We have read a great deal of the doctrine Christ preached, and the miracles he wrought, which were many, and strange, and well-attested, of various kinds, and wrought in several places, to the astonishment of the multitudes that were eye-witnesses of them. It is now time for us to pause a little, and to consider what these things mean; the wondrous works which Christ then forbade the publishing of, being recorded in these sacred writings, are thereby published to all the world, to us, to all ages; now what shall we think of them? Isa. the record of those things designed only for an amusement, or to furnish us with matter for discourse? No, certainly these things are written, that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God (John 20:31); and this discourse which Christ had with his disciples, will assist us in making the necessary reflections upon the miracles of Christ, and a right use of them. Three things we are here taught to infer from the miracles Christ wrought.
I. They prove that he is the true Messiah, the Son of God, and Saviour of the world: this the works he did witnessed concerning him; and this his disciples, who were the eye-witnesses of those works, here profess their belief of; which cannot but be a satisfaction to us in making the same inference from them.
1. Christ enquired of them what the sentiments of the people were concerning him; Who did men say that I am? Mark 8:27. Note, Though it is a small thing for us to be judged of men, yet it may sometimes do us good to know what people say of us, not that we may seek our own glory, but that we may hear our faults. Christ asked them, not that he might be informed, but that they might observe it themselves, and inform one another.
2. The account they gave him, was such as plainly intimated the high opinion the people had of him. Though they came short of the truth, yet they were convinced by his miracles that he was an extraordinary person, sent from the invisible world with a divine commission. It is probable that they would have acknowledged him to be the Messiah, if they had not been possessed by their teachers with a notion that the Messiah must be a temporal Prince, appearing in external pomp and power, which the figure Christ made, would not comport with; yet (whatever the Pharisees said, whose copyhold was touched by the strictness and spirituality of his doctrine) none of the people said that he was a Deceiver, but some said that he was John Baptist, others Elias, others one of the prophets, Mark 8:28. All agreed that he was one risen from the dead.
3. The account they gave him of their own sentiments concerning him, intimated their abundant satisfaction in him, and in their having left all to follow him, which now, after some time of trial, they see no reason to repent; But whom say ye that I am? To this they have an answer ready, Thou art the Christ, the Messiah often promised, and long expected, Mark 8:29. To be a Christian indeed, is, sincerely to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and to act accordingly; and that he is so, plainly appears by his wondrous works. This they knew, and must shortly publish and maintain; but for the present they must keep it secret (Mark 8:30), till the proof of it was completed, and they were completely qualified to maintain it, by the pouring out of the Holy Ghost; and then let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus, whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ, Acts 2:36.
II. These miracles of Christ take off the offence of the cross, and assure us that Christ was, in it, not conquered, but a Conqueror. Now that the disciples are convinced that Jesus is the Christ, they may bear to hear of his sufferings, which Christ now begins to give them notice of, Mark 8:31.
1. Christ taught his disciples that he must suffer many things, Though they had got over the vulgar error of the Messiah’s being a temporal Prince, so far as to believe their Master to be the Messiah, notwithstanding his present meanness, yet still they retained it, so far as to expect that he would shortly appear in outward pomp and grandeur, and restore the kingdom to Israel; and therefore, to rectify that mistake, Christ here gives them a prospect of the contrary, that he must be rejected of the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, who, they expected, should be brought to own and prefer him; that, instead of being crowned, he must be killed, he must be crucified, and after three days he must rise again to a heavenly life, and to be no more in this world. This he spoke openly (Mark 8:32), parresia. He said it freely and plainly, and did not wrap it up in ambiguous expressions. The disciples might easily understand it, if they had not been very much under the power of prejudice: or, it intimates that he spoke it cheerfully and without any terror, and would have them to hear it so: he spoke that saying boldly, as one that not only knew he must suffer and die, but was resolved he would, and made it his own act and deed.
2. Peter opposed it; He took him, and began to rebuke him. Here Peter showed more love than discretion, a zeal for Christ and his safety, but not according to knowledge. He took him—proslabomenos auton. He took hold of him, as it were to stop and hinder him, took him in his arms, and embraced him (so some understand it); he fell on his neck, as impatient to hear that his dear Master should suffer such hard things; or he took him aside privately, and began to rebuke him. This was not the language of the least authority, but of the greatest affection, of that jealousy for the welfare of those we love, which is strong as death. Our Lord Jesus allowed his disciples to be free with him, but Peter here took too great a liberty.
3. Christ checked him for his opposition (Mark 8:33); He turned about, as one offended, and looked on his disciples, to see if the rest of them were of the same mind, and concurred with Peter in this, that, if they did, they might take the reproof to themselves, which he was now about to give to Peter; and he said, Get thee behind me, Satan. Peter little thought to have had such a sharp rebuke for such a kind dissuasive, but perhaps expected as much commendation now for his love as he had lately for his faith. Note, Christ sees that amiss in what we say and do, which we ourselves are not aware of, and knows what manner of spirit we are of, when we ourselves do not. (1.) Peter spoke as one that did not rightly understand, nor had duly considered, the purposes and counsels of God. When he saw such proofs as he every day saw of the power of Christ, he might conclude that he could not be compelled to suffer; the most potent enemies could not overpower him whom diseases and deaths, whom winds and waves and devils themselves, were forced to obey and yield to: and when he saw so much of the wisdom of Christ every day, he might conclude that he would not choose to suffer but for some very great and glorious purposes; and therefore he ought not thus to have contradicted him, but to have acquiesced. He looked upon his death only as a martyrdom, like that of the prophets, which he thought might be prevented, if either he would take a little care not to provoke the chief priests, or to keep out of the way; but he knew not that the thing was necessary for the glory of God, the destruction of Satan, and the salvation of man, that the Captain of our salvation must be made perfect through sufferings, and so must bring many sons to glory. Note, The wisdom of man is perfect folly, when it pretends to give measures to the divine counsels. The cross of Christ, the great instance of God’s power and wisdom, was to some a stumbling-block, and to others foolishness. (2.) Peter spoke as one that did not rightly understand, nor had duly considered, the nature of Christ’s kingdom; he took it to be temporal and human, whereas it is spiritual and divine. Thou savourest not the things that are of God, but those that are of men; ou phroneis—thou mindest not; so the word is rendered, Rom. 8:5. Peter seemed to mind more the things that relate to the lower world, and the life that now is, than those which relate to the upper world, and the life to come. Minding the things of men more than the things of God, our own credit, ease, and safety, more than the things of God, and his glory and kingdom, is a very great sin, and the root of much sin, and very common among Christ’s disciples; and it will appear in suffering times, those times of temptation, when those in whom the things of men have the ascendant, are in danger of falling off. Non sapis—Thou art not wise (so it may be read) in the things of God, but in the things of men. It is important to consider what generation we appear wise in, Luke 16:8. It seems policy to shun trouble, but if with that we shun duty, it is fleshly wisdom (2 Cor. 1:12), and it will be folly in the end.
III. These miracles of Christ should engage us all to follow him, whatever it cost us, not only as they were confirmations of his mission, but as they were explications of his design, and the tendency of that grace which he came to bring; plainly intimating that by his Spirit he would do that for our blind, deaf, lame, leprous, diseased, possessed souls, which he did for the bodies of those many who in those distresses applied themselves to him. Frequent notice had been taken of the great flocking that there was to him for help in various cases: now this is written, that we may believe that he is the great Physician of souls, and may become his patients, and submit to his regimen; and here he tells us upon what terms we may be admitted; and he called all the people to him, to hear this, who modestly stood at some distance when he was in private conversation with his disciples. This is that which all are concerned to know, and consider, if they expect Christ should heal their souls.
1. They must not be indulgent of the ease of the body; for (Mark 8:34), “Whosoever will come after me for spiritual cures, as these people do for bodily cures, let him deny himself, and live a life of self-denial, mortification, and contempt of the world; let him not pretend to be his own physician, but renounce all confidence in himself and his own righteousness and strength, and let him take up his cross, conforming himself to the pattern of a crucified Jesus, and accommodating himself to the will of God in all the afflictions he lies under; and thus let him continue to follow me;” as many of those did, whom Christ healed. Those that will be Christ’s patients must attend on him, converse with him, receive instruction and reproof from him, as those did that followed him, and must resolve they will never forsake him.
2. They must not be solicitous, no, not for the life of the body, when they cannot keep it without quitting Christ, Mark 8:35. Are we invited by the words and works of Christ to follow him? Let us sit down, and count the cost, whether we can prefer our advantages by Christ before life itself, whether we can bear to think of losing our life for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s. When the devil is drawing away disciples and servants after him, he conceals the worst of it, tells them only of the pleasure, but nothing of the peril, of his service; Ye shall not surely die; but what there is of trouble and danger in the service of Christ, he tells us of it before, tells us we shall suffer, perhaps we shall die, in the cause; and represents the discouragements not less, but greater, than commonly they prove, that it may appear he deals fairly with us, and is not afraid that we should know the worst; because the advantages of his service abundantly suffice to balance the discouragements, if we will but impartially set the one over against the other. In short,
(1.) We must not dread the loss of our lives, provided it be in the cause of Christ (Mark 8:35); Whosoever will save his life, by declining Christ, and refusing to come to him, or by disowning and denying him after he has in profession come to Christ, he shall lose it, shall lose the comfort of his natural life, the root and fountain of his spiritual life, and all his hopes of eternal life; such a bad bargain will he make for himself. But whosoever shall lose his life, shall be truly willing to lose it, shall venture it, shall lay it down when he cannot keep it without denying Christ, he shall save it, he shall be an unspeakable gainer; for the loss of his life shall be made up to him in a better life. It is looked upon to be some kind of recompence to those who lose their lives in the service of their prince and country, to have their memories honoured and their families provided for; but what is that to the recompence which Christ makes in eternal life to all that die for him?
(2.) We must dread the loss of our souls, yea, though we should gain the whole world by it (Mark 8:36, 37); For what shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and all the wealth, honour, and pleasure, in it, by denying Christ, and lose his own soul? “True it is,” said Bishop Hooper, the night before he suffered martyrdom, “that life is sweet, and death is bitter, but eternal death is more bitter, and eternal life is more sweet.” As the happiness of heaven with Christ, is enough to countervail the loss of life itself for Christ, so the gain of all the world in sin, is not sufficient to countervail the ruin of the soul by sin.
What that is that men do, to save their lives, and gain the world, he tells us (Mark 8:38), and of what fatal consequence it will be to them; Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed. Something like this we had, Matt. 10:33. But it is here expressed more fully. Note, [1.] The disadvantage that the cause of Christ labours under this world, is, that it is to be owned and professed in an adulterous and sinful generation; such the generation of mankind is, gone a whoring from God, in the impure embraces of the world and the flesh, lying in wickedness; some ages, some places, are more especially adulterous and sinful, as that was in which Christ lived; in such a generation the cause of Christ is opposed and run down, and those that own it, are exposed to reproach and contempt, and every where ridiculed and spoken against. [2.] There are many, who, though they cannot but own that the cause of Christ is a righteous cause, are ashamed of it, because of the reproach that attends the professing of it; they are ashamed of their relation to Christ, and ashamed of the credit they cannot but give to his words; they cannot bear to be frowned upon and despised, and therefore throw off their profession, and go down the stream of a prevailing apostasy. [3.] There is a day coming, when the cause of Christ will appear as bright and illustrious as now it appears mean and contemptible; when the Son of man comes in the glory of his Father with his holy angels, as the true Shechinah, the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the Lord of angels. [4.] Those that are ashamed of Christ in this world where he is despised, he will be ashamed of in that world where he is eternally adored. They shall not share with him in his glory then, that were not willing to share with him in his disgrace now.