And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?…
This baby has to learn to see. He has eyes, sound, clear, lovely orbs into which a mother's eye looks as into deep wells of love, but when he emerges into consciousness and begins to take note of things around him, hold up a ball before him, and see how aimless is his grasp at it. His eye has not yet learned to calculate distances. You know how the blind, when restored to sight, have to learn to see: sight and seeing are not the same things. Sight is a gift of nature. Seeing has to be won. That blind man whom Jesus healed did not at once receive power to see. At the first touch he said, "I see men, for I behold them as trees, walking," in vague outline, confused, like the blending of trees in a grove. When Jesus laid His hand upon him a second time, he saw all things clearly. We see the same truth as related to special training of the senses. We have all heard the story of "eyes and no eyes." One man will see the material for a volume where another sees nothing but stocks and stones. And, going still deeper, there is that moral something which we call self-mastery. In how many do you see it? How many men do you see who make their thoughts work on given lines; who have their hand on the gates which shut out vain and wicked thoughts; in whom the whole moral and spiritual nature is obedient to law, and is marshalled and massed and directed by a supreme will? We say a man is self-possessed. What do we mean by that, but that there resides in the man a power which holds all his faculties at command, and brings them to bear in spite of all distractions? There can be no better phrase to express it. He possesses himself. He can do what he will with that side of the self which he chooses to use. Man's self must develop powers of resistance and control. It must be so completely in hand that he can say to wind and water, "You shall not possess me and carry me whither you will. Rather shall you do my bidding, and grind my corn, and turn my lathe, and carry me whither I will." "Nature, red in tooth and claw," roars and pants and rages after him. He must win his life from her jaws. And no less does the truth hold higher up. As we follow human nature upward, it is only the antagonists that change. The contact and the conflict are perpetuated. The Bible is full of this. It may indeed be said that the underlying truth of the whole Bible, working itself out through the successive stages of history and the infinite varieties of human experience, is, how shall a man win his own soul? A whole economy of secret, spiritual forces is arrayed against this consummation. Hence it is that Paul says, "We that are in this tabernacle do groan." Hence we are told of a wrestle which is not with flesh and blood, but with spiritual hosts; marshalled and organized evil in the spiritual realm; princes of darkness. So, too, our Lord told Peter of an unseen terrible power, fired with malignant desire to sift him as wheat. And under the stress of this fact, the whole current of New Testament teaching settles down into one sharply-defined channel; that spiritual mastery, self-possession, self-wielding, are the outcome only of patient effort and discipline protracted up to the very end. Accordingly we hear an apostle, far on in his Christian career, saying, "I keep my body under." The great feature of this text is that Christ points us away from circumstances to souls. You stand some day by the ocean swept with a tempest. It is a grand spectacle. A score of things in the clouds and in the waves appeal to yam You mark the height of the billows, their tremendous volume and swiftness axed power, their mad struggle round the sunken reefs; but after all it is not the grandeur or the terror of the scene which most enchains you. Your interest is concentrated on that ship yonder. You forget the spectacle of the maddened ocean as you watch her fight with it. The question which fills your mind is not how long the storm is going to continue, or whether it is likely to become more severe. It is whether the ship will ride out the gale. And so all circumstances take their character from their relation to man's soul. The question is whether the man will ride out the storm of circumstance; the whole significance of circumstance turns on whether it will conquer the man or be conquered by him; whether it will swallow up the soul, or whether the man will bring his soul alive and entire out of the tempest. This is the way in which Christ, as He is pictured in the text, looks out upon that horrible tempest of blood and fire; and this is the attitude of the whole Bible toward the struggle and convulsion of this world. Through it all God has His eye on man's moral destiny. To us, often, the principal things are the war and the confusion, the dislocation and the overturning. To Him the principal thing is the destiny of that soul in the midst of the storm. Will the man win his soul or not? Circumstances will adjust themselves if men are right. The great struggle in God's eyes is not between parties or sects or opinions. It is between the soul and the world. Victory is the man's overcoming the world; not one side of the world getting the better of the other; not the victory of the man's native force of will and physical power over the things which assail his fortune or his reputation, but the perfecting of his spiritual manhood in the teeth of all the loss and damage and pain which this world can bring to him. You and I will win this battle if we shall win our souls.
(Newman Smyth, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?