A meditation pregnant with suggestion to the reverent student.
There is a presentation of the Person of Christ in the Gospels, which answers to the offerings in the book of Leviticus, the typical teaching of which yields much spiritual food for the sustenance of the Lord’s people.
We must not put an absolute interpretation on any one aspect of the Person of Christ to the exclusion of all other considerations, but rather think of the Gospels as having been so written and constructed that the Spirit’s intention was, that we should take account of what is primary in one gospel as being incidental in another (not that the truth is incidental), so that some special consideration might occupy our minds. The Person of Christ is so great, that God has taken this way to teach us something of His Beloved Son.
The Meat-offering was composed chiefly of three parts, viz.: Fine Flour, Oil and Frankincense. There was no animal required for this sacrifice, suggesting to us at once that it is not the judicial side of the Lord’s death that is in view - the fact that no slaughter and no blood-shedding are mentioned would suggest this to our hearts - but rather the moral perfections of Christ in His spotless, sinless humanity as He came in contact with the fire of suffering, which was finally consummated in His death upon the Cross. It was at this point, when the offering came in contact with the fire, that the incense rose up to God.
The forsaking by God (which emphasizes the truth that Christ died for our sins under the Hand of God in judgment) is not mentioned by Luke.. His suffering for our sins is an exhaustless theme, but Luke brings before us the sinlessness of His suffering, and in harmony with this he draws particular attention to the Lord’s prayer-life - all this is surely the counterpart of the frankincense of the Meat-offering.
There is a whole body of truth taught us in regard to prayer in this Gospel and the selection of the four main instances will suffice for our consideration, (1) at His Baptism, (2) on the Mount of Transfiguration, (3) in the Garden, and (4) at the Cross.
Let it be noted that this occasion is unique in this sense, that baptism, wherever recorded or taught as doctrine, is always associated with repentance or the negation of a former life of sin and worldliness; it is not so here. The one occasion where prayer is linked with baptism, would teach us that there was nothing in the blessed Lord of which to repent, either outwardly or inwardly, prayer here being a tribute to His sinlessness before God, for, as He was praying heaven was opened. This was the opening of complacency. There was a perfect moral correspondence between the Man on earth and heaven above. His whole nature, character and disposition were in perfect accord with heaven. The ‘frankincense’ of prayer rose up to God, a sweet-smelling savour: “Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased.”
This occasion took’place on the Holy Mount, when, according to His promise, the Kingdom of God was to come in power. Every other kingdom in the history of the world has been based on human pride and ambition. From Nebuchadnezzar right down to the present democracies, the will of man has been supreme, accompanied by the terrible use of arms, resulting in almost every form of human misery and unhappiness.
Once, in the Temptation in the wilderness, Satan took Him to an high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. There was never one unguarded moment in His life, and the glory of these kingdoms could never have taken Him out of the path of dependance, although the wily adversary sprung the offer upon Him so suddenly. He remained invincible to the lure of position and power, which has been the downfall of every aspirant to world dominion. Blessed be God, this is reserved for one Man, and one Man only, and here He is found praying, the perfect expression of dependance. To this Man will be given the kingdom which will be the Kingdom of God. What a contrast to all that has gone before! He will be accorded this glorious position because of His perfect harmony and fellowship in the Divine Will, so meekly and humbly expressed in prayer. Again the ‘incense’ rose to God, who brings the scene to its glorious climax with the renewed declaration, “This is My beloved Son, hear Him.”
This is the third consideration before us and, as events follow one upon another, unfolding to us the path of the Holy Sufferer, the heart is brought into a state of reverence and worship. The simple, yet profound statement of ch. 22, v. 39, “He came out, and went as He was wont, to the Mount of Olives,” throws a flood of light upon our subject. It tells us that, when the crisis of His life lay immediately before Him, nothing of an irregular character came out in Him. Prayer was His habitual practice, and what marked Him all through His pathway was still His resource in this tremendous hour. He was the true ‘fine flour’ - nothing uneven, or coarse, or unbalanced, but the steadfast consistent, normal practice of prayer was His even when He faced the sufferings of His cross.
The inward conflict of His soul is now before us in His prayer. As the intensity of His anguish grew, so did the earnestness of His prayer, and this with the sweat like blood indicates to us the sensitiveness of His feelings, unblunted by sin. His pure, holy mind could anticipate perfectly the. crushing impact of Divine wrath upon His sinless soul.
The ministry of the angel is a tribute to His true manhood, for, encompassed by its limitations, His awful’ anguish and sorrow had weakened Him, thus necessitating the angel’s succour. This, coupled with His stumbling under the weight of His cross as He bore it up the hill of Calvary, is probably the fulfilment of Psalm 102. 23, “He weakened my strength in the way.” Wondrous mystery! He the Creator of the Universe, yet in His humanity weakened by His titanic conflict! It also suggests to us that, whilst the disciples slept, all heaven was deeply attentive to the prayers of Christ which once again rose up to the Father as the frankincense from the Meatoffering. They arose from One whose will was subject to the will of the Father, in loving, devoted obedience, and none but He could put a true estimation upon those holy feelings of His Son, expressed in His prayer in the Garden.
Luke groups circumstances and incidents together, not exactly in their chronological order but rather to give their moral sequence. All the wealth of detail supplied by the writer is given in order to bring into strong relief the depth of Christ’s suffering atad His sinless manhood, and so he tells us of His mock trial, the brutal abuse of the soldiers, the stolid indifference of the masses, the derision of the religious rulers; everything was done to Him that was calculated to break a human spirit. Above this, the betrayal by Judas with a kiss, and Peter’s denial with oaths and curses, must have pierced Him to the quick of His moral being - His reply to Judas, His look at Peter both indicated this. The final act of human wickedness has now come, evil is now to be consummated, and the sufferings of Christ at the hand of man have now reached their climax - “When they came to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him.”
There is nothing like undeserved suffering to destroy one’s spirit - not so here. When our Blessed Lord was crucified, amid His pain and suffering, a prayer for their forgiveness came from that sinless heart. Here again the ‘incense’ of His prayer rises to the Father, the proof of which is to be found in the experience of every believer who enjoys this unspeakable blessing of forgiveness of sin. The grace and power of His priestly prayer uttered on His cross have found their answer in the heart of every saint that knows and loves Him.
There now follows the darkness, so familiar to the hearts of the saints, when He suffered for us. Then, when all was over, He emerges from that ordeal of suffering to breathe out His life in prayer - “Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.” Then He expired. Without a stain on His pure, untarnished, holy mind, after enduring the suffering that should have been ours, He uttered those words of prayer to the Father. If there had been the slightest suspicion of blemish in His mind, it would have been a moral impossibility to pray in such a manner and, equally so, His Father’s acceptance would have been impossible. But, with His moral perfections unimpaired, the ‘incense’ of prayer rose up to the Father from this man, this perfect Man, the Son of God.
In closing, let us draw a distinction between the account in Luke and in John. In John, the act of dismissing His spirit is the act of a Divine Person, as of one having complete authority over it. Bowing His head and dying does not mean that His head fell forward in weakness, but rather, it is the attitude of holy submission to God by the One who had accomplished the will of God wholly and completely. He was not a victim to the circumstance of weakness and frailty, but as the mighty, glorious, triumphant worker who, when all was fulfilled, spoke those wondrous words, “It is finished.”
Luke on the other hand describes to us what chiefly brings to our minds His perfect manhood. He says that He expired, meaning, He breathed His last. How suited to the pen of the beloved physician who gives us the human touch: His life was breathed out in prayer. May such a consideration fill our hearts with worship and draw us closer to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.
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