introduction to the Christian life calls into service again and again what we have already learned about obedience, brotherliness, charity and good works (the four disciples). The Gospel takes on a new meaning for us. The Lord taught with authority, and cast an unclean spirit out of a man in the synagogue. What new doctrine is this? And whence is the power to heal? These innovations stirred up heated opposition. Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever. The Lord cured her. He also healed many others, including a leper, who was told to give thanks to God, but went straightway and blazed abroad the matter, thus limiting the Lord’s work there.
2. And Jesus preached in a home in Capernaum. And they brought one sick of the palsy to be healed by Him. We may be completely apathetic toward someone who suffers for lack of our sympathy and help. The word of the Lord convicts us, but we cannot get near Him because of numberless selfish considerations that crowd the mind. We must rise above them. But how? With the help of friendly encouragement and advice we are brought to the feet of the Savior, and experience his forgiveness in our ability to be Christian, where formerly we had been unchristian. We continue to learn more about the Gospel and its glad message that gives added weight to the conviction that unquestioning obedience to the plain mandates of the law is frequently the only means of conjoining us with the Lord (Levi at the receipt of custom). And when we consider seriously the problem of crime and punishment, we wonder how far the gospel can be carried in reclaiming sinners. Are the respectable scribes and Pharisees any better than the despised publicans and sinners? Or worse? For both alike the Lord "came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Fasting sometimes goes with repentance. It is like a garment, giving comfort in the hope of relief. The fasting of the Pharisees, however, is like an old garment with a rent in it. They fast to be seen of men, for self-pity, which gives no real comfort. The fasting of John’s disciples is like a new garment, mourning blessed with comfort in the Lord’s sustaining presence. The new and the old rituals are altogether incongruous. So also old bottles burst from the fermentation of new wine. The old ideas of the scribes and Pharisees could never be stretched to contain the new spirit of Sabbath observance which the Lord gave to it. And today we again require a new set of rules for keeping both the letter and the spirit of the law on that day. We do things on Sunday now that would have shocked our forefathers. Where is the wrong in dancing on Sunday, if any?
3. The great question is not so much the deed, as the spirit of it. But how many have lost the power of doing things on Sunday due to early inhibitions? The Lord healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath to release power for well-doing on that day, and every other day. Anything calculated to enrich the life of others on Monday is equally suitable for Sunday, should occasion demand it. The issue brought the old and the new order into serious conflict, and a great manifestation of the power of the Lord to help sufferers of all kinds. So He ordained twelve to go forth and preach, and heal sicknesses, and cast out devils. The twelve from Simon Peter to Judas Iscariot are linked together as one unit representing all the various elements that enter into the Christian life. The scribes accredited the Lord’s work to Beelzebub. For Satan to rise up against himself, however, would end his kingdom. Neither was it from an unclean spirit that the Lord performed his works. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unpardonable. The Lord Jesus Christ held a unique place in the world. He disowned his earthly origin, and shifted all blood relationships on this plane of life to the higher plane of the spiritual life where He now reigns, one with the Father, and from whom is the Holy Spirit. "Whosoever wills to do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother."
4. Again, He returns to the affairs of this world, and tells the people what to do to put them in order. He is scattering the seed. Some pay little or no attention to what He says. Others are enthusiastic about its value, but only theoretically. Others use it to promote their worldly welfare, while others give ear to it, and make it profitable in better living. This practical meaning is hidden from the worldly wise, but made apparent in practice. The light of life, which comes in this way, enters into the hidden places in the heart for judgment. We are judged according to our light. In the very nature of things the seeds of truth will grow to the point of fruitage. As for a faith that starts in great humility—"the least of all seeds"—it may grow to proportions that shelter many profitable thoughts from the unfolding of the Lord’s Word, which is all couched in the language of parable. "Without a parable spake he not unto them; and when they were alone he expounded all things to his disciples" for spiritual living. But how? The ship that carried the Lord and his disciples represents the Church, or religion, translating the theory into practical terms, which is often accompanied by a storm of protest and resentment. The Lord is asleep on a pillow at the stern. Unconsciously to us He is directing the processes of our thinking to the crisis when we feel helpless without his aid. His awakening calms our fears and opposition. Another kind of fear then takes possession of the disciple—the dread of doing anything unworthy of One with such a command of human passions.
5. The disciples would presently witness his power over still more disorderly passions. The Gadarene demoniac represents the ungovernable love of possessions. The obsession is a leading cause of war—hell let loose, and apparently quite beyond control. The expulsion of the legion into the herd of swine that perished in the lake gives an ocular proof of their return to the source whence they came. The Lord’s Word is irresistible. The Lord awaits the time when the world will turn to Him as its only hope of controlling the demon let loose today. "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee." The Lord and his disciples returned to the land to be met by Jairus whose twelve-year-old daughter lay at the point of death. A woman with an issue of blood of twelve years standing was healed on the way by touching the Lord’s garment. The circulation of blood through the body to supply nutriment to it resembles the circulation of money, or knowledge, through the body politic for the support of everyone. The waste through the abuse of money and knowledge is patent to everyone. The church has a heavy responsibility for this condition, which is symptomatic of the mania for wealth. It is not enough to stop the waste in the spending. The "mania"—the type of insanity in each individual—must die, and a new motive from the Lord take its place. This is involved in the death and resuscitation of the daughter of Jairus, one of the rulers in the synagogue.
6. These miracles proclaim the Divinity of the Lord. "His own"—that is, our amour propre— raises doubts which curtail our receptivity of his lovingkindness. "And he marveled because of their unbelief," but proceeded to teach and reinforce the means of overcoming prejudices and self-will. The twelve were sent forth in pairs with power over unclean spirits. The growth of Christianity proceeds slowly, and with difficulty. One great difficulty is a false conscience. We all do a lot of wishful thinking, which we regard as guidance from the Lord, even to the justification of a course of action that is adulterous. Herod beheads John for accusing him of adultery. John’s disciples bury the body. The Lord hears of it, and feeds the multitude in the desert. The disciples cross the lake by night in a storm. Jesus comes to them walking on the troubled waters. And when they landed in Canaan "straightway they knew him." The sick came from the whole region, and "besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment; and as many as touched him were made whole." The birth of a new conscience from the Lord restores our faith in Him, and the letter of the Word again becomes a power for good in our lives.
7. Or, shall we say, "The letter of the Word touches our wishful thinking as never before." The will, which wishes, "is the man himself, but not the thought, except so far as there passes into it something from the will. Therefore it is that the things which enter into the thought of man, and not through the thought into the will, do not defile him; only the things which enter through the thought into the will" (Arcana Coelestia #8910). No thought, however selfish or wicked, that enters the mind can harm us, so long as we see its true nature, and refuse to allow ourselves to be influenced by it at all. Keep the heart right, and every ugly and unchaste thought must in time die, or cease to exist, and have no part in us. The Syrophenician’s daughter possessed of a devil illustrates the point. The Pharisee honored the Lord with his lips, but his heart was far from Him. The humility of the Gentile—the dog under the table accepting the children’s crumbs that fall from it—opens the heart to the Spirit that frees it from evil influences, opens the ear to understand and obey the truth, and opens the mouth to return thanks to the Giver of all good.
8. "In those days" He fed four thousand in Decapolis, and then returned to the land. Whatever we learn from the Scriptures is food for the soul. But to what purpose? What does it mean for the spiritual life? To the Pharisees—the hypocritical—it has no significance. "There shall no sign be given unto this generation." And for the disciples there is no meaning either, unless they "take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod"—hardheartedness and blindness. "How is it that ye do not understand?" How can we know that our thinking is wishful thinking—from hell—when we feel sure that it is direct from God? In Bethsaida ("the house of fish"; see Matthew 11:21) they brought a blind man to Jesus. The Lord led him out of the town, spat on his eyes, and put his hands on him. The blind man saw men as trees walking. The Lord placed his hands on the man’s eyes, and he saw clearly. Wishful thinking can only be corrected by the Lord’s help in withdrawing us from selfish considerations, and giving us a perception of the practicality of the Christian life—the spittle, the touch of his hands and instruction to look up. In this way we see the idea grow until it appears clearly in relation to life—all of which leads to the perception and the acknowledgment of the Lord as the Christ, the Anointed One. We are told that He endured temptation even to the passion of the cross. What that means to us is determined by our reaction to life’s trials, with a faint or a stout heart. What is faith worth, if it cannot stand fire? What is friendship that fails when put to the test? "Whosoever shall be ashamed of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
9. Yea, "there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." After six days Peter, James and John saw the Lord transfigured before them on the mountaintop in verification of his words. The glory of the Lord appears to all who prove true to the Christian life after many a painful struggle to remove the love of evil from the heart. But the stronger the light the deeper its penetration into the dark places within. Mark speaks of the lunatic whom they met on descending from the heights as possessed by a deaf and dumb spirit. It is a sore trial when we are brought face to face with an unwillingness to hear or acknowledge the truth that condemns our attitude towards others, flighty, intolerant, and intractable inside (Apocalypse Explained #556). "Lord, help thou mine unbelief." If this foul spirit is not controlled, it will undo all that has been accomplished. "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting"—the unremitting effort to control our aversion to correction. The Son of man will be crucified, but "He shall rise the third day." We do not see it; our "eyes are holden" by the love of having our own way. It is a hard lesson to learn: childlike simplicity is more acceptable to God than all our boasted civilization. The Gentile more readily responds to the will of God than the Christian. Instant action is necessary to stop evildoing and waywardness, otherwise they will gain proportions beyond recall. "Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another." Salt—the love of doing right—is a great preservative.
10. No two receive God’s love alike. The difference is in God’s truth, which defines the love, or gives expression to the individuality or personality. The two, the good and the true for each person, are intended to be united. Evil and falsity seek to divorce the good and the true in everyone. "Hardness of heart" strengthens the justification of the rupture, contrary to the order of heaven, the innocence of man reflected in the trustfulness of little children. The heavenly life is more than ethical culture—the keeping of the second table of the law. It is the enlightened and refined life with selfishness, or self-love, taken out of it. With God’s help alone can we be entirely freed from the curse of modern life— our trust in the power of wealth. The power of wealth is proportioned to our unselfish use of it. We agree. Yet, the love of dominion holds the field. The Lord is on the way to Jerusalem to his death—no! to establish his kingdom! John and James plead for the first place in it. The other ten resent their presumptuousness. The Lord drew the attention of them all to the spirit of tyranny prevalent in the world’s governments. The greatest in his kingdom "shall be servant of all," as exemplified in his own life. This teaching is the key to the understanding of all that follows, as is indicated in restoring sight to Bartimaeus after leaving Jericho. "And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way."
11. The entry into Jerusalem. The ass on which the Lord sat was "tied by the door without in a place where two ways met." Human reason is bound to a door commanding the approach to the world and the approach to heaven (Apocalypse Explained #208). When set free, and the Lord in the saddle, reason acts normally to judge right and wrong unmistakably as white and black. "Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest." The church that rejected Him condemned itself; it lacked even disinterested kindness (the fruit of the fig tree). The temple was "a den of thieves." Religion existed for personal gain. If we only ask release in sincerity from any evil hurtful to the neighbor, every difficulty, howsoever insurmountable in appearance, can be removed, and that by the authority of the Lord. But if reason is controlled by public opinion, the Word of the Lord lacks authority. It has no power back of it. The priests and elders could not tell whence came the baptism of John. "They feared the people."
12. The Lord establishes his authority in the church, which is likened to a vineyard. The fruit in clusters is the symbol of good team work. The Owner sent his servants to receive of the fruits. The husbandmen maltreated them, and killed the Son and heir to take possession of the vineyard. "The stone which the builders rejected, however, is become the head of the corner." The priests and Pharisees "knew that he had spoken the parable against them," and only deferred his arrestment through fear of the people. They, however, sent others to entangle Him. First came the Herodians. The Lord’s answer implies that obedience to political or state laws must ever be conditioned by obedience to God’s laws, which cannot be questioned. Then followed the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection. The materialist cannot grasp the idea of immortality, or of marriage. "When they rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels in heaven." "They know themselves into one. They are man and wife at once, when the true time is" (R. Browning). The Rabbis disagreed about the relative importance of the commandments. In answer to one of the scribes on the point, the Lord classified the law of love to God and the law of love to the neighbor as the greatest, and the scribe could take no exception to it. But, "How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David," when David called Him his Lord? As to the body He was born in the house of David, but as to his soul He was "the Christ, the Son of the living God," and the rejection of Him as such passed judgment upon the church. Therefore the Lord warned his hearers to beware of the scribes for their egotism, avarice and hypocrisy. In closing He drew attention to the widow’s contribution of "all her living" to the temple, as being relatively more than the gifts of the wealthy. The gift is rated according to the spirit—for God, or for self. The Lord requires us to love Him with all the heart, and understanding, and soul, and strength.
13. His public work was finished. He left the temple for the last time, forecasting its complete destruction, the sign of the ruin of the church. Viewing the situation from the mount of Olives, the Lord told the disciples the signs of the subsequent decline and fall of the first Christian Church preceding his Second Coming. The meaning of the signs is hidden within the history of the first eighteen centuries of the Christian era, when the love of God and of one’s fellow men had again sunk to zero. The sun and moon were darkened, and the stars shaken. But now it is possible for men to see the Scriptures in a new light—the light of life presented in the Lord’s life. The light is here, the new life is in its inception. The signal on life’s highway for this age and generation is: "Watch; for ye know not when the master of the house cometh; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch."
14. "Against the day of his burying" a woman anointed Jesus with spikenard, very precious. It is the coronation ritual: the woman represents mother church; and the ritual, "a wise and understanding heart" (1 Kings 3:9, 12), which is indispensable for judgment in meeting the deepest trials in his life. Influenced by avarice and blasted hopes Judas Iscariot covenanted with the priests to betray Him. The Holy Spirit is received in the Sacrament according to repentance before taking it (Canons of the New Church #IV. 9). Two disciples followed the man bearing the pitcher of water to the upper chamber in Jerusalem. That evening they shared in the love feast, and walked together to the mount of Olives. The Lord declared that they would forsake Him, but He would meet them after He had risen in Galilee. Peter swore allegiance. The Lord knew that Peter would deny Him. Then followed the agony in Gethsemane, the betrayal, the trial before the Sanhedrin, and the denial of Peter, as in St. Matthew’s Gospel.
15. The account of the trial, death and burial likewise varies only in details that are most illuminating, but beyond the bounds of this commentary.
16. The women were present at the burial, and they were the first to visit the tomb to complete the embalming of his body on the resurrection morn. A cherished memory and a blind trust in God are sometimes all that is left to us in our severest trials. The heart holds the key to death and life. And so the Lord also appears first to the women, and to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven devils, first of all. When told, the men would not believe it; they must see for themselves. Reason accepts nothing on trust; each individual must prove it to his own satisfaction, leaving the final proof to the test of deeds (Galilee). The Lord appeared to two of them "in another form," and to the eleven "as they sat at meat," and gave them the assurance of signs that would certify their belief. They would cast out devils in themselves, they would proclaim the power of the Gospel, they would exalt the sensuous life, they would be proof against the deadly corruptions of their times, and have power to survive every discouragement, or diseased condition of the mind. And so He ascended into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. He lives to help everyone to the utmost. And the disciple who follows in his footsteps preaches everywhere, the Lord working with him, "confirming the word with signs following. Amen."
|Previous: St. Matthew||Up: The Tree of Life||Next: St. Luke|