Question of the priests and scribes as to the nature of the authority under which Jesus was acting.
Luke 20:1, Luke 20:2
And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel. We are now in the midst of the so-called Passion week. Probably the events related in this chapter took place on the Tuesday. The first day of the week, Palm Sunday, was the day of the public entry into the city. The purification of the temple took place on the Monday, on which day also the barren fig tree was cursed. We are now considering the events of the Tuesday. The Greek word εὐαγγελιζομένου is especially a Pauline word; we find it rarely used save in his writings, and of course in those of St. Luke. St. Paul uses it twenty times, and St. Luke twenty-five. The chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders, and spake unto him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? This appears to have been a formal deputation from the supreme council of the Sanhedrim The three classes here specified represented probably the three great sections of the Sanhedrin—
These came upon him evidently with hostile intent, and surrounded him as he was walking in the temple. The jealous anger of the rulers of the Jews had been lately specially excited by the triumphant entry on Palm Sunday, and by the stir and commotion which the presence of Jesus had occasioned in the holy city. And in the last two or three days Jesus had evidently claimed especial power in the temple. He had publicly driven out the money-changers and vendors of sacrificial victims who plied their calling in the sacred courts. He had, in addition, forbade the carrying vessels across the temple (Mark 11:16), and had allowed the children in the temple, probably those attached to its choir, to shout "Hosanna!" to him as the Messiah. From the point of view of the Sanhedrin, such a question might well have been looked for. His interlocutors made quite sure that Jesus, in reply, would claim having received a Divine commission. Had he made openly such a formal claim in reply to their question, then he would have been cited before the supreme court to give an account of himself and his commission. Then, as they thought, would have been their opportunity to convict him out of his own mouth of blasphemy.
And he answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men! And they reasoned with themselves saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then believed ye him not? But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. The reply of Jesus was one of strange wisdom. He—Jesus—as was well known, had been introduced to the people by this very John. If the Sanhedrin acknowledged John the Baptist as a divinely accredited messenger, then surely they could not question the claims of one borne special witness to by him, brought forward and introduced to public notice by him! If, on the other hand, the Sanhedrin refused to acknowledge the authority of John as a Heaven-sent messenger, which would have been the course they would have preferred, then the popularity and influence of the Sanhedrin would have been sorely imperilled, for the people generally held firmly that John the Baptist was really a prophet of the Lord. They even feared—as we read, "All the people will stone us"—personal violence on the part of the people whose favour they so zealously courted.
And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. The reply of Jesus, which so perplexed the Sanhedrin, really inflicted a grave blow to their prestige, thus compelling the grave doctors of the Law, who claimed the right of deciding all momentous questions, to decline to pronounce a judgment on so grave a question as "the position of the Baptist," that mighty preacher who had so stirred and roused Israel and who had with his life paid the forfeit of his boldness in rebuking crime in high places, thereby no doubt enormously enlarging his already vast popularity with the people.
And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. Jesus, on hearing their plea of ignorance, now contemptuously declines to answer the Sanhedrists' question in the direct way they desired, but at once proceeds to speak a parable which unmistakably contains the reply.
Parable of the wicked husbandmen in the vineyard, and the simile of the corner-stone.
A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen. Under a very thin parabolic veil, Jesus foretells the awful tragedy of the next few days. He adopts a well-known imagery, and seems to say, "Listen to Isaiah's well-known story of the vineyard, the vineyard of the Lord of hosts, which is the house of Israel. I will expand it a little, that I may show you how it stands with you as regards this matter of 'authority,' that we may see whether you have as much respect for the ascertained will of God as ye pretend, so that ye should be sure to submit to me if only ye were satisfied that I was an accredited Messenger of God" (Professor Bruce). For a long time. Representing the nearly two thousand years of Jewish history.
He sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard. After the pains and care bestowed upon the vineyard, that is, after the many mighty works done in Israel's behalf, the Lord of hosts looked for fruits of gratitude and fidelity in some proportion to the mighty favours which it had received from him. The people were intended to be the example to, and the educators of, the world, and, instead of carrying out these high functions, they lived the poor selfish life so sadly depicted in the long story contained in the historical and prophetical books. "He looked that it [his vineyard] should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes" (Isaiah 5:2). But the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out. These represent the prophets, those faithful servants of the Lord, whose toils and trials and fate are painted in the Epistle to the Hebrews (11.) in such glowing and eloquent language. And again he sent. In Luke 20:11 and Luke 20:12, προσέθεο πέμψαι, literally, "he added to send another"—a Hebraism. This shows St. Luke here based his account on a Hebrew (Aramaic) original. Professor Bruce well puts the thoughts which possessed the wicked husbandmen thus: "When the servants came for fruit, they were simply surprised. 'Fruit! did you say? We have occupied the position of vine-dressers, and have duly drawn our wages: what more do you want?' Such was the actual fact in regard to the spiritual heads of Israel. They were men who never thought of fruit, but only of the honour and privilege of being entrusted with the keeping of the vineyard. They were triflers, men utterly devoid of earnestness, and the practical purpose of the property committed to their charge they habitually forgot. Generally speaking, they had utterly lost sight of the end of Israel's calling." Their anger flamed forth when accredited messengers of the Lord visited them and reminded them of their forgotten duties; they vented their furious wrath by persecuting some and killing others of these faithful men.
Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do! I will send my beloved son. The guilt of the husbandmen who acted as vine-dressers here reached its highest measure. The words represented here by Jesus as spoken by God, possess the deepest doctrinal value. They, under the thin veil of the parable-story, answer the question of the Sanhedrim (Luke 20:2), "By what authority doest thou these things?" The deliberative words, "What shall I do?" recall the Divine dialogue alluded to in Gem. Luke 1:26. St. Luke here represents the Father as calling the Son, "my Beloved." St. Mark adds that he was an only Son. Such sayings as this, and the remarkable prayer of Matthew 11:25-27, are a clear indication of the Christology of the synoptists. Their estimate of the Person of the blessed Son in no wise differed from that given us by St. John at much greater length and with fuller details.
But when the husbandmen saw him; they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. The husbandmen are represented as knowing the son and heir. Nor can we resist the conclusion that some at least of those grave learned men who sat in the Sanhedrim as priests or scribes well knew who the Speaker of the awful words claimed to be, and, in resisting him and seeking his destruction, were deliberately sinning against the voice of their own hearts.
Luke 20:15, Luke 20:16
So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. The parable-story of itself was an improbable one. The conduct of the husbandmen, the long patience of the owner of the vineyard, his last act in sending his beloved and only son, ― all this makes up a history without a parallel in human experience. Yet this is an exact sketch of what did actually take place in the eventful story of Israel! What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. Again a hint of a solemn deliberation in heaven, a prophetic picture of the future of the Jewish race fulfilled with terrible exactness. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid! Well understood they the Speaker's meaning here. He foreshadowed, in no veiled language, the utter ruin of the Jewish polity. When they heard this, forgetting to be scornful, they exclaimed, in deprecation of the ominous and terrible prediction, ΄ὴ γένοιτο! which we render accurately, though not literally, "God forbid!"
Luke 20:17, Luke 20:18
And he beheld them, and said, What is this then thai; is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. In spite of the deprecating expression, the severity of the tone of Jesus increases in his next words, when, looking at them with grave anger ( ἐμβλέψας), he proceeds to speak of himself under the figure of the rejected stone. Quoting a well-known psalm (Psalms 118:22), and using the imagery of Isaiah 8:14, Isaiah 8:15 and Daniel 2:44, he describes his fortunes under the imago of a corner-stone—that stone which forms the junction between the two most prominent walls of a building, and which is always laid with peculiar care and attention. In Luke 2:34 of our Gospel Simeon refers to the same well-known prophetic saying. The husbandmen who had just been described as vine-dressers are now described as builders, and the murdered son is reproduced under the image of a corner, stone tossed aside as useless. In the first part of the picture, the earthly humiliation of Messiah is portrayed when the stone is laid in the earth. In the second, the stone falling from the top of the building represents the crushing of all earthly opposition by Messiah in his glory. Woe to the builders, then, who had scornfully rejected him
And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them. Again the Sanhedrim take counsel. They long to arrest him on some capital charge; but they dared not, for the people, joined by the Passover pilgrims, had exalted him to the rank of a hero. Not a few evidently looked on him at that period as King Messiah, But the feeling of the great council was intensely bitter. They felt their power and influence was slipping away from them. These last parables were scarcely veiled attacks on them. In the last spoken words he had calmly announced that he was to die, and their hands were to carry out the bloody work. And then, in the simile of the corner-stone, he, in no ambiguous terms, told them that in killing him they will not be done with him, for that in the end they will be utterly crushed by his power.
The question of the tribute money.
And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take held of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor. In their intense hatred, conscious that the populace were on the whole in sympathy with Jesus, the Sanhedrim, to carry out their design on his life, determined to avail themselves of the hated Roman military police. Their hope henceforward is to substantiate a charge of treason against him. This was, in those troublous times, when insurrection against the detested Gentile rule was ever being plotted, a comparatively easy matter. The incident of the tribute money, which immediately follows, was part of this new departure in the Sanhedrin policy respecting the murder they so longed to see carried out.
Luke 20:21, Luke 20:22
And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly: Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no? SS. Matthew and Mark both tell us that in this plot the Herodians were united with the Pharisees (and Sanhedrin). The great Nazareth Reformer was equally hateful to both these hostile parties; hence their union in this matter. It was a well and skilfully laid question. This "tribute" was a capitation tax—a denarius a head assessed on the whole population, the publicans who farmed it being answerable for it to the Roman treasury. As a direct personal tax it was most unpopular, and was looked on by scrupulous legalists and the more zealous Jews as involving a greater humiliation than the ordinary import or export customs dues. It occasioned at times popular tumults, as in the case of Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37). If Jesus answered the question in the affirmative "Yes, it is lawful for the Jews to give this tribute to Caesar," then the Pharisees would use this decision of his as a means of undermining his credit with the zealous populace. "See, after all," they would say, "this pretended Messiah of yours is but a poor-hearted traitor. Think of King Messiah paying tribute to a Gentile." If, on the other hand, the Master had said such payment of tribute was unlawful, then the Herodians, who were watching him, hoping for some such expression of opinion, would at once have denounced him to their Roman friends as One who taught the people—only too ready to listen to such teaching—lessons of sedition. In the latter case Pilate and the officials of Rome would have taken good care that the Galilaean Master had troubled the Sanhedrin no more.
Show me a penny; literally, a denarius, a coin of the value of 7.5 d., but really representing a larger sum in our money. It seems probable, from the language of Mark 12:15, Mark 12:16, that his interrogators had to borrow the Roman coin in question from some of the neighbouring money-changers. These Jews would scarcely carry any but Jewish coins in their girdles. That the Roman denarius, however, was evidently a coin in common circulation in those days, we gather from the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar's. "On one side would be the once beautiful but now depraved features of Tiberius; the title 'Pontifex Maximus' was probably inscribed on the obverse" (Farrar).
And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's. As regarded the immediate issues the Lord's answer was in the affirmative: "Yes, it is lawful under the present circumstances to pay this tribute." The Roman money current in the land, bearing the image and title of the Caesar, bore perpetual witness to the fact that the rule of Rome was established and acknowledged by the Jewish people and their rulers. It was a well-known and acknowledged saying, that "he whose coin is current is king of the land." So the great Jewish rabbi Maimonides, centuries after, wrote, "Ubi-cunque numisma regis alicujus obtinet, illic incolae regem istum pro Domino agnoscunt." The tribute imposed by the recognized sovereign ought certainly to be paid as a just debt; nor would this payment at all interfere with the people's discharging their duties God-ward. The tithes, tribute to the temple, the offerings enjoined by the Law they revered,—these ancient witnesses to the Divine sovereignty in Israel might and ought still to be rendered, as well as the higher obligations to the invisible King, such as faith, love, and obedience. Tribute to the Caesar, then, the acknowledged sovereign, in no way interfered with tribute to God. What belonged to Caesar should be given to him, and what belonged to God ought to be rendered likewise to him. Godet, in a long and able note, adds that Jesus would teach the turbulent Jewish people that the way to regain their theocratic independence was not to violate the duty of submission to Caesar by a revolutionary shaking off of his yoke, but to return to the faithful fulfilment of all duties toward God, "To render to God what is God's was the way for the people of God to obtain a new David instead of Caesar as their Lord. To the Pharisees and Zealots, 'Render unto Caesar;' to the Herodians, 'Render unto God.'" Well caught the great Christian teachers their Master's thought here in all their teaching respecting an institution such as slavery, in their injunctions concerning rigid and unswerving loyalty to established authority. So St. Paul: "Be subject to the powers … not only from fear of punishment, but also for conscience' sake" (Romans 13:1 and 1 Timothy).
The scornful question of the Sadducees bearing on the doctrine of the resurrection, and the Lord's reply.
Luke 20:27, Luke 20:28
Then came to him certain of the Saddducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked him, saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man's brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. This is the only occasion related in the Gospels where our Lord comes in direct conflict with the Sadducees. They were a small but very wealthy and powerful sect. The high priests at this period and their families seem to have belonged generally to this party. They acknowledged as Divine the books of Moses, but refused to see in them any proof of the resurrection, or indeed of life after death. To the prophets and the other books they only attached subordinate importance. Supercilious worldliness, and a quiet indifference to all spiritual things, characterized them at this period. They come, comparatively speaking, little in contact with Jesus during his earthly ministry. While the Pharisee hated the Galilaean Master, the Sadducee professed to look on him rather with contempt. The question here seems to have been put with supercilious scorn. SS. Matthew and Mark preface the Lord's answer with a few words of grave rebuke, exposing the questioners' utter ignorance of the deep things involved in their query.
There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children. And the second took her to wife, and he died childless. And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also: and they left no children, and died. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife. The question here put to the Master was a well-known materialistic objection to the resurrection, and had on several occasions Been asked by these shallow Epicureans—as the Talmud calls them—to the great rabbis of the schools of the Pharisees. Their usual answer was that the woman in question would be the wife of the first husband.
And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more. How different are the few rare pictures which our Master draws of the heaven-life to those painted by the great founders and teachers of other world-wide religions! In his world beyond the grave, while he tells us of a continuing existence, of varied and ever-increasing activity, in contradistinction to the Nirvana of Buddha, in these pictures of Jesus the sensual paradise of Mohammed, for instance, finds no place. Marriage is, according to our Lord's teaching, but a temporary expedient to preserve the human race, to which death would soon put an end. But in the world to come there will be no death and no marriage. We may assume from his words here that the difference between the sexes will have ceased to exist. They are equal unto the angels. Equal with the angels in being immortal; no death; no marriage. Jesus in this place asserts that angels have a body, but are exempt from any difference of sex. The angels are here introduced because our Lord was speaking with Sadducees, who (Acts 23:8) denied the existence of these glorious beings. He wished to set the seal of his teaching on the deeply interesting question of the existence of angels.
Luke 20:37, Luke 20:38
Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush. You Sadducees, in your own arbitrary fashion, set aside the authority of the prophets and all sacred books save the Pentateuch; well, I will argue with you on your own, comparatively speaking, narrow ground—the books of Moses. Even he, Moses, is singularly clear and definite in his teaching on this point of the resurrection, though you pretend he is not. You are acquainted with the well-known section in Exodus termed 'the Bush :' what read you there?" When he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living; more accurately rendered, not a God of dead beings, but of lividly beings. The meaning of the Lord's argument is, "God would never have called himself the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, if these patriarchs, after their short lives, had become mere crumbling dust. God cannot be the God of a being who does not exist." So Josephus—who, however, no doubt drew his argument from these words of Christ, for this strong and conclusive argument from the Pentateuch for the immortality of man does not appear to have occurred to rabbis before the time of our Lord—so Josephus writes: "They who die for God's sake live unto God as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the patriarchs." The expression, "at the bush," should be rendered "in the Bush," that is, in that division of Exodus so named. So the Jews termed 2 Samuel 1:1-27. and following verses "the Bow;" Ezekiel 1:1-28. and following section, "the Chariot."
Luke 20:39, Luke 20:40
Then certain of the scribes answering, said, Master, thou hast well said. And after that they durst not ask him any question at all. "This prompt and sublime answer filled with admiration the scribes, who had so often sought this decisive word in Hoses without finding it; they cannot restrain themselves from testifying their joyful surprise. Aware from this time forth that every snare laid for him will be the occasion for a glorious manifestation of his wisdom, they give up this method of attack" (Godet).
The question rejecting Christ's being David's Son.
And he said unto them, How say they that Christ is David's Son? St. Matthew gives us more details of what went before the following saying of Jesus in which he asserts the Divinity of Messiah. Jesus asked the Pharisees, "What think ye of Christ? whose Son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord," etc.? (Matthew 22:42-44). This is one of the most remarkable sayings of our Lord reported by the synoptists; in it he distinctly claims for himself Divinity, participation in omnipotence. Unmistakably, lately, under the thinnest veil of parable, Jesus had told the people that he was Messiah For instance, his words in the parable of the "wicked husbandmen;" in the parable of "the pounds;" in his late acts in the temple—driving out the sellers and buyers, allowing the children in the temple to welcome him with Messianic salutation, receiving as Messiah the welcome of the Passover pilgrims and others on Palm Sunday as he entered Jerusalem. In his later parables, too, he had with startling clearness predicted his approaching violent death. Now, Jesus was aware that the capital charge which would be brought against him would be blasphemy, that he had called himself, not only the Messiah, but Divine, the Son of God (John 5:18; John 10:33; Matthew 26:65). He was desirous, then, before the end came, to show from an acknowledged Messianic psalm that if he was Messiah—and unquestionably a large proportion of the people received him as such—he was also Divine. The words of the psalm (110.) indisputably show this, viz. that the coming Messiah was Divine. This, he pointed out to them, was the old faith, the doctrine taught in their own inspired Scriptures. But this was not the doctrine of the Jews in the time of our Lord. They, like the Ebionites in early Christian days, expected for their Messiah a mere "beloved Man." It is most noticeable that the Messianic claim of Jesus, although not, of course, conceded by the scribes, was never protested against by them. That would have been glaringly unpopular. So many of the people, we know, were persuaded of the truth of these pretensions; Jesus had evidently the greatest difficulty to stay the people's enthusiasm in his favour. What the scribes persistently repelled, and in the end condemned him for, was his assertion of Divinity. In this passage he shows from their own Scriptures that whoever was Messiah must be Divine. He spoke over and over again as Messiah; he acted with the power and in the authority of Messiah; he allowed himself on several public occasions to be saluted as such: who would venture, then, to question that he was fully conscious of his Divinity? This conclusion is drawn, not from St. John, but exclusively from the recitals of the three synoptists.
And David himself saith in the Book of Psalms, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand. The Hebrew runs thus: "Jehovah said to my Lord (Adonai)." The Eternal is represented as speaking to Davids Lord, who is also David's Son (this appears clearer in St. Matthew's account, Matthew 22:41-46). The Eternal addresses this Person as One raised to sit by him, that is, as a Participator in his all-power, and yet this one is also David's Son! The scribes are asked to explain this mystery; alone this can be done by referring to the golden chain of Hebrew Messianic prophecy; no scribe in the days of our Lord would do this. Such passages as Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 9:7; Micah 5:2; and Malachi 3:1, give a complete and exhaustive answer to the question of Jesus.
David therefore calleth him Lord, how is he then his Son? That Jesus was the acknowledged descendant of David during his earthly ministry, is indisputable; we need but refer to the cries of the populace on Palm Sunday, the words of the woman of Canaan, of blind Bartimaeus, and others. History bears its witness to the same fact. The Emperor Domitian, it is well known, summoned the kinsmen of Jesus, the sons of Jude, his so-called brother, to Rome as "the sons of David,"
St. Luke's brief summary of the Lord's denunciation of the scribes and others.
Luke 20:45, Luke 20:46
Then in the audience of all the people he said unto his disciples, Beware of the scribes. Here, in St. Matthew, follows the great denunciation of the Sanhedrist authorities with the other rabbis, Pharisees, and public teachers and leaders of the people. It fills the whole of the twenty-third chapter of the First Gospel. The details would be scarcely interesting to St. Luke's Gentile readers, so be thus briefly summarizes them. Which desire to walk in long robes. "With special conspicuousness of fringes (Numbers 15:38-40). 'The supreme tribunal,' said R. Nachman, 'will duly punish hypocrites who wrap their talliths round them to appear, what they are not, true Pharisees '" (Farrar).
Which devour widows' houses. Josephus specially alludes to the influence which certain of the Pharisees had acquired over women as directors of the conscience. For a show; rather, in pretence. "Their hypocrisy was so notorious that even the Talmud records the warning given by Alexander Jannaeus to his wife on his deathbed against painted Pharisees. And in their seven classes of Pharisees, the Talmudic writers place 'Shechemites,' Pharisees from self-interest; 'Stumblers,' so mock-humble that they will not raise their feet from the ground; 'Bleeders,' so mock-modest that, because they will not raise their eyes, they run against walls, etc. Thus the Jewish writers themselves depict the Pharisees as the Tartuffes of antiquity" (Farrar). Shall receive greater damnation; rather, judgment. The translators of our beautiful English version are most unhappy in their usual rendering of κρίμα.
Verse 19—ch. 21:38
The last working day.
It is Tuesday, the last of the Lord's working days; for Wednesday and the early part of Thursday were spent apparently in the quiet of his Bethany home. A busy, trying day, crowded with events in which we see the Son of God enduring against himself the contradiction of sinners. Let us gather up a part of its teaching. When, in the early morning, Christ entered the outer courts of the temple, he encountered a deputation of persons secretly commissioned by the Pharisees to entrap him into admissions which might be used against him (Luke 21:19, Luke 21:20). The deputation consisted (Matthew 22:16) of some of the more prominent scholars of the rabbis, and some politicians who were attached to the Herodian dynasty. For so it often is—a common hatred will unite those whose positions, mental or moral, are antagonistic. This has been frequently exemplified in religious and religio-political movements. The emissaries of priest and politician, thus leagued together, submit their question with ceremonious politeness (Luke 21:21, Luke 21:22). He to whom they speak knows what is in man (Luke 21:23). And, demanding the penny, with the coin held before them he returns the famous sentence on which so much has been spoken and written, which has been rendered the catchword of heated ecclesiastical controversy (Luke 21:24), "Whose image and superscription hath this penny?" It is the image and superscription of the proud Tiberius. "Then," is the reply, "if you use his coin, give back to him what is his due, and to God, whose is the image and superscription on the human soul, give back what is God's" (Luke 21:25). The confusion of the spies is complete. "They marvelled at his answer, and held their peace" (Luke 21:26). As the day passes, another deputation appears on the scene. This time the Sadducees (Luke 21:27) measure the sword of their wit against the Witness for God. The Sadducee mind, cold, cynical, cavilling, pronouncing all earnestness fanaticism, with no definite views as to a life beyond the present, but willing enough to toy over the subject—faith and the things of faith being only a matter to be talked about—has its representative in all ages. And it has some trafficking with Christ. It has its problems, its questions, its discussions. Behold an illustration of their kind in the problem submitted as to the seven brothers (Luke 21:28-33). A more foolish issue than that raised it is scarcely possible to conceive, and it might have been treated with contemptuous silence. But truth may be taught even though the occasion of the teaching is unworthy. And, by the incident related, a weighty, suggestive instruction is elicited, one which gives, as by a lightning flash, not only a glimpse into the invisible, but a discernment of the spirit of the old Mosaic economy. First of all, disabusing the thought of his hearers of their carnal conceptions of the resurrection-life (Luke 21:34-36), he reminds them (Luke 21:37) of the character which, by their own admission, belonged to God; of the great covenant word which Moses uttered when he called the Eternal "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Could they conceive him (Luke 21:38) the God of mere empty names? Does not the word imply that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not mere dust and ashes, but still living persons, heart to heart with him? It is not wonderful that the quickness and keenness of the reply, and the light which it shed on human destiny, impressed all who were present; so that the multitude hearing were astonished at his doctrine, and from the admiring crowd (Matthew 22:23) came the approbation, echoed (verse 39) by certain of the scribes, "Master, thou hast well said." But not yet does the temptation cease. A jurist, or student of the Law, accustomed to hair-splitting distinctions and controversies over mere pin-points, exclaims, "Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?" (Matthew 22:35). In the school to which he belonged, the precepts of the moral and ceremonial law were reckoned to be more than six hundred, although the great Rabbi Hillel reminded his pupils that, after all, the word, "Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God," is the essence of the Law, the rest being only commentary. "Which commandment," asks this lawyer, "is the greatest, Master? What sayest thou?" Let us thank the tempting jurist whose question evoked the golden wisdom of the emphatic enforcement of the two sentences to which all obedience returns and from which all worthy conduct departs—the first commandment bidding us love God with all the heart, and the second, which is like to it, bidding us love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). Pharisee, Sadducee, and scribe have all been defeated in their trial of Jesus. It is his turn to try them. He will not let them go until he has shown them the slowness of their minds, and left with them a question to be afterwards inwardly digested. He puts the query, "What think ye of Christ?" (Matthew 22:42). And when they answer, "He is the Son of David," he reminds them (verses 41-44) of the language of the psalmist, implying that there is another than the merely filial relation: "If David call him Lord, how is he then his Son?" Who can abide the thrusts of Jesus? No more questions are asked. No; and pointing to his discomfited tormentors, he preaches the terrible denunciation epitomized in verses 45-47, given at fuller length in the eight crushing woes of Matthew 23:1-39. It is a scene that beggars description—the grandest moment in the ministry of Christ, the Prophet and King. The evangelist, guided, perhaps, by the sense of fitness to that scene, represents the tone of the speech as changing, at the close of the commination, from indignation hot and strong to the moaning, saddened cry of a heart breaking with grief—the cry, already considered, over impenitent, hard-hearted Jerusalem. So the Lord moves towards the gate of the temple. It is on his way thither that he observes (Luke 21:1-4) the action of the poor widow, who cast into one of the chests which were placed in the temple courts her poor little all. How calm was the soul which, even in the heat of that day of temptation, could pause, observe, and speak of a deed apparently so insignificant I It is observable that the last word of Christ in the temple should be one concerning the love and the love-offering, which are better than formal sacrifices. Ever to be remembered, too, is the sentence, "He looked up, and saw the gifts cast into the treasury." The gifts that men and women furtively cast, thinking that none will observe the meanness, or the ostentatiously cast money expecting that all will applaud the munificence, he sees. He is always looking to the treasury; he estimates the real value of the offering. What is the principle of the commendation? "One coin," says an old Father, "out of a little is better than a treasure out of much; for it is not considered how much is given, but how much remains behind" "He went out and departed from the temple." It is the "Ichabod," the departing of the glory Thirty-five years the holy and beautiful house was left desolate: the (Matthew 23:6) as to the great costly stones was fulfilled. The ploughshare of a fearful retribution was driven through Israel's palace as through Israel itself, the quitting of the temple by the Son of God was the beginning of the end. Thenceforth it was the whited sepulchre, beautiful in appearance, but within full of the dead bones of religion and all spiritual uncleanness. Lo! the house is left to these Pharisees desolate. As the closing feature of that great Tuesday, we behold Christ and his apostles seated on the slope of Olivet. The golden radiance of the setting sun is flung over the glorious city. The pinnacles of the temple, the palaces, and massive buildings and endless houses of the Jews are, one by one, bathed in the gorgeous reflection. There, in the vale below, are Gethsemane and the Kedron, and around are the well-known features of the landscape so dear to the Israelite. It is with this prospect full in his view that Jesus gives the instruction as to the end of the age in those mysterious intimations in which the downfall of the city of the great King is so blended with other and greater catastrophes that it is difficult to distinguish what relates specially to the one and what relates specially to the others. Oh how urgent the exhortation to vigilance! How real and solemn for all the injunction "to pray always, that we may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Matthew 23:36)!
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The great Teacher's silence.
The refusal of Jesus Christ to answer the question proposed to him demands explanation and suggests remark.
I. THE DIFFICULTY WE FIND IN HIS SILENCE. Had not the Sanhedrin a right to ask this of him? It was a legally constituted body, and one of its functions was to guide the people of the land by determining who was to be received as a true Teacher from God. John had recognized their right to formally interrogate him (John 1:19-27). As Jesus was claiming and exercising authority (Luke 19:45), it seems natural and right that this council of the nation should send a deputation to ask the question in the text; and, if that be so, it seems only right that our Lord should give them a formal and explicit answer. Why did he not?
II. ITS EXPLANATION. There was:
1. A formal justification. The Sanhedrin had not yet declared its mind on the great Prophet who had been before the public, and in regard to whom an official decision might well be demanded. Jesus Christ, as a Jew, had a right to ask this question concerning one whose ministry commenced before his own, and had already been concluded. If they were unwilling or unable to pronounce a judgment, they ruled themselves unfit or incompetent to do what they undertook to do. As the event proved, they declined to say, and their refusal justified Jesus in withdrawing his own case from a tribunal which confessed its own incompetence. But there was also:
2. A moral ground on which our Lord might base his action. The Sanhedrin was not solicitous to guide the people in the ways of truth and righteousness; they wanted to entrap their enemy (see Luke 19:47). Their aim was not holy, but unholy; not patriotic, but malevolent. They were not seeking the public good, but their own personal advantage; they desired to crush a rival, and so to maintain their own position of authority. Such an object as this deserved no regard; it was one not to be respected, but to be defeated; and our Lord, with Divine wisdom, adopted a course which cut the ground completely from beneath their feet.
III. ITS SIGNIFICANCE TO OURSELVES. Jesus Christ will not always answer our questions. Whether or not he will do so depends on the spirit in which he is approached by us.
1. Mere curiosity has nothing to expect of him (see Luke 13:23, Luke 13:24; Acts 1:6, Acts 1:7).
2. Unmeaning and unspiritual utterance makes no way with him (see Luke 14:15). The formalities and proprieties of religious language fall on his ear, but they do not touch his heart or move his hand.
3. Malevolent activity can look for nothing but defeat from his wisdom and his power (see text and following verses of this chapter).
4. Presumption will be turned away unrewarded. To see the Father as he is in himself is an impossible and impracticable desire; our wisdom is to understand him as he is revealed in his Son (John 14:8, John 14:9). We may not ask of Christ those things which are beyond the range of our powers.
5. Impatience must be postponed, and must wait the fitter time (John 16:12). Christ will sometimes, perhaps often, be silent when we would that he should speak to us. But there is—
IV. ONE CONDITION UNDER WHICH HE WILL SPEAK TO US. Practical, spiritual earnestness will draw down his blessing, will command his gracious and life-giving word. If we earnestly and perseveringly seek our own spiritual well-being or that of others, we shall not fail to hear him say, "According to your faith be it unto you."—C.
Deprecation and doom.
We may regard—
I. THE FORCE OF THESE WORDS AS ORIGINALLY APPLIED. The people who listened to this parable:
1. Deprecated a guilt in which they were to be partakers. "God forbid," said they, "that we should do such shameful things as these, that we should be in any way involved in such crimes as these! Whosesoever hands may be dyed with the blood of the Husbandman's Son, ours shall be stainless." Yet were they moving on to the last and worst enormity, and already were they doing their best to bring about the guilty consummation.
2. Deprecated a doom to which they were descending. "God forbid," said they," that we should be subjected to the Divine wrath, and that we should lose that place of privilege we have so long enjoyed! May Heaven avert from us the calamity of having to yield to another nation or kingdom the post of honor, the place of privilege, which our fathers handed down to us!" But they were then pursuing the course which led inevitably to this very doom. If they only walked on in the path along which they were then hurrying, they were bound to reach that "miserable" end.
II. ITS APPLICATION TO OUR OWN HEARTS AND LIVES.
1. We may be supposing ourselves incapable of wrong-doing the seeds of which are already sown in our heart. Hazael proved to have "dog" enough in him to do the worst things he shuddered at when he spoke (2 Kings 8:13). David discovered that he was capable of a selfishness which he was condemning to death in another (2 Samuel 12:5-7). These Jews shrank from an action which was described to them, as a thing too base for them to commit; and yet they were in the very act of committing it. We little know what possibilities of evil are within us; we cannot estimate aright our own capacity for wrong-doing. Probably every man has in his heart something of which sin may lay hold in some dark hour, and by which he may conceivably be led down to guilt and shame. The declension and fall of those who once stood among the worthiest and the most honored speaks to us in earnest tones of the possible wandering of our own souls from God and goodness. Even Paul realized this stern possibility, and acted upon it (1 Corinthians 9:27). The histories of the erring and ruined souls of men who once seemed beyond the reach of wrong and crime, but who became entangled in their meshes and were slain by them, call upon us to be
(1) watchful with a constant vigilance, and
2. We may be supposing ourselves safe from a doom which lies straight in front of us. How many a youth imagines himself secure from a degradation and a darkness toward which he has, in the sight of God, already set his foot! How many a man considers himself safe from a low and dishonorable level, when he is already on the slope that leads down to it I What if we could see the goal to which the path we tread is tending! "God forbid," we say, "that this should be our destiny!" and all the while our face is turned in that direction. There is "an earnest need for prayer" that God would show us what is the way in which we are walking; that, if we are in the wrong road, he would "apprehend" us even as he apprehended his chosen messenger (Philippians 3:12), and turn our feet into the way of his testimonies (Psalms 139:23, Psalms 139:24).—C.
The rejection and exaltation of Christ.
We look at—
I. THE REJECTION OF JESUS CHRIST. Its strangeness.
1. From an evidential point of view. How came the builders to reject that valuable Stone? How was it that all the miracles of Jesus, so wonderful, so beneficent, so simple, and so credible as they were; that the life of Jesus, so holy and so beautiful, so gracious and so winning as it was; that the truth spoken by Jesus, so profound, so original, so lofty, so satisfying to the deepest wants of man as it was;—how came it to pass that all this left him the "despised and rejected of men"?
2. From a providential point of view. How do we account for it that there should have been such a long and complicated preparation for the coming of the Messiah of the Jews, and of the Redeemer of mankind, and that he should fail to be recognized when he came? Does not all that Divine arrangement of Law and ritual and prophecy, of privilege and discipline, seem to have been attended with failure? Of what use was all that elaborate preparation, when the people of God rejected the Son of God? when he to whom everything pointed, and of whom everything foretold, was not welcomed and honored, but denounced as a deceiver and slain as a criminal?
II. CONSIDERATIONS WHICH ACCOUNT FOR IT; or which, if they do not account for it, lessen our surprise concerning it.
1. As to the evidential difficulty. We need not wonder that the very strongest evidence failed to convince those who were unconvinced. What evidence can prevail against bigotry (or prejudice) and selfishness combined? Our knowledge and experience of mankind must have abundantly proved that either of these can repel the clearest and weightiest proofs; much more can both of them. And surely prejudice and self-interest never found a firmer seat than they found in the minds of the "chief priests and the scribes" who led the opposition to our Lord.
2. As to the providential difficulty. We must take into our consideration
III. HIS EXALTATION.
1. Notwithstanding his humiliation. That Stone was rejected indeed; that Teacher was silenced, that Prophet slain, that cause covered with infamy; those hopes, cherished by a few disciples, were laid in the tomb and covered from sight; yet, notwithstanding all that apparent defeat and discomfiture, that "Stone has become the Head of the corner," that Teacher the great Teacher of Divine wisdom, that Prophet the acknowledged Savior of mankind, that cause the kingdom of God upon earth.
2. ,is the reward of his humiliation. "Wherefore also God hath highly exalted him" (Philippians 2:6-11; Hebrews 2:9, Hebrews 2:10).
3. As the result of his humiliation. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." The cross has been the great loadstone which has been attracting the world. It is to a crucified Savior, once slain for our sins, dying in mercy toward our race, that we are drawn in faith and love. It is he "who loved us, and gave himself for us" unto such shame and sorrow and death—it is he whom we rejoice to make the Friend of our heart and the Sovereign of our life.
1. Learn the place of privilege. It is well for us that we stand where we do stand—at a point in time where we can recognize the Corner-stone. The mountain is best seen afar off, the city or the sea is best seen from above, the character of the generation is best understood after some interval of time. We know Jesus Christ better than we should have done had we lived when he was the Stone rejected of the builders. We could not be better placed than we are by the providence of God for understanding him and rejoicing in his worth.
2. Know the day of opportunity. Recognizing the true character of that once-slighted "Stone," knowing Jesus Christ as we know him now, it is for us to accept him without delay as our personal Redeemer, and to commend him, with all devotedness, to the estimation and trust of all beholders.—C.
Contact and conflict with Christ.
There is one thing which, as a stone or rock, Christ is willing and waiting to be to us; there is that also which, in spite of his own desire concerning us, we may compel him to be to us.
I. THE ROCK ON WHICH WE MAY BUILD.
1. Christ desires to be as the Corner-stone or Foundation-stone on which the whole structure of our character and of our destiny is resting.
2. If we exercise a living faith in him, we shall find him to be all this to us.
II. THE ROCK AGAINST WHICH WE ARE BRUISED OR EVEN BROKEN, We cannot come, in any sense or degree, into conflict with Christ without being injured by the act.
1. To turn from him is to deprive ourselves of the best; it is to rob ourselves of the highest motives to rectitude and spiritual worth, of the deepest springs of goodness and of beauty, of the heavenliest influences that can breathe upon the soul, of the purest and most elevating joys that can fill the heart, of the noblest activities that can occupy and crown our life.
2. To reject him, whether by deliberate and determined refusal or by a foolish and guilty procrastination, is to do conscious wrong to ourselves; it is to injure our conscience, to weaken our will, to suffer constant spiritual deterioration, to be moving along that downward slope which ends in darkness of mind and in self-despair,
3. To disobey the commandments of Christ is to come into collision with those laws of God which are also laws of our spiritual nature, any and every infraction of which is attended with inward and serious injury; e.g. to hate our brother without a cause, to look with lustful eye, to love our own life rather than the cause of God and righteousness,—this is to suffer harm and damage to the spirit.
4. To work against Christ and his gospel is to be constructing that which will be destroyed, is to be delving and building on the sand with the tide coming in which will wash everything away. In no way can we take up an attitude of resistance to Jesus Christ without "wronging our own soul;" it may be by a cruel renunciation of all that is best, or it may be by incurring the judgment which must fall and does tan upon folly and sin.
III. THE ROCK WHICH MAY CRUSH US IN ITS FALL. "On whomsoever it shall fall," etc. The snow-drift and the glacier are magnificent objects on which to gaze; but how terrible is the descending, destructive avalanche! It is simply inevitable that the brightest light should cast the deepest shade; that fullest privilege and most abounding opportunity should, in the case of the guilty, end in deepest condemnation and severest penalty (John 3:19; Hebrews 6:4-8; Philippians 3:18, Philippians 3:19). "When God arises to judgment," when the rock of Divine dissatisfaction falls, when the "wrath of the Lamb" is revealed, then must there be made known what God intends by "everlasting destruction from his presence." All that is meant by that we do not know: we may well resolve that, by timely penitence and loving faith, we will never learn by the teaching of our own experience.—C.
The sacred and the secular. There are three preliminary truths which may be gathered before considering the proper subject of the text.
1. The worthlessness of heartless praise. What value do we suppose Jesus Christ attached to the eulogium here pronounced (Luke 20:2)? How worthless to him now are the epithets which are uttered or the praises which are sung by lips that are not sincere?
2. The evil end of a false attitude toward Christ. The attitude of hostility which his enemies had definitely taken up led them to resort
3. The final discomfiture of guilt. (Luke 20:26.) It is silenced and ashamed. Respecting the principal subject before us, we should consider—
I. TWO NOTIONS THAT FIND NO COUNTENANCE IN OUR LORD'S REPLY,
1. When Jesus answered, "Render unto Caesar," etc., he did not mean to say that the spheres of the secular and the sacred lie so apart that we cannot serve God while we are serving the state. Let none say, "Politics are politics, and religion is religion." That is a thoroughly unchristian sentiment. If we ought to "eat and drink," if we ought to do everything to the glory of God, it is certain that we ought to vote at elections, to speak at meetings, to exercise our political privileges, and to discharge our civil duties, be they humble or high, to the glory of God, it is certain that we ought to vote at elections, to speak Christ as truly and as acceptably in the magistrates' court, or in the lobby of the House of Commons, as he can be in the school or the sanctuary.
2. Nor did Christ mean to say that these spheres are so apart that a man cannot be serving the state while he is engaged in the direct service of God; for, indeed, there is no way by which we render so true and great a service to the whole body politic as when we are engaged in planting Divine truth in the minds and hearts of men; then are we sowing the seeds of peace, of industry, of sobriety, of every national virtue, of a real and lasting prosperity.
3. Nor yet that there are no occasions whatever when we may act in opposition to the state. Our Lord encouraged his apostles in their refusal to obey an unrighteous mandate (Acts 5:28, Acts 5:29).
II. THE LEADING TRUTH WHICH CHRIST'S WORDS CONTAIN, Viz. that our obligation to God does not conflict with our ordinary allegiance to the civil power. If the latter should enjoin apostasy, or blasphemy, or positive immorality, then disobedience would become a duty, and might rise into heroism, as it has often done. But ordinarily, we can serve God and be loyal citizens at the same time, and this none the less that the rulers whom we serve are Mohammedans or pagans. To be orderly and law-abiding under the rule of an infidel is as far as possible from being unchristian. On the contrary, it is decidedly Christian (see 1 Timothy 2:2; Romans 3:1-7). Indeed, service rendered to "the froward" has a virtue not possessed by service to "the good and gentle." and faithful citizenship "in a strange land" may be a more valuable and acceptable service than in a Christian country. Our duty, in the light of Christ's teaching, is not that of discovering conscientious objections to the support of the civil government; it is rather that of rendering a hearty obedience to the Divine will, and also of conforming in all loyalty to the requirements of human law.—C.
Foundations of Christian hope.
On what foundation do we build our hope for the future? Not now on any philosophical deductions; these, may have a certain measure of strength to some minds, but they are not firm enough to carry such a weight as the hope of immortality. We build on the Word that cannot be broken—on the promise of Jesus Christ. Our future depends upon the will of our Divine Creator, on the purpose of our God, and only he who came from God can tell us what that purpose is. Here, as elsewhere, we have—
I. THE FIRM GROUND OF CHRISTIAN PROMISE. Our Lord tells us, from his own knowledge, that there is a future for the sons of men. And he indicates some features of this future.
1. Our life will be one of perfect purity. There is to be nothing of the grosser element that enters into our social relations here (Luke 20:35). Great founders of great faiths have promised to their disciples a paradise of enjoyment of a lower kind. Christ leads us to hope for a life from which everything that is sensual will be removed. Love will remain, but it will be spiritual, angelic, absolutely pure.
2. It will be a life without end, and therefore without decay. "Neither can they die any more" (Luke 20:36). How blessed the life that knows no fear of interruption, of dissolution, of sudden cessation, and, more particularly, that is free from the haunting consciousness of passing on to a time when faculty must fade, or the sadder sense of decline already commenced or even hastening to its end! What will it be to live a life that becomes ever brighter and fuller as the periods of celestial service pass away!
3. It will be a life of highest honor and elevation. "They are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection" (Luke 20:36). "Now are we the sons of God," and when the future life is disclosed our sonship will mean yet more to us—it will be life on a loftier plane, in a deeper and fuller sense; we shall be nearer to God, and more like him in our faculty and in our spirit and our character.
II. THE ADDITIONAL SUPPORT OF CHRIST'S INFERENCE. To be "the God of Abraham," he argued, meant to be the God of a living soul; he whose God was the living God was a living man in the fullest sense. For God to be our God includes everything we need. The living God is the God of living men; the loving God of loving men; the blessed God of happy men; the holy God of holy men. All the highest good for which we long in our noblest hours is guaranteed to us in that "the everlasting God, the righteous and the faithful and the loving, One, is our God.
1. The heritage of the future is not promised unconditionally; there are "those accounted worthy to obtain" it; therefore there are those who are not worthy, and who will miss it.
2. The condition that is implied is that of a living personal connection with God himself. Those who can truly claim him as "their God" may confidently look forward to an eternal home in his presence and in his service. To us, to whom he has revealed himself in his Son, this means a living union with Jesus Christ our Savior. To know him, to live unto him, to abide in him,—this is life eternal.—C.
The lowliness and the greatness of Jesus Christ.
This is the subject of these verses; but they are suggestive of minor truths. We have—
I. A PROOF OF UTTER FALSITY. (Luke 20:40.) How came these men to be afraid to ask questions of Christ? Others did not shrink from him, or fear to ask things of him. The children were not afraid of him; nor were "the strangers"—those not of Israel: nor were the women who waited on him and learned of him; nor the simple-hearted and genuine inquirers. It was only the men who sought his overthrow, because they dreaded his exposure; it was only those who shrank from his heart-searching gaze and his truth-telling words, that dared not approach him and ask questions of him. No man however ignorant, no child however young, need shrink from the Lord of love, from asking of him what he needs; it is only the false who are afraid.
II. THE TIME FOR AGGRESSIVE ACTION. The successful general may act long on the defensive, but he waits and looks for the moment of attack. Jesus bore long with the questionings of his enemies, but the time had come for him to ask something of them. We may well bear long with the enemies of Christ, but the hour comes when we must bear down upon them with convincing and humbling power.
III. THE OCCASIONAL DUTY OF PUTTING MEN INTO A DIFFICULTY. On this occasion our Lord placed his hearers in a difficulty from which he did not offer to extricate them. His prophetic function was to enlighten, to liberate, to relieve. But here was an occasion when he best served men by placing them in a difficulty from which they found no escape. Such service may be rare for a Christian teacher, but it does occur. There are times when we cannot render a man a better service than that of humbling him, of showing him that there are mysteries in presence of which he is a little child.
IV. THE WISDOM OF FURTHER INQUIRY. These Pharisees imagined that they knew everything about the Scriptures that could be known. They were learned, but they were unwise; they had a large verbal and literal acquaintance with their sacred books, but they had missed their deepest meaning. They had not inquired humbly, intelligently, reverently enough. How much more is there in our New Testament than we have yet found! What depth of wisdom in the words of Christi What enlightenment in the letters of his apostles! Though we may not have missed our Way so grievously as the scribes had done, yet may there be very much of Divine truth we have not yet discovered, which patient and devout inquiry will disclose.
V. THE LOWLINESS AND THE GREATNESS OF JESUS CHRIST. He is the Son of David, and he is also his Lord. We understand that better than the most advanced and enlightened of his disciples could at that point. "As concerning the flesh" he was "born of a woman, made under Law;" yet is he "exalted to be a Prince and a Savior;" Son of man and Son of God. Only thus could he be what he came to be:
1. Our Mediator between God and man.
2. Our Divine Savior, in whom we put our trust and find mercy unto eternal life; our Divine Friend, of whose perfect sympathy we can be assured; our rightful Lord, to whom we can bring the offering of our hearts and lives.—C.
Character and precept, etc.
These verses suggest five truths of practical importance.
I. THAT CHARACTER IS OF MORE CONSEQUENCE THAN PRECEPT. "Beware of the scribes;" they "sit in Moses' seat, and teach things that you should do" (Matthew 23:2); but their conduct is such that they are to be avoided rather than sought after. Beware of the bad man, though he be a good teacher; the influence of his life will be stronger than the effect of his doctrine; the one will do more harm than the other will do good. In a religious teacher, character is the principal thing; if that be unsound, proceed no further; seek some one else, one that you can respect, one that will raise you by the purity of his heart and the beauty of his behavior.
II. THAT UNGODLY MEN FALL INTO A FOOLISHNESS THE DEPTH OF WHICH THEY DO NOT SUSPECT. How childish and even contemptible it is for men to find gratification in such display on their own part and in such obsequiousness on the part of others as is here described (Luke 20:46)! To sink to such vanity is wholly unworthy of a man who fears God, and who professes to find his hope and his heritage in him and in his service. They who thus let themselves down do not know how poor and small is the spirit they cherish and the behavior in which they indulge; they do not suspect that, in the estimate of wisdom, it is at the very bottom of the scale of manliness.
III. THAT FAMILIARITY WITH DIVINE TRUTH IS CONSISTENT WITH THE COMMISSION OF THE WORST OFFENCES. The scribes themselves, familiar with every letter of the Law, could descend to heartless misappropriation in conjunction with a despicable hypocrisy (Luke 20:47). Guilt and condemnation could go no further than this. It is solemnizing thought that we may have the clearest view of the goodness and the righteousness of God, and yet may be very far on the road to perdition. Paul felt the solemnity of this thought (1 Corinthians 9:27). It is well that the children of privilege and the preachers of righteousness should take this truth to heart and test their own integrity.
IV. THAT THE AFFECTATION OF PIETY IS A SERIOUS AGGRAVATION OF GUILT. The "making long prayers" entailed a "greater condemnation." Infinitely offensive to the Pure and Holy One must be the use of his Name and the affectation of devotedness to his service as a mere means of selfish acquisition. The fraud which wears the garb of piety is the ugliest guilt that shows its face to heaven. If men will be transgressors, let them, for their own sake, forbear to weight their wrong-doing with a simulated piety. The converse of this thought may well be added; for it is truth on the positive side, viz.—
V. THAT DEVOUT BENEVOLENCE IS GOODNESS AT ITS BEST. TO serve our fellow-men because we love Christ, their Lord and ours, and because we believe that he would have us succor them in their need, is to do the right thing under the purest and worthiest prompting; it is goodness at its best.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Christ's collision with the Sanhedrin.
We have studied Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the temple. And now we have to notice the interruptions to which he was subjected as he improved his last days of ministration in the temple-court. He had exercised authority in God's house, he was also teaching with authority the people; hence the Jewish rulers came, demanding from him the sign of his authority to do so. As with many still, there is great demand for signs, certificates, orders. In these circumstances Jesus throws them back on John the Baptist, and asks if they had made out his authority. This so "cornered" them that they decline giving an opinion, and Jesus consequently is warranted in declining to tell them by what authority he takes the course he does. Now, here it is to be noticed—
I. THE MINISTRY OF JESUS WAS BOUND UP HISTORICALLY WITH THE CLAIMS OF JOHN. It was to the Baptist he went for baptism. It was when being baptized by John that he received the gifts of the opened heaven, descending dove, and assurance of Sonship. It was from John he received the first start in securing disciples, when the Baptist pointed to him and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" How natural, therefore, that Jesus should take the chief priests back to John! It was no able manoeuvre on the Master's part, but simple historic defense. "John recognized my authority and misssion; he set his seal upon them. Should this not satisfy you? And surely this course taken by our Lord has deep significance. If ever one in this world might have stoood in his own individual right an said "My work and teaching are surely self-evidently Divine," he was the Man; but no, he takes his questions along the historic line, and shows how he stands on prophetic ground, as successor of the last of the prophets. It was the recognition of the prophetical succession rather than any independent assumption.
II. FEAR OF MAN WILL INCAPACITATE MEN FOR THE SIMPLEST ACT OF JUDGMENT. What Jesus asks these rulers to decide is whether John the Baptist, in introducing baptism, was taking a Heaven-inspired course or not. "The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?" Instead of facing the question like men, they fenced with it. They saw clearly that in either case their answer would put them in a difficulty. If they said that John's baptism was from heaven, Jesus would immediately say, "Why then believed ye him not?" but if they declared it was a mere human innovation, they would come into such collision with the people as to run the risk of being stoned. In fear of man they decline judgment. Now it is instructive here to notice that such temporizers never can be martyrs. They have no notion of dying for their conviction about John. Why should they be stoned? They prefer being silent on the whole subject. As long as we fear man more than God, as long as we value man's esteem more than truth, we are unfit for judgment. We only become impartial when we are ready to take truth with all its consequences upon us.
III. THE INCOMPETENT DO NOT DESERVE TO BE TREATED AS JUDGES. These rulers have demonstrated their utter incompetency to undertake any decision upon a prophet's claims. They are consequently treated by Jesus as undeserving of the position of judges. It were well if this rule were faithfully observed. Men are treated often as if they had the judicial spirit, capacity, and temper, when they are simply man-fearing partisans. It is lost time putting such people in the judgment-seat. Better far to spend the time in teaching the common people, as the Master did, than in trying to convince the partisans who interrupt good work and do none themselves.
IV. BY A PARABLE OF JUDGMENT HE REVEALS TO THESE PARTISANS THEIR DANGER. The vineyard indicates the theocratic people, the husbandmen the men who exercised government among them, and the naturally expected fruit was the loyalty and spiritual service which prophets called for hut seldom secured for their Master in heaven. Instead of rendering the fruits, the rulers of the Jewish people subjected the line of prophets to increasing indignities. Last of all, the only Son is sent; but, instead of reverencing him and yielding to Divine demands, they cast him out of the Jewish Church and kill him. How clearly does Jesus thus claim Sonship to God, and indicate his approaching and dreadful doom! The result of this murder of God's Son is to be the transference of the theocracy from the Jews to other husbandmen. The chief priests and scribes are to be supplanted by apostles; and Judaism to give place to Christianity. Seeing that the parable was spoken against them, they cry, "God forbid!" but Jesus clinches his argument by apt quotation from their own Scriptures. He asks, "Is not the stone rejected of the builders to become the head of the corner? And will not all who collide with it be either broken or ground to powder?" In this way he claims to be the test of men, and his rejection to be fatal and final.—R.M.E.
Christ supreme in debate.
We have seen in the last section how our Lord told a parable whose bearing was unmistakably against the Jewish rulers. They are determined, in consequence, to so entrap him in discussion as, if possible, to bring him within the grasp of the Roman governor. But in entering the doubtful field of debate with a base purpose such as this, it was, as the sequel shows, only to be vanquished. Jesus proves more than a match for the two batches of artful men who try to entrap him. Let us look at the victories separately, and then at Jesus remaining Master of the field.
I. HIS VICTORY OVER THE REVOLUTIONARY PARTY. (Luke 20:21-26.) This party was composed mainly of Pharisees. They corresponded to the modern revolutionary party in settled or conquered states. They were constantly fomenting sedition, plotting against the Roman power, the sworn enemies of Caesar. They come, then, with their difficulty about tribute. But notice:
1. Their real tribute to Christ's character in their pretended flattery. (Luke 20:21.) They own to his face that he was too brave to make distinctions among men or to accept their persons. In other words, their testimony clearly is that, like God his Father, Jesus was "no respecter of persons." No one is fit to be a teacher of truth who panders to men's tastes or respects their persons. Only the impartial mood and mind can deal with truth truthfully. In the hollow flattery of the Pharisees we find rich testimony to the excellency of Jesus.
2. Notice their scruple about paying tribute. (Luke 20:22.) The law of the nation might possibly be made to teach the duty of being tributary to none. It was this they wished to elicit from him, and so hand him over to the governor as seditious. They wished a pretext for revolution, and if he furnished them with one and perished for it, so much the better, they imagined. The baseness of the plot is evident. Their hearts are hostile to Caesar, but they are ready to become "informers" against him for the sake of getting rid of him.
3. Notice how simply he secured a victory. Showing them at once that he knew their designs, he asks them to show him a penny. In his poverty he hardly possessed at this time a spare penny to point his teaching. Having got the penny, he asks about the image on the currency, and receiving for answer that it was Caesar's, he simply instructs them to give both Caesar and God their due. Caesar has his domain, as the currency shows. He regulates the outward relations of men, their barter and their citizenship, and by his laws he makes them keep the peace. But beyond this civil sphere, there is the moral and the religious, where God alone is King. Let God get his rights as well as Caesar, and all shall be well. These words of Christ sounded the death-knell of the Jewish theocracy. They point out two mutually independent spheres. They call upon men to be at once loyal citizens and real saints. We may do our duty by the state, while at the same time we are conscious citizens of heaven, and serve our unseen Master in all things. £
II. HIS VICTORY OVER THE SADDUCEES. (Luke 20:27-38.) The Pharisees having been confounded by his subtle power, he is next beset by the rival party, the party of sceptical and worldly tendencies. They have given over another world as a no-man's land, the region of undoubted difficulty and puzzle. Especially do they think it impossible to settle the complicated relations into which men and women enter here in any hereafter. Accordingly they state a case where, by direction of the Mosaic Law, a poor woman became successively the wife of seven brothers. In the other life, ask they, whose wife shall she be? Christ's answer is again triumphant through its simplicity. In the immortal life to which resurrection leads there shall be no marrying or giving in marriage. All shall be like. the angels. No distinction in sex shall continue. All are to be "sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Revised Version). The complicated earthly relations shall give place to the simplicity of sonship. God's family shall embrace all others. His Fatherhood shall absorb all the descending affections which on earth illustrate feebly his surpassing love, and our sonship to him will embrace all the ascending affection which his descending love demands. The Simplicity of a holy family, in which God is Father and all are brethren, and the angels are our highborn elder brethren, will take the place of those complex relationships which sometimes sweeten and sometimes sadden human love. But, in addition, our Lord renders Sadducceism ridiculous by showing from the Scriptures these sceptics revered that the patriarchs had not ceased to be, but were still living in the bosom of God. For God, in claiming from the burning bush to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, revealed the reality of life beyond death. It was a demonstration of the resurrection. The patriarchs must have been living worshippers when God was still their God, and this life unto him demands for its perfection the resurrection. The plenitude of life is guaranteed in the continued and worshipful life beyond the grave. In this simple and perfect fashion Jesus silences the Sadducees.
III. HE REMAINS COMPLETE MASTER OF THE FIELD. (Luke 20:39, Luke 20:40.) They are beaten in the field of debate. Jesus is Victor. There is no question now which they can ask him. All is over on the plane of intellectual and moral argument. Not even a Parthian arrow can be shot against him. But treachery and brute force remain, and they can have him betrayed and crucified whom they cannot refute. Resort to weapons like these is always proof of weakness. Victory has always been really with the persecuted party. Persecution on the part of any cause or organization demonstrates its inherent weakness. Hence we hail the Christ in the temple as the supreme Master and Conqueror of men. The very men who put unholy hands upon him must have felt that they were doing the coward's part after ignominious defeat. The weapons of our warfare should always be spiritual; with carnal weapons we only confess defeat and court everlasting shame.—R.M.E.
Luke 20:40 Luke 21:4
Vindications and judgments.
We saw on the last occasion how Christ had vanquished all who had tried with him the fortunes of debate. And now we find him putting a pertinent question to them about himself, and effectually puzzling them. Not, of course, that he had this in view in presenting it. His purpose was always a clear and pure one; it was, as Godet suggests, to vindicate beforehand those claims to Divine Sonship on the ground of which they are so shortly to condemn him to death.
I. CONSIDER CHRIST AS DAVID'S SON AND LORD (Verses 41-45.) It is clear from the Gospels and from the Targums that the Messiah wanted by the Jews was not necessarily to be Divine. It was a temporal prince, a military Messiah, they longed for; and no Divinity was needful to play the role of "conquering hero" which they desired. A merely human Messiah would have suited them admirably. When they got one, therefore, who claimed to be Divine, they condemned him for blasphemy, and never stopped until they had made away with him by crucifixion. £ Our Lord's question in the temple was to arouse them to a sense of Messiah's proper claims. This suggests:
1. How prone we are to be satisfied with mere human saviours. The Jews wanted a Messiah to collect armies, to deliver them from Roman bondage, and to give them all good situations in the new kingdom. They wanted nothing that a clever leader could not do for them. And there are plenty of people whose only desired salvation is from hunger and thirst and discomfort of a physical kind. They have no real longing after deliverance from sin and covetousness and discontent. Their one thought is to find somebody who can help them on a bit.
2. David's royal line produced a Prince who was also David's Lord. Now, it is plain from the psalm (110.) which Jesus quotes that David realized in the Messiah his present Lord. He ruled over David, and was recognized by David as his Lord. When we add to this the fact that David was the greatest monarch of his time, we see that the only interpretation of this Lordship is the Divinity of Messiah. This Messiah is made by the Most High to sit at his right hand until his enemies are made his footstool. The whole picture involves and implies Christ's Divinity. Now, if these scribes and Pharisees had acted honestly, they would have said, "Here is a point which escaped us; this Lordship over David is a claim which the sonship does not cover; there must be more in the Messiahship than we suspect; we must reconsider our attitude towards Jesus, and do him justice." But instead of this, they deliberately ignored the difficulty, and went on with their persecution of the Divine Messiah. Now, this is surely to show us that we need a Divine Savior, for the salvation must be from the power and guilt of sin. We need a Savior who will be our Lord; to whom we not only owe allegiance, but give it cheerfully. It is a Divine Lord of the ages, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the infinite Majesty, whom we need to give us the emancipation which can alone profit our souls.
II. CONSIDER CHRIST'S CONDEMNATION OF THE SCRIBES. (Verses 45-47.) Seeing how they reject the scriptural evidence of his claims, Jesus proceeds to warn his disciples against them. He knows them thoroughly. And:
1. He charges them with skilfully manufacturing a religious reputation. They wore peculiar garments; the man-milliners of the day had been brought into requisition. They welcomed recognition from the people in the markets; they took, as their right, the highest seats in the synagogue and the chief rooms at social feasts. They manufactured such a reputation as secured them abundant honor.
2. They traded upon their reputation. Widows got their advice and intercession, and paid them well for giving it. In fact, our Lord charges them with devouring widows' houses in their greed. Instead of the widows inspiring pity, they seemed eligible because defenceless victims.
3. Their condemnation shall be proportionally great. Professions which are traded upon will ultimately procure a deeper condemnation. How needful that the genuineness of our profession should be tested! If it is for God's dear sake, and not for the sake of worldly advantage, it will stand the test at last.
III. CONSIDER CHRIST'S ECOMNIUM, UPON THE POOR WIDOW. (Luke 21:1-4) Sitting over against the treasury our Lord saw both rich and poor depositing their gifts. Some of the rich gave largely out of their abundance, and Jesus noted doubtless the proportion. But one poor widow came along, and she deposited in the temple-chest a single farthing. It was little, but it was her all. Behind her sackcloth Jesus discerned the biggest heart in all the company. Now, we are taught by this circumstance:
1. That all our gifts are deposited in sight of Christ. As Divine Savior he sits, so to speak, over against every treasury, and notes what the people deposit there. There is no such thing as secret giving so far as Jesus is concerned. We may give so that the right hand knows not what the left is giving, but Jesus knows all the same.
2. It is the heart which determines the character of our liberality. It is not the quantity of money, but the quality of the act, which is important. A farthing from a widow is more in the sight of God than thousands from a millionaire. Hence we ought to examine ourselves, and see clearly what our motives may be.
3. Hence it is possible even for the poorest to be liberal. It is this which we require to have driven home. When poor as well as rich give with large-heartedness, the Church's "golden age" shall come, It is to this that our Lord would lead us.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany