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We now enter upon the crowded and peculiarly solemn events of the great week of our Saviour’s career, His last week—the passion week (Morison).
Matthew 21:1. Jerusalem.—The Jerusalem of that day, with “its imperial mantle of proud towers,” was regarded as one of the wonders of the world. Tac., Hist., Matthew 21:8 (Farrar). In every respect this city is the mysterious and wonderful flower of history; in its situation, in its history, in its religious position, and especially in its symbolical character. The city lay high; and the hills around came first into view, over which it spread gradually into the higher and lower city; the hill of Zion being the centre—Zion, Moriah, Bezetha, Akra. Then the valleys, which made it a natural fortress: toward the west the Valley of Gihon; toward the south-west and south, Ge-hinnom; toward the east, the Valley of Kidron, bounded by the low hill of Gihon, the Mount of Evil Counsel, and the Mount of Olives with its three peaks. The city belonged to the inheritance of Benjamin, but was for the most part inhabited by the tribe of Judah (Lange). Bethphage.—Is by some supposed to have been close to Bethany; others place it on the summit of Olivet, where the Arab hamlet of Et Tôr now stands. A third possible site is the present village of Silwân, especially if we may suppose the name to be a corruption of Beth-Aphek, and to mean “House of the Fountain” (En Rogel). The position and the name are, however, alike doubtful (C. R. Conder, R.E.). The Mount of Olives.—Bounds Jerusalem on the east, and rises considerably higher than Mount Zion. It is the only one of all the “mountains standing round about Jerusalem” which comes quite close to the city. It is more of a ridge than a mountain, and has four distinct summits, from the loftiest of which a magnificent view is commanded at once of the city on the western side, and of the wilderness of Judæa, the course of the Jordan, and the towering mountains of Moab on the other or eastern side (Morison). The olives and olive-yards, from which it derived its name, must in earlier times have clothed it more completely than at present (Stanley).
Matthew 21:2. The village.—Probably either Bethphage or Bethany. An ass.—Oriental travellers describe the high estimation in which the ass is held in the East (Carr).
Matthew 21:3. He will send them.—The owner was probably, in some sense, a disciple of Jesus.
Matthew 21:4. Spoken by the prophet.—The passage referred to is quoted from Zechariah 9:9. It is quoted freely, however, and in a condensed form. And the Evangelist, while quoting it, had been thinking on another Messianic oracle, which goes delightfully abreast with it, and which is contained in Isaiah 62:11. From this other oracle he adopts the introductory expression, “Tell ye the daughter of Zion” (Morison).
Matthew 21:5. Thy King.—This was the first occasion on which our Lord distinctly put forth His claim to royalty (Gibson).
Matthew 21:8. A very great multitude.—The most part of the multitude (R.V.). Part of the crowd had come with Him from Galilee, part streamed from Bethany, excited by the recent resurrection of Lazarus (John 12:17). Some went before Him, some followed. As they advanced they were met by a fresh crowd pouring forth from Jerusalem. Of the latter, St. John records that they came out with palm-branches in their hands, as if to salute a King with their symbols of triumph. Cf. Revelation 7:9 (Plumptre). Spread their garments.—Oriental mark of honour at the reception of kings on their entrance into cities (2 Kings 9:13) (Lange).
Matthew 21:9. Hosanna.—It was a kind of holy hurrah. The word “hosanna” is the Greek form of a Hebrew phrase occurring in Psalms 118:25, and meaning “O save!” It is thus remarkably like the aspiration or petition that is breathed in our national anthem, “God save the Queen!” And as salvation, in its fulness, is just life, or eternal life, the petition breathed is equivalent to Live! or Live for ever! and is thus tantamount, in the original import, to the French Vive! and the Italian Viva! While, however, the original import of the Hebrew word is O save! the term lost, in its current usage, its precise primary idea, and came, like its modern equivalents, to be just a peculiar form of a hearty acclamation, expressive of a mingled combination of approbation, admiration, and deep desire (Morison). He that Cometh (Habba) was a recognised Messianic title (Carr). In the highest.—There can be no doubt that the expression means in the highest places, i.e. in the heavens; and this is generally admitted by critics. But the import of the entire acclamation, “Hosanna in the heavens,” is a matter of much dispute. We could not say, “Hurrah in the heavens!” But the Hebrews could say, most appropriately and beautifully, “Hosanna in the heavens!” They could use such a complex acclamation because:
1. Hosanna originally means O save! and:
2. The highest salvation possible is consummated, and must be consummated, in the heavens. But when the word hosanna, losing its original supplicatory force, came to be used as a mere acclaiming expression of the highest good feelings, the appended phrase, which owed its peculiar appropriateness to the primary import of the exclamation, just served to intensify, to the highest degree possible, the expression of good wishes. May the richest blessings of heaven be showered upon thy head! Grotius thus was not so very far wrong when he interpreted the expression as meaning—in a holy kind of way—three times three! (Morison.) The parallel passages in Mark 11:0 and Luke 19:0 should be studied.
Matthew 21:10. All the city.—By a census taken in the time of Nero it was ascertained that there were 2,700,000 Jews present at the Passover. We may picture the narrow streets of Jerusalem thronged with eager, inquisitive crowds demanding, with Oriental vivacity, in many tongues and dialects, “who is this?” (Carr). Was moved.—The word in the original is forcible, “convulsed” or “stirred” as by an earthquake, or by a violent wind. Cf. Matthew 27:51 and Revelation 6:13, where the same verb is used (ibid.).
MAIN HOMILETIGS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 21:1-40.21.11
The kingdom claimed.—We see the Saviour here in an attitude of a novel description. He goes back, as it were, to what was claimed for Him soon after His birth, when the wise men came to worship Him as born King of the Jews (ii.). He does so, also, in much the same way as was done for Him then. The wise men did not find their King in circumstances of power and display. Neither does this King appear now, as it were, in the purple, notwithstanding the marked explicitness of all that He does. Nothing is meeker, indeed, as nothing is plainer than the claim that He makes. This two-fold character may be traced—first, in the preparation He makes for entering Jerusalem; secondly, in the homage He accepts when so doing; and, thirdly, in the prophecy He fulfils.
I. Preparation for entry.—How noticeable the fact, in His case, that there should be such preparation at all! Such careful choice of messengers! Such specific directions! Such thought for contingencies! Such a general and unusual appearance of “state” (Matthew 21:2-40.21.3). How still more noticeable the special method by which this preparation is effected. As Artaxerxes did for Ezra (Ezra 7:8-15.7.9), as the Roman Legionaries afterwards did when they “impressed” (Matthew 27:32, R.V., margin) Simon the Cyrenian to “bear the cross,” so did the Saviour do in this case. “The Lord hath need of them” (Matthew 21:3). That is how He then “requisitioned” what was necessary for His service. Was there not, also, a touch of the same in the choice of animal made? As became a king it was to be one which had never before been employed in that way. So Mark 11:2; Luke 19:30 (cf. John 19:41). So, perhaps, Matthew also (undesignedly), in noticing the fact that the animal employed was accompanied by its “mother” (Matthew 21:2; Matthew 21:7). yet, when it came, it was but a lowly creature at best; not such as had been half promised once in connection with that place (Jeremiah 22:4); and only such as a peaceful sovereign (so Wordsworth) would employ. Altogether, therefore, so far, about as unassuming an entry as a royal entry could be!
II. Homage accepted.—This also was marked by that double character of which we have spoken. It was so, on the one hand, in the way of action and deed. The animal ridden on was caparisoned by the garments of the disciples—the best that they had for the purpose on hand. The way was strewn by the multitudes with branches cut down from the neighbouring trees—the best they could obtain for that purpose. All, therefore, in its significance was befitting a king. And yet, on the other hand, in its nature, how unlike that which most kings would expect! What were the garments of the disciples and the branches of the multitude to the purple hangings and gorgeous trappings and costly array with which other sovereigns would have come in? So, on the other hand, of the homage paid now in the way of language and voice. The royal lineage of the Saviour, the more than royal dignity of His mission, the fitness of the occasion for the very highest of praises (Matthew 21:9), are all expressly and loudly acclaimed; and the Holy “City” itself, also, is therefore “stirred” to its depths, because understanding all this (Matthew 21:10). It feels as it listens that it is listening, indeed, to the “shout of a King” (cf. Numbers 23:21). And yet, at the same time, as in those previous cases, how different a note can be easily heard! “Who is this?” the city cries out as it catches the sound of this manifestly royal approach. “This is Jesus, the Prophet of Nazareth in Galilee,” is the reply it receives. A mere “provincial,” therefore, though thus coming to this metropolis! A despised provincial, though entering it as a King! And One who is more at present of a conspicuous Teacher, when all is said, than of a sceptred Ruler of men! (Matthew 21:11).
III. The prophecy fulfilled.—Long before this, “in visions to His saints” (Psalms 89:20, so one version), it had pleased God to show something of this. Something, in the first place, of its peculiar glory and joy. How it should be something to “tell” to “Zion” as good tidings indeed—even the good news of being “visited” by her King—and that, above all, and unlike the experience of centuries, by a King of her own (Matthew 21:5). Something, in the next place, of the singularly unassuming character of that visit, and of the singularly gracious meekness of demeanour and the equally similar lowliness of equipage by which that visit of royalty would be marked (Matthew 21:5 again). And something, therefore, in the last place, of the remarkable deliberation as well as remarkable definiteness which we are taught to see in this scene. Just so exactly had the Lord Jesus always meant to enter Jerusalem at this time. Just so exactly had the Eternal Father meant that He should. And just so exactly, generations before, had He declared that He would. “All this was done” that that prophecy might thus “be fulfilled”!
What is thus presented to us is of yet further importance because of its connection:—
1. With what immediately followed.—It is the key to much that ensued. As the Saviour now began, so He went on—advancing so far, but not for the time any farther; asserting His rights as a King, but not yet acting upon them; never foregoing, but never enforcing them; not flinching from truth, not inflicting punishment; wearing the crown, but not using the sword. The time for that was not yet.
2. With the present condition of things.—What He claimed then is what He wields now—the kingdom only of grace. He asks our submission. He does not enforce it. He rebukes our transgressions, but gives us time to repent. He claims our obedience, He does not compel it. Rather He desires to win it by not yet visiting our transgressions. See Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; 2 Peter 3:15; 1 Timothy 2:4.
3. With what is yet to appear.—This almost anxious, this carefully maintained, this long protracted postponement of punishment only makes it the more sure in the end. And the more terrible also. Nothing is worse than not punished, yet not repented of, sin! Every succeeding moment of time makes it both greater and worse! (Romans 2:5).
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES.
Matthew 21:1-40.21.9. The King and the kingdom.—Not only did the means adopted by our Lord rise naturally out of the circumstances in which He and His followers were placed, but they were specially suited to suggest important truths concerning the kingdom He claimed as His own. If He had entered the city in regal pomp and splendour it would have conveyed an entirely false idea of the kingdom. The method He did adopt was such as to give a true idea of it.
I. It strikingly suggested the kingliness of lowliness, which was one of its great distinctive principles. As we look back over His recent instructions to His disciples we see how very much this thought was in His heart, and how great was the importance He attached to it. He had just taught them that the Son of man had come, not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many; and His manner of entering into His capital must be in harmony with the lowly, self-renouncing work He had come to do. Thus He shows in the most impressive way that His kingdom is not of this world. There is no suggestion of rivalry with Cæsar, yet to those who look beneath the surface He is manifestly more of a king than any Cæsar. He has knowledge of everything without a spy (Matthew 21:2); He has power over men without a soldier (Matthew 21:3); He has simply to say, “The Lord hath need,” and immediately His royal will is loyally fulfilled! Evidently He has the mind of a king and the will of a king; has He not also the heart of a king, of a true shepherd of the people? See how he bears the burden of their future on His heart—a burden which weighs so heavily upon Him that He cannot restrain His tears (Luke 19:41-42.19.44). There is no kingly state; but was not His a kingly soul who in such humble guise rode into Jerusalem that day?
II. Not less than lowliness is peace suggested as characteristic of His kingdom.
1. By the manner of His entrance; for while the horse and the chariot were suggestive of war, the ass was the symbol of peace.
2. Then, the prophecy is one of peace. Immediately after the words quoted by the Evangelist there follows this remarkable promise: “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off; and He shall speak peace unto the heathen; and His dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.” It would seem, indeed, that some, at least, in the multitude realised that through the Messiah was to be expected a deeper peace than that between man and man. This deeper peace may have been suggested to their minds by the words following next in the prophecy, which goes on to speak of prisoners of hope rescued from the pit, and turning to the stronghold; or by the Psalm from which their cry, “Hosanna in the highest,” was taken (Psalms 118:0). Certain it is that their minds did rise to a higher conception of the work of the Messiah than they had given token of before; for the cry of some of them, at least, was “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38). A striking proof this of the fitness of His manner of entering into His capital to suggest the purest, highest, and best thoughts concerning the kingdom which He claimed as His own.—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
Matthew 21:1-40.21.5. Christ’s journey to Jerusalem.—What do we see?
I. The superhuman under the garb of the human.
II. The majestic under the garb of the mean.
III. The eternal under the garb of the incidental.
IV. Truth enunciated by an erring crowd.—D. Thomas, D.D.
Matthew 21:3. A Palm Sunday sermon.—As in a picture, the memorable entry of Jesus into Jerusalem indicates the way in which our blessed Lord goes through the world now. Now, as then:
1. His purpose is to bless.
2. His contact with men awakens their life.
3. Much excitement about Him is transient.
4. Men’s possessions are claimed by Him to further His progress. We are to observe:—
I. The strangeness of His claim.—“The Lord hath need.”
1. The greater has need of the less.—A universal law. The rich have need of the poor; the strong have need of the sick; the parents have need of the child.
2. The Divine has need of the human.—E.g. Jesus Christ is saving man by man, and so has need of the loyalty, activity, gifts, examples of men. This is an illustration of Divine goodness in putting honour on man, for it might have been otherwise. For instance,
(1) God might have sent successive choirs of angels to continue the anthem of the evangel that broke the stillness of the fields over Bethlehem; or
(2) the skies might have been a scroll and the stars the alphabet of the Divine writing. So Constantine’s myth about seeing the cross might have been a fact; or
(3) a direct revelation to each individual man might have been given from God.
II. The dignity of His claim.—“Thy King cometh to thee.” “The Lord.” There were indications of His right here in His supernatural knowledge. He knew exactly where the ass and colt were to be found. So He knows all about our money, every coin of it; about our time, every hour of it; about our power, every element of it. And yet there is another resemblance in this; the ass and colt were tied. So many men’s possessions are “tied” by pleasure, or greed, or gain, or habit, or the gordian-knot of selfishness. So we are bidden “Loose them and bring them unto Me.”
III. The condescension of His claim.—Though the ass was the ordinary beast of burden of the Jews, it was the scorn of the Romans. Asinarii was then a term of contempt for Christians. And in fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy that the King of the Jews should be lowly, Christ thus, by dramatic teaching—for the Greek and Latin supply no adequate word—rode on an ass. So this Prince of peace enters the city of peace in a manner that should for ever emphasise His own teaching, “Blessed are the meek,” etc. In His meekness and condescension He chooses to win His way, the way of blessing and saving men, through the world now, by employing humble, disdained, despised means. If the swift dromedary or the splendid war-horse were the symbol of the agency He employs, but few of the vast world of mediocre men could hope to have any part or lot in the matter. But “God hath chosen the weak things,” etc. He has need of the most ordinary of our powers, the most obscure of our hours, the most commonplace of our days. He can use us and ours in His great triumphal entry into the hearts and nations of the world.—U. R. Thomas, B.A.
Matthew 21:5. Christ the King.—
I. Jesus Christ is the church’s King.—One of our brethren, like unto us, according to the law of the kingdom (Deuteronomy 17:15), He is appointed King over the church (Psalms 2:6). He is accepted King by the church; the daughter of Zion swears allegiance to Him (Hosea 1:11).
II. Christ, the King of His church, came to His church, even in this lower world. “He comes to thee, to rule thee, to rule in thee, to rule for thee;” He is “Head over all things to the church.” He came to Zion that out of Zion the law might go forth.
III. Notice was given to the church beforehand of the coming of her King. “Tell the daughter of Zion.”—M. Henry.
Matthew 21:7. Honouring Christ.—
1. When we have a clear call ready obedience is our part, without troubling ourselves what may be the success.
2. It is our part to honour Christ, so far as we can, and to lay aside our ornaments to glorify Him.
3. Christ contenteth Himself for any state which is to keep in His kingdom here on earth with what His disciples can furnish Him.—David Dickson.
Matthew 21:9. Hosanna to the Son of David.—The hosannas with which Christ was attended speak two things:—
I. Their welcoming His kingdom.—Hosanna speaks the same with “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” (see Psalms 72:17). Notice:
1. Jesus Christ comes in the name of the Lord. He is sanctified, and sent into the world as Mediator; “Him hath God the Father sealed.”
2. The coming of Christ in the name of the Lord is worthy of all acceptation. We ought all to say, “Blessed,” etc.
II. Their wishing well to His kingdom.—“Send now prosperity” to that kingdom. If they understood it of a temporal kingdom, it was a mistake, which a little time would rectify; however, their goodwill was accepted (Psalms 72:15).—M. Henry.
Matthew 21:10.—Who is this?—
I. The question:—
1. As asked then.—All the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” Thronged for feast; saw strange procession sweep towards temple.
2. As asked now.—All the world is moved, saying, “Who is this?” Procession passed, but procession of events went on. Crucified, dead, and buried. Then news of a resurrection, an ascension, a gift of the Spirit, and a call on all men to believe. The story a nine days’ wonder? No. It spread from land to land, from age to age; survived three hundred years of persecution; rose fresh from wreck of the empire; changed all currents of thought, created new institutions, formed foremost nations, possesses civilised world. Its best effects deeper down, in principles, characters, works, lives, deaths, “which are in Christ Jesus.” He has become a universal presence; a vast mysterious power. What account shall be given of it? Who is this? Question ever reopened. Comes up fresh from time to time, especially now. Talk of worn-out creeds and new accounts attempted. You are as if this Jesus, met you, “Whom do men say that I am?” and you can tell what is said. “But whom say ye that I am?” Everything hangs on:—
II. The answer.—As given by Scripture, in the Catholic Church, and according to the faith of God’s elect, it is reached by four steps, each necessitating the next.
1. This is Jesus the Prophet, etc.—First impression of rudimentary disciples. The prophetic mission evident, certain “We know that Thou art a Teacher sent from God,” etc. “A great Prophet has risen,” etc. “This is of a truth that Prophet,” etc. If so, His witness of Himself is true, and higher conclusions follow.
2. This is the Christ.—I.e. the foreordained One, bearing the office, achieving the work described in prophecy; the Redeemer; the Hope of Israel and of mankind. This the first Christian conviction and proclamation. “God has made this same Jesus both Lord and Christ.” If so:—
3. This is the Son of God.—The Christ is declared to be so (Psalms 2:7). Understood to be so (John 6:69; Matthew 26:63). Witnessed (Matthew 3:17). Preached (Acts 9:20; John 20:31). If so, in what sense?
4. This is the Word who was with God, and was God. One with the Father—by whom all things were made—all things consist—over all God blessed for ever—originally the life and light of men—therefore their Redeemer and eternal life. This answer one. First step involves second—and so on to last. Its vital importance to each separate soul. What He is to you depends on what He is in Himself. What you find Him to be to you must depend upon what you take Him to be in Himself.—T. D. Bernard, M.A
The King entering Jerusalem.—
1. When it pleaseth Christ to take unto Him a kingdom, He will avow Himself King in the midst of His enemies, as now He rideth in this glory into Jerusalem.
2. Where greatest show of religion is, it is no new thing to see Christ to be least known, for, “Who is this?” say they.
3. Where He hath a mind to honour Himself in suffering, He will show Himself so evidently as He may be taken notice of by His enemies. All the city is moved, saying “Who is this?”—David Dickson.
What think ye of Christ?—
I. The merely humanitarian view of the person of Christ involves in it:—
1. The gravest intellectual difficulties. There was something peculiar in His intellectual solitude; the difference between Him and other thinkers was not such as, for example, between Shakespeare and other authors. You know all through that Shakespeare belongs to the same species as the others; but Christ constitutes an entire genus by Himself.
2. But the difficulties which beset the humanitarian view of the Saviour’s person from the intellectual side are as nothing compared with those which it has to encounter on the moral. Remember the honesty and integrity by which He was characterised, and then say how these qualities are to be reconciled with the claims which He put forth as One who had come down from heaven for the express purpose of teaching celestial things, if these claims were not well founded.
3. Note the testimony of history to the Deity of Christ. It is the nature of moral evil to propagate itself. Christ turned the tide for all after-time, and to-day the sole corrective agents at work upon the moral and spiritual condition of men may be traced to Christianity.
II. What is involved in the reception of Jesus as the Son of God?—It involves:—
1. That we should implicitly believe His teachings. It is a mockery for one to say that he believes in the Deity of Christ, and then to cavil at His words or to deny their truth.
2. An obligation to rely alone on His atoning work for our salvation.
3. An obligation to obey His commandments. The practical rejection of our Lord’s Divinity by the disobedience of our lives is a more prevalent heresy than the theoretic denial of His Deity, and it is far more insidious and pestilential.—W. M. Taylor, D.D.
Matthew 21:12. Cast out.—Apparently a second cleansing of the temple. See John 2:15-43.2.17. Them that sold and bought in the temple.—The first person to introduce this sacrilegious custom was, according to the Talmud, one Babha Ben Buta, who brought three thousand sheep of the flocks of Kedar into the Mountain of the House, i.e. into the court of the Gentiles, and so within the consecrated precincts. The practice grew out of the desire to meet the convenience of the foreign Jews, who visited the Holy City at the feasts, and were glad to purchase, close at hand, the beasts they desired to offer in sacrifice, and to exchange their foreign money for the orthodox Jewish shekel (Tuck).
Matthew 21:17. Bethany.—A village “standing in a shallow ravine on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, to the south-east of the central summit” (Thrupp’s Ancient Jerusalem). It is now called El-’Azirêyeh, from El-’Azir, the Arabic form of the name Lazarus.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 21:12-40.21.17
Visitatorial action.—As the Saviour did on His entering into Jerusalem, so He began to do when inside it. The same remarkable combination of authority and meekness—the same clear vindication of His rights and position, and the same manifest forbearance in making use of them—are still to be seen in His conduct. In two ways, especially, may this combination be seen at this time, viz., in noticing first, what he beheld; and secondly, what He heard, when coming now to the temple of God.
I. What the Saviour beheld.—Its nature, on the one hand. A great scandal! A crying offence! Apparently, the court of the Gentiles was the scene of this evil. Originally meant for their accommodation when admitted to worship, it had been encroached on for the transaction of business connected with the worship of God. Animals for sacrifice were brought there for sale. Changers of money had established themselves in it. And all this, it is thought with great reason, with the interested connivance of the temple authorities themselves. The scandal was one, therefore, which affected all classes alike, and that in away which was peculiarly offensive because of its connection with the worship of God (1 Samuel 2:17). Its results, on the other hand. Very deliberate, very thorough, and very faithful was the Saviour’s consequent action. Very deliberate (see Mark 11:11). Very thorough—all who had trespassed there being made to go out (Matthew 21:12); others who wished to do so being debarred from entering (Mark 11:16). Very faithful—the action being accompanied by language which expressed its meaning in full (Matthew 21:13). And yet, at the same time, being unaccompanied by much that might have been justly done in such case. The dealers, for example, are “cast out,” but their goods are not otherwise touched. The offence is stopped and the offenders rebuked, but they are not punished because of it. Not the sword of the judge, indeed, but the touch of the healer (Matthew 21:14), is what we read of instead. That polluted “court,” by such works of mercy, is as it were, re-consecrated to God. In every way, therefore, the previously existing offence is witnessed against and rebuked. But nothing more than this, by this kingly “Visitor” is done at this time. As before and as we shall see afterwards, there was the “hiding of His power” (Habakkuk 3:4).
II. What the Saviour heard.—Its nature and purport, on the one hand. A cry of worship! A shout of praise! All that the multitude had previously acknowledged (Matthew 21:9), of His royal lineage and more than royal mission is here repeated again (Matthew 21:15). Repeated (apparently) with greater fervour than ever after seeing His works (ibid.). Repeated by those who are, perhaps, the last of all to be reached by such things. Fame is fame indeed, when it has penetrated to the cradles of the land. Its reception on the other. Its reception first, in the way of silence. Exactly contrary to what was expected by some—by some who doubted in consequence, whether the Saviour could have truly noted the language He heard—all this worship was listened to by Him without a word of rebuke—as though not only in His judgment a matter of right, but a matter of course, as it were (cf. Luke 19:40). Its reception, next, in the way of defence. To His tacit acquiescence in, He adds express approval of, the homage now paid. Far from being a blameworthy thing, only those are so who would condemn it as such. Had they known more, as they ought to have known—had they remembered what they had “read” in the writings they professed to teach and revere—they would have called to mind what justified fully all that was now being done. God is never more praised than when He is praised by the lips of sucklings and babes (Matthew 21:16). Even such praise, therefore, is the full right of Him who has come to that house as its King. Its reception, finally, in the way of forbearance. Forbearance in drawing the line at this necessary word of rebuke. The Saviour defends His friends. He confutes His adversaries. He does both effectually. But, having so done, He stops short. He does not now “visit” for sin. What an unexpected sequel, from this point of view, is the close of this passage! See all He does, now, with that “den of thieves”—that nest of conspirators—which He has just exposed and denounced (Matthew 21:17). Where, in all this, was “the rod of His power?”
It is to be noticed, in conclusion, that even this “combination” did not tell on these men.
1. This display of authority did not tell on their wills.—They “heard” and “feared” Him, but went on as before (Mark 11:18; see Ecclesiastes 8:11).
2. This display of mercy did not tell on their hearts.—All they did in return was to seek to “destroy” Him (Mark 11:18, again; see also Isaiah 26:10).
3. This double failure abundantly explained and so justified the subsequent punishment of that people (Jeremiah 9:9).
4. And is, therefore, to be looked upon as a double warning to all.—How are we dealing with the mingled “mercy and judgment” (Psalms 101:1) of God?
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 21:12-40.21.15. The righteousness, peace, and joy of the kingdom.—The casting out of the traders illustrated the righteousness of the kingdom, the healing of the blind and lame its peace, and the shouts of the children which followed, its joy.—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
Matthew 21:12-40.21.14. The ancient prophecy fulfilled.—What the King did on entering the temple admirably illustrates the prophecy. For what saith the prophet? “Behold thy King cometh unto thee; He is just and having salvation.” “He is just”—therefore He will not tolerate the unholy traffic in the temple, but “cast out all them that sold and bought” etc.; “and having salvation”—accordingly, when He sees the blind and the lame in the temple He does not turn them out, He does not turn away from them, “He healed them.”—Ibid.
Matthew 21:12-40.21.13. Cleansing the temple.—This cleansing reminds us:—
I. Of the holiness which the temple had in Christ’s eyes.
II. Of the guilt of all who desecrate God’s house and day.
III. Of our duly to do all we can to maintain their sanctity.—Heubner.
Matthew 21:12. The King purifying the temple.—
1. It is the work of King Jesus to take notice of religion, and to purge it where He mindeth to reign; therefore He went into the temple of God, to purge it.
2. Horrible abuses may creep into the place of God’s service, while men, under pretence of furthering religion, do follow courses for their own gain; as here, merchandise and money-getting are set up in the place where religion only was to be exercised.
3. In this extraordinary way of reformation of His temple, He showeth Himself to be God, able to compass the most difficult works, by what means He pleaseth, and to terrify His adversaries.
4. Outward abuses, albeit not so great as inward, yet may they be begun at in reformation, as here Christ doth.—David Dickson.
The majesty and authority of Jesus.—The silent submission of these buyers and vendors, who by their physical force might easily have overpowered Jesus, conclusively proves the sublime moral majesty and power with which our Saviour performed this act, and silences the objection of some modern sceptics, who see in it an outbreak of violent passion, which is always a sign of weakness. It was a judicial act of a religious reformer, vindicating in just and holy zeal the honour of the Lord of the temple, and revealed the presence of a superhuman authority and dignity, which filled even these profane traffickers with awe, and made them yield without a murmur. Jerome regards this expulsion of a multitude by one individual as the most wonderful of the miracles, and supposes that a flame and starry ray darted from the eyes of the Saviour, and that the majesty of the Godhead was radiant in His countenance.—P. Schaff, D.D.
The desecration of God’s house.—The history of Christian churches 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.—E. H. Plumptre, D.D.
Matthew 21:13. The house of prayer.—
1. Reformation of religion is to be done according to Scripture, by reducing abused ordinances unto their first institution.
2. All the ceremonial service appointed at the temple was subservient to the moral and spiritual duties; for it is said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.”
3. All the worship of God may be comprised in prayer, as it comprehendeth praises and thanksgiving, because the end of the ordinances is to make men know how to carry themselves towards God in praises and prayer.
4. Vilest sins seek shelter under the pretext of religion, and there think to work; therefore this is the challenge, “Ye have made My house a den of thieves.”—David Dickson.
Matthew 21:14-40.21.16. A picture of the temple as it should be.—
I. Christ the centre of attraction in the temple.
II. The spiritually infirm seeking Him in the temple, and not the preacher, or the mere form of worship.
III. The spiritually infirm healed by Christ in the temple.—J. C. Gray.
Matthew 21:15-40.21.16. The children in the temple (Palm Sunday).—Let us consider this remarkable incident with respect to the three principal classes of persons concerned in it:—
I. The conduct of the children.—When all others were silent, why did children alone sing their “Hosannas” to Jesus as the Son of David?
1. They were unprejudiced.
2. They were especially attracted to Christ.
3. They were inspired by the enthusiasm of youth.
II. The complaint of the scribes and priests.—
1. As offenders themselves they wore enraged at the rebuke they had just received from Christ.
2. As officials they were horrified at the indecorum of the children.
3. As men of rank and dignity they were disgusted at the freedom of the children’s utterances.
4. As unbelievers they were indignant at the public recognition of the Messianic claims of Jesus.
III. The reply of our Lord.—
1. He approved of children’s worship.
2. He admitted the truth of the children’s testimony.
3. He accepted personal adoration offered to Himself.—W. F. Adeney, M.A.
Matthew 21:17. Jesus withdrawing.—
1. He had His own intended work in Bethany, yet by His leaving His adversaries, He teacheth us to cease from contention before it grow hot, and to cut short with our enemies, using as few speeches as may be; therefore it is said, “He left them.”
2. In that by His going off the town, occasion of tumults and uproars was eschewed, we learn to eschew needless dangers, and to reserve ourselves unto the time wherein God calleth us to glorify Him by suffering. David Dickson.
Matthew 21:18. He hungered.—His hungering is pretty good evidence that He had not been staying in the house of Martha and Mary. Most likely He had been much with Himself and with His Father, wrapped up in meditation, rapt up in supplication (Morison).
Matthew 21:19. A fig tree.—Rather, a single fig tree.—In the way.—By the way-side (R.V.). It was often planted by the way-sides, because the dust of the road was an absorbing counteraction to the strong flow of the sap—so hindering a too great development of leaves, and promoting its fruitfulness (Lange). Found nothing thereon, but leaves only.—The fig-tree loses its leaves in the winter; indeed it looks particularly bare with its white naked branches. One species, however, puts forth fruit and leaves in the very early spring, the fruit appearing before the leaves. It was doubtless a fig tree of this kind that Jesus observed, and seeing the leaves expected to find fruit thereon. At the time of the Passover the first leaf-buds would scarcely have appeared on the common fig tree, while this year’s ripe fruit would not be found till four months later. The teaching of the incident depends on this circumstance (cf. Luke 13:6-42.13.9). The early fig tree, conspicuous among its leafless brethren, seemed alone to make a show of fruit and to invite inspection. So Israel, alone among the nations of the world, held forth a promise. From Israel alone could fruit be expected; but none was found, and their harvest-time was past. Therefore Israel perished as a nation, while the Gentile races, barren hitherto, but now on the verge of their spring-time, were ready to burst into blossom and bear fruit (Carr).
Matthew 21:21. Be thou removed, etc.—See note on Matthew 17:20.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 21:18-40.21.22
Plenary powers.—All commentators seem agreed in regarding this “fig tree” as emblematical of the then condition of the Jewish people and church. We can all of us see, also, how specially its brief story was connected with the disciples of the Saviour. They alone hear the sentence on it. They alone note its result. They alone hear what their Master afterwards says on the subject. It is in its relative bearing, therefore, on both them and the Jews, that we shall endeavour to consider this story. How does it illustrate the Saviour’s aspect towards Jerusalem—how does it, therefore, illustrate His aspect towards His disciples—at this particular time?
I. Towards Jerusalem and the Jews.—Under this head what illustration there is, first, of His power! The fig tree is said to be the most succulent of all trees. Amongst such trees, also, none could be so more visibly, than one so covered with leaves as to be a conspicuous object a long way off (Mark 11:13). Yet this very tree we see now, at the simple word of Jesus, losing all this in a moment (Matthew 21:19). Conspicuous one moment for the abundance of its moisture, it is as conspicuous the next for its lack of moisture, in the eyes of those who look on (Matthew 21:20). So with that Jewish church which so visibly abounded then with the showy leaves of “profession.” How they boasted in their “temple,” and “holy city,” and “law” (John 2:20; Mark 13:1; Romans 2:17, etc., Matthew 3:1-40.3.2; Matthew 5:35; Matthew 27:53). Yet the word of Jesus could strip them of all, and wither the whole of their pride—and would do so before long. This was what the effect of that word on the fig tree was meant to make plain. His doing thus was also an illustration of His justice. That abundant foliage on that particular fig tree was a “profession” of much. None of the fig trees of the neighbourhood had got so far at that season as the production of figs (Mark 11:0 end of Matthew 21:13). This fig tree had reached a stage which usually followed that stage. It had clothed itself (abnormally) with such a mantle of leaves as was generally an indication that, underneath them, there was a like abundance of fruit. Hence it was that, in His extremity, the Saviour came to it with that hope (Mark 11:13 again). And hence it was, also—being disappointed with it—that He bade it be barren for ever (Matthew 21:19; Mark 11:14). An apt figure, therefore, of what was then true of the Jewish people and church; and so, also, of that awful sentence, for which, being such, they were then ready and ripe. In their case, also, with much profession, there was “nothing but leaves” (Matthew 15:3; Matthew 23:3; Romans 2:23-45.2.24; 1 Thessalonians 2:0; 1 Thessalonians 2:0 end of Matthew 21:15, etc.). In their case, also, therefore, a similar sentence to that pronounced on the fig tree would be only equal and just. And yet, lastly, in this incident, we see illustrated, as previously, the then forbearance of Christ. What is said of the fig tree, is not here said yet of what is represented thereby. For the present that spiritual “tree” remains in all its greenness of leaf. All its prodigality of profession, all its lack of obedience, all its contradiction in practice, remain unvisited yet. In this respect the symbol is instructive in the way of contrast alone. Nothing is shown here, in the matter of punishment, but that which is ready to be!
II. The Saviour’s aspect at this time towards the disciples themselves.—We may judge of this, in some measure, from the speciality, now, of His manner. Why did He go up now, in their sight, to this tree? Why with such evident hope, to begin; and such similar disappointment, to follow? Why, also, were both His words and their consequences made so perceptible now to their senses? Evidently, we may infer, to impress them, first, with a sense of His power, to show what He could do if He would. Also to impress them, next, with a sense of His justice—to show that, in what He was now doing before them, He was not acting without cause. And also, finally, and in proportion as the flight of time should explain to them the meaning and application of the parable, to impress them with a sense of His forbearance and mercy. To impress these things, we say, in this special manner, upon their own minds; and so, by this means, to increase within them their faith in Himself. And nothing, surely, could be more conducive to this than the very combination just named. Irresistible power, unimpeachable justice, untiring mercy, form ground for confidence, when taken together, if anything does. Also, and further, we are taught the same by the speciality of the Saviour’s words at this time. “Having faith in God” is just the application to which He here points them Himself (Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:22). This, He gives them to understand, is what He would have that withered fig tree teach them above all. Have faith in “God” as able to accomplish things greater by far (Matthew 21:21). Have faith in “prayer” as able to move Him to do things of that kind (Matthew 21:22). Have faith, therefore, in your own position as believers in Me!
The especial suitability of such a lesson, and of such a method of conveying it also, to the disciples at that particular juncture, may be noted, to conclude. This would be true in regard:—
1. To the probable perplexities of the moment.—To those disciples, with what we know of their then expectations and knowledge (Matthew 20:20-40.20.21), that clearly defined line of conduct, now so plainly adopted and afterwards so strictly adhered to by the Saviour, would appear astonishing in the last degree. Why thus openly claim the sceptre, and yet just as openly refrain from using it? Was it secret lack of power to inflict punishment, or secret indifference about the existence of evil? That withered fig tree would silence both surmises at once, and, by so doing, in time would point to the Saviour’s mercy as the true answer to both. The disciples would bear with this “mystery” as they thus learned that the Saviour’s “mercy” lay at its root!
2. To the certain impediments of the future.—After the Saviour’s departure what formidable obstacles there would be in their way! (see Acts 5:27, etc., etc.). How helpful to them, therefore, to have such recollections as this of “the withered fig tree” to fall back upon in such circumstances! How helpful to them also (for some time afterwards?) to have the sight of it within reach! And how equally helpful to have the recollection also of those words of the Saviour’s (end of Matthew 21:21) in their thoughts! Everything might be hoped for in the way of help by those who had such a task as theirs on their hands. The greenest would be withered—the largest removed (Zechariah 4:7) if it stood in their way.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 21:18-40.21.22. The fig tree cursed.—
1. Our Lord was never so hungry for meat and drink, but He could forbear it till a fit time, and make it His meat and drink to be doing good, and fulfilling the Father’s will; for He loveth to edify and feed His disciples here more than to feed His natural hunger.
2. Albeit our Lord did never harm to any man by any of His miracles, yet had He power to curse, and miraculously to destroy, as well as to save, if He had pleased to put forth His power in justice; for the fig tree was not able to stand when He did curse it.
3. He trained His disciples by His own example unto all duties which he put them unto, and here He traineth them unto the exercise of the gift of miracles.
4. The gift of miracles was never to be exercised in particular, but upon a ground of faith, i.e. upon a warrant given from Christ’s Spirit, for doing of that work in particular; and it was necessary for him who had the gift and warrant for doing a miracle to strengthen his faith on the warrant, or else to miss of his intent, as in Peter’s sinking did appear. Therefore, saith He, “If ye have faith and doubt not.”
5. The Lord requireth faith in prayer for obtaining promised mercies, or else, if we come short, to blame our misbelief. Therefore, saith He, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive it.”—David Dickson.
The withering of the fruitless fig tree.—This incident stands entirely alone among the miracles as the only one which is not of a beneficent or merciful character. Long custom has made all readers familiar with the designation of it as a miracle of judgment. The expression is misleading. It was a symbol or prediction of judgment. The burden it bore in act and sign was doom for that which the fruitless fig tree represented. But so far as concerns the literal object upon which the word fell, the expression is too large. It is out of all just proportion of thought and language to place the blasting of a way-side tree over against Christ’s numberless miracles of mercy, and note it as a judgment miracle. Indeed, the incident barely falls within the class of miracles. The supernatural element in it is predictive rather than directly miraculous. The word spoken against the tree was fulfilled in a way so notable and immediate as to mark a Divine hand. But in its proper object and scope it was really an acted parable, like those symbolic actions or prophecies “without words” of which the ancient seers, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, furnish plenty of instances.—Prof. Laidlaw, D.D.
Matthew 21:19. Hypocrites and their doom.—This cursing of the barren fig tree represents the state of hypocrites in general; and so it teacheth us:—
I. That the fruit of fig trees may justly be expected from those that have the leaves.—Christ looks for the power of religion from those that make profession of it.
II. Christ’s just expectations from flourishing professors are often frustrated and disappointed.—Many have a name to live, and are not alive indeed.
III. The sin of barrenness is justly punished with the curse and plague of barrenness.
IV. A false and hypocritical profession commonly withers in this world.—The gifts wither, common graces decay, the credit of the profession declines and sinks, and the falseness and folly of the pretender are manifested to all men.—Matt. Henry.
The withering of the fig tree symbolic.—To understand Christ’s act aright, we must not conceive that He at once caused a sound tree to wither. This would not be in harmony with the general aim of His miracles; nor would it correspond to the idea which He designed to set vividly before the disciples. A sound tree, suddenly destroyed, would certainly be no fitting type of the Jewish people. We must rather believe that the same cause which made the tree barren had already prepared the way for its destruction, and that Christ only hastened a crisis which had to come in the course of nature. In this view it would correspond precisely to the great event in the world’s history which it was designed to prefigure; the moral character of the Jewish nation had long been fitting it for destruction; and the Divine government of the world only brought on the crisis.—Neander.
The fig tree destroyed.—Why might not the Lord, consistently with His help and His healing, do that in one instance which His Father is doing everyday? In the midst of the freshest greenery of summer, you may see the wan branches of the lightning-struck tree. As a poet drawing his pen through syllable or word that mars his clear utterance or musical comment, such is the destruction of the Maker. It is the indrawn sigh of the creating Breath.—G. Macdonald, LL.D.
Matthew 21:21-40.21.22. Faith and prayer.—
I. The description of this wonder working faith. “If ye have faith and doubt not.”
II. The power and prevalency of it, expressed figuratively. “Ye shall say unto this mountain,” etc.
III. The way and means of exercising this faith, and of doing that which is to be done by it. “All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer,” etc. Faith is the soul, prayer is the body; both together make a complete man for any service.—M. Henry.
Matthew 21:23. The chief priests and the elders.—St. Mark and St. Luke add “the scribes,” thus including representatives of the three constituent elements of the Sanhedrin (Plumptre). By what authority, etc.—Their inquiry was hostile in its design; His opponents would oppress Him at once by their authority, and therefore they interrupted Him even in the midst of His teaching. But the form of their inquiry was official, and according to theocratical rule; the Jewish rulers had the right to demand of a man who exercised prophetic functions the warranty of his prophetical character. But, as Jesus had already abundantly authenticated Himself by various miracles, their seemingly justifiable act was only a shameless avowal of unbelief (Lange).
Matthew 21:25. The baptism of John.—Meaning his whole mission and ministry, of which baptism was the proper character (Brown). They reasoned with themselves.—They reasoned aside among themselves. They turned aside to one another, and privately conferred together on the Saviour’s question (Morison).
Matthew 21:27. We cannot tell.—We know not (R.V.). Before such a tribunal the prophet whom they called in question might well refuse to plead (Plumptre).
Matthew 21:32. In the way of righteousness.—The term seems used in a half-technical sense, as expressing the aspect of righteousness which the Pharisees themselves recognised (Matthew 6:1), and which included, as its three great elements, the almsgiving, fasting, and prayer, that were so conspicuous both in the life and in the teaching of the Baptist (ibid.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 21:23-40.21.32
A twofold answer.—The question asked in Matthew 21:23 was very natural in its way. Although the Saviour had hitherto done nothing of a strictly punitive kind, He had acted recently with a degree of authority previously unusual with Him (see Matthew 21:1-40.21.17). Naturally, therefore, those who sat in the seat of authority (Matthew 23:2) were stirred up by such doings; and naturally, therefore, came to inquire into their nature and source (Matthew 21:23). They were almost bound, indeed—from their point of view—to do something of the kind. The Saviour answers, first, by asking another question in turn; and, secondly, when that was not answered, by asking another one yet.
I. The first question had to do with the mission and ministry of John the Baptist.—Connected with this we see, first, a most legitimate challenge. Next to the appearance of the Saviour Himself, the appearance of John, as a spiritual phenomenon, had been the most important one of the day. In a manner unknown for centuries past, it had agitated the faith of the day; and had afterwards left behind it an impression of the deepest and widest description (see Matthew 21:26; Matthew 3:5-40.3.6; Acts 19:3). Also, it had been connected intimately with the Person and work of the Saviour Himself. John may almost be said, in fact, to have effaced himself in pointing to Jesus (Matthew 3:11-40.3.12; John 1:19-43.1.27; John 1:29, etc.). It was only to be expected, therefore, that professed teachers in religion (John 3:10), such as these questioners of the Saviour, should have made up their minds about John; and only right, therefore, that they should be asked about him by the Man whom they questioned.” John the Baptist continually pointed to Me. Tell Me, therefore, if you wish to know about Me, what you say about him.” In anwer to this challenge we see, next, a pitiful evasion. That apparently simple question was not so simple as it looked from their point of view. If they said in reply what was certainly true, viz., that the mission of John was from above, they feared the Saviour. He would say at once as in Matthew 21:25; and so would expose them before all as the false guides that they were. If they said what was false and declared it to be only “of men,” they feared the people, who would then listen to them no more. So all they could think of was—in a most clumsy manner—to try and leave the question alone. “The point asked about is not one on which we can give an opinion” (Matthew 21:27). An answer in which, therefore—so we see finally—they completely answered themselves. “How can the question you ask be discussed at all unless this necessary preliminary to it has been considered at least? How can you learn about Me if you are thus ignorant about him? How can you possibly know what you profess to want to know, in such circumstance as yours?” Thus it was, in effect, that the Saviour covered them with shame for having asked their question at all!
II. The second question went deeper than this.—In it the Saviour not only silenced His adversaries; He convicted them too. He aims at this result, in the first place, by putting a case. After a method not unusual with Him, He sets forth a parable touching the matter in hand. A certain man with two sons commanded them both to go and work in his vineyard (Matthew 21:28). One refused at first, but afterwards went. The other consented at first, but that was all. Obedient in word, this son was wholly disobedient in work (Matthew 21:29-40.21.30). Which did they think, of two such sons, should be looked upon as obedient? (Matthew 21:31). They answered—they could but answer—that it was the one spoken of first, he that “afterwards repented and went.” The Saviour reaches the result He aimed at, in the next place, by explaining this parable and applying its moral. The message of God to His people through the ministry of the Baptist was the “command” of this parable. The “priests and elders” who had gone out with others to hear the teaching of John, and could not but own that he had come “in the way of righteousness” (Matthew 21:32) and yet had refused to do as he taught, were like the “second son” in the parable. The “publicans and harlots” who had believed in him, though notoriously impenitent and disobedient at first, were like the “first son” in the parable. It followed, therefore, that what these priests and elders had said of the “first son” was true about these. Of the two sets, they would go first into the kingdom of God. It followed, also, that what these same men had implied of the second son was true of themselves. They had never really done the will of their Father. They had not dealt faithfully with the requirements of His kingdom as coming through John. More than this, they had seen others repenting and going in; yet had never done so themselves. They were, therefore, all of them, outside of it still (Matthew 21:32).
Besides the wonderful wisdom and dialectical skill of the Saviour, we see in this passage:—
1. How great is the danger of hypocrisy!—These men had dealt treacherously with the light that they had. Even notorious sinners in the end are in less darkness than they. (Cf. John 5:46; Luke 16:31; Matthew 6:23.)
2. How greater yet is the mercy of Christ!—Even of such He does not speak so as to bid them despair. If others are spoken of as going in “before” them, it is not said of them that they go in alone (Matthew 21:32).
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 21:24-40.21.26. Christ and the cavillers.—
1. When cavillers come to tempt us and to take advantage of our speeches, we ought to be circumspect, that neither the truth be damnified by us, nor our adversaries get advantage against us. Therefore here Christ asketh a question instead of giving an answer.
2. The Lord can catch the crafty in their craftiness, and can decipher the folly of them who seek to cloak wickedness under colours, for this question both answered the former, and convinced the adversaries of wilful wickedness, for they knew John’s calling and doctrine to be Divine, and that John bare witness unto Christ, and so they behoved to know Christ to be the Messiah; therefore, pertinently doth He ask, John’s baptism, whence was it?
3. Callings unto the holy ministry must either be from God, and so they are lawful, or from men only, and so they are unlawful.
4. The Sacraments, and all religious service and worship, must have the same authority with the doctrine, to wit, Divine; for the question is moved about John’s baptism instead of John’s doctrine, or John’s commission or calling.
5. Men of corrupt minds do seek, not the verity but the victory in dispute; they do not look what is true or false, right or wrong, but what is most for their own corrupt ends and purpose, as the reasoning of these men doth show; for the verity which they knew of John they will not confess for shame, nor dare they flatly deny it, for fear the people should fall on them.
6. Whosoever confess a doctrine to be from heaven, and yet do not believe it, are inexcusable, and condemned by their conscience; for, say they, “If we say from heaven, He will say, Why,” etc.?—David Dickson.
Matthew 21:27. Evading the truth.—
1. The Lord’s enemies at last are confounded and put to silence. “We cannot tell,” say they.
2. One sin ensnareth and draweth a man into another sin, for they refuse to tell the truth, and in refusing they fall into a lie, saying, “We cannot tell.”
3. Such as captivate the knowledge they have, and make no use of it, are justly deprived of what further knowledge they pretend to seek, for “Neither will I tell you” is Christ’s last answer to such.—David Dickson.
Matthew 21:28-40.21.32. The two sons.—I. The two distinct and opposite answers.—
1. That of the first son, “I will not,” was evil, and only evil. It is of first-rate practical importance to make this plain and prominent. Looking to the son in the story, we see clearly that the answer was outrageously wicked: it was an evil word flowing from its native spring in an evil heart. Looking next to the class of persons whom that son represents, we find they are the openly and daringly ungodly of every rank in every age. They neither fear God nor pretend to fear Him. At this point, among certain classes, a subtle temptation insinuates itself. In certain circumstances ungodly men take credit for the distinct avowal of their ungodliness, and count on it as a merit. The frank confession that they are not good seems to serve some men as a substitute for goodness. What comfort will it afford to the lost to reflect that they went openly to perdition, in broad daylight, before all men, and did not skulk through byways under pretence that they were going to heaven?
2. The answer of the other son was evil, too, if you look, not to its body, but to its spirit. His smooth language was a lie; and his subsequent conduct showed, not that he had changed his mind when his father was out of sight, but that he concealed it while his father was present. The expression of the lips was like a glittering ripple caused by a fitful breeze, running upward on the surface of the river, while the whole volume of its water rolls, notwithstanding, the other way. Thus is even the worship of hypocrites worthless. “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord,” etc. Thus, at first, both these sons were in a false and unsafe position. Their characters were not the same—were not similar; they differed in thought and word; but the difference, in as far as their answers were concerned, indicated only varieties of sin. Legion is the name of the spirits that possess and pollute the fallen; but all the legion do not dwell in every man. At the time when the father uttered his command, the character of the first son was bold, unblushing rebellion; the character of the second was cowardly, false pretence.
II. The two distinct and opposite acts.—
1. The first, after flinging a blunt refusal in his father’s face, repented of his sin. The turning-point is here. His heart was first turned and then his history. The grieved father would weep for joy, as he looked up the precipitous hill-side on which the terraced vineyard hung, and saw there the head and hands of his son glancing quickly from place to place among the vine plants. Thus there is joy in heaven—deep in the heart of heaven’s Lord—over one sinner that repenteth. Among the vines that day work was worship; the resulting act of obedience—fruit of repentance in the soul, was an offering of a sweet-smelling savour unto God.
2. The other son promptly promised, but failed to perform. The first was changed from bad to good, but the second was not changed from good to bad. No change took place in this case, and none is recorded. This son represents, in the first instance, those Pharisees who were then and there compassing the death of Jesus. They ostentatiously professed that they were doing God service; yet they were spreading a net for the feet of the innocent, and preparing to shed His blood. It is meant that in this glass all the self-righteous to the end of the world should see themselves; their profession is fair, but their life is for self, and not for God.—W. Arnot, D.D.
Matthew 21:28-40.21.31. The last first.—
1. Men will more readily acknowledge their fault in another man’s person than in their own; therefore doth Christ draw forth these men’s judgment by a parable.
2. He will have the conscience of the wicked subscribing to the righteousness of God’s judgment against themselves, as will appear by “What think ye?” compared with their answer.
3. The most odious and despised sinners, repenting and believing in Jesus, do find grace and place both in the church and in heaven above; but such as confide in their own righteousness are debarred, for “harlots,” saith Christ, “go into the kingdom of heaven before you.”—David Dickson.
Matthew 21:28. Cultivating the Lord’s vineyard.—I. Our Heavenly Father calls us to work for Him.—We may take the Lord’s vineyard to represent:
1. Our own natures.
2. Our own households.
3. The Christian church. 4. The whole earth.
II. Our Heavenly Father calls us to work for Him as sons.—As recognising the filial relation and breathing the filial spirit—i.e. working cheerfully, prayerfully, hopefully.
III. Our Heavenly Father calls us to work for Him at once, “to-day.”—John Morgan.
“I will,” and “I won’t,”—a story of two brothers (For children).—We do not know the names of these two brothers, so we will call them “I WILL” and “I WON’T.” They evidently lived with their father, who owned a vineyard.
I. Two brothers very much unlike.—I think “I will” was the elder of the two, and in some versions of the story he is put first. He was a very promising young man; indeed, he was all promise, as we shall see, and little performance. He found it so much easier to say “Yes” than “No,” that he often said “Yes” when he did not mean it. Brothers are often unlike each other. Instance Jacob and Esau, Moses and Aaron, Peter and Andrew, James and John. No need for brothers to be exactly alike. Nature is full of variety and character is full of variety. Tastes, habits, acquirements, all make us different, even as our faces are different.
II. A reasonable request.—
1. Their father asked them kindly. “Son, go work in my vineyard.” Not “slave,” not “servant,” not even “go,” but “son.”
2. He asked what each had the power to perform.—“Go work.” Idleness is a disgrace. Work is pleasant, manly, profitable, honourable.
3. His request involved no hardship.—Did not say, “Go work in my coal mine,” but “work in my vineyard.”
4. It was a rightful request.—He was their father.
III. The two answers.—“I WON’T” at once refused. He was a hasty boy; did not think about it; made up his mind in a moment. He was blunt. He had no right to have spoken so curtly to a father. His answer would grieve his father. “I WILL” promised at once. He also was hasty. It was not the promptness of a grateful and ready mind, but the utterance of a glib tongue. It was insincere. He said what he did not mean. Words and intentions should go together. He was thoughtless. As soon as his father was out of sight he forgot his promise, and went on with his pastime.
IV. A youth who changed his mind.—It is said the boy who changes his mind proves that he has a mind to change; but he must beware of fickleness. “He repented.”
1. His repentance did not come immediately.—It was “afterwards he repented.”
2. His repentance implies that he was sorry.—There was a true heart under a rough exterior. “Some men seem to imagine they will be forgiven for being sinners because they have never pretended to be saints; but is a man less the enemy of God because he is outspoken?”
3. His repentance was immediately followed by work.—It is very easy to express regret—to say we are sorry; but this boy “went and did the will of his father.”
V. Which brother are we like?—
1. Do not be too ready to say, “I will;” mean it first and then say it.
2. Cultivate courtesy, and before refusing a reasonable request be sure that you have good reasons for refusing.
3. Look upon this little parable as a picture of our Heavenly Father’s, call. To every son He says, “Go work in My vineyard,” and He says, Do it “to-day.” Is my name “I will,” or “I won’t?”—Preparation.
The temptations of work.—Work has its temptations, more subtle than the temptations of idleness. There are two great formulas: the formula of the world and the formula of Christ. The formula of the world is: Not you, but yours; not what you are, but what you do, is the thing sought for. The formula of Christ is: Not yours, but you; your life is greater in God’s sight than your life-work. The formula of the world finds its practical and its powerful ally in the temptations of work. The formula of Christ means the protection and the development of your spiritual life. The temptations of work, what are they?
I. To self-deception.—The more you love your work, and the greater your success in your work, the more are you exposed to the temptation of self-deception. If you love your work the performance of it gives you pleasure and satisfaction, and weaves into your thought the subtle idea that work is the ultimate thing, and that success in work means completeness. What you do becomes more to you than what you are, and every time you do well, and the world tells you you do well, that illusive sense of ultimateness gains power over you, and your life-work overtops your life.
II. To unspirituality.—It grows out of the first. We are not promised that the Spirit of God shall dwell in our work, except in so far as He first dwells in our life. When ambition, the appetite for power, or when activity, the appetite for work, becomes the ruling idea of existence, when we live for effect, or when we attempt to find ultimateness in being busy, it is amazing to see how a wall seems built up between our life and our work; and how the nobleness, even the spirituality, of our calling communicates no blessing to our neglected and depleted spiritual life. Do you ask me, “What is the proper food of the spiritual life?” I answer by naming a trinity of truths, upon which, if you feed day by day, you will ever keep greater and holier than your life-work; great and holy as, for some of you, that life-work may be. Christ’s work for you, Christ’s presence in you, Christ’s purpose through you.—Charles Cuthbert Hall.
I. The command.—“Go.” Some Christians would always be with Christ. They love emotion—contemplation; like Mary they would never move from His feet. To such He says, Go; you must tear yourself away from the ideal of religion to the practical. The society of your Master is to come after.
II. The labour.—“Work.” Religion is toil. Toil in self culture. Toil in converting souls. Toil in perfecting and carrying out God’s plans.
III. The time.—“To-day.” Divine things admit no delay.
IV. The place.—“In My vineyard.” It is all God’s vineyard. Though the world is reeking with sin, though the soul is fouled with sin, though Satan is riding roughshod over fallen creation, it is all God’s. Consider:
1. How vast the sphere of duty.
2. How great the requirements of service.
3. How intense the responsibility.
4. How great the privilege.
5. How sure the reward.—Anon.
Matthew 21:29. Wisdom of complying with the gospel-call.—
I. What is the work to which the gospel calls, and with which sinners will not comply? It is the work of practical godliness. It is a large work, as extensive as the commandment, which is exceeding broad.
II. Why is it that sinners will not comply with this work?—
1. Because it is the work, to which of all works, their hearts are most averse (Romans 8:7).
2. Because of the prevailing love of carnal ease. Fighting, running, praying, striving, wrestling, taking heavenly violence and the like, they cannot away with.
3. Because Satan furnishes them with work (John 8:44). They are busy doing nothing, or hatching the cockactrice’s egg; doing worse than nothing, they have much to do having the desires of the flesh and mind to fulfil.
III. Why this reason should be retracted?—
1. Because this refusal is against the respect and duty which you owe to Him who calls you to the work (Malachi 1:6).
2. Because this refusal is full of the basest ingratitude.
3. It is the most foolish and unreasonable refusal that can be; and if the sinner were not out of himself, he could not be capable of it.
4. You are ruined if you stand to your refusal.—Anon.
Matthew 21:31-40.21.32. The application of the parable.—The application of the parable to those to whom our Lord was speaking could not be misunderstood.
I. The first son, the man who at first said he would not go, but afterwards repented and went, was the representative of the publicans and harlots.—They had lived in open sin, and were not surprised that men should denounce them as hopelessly corrupt. But John’s preaching went to their hearts, because he assured them, that even for them there was an open gate into the kingdom of God.
II. The priests and elders.—The men who represented all that was respectable and religious in the country, were depicted in the second son who promptly said he would go and work for his father, but did not do so. These priests and elders spent their time in professing to be God’s people. Their day was filled with religious services. They had no secular business at all; they were identified with religion; their whole life was a proclamation that they were God’s servants, and a profession of their willingness to obey. And yet they failed to do the one thing they were there to do. They heard John’s teaching, they knew it was the voice of God, but they refused to prepare their hearts and understandings, as he taught them, that they might recognise Christ. Their whole profession collapsed like a burst bubble; they were proved to be shams, to be dealing in mere words with no idea of realities.—M. Dods, D.D.
Matthew 21:31. Grace manifested in flagrant sinners.—The manner of working grace in profane persons, and great sinners, for the most part is this: they see two things:—
I. Their own misery.—They ascend to a sight of their misery by these steps.
1. They see their own sins, which they have committed against God.
2. They see the severity of that law which they have transgressed, and of that Lord, whom they have offended, into whose hands it is a fearful thing to fall.
3. They tremble and fear by reason of the righteous judgments of God.
4. They grieve and mourn that by their sins they have roused a sleeping lion, and incensed and stirred up against them so potent a foe.
5. They confess and acknowledge that they are unworthy to come unto God, or to receive mercy from Him.
II. God’s mercy.—They attain unto the sight thereof by these degrees.
1. They see the promises of the gospel and the condition of repentance expressed in the gospel.
2. They come humbly to Christ.
3. They accept of the conditions which the gospel requires.
4. They come unto the holy Eucharist, as a symbol and confirmation of all these.—Richard Ward.
Matthew 21:32. Reason for condemnation.—
1. The more blameless and holy the preacher of repentance and righteousness by Christ be found, the greater is the sin of those who do not receive the message, for so Christ aggravateth these men’s sins saying, “John came in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not.”
2. Albeit self-conceited, righteous people do not believe the doctrine of righteousness by Christ, yet God will manifest the power of His truth in the conversion of despised sinners; for “the harlots believed John” albeit the Pharisees did not.
3. The sight and example of other folks believing and repenting in Christ, if it do not move us unto acknowledging our sins also and flying unto Christ, it shall stand as a witness against us, to aggravate our sin and condemnation; therefore, saith He, “And ye, when ye had seen it, ye repented not.”
4. Remorse for not believing God’s word in His servant’s mouth, in time bygone, is a special spur and preparative to believe it the more solidly for time to come; therefore saith He, “Ye repented not, that ye might believe him,” that is, “When you saw that the publicans had outstripped you in the way of righteousness by believing John’s testimony of Me, ye did not lament your unbelief, that you might give him so much the more credit for time to come, and so recover your loss by faith in Me.”—David Dickson.
Matthew 21:33. A vineyard.—Was regarded as the most valuable plantation, which yielded the largest harvest, but required also the most constant labour and care (Schaff). A winepress.—The winepress was often dug or hewn out of the limestone rock in Palestine. There were two receptacles or vats. The upper one was strictly the press or ληνός (Matthew), the lower one the winefat or ὑπολήνιον (Mark) into which the expressed juice of the grape passed. The two vats are mentioned together only in Joel 3:13, “The press (gath) is full, the fats (yekabim) overflow” (Carr). A tower.—Which would serve partly as a watch-tower, and partly as a storage for the wine, and partly, also, as a residence for the workmen, in the season when their attendance would be required (Morison). Let it out to husbandmen.—This kind of tenancy prevails in many parts of Europe. It is known as the metayer system, the arrangement being that the occupier of the land should pay to the landlord a portion—originally half—of the produce (Carr).
Matthew 21:38. Let us seize on his inheritance.—This would be impossible in real life, but not more impossible than the thought of the Pharisees that by the death of Jesus they would gain the spiritual supremacy (ibid.).
Matthew 21:44. Grind him to powder.—Scatter him as dust (R.V.). Literally, it will winnow him. The Saviour’s idea is compressed and pregnant. If the stone fall on anyone, it will pound him into atoms, and thus dissipate him as effectually as if he were the dust of the threshing-floor that needed to be driven away (Morison).
Matthew 21:46. When they sought to lay hands on Him.—The Sanhedrin aimed at two things:
1. To seize Jesus quickly, for the Passover (during which no hostile measures could be taken) was close at hand; and because Jesus might be expected to quit Jerusalem after the feast.
2. To seize Him apart from the people; for the Galilæans would suffer no one to lay hands on their King and Prophet. Treachery alone enabled the Jews to secure their end (Carr).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 21:33-40.21.46
Further answers.—It is one mark of a well-equipped teacher to exhibit variety in his teaching. So this Greatest of teachers had previously taught His disciples (Matthew 13:52). So He exemplifies here. In dealing further with those who had just questioned His authority (Matthew 21:23), He first tells them of that which is “new”—“hear another parable.” In the prophecy which He afterwards quotes as being one with which His hearers ought long ago to have been acquainted (Matthew 21:42), He tells them of that which is “old.” But in both we shall find He refers to the same subject as that of which He had been previously speaking, viz., the character and destiny of that body of teachers and religious leaders of whom His present opponents were representatives and samples.
I. The parable.—This, although here spoken of as “another,” was not fresh in every respect. In its general character, on the contrary, and in some of its leading features, there was much that was “old.” Long before, e.g. the church and people of Israel had been compared, as here, to a “vino” (Matthew 21:33; Psalms 80:0; Isaiah 5:1; Isaiah 5:7, etc.). Something had been said also before of the measures taken for their separation and protection under the figure of a “hedge” (Matthew 21:33; Isaiah 5:2; Isaiah 5:5). And something also, of an expectation on the owner’s part of finding “fruit” on this vine (Isaiah 5:2; Isaiah 5:4). On the other hand, in this “version” of the similitude, there was much that was new. Such was the idea of “letting out” this vineyard to certain of the owner’s servants and leaving it in their charge. Also, the idea of a certain proportion of its “fruits” being his clearly recognised due (end of Matthew 21:34, R.V.). Also, the refusal of those in charge to pay this, and their subsequent ill-treatment in various ways, and to the extremest lengths and that several times over, of those commissioned to ask it (Matthew 21:35-40.21.36). Also, and above all, the introduction of the owner’s son on the scene (Matthew 21:37), of the hopes that that introduction seemed fitted to encourage (ibid.), and of the robber-like conspiracy, with its murderous sequel, which it led to instead. Nor was there less, finally, of the previously unheard of in that which we may speak of as the verdict of this parable. In the quarter, first, from which it was elicited; those who heard the parable and of whom it was speaking, being just those, through the question asked of them, to declare its result. In the tone of certainty, next, with which they speak of it. To the question asked there is but one answer to give (Matthew 21:41). In the manifest equity, lastly, which they recognise in it. In was only right that such “miserable” men should be thus “miserably” destroyed (R.V.). It was only right that there should be others to “render” what had been “withheld” by themselves.
II. The prophecy quoted.—How this is connected with what has gone before may be seen by considering, first, in what respects the prophecy tallies with the parable and its verdict. It does so, e.g. in the prominence given by it to the same persons as before, the “builders” and “stone” of the one corresponding closely with the “husbandmen” and the “heir” of the other. Also, in the kind of action attributed to the persons so named; the “rejection” of the “stone” in the one case corresponding exactly to the “killing and casting out” of the “heir” in the other. Also, once more, to a certain extent, in regard to the punishment inflicted, and the reason given for it, in the two cases referred to (cf. Matthew 21:41; Matthew 21:43). The connection in question may be seen next, by observing in what respects the teaching of the prophecy follows up that of the parable. How it tells, on the one side, of the wonderful subsequent glorification of that which had been “rejected” by the builders and cast out by the “husbandmen,” the once despised “stone” becoming nothing less, in the end, than “the head of the corner,” and that in so “marvellous” a way, as only to be accounted for by the direct operation of God (Matthew 21:42). How it tells on the other, of a singularly discriminating and so confirmatory fate as being reserved for these rejecters thereof—those who merely “stumble” at that Divine stone being “broken” thereby, but not necessarily (so it appears) in an irrecoverable manner, whilst those who go further and wilfully cause others besides to stumble at it, are broken thereby beyond hope (Matthew 21:44). And how this brings us, therefore, to that final catastrophe which the Lord then had in His mind, even the utter approaching destruction of those persons who were opposing Him then. Something of all this, indeed, with all their blindness, they appear to have understood at this time (Matthew 21:45).
The words thus addressed to them may teach us in our turn:—
1. The true nature of the sin of the world.—It is opposing God’s will. It is doing so, more especially, in regard to His Son. Casting out and killing the appointed “Heir.” Rejecting the “chosen Stone.” (See Psalms 2:0 passim; John 16:9; John 15:22-43.15.23; John 6:29; 1 John 3:23, also Matthew 25:40; Matthew 25:45).
2. The true secret of the life of the church.—Recognising the “Only begotten” as at once the foundation and consummation of all, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last. Had these men “known this they would not have crucified, the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7-46.2.8; Acts 3:17; see also John 17:3; John 1:1, etc.; Hebrews 1:1, etc.; Colossians 2:3).
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 21:33-40.21.46. The vineyard and its keepers.—This parable was apparently spoken on the Tuesday of the Passion week. It was a day of hand-to-hand conflict with the Jewish authorities and of exhausting toil, as the bare enumeration of its incidents shows. It included all that Matthew records between Matthew 21:20 of this chapter and the end of the twenty-fifth chapter. What a day! What a fountain of wisdom and love which poured out all this! The pungent severity of this parable, with its transparent veil of narrative, is only appreciated by keeping clearly in view the circumstances and the listeners. They had struck at Him with their question of His authority, and He parries the blow. Now it is His turn, and the sharp point goes home.
I. The first stage is the preparation of the vineyard, in which three steps are marked.—
1. It is planted and furnished with all appliances needful for making wine, which is its great end. The direct Divine origin of the religious ideas and observances of “Judaism” is thus asserted by Christ. The only explanation of them is that God enclosed that bit of the wilderness, and, with His own hands, set growing there these exotics. Neither the theology nor the ritual is of man’s establishing.
2. Thus furnished, the vineyard is next handed over to the husbandmen, who, in Matthew, are exclusively the rulers, while in Luke they are the people. No doubt it was “like people, like priest.”
3. Having installed the husbandmen, the owner goes into another country. Centuries of comparative Divine silence followed the planting of the vineyard. Having given us charge, God, as it were, steps aside to leave us room to work as we will, and so to display what we are made of. He is absent in so far as conspicuous oversight and retribution are concerned. He is present to help, love, and bless.
II. Then comes the habitual ill-treatment of the messengers.—
1. These are, of course, the prophets, whose office was not only to foretell, but to plead for obedience and trust, the fruits sought by God. There is no more remarkable historical fact than that of the uniform hostility of the Jews to the prophets. That a nation of such a sort as always to hate, and generally to murder, them should have had them in long succession throughout its history, is surely inexplicable on any naturalistic hypothesis. Such men were not the natural product of the race, nor of its circumstances, as their fate shows. No “philosophy of Jewish history” explains the anomaly except the one stated here, “he sent his servants.”
2. The hostility of the husbandmen grows with indulgence. From beating they go on to killing, and stoning is a specially savage form of killing. The more God pleads with men, the more self-conscious and bitter becomes their hatred; and the more bitter their hatred, the more does He plead, sending other messengers, more, perhaps, in number, or possibly of more weight, with larger commission and clearer light. Thus the antagonistic forces both grow, and the worse men become, the louder and more beseeching the call of God to them. That is always true; and it is also ever true that he who begins with “I go, sir,” and goes not, is in a fair way to end with stoning the prophets.
3. Christ treats the whole long series of violent rejections as the acts of the same set of husbandmen. The class or nation was one, as the stream is one, though all its particles were different; and the Pharisees and scribes, who stood with frowning hatred before Him as He spoke, were the living embodiment of the spirit which had animated all the past.
III. The mission of the Son and its fatal issue (Matthew 21:37-40.21.39).—Three things are here prominent.
1. The unique position which Christ claims.
2. The owner’s vain hope in sending his son. Christ knew Himself to be God’s last appeal, as He is to all men, as well as to that generation. He is the last arrow in God’s quiver. When He has shot that bolt, the resources even of Divine love are exhausted, and no more can be done for the vineyard than He has done for it.
3. The vain calculation of the husbandmen. Christ puts hidden motives into plain words, and reveals to these rulers what they scarcely knew of their own hearts. With what sad calmness does Jesus tell the fate of the son, so certain that it is already as good as done! It was done in their counsels, and yet He does not cease to plead, if perchance some hearts may be touched, and withdraw themselves from the confederacy of murder.
IV. The self-condemnation from unwilling lips.—Our Lord turns to the rulers with startling and dramatic suddenness, which may have thrown them off their guard, so that their answer leaped out before they had time to think whom it hit.
V. Then comes the solemn application and naked truth of the parable.—Who can venture to speak of the awful doom set forth in the last words here? It has two stages: one a lesser misery, which is the lot of him who stumbles against the stone, while it lies passive, to be built on; one more dreadful, when it has acquired motion and comes down with irresistible impetus.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 21:33-40.21.41. The efforts of mercy to redeem.—
I. Abundant.—Vineyard planted, fenced, guarded, tilled.
II. Outraged.—Messengers despised, ill-treated, slain.
III. Persevering.—One messenger after another, and last of all the greatest, wisest, best—“His Son.”—J. C. Gray.
Matthew 21:37.Christ the Messenger of His own gospel.—
I. The dignity of the person whom God employed to preach the gospel. “His Son.”—
1. A superior person to Moses, the prophets, and infinitely superior to every other messenger of God.
2. The sublimest titles are bestowed on this person both in the Old and New Testaments.
II. That this is the final interposition of God in our favour.—“Last of all.”
1. As He is infinitely superior to all that were before Him, so it may well be presumed that none will come after Him; and that the message He brings seals and finishes God’s revelation to the children of men.
2. This is the reason why the predictions relating to the Messiah, refer His coming to the last days (Isaiah 2:2).
III. Our duty in relation to this sacred Messenger of heaven.—To reverence Him.
1. By attending to the proofs of His Divine mission. This He requires (John 5:31-43.5.38).
2. By receiving Him in that capacity with gratitude, love, hope, joy.
3. By embracing the holy errand on which He was sent, and complying with the practical purposes of His mission: “God raised up His Son to bless us.” How? “In turning us from our iniquities,” and teaching us “to deny ungodliness,” etc. (Titus 2:12).
4. By forming ourselves according to that sacred model He exhibited to mankind.
5. By receiving pardon and sanctification through that awful method which God has appointed, the blood of His Son (Colossians 1:14; 1 John 1:7).
6. By daily acts of worship and adoration; honouring the Son as we honour the Father (John 5:23; Romans 14:11).—Anon.
Matthew 21:42. Christ, rejected of men, exalted of God.—Biblical scholars and critics are of opinion that the words in Psalms 118:22 refer to an historical event, a literal transaction. “There is every presumption,” says one of them, “that the Psalmist here refers to a stone that was rejected by the builders of the temple, and which was afterwards made the chief stone of the corner. The presumption is supported by what is stated in the fifth and sixth chapters of the first Book of Kings.” All the stones of the temple were prepared at a distance from the temple, and so prepared that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the building on Mount Moriah. Before the builders could say that their work was done they had to lift the stone which they had rejected and place it in the corner for which it had been designed. They then admitted that it was indeed the chief stone of the corner and the glory of their seven years’ labour. The truths suggested by the words of the text may be considered in at least four aspects:—
I. The metaphorical aspect.—A stone has a unity of substance, a solidity and durability of character, which give it incomparable renown as a foundation, or as a thing of strength and resistance. There are rocks and stones of which it may be said, Who hath declared their generation? Whatever mystery there may be connected with the stone which the builders rejected, it is most certain that Jesus Christ is the all-sufficient foundation of the church, the supreme reason of her continued existence and power in the world. He is to the church, past and present, visible and invisible, what the keystone is to the bridge, and the corner-stone to a building.
II. The doctrinal aspect.—The doctrine of the text is that of might against right in a stern and continuous struggle. We see the tiny beginnings of might against right in the histories of Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and we see evidences of it all through the ages. But what are all these but the faint glimmerings of the more awful conflict referred to in the text? That conflict was not the result of mere ignorance or mental inertia. It was the outcome of direct repugnance to the Holy One of Israel.
III. The historical aspect.—There is nothing, perhaps, so remarkable in the history of nations as the difference made by the presence or the absence of Christianity. “Where is that place,” says a distinguished statesman (Russell Lowell), “where age is revered, infancy respected, womanhood honoured, and human life held in due regard; where is that place, ten miles square in this globe, where the gospel of Christ has not gone and cleared the way and laid the foundation?” We challenge the sceptical world to show us such a place. From the day that the Jews rejected Christ, Christianity has been to us Gentiles as life from the dead.
IV. The practical aspect of the text suggests the doctrine of man’s responsibility to Christ. All men are builders. Every building must rest on some foundation, or have some reason, good or bad, for its existence. That Jesus Christ is the only and all-sufficient foundation of the church is beyond dispute. The rulers of a nation are also builders, and are equally responsible to Him by whom all things consist. Of church and state He is emphatically the chief corner-stone.—Dr. J. Kerr Campbell.
Matthew 21:43. Privileges forfeited.—
1. The gospel, or the means of grace in a visible face of a church, is God’s kingdom on earth, and the greatest benefit that can be bestowed on a land.
2. The nation which doth not bring forth the fruits of the gospel may justly be deprived of that privilege, as here is threatened, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you.”
3. The church may be flitted from one nation to another, but shall not cease to be among some people; for, “It shall be given to another,” saith Christ. Thus, He foretelleth them of the rejection of the Jews and the in bringing of the Gentiles.—David Dickson.
Matthew 21:44. Neglecting and opposing Christ.—I. The first case is that in which Christ is a stone of stumbling to those to whom He is presented. God lays this stone everywhere in our way that we may build upon it or set it high in the place of honour, and we cannot simply walk on as if God had done no such thing. Whatever else Christ is, He is substantial, a reality as solid as the stone against which your foot is jarred. The gospel once heard is “henceforward a perpetual element in the whole condition, character, and destiny of the hearer.” No man who has heard can be as if he had not. Though he may wish to pass on as if he had not seen Christ at all, he is not the same man as he was before, his spiritual condition is altered, possibilities have dawned upon his mind, openings into regions which are new and otherwise inaccessible; he is haunted by unsettled perplexities, doubts, anxieties, thoughts. This attitude of mind must have been very common in Christ’s own time, many persons must have shrunk from the responsibility of determining for themselves what they ought to think of Him. Many now do the same. They wish to overlook Him and pass on into life as if He were not in their path. But how foolish if He be the one foundation on whom a life can safely be built. Those who thus overlook Christ and try to pass on into life as if He were not, damage their own character because they know He is there, and until they make up their minds about Him, life a mere make-believe. It is thus they are bruised on this stone of stumbling. This bruised condition, however, is remediable.
II. The second action of the stone on the builder is described as final.—At once slain and buried, those who determinedly opposed Christ lie oppressed by that which might have been their joy. Their dwelling and refuge becomes their tomb. Every excellence of Christ they have leagued against themselves. It is their everlasting shame that they were ashamed of Him. The faithfulness, truth, and love of Christ, that is to say, the qualities whose existence is all that any saved man ever had to depend upon, the qualities in the knowledge and faith of which the weakest and most heartless sinner sets out boldly and hopefully to eternity, these all now torment with crushing remorse those who have despised them. Do not suppose this is an extravagant figure used by our Lord to awe His enemies, and that no man will ever suffer a doom which can be fairly represented in these terms. It is a statement of fact. Things are to move on eternally in fulfilment of the will of Christ. He is identified with all that is righteous, all that is wise, all that is ultimately successful. To oppose His course, to endeavour to defeat His object, to attempt to work out an eternal success apart from Him is as idle as to seek to stop the earth in its course, or to stand in the path of a stone avalanche in order to stem it.—M. Dods, D.D.
Matthew 21:45-40.21.46. Understanding but not profiting.—
1. Threatenings profit not, but rather do irritate desperately wicked men, as here they desire to lay hands on Him.
2. Christ’s most malicious adversaries, though they be set for blood, yet can do no more than God will suffer them to do.
3. As long as the body of the people do favour Christ’s cause, persecutors will not vent all their designs against Christ and His followers.
4. The least good opinion of Christ will serve for some use; albeit not to the parties’ salvation, yet to the advantage of Christ’s cause, as here it served for some use, that they took Him for a prophet.—David Dickson.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 21". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany