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The former part of this chapter acquaints us with our Saviour's solemn and triumphant riding into the city of Jerusalem: he who in all his journies travelled like a poor man on foot, without noise, and without train; now he goes up to Jerusalem to die for sinners, he rides, to show his great forwardness to lay down his life for us: the beast he rides on is an ass, as the manner of kings and great persons anciently was, and to fulfil that prophecy, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold thy king cometh riding upon an ass Zechariah 9:9. It was also an ass upon which never man sat before; signifying thereby, that the most unruly and untamed creatures become obsequious to Christ.
Grotius observes, that such animals as had not been employed in the use of man, were wont to be chosen for sacred uses. Even heathens adjudged those things most proper for the service of the gods, which had never been put to profane uses. Thus in 1 Samuel 6:7. we read that the Philistines returned the ark in a new cart, drawn by heifers never before put into the yoke; they thinking them polluted by being put to profane work. Our Saviour here chooses an ass which had never been backed before; and that the colt should so patiently suffer Christ to ride upon him, was miraculous. And this was a borrowed ass, whereby our Saviour right to all the creatures was manifested; and accordingly he bids his disciples tell the owner that the Lord hath need of him.
Observe lastly, What a clear and full demonstration Christ gave of his divine nature; of his omnisciency in foreseeing and foretelling the event; of his omnipotency, in inclining the heart, and overruling the will, of the owner to let the colt go; and of his sovereignty, as he was Lord of the creatures, to command and call for their service when he needed them.
Observe here, The obedience of his disciples. First, They did as Jesus had commanded, they do not dispute their Lord's commands, nor raise objections, nor are afraid of dangers: when our call is clear, our obedience must be speedy; what Christ commands we are not to dispute, but to obey.
Observe, 2. The actions of the multitude in acknowledging Christ to be their King; they cast their garments on the ground for him to ride upon, according to the custom of princes when they ride in state; and do not only disrobe their backs, but expend their breath in joyful acclamations, and loud hosannas, wishing all manner of prosperity to their meek but mighty King. In this princely, yet poor and despicable pomp, doth our Saviour enter the famous city of Jerusalem.
O how far was our holy Lord from affecting worldly greatness and grandeur! He despised that glory which worldly hearts fondly admire; yet because he was a King, he would be proclaimed such, and have his kingdom confessed, applauded, and blessed. But that it might appear that his kingdom was not of this world, he abandons all worldly magnificence. O glorious, yet homely pomp! O meek, but mighty Prince!
Some move the question here, how Christ came to curse a tree for want of that fruit which the season afforded not? It is answered, that naturalists observe, that the fig-tree puts forth her fruit as soon as her leaf; that tree is always bearing; and while one fig is ripe, another is green. And whereas it is said, that the time of figs was not yet; the meaning is, "That the time of in-gathering of figs was not yet," but the tree having leaves, showing it might have fruit: accordingly Christ goes in expectation of it having fruit; but finding none, either ripe or green, he curses the tree for totally disappointing his expectation.
Besides, Christ was wont not only to speak, but to work parables; and this action of his was typical, an emblem of Jerusalem's destruction in general, and of every person's in particular, that satisfies himself with a withered profession; bearing leaves only, but no fruit; as this fig-tree was, so are they, nigh unto cursing.
From whence note, That all such as content themselves with a fruitless profession of religion, are in geat danger, of having God's blasting added to their barrenness.
No sooner had our blessed Saviour entered Jerusalem, but his first walk was to the temple, and his first work there was to purge and reform. All reformation of manners must begin at the house of God.
Yet observe, Our Lord's business at the temple was not to ruin , but reform it only. Places dedicated to public worship, if profaned and polluted, ought to be purged from their abuses, not pulled down and destroyed, because they have been abused. But what was the profanation of the temple, which so offended our Saviour; I answer, in the outward court of the temple there was a public mart or market kept, where were sold oxen, sheep, and doves, for sacrifice. Many of the Jews coming an hundred miles to the temple, it was burdensome to bring their sacrifices so far with them; wherefore the priests ordered that sheep and oxen, meal and oil, and such other requisites for sacrifice, should be had for money close by the altar, to the great ease of the offerer; nothing could be more plausible than this plea. But the fairest pretences cannot bear out a sin with God. Therefore our blessed Saviour, in a just indignation, whips out these chapmen, casts down their tables, and vindicates the honour and reputation of his Father's house.
Learn hence, That there is reverence due to God's house, for the owner's sake, and for the service sake. Nothing but holiness can become the place where God is worshipped in the beauty of holiness.
Observe lastly, The reason which our Saviour gives for this act of his: Is it not written, says he, my house shall be called the house of prayer? Where by prayer is to be understood the whole worship and service of God, of which prayer is an eminent and principal part. That which gives denomination to an house is certainly the chief work to be done in that house. Now God's house being called an house of prayer, certainly implies, that prayer is the chief and principal work to be performed in his house. Yet take we heed, that we set not the ordinances of God at variance, we must not idolize one ordinance, and vilify another, but reverence them all.
The blasting and sudden withering of the fig-tree at the word of Christ, plainly shewed his divine power, and by this miraculous operation, our Saviour designed to shew his disciples the mighty power of faith; that is, a full persuasion of the power of God, that he is able, and of the goodness of God, that he is willing, to grant whatever we ask according to his will, that has a tendency to his glory and our good.
Learn hence, That faith is a necessary and principal ingredient in prayer praying without faith, is like to a man's shooting without a bullet; it makes a noise, but doth no execution.
Secondly, That whatsoever good thing God had made the matter of his promise, shall be given to good men in a way of perfromance, provided they pray in faith. Whatsoever ye desire, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
There are two qualifications requisite in prayer, if we expect to find acceptance with God, namely, faith and love; to the first Christ had spoken in the former verse, to the latter in this. When ye shall stand praying, forgive. It was ordinary for the Jews to pray standing, yet in their solemn days of fasting they did kneel, and prostrate themselves before the Lord; but the Christians usually kneeled down and prayed, Acts 9:40.
Now the command here to forgive those that offend us before we pray, shews,
1. That no resentments of what our brother doth, should stick long upon our spirits, because they indispose us for that duty we are to be continually prepared for.
2. That there is some sort and kind of forgiveness to be exercised towards an offending brother before he asks it, and though he doth not shew any token of repentance and sorrow for it; because I am to pray for him out of love to him, and must lift up pure hands, without wrath.
Learn hence, That they who are sueing for, and expecting forgiveness from, God, must exercise forgiveness towards others, or else their prayers are a sort of imprecations on themselves.
2. Observe, Christ speaks indefinitely; When ye pray, forgive. He doth not say, your brethren, but men: If we forgive men their trespasses Matthew 6:14; that is, all men, good and bad, friends and enemies; if we forgive one another freely, our heavenly Father will forgive us fully. Our forgiving one another is the indispensible condition of God's forgiving us, and of hearing the prayers which are put up by us.
The Pharisees having often questioned our Saviour's doctrine before, they call in question his mission and authority now, although they might easily have understood his divine mission by his daily miracles; for Almighty God never impowered any to work miracles that were not sent by him.
Our blessed Saviour understanding their design, answers them one question by asking them another: says Christ, The baptism of John, was it from heaven or of men? Was it of divine institution, or of human invention? Implying very plainly, that the calling of such as call themselves the ministers of God: ought to be from God: No man ought to take that honour upon himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron Hebrews 1:4.
The Pharisees reply, They could not tell whence John had his mission and authority; this was manifest untruth. By refusing to tell the truth, they fall into a lie against the truth; one sin ensnares and draws men into the commission of many more. Such as will not speak exact truth, according to their knowledge, fall into the sin of lying against their knowledge and their conscience.
Our Saviour answers them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. He doth not say, I cannot, or I will not tell you, but I do not, I need not tell you; because the miracles which I work before you are a sufficient demonstration of my divine commission, that I am sent of God amongst you; for God never set the seal of his omnipotence to a lie, nor impowered an impostor to work real miracles.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Mark 11". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27