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And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives. St. Matthew (Matthew 21:1) says, "When they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and came unto Bethphage." St. Mark mentions the three places together, because Bethphage and Bethany, being near together, were also both of them close to Jerusalem. The distance from Jericho to Jerusalem (about seventeen miles) would involve a journey of about seven hours. The country between Jerusalem and Jericho is hilly, rugged, and desolate. It is from the height overhanging Bethany that the finest view of Jerusalem is gained. It appears from St. John (John 12:1) that our Lord on the preceding sabbath had supped, and probably passed the night, at Bethany; and that on the following day (answering to our Palm Sunday) he had come still nearer to Jerusalem, namely, to Bethphage; and from thence he sent two of his disciples for the ass and the colt. So his way to Jerusalem was from Bethany by Bethphage, the Mount of Olives, and the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The Valley of Jehoshaphat, through which flows the brook Kedron, lies close to Jerusalem. Bethphage literally means "the house of green figs," as Bethany, lying a short distance west of it, means "the house of dates." The date palm growing in the neighbeurhood would furnish the branches with which the multitude strewed the way on the occasion of our Lord's triumphal entry. He sendeth two of his disciples. Who were they? Bede thinks that they were Peter and Philip. Jansonius, with greater probability, thinks that they were Peter and John, because a little after this Christ sent these two to prepare for the Passover. But we know nothing certain on this point.
Go your way into the village that is over against you. The village over against them would most likely be Beth-phage, towards which they were then approaching. Straightway as ye enter into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon no man ever yet sat. St. Mark mentions only the colt. St. Matthew mentions the ass and the colt. But St. Mark singles out the colt as that which our Lord specially needed; the mother of the animal accompanying it as a sumpter. Animals which had never before been used were alone admissible for sacred purposes. We read in Numbers (Numbers 19:2) of "the heifer on which never came yoke." Our Lord here beholds things absent and out of sight, as though they were present. So that he revealed this to his disciples by the gift of prophecy which his divinity added to his humanity. Here, therefore, is a manifest proof of his divinity. It was by the same Divine power that he revealed to Nathanael what had taken place under the fig tree.
And if any one say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye, The Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him back hither. The Greek, according to the best authorities here, is εὐθέως αὐτὸν ἀποστελλει πάλιν ὧδε: literally, straightway he sendeth it back hither again, The verb here in the present may represent the verb in the future, "he will send it back." But the word "again" (πάλιν) is not quite so easily explained. There is strong authority for the insertion of this word, which necessarily changes the meaning of the sentence. Without the πάλιν, the sentence would actually mean that our Lord, by his Divine prescience, here tells his disciples that when the colt was demanded by them the owner would at once permit them to take it. But if the word πάλιν be inserted, it can only mean that this was a part of the message which our Lord directed his disciples to deliver as from himself, "The Lord hath need of him; and he, the Lord, will forthwith send him back again." The passage is so interpreted by Origen, who twice introduces the adverb in his commentary on St. Matthew. The evidence of the oldest uncials is strongly in favor of this insertion. Our Lord was unwilling that the disciples should take away the colt if the owner objected, lie might have taken the animals away in his own supreme right, but he chose to accomplish his will by his providence, powerfully and yet gently; and, if the reading here be allowed, he further influenced them by the promise that their property should be returned to them. It was the will and purpose of Christ, who for these three years had gone about on foot, and traveled over the whole of Palestine in this way, to show himself at length the King of Judah, that is, the Messiah and Heir of David; and so he resolves to enter Jerusalem, the metropolis, the city of the great King, with royal dignity. But he will not be surrounded with the" pomp and circumstance" of an earthly monarch. He rides on an ass's colt, that he might show his kingdom to be of another kind, that is, spiritual and heavenly. And so he assumes a humble equipage, riding upon a colt, his only housings being the clothes of his disciples. And yet there was dignity as well as humility in his equipage. The ass of the East was, and is, a superior animal to that known amongst us. The judges and princes of Israel rode on "white asses," and their sons on asses' colts. So our Lord rode upon an ass's colt; and there were no gleaming swords in his procession, or other signs of strife and bloodshed. But there were palm branches and garments spread all along his path—the evidences of devotion to him. So he came in gentleness, not that he might be feared on account of his power, but that he might be loved on account of his goodness.
By the door without, in a place where two ways met (ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀμφόδου) literally, in the open street.
Others cut down branches off the trees, etc. According to the best authorities, the words should be rendered, and others branches (or, leaves, for strewing), which thy had cut from the fields (ἄλλοι δὲ στοιβάδας κόψαντες ἐκ τῶν ἀγρῶν). The branches were cut in the fields; and the smaller, leafy portions of them, suitable for their purpose, were carried out.
The word Hosanna literally means "Oh, save!" It may have been originally the cry of captives or rebels for mercy; and thus have passed into a general acclamation, expressive of joy and deliverance.
This verse should be read thus: Blessed be the kingdom that cometh, the kingdom of our father David—that is, the kingdom of Messiah, now coming, and about to be established—Hosanna in the highest;—that is, Hosanna in the highest realms of glory and blessedness, where salvation is perfected.
This visit to the temple is not mentioned by St. Matthew. It is an important addition to his narrative. The moment of our Lord's triumphant entry into Jerusalem was not the moment for the display of his indignation against the profaners of the temple. He was then surrounded by an enthusiastic and admiring multitude; so he contented himself on this occasion with looking round about upon all things (περιβλεψάμενος πάντα). His keen and searching eye saw at a glance all that was going on, and penetrated everything. But without any comment or action at that time, he went out unto Bethany (it was now eventide) with the twelve. No doubt the disciples, and especially Peter, saw what was involved in this visit of inspection, which prepared them for what took place on the morrow.
And on the morrow, when they were come out from Bethany, he hungered. This was, therefore, the day after Paint Sunday (as we call it)—on the Monday, the 11th day of the month Nisan, which, according to our computation, would be March 21. He hungered. This showed his humanity, which he was ever wont to do when he was about to display his Divine power. The fact that he hungered would lead us to the conclusion that he had not been spending the night in the house of Martha and Mary. It is far more likely that he had been in the open air during the previous night, fasting and praying.
And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon. St. Matthew (Matthew 21:19) says he saw "one fig tree" (μὶαν συκῆν), and therefore more conspicuous. Fig trees were no doubt plentiful in the neighborhood of Bethphage, "the house of figs." Dean Stanley says that "Mount Olivet is still sprinkled with fig trees." This fig tree had leaves, but no fruit; for it was not the season of figs (ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς οὐκ ἧν σύκων). Other trees would all be bare at this early season, but the fig trees would be putting forth their broad green leaves. It is possible that this tree, standing by itself as it would seem, was more forward than the other fig trees around. It was seen "from afar," and therefore it must have had the full benefit of the sun. Our Lord says (St. Luke 21:29), "Behold the fig tree, and all the trees: when they now shoot forth, ye see it, and know of your own selves that the summer is now nigh." He puts the fig tree first, as being of its own nature the most forward to put forth its buds. But then it is peculiar to the fig tree that its fruit begins to appear before its leaves. It was, therefore, a natural supposition that on this tree, with its leaves fully developed, there might be found at least some ripened fruit. Our Lord, therefore, approaches the tree in his hunger, with the expectation of finding fruit. But as he draws near to it, and realizes the fact that the tree, though full of leaf, is absolutely fruitless, he forgets his natural hunger in the thought of the spiritual figure which this tree began to present to his mind. The accident of his hunger as a man, brought him into contact with a great parable of spiritual things, presented to him as God; and as he approached this fig tree full of leaf, but destitute of fruit, there stood before him the striking but awful image of the Jewish nation, having indeed the leaves of a great profession, but yielding no fruit. The leaves of this fig tree deceived the passer-by, who, from seeing them, would naturally expect the fruit. And so the fig tree was cursed, not for being barren, but for being false. When our Lord, being hungry, sought figs on the fig tree, he signified that he hungered after something which he did not find. The Jews were this unprofitable fig tree, full of the leaves of profession, but fruitless. Our Lord never did anything without reason; and, therefore, when he seemed to do anything without reason, he was setting forth in a figure some great reality. Nothing but his Divine yearning after the Jewish people, his spiritual hunger for their salvation, can explain this typical action with regard to the fig tree, and indeed he whole mystery of his life and death.
No man eat fruit from thee henceforward for ever (εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα). These words, in their application to the Jewish nation, have a merciful limitation—a limitation which lies in the original words rendered "for ever," which literally mean for the age. "No man eat fruit of thee henceforward, for the age;" until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. A day will doubtless come when Israel, which now says, "I am a dry tree," shall accept the words of its true Lord, "From me is thy fruit found," and shall be clothed with the richest fruits of all trees. (See Trench on the Miracles). St. Matthew (Matthew 21:19) tells us that "immediately the fig tree withered away." "Straightway a shivering fear and trembling passed through its leaves, as though it was at once struck to the heart by the malediction of its Creator." Our Lord's disciples heard his words; but they appear not to have noticed the immediate effect of them upon the tree. It was not until the next day that they observed what had happened. This miracle would show his disciples how soon he could have withered his enemies, who were about to crucify him; but he waited with long-suffering for their salvation, by repentance and faith in him.
And they come to Jerusalem: and he entered into the temple. Not the holy place, nor the holy of holies (into which the high priest might alone enter), but into the temple court; for into that the people went to pray, and to witness the sacrifices which were being offered before the holy place; for this court was, so to speak, the temple of the people. Our Lord was not a Levitical priest, because he was not sprung of Levi and Aaron. Therefore he could not enter the holy place, but only the outer court of the temple. And began to cast out (ἐκβάλλειν)—it was a forcible expulsion—them that sold and them that bought in the temple. There were two occasions on which our Lord thus purged the temple—one at the beginning of his public ministry, and the other at the end of it, four days before his death. There was a regular market in the outer court,' the court of the Gentries, belonging to the family of the high priest. The booths of this market are mentioned in the rabbinical writings as the booths of the son of Hanan, or Annas. But this market is never mentioned in the Old Testament. It seems to have sprung up after the Captivity. Our Lord adopted these strong measures
(1) because the temple courts were not the proper places for merchandise, and
(2) because these transactions were often dishonest, on account of the avarice and covetousness of the priests.
The priests, either themselves or by their families, sold oxen and sheep and doves to those who had need to offer them in the temple. These animals were, of course, needed for sacrifices; and there was good reason why they should be ready at hand for those who came up to worship. But the sin of the priests lay in permitting this buying and selling to go on within the sacred precincts, and in trading dishonestly. There were other things needed for the sacrifices, such as wine, and salt, and oil. Then there were also the money-changers (κολλυβιστής, from κόλλυβος, a small coin)—those who exchanged large coins for smaller, or foreign money for the half-shekel. Every Israelite, whether rich or poor, was required to give the half-shekel, neither less nor more. So when money had to be exchanged, an allowance or premium was required by the money-changer. Doves or pigeons were required on various occasions for offerings, chiefly by the poor, who could not afford more costly offerings. From these also the priests had their gain. The seats of them that sold the doves. These birds were often sold by women, who were provided with seats.
And he would not suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple. It was a great temptation to make the temple, at least the great court of the Gentiles, a thoroughfare. It was so extensive that a long and tedious circuit would be avoided, in going from one part of the city to another, by passing through it. To those, for example, who were passing from the sheep market, Bethesda, into the upper part of the city, the shortest cut was through this court and by Solomon's Porch. The distance would be greatly increased if they went round it. So the priests permitted servants and laborers, laden with anything, to take this shorter way through the great court of the temple. But our Lord hindered them, forbidding them with the voice of one that had authority, and restraining them with his hand, and compelling them to go back. He would have the whole of his Father's House regarded as sacred.
My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations (πᾶσι τοῖς ἔθνεσιν). St. Mark, writing for Gentiles, assures them that the God of the Jews is the God of all the nations; and that the court of the Gentiles, which was then so profaned, was a constituent part of his house of prayer. St. Jerome notes Christ's action in driving out the profaners of the temple as a great proof of his Divine power, that he alone should have been able to cast out so great a multitude. He says, "A fiery splendor flashed from his eyes, and the majesty of Deity shone in his countenance." The words, "My house shall be called the house of prayer," are a quotation from Isaiah 56:7; and it is a remarkable coincidence that in Isaiah 56:11 of that chapter the rulers of the people are described as looking "every one for his gain from his quarter." A den of thieves (σπήλαιον ληστῶν); this should be rendered, a den of robbers. The Greek word for "thief" is κλέπτης, not ληστής. The two terms are carefully distinguished in St. John (John 10:1), "the same is a thief (κλέπτης) and a robber (λῃστής)." These priests, wholly intent upon gain, by various fraudulent acts plundered strangers and the poor, who came purchase offerings for the worship of God. Observe that the temple is called the house of God, not because he dwells in it in any corporeal sense, for "he dwelleth not in temples made with hands," but because the temple is the place set apart for the worship of God, in which he specially gives ear to the prayers of his people, and in which he specially promises his spiritual presence. Hence we learn what reverence is due to the houses of God; so that, as the master of a house resents any insult offered to his house as an insult to himself, so Christ reckons any wilful dishonor done to his house as a wrong and insult to him.
And the chief priests and the scribes—this is the right order of the words—heard it (ἤκουσαν), and sought (ἐζήτουν)—began to seek, or were seeking (imperfect)—how they might destroy him (ἀπολέσουσιν). They were seeking how they might, not only put him to death, but "utterly destroy him," stamp out his name and influence as a great spiritual energy in the world. This action of his raised them to the highest pitch of fury and indignation. Their authority and their interests were attacked. But the people still acknowledged his power; and the scribes and Pharisees feared the people.
And when even was come; literally, and whenever (ὅταν) evening came; that is, every evening. During these last days before his crucifixion, he remained in Jerusalem during the day, and went back to Bethany at night. St. Matthew says (Matthew 21:17), speaking of one of these days, "And he left them, and went forth out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there." So true it was that "he came unto his own, and his own received him not." No one in that city, which he loved so well, offered to receive him. The end was drawing near. But the intercourse with Martha and Mary must have been soothing to him; and Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem.
Mark 11:20, Mark 11:21
And as they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away from the roots. They had returned the evening before, probably after sunset, to Bethany; and so, in the twilight, had not noticed the withered tree. St. Matthew gathers the whole account of the fig tree into one notice. St. Mark disposes of the facts in their chronological order. It was on the Monday morning, the day after the triumphant entry, and when they were on their way to Jerusalem, that our Lord cursed the fig tree. Thence he passed on at once into Jerusalem, and drove out the profaners of the temple, and taught the people. In the evening he returned to Bethany; and then on the next morning, as they were on their way into the city, they saw what had happened to the fig tree. And then Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him; Rabbi, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away (ἐξήρανται), the same Greek word as in the preceding verse. Some have thought that the fig tree was the tree forbidden to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. (See Cornelius a Lapide on Genesis 2:9).
Mark 11:22, Mark 11:23
Have faith in God; literally, have the faith of God—full, perfect, effectual faith in him; faith like a grain of mustard seed. You may be staggered and perplexed at what you will see shortly; but "have faith in God." The Jews may seem for a time to flourish like that green fig tree; but they will "soon be cut down as the grass, and be withered as the green herb." What seems difficult to you is easy with God. Trust in the Divine omnipotence. The things which are impossible with men are possible with him. Our Lord then uses a metaphor frequently employed to indicate the accomplishment of things so difficult as to be apparently impossible. He employs a bold and vivid hyperbole; and, pointing probably to the Mount of Olives overhanging them, and on the shoulders of which they were then standing, he says, "With this faith you might say to this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea, and it shall come to pass."
All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them; and ye shall have them. But you must "ask in faith, nothing wavering."
And wheresoever ye stand praying (στήκητε προσευχόμενοι). The ordinary attitude of Eastern nations in prayer is here indicated, namely, "standing," with the head, doubtless, bowed in reverence. The promise of this text is that requests offered in prayer by a faithful heart will be granted—granted as God knows best. The connection of these verses with the former is close. One great hindrance to the faith without which there can be no spiritual power, is the presence of angry and uncharitable feelings. These must all be put away if we would hope for a favorable answer from God.
There appears to be sufficient evidence to justify the Revisers in their omission of this verse; although its omission or retention does not affect the general exegesis of the passage.
Mark 11:27, Mark 11:28
By what authority doest then these things? We learn from Mark 11:18 float the chief priests and scribes had already been seeking how they might destroy him, and they wanted to establish some definite charge, whether of blasphemy or of sedition, against him. They now approach him as he walked in the temple, and demand by what authority he was doing these things, such as casting out the profaners of the temple, teaching and instructing the people, accepting their Hosannas, etc. And who gave thee this authority to do these things? According to the best reading, this sentence should run, or (ἢ instead of καὶ) who gave thee, etc., instead of "and who gave thee," etc. So that the questions are directed to two things—was his authority inherent? or, was it derived?
I will ask of you one question (ἐπερωτήσω ὑμᾶς ἕνα λόγον). The verb justifies the translation, one question, for "one word." The question which our Lord put to them was one on which hung the solution of that proposed by the scribes. It is as though he said, "You do not believe me when I say that I have received power from God. Believe then John the Baptist, who bare witness of me that I was sent from God to do these things."
The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men? By the "baptism of John" our Lord means his testimony concerning himself, his doctrine, and nil his preaching. It is a synecdoche—the part put for the whole. The argument is incontrovertible. It is this: "You ask from whence I derive my authority—from God or from men? I in my turn ask you from whom did John the Baptist derive his authority to baptize and to teach? from heaven or from men? If he had it from God, as all will confess, then I too have the same from God; for John testified of me, saying that he was but a servant, the friend of the Bridegroom; but that I was the Messiah, the Son of God: and this too when you sent messengers to him for his special purpose, that you might know from him whether he was the Messias." (See John 1:20; John 10:41.) Answer me. This is characteristic of St. Mark's style, and of our Lord's dignified earnestness.
Mark 11:31, Mark 11:32
They reasoned with themselves, like men anxious and perplexed. If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? For he told you I was the promised Messias, and bade you prepare yourselves by repentance to receive my grace and salvation. But should we say, From men—they feared the people: for all verily held John to be a prophet. This is a broken sentence, but very expressive. The evangelist leaves his reader to supply what they meant. They deemed it prudent not to finish the sentence; and probably cut it short with some significant gesture. They did not like to confess that they feared the people; although this was the true reason why they hesitated to say that John's baptism was of men. They knew that all the people held John to be a prophet. They were thus thrown on one or other horn of a dilemma.
We know not. They had seen the life of John. They had heard his holy and Divine teaching. They were witnesses to his death for the truth; and yet they lie. They might have said," We think it imprudent or inexpedient to say;" but for this they had not sufficient moral courage. Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. You will not answer my question; neither will I therefore answer yours; because your answer to mine is the answer to your own. "He thus shows," says St. Jerome, "that they knew, but would not answer; and that he knew, but did not speak, because they were silent as to what they knew." Our Lord did thus but mete out to them the measure which they meted to him.
The triumphal entry.
Christ was a King, but his royalty was misunderstood during his ministry upon earth. The devil had offered him the kingdoms of this world, and he had refused them. The people would have taken him by force and have made him a king, but he had hidden himself from them. Yet it was right and meet that he should in some way assume a kingly state and accept royal honors. The triumphal entry interests us, because it was the acknowledgment and reception of Jesus with the joyful homage due to him as King of Israel and King of men.
I. THE OCCASION OF THIS HOMAGE. Our Lord Jesus knew well what was to be the issue of this his last visit to the metropolis. He foresaw, and he had foretold in the hearing of his disciples, that he was about to be put to a violent death. Notwithstanding his clear perception of this his approaching sacrifice, he had come cheerfully to the city where he was to share the fate of the prophets. It is absurd to draw from this narrative the inference that Jesus was now looking for popular and national acceptance; he was not so misled. But it is remarkable that he should choose to receive the homage of the multitude almost upon the eve of his betrayal and condemnation. In his apprehension, the Priesthood and the Kingship of the Messiah were most closely connected. And to our minds there is no discordance between the sorrows Jesus was about to endure and the honors he now consented to accept. The occasion was well chosen, and brings before us our Lord's independence of all human standards and preconceptions. Ours was a King whose royalty suffered no tarnishing of its splendor when he rode in majesty, although he rode to death.
II. THE SCENE OF THIS HOMAGE.
1. It was the scene of his ministry. In and near Jerusalem many of Christ's mighty works had been wrought, many of his discourses had been delivered, many of his disciples had been made. It was becoming that for once, in this scene of his labors, his claims should be publicly recognized and his honor publicly displayed.
2. It was to be the scene of his martyrdom and sacrifice. It has often been noted, as a witness to human fickleness, that the same roads and public places should within a few days resound with the incongruous shouts, "Hosanna!" and "Crucify him!" How true was the language of Pilate—they crucified their King! On the one hand, it could not be that a prophet should perish out of Jerusalem; on the other hand, it was fitting that the city of David should openly welcome and acknowledge David's Son and David's Lord, and the establishment of the predicted kingdom.
III. THE OFFERERS OF THE HOMAGE. There were, amongst those who welcomed Jesus, his own attendants and disciples, the villagers from Bethany, the citizens of Jerusalem, and the Galilean pilgrims who had come up to the feast. The multitude was a very varied and representative crowd; including Israelites of many classes, and doubtless differing from one another in the measure of their knowledge of Jesus and their appreciation of his character and his Claims. As is often the case when Christ is extolled and praised, some were drawn into the general enthusiasm and rejoicing by the force of example and under the inspiration of feeling. The general welcome was an anticipation of the honor which shall be rendered to Jesus, when "every tongue shall acknowledge him to be Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
IV. BY WHAT ACTIONS THIS HOMAGE WAS EXPRESSED. The simple circumstances of this entry, so natural and almost childlike, are all significant of our Savior's dignity and majesty. In the bringing of the ass's colt for him to ride, there was a fulfillment of an ancient prediction; and the act itself, according to the usage of the East, was becoming to royalty. In the spreading of their garments upon the foal's back, the strewing the road with their clothes and with the branches of trees, there was a picturesque, if very simple, expression of their admiring reverence and loyalty.
V. THE LANGUAGE IN WHICH THIS HOMAGE WAS UTTERED. The unpremeditated shouts and exclamations with which Jesus was greeted were an expression of fervid, popular sentiment. Yet they were also to some extent a confession of Jesus' Messiah-ship and an acknowledgment of his royalty.
1. Notice the character in which they hailed him: he came "in the Name of the Lord;" he brought in" the kingdom of David." Drawn from Hebrew prophecy, these appellations could not be used without a very special significance.
2. Notice the joyous language in which they hailed him. They called him Blessed! they greeted him with the cry, Hosanna in the highest! It was enthusiastic and lofty language; but meaner terms would have been inappropriate, unworthy, and unjust.
Mark 11:12-14, Mark 11:19-25
The fruit of the fruitless fig tree.
This action of our Lord Jesus is one of the very few he is recorded to have performed to which exception has been taken. It has been objected that the "cursing" of the fig tree was a vindictive act, and unlike and unworthy of the gracious and beneficent Redeemer. In answer to this objection, a distinction must be drawn between a vindictive and a judicial proceeding; the latter having no element of personal irritation or ill feeling. It must not be forgotten that the Lord Jesus was and is the Judge, and this symbolical action was a picture of his judicial function in exercise. It has also been objected that the doom pronounced and carried into effect was unjust, inasmuch as the season for figs had not yet come, and Jesus looked for what, in the nature of things, it was not reasonable to expect. In answer to this, it must be remembered that trees have no consciousness, and no capacity for sentient suffering; and that, in the analogous case of the barren professor of religion, no sentence of condemnation is pronounced except as the consequence of moral culpability. This passage has two distinct movements, each containing its own spiritual lesson impressively conveyed.
I. HERE IS A SYMBOL OF "JUDGMENT IN THE HOUSE OF God."
1. The fruitless fig tree is an emblem of the immoral or useless professor of Christianity. Leaves are beautiful in themselves, are indicative of life and vital vigor, and seem to promise fruit; yet, in the case of such trees as that here spoken of, it is the fruit which is the end for which the tree is allowed to occupy ground, to absorb nourishment, to engage the toil of the husbandman or gardener. So in the moral domain. The foliage corresponds to outward position, to visible standing, and audible confession. These are excellent and admirable where they are not deceptive. But where there is "nothing hut leaves" to meet the eye of the husbandman, where there is the "name to live" without the life, where there is the language of belief and of devotion with no corresponding principles and conduct,—all this is disappointing to the Divine Husbandman and Wine-dresser.
2. The withering of the fig tree is symbolical of the moral doom and destruction of the unfruitful professor of religion. The tree may live, although it bear no fruit. But the fruitless Christian carries his own condemnatiou within him. The Lord who came to earth to save, lives in heaven to reign, and finally will return to judge. It would not be just to found an argument upon what is but an illustration. Nevertheless, there is very much express teaching from our Lord's lips as to the doom of the hypocrite. The fruitless scribes and Pharisees incurred his anger and his condemnation; and there is no reason to suppose that those more privileged, and equally false and spiritually worthless, can escape their doom. To be fruitless is to "wither away." For the barren there is no place in the vineyard of God.
II. HERE IS INSTRUCTION AS TO THE POWER OF FAITH AND PRAYER. It is a lesson we should scarcely have expected to find attached to this miracle. The amazement of Peter and the other disciples was excited by this exercise of power on the part of the Master. In reply to their expressions of wonder, Jesus, who was ever ready to give to the conversation a practical and profitable turn, discoursed upon the power of faith and prayer.
1. Faith gives efficacy to effort. It removes mountains. But such is not the work of the doubter or of the vacillating. All moral miracles and spiritual triumphs are due to the faith which is placed, not in human skill or power, but in God himself.
2. Faith gives efficacy to prayer. There are those who are mighty in prayer. This is because they believe in God, to whom "all things are possible." Hesitating, half-hearted prayer is dishonoring to God. We are directed to believe that we have received, at the very moment when we offer our entreaties; which is certainly only possible to strong faith. Yet what encouragement is there so to pray!
3. The works which may in this manner be accomplished, the blessings which may thus be obtained, are described in remarkable language. Trees may be withered, mountains may be removed, all things may be had, by those who have faith. No wonder that the poet says of faith, it—
"Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries, 'It shall be done!"
4. Yet there is a condition of a moral kind laid down by Christ. A sincere and forgiving disposition is indispensable. If we appeal to a gracious and benignant Father, if we ask of him needed forgiveness, we must approach him with a mind unstained by wrath, by malice, by any lack of charity.
The holy house.
It is significant that our Lord should have performed the authoritative and symbolical act of cleansing the temple twice—at the commencement, and again at the close, of his ministry. We learn that no real reformation had taken place in the religious habits of the chief priests and the people who frequented the holy place; they continued to practice the abuses which had been already so justly and so sternly rebuked. And we learn also that Jesus, although hated and despised by the rulers, had abated none of his claims to authority and jurisdiction.
I. THE OCCASION OF CHRIST'S AUTHORITATIVE INTERFERENCE.
1. This was the abuse of the temple. The holy house had been erected for the manifestation of the Divine glory, the celebration of Divine worship, the realization of Divine communion. No other material structure has ever possessed the sanctity which attached to this. There were grades of sanctity, culminating in the holy of holies; yet all the precincts and courts were consecrated to the God of Israel. To turn such a building to any secular purpose was an unjustifiable abuse.
2. The profanation of the temple. Three stages of profanation were referred to: vessels used for common purposes were carried through the courts; money was exchanged—foreign money, with the images, the superscription, the symbols, which denoted heathenism, for the shekels of the sanctuary; and doves and other victims, used for sacrifice and offerings, were openly bought and sold. Turning the sacred precincts to purposes of gain was a heinous offense against the majesty of the Lord of the temple.
3. But even this was not the worst, for there is implied the violation of the temple. The traffic which took place was distinguished by injustice and fraud: "Ye have made it a den of robbers." The family of the high priest are known to have made this merchandise a source of unlawful gain. In the exchange of money there was unfairness, in the sale of animals there was extortion. It was bad enough that in the Lord's house there should be trading, it was far worse that there should be rapacity and fraud.
II. THE MANNER OF CHRIST'S AUTtIORITATIVE INTERFERENCE.
1. This was independent. Jesus took counsel of no one, but acted of his own accord, as One who had no superior to whom to refer. He acted in his own Name and in that of his Father.
2. It was peremptory. We feel that it was but seldom that the meek and lowly Jesus acted as on this occasion. There was an unsparing severity in his action and in his language, when rescuing the holy house from the profane intruders. He did well to be angry.
3. It was impressive. The priests, who profited by the robbery, were enraged; the scribes, who resented the exercise of authority by the Nazarene, were incensed; and the people, who witnessed this remarkable act, were astonished.
III. THE JUSTIFICATION BY CHRIST OF HIS AUTHORITATIVE INTERFERENCE. Our Lord not only acted; he taught and explained the meaning of his action. We cannot suppose that he was animated by any superstitious feelings in so acting, and the record shows us what were his motives.
1. He regarded the temple as the house of his Father, God.
2. It was in his view the house of prayer, and was to be reserved for communion between human spirits and him who is the Father of spirits.
3. And it was intended for the service of all nations, which gave it a peculiar dignity and sacredness in his eyes. These considerations show why a Teacher, whose whole teaching was peculiarly spiritual, should display a zeal for the sanctity of a local and material representation of a Divine presence.
IV. THE RESULTS OF CHRIST'S AUTHORITATIVE INTERFERENCE.
1. Its immediate effect was to provoke the dread, the malice, and the plots of the scribes and priests. The incident occurred but a few days before our Lord's crucifixion, and it appears to have led to that awful event. In their own interests, the religious leaders of the Jews felt themselves constrained to crush the power of One whose conduct and teaching were so inconsistent with their own. Thus one of the highest exercises of our Lord's righteous authority was the occasion of his most cruel humiliation and shameful death.
2. Its more remote effect has been to enhance the conception entertained of Christ's character and official dignity and power. Humanity is God's true temple, too long defiled by the occupation of the spiritual foe, and desecrated to the service of sin. Christ is the Divine Purifier, who dispossesses the enemy, and restores the sanctuary to its destined ends, the indwelling, the worship, and the glory of the Eternal!
The conflict between the Divine Prophet and the leaders of the Jewish people was now at its height. Jesus knew that his hour was at hand, and no longer either concealed himself, or restrained his tongue from words of merited indignation, rebuke, and almost defiance. Thus the enmity of his foes was provoked, and his condemnation was assured.
I. CHRIST'S AUTHORITY WAS PUBLICLY ASSERTED AND EXERCISED. In three respects this was now made most plain.
1. The teaching of Jesus at this time was characterized by the assumption of a superiority of knowledge and insight which must have been galling to the pride of his questioners, and which they may have deemed altogether arrogant.
2. His public entry into Jerusalem in a kind of kingly state must have aroused their hostility; for, without courting their favor or support, he took to himself the homage due to the King of Israel
3. His cleansing of the temple was an authoritative act, which was felt all the more acutely by his enemies as an attack upon themselves, because their own practices were rebuked and their own credit was threatened, not to say that the base gains of some of them were imperilled. In these respects Christ claimed and exercised a special and vast authority.
II. CHRIST'S AUTHORITY WAS PUBLICLY QUESTIONED AND IMPUGNED, It is evident that it was a formal deputation which surrounded him in the temple, and sought to overawe and silence him by the question which they put: "By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave it thee?" There was on their part the assumption of their own judicial right to inquire, to silence, to condemn. They had acted in a very similar manner with respect to John the Baptist. To us this deputation, and its inquisitorial proceedings, are interesting, because they conclusively establish the fact that the Lord Jesus did claim to act as none other acted, and thus aroused the hostility of his unsympathizing and unspiritual foes.
III. CHRIST'S AUTHORITY WAS PUBLICLY VINDICATED BY HIMSELF. The way in which he did this is remarkable.
1. Why did not Jesus directly account for his actions to the priests, scribes, and elders? Because he had done no wrong; in the acts he had publicly performed there was nothing for which they dared expressly to impugn him. Because they themselves had corruptly suffered and justified one of the evils which he had redressed. To this their conscience testified. Because, being unable to defend their own position, they could not be allowed to attack his. Because, above all, being what he was, he was not accountable, either to them or to others, for his actions.
2. Why did Jesus vindicate himself by retorting upon his assailants? by reducing them to helpless silence? Because he thus made evident the agreement between John's ministry and his own. It was well known that John had confessed Jesus to be the One who should come, the Messiah. Jesus appealed to John's witness, at the same time claiming to have greater witness than that of John. Because he thus exhibited the utter incompetency of his enemies to judge his claims. They were not prepared publicly either to avow or to disavow sympathy with, confidence in, the ministry of the great forerunner. How, then, could any stress be laid upon their judgment with respect to him to whom John had witnessed?
3. What was the effect of this method of dealing with his assailants? It is evident that the leaders of the Jews were discredited and put to shame. It is equally evident that the minds of the people were influenced in Christ's favor. But, above all, the true, proper, underived, and incomparable authority of Christ shines forth in unrivalled brightness and beauty. The surf beats upon the rock, but it fails off, powerless and, defeated; whilst the rock stands out in its rugged and impressive grandeur, its stability appearing all the more manifestly immovable because of the feebleness and vanity of the repeated and furious assaults of the tempestuous sea.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
"To Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany," the order of mention being determined by reckoning from the place whither the movement was being made. They began, therefore, with Bethany. It was familiar ground, fragrant with tender associations with both the human and the Divine.
I. PREPARATIONS. The triumph was foreseen by Christ, and he made arrangements for its being celebrated with becoming order and dignity.
1. The unforeseen and unexpected was foreseen and prepared for by Christ. If Divine advents are delayed, or Divine celebrations fail of their loftiest end, it is not because of failure or unreadiness in him. He was willing to have made this triumph a real, permanent, and universal one. He is ever in advance of the event, whether it be a triumph or a crucifixion. Above all, he was ready in himself.
2. It was to his own disciples he looked for a supply of what was required for his triumph. He appealed to their recognition of his authority—" the Lord." The claim was allowed by the stranger who owned the colt. It was freely given when asked. Christians are to make ready for their Lord's triumph. They have all that he needs, if it be but freely rendered. He will throne himself amidst their gifts if they have him enthroned in their hearts. Nothing but what is freely rendered is acceptable to him or desired by him. It should be enough for a disciple to know what the Lord will have him do and of what the Lord has need.
II. THE TRIUMPH. It was a simple procession, gradually increasing in volume and excitement as it approached the city.
1. The movement was natural and spontaneous. No signs of getting it up. The enthusiasm it expressed already existed. Direction and order were imparted, but the motive was self-developed.
2. It was of a predominantly spiritual character. The attraction did not lie in the accessories, but in the central Figure. Never had the native glory of the Messiah been so manifest. The Jews, had they only known, were on the verge of an apocalypse, which only depended upon their spiritual preparedness. "Meekness is nobler and mightier than force, goodness than grandeur" (Godwin).
3. It was a manifest fulfillment of prophecy. The people were conscious of it as they shouted. Their words are a quotation from Psalms 118:1-29. "(1) 'Hosanna!' The word was a Hebrew imperative, 'Save us, we beseech thee,' and had come into liturgical use from Psalms 118:1-29. That psalm belonged specially to the Feast of Tabernacles, and as such was naturally associated with the palm branches; the verses from it now chanted by the people are said to have been those with which the inhabitants of Jerusalem were wont to welcome the pilgrims who came up to keep the feast. The addition of 'Hosanna to the Son of David' made it a direct recognition of the claims of Jesus to be the Christ; that of 'Hosanna in the highest' (comp. Luke 2:14) claimed heaven as in accord with earth in this recognition.
(2) 'Blessed be ['the King,' in St. Luke] he that cometh in the Name of the Lord.' These words, too, received a special, personal application. The welcome was now given, not to the crowd of pilgrims, but to the King.
(3) As in St. Luke, one of the cries was an echo of the angels' hymn at the Nativity, 'Peace on earth, and glory in the highest' (Luke 2:14).
(4) As in St. Mark, 'Blessed be the kingdom of our father David.' We have to think of these shouts as filling the air as he rides slowly on in silence. He will not check them at the bidding of the Pharisees (Luke 19:39), but his own spirit is filled with quite other thoughts than theirs" (Plumptre). Yet, because of the unpreparedness of the people, the fulfillment was only provisional, not ultimate; typical, not actual. In its spiritual idea, its universal influence ("all the city was moved"), its spontaneous acclaim, it spoke of that which is to come; in its outwardness, its question, "Who is this?" and answer, "This is Jesus, the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee," its readiness to pass from praise to execration, it showed how distant the people were from the true realization.
III. CULMINATING SOVEREIGNITY.
1. Seen in the destination to which he came. "He entered the temple." He is Priest as well as King. "Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion" (Psalms 2:6). It is from the holy place that his rule extends; and there it begins, and is most intensely and specially exercised. He is Key to all the mysteries there; Centre of all the symbols and rites. This suggests that his reign is primarily and essentially a spiritual one. As King of saints he reigns in the earth.
2. Expressed and exercised in a "look." "He looked round about upon all things." "Not simply as one might gaze who had never been there before: an arbitrary and wanton idea; but as one who had a right to inspect the condition of the place, and who was determined to assert and exercise that fight" (Morison). So is he Lord of that temple not made with hands—the body in which he dwelt, and the spirit in which he offered the eternal sacrifice; and so will he take account of the secrets of human nature in the great day, for is he not "the Son of man"?—M.
"The Lord hath need of him."
How singular the conjunction! Need of a colt! In what sense was such a creature necessary for the Lord of all? In what sense is anything created necessary to the Creator? As showing forth his glory, and fulfilling his purposes.
I. THE LOWLIEST THINGS HAVE SOME HIGH PURPOSE, OR CAPACITY OF GLORIFYING GOD.
II. IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES THE LOWLIEST THINGS MAY EXCLUSIVELY OR MORE FITTINGLY EXPRESS A CERTAIN PHASE OF THE DIVINE GLORY. What else could so set forth the meekness, the lowliness, of the Son of man? or the privilege and freedom the young Church, of which he was the only burden and law? In that colt the brute world had its most honored representative. So in human poverty, simplicity, weakness, and ignorance, the glory of God may be shown forth the more conspicuously.
III. LET US LOOK FOR AND GIVE EFFECT TO THE GLORY OF CHRIST, i.e. OF GOD, ALL THINGS.
IV. A FORTIORI LET US OFFER OUR OWN SELVES SO GLORIOUSLY ENDOWED, IN PERSONAL CONSECRATION AND EFFORT FOR THE GLORY OF God. If he had need for a colt, we cannot say he has no need for us.—M.
Jesus surveying the temple.
I. A SIGN OF AUTHORITY. Supreme, absolute, spiritual.
II. AN EXERCISE OF JUDGMENT. Inward, unerring, and from the highest standpoint.
III. AN EXPRESSION OF GRIEF AND DISAPPOINTMENT. There is nothing upon which the look can rest with approval and satisfaction. It goes round, but returns not. It goes through and beyond. The temple in its condition was symbolical of the people.
IV. A TOKEN OF FORBEARING MERCY. Only a look, for the present. He has it not in his heart to inflict the final stroke at once. He will wait. A day of grace is still left. Is this our case—as a Church? as individuals?—M.
Mark 11:12-14, Mark 11:20-25
The destruction of the fig tree.
I. THE SUFFICIENT REASON FOR THE ACT.
1. Not an outcome of petulance or disappointment. The idea of Christ being "in a temper" is preposterous! The difficulty as to the phrases, "if haply he might find anything thereon," and "he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season of figs," is for the most part factitious and artificial. Our Lord was not mistaken—first expectant and then disappointed. "He came to the tree, not for the sake of eating, but for the sake of performing an adumbrative action (sed aliquid praefigurandi causa)" (Zuiugli). "His hunger, too, was the occasion that gave shape to his adumbrative action, when he went to the leafy tree to see if there was fruit on it" (Morison).
2. But neither was it an action symbolizing the penalty of spiritual barrenness. Its proximity in spirit and time to the cleansing of the temple inclines the mind to a parabolic meaning in that direction; so also Peter's strong word "cursedst," which seems at first to convey an impression of moral displeasure. As a merely natural incident, it is hard to reduce the disproportion it exhibits between the apparently judicial sentence and its occasion. On the other hand, it is harder still to explain Christ's total silence as to the reference to spiritual barrenness and its penalty, if such a reference had ever been intended. The circumstance that a day intervened between the sentence of Christ and Peter's noting the result, would seem to demand that the Master should have "pointed the moral" in some more manifest way. Again, what he did teach concerning the occurrence, so far as it has been preserved, suggests that the action was "adumbrative" in a simpler and more direct sense, of that, namely, of which he spoke—the power of God commanded through faith. "The significance of this event is different from that of the parable given by St. Luke (Luke 13:6), to show the doom of impenitence. In that, the fig tree was planted in a vineyard; everything was done for its culture that could be done; and not till after years of barrenness was it cut down. Here the fig tree was growing by the road; it belonged to no one, and nothing had been done for its improvement; and it was destroyed when its uselessness was made manifest. It was fruitless, because the fruit season had not come, and no old fruit remained on the branches. It was, therefore, not a fit emblem of the impenitent Jews. But the destruction of a senseless and worthless thing made known the power of Christ, as sufficient to destroy, though used only to restore" (Godwin, 'Matthew'). As illustrative of Divine power it was splendidly significant. To wither was within the power of any one, but to wither by a word was a supernatural act only possible to one in closest fellowship with God.
II. CHRIST'S OWN APPLICATION OF THE INCIDENT. "Have faith in God."
1. Greater results than it are attained by his servants if they will but believe.
(1) In doing. The words "shall say unto this mountain," etc., are figurative. A magnificent promise! Not only such an act as the withering of the fig tree, but one comparable to the uprooting of the Mount of Olives on which it grew (against which, by the way, there could surely be no "judicial resentment" even in the most metaphorical sense). It is spoken of moral and spiritual difficulties met with in fulfilling the great commission, or in individual spiritual growth.
(2) In receiving. Here the whole doctrine of prayer came up again for review. The answer was not to be merely looked forward to as coming, or even imminent, but was to be realized as already fulfilling itself in present experience. A secret of intense and successful devotion.
2. The ground of all such power is moral and spiritual oneness with God. The general conditions of prayer being answered, viz. agreeableness to the Divine will, advantage of the kingdom of God, etc., are all supposed. But, in addition, the boon of forgiveness is chiefly referred to as of greatest moment; and, in connection with it, the necessity of a forgiving disposition in the petitioner, as a condition of his being answered. This is one of the highest phases of spiritual or moral power, and is only possible through partaking of the Divine Spirit, in other words, through oneness with God.—M.
Jesus cleansing the temple.
A second occasion; the first occurring at the beginning of his ministry (John 2:13-17). A fulfillment of Malachi 3:1, Malachi 3:2.
I. THERE IS A TENDENCY IN THE MOST SACRED INSTITUTIONS TO DECAY AND ABUSE. Most of the abominations swept away by Christ had their origin in immemorial custom, and the demands of the worshippers themselves. Traffic came to assume a religious character, and gain was excused on account of ceremonial exigencies and conveniences. This tendency recurs and culminates. How suggestive the contrast—"a house of prayer," "a den of thieves"!
II. THIS IS DUE TO LOSING SIGHT OF THE ORIGINAL SPIRIT AND PURPOSE. The essence of the old worship was simple, personal devotion, of which rites and sacrifices were only of use as the expression. Through the intrusion of the business spirit, the latter came to be regarded as important for their own sake.
III. JESUS CHRIST IS THE CHIEF AUTHOR AND RESTORER OF PURE WORSHIP. This act of Christ is in perfect accord with his whole character and life. It but expresses his spirit and influence. Every reform Or advance of the Church is due to his agency.
IV. HE EFFECTS THIS THROUGH HIS SPIRIT, AND THE REVELATION HE MAKES OF THE CHARACTER OF God AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SACRED THINGS. The original purpose of the temple is restated, and he emphasizes the spiritual side of worship. It is to pray, to commune with our Father, we go up into the temple. Everything which interferes with or corrupts that simple motive, is an abuse and an evil. The gospel, in recalling men to a sense of righteousness and the love of God, creates the prayer-spirit. And the Holy Ghost sustains the communion thus established. From time to time the Spirit takes of the things of God and reveals them afresh, making fresh advents to the heart, and kindling the flame of zeal and love.
V. REFORMING ZEAL, IN PROPORTION TO ITS SPIRITUALITY AND ENLIGHTENMENT, WILL PROVOKE HATRED AND OPPOSITION IN THOSE WHOSE INTERESTS ARE THREATENED; BUT THERE WILL EVER BE OTHERS BY WHOM IT WILL BE WELCOMED. Those who are interested in the status quo will resent interference with it. Priestly importance and the spirit of selfishness are potent antagonists to true worship. But the "multitude" has within it ever some who yearn after better things. The human longing after the Divine is enshrined in the common heart of man.—M.
The Church—ideal and actual.
I. THE CHURCH IN ITS IDEAL. As viewed under this aspect it has:
1. A twofold character. (Isaiah 56:7.)
(1) A house of prayer. This recognition of a spiritual end to be secured by the institution of the temple is most remarkable, as having taken place in an era of ceremonialism. It is not a priestly but a prophetic point of view, in which details are lost sight of in the inward and eternal. The temple was to be "called a house of prayer" as indicative not of a special but rather of an exclusive purpose; any other being a transgression and an offense. It was to be set apart for the most sacred occupations of the soul—intercourse and communion with God. An emphasis was thereby given to the Divine side of life. Men were to seek the presence of God that they might receive his grace and truth. A space was marked off from the business and secularities of life, so that, undisturbed from without, and aided by all the circumstances of devotion, the higher nature might be called forth and educated. Instead of worldly cares and competitions distracting the worshippers, they were to be engrossed for a while with their Father's business. How important is this witness of the Church to the claims of the unseen and eternal! It is the sphere within which the highest exercise of human faculties may take place, and the noblest life may be laid hold of. There may be no immediate demand for what it provides, yet does it minister to the deepest and most lasting human needs.
(2) The spiritual home of mankind. The defect of Judaism was that it was too national and exclusive: all that was to cease. From the earliest times the universality of the Divine grace was declared by the prophets. Even from within a principle of expansion began to discover itself. The presence of the "stranger" within the camp led to the recognition of the "proselytes of the gate," and by-and-by to the institution of the "court of the Gentiles" in the temple itself. The fundamental doctrine of Jehovah itself implied such an intention as ultimate if not immediate, for before him there was no respect of persons, and he was the Father of all. The promises, too, were all couched in terms that precluded a merely local or temporary enjoyment of their blessings. Even as taught in the Old Testament the doctrine of election is declared to be a temporary provision for the benefit of others besides the elect. The chief end of the temple, or the Church which it represented, could not be secured save by the conversion of the world to the knowledge of Jehovah, and the spiritual coming of mankind to Zion. It is therefore the great mission of Christianity, as the spiritual successor of Judaism, to give effect to this. The Church is a witness to the oneness of the race in its origin and destiny, and the great foster-mother of mankind. Through her charity, and not by mechanical necessities or material interests, is the unity of the world to be realized.
2. This twofold intention of the Church is certain to be fulfilled. As we have seen, it is
(1) the Divine purpose: everything God wills will be; and
(2) the genius of Christianity. If Judaism declared a universal brotherhood, Christianity is that brotherhood. It teaches us to say," Our Father," and realizes itself in the communion of saints. The Church is not an end in itself, but is for the world. Christianity is nothing if it is not evangelistic and aggressive.
II. THE CHURCH IN ITS CORRUPTION. In the mean time what God intended has been frustrated by the worldliness of men. The consequence has been:
1. A complete contradiction to its original purpose. Even in Jeremiah's day the epithet, "a den of thieves," could be applied to it (Jeremiah 7:11); so soon does spiritual decay run to its term! That which was meant to be a universal good became a universal curse. The abuse of sacred things is ever the most mischievous of all abuses. Instead of Divine charity, human selfishness: the wrangling and violence of robbers where the peace of God was to be looked for. The contrast is utter, but the transition is easy and natural. The very extension of Judaism, outstripping as it did the expansion of affection in its members, sufficed to ensure its corruption. Worshippers came from distant places to offer sacrifice, and being unable to bring animals with them for the purpose, they sought for them on the spot. Gradually, therefore, the courts of the temple were invaded by cattle-dealers and their herds. Another inconvenience was felt in the difficulty of exchanging foreign money for the sacred coin which could alone be accepted in the treasury. Here the money-changer stepped in. The whole process was gradual and easily explained; but the result was none the less an evil, which required to be sternly corrected. Nor can Christians plead innocence of this sin. "The history of Christian Churches," says Plumptre, "has not been altogether without parallels that may help us to understand how such a desecration came to be permitted. Those who remember the state of the great cathedral of London, as painted in the literature of Elizabeth and James, when mules and horses, laden with market produce, were led through St. Paul's as a matter of every-day occurrence, and bargains were struck there, and burglaries planned, and servants hired, and profligate assignations made and kept, will feel that even Christian and Protestant England has hardly the right to cast a stone at the priests and people of Jerusalem." It is a great deal, however, when it is recognized that this is not the purpose for which the sanctuary has been hallowed, and the lesson of the past is surely that of a constant watchfulness against insidious abuses, and above all of the need of a deeper and more continuous consecration of the worshippers themselves.
2. Divine anger and rejection. The wrath of the Lord of the temple was typical for all time. As the temple, so the Church or the soul which defiles itself will be visited by penal consequences. Sacred names and ceremonies will not consecrate vile ends. There is nothing more abhorrent to God than the travesty of religion, the seeking of gain under the mask of Godliness.—M.
Christ's authority challenged add defended.
This was a necessary consequence of his action in the cleansing of the temple. By so doing he claimed to be the Judge of things religious and sacred, and to direct the conscience of man.
I. THE ULTIMATE QUESTION BETWEEN CHRIST AND THE RELIGIOUS SYSTEMS AND INSTITUTIONS OF MEN IS ONE OF AUTHORITY. Only direct Divine sanction, or a higher truth vindicating itself at the bar of reason and conscience, or in the field of experience, can justify the attitude of Christ and his religion towards the religions and superstitions of men. Arbitrary assumption will soon belay itself, and the spiritual nature of man must be satisfied. This question of authority is sure to be raised sooner or later by the upholders of the systems and beliefs Christianity impugns. And Christians are counselled to "give a reason of the hope that is in" them.
II. TO ALL GENUINE INQUIRERS CHRISTIANITY PRESENTS A SUFFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE,
1. The life and works of Christ are his justification. They prove him "sent from God." The evidence upon which our belief in these is based is as strong, at least, as for any other historic matter.
2. The experience of the operation of Christian doctrine and practice in the ages subsequent to the Cross.
3. The immediate witness of the conscience and the heart. With the first and the third of these the temple authorities were already conversant.
III. HYPOCRITICAL AND ILLEGITIMATE INQUIRIES INTO ThE AUTHORITY OF CHRIST OR HIS SERVANTS MAY BE RESISTED AND EXPOSED.
1. Christ knew the motives of his inquisitors.
2. He placed them in a false position in order to expose these to themselves and others.
3. All Divine revelations have similar evidence, and stand or fall together. Had they believed John, they would have believed Jesus. As they believed neither, it must have been because they hated the truth. It was for the interests of true religion that this fact should be made evident. He proceeded to prove the traditional unrighteousness of the Jewish people and their leaders in a series of "parables" or similitudes, which were at the same time so many appeals to conscience. (It would be well for the preacher to remark upon the unbroken consecution of John 11:1-57 and John 12:1-50 in the spoken discourse of Christ.)—M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Jesus the King.
On the occasion described in these verses Jesus assumed kingly authority. Loved as a Friend, revered as a Teacher, and followed as a Worker of miracles, he now declared his kingliness, and demanded obedience and homage. Therein he taught us, his subjects, some lessons.
I. AS A KING, JESUS REQUIRES ABSOLUTE OBEDIENCE. To the two disciples this command must have appeared strange. After finding the animal denoted, they were not to ask for it, but to take it; and if their action was questioned they were merely to say, "The Lord hath need of him." If it belonged to a foe, some might arrest or assail them for robbery. It was not the first occasion, however, on which they simply obeyed. Christ had a right to their absolute obedience, and their faith was tested by this demand upon it. Unquestioning obedience to truth and to duty is far too rare. We want to see the reasons for a command, the probable issues of it, and when we see neither too often we withhold obedience. Peril from this is now more frequent, because authority as such is weakened on all sides. Children in the home, which is the true sphere for the cultivation of obedience, are too often allowed to question when they ought to be told to obey. If we are sure of duty as followers of Jesus Christ, we must be regardless of consequences. He anticipates our difficulties, as he foresaw the question of the owner of the colt. He asks us to take one step, and to take it boldly, although we do not see what the next will be, nor whither it may lead us. If we go on to the Red Sea, it will afford us a path of safety and cut off our foes from following us. If an angel rouses us from sleep, and we arise and follow him, the great iron gate we cannot stir will open to us of its own accord.
II. AS A KING, JESUS CLAIMS THE USE OF ALL THAT HE REQUIRES, We forget that we are not the absolute owners of anything. All we have is held in trust; but our seeming possession tests our disposition, and helps to develop character. If we wish to prove the honesty of a servant, and let his skill in management grow, we do not give him a small sum each day, and check and watch him till the evening, and then expect a strict account. No; we put a large sum at his disposal, and "after a long time ' reckon with him, with the result, that if he has been faithful he has increased his capital and his fitness. So God puts at our disposal wealth, talents, etc., in the hope that for our own sake we will use all loyally for him. Christ Jesus, during his ministry, was as one "having nothing, and yet possessing all things." No colt was his, but one was there, and when its owner heard "The Lord hath need of him," it was ready for the Lord's use. The message sent to that man, when it comes home to our hearts, should silence all objections to the making of effort or sacrifice. If we have to give up some luxury so as to help the poor, if we have to sacrifice leisure that is hardly earned to teach the ignorant, if we have to part with one who is dear to us, our anger and defiance will be quieted when we say to ourselves, "The Lord hath need of them." The owner was perhaps a secret disciple. The Lord knew him, although the apostles did not. Now, after loving Jesus quietly, the opportunity for showing his love was suddenly proffered, and he gladly gave what he could. Christ asks of us, as he asked of him, what is possible and reasonable; and instead of waiting to do something great, let us do what we can, and that which is mean in itself will be hallowed and glorified when used by our Lord.
III. AS A KING, JESUS EXERCISES A SPIRITUAL RULE. Until now his kingliness had been concealed except from the nearest and dearest disciples. On this occasion it was declared. Yet the spiritual nature of that kingliness was so evident in his dress, in the animal he bestrode, and in his attendants, that when a few days afterwards he was charged with calling himself a King, no reference was made to this incident before Herod or Pilate. Such is the nature of his kingdom still. His sovereignty is not advanced by material force or by worldly cunning. To him, as a spiritual Ruler, gifts do not take the place of earnest prayer; nor is attendance on the means of grace a substitute for fellowship of soul with God. His kingdom was inaugurated by death; it was founded on a grave; it was built up by the Spirit, "that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." Hence he approached Jerusalem, not on the war-horse of the conqueror, but on an ass, on which rode messengers of peace; as if he were determined that he would not come in judgment till to the last love had been tried. Thus he comes to us, in quiet suggestions, in holy desires, in tears, and prayers; but hereafter he will come in power and great glory, fulfilling the vision St. John saw of One upon the white horse, going forth conquering, and to conquer.—A.R.
We sometimes wonder that the greatest Teacher, the divinest Master the world ever saw, was so little recognized during his ministry. Our surprise would be lessened if we fairly put ourselves in the position of his contemporaries. Suppose news came to our metropolis that in a distant hamlet, among working people, a child had been born, and that rumors of portents accompanying his birth found favor in that country-side. Suppose that, as years rolled on, it was reported that this child, now a man, had done some marvellous works; and that, after several visits to the city, he came into it accompanied by his followers, chiefly peasants, neither learned nor wealthy. The probabilities are that although some might know him to be a great teacher, a man of unquestioned holiness and of astonishing pretensions, the hum of business would not be hushed for a moment, and few would turn aside to see his festal procession.
I. THE WELCOME GIVEN TO JESUS.
1. His welcome would have been more speedy and general had he come differently. All through his ministry we find evidence of that. There was eagerness for a Messiah of a certain type. A promise to restore the theocracy, and overthrow the Roman tyranny, would have been hailed with a unanimous shout of delight. But our Lord would not be content, and never is, with a worldly homage, such as a Christian nation, for example, offers when it calls itself by his Name, and violates his principles. Unless he rules human hearts, he has no joy and the ruled no bliss. Even an earthly king desires real loyalty; but he cannot read men's thoughts nor see how in heart his flatterers despise him. If he could, how thankfully would he turn from the adulation of courtiers to the unsophisticated love of his children! So our Lord turned from priests and Pharisees to the humble peasants of Galilee and the loving children in Jerusalem. In order to avoid false homage, Christ came, and still comes, quietly. He comes not with peals of thunder and visions of angels, nor even as a national leader appealing to popular passion and armed force; but, in quiet thoughts and in happy Christian homes, he reveals' himself to those seeking the truth, or burdened with sin.
2. Even such a welcome as this given on Palm Sunday was unusual. His motto seemed to be, "He shall not strive, nor cry, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets." Popular applause was suppressed, and even natural enthusiasm was cooled. If people would take him by force to make him a king, he departed and did hide himself from them. If the disciples saw a glimpse of his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, he said, "See that ye tell no man." His miracles were quietly wrought, generally with but few witnesses, and those blessed were often told not to publish it. But on this first day of the last week he wished to have an unwonted procession. In the crowds who had come together for the Passover all the elements of it were ready, if he only gave a sign of his willingness to receive it. And this he did. He arranged for it. He sent to the village for the young colt, and when it was brought he sat upon it, and allowed a simple procession to be formed, which increased in numbers and enthusiasm as they drew nearer to Jerusalem.
3. This exceptional scene was wisely ordered.
(1) The memory of it would help the disciples in the dark days which ended that eventful week; for they would reflect that it was not want of power, but want of will, which did not allow him to rouse the people in his defense. "The Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep."
(2) Besides, it would give an opportunity to the people to see him as the King he claimed to be, and it was possible that some who had resisted other influences might yield to this, and pay him homage now, lie had come as a babe to Jerusalem, and few had loved him; he had come as a child, only to be wondered at when he sat among the doctors; he had come to the feasts, and scarcely any had recognized him. He had come" unto his own, and his own received him not." Once more, in a new way, he would draw near. He would try one more avenue to the closed heart before uttering the pathetic lament, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children … and ye would not!"
(3) Further, there was something prophetic and typical in this procession. The triumphal entry was a symbol of the resurrection on that day week, and of his later ascension to heaven amidst the hosannas of the angels. It was a prophecy also of his kingly progress through history, and of his second coming in glory, when all in heaven and all on earth will cry, "Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord!"
II. THE CROWN SURROUNDING JESUS. In some of those there we may see, perhaps, representatives of ourselves.
1. Enthusiasts were there. They had seen his miracles, and with loud hosannas spread their garments in his way. He foresaw with sadness the change that would come over them. They applauded on Olivet, but they were absent from Calvary. Beware of spasmodic enthusiasm, and ask for grace to stand by Christ's cause in times of trouble as well as in times of triumph.
2. Foes were there. They kept quiet while the crowd of his followers surrounded them; but soon they would raise the cry, "Crucify him! crucify him!" It is possible to "crucify the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."
3. Disciples were there. The blind who had been restored, demoniacs who had been delivered, learners who had sat reverently at his feet. In the procession which still is following the Lord, may we find our place!—A.R.
"And Jesus went into the temple."
"Jesus went into the temple." The act was characteristic and suggestive.
I. IT EXEMPLIFIED THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN HIS WORK AND THAT OF JOHN. From the beginning to the end of his ministry the Baptist, so far as we know, was a stranger to the temple courts. John was in the wilderness, and the people from Jerusalem and Judea "went out" to hear him. Christ was never apart from his people. He was not a voice crying in the wilderness, but the Good Shepherd, who, instead of expecting his strayed sheep to seek him, came after them, to seek and to save that which was lost. In accordance with this, Jesus entered into the temple, or taught in the synagogues, or went into the homes of the people, to teach the ignorant and to bless the needy. Here is a distinguishing mark of the great Redeemer as contrasted with the great reformer; and it is also distinctive of their work. A reformer points the way of righteousness to those willing to walk in it. A Redeemer, by the power of his love and life, touches and turns the hearts of the children of men. John said in effect, "Do what you can in the way of moral reform." Christ in effect said, "I have come to do for you is uplifted to her lofty pedestal; but, conscious of her beauty and of his failures, the sinner can only say, "It is high, I cannot attain unto it." Christ Jesus comes down amongst us from the lofty heavens, as One meek and lowly, and says, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man will open the door, I will come in to him."
II. IT ILLUSTRATED OUR LORD'S RELATION TO THE OLD DISPENSATION. He was often accused of setting himself against the Law. This act was one of many proofs he gave of the truth of his words, "I came not to destroy, but to fulfill." He knew, as others did not, that the work of the temple was almost done, and that it would shortly perish in the flames; he knew that, though it had such marvellous material stability, it was one of "the things that could be shaken," and would be removed, so that "the things which could not be shaken might remain." But so long as the temple remained as the house of God he honored it, and encouraged his disciples to do so. He kept its feasts; he taught and healed its worshippers; he led his followers to join in its praises and prayers and he showed the people, by this act of cleansing, that they were guilty if they desecrated God's appointed house of prayer.
III. IT INCULCATED FOR ALL AGES LESSONS OF FORBEARANCE AND PATIENCE. As followers of Christ we should learn to put up with, and to use to the utmost, what we know is imperfect and transient. If we see an organization which aims at what we approve, but which in our judgment is imperfect, and resolve to withhold our sympathy and support till it perfectly accords with our views, we are not following our Lord in this. If we recognize the faults of our fellow-Christians, and are so vexed at their folly that we determine to have no more fellowship or co-operation with them, we are not following our Lord in this. If we have attempted to reform society or to rescue a sinner, and have apparently failed, so that we give up all further effort in despair, we are not following our Lord. For once before, at the beginning of his ministry, he had cleansed this temple and driven forth the buyers and sellers, but the evil had reasserted itself, so that it was defiled as much as formerly. Still patiently and hopefully he cleansed it again, and made the place ring with his words of truth, and beautified it by his works of mercy.
IV. IT UTTERED A SIGNIFICANT REBUKE TO ALL THAT WAS FALSE AND EVIL. He went to the temple to worship, although in the crowds he saw there so few that were spiritually in sympathy with him. But he would not allow any mistake to be made about his association with evil. He was not like those who are so silent about wrong-doing or false teaching that all around suppose that they sympathize with it. Such silence is guilty. If Christ saw evil he looked upon it with pain and shame, and therefore once more before he left the temple, which was the scene of it, he made a bold protest and uttered a final rebuke. He associated with the good, but he cast out the evil.—A.R.
Christ cleansing the temple.
The acts of our Lord were not merely intended to accomplish an immediate result. Had they been, they were sadly ineffectual. If, for example, he had simply set before himself the design of clearing the temple of intruders, he could have secured that end more permanently than he did. But he recognized that the noblest thing is not to cut off a public abuse, but to dry up the spring whence it flows, which often lies deep in the human heart. Remedial measures are better than repressive legislation. When our Lord for a second time cleansed the temple, his main object was not to put down the abuse immediately by force, but to rebuke the sin, and so to lead the people to think about it, confess, and forsake it. He wished to establish the principle that the temple of God should be free from worldliness, a principle which is capable of world-wide application. As the material temple rises before our vision through the mists of past years, we hail it as an image of the invisible temple in which the Eternal God is praised and served by his people. Two truths appear prominently in this incident.
I. THE TEMPLE OF GOD IS OFTEN DESECRATED. In considering the sins of other people and of other times, we are:
1. Apt to forget how naturally and imperceptibly they obtained place and power. The Jews easily lapsed into this desecration. The Mosaic code ordained sacrifices of oxen, goats, and sheep in great numbers. In process of time the habits of the nation changed, so that it was no longer possible, as it had been in the pastoral period, to take a victim from a flock or herd close at hand. Jerusalem was now a large and crowded city. Space was costly, and a large area seemed to be necessary where worshippers could obtain victims. In the vast temple area a large space was available. It was close by the sacrificial altar, and not set apart for the actual worship of the chosen people. If it were used for stalls and pens, a good rental would be secured which would pay for the repair and decoration of the building, and so the glory of the sanctuary would be maintained and devout worshippers accommodated. So the abuse grew up, amid the protests of the few and the silence of the many, and all were tolerating an evil which they could not openly defend. Evils have generally sprung up in the Church insidiously. If they had come in their hideous maturity they would have been repelled with horror, but they were welcomed when they came like the tiny child a legendary saint took on his shoulders, to find him grow so heavy as to crush him with his weight. Examples of this may be found in ecclesiastical history: e.g. papal pretensions, simony, erastianism; all of which in their germ seemed to have about them something reasonable and right.
2. The root of the special evil here denounced was covetousness. Probably that was the besetting sin of the nation in our Lord's day. Publicans sold themselves to the tyrants of their country, because wealth was more to them than patriotism. Priests and Sadducees let out sites to the temple traders, because they would make gain of godliness, and cared more for the temple income than for spiritual worship. This spirit pervaded the entire nation. There was no sign of the splendid generosity of David, and no need, as in Moses' days, to restrain the people from giving. The sin appeared among the apostles. We see it in all its hideousness in Judas Iscariot, who betrayed his Lord for thirty pieces of silver, and then flung the money at the feet of the priests as they sat in the temple of God. The love of money is declared to be "the root of all evil," and the statement is in harmony with the words of our Lord about the difficulty a rich man would find in entering his kingdom. Show how generally such teaching is forgotten among different classes of our population. See the effects of this in the floating of unsound speculations in which the fortunes of the unwary are wrecked; in the unfairness of men to each other in the common relations of life; in the unjust wars of aggression which the nation has sometimes waged. The Christian Church is called upon to set an example of the opposite of all this, in her princely generosity and in her Christ-like self-sacrifice.
3. There are other ways besides covetousness by which desecration may enter God's temple. There is unbelief, which silences the voice of prayer in professed believers; worldliness, which puts material organization in the place of spiritual power; pride, which prevents hearty fellowship amongst God's people; expediency, which usurps the throne of truth; and self-indulgence, which expels self-devotion. So the temple is defiled; for "know ye not that ye are the temple of God?" Jesus Christ felt burning indigo-nation when he saw the sanctuary of his Father transformed into a place of worldly traffic, and he feels it still as he beholds a Christian community desecrated by the power of sin.
II. THE DESECRATED TEMPLE NEEDS CHRIST AS ITS PURIFIER. We too soon get accustomed to evils, and tolerate them, until One mightier than ourselves alone can expel them. What priests and Levites failed to do, Jesus did, and none resisted him.
1. His coming was an act of sublime condescension. It would have been far pleasanter to him to go into the fields, where the sower cast his seed; or to sail over the lake, in which fishermen plied their nets; or to walk over the hillsides, on which the flowers whispered of his Father's love. He knew what the temple was, yet he did not forsake it; but came again and again, in spite of the unreality and sin that prevailed in it. As willingly he will enter the heart or the Church, which is unworthy of his presence.
2. His coming was not such as might have been expected. The Jews had often read the words, "The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple," etc., but as they were looking heavenward the prophecy was fulfilled by the coming of this young Galilean Peasant. As they waited in vain for a startling advent, so some now wait for a special manifestation of his presence, and ignore the fact that he is already with them in the holy thoughts which they refuse to welcome. "Behold, them standeth one among you, whom ye know not." It is the realized presence of the living Christ which will purge the heart or the Church of evil thought and habit, and transform it into the temple of the Most High. May he, who is the source of spiritual power and heavenly purity, come amongst us and abide with us for ever!—A.R.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The royal entry into the royal city.
Simple indeed are the preparations for the entry of Zion's King into his own city. "Go your way into the village that is over against you: and straightway as ye enter into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon no man ever yet sat; loose him, and bring him." The long-waiting prophecy is now to be fulfilled—
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem:
Behold, thy King cometh unto thee:
He is just, and having salvation;
Lowly, and riding upon an ass,
And upon a colt the foal of an ass."
And the daughter of Zion did rejoice greatly. What a scene of gladness! What a shout of triumph! They bring the colt covered with their garments, while the way is prepared by the soft branches of palms scattered and loose robes cast upon the ground. And the lowly, mighty King enters, and the cries rend the still air.
Blessed is he that cometh
In the Name of the Lord:
Blessed is the kingdom that cometh,
The kingdom of our father David:
Hosanna in the highest."
There are times when truth bursts through all that hides it, and declares itself as the sun through a rent cloud. So is it here. Without restraint the children of Israel proclaim their King as did Pilate when he wrote, "The King of the Jews." True, Pilate did not believe, nor did the shouting crowd at the gates of the city for long together. The same walls soon heard the cry, "Crucify him! crucify him!" But for the time the truth prevails. It is uppermost. As in the Transfiguration, the hidden glory is revealed. Perhaps unconsciously, these voices bear witness to the truth. It is a scene to carry in the eye, to be engraven on the heart. Let us learn—
I. THAT TRUE ROYALTY NEEDS NOT THE SYMBOLS OF AUTHORITY. It is not stituted or upheld by them; it is not destroyed by their absence. Christianity is independent of external support.
II. THAT IMMUTABLE TRUTH WILL SOONER OR LATER ASSERT ITSELF. Yea, though it may be rejected, it will leave its testimony for following ages of faith and unbelief to ponder according to their respective needs.
III. THAT THE REAL AND PERMANENT RULER IS HE WHO COMETH IN THE NAME OF THE LORD. Other kings and other kingdoms will rise in a temporary prevalence of power, and fall into dark oblivion and disgrace. But the true will quietly assume its rightful place, whether men accept or reject, Jesus is a King. "To this end have I been born." Jesus is "King of the Jews," though their priests cry aloud, "We have no king but Caesar." Jesus is the King of kings. But the kingdom is "not of this world," nor will it pass away as the kingdoms of this world. It abideth for ever. And happy is the man who is a true and faithful subject under this heavenly reign.—G.
The barren fig tree.
How changed is the scene! The great King entered into the royal city, and the great High Priest into the holy temple. Then—O significant words!—"he looked round about upon all things." Alas, what scenes caught those calm eyes! in the eventide he left Jerusalem, accompanied only by the twelve. On the morrow,, returning again to Jerusalem from Bethany, where he had spent the night, "he hungered." A mere touch of the pen discloses a link of connection between him and every one who in hunger seeks and has not his daily bread. But a "fig tree having leaves" from "afar" attracts his keen sight, and "he came, if haply he might find anything thereon," as the leaves which usually appear after the fruit promised. Alas, his hope is mocked! "He found nothing but leaves." Then he, who giveth nature its greenness, who maketh the fig tree to blossom, and hangeth the fruit on the vine and the olive, uttered his "curse" in prohibiting it to minister any more to the wants of man. The morrow finds it "withered away." There were watching disciples for whose use this and the other trees grew in the great garden, and this must be used for their highest good. By it he will impress upon their hearts a solemn truth. It is a parable enacted. But the parable goes unexpounded, while a great lesson on faith in God is given. By common consent, this withered tree conveys a deep teaching on immature professions. Following so immediately after the jubilant cry of yesterday, it seems to speak in condemnation of that all too hasty and untrustworthy demonstration, those shouts of welcome to the King of Jerusalem which would be so seen exchanged for the cry of repudiation, "We have no king but Caesar." The strength of the tree is exhausted in the immature foliage. This seems to point to the immature haste of profession made by them who cried "Hosanna!" and who would show how vain the hopes would be that relied upon that cry, for in a few days it would be exchanged for "Crucify him!" It was the one visible curse of him who in reality curses everything that is false and pretentious. Significantly it is related, "and his disciples heard it." The morrow declares that the Lord's word is a word of power, as the drooping leaves and dried-up branches and trunk, even "from the roots," declare. Peter's exclamation draws forth from the Master a profound reply, which seems designed to lead the thoughts of the disciples away from all that is false, unreal, and untrue, on which they may not place their hope, to him who is worthy of their faith, and who never disappoints them that trust in him. Henceforth this fig tree stands before us as—
I. A SYMBOL OF INSINCERITY, or of that uncultured strength which is presumption.
II. A SIGN OF THE DELUSION AND DISAPPOINTMENT WHICH MUST FOLLOW FROM TRUST IN EMPTY, UNNATURAL BOASTS AND PROMISES. Many are dependent upon, or at least influenced by, the professions of others. There are weak souls that lean upon stronger ones for support, who are comforted and strengthened by their fidelity, or led astray by their dejection.
III. Therefore this must be A SOLEMN WARNING AND ADMONITION TO ALL TO TRUST IN THE TRUSTWORTHY. And in this case, perhaps, not to commit themselves to the frail, unworthy cry of an excited multitude, but to have calm faith in God, who can sweep away the false and delusive, the weak and fruitless fig tree, and with equal ease the firmly rooted mountain from its place. The "mountain" may have found its antitype in the firmly fixed power that waged its opposition to the world's Redeemer, and would soon hang him on a tree. That which could not satisfy the hunger, and that which could crush and overwhelm the King, were equally amenable, as is every mountain and every deceitful thing to the mighty power of God, invoked by a faith held in a true spirit.—G.
The cleansing of the temple.
Jesus came to "bear witness unto the truth." One truth was the sanctity of that "house of prayer" which was opened for "all the nations." But have the rightful guardians of that house preserved for it this sacredness, that the feet of the wearied and the heart of the sorrowful of all nations might be allured within its hallowed walls, where in humble penitence and prayer, and with strong cries to the God of heaven and earth, they might find rest and peace and shelter? Nay, verily. Cruel covetousness has let out the sacred enclosure for gainful purposes. The love of money, the root of this evil, has led men to sell God's house to purposes of merchandise; and, if worse could be, to trickery and thieving. Ah, they robbed God of his rightful honor; and they robbed the poor, and the sorrowful, and the homeless, and the heart-sick, and the sin-sick, of the one place of refuge where they might find peace and healing and rest! They turned the "house of prayer" into "a den of robbers." In the place where men might seek heavenly blessing, they filched earthly pelf. Sin is great in proportion to its nearness to the restraints of righteousness. How great, then, was this! Their cry was, "This is the place for money-changers and barterers, for pilferers and thieves." So great a lie must be contradicted by "the Truth;" even if he lose his life in doing it. The true fire burns in his breast: he cannot be silent. The zeal: of the Lord consumes him. He takes advantage of the popular enthusiasm which now for a time runs in his favor. The astonished multitude "hung upon him, listening." And though he needs not their help, yet he disappoints not their hope. He put forth his own regal authority, and with his word and holy hands "cast out" the traders, "overthrew" the tables of "the money-changers," and refused to allow men to desecrate the holy pavement by carrying burdens over it. Nor would he "suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple." It might be asked—How could he do this single-handed? Apart from that Divine power which now and again he restrained not, "the chief priests and the scribes feared him," and the multitude stood" astonished at his teaching." Cowardice and guilt are always staggered at religious enthusiasm. In this incident we may learn—
I. CHRIST'S DEFENCE OF THE SACREDNESS OF PLACES DEDICATED TO PURPOSES OF WORSHIP. It is his high testimony to the efficacy of prayer, that the very place where it is offered is holy ground. If all places are holy in his view, all are not to be used indiscriminately. There is an appropriate place for each work. And sacred places are devoted to sacred acts. This is here declared to be according to Christ's will.
II. CHRIST'S DECLARATION THAT THE INTRUSION OF EARTHLY AFFAIRS INTO THE HOUSE OF THE LORD IS A WICKED AND UNWARRANTABLE DESECRATION. HOW strongly this speaks against intruding worldly thoughts into acts of Divine worship, and worldly motives into holy service! He who "set a bound for the waters that they may not pass over," has forbidden the trespass upon the threshold of his house of anything that is "of the earth, earthy."
III. With a view to the encouragement of prayer among all the nations, THE HOUSE OF THE LORD IS CONSECRATED FOR THEM TO THIS PURPOSE. It cannot, however, be that only one house should be opened. It is, therefore, the house in every nation that is so opened is consecrated and sacred whither the tribes of men may go up to offer worship and service, to present the sacrifice of song, to seek help and rest and mercy.
IV. But through all the teaching there runs a deeper truth: THE CLEANSED AND CONSECRATED TEMPLE OF THE HEART WHERE THE LORD IS TRULY WORSHIPPED MUST BE PRESERVED FREE FROM CORRUPT DESECRATION, The hidden place, the quiet solitudes of the soul where prayer is to be truly made, may not be polluted by trickery and deceit. And the very consecration of it as a temple where God may be approached declares that it need not be a place of burdens; for he will speak the word of faith and peace, will ease and comfort the troubled, will give rest to the weary, and solace and salvation to the tempted and tried. Happy the man whose heart is a pure temple of God!—G.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The symbolic triumph.
I. THE ASSUMPTION OF AUTHORITY BY CHRIST. He issues his mandate, as having a pre-emption or right to be served before all others. The act was the more impressive because standing out in rare contrast to the ordinary tenor of Christ's conduct.
II. THE MILD POMP OF HIS ENTRY. He is acknowledged with loyal shouts as King and Lord. Hosanna is "Save now!" The words of acclamation are cited from a "Hallelujah" psalm (Psalms 118:25, Psalms 118:26), which both celebrates and foretells deliverance. His kingdom prevails by truth, meekness, and love. May "his unsuffering kingdom" come!
III. THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE POSITION ASSIGNED HIM IN PROPHECY. He is the predicted King and Savior, the Representative of God upon earth. Thus in this cheerful, humble scene of instructive, popular gladness, and rejoicing, we have an emblem of the progress of Christianity through the world.—J.
God's house vindicated.
THE TEMPLE WAS DESIGNED AS A RELIGIOUS CENTRE FOR THE NATIONS. It contains the idea of the Divine house, and therefore of the home for all men.
II. THE ASSOCIATIONS SHOULD BE SUCH AS BECOME THE PLACE. "Peace and purity should be maintained in the service of God." The Church should be like the home. The associates of traffic and the passions it excites should be shut out.
"Let vain and busy thoughts have there no part;
Bring not thy plough, thy plots, thy pleasures thither.
Christ purged his temple; so must thou thy heart.
All worldly thoughts are but thieves met together
To cozen thee. Look to thy actions well;
For churches either are our heaven or hell."
III. IN THE RELIGIOUS CALLING MEN ENJOY GREAT ADVANTAGES, AND ARE EXPOSED TO GREAT TEMPTATIONS. Religion intensifies all it touches. "We become better or worse in dealing with sacred things" (Godwin).—J.
The witthered tree.
I. DESTRUCTION MAY SERVE THE PURPOSES OF LIFE. Here the fig tree is destroyed for the sake of a lesson to the spirit. Much lower life is destroyed from day to day that the higher may be preserved.
II. THE INCIDENT ILLUSTRATES THE RESERVE OF CHRIST'S MIRACULOUS POWER. He could destroy; that was evident. But he came not to destroy, but to save. And while he lavished his power upon the sick and suffering, to heal, cheer, and deliver, he economized the dread power of destruction. Compare what is said on this subject in 'Ecce Homo!'
III. FAITH THE ONE SECRET OF POWER. Our Lord here employs, as often, a bold figure of speech. To the undivided thought and will nothing is ideally impossible. Actually our power is limited, as is our thought. But we are born for the ideal, and to overcome our limitations. Prayer is essentially part of faith; it is the exercise of the will, the entire going-forth of the man in that direction in which he is called endlessly to exert himself.
IV. LOVE IS AN ESSENTIAL CONDITION OF TRUE FAITH. Faith works by love. How mistaken is it to limit faith to intellectual assent! Devils believe, but love not, and are weak. Faith and love are other words for the might of God in the soul. "Oh, my brothers, God exists! Believing love will relieve us of a load of care!"—will lift mountains' weight from the spirit, and make our ideals a present reality. But the unloving, unforgiving soul remains fettered in itself, unreleased, unfree, and weak.—J.
I. THE SPIRIT OF FAULT-FINDING NEVER LACES FOOD. The action is wrong; or, if it is right, it is done from a wrong motive, or done by the wrong person. "Ill will never said well."
II. IT ASKS FOR REASONS, BUT REFUSES TO GIVE THEM. It will call others to account, and refuse to give account of itself, The arbitrary temper is directly opposed to the "sweet reasonableness of Christ."
III. THE UNTRUE MAN THINKS ONLY OF POLICY IN HIS ANSWERS. The true man thinks of the fact, and tries to get at it and state it. The other, of how much he can afford to tell; how much 'twere well to keep back. "Truth should be the first question with men, not consequences."
IV. THERE IS A USE IN SILENT C0NTEMPT. Christ, so ready to discuss with candid inquirers and give instruction, here holds his peace. Sometimes the rule is, "Answer a fool according to his folly;" sometimes, "Answer him not according to his folly." Truth and the good of souls must be our guide. "Incompetency may be exposed and assumption resisted for the sake of truth."—J.
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passages: Matthew 21:1-11; 14-17; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19.—
Our Lord's public entry into Jerusalem.
I. JOURNEY FROM JERICHO. Jerusalem is at an elevation of three thousand six hundred feet above Jericho in the Jordan valley. The distance between the two cities is upwards of fifteen miles. Travel-stained and weary with this uphill journey, gradually ascending all the way, our Lord stayed over sabbath with the family of Bethany, where he got rested and refreshed. Bethany, which St. John calls "the town of Mary and her sister Martha," is fifteen furlongs, or nearly two miles, from Jerusalem, and gets its name from the fruit of the palm trees that once flourished, there, signifying "house of dates." It is now called Azariyeh, from the name of Lazarus, and in memory of the miracle wrought in raising him from the dead. Next day, being the 10th of Nisan, or 1st of April—the day on which the Paschal lamb was set apart—was the day chosen by him, who is our true Paschal Lamb, for his public entry into Jerusalem, there to be sacrificed for us. Of the caravan of pilgrims that accompanied our Lord and his disciples in the journey from Jericho, some had proceeded onward direct to the holy city; others had pitched their tents in the wooded vale of Bethany; and others, again, on the western slopes of Olivet, opposite to and in full view of the city. Those who bad advanced to Jerusalem had, it is probable, brought word thither of the approach of the Prophet of Nazareth.
II. PUBLIC PROCESSION. The life and ministry of our Lord were fast drawing to a close. The time of his departure was at hand. There is no longer need of enjoining secrecy with regard to his miracles, or of concealment in respect of his office, lest public excitement might ensue, or lest his work might be interfered with or interrupted by the opposition of enemies, before the seed of truth, which he had sown by his discourse's and parables, should get time to take root in the public mind. Publicity rather than secrecy is now needed. The great Passover Lamb is to be sacrificed, and so the Priest is on his way to the place of sacrifice; the Prophet is going up to the house of God to renew the work of reformation, to rectify abuses, to restore, or at least exhibit, the purity befitting the service of the sanctuary, and to teach daily, as he did, in the temple. Above all, the King is going up to his capital; the daughter of Zion is to receive her King with rejoicing. Hitherto he had indeed gone about continually, doing good, yet with little or no outward show; save by the crowds that followed for healing or hearing, and on some rare occasions and with some signal exceptions, he had been little recognised, being rather "despised and rejected of men." Now the time has come for him to announce his kingdom and claim the honor of a King. The public avowal of his dignity, the official declaration of his Messiahship, and the formal proclamation of his kingdom, now behoved to be made. He was now going to assert his right to reign. Now, for the first and only time, he assumes somewhat of royal state in entering his metropolis. Nor yet was there anything very great or very garish in this exhibition of royalty; the whole was carried out in lowly guise. Christ was indeed a King, but King of the realm of truth; and his entrance into Jerusalem was a royal procession—a right royal one, though in a spiritual sense. He was King, but not such a King as the multitude, and even his disciples, expected. He was not a King coming with chariots and horses, with battle-bow or weapons of war, as earthly rulers and worldly conquerors; but "just, and bringing salvation." He was the spiritual King of an unworldly, but universal and unending kingdom.
III. OMNISCIENCE APPARENT IN HIS ORDERS. In the directions which our Lord gives his disciples, probably Peter and John, to go to the village over against them—perhaps Bethphage, which means "house of figs"—there are several particulars so precise, minute, and striking, that they imply superhuman knowledge. How else could he tell them beforehand
(1) that immediately on entering the village they would find an ass and her colt;
(2) that they were not loose, but tied, and so ready to be employed by their owner;
(3) that that colt had never been tamed, or broken in, and that no man had ever sat on its back;
(4) the exact position in which the colt would be found—not in the courtyard, but outside; at the door, yet not in the public street, but on a road that ran round (ἀμφόδου) the rear of the house or village;
(5) that in case of any demur on the part of persons standing by, they should reform them for whose use it was required; and
(6) that the ready consent of the owner would be obtained—"and straightway he will send them"? Another reading of this latter clause has the future, and adds πάλιν, so that the sense is, "He [Christ] will send it back again."
IV. THE HUMBLE YET HEARTY PAGEANT. All was done as had been directed. The colt was brought and led quietly along, its mother by its side, accompanying it. Then the disciples cast their abbas, or outer garments, on them, and set Jesus upon them—ἐπάνω αὐτῶν being either on the garments, or on one of the animals. The former view is that of Theophylact, who refers the pronoun to the garments, saying, "Not the two beasts of burden, but the garments;" so also Euthymius, Beza, and many others. Many explain the pronoun of the beasts of burden, but understand it variously—some supposing our Lord to have mounted them alternately; others supplying τινός, as Krebs and Kuinoel; and others, again, having recourse to an enallage of number; while some copyists have ventured to substitute αὐτοῦ or αὐτῆς. The intention of the disciples was to do their Master royal honor in the true Eastern style of improvising, and just as in Old Testament times, a throne had been extemporised for Jehu, as we read in 2 Kings 9:13, "Then they hasted, and took every man his garment, and put it under him [Jehu] on the top of the stairs, and blew with trumpets, saying, Jehu is king." Scarcely had the disciples prepared the housing and got their Master mounted on the colt thus caparisoned, when the very great multitude, or rather the most part of the multitude, not to be outdone in devotion and loyalty, strewed some their garments, while others cut down branches off the trees or out of the fields (ἀγρῶν, read by Tischen-doff and Tregelles), and spread them in the way. Thus the streaming multitude from Galilee, from Bethany—some before, some behind the central figure of the Savior—tapestried the line of march with their garments, or strewed it with fronds (στοιβάδας, a rare word, as if στειβάδας, from στείβω, to tread; and thus, that which is trodden on, a litter of leaves or bed of small leafy branches, then the material of such, viz. young branches). It may perhaps be worthy of note, that in the former case the aorist (ἔστρωσαν) is used to denote the throwing down of their garments as a thing done readily and at once; while the cutting of the branches and the spreading of them in the way, as requiring mere time, are expressed in the imperfect; that is, they kept cutting them and continued strewing them as they proceeded. Many similar tokens of honor and respect are on record, and practiced even to the present day. Thus, when Mordecai issued from the palace of Ahasuerus, the streets (Targum on Esther) were strewn with myrtle; like honor was shown to Xerxes by his army before crossing the Hellespont; so also, as we are informed by Robinson, in his 'Biblical Researches,' the Bethlehemites threw their garments under the feet of the English consul's horses at Damascus, when they had come to implore his aid. In the 'Agamemnon' of AEschylus, too, we read that the doomed monarch, when entering the palace on his return to Mycenae, was, in imitation of the barbaric pomp of Eastern kings, tempted to walk on costly carpets.
V. A PEACEFUL THOUGH TRIUMPHAL PROCESSION. The lowliness of the animal was in keeping with the character of the procession. It was humble, yet right royal. The ass in the East is stately, sprightly, sleek, and shiny; it is highly esteemed, and employed alike for work and riding. Persons of rank used it commonly for the latter purpose. Thus we read of Balsam, of Caleb's daughter, and of Abigail riding on asses. Moses' wife rode on an ass, as she went down with her husband from Midian into Egypt. At a still earlier period it was the same animal that Abraham rode on that eventual day, when, rising early in the morning, he saddled his ass and went to offer his son Isaac in sacrifice. It was, moreover, the animal on which the judges of Israel rode, as we learn from such passages as the following:—"Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment;" so also Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel two and twenty years, "had," as we read, "thirty sons that rode on thirty ass colts, and they had thirty cities." We have evidence of the same in Jacob's blessing of his sons, when he says of Issachar that he is "a strong ass, couching down between two burdens." Animals unyoked or unused were employed for sacred purposes; thus, in Numbers 19:2, it is written, "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke;" again, in 1 Samuel 6:7, "Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke." Thus it was every way suited to the procession, sacred and solemn, peaceful and royal, that advanced on this occasion towards Jerusalem. The horse, on the other hand, would have been unbecoming in such a procession, since the horse was the emblem of war from an early to a late period in Hebrew history; thus, in Exodus 15:1-27 we read, "Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea;" and also in Jeremiah 8:6, "Every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle."
VI. THE PROCESSION FROM THE CITY. Another crowd of persons, passing out of the city gates, crossed the Kedron, and advanced in one long continuous line up the opposite side of Olivet till it met the procession that accompanied our Lord. The persons that composed this crowd had been attracted by the miracle of the raising of Lazarus, and they bore their willing testimony to that stupendous fact, as St. John informs us (John 12:17), where we read ὁτι, that, instead ὁτε, when, " The people therefore that was with him bare record that he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead." The people from the city bore in their hands palm branches, the emblems of victory. In the ancient games the crowns were various—olive, laurel, pine, or parsley; but in every game the victor bore in his hand the palm branch of victory. Accordingly, with these palm branches in their hands, they welcomed him as victorious over death and the Conqueror of the king of terrors. Soon the crowd from Jerusalem and the multitude from Bethany met and mingled; and now all united formed one grand triumphal procession, the like of which had never climbed or crossed that hill. before.
VII. THE ENTHUSIASM. The enthusiasm had reached its height. Hitherto the acknowledgment of the Savior's kingly power was confined to actions—those of himself and his disciples; now the multitudinous voices of the united crowd made the welkin ring with shouts of triumph. The proclamation, no longer limited to action, now found utterance in words—words in which the men of Bethany and the people from Jerusalem all took part, saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" as we have it in the Gospel by St. Matthew. This term "Hosanna! "was originally a supplication, signifying "Save now!" and thus some understand it here, "Grant salvation to the Son of David!" as the Hebrew verb from which it comes is sometimes followed by a dative. It would in this way be nearly equivalent to "God save the king!" It may, however, be better understood as a joyful acclamation of welcome to the Savior-King long promised, but now present, like the Io triumphe of the Romans or the paean of the Greeks. "Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord!" Here we have one of the designations of Messiah, who was spoken of as the Coming One; ages had passed, but still his arrival was a matter of expectation; centuries had roiled away, but his advent was still future. And now that he has come, it is in the name, invested with the authority and bearing the commission, of the great Jehovah. He came as the Vicegerent of God on earth, and as the Mediator for man with heaven. On the occasion hero referred to, the crowd accorded him a most cordial welcome and received him with truly regal honors. So enthusiastic were they in the reception of their Messiah, that they did not confine themselves, in expressing their gratulation, to the well-known words of the familiar psalm; carried away with the outburst of general joy, they expressed in their own spontaneous utterances their fond anticipation of his Messianic reign, saying, "Blessed is the kingdom that cometh, the kingdom of our father David!" for David was the great theocratic king, and eminently typical of Messiah's kingly power. "Hosanna in the highest!" that is, the highest places or the highest strains. So difficult did they find it to express their exuberant joy, and to vent their feelings of jubilation, that they appealed to Heaven itself to give its sanction, and called as it were on the heavenly hosts to join them and take part in their exultation, heaven and earth being presumed of one accord and in perfect unison on the subject. Another explanation makes the words mean "in the highest degree," in order to convey still greater intensity of feeling; while a third regards it as an address to the Most High, equivalent to "O thou that dwellest in the heavens, save, we pray; for all salvation owns thee as its Source!"
VIII. FULFILMENT OF OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURE. The fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy is here noticed by St. Matthew. "Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass," is the prediction in Zechariah 9:9; or the exact rendering of the last clause may rather be, "and sitting upon an ass (chamar), even a colt (air), son of she-asses (athonoth)," the ve being exegetical. The evangelist, in quoting the prophet's words, informs us that the purpose of what now transpired was their fulfillment. The meaning of ἵνα here, as in other similar passages, is either telic, or final, "in order that;" or ecbatic, that is, eventual or consecutive, "so that." If the word be taken in the former sense, it marks the Divine purpose, and with God purpose and result are coincident; if in the latter sense, it is a consequence, or the evangelist's reflection on the circumstance of what had been foretold being duly fulfilled. That ἵνα had acquired in later Greek a weakened or modified meaning, so as to stand midway between purpose and result, or even to denote the latter, is pretty generally admitted.
IX. PRACTICAL REMARKS.
1. A cause of circumspection. This is one practical effect of Christ's omniscience. He had perfect knowledge of the state of matters in and round the village whither he sent his two disciples on the errand we here read of. He told them beforehand where the animal he wanted would be found and how it would be found—the how and where; the inquiry that would be made of them and the answer they were to return, and the readiness with which the desired permission would be granted them. It is a natural and indeed necessary inference that he is equally acquainted with ourselves—our persons, situations, and circumstances. He knows perfectly the great things and the little things of our histories; our condition and conduct in matters the most minute, as well as in those we deem of most importance. From all this we learn the necessity of circumspection. The old Roman wished his house so constructed that all that transpired inside might be seen outside—that to the eye of every passer-by the interior of his dwelling and all that was done in it might be visible. The Savior's eye penetrates not our houses merely, but our hearts. All we think, as well as all we say and all we do, is every moment uncovered to his inspection and open to his cognizance. How circumspect, then, we should be! Who would not shrink from having exposed to the view of neighbor or friend or kinsman every thought that lies deep down in the recesses of his heart? Who would care to have every word he utters in the secret chamber made known to his fellow-man? And who would feel quite at ease if he knew that the eyes of some great man or nobleman or prince rested on all his actions throughout an entire day? How careful we are to have things presented in the best possible light, when we expect the presence of some person of consequence or superior rank for the space of a few hours! Oh, then, how we should feel chastened and subdued by the thought that One greater than even the greatest of the kings of the earth knows all we do, hears all we say, and is cognizant of all we think; and that, not for a few hours of a single day, but every hour of every day! Surely this reflection, if duly realized, would be a powerful help to make us circumspect in thought and word and work, guarding our hearts, "for out of them are the issues of life," "keeping the door of our lips that we offend not with our tongue," and using circumspection in all our works and ways.
2. A source of consolation. The presence of a friend is often most encouraging. The consciousness that a friendly eye is upon us in time of difficulty, or emergency, or at some critical juncture, is a source of strength, inspiring with courage and stimulating to energy. In sorrow or suffering, also, a sympathetic eye goes a long way to give relief, or, where that is out of the question, to sustain us in our sufferings. But to know that from behind the silent blue of the arching heaven a friendly eye is ever on us, a friendly heart ever beats in sympathy with us, a friendly hand is ever stretched forth to wipe away the tear of sorrow, is a source of comfort unfailing as unspeakable. The little things that vex us, the heavy griefs that crush us, our afflictions, whether physical, or mental and more inward, are known alike to that Friend who never changes, and who never fails nor forsakes us.
3. A ground of confidence. The fulfillment of God's Word in the past and at the present is one of the surest grounds of confidence in time to come. St. Matthew, writing in the first instance for Hebrew Christians who had the prophecies in their hand, and were thus in a position to compare prediction with performance, and having, besides, a special propensity in that direction, is careful to note the fulfillment of prophecy, and to draw the attention of his countrymen to the fact. The prediction referred to in this passage had preceded its fulfillment by five centuries and a half; but it did not fail. God's words are "pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times;" not one of them shall ever fail or be falsified.
"How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!"
4. Human inconstancy. A heathen moralizes on the fickleness of popular favor; it is changeable as the breeze. The psalmist no doubt had experience of it, when he hastily concluded and hurriedly said that all men are liars; but though his generalization was, as subsequent experience taught him, too sweeping, yet he had had sufficient ground for his statement just then. Hence we have the salutary caution in another psalm, "Trust not in princes, nor man's son." Paul upbraids the Galatians with their changeableness, when he says, "I bear you record, that, if possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?" A great and good man, now with God, having had a bitter experience on one occasion of the variableness of human favor, wrote down in his diary the cool but cutting words, "Is it strange that men and the moon should change?" Yet never were the fickleness and consequent worthlessness of human popularity so strikingly exemplified as in the case of the crowd that shouted long and lustily, Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest! but just four days after, and before the week was out, cried long and loudly, "Crucify him! crucify him!" What a lesson is thus taught the follower of Jesus! What a warning to set little store by human favor and popular applause!
X. THE TEARS JESUS SHED OVER JERUSALEM.
1. The sight of the city. Of the three roads that led over the Mount of Olives—one between the two northern crests, a second right over the summit,—the third, or southern, then as now the main road, and the one most frequented from Bethany, was that by which the procession was approaching the city. At a spot where it winds round the southern ridge of the hill, the city, by a turn of the road, is at once brought full in view. At the descent from this shoulder of Olivet, "when he was come near, he beheld the city," looking across the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Its temple, its buildings, its dwellings, rising full before him, were all seen in the clear air of a Judaean sky; at the same time, its guilty inhabitants and their future fate were equally open to his eyes.
2. Jesus weeps. He paused and pondered. The sight of that splendid capital, the knowledge of its crimes, the remembrance of God's mercies, the thought that it might have been spared if, like Nineveh, it had known the day of its visitation and the things that belonged to its peace,—all these considerations awoke the sorrow and called forth the sympathy of the Savior. "Jesus wept over it," as St. Luke informs us. He dropped a tear in silence (ἐδάκρυσεν) at the grave of Lazarus, a departed friend; but in view of the doomed city of Jerusalem he shed a flood of tears, weeping aloud (ἔκλαυσεν). But while his tears testified his love and showed his tenderness, his lips pronounced the city's fearful doom.
3. His affecting apostrophe. "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!" Jerusalem had its day, and in vain was that day protracted. "If thou hadst known, even thou," O ill-fated city; even thou, with all thy guilt; even thou, who hast so long abused the forbearance of a long-suffering God; even thou, who hast been so often reproved, and yet ever hardened thyself against reproof; even thou, who hast had so many warnings from the prophets of God and apostolic men; even thou, whose children I would have gathered as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings; if thou, oven thou, after so many days of mercy and of privilege have been misspent, after so many days of grace have been lost and for ever; if thou, even thou, hadst known, at least in this thy day, in this thy last day of privilege and of promise, in this thy last day of heavenly ministration, in this day of merciful visitation still thine, though the eleventh hour of thy existence and the eve of thy destruction! Never was apostrophe to place or person so tender, and never was aposiopesis so terrible; for the sentence is suddenly broken off and left unfinished; the clause which should state the consequence is omitted. After this omission the Savior pauses, and then adds, "But now they are hid from thine eyes." The sentence might be taken as the expression of a wish: "Oh that thou hadst known the things that belong to thy peace!" and the sense would have remained the same and the sentiment equally solemn.
4. Application to ourselves. Our Lord's address on this occasion is as practical as it is pathetic. Personally applied, what an appeal it makes to each one of us! Jerusalem had its day, patriarchs and prophets had their day, evangelists and apostles had their day, ancient Jews and early Christians had their day, the apostolic and other Church Fathers had their day, the schoolmen and the reformers had their day, our forefathers and the men of preceding generations had their day; but "our fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever?" Now, the present is our day. God says to each of us—This, the present, is thy day! Let conscience re-echo the solemn truth, for the past is gone, and gone for ever; the future is to come, and may never come to us; the present is all we can call our own. This, then, is our day; for "now is the accepted time, and now is the day of salvation."
5. The purpose for which it is vouchsafed. Day is not merely a measure of time, or portion of duration, or period of light, or a unit of a month or of a year, or a fragment of existence, made up of so many hours; it is that season for getting good and doing good which God has given us, and which he has assigned us for accomplishing the work for which he sent us into the world. It is thy day, reader; for God has given it to thee for a great purpose, and that purpose is the securing of thine own eternal well-being and the welfare of thy fellow-creature, and in both the glory of the great Creator. It is thy day; for it is thy property as long as Heaven is pleased to continue the boon. It is thy day; but not thine to waste or misspend; it is not thine to while away, or trifle away, or sin away, at thy option. It is thine; for it is a talent lent, a treasure given you by God, and for which thou shalt have to render an account. It is thy day for imitating the Savior in working the work of him that sent thee: and "This is the work of God, that ye believe in him whom he hath sent;" "This is his commandment, that we should believe on the Name of his Son Jesus Christ;" this is thy day for attending to the conditions of peace, the things that tend to and make for peace, such as the righteousness of Christ received by faith, repentance of sin, and reformation of life. It is thy day for cultivating personal and practical religion in thine own soul; thy day, moreover, for the discharge of the duties of relative religion, because, in a certain sense, every man should be his brother's keeper, and no man is to live wholly to himself, or to seek entirely and selfishly, and therefore sinfully, his own things only, but to look also upon the things of others. It is thy day to do something for God, something for the Church, something for the world, endeavoring to leave it better than you found it—something useful in thy day and generation.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 21:12-22; Luke 19:45-48.—
The blighting of the barren fig tree.
1. Miracles of mercy. Mercy has been called God's darling attribute; judgment is his strange work. The only-begotten Son, who has declared the Father unto us, has manifested the selfsame character. His miracles are miracles of mercy—all save two. Of these two, one was permissive and punitive, when our Lord allowed the devils to enter into the swine of the Gadarenes; the other, which is recorded in this passage, is a sort of symbol such as the old prophets used when they inculcated any solemn utterance, or wished specially to impress any predicted event. This custom was common in New as well as in Old Testament times. Thus Jesus washed his disciples' feet. Thus also Agabus, when he foretold Paul's imprisonment at Jerusalem, symbolized the fact by taking the apostle's girdle and therewith binding his own hands and feet, saying, "So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle." In like manner our Lord, by this miracle of the blasted fig tree, most symbolically and significantly sets forth the blight of barrenness which so justly fell upon the Jewish people, and which is sure to fall upon any people or any person who has only the leaves of an outside profession, but who wants the fruits of a genuine faith or a heartfelt piety. To pronounce a curse on a senseless tree might appear meaningless—it might even seem vindictive. Not so, however, when the Savior, in order to express the hopes which the appearance of the tree excited, and the disappointment which its want of fruit occasioned, devoted that tree by a striking figure to future and for ever fruit-lessness. He thereby converts that tree into a symbol of the hypocrite or false professor, be he Gentile or be he Jew; and makes it a danger-signal, at once to warn us of the danger and ward off the doom.
2. Judgment succeeds the abuse of mercy. Another lesson which our Lord teaches us by this tree is the consequence of abused mercy. When mercy has been abused, judgment must succeed. The day of grace does not always last; and when that day has passed, and its privileges have been misused, the axe is then laid to the root of the tree, that it may be hewn down and cast into the fire. Such was the case with the body of the Jewish nation at the very time this miracle was wrought. Their day of grace was expiring. Their heart had remained untouched by that most pathetic appeal, "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!" Now, however, they were hid from their eyes. A woe similar to that pronounced on Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum had gone forth against all that people, notwithstanding the fact that they had once been the people of God, and notwithstanding the many and great privileges which they had enjoyed, as well as the loud and leafy professions they had made.
3. The relation of the miracle of the fig tree to the parable of the fig tree. The fact of this relationship should be kept in view. The miracle narrated in this passage and the parable recorded by St. Luke are in a great measure the converse of each other. The parable of the fig tree long spared through the intercession of the vine-dresser, and this miracle of the fig tree suddenly withered to the very roots, are to a large extent the right opposite of each other. The one represents mercy pleading, the other judgment suddenly and surely Overtaking the guilty; the one the long-suffering kindness of God, the other the swift vengeance of Heaven; the one mercy prevailing over judgment, the other judgment without mercy; the one a tree spared in hope of fruitfulness, the other a tree suddenly scathed to the very earth because of its barrenness. There is, however, one point, and only one point, in common; and that is, the end of continued unfruitfulness is cursing, the end of barrenness is burning, and the end of all leaf and no fruit is the speedy execution of the sentence, "Bind them in bundles, and burn them."
4. A comparison and a contrast. In the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, we find a beautiful comparison and an awful contrast; by the former the lesson of the parable is enforced, and by the latter the warning of this miracle receives a solemn sanction. "The earth," we there read, "which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them for whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned."
II. OUR LORD'S DISAPPOINTMENT.
1. He hungered. The Savior was on his way from Bethany to Jerusalem. It was in the morning, and he was hungry. This may appear strange. What had been the matter with the friendly family of Bethany, under whose roof our Lord had been so often and so hospitably entertained? Had they forfeited the high character for hospitality which they had so well earned? Had they forgotten its rights and become inconsiderate towards their Guest—a Guest whom they so highly honored, and who had such claims upon them? Had they forgotten his wants, or neglected to supply them? Had Martha ceased her thrift, and given up her housewifery? Be this as it may, it could be no intentional neglect, much less a studied slight; it must have been some strange oversight. Or, as our Lord's time on earth was soon to terminate, and as much was to be done that day, perhaps he left Bethany at an earlier hour than usual; and, doing so, he could not wait till the customary hour for breakfast, and would not allow the household arrangements to be broken through for his convenience. Or perhaps he wished to reach the temple in time for the morning sacrifice at nine o'clock, before which time a devout Jew seldom broke his fast. Or perhaps he was so intent on his Father's business, and so intensely absorbed in his own great work, and so rapt in contemplation of its grand results, that he neglected the food provided for him. Or, in the absence of any direct statement, and where we are left to conjecture, we may suppose that it is just possible that he had shunned the shelter of any roof, and spent the previous night in prayer on some lone hillside or other sequestered spot. At all events, the broad fact stands out that he, by whom all things were made, became hungry; that he, who had fed thousands in a wilderness with a few loaves and fishes, would fain have satisfied the cravings of appetite with a few unripe figs.
2. Leafage without fruitage, or all leaf and no fruit. The district through which our Lord passed on his way, as he went from Bethany to Jerusalem, was a fig region. A village by the way had its name from this very circumstance; that village was Bethphage, which, as we have already seen, means "house of figs." Journeying through this district, he would, as might be expected, see many fig trees. His eye, however, rested on one at some distance. From St. Matthew's special mention of this one fig tree we conclude that there must have been something peculiar in its appearance. Our Lord singled it out from all or any in the district. It was rich in leaves, and so, full of promise. We must have in recollection the well-known fact in reference to the fig tree, that it puts forth its fruit before its leaves. The leaves of the fig tree, when they appeared, warranted the expectation of the figs. The leaves of this tree, visible to a distance, must have been large and numerous, and thus they held out the hope of abundant figs. The leafy honors of the tree bespoke its abundant fruitfulness. On the other hand, we are informed that "the time of figs was not yet," by which some
(1) understand that the fig harvest had not yet come—the time of gathering the figs had not yet arrived. According to this understanding, in which Wakefield, Wetstein, Newcome, Campbell, Bloomfield, and others coincide, while the leaves indicated the existence of figs on the tree, the season of the year intimated with equal certainty that they had not been gathered off the tree; whatever fruit, therefore, the tree had, it retained. Figs there should have been, and if the tree had been true to its promise, figs there would have been. Figs there should have been still on the tree, for they had had time to grow, but not yet time to be gathered. There was every reason to expect figs on that fig tree, still green they might be, still immature, and not yet fully ripened. And yet this forwardness of the foliage implied the forwardness of its fruit. The advanced state of the one naturally induced the hope of a proportionately advanced state in the other. But not so. Our Lord approaches this goodly tree, but no fruit is there—not one fig among all its branches, not one fig among all its leaves. We must notice another explanation of the supposed difficulty in the words "for the time of figs was not [yet]." We put aside at once such attempted explanations as that of Heinsius, who, by accenting and changing the breathing, read οὗ instead of ου) the negative, and rendered accordingly, "for where he was, it was the season of figs," that is, fruits ripened in Judaea considerably earlier than in the less mild climate of Galilee; also the still more forced interpretation of those who read the clause interrogatively, viz. "for was it not the time of figs?" and the no less objectionable explanation of καιρὸς in the sense of a favorable season, for in that case the season, not the tree, would have deserved the malediction; or in the signification of favorable weather, as Olshausen. All these, however ingenious they may appear, are evasive shifts and no more. But, discounting them, we find an interpretation other than that first given and simpler, which,
(2) understanding the reference to be to a precocious or premature foliation, takes the words in their plain and natural sense. It was not the time or season of figs—"denn es war nicht Feigenzet," as Fritzsche properly renders it; but this tree antedated the season by putting forth its leaves prematurely. The appearance of the leaves was unseasonably early; still, as their appearance implied the prior existence of fruit, the passer-by was thus invited to approach the tree, and induced to expect and hope for fruit. The show of leaves, though not the season of the year, favored this expectation; accordingly he came, if therefore (ἄρα), as it was reasonable to expect from the tree having leaves, he shall find anything in it (ἐν αὐτῇ) within the compass of this umbrageous tree, among its leaves and branches. But though he came (ἐπ αὐτὴν) close upon it, right up to it, yet, notwithstanding his nearness to it, and the narrowness with which he inspected it, he found nothing but leaves.
3. Symbol of profession without performance. According to either of the explanations above given, either (1) or (2), especially perhaps the latter, that large fig tree, with its fine foliage and luxuriant leaves, occupying, as it did, a prominent position near the wayside, and visible far off by reason of its grand proportions and magnificent appearance, was nothing better than a huge practical lie, an embodied falsehood, a palpable untruth. That tree made a promise, but it broke it; it held out a hope, but it disappointed it; it professed much, but performed nothing. Never was there a more striking symbol of any people than that fig tree was of the Jews. They had enjoyed covenant promises and covenant privileges and covenant hopes, and their professions corresponded therewith. These were their leaves, but they had no real fruitfulness. They occupied a high and prominent position; theirs were a very fruitful hillside—the horn of the son of oil—an exceedingly fertile soil, glorious fostering sunshine, and rich refreshing dews; "they were Israelites; to whom pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises;" but they proved themselves unworthy, shamefully unworthy, of these favors. They had commandments and ordinances; they made loud professions and long prayers; they were strict in certain religious observances, and scrupulous in their ritual. In some things they went beyond the letter of the Law, for they tithed rue and anise and cummin; but, in matters of much greater magnitude and really enjoined by the Law, they fell short, and were in fact woefully deficient. God "looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry." They called themselves children of Abraham, but they had none of that precious faith that so distinguished Abraham. They were proud of Moses, their great lawgiver, but they attended not to the Prophet to whom Moses pointed as greater than himself, and to whom he commanded them to hearken. They professed themselves expectants of Messiah, but when he came to them they received him not. They were no better than the dark world around—"a world that knew not when he came, even God's eternal Son." We need not trace further the application of this symbolic fig tree to the Jews; let us see its application to Gentiles also.
4. Adumbrative of Gentile as well as Jew. There may be the leaves of profession without any corresponding fruitfulness in the case of Gentiles as well as of Jews. This symbolic fig tree may have a personal application to ourselves. We may profess Christ to please men, to keep up appearances, to maintain a respectable position, or advance in some way our worldly prospects. We may rest in a mere form; we may have a form of Godliness without the power; we may have a name to live, and yet be spiritually dead; we may be content with the outward visible sign, and care nothing for the inward spiritual grace. This was the complaint of God against his professing people in the days of Ezekiel. "They come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not." Here is the too common defect of profession without practice, naming the name of Christ and not departing from iniquity. Others, again, it is to be feared, are downrightly insincere; they put religion on like a cloak, and lay it aside when it suits them; like their Sunday clothes, they wear it on the sabbath, but lay it past throughout the week. They impose on their fellow-men, they trifle with the Almighty, and deceive their own souls.
5. The Savior's dissatisfaction with barren professors. Many a time Christ comes to professors, and when he finds no fruit, no figs, no real goodness, nothing but leaves, oh, how he is disappointed! Many a time he is wounded in the house of his friends; many a time he has reason to be indignant with the false professor; many a time religion is scandalized by the leaf of profession and the life of sin. We can conceive Christ coming to such professors and saying—Was it for this you trod my courts? for this you joined yourself to my people? for this you sat at my table? for this you took the cup of salvation in your hand? for this you avouched yourself to be the Lord's in solemn sacramental action?
6. His remonstrance. Besides the expression of just indignation, there is tender remonstrance on his part. That remonstrance may be supposed couched in some such terms as the following:—After all my care for you, and love to you, and provision for your salvation; after all my goodness and grace to your soul; after all my sufferings, both in life and death; after all my agony of soul and anguish of body; after the many precepts I have given you, the exhortations I have addressed to you, the warnings I have sent you; after all the checks of conscience, and after all the strivings of my Spirit, is this the return you make me? Have you so soon forgotten your covenant engagements; so soon forgotten all your vows; so soon belied the profession you made, saying by act, if not by word, "O Lord, I am thy servant: thou hast loosed my bends"? Have you so soon and so sadly violated your pledged allegiance expressed in the words, "I am not my own; I am bought with a price; and bound therefore to serve the Lord with body and spirit, which are the Lord's"? God forbid that this should be the case with any of us! May better things be hoped, and reasonably hoped, of us all, and "things that accompany salvation"! Let our motto be, "Now being made free from sin, and become servants of God, we have our fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." Let our conduct be in accordance with the statement, "I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?" Let our meditation be on "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report;" and "if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise," let us "think on these things."
III. DOOM PRONOUNCED ON THE FIG TREE.
1. He stereotypes its state. Christ does not make this fig tree barren, he only stereotypes its barrenness; he found it in that state, and, as far as its condition of barrenness was concerned, he left it pretty much as he found it. It bare no fruit before, it should bear no fruit afterwards, and so no fruit for ever. As far, however, as his own action was concerned, he did more; for he withered its leaves, he scathed its trunk, he blighted it both root and branch. It was cursed, and so devoted to barrenness; it was dried up from the roots, and so inevitably destined to decay; it was completely withered, and so doomed to entire destruction. To the present hour the Jew has an unmistakable resemblance to this symbolic fig tree. Nationally, he is barked and peeled; he is a tree of which the branches are withered; he is one of a nation on which the blight of Heaven rests; the curse has come upon them to the uttermost. He has neither Church, as in days of old, nor State, nor proper nationality. He has neither temple, nor priest, nor sacrifice. He is still doomed to the "wandering foot and weary breast"—one of a people resembling this withered fig tree to which the curse of Heaven clings.
2. Applicability of the symbol to our own case. What is the conclusion from all this, and what is its connection with ourselves? Just that of which the apostle, in writing to the Romans (Romans 11:21, Romans 11:22) speaks: "For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off."
3. Responsibility pertaining to the Church of God. It is no light matter to have the Church of God in our midst, its ordinances dispensed to us, its sacraments enjoyed by us, its doctrines proclaimed to us, its duties declared to us. What weighty responsibilities does all this impose? "Unto whomsoever much is given, of them shall much be required." What a blessing, if we improve these privileges, and know the time of our merciful visitation! What a millstone weight of condemnation is hung about our neck, when, in the full enjoyment of ordinances, we prove ourselves at once unfaithful and ungrateful? We see here what Christ expects of us, and what he has every right to expect. He sees on us the leaves of profession; he requires the living power of religion in our souls. He beholds the leaves of confession; he demands correspondence of character, conduct, and conversation. He has heard your proclamation with the lips to the effect, "Henceforth shall the Lord be my God;" he looks, therefore, for piety of heart and purity of life. He observes with you the show of Godliness; he will not be satisfied unless you diffuse the savor of it all around. Truth binds you to this; you have sworn, and must not go back; you have vowed, and must fulfill your vow; you have avouched the Lord to be your God, and the covenant entered into may not be broken, except at terrible risk. Gratitude binds to this. What shall we render unto the Lord for all his gracious benefits and gifts to us?
"Love so amazing, so Divine,
Demands my heart, my life, my all."
Consistency binds to this. What can be thought of any one who enters into the most solemn engagements and then practically repudiates them? Our welfare, both for time and eternity, binds to this; for "blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labor of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee."
IV. APPLICATION OF THE WHOLE.
1. Think for a moment of the awful doom of this withered fig tree. It is the doom of every hypocrite and of every false professor. The first blessing pronounced on man was fruitfulness; one of the severest curses is barrenness. The leaf of the merely nominal Christian will soon wither; it will soon decay and die. There is no root, and so even the leaf of profession will not last long; no faith, and so no fruitfulness; no principle, and so no practical Godliness. The sparks of his own kindling make but a flickering light at best; and that light, bad as it is, soon goes out altogether in utter darkness. "The wicked is driven away in his wickedness, but the righteous hath hope in his death."
2. As it fared with the Jews, so will it fare with every individual who abuses God's mercies by continued unfruitfulness. God's ancient people has been unchurched, and, if we may so say, unpeopled; and if this was done in a green tree, what shall not be done in a dry? The seven Churches of Asia had been unfaithful, and the candlestick was removed out of its place. So with the African Churches—Alexandria, Hippo, and Carthage.
3. God looks for fruit, and claims it as his due. The more fruitful you are, the more is he glorified. "Herein," said the Savior, "is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit;" the more, also, is your own soul benefited and blessed. Often, when men become unfruitful, and prove false to their vows, neglecting God's ordinances, and abusing his mercies, he gives them over to judicial blindness of mind, hardness of heart, sacredness of conscience, or to strong delusion, or to a famine not of bread but of bearing the Word of the Lord. Sickness, or age, or poverty, or removal of their habitation, deprives them of the once possessed, but little esteemed and much abused, mercies. So with Ephraim; he is "joined to his idols: let him alone."
4. During our walks in summer or early autumn we used to see a tree withered and decayed; its leaves were gone, its bark peeled off, and its branches quite bare. Near to it on every side were trees green and leafy, healthy and vigorous, beautiful and flourishing. How ghastly looked that naked skeleton tree beside them! We often said as we passed it by—What a true type of a barren professor, "twice dead, plucked up by the roots"!
5. From this miracle our Lord took occasion to speak of the wonders which faith works, and to urge the necessity of faith to the success of prayer.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 21:23-32; Luke 20:1-8.—
Christ's authority questioned.
I. CAUSE OF CHRIST'S AUTHORITY BEING CALLED IN QUESTION. The ostensible cause was the events of the preceding day; the real cause Satan's opposition to the work of Christ. On the day before he had displayed his zeal for the sanctity of God's house and the purity of its worship. He is now called to account because of the extraordinary efforts he bad made to put a stop to the public profanation of the house of God, and because of the no less extraordinary authority which he had exercised. Such appears to be the right reference of the ταῦτα in the question, though along with the purging of the temple may be included the miracles of healing that had been performed on the blind and lame who, as St. Matthew informs us, had resorted to him in the temple. Others, with less probability, refer the word to his teaching; for "he taught dally in the temple," as we read in St. Luke. All these, together with our Lord's triumphal entry, had sorely displeased and greatly discomfited the Jewish rulers, who now proceeded to call his authority in question. But the prime mover of this cavilling opposition was Satan. He was pursuing his usual tactics. Good is often done in an informal way, or by voluntary agencies, or by very humble instrumentalities; and Satan, when the fact of the good done is undeniable, stirs up men to impugn the authority or assail the commission of those Christian workers by whom the good is done, thus endeavoring to raise a false issue and stay its progress.
II. GREED OF GAIN VERSUS GODLINESS. The Church has its counterfeits as well as the world; there is no class altogether free from false disguises. Some, perhaps many, of those unholy traffickers who were desecrating the temple so that a second cleansing of it within the short period of three years had become a necessity, fancied they were doing God service and accommodating his worshippers; while their own sordid and selfish interests—their own love of gain and usurious greed—were their real and actuating motives. Was it strange that our Lord was roused to indignation, and resorted to the most active measures to expel from the sacred precincts those dealers in sheep and oxen, with their droves of cattle, those dove-sellers and money-changers, who, under the pretext of supplying the requisites for sacrifices to such as came from a distance, and the temple half-shekels to foreign Jews for their larger coins or coins with heathenish images and inscriptions, had their heart set on driving a profitable trade in this matter of the sacrifices, and their eye fixed on the κόλλυβος, or twelfth of a shekel, as the agio of exchange; while the noisy bargainings, unseemly wranglings, and general hubbub made the house of God resemble one of those caves where robbers quarrelled over their ill-got gains?
III. OUR LORD'S ANSWER TO THE QUESTION ABOUT AUTHORITY. The twofold question about our Lord's authority and its source was put by a deputation from the Sanhedrim—a deputation representative of the three chief sections of that body: namely, chief priests or heads of the twenty-four classes; scribes, the theologians or authorized interpreters of Scripture; and the elders or heads of the principal families. The question of this formidable deputation called forth a counter-question on the part of our Lord; nor was there any evasion in this. By asking them whether John's baptism was of heavenly or human origin, he effectually answered their question, and put them into a dilemma from which there was no escaping. If they admitted John's mission to have been from God, the matter was settled at once and decisively; for John had testified most positively and repeatedly to the Divine mission and consequent Divine authority of Jesus, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world;" and declaring that he would "baptize with the Holy Ghost." The alternative of John's mission being derived from a human source was what they dared not face, for it would bring them into collision with the crowd, and they were too cowardly for that.
IV. THE UNFAIRNESS OF THE QUESTION OF THE SANHEDRIM. Had they not had evidence of Jesus' authority in his exceptionally sinless life in the midst of all the temptations of a sinful world? Had they not evidence of his Divine authority in his teaching?—"for he taught as One having authority, and not as the scribes;" in "the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth"?—for the universal testimony was that "never man spake like this Man." Had they not proof in the miracles which he wrought—not prodigally, but properly and appropriately?
"But who so blind as those who will not see?
And who so deaf as those who will not hear?"
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany