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By What Authority?
I. The Principle of Reservation. God reserves to Himself the right to restrain when He sees fit that full manifestation of Himself which some men nevertheless demand of Him. There are some men, some women, in whose heart there has frequently risen up something of this resentment: 'Why must I live in a state of imperfect knowledge, which is the result of a limited revelation?' And this incomplete manifestation of Himself by God for so I may call it has been felt, even where there was far too much reverence and fear, too much humility to resent the limitation of the revelation given. It is well that we should look this fact plainly in the face. It was not only unto the Scribes and the Pharisees, and the idle gaping crowd that our Lord acted upon this principle of reservation when He was here on earth, it was so with His own disciples. How plainly do their words and actions convey to us the idea of men who knew that they lay under a sense of mystery that they could not fathom! How is the great central mystery of the Incarnation, for example, ever present in His teaching, and yet who shall deny that it is ever shrouded? How guardedly He speaks of the new birth by water and the Word; how mysteriously in the Blessed Sacrament of His own Blood and Body! It is enough for them to be told that, 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God'. It was enough for them to be taught that they must do this, and 'except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you'.
II. The Revelation Sufficient And yet shall we dare to say that the teaching which God in His mercy has vouchsafed to us, and the revelation that He has given to us, is insufficient? How much evidence of authority had He already given to those very Scribes and Pharisees! Sick persons had been wonderfully cured, the poor shrinking lepers had been made clean, sweet light had streamed into sightless eyeballs. Only a few days before, a crowd of those Jews had seen Lazarus come forth from his tomb. Those who asked Him this very question as to His authority had never denied these facts they had never dared to deny them. Yet you know what they had done they had hardened their hearts and shut their eyes against them. It was possible for them to know long ere this by Whose authority He did these things. So for us it is possible to know, and to know with great certainty too, of Christ and His authority, to know Him on His cross dying for our sins, and to know Him awakening within our own individual hearts a sense of guilt, to know Him sending us individually the blessed message of forgiveness, to know Him as He deigns to hold communion with our reconciled spirits. The struggle may be hard, but the victory is sure.
III. Conditions on which Knowledge Is Attainable. There are conditions on which this knowledge is attainable.
(a) Purity of heart. If you would believe in God, said even such a one as Rousseau if you would believe in God, live in such a manner that it is necessary for you that He exist.
(b) Obedience. There are men who question authority because they mean to obey no will but their own. There are times when a spirit of independence seems to rise in a nation or in a community, as there are times when in an individual the imagination dreams of a mistaken freedom and questions authority, when men demand to know the authority which bids them to be self-restrained, but nevertheless mean to yield obedience to none. Or, short of this, there are others whose demand for authority is simply a demand of idle curiosity. It has been well said that there is boundless danger in all inquiry which is merely curious! It is to such our Lord answers, and will ever answer, 'Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things'. When men ask questions of Almighty God by the answer to which they never mean to rule their lives, let them not think that to them any sign will be given. The will must be set to do the will of God before the intellect can act with discernment on spiritual truth.
(c) Earnestness. A life of trifling here is not the life of those who are enlightened by their God. God must be really sought if God is to be truly found. It may be difficult to say why the eyes of some are so strangely holden that they cannot find Him. I know nothing more perplexing than to watch and see, and sometimes be made participator in, the doubts and difficulties of unbelief. It is not difficult to see why they are not permitted to pierce within the veil or to find the hidden presence of their God. For 'the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, the violent take it by force'.
A life of earnest seeking is a life of finding, but God's truth is too sacred a thing to be expounded to superficial worldliness. Let me add this one word more. There are others tried by intellectual difficulties, yet athirst for the living God and for a fuller revelation to their souls. The time of granting this revelation rests with Him, and to them that revelation will be given. The answer to their cry will come; they shall know the doctrine whether it be of God; He will tell them by what authority He does these things.
References. XX. 9-16. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 20. XX. 9-19. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 284. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 190. XX. 13. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 15. XX. 16. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 214.
The Stone That Grinds to Powder
I. As far as regards things and laws which are on the same plane as those referred to in this parable, most people know that we cannot do as we like; that if we act in harmony with rational convictions it will go well with us; that if we pay no heed to them we shall suffer. In thousands of cases, too, men spontaneously, unhesitatingly conform to nature and its laws.
II. When it is a question of men's own bodies the principle I am referring to has, however, far less influence and control than when it is a question of our relations to the external world; though even there a great improvement has taken place.
III. As we approach the sphere of mind, of spirit, we discover that this idea of reality and law has less and less control over men's thoughts and conduct.
IV. But let us now deal more directly with the words of Christ Himself in the light of these general truths. 'Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.' (1) The first point we need to press upon ourselves is the reality of Jesus Christ: I mean, of course, His present reality: His present reality for us. (2) The next point that arises out of the text is that Christ is a reality with which every man has to reckon. (3) A third point is, that if you stumble at Christ, if you neglect His claims, if you treat Him as if He did not exist, you inflict serious injury on yourselves. (4) Still further, to enter into positive conflict with Christ is to ensure our own utter ruin. 'On whom that stone shall fall, it shall grind him to powder' stronger language could scarcely be used to describe the effect of a deadly encounter with Jesus Christ
D. W. Simon, Twice Born and other Sermons, p. 166.
References. XX. 20. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 267. XX. 22. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 392.
It appears to us a ridiculous prudery to say that a moral teacher is bound to discuss casuistry with a set of political spies; and that, if the question be only well-chosen and real, he is to be unaffected by the malicious purpose of the questioners.... When people ask what they do not want to know, it is not merely a silly softness, but an irreverence to truth itself, to produce it to be spit upon or abused to crime. As to the particular mode in which Jesus parried the question of his enemies, nothing, we think, could be more admirable.... The retreat of Jesus from the casuistry of faction to the permanent relations of the soul, his hint that, amid the changing pressures and coercions of the world, an imperishable realm remains open for human fidelity and Divine communion, we cannot but regard as not only an acute escape from artifice, and a wise check to zealotry, but in the highest degree dignified, beautiful, and profound.
References. XX. 23. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 362. XX. 24. A Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 59. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 195. XX. 34, 35. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 31. XX. 35. J. M. Whiton, Beyond the Shadow, p. 81. J. B. Brown, Aide to the Development of the Divine Life, No. 10. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 108. XX. 36. H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Reading, p. 416. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 113.
The Resurrection of the Body
J. H. Newman writes in his sermon entitled 'The Resurrection of the Body': Our Blessed Lord seems to tell us that in some sense or other Abraham's body might be considered still alive as a pledge of his resurrection, though it was dead in the common sense in which we apply the word. His announcement is, Abraham shall rise from the dead, because in truth he is still alive. He cannot in the end be held under the power of the grave, more than a sleeping man can be kept from waking. Abraham is still alive in the dust, though not risen thence. He is alive because all God's saints live to Him, though they seem to perish.... His angels, surely, guard the bodies of His servants; Michael, the Archangel, thinking it no unworthy task to preserve them from the powers of evil.
References. XX. 37, 38. J. N. Bennie, The Eternal Life, p. 209. Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1863. XX. 38. Basil Wilberforce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 328. Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, ibid. vol. lxx. p. 232. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 302. XX. 45-47. Ibid. vol. iv. p. 263. XXI. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 71. XXI. 1-3. T. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 55. XXI. 1-4. J. M. Bennie, The Eternal Life, p. 118. XXI. 1-6. R. Allen, The Words of Christ, p. 299.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 20". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
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