The widow's mite. We find this little sketch only here and in St. Mark (Mark 12:41-44). The Master was sitting—resting, probably, after the effort of the great denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees—in the covered colonnade of that part of the temple which was open to the Jewish women. Here was the treasury, with its thirteen boxes in the wall, for the reception of the alms of the people. These boxes were called shopheroth, or trumpets, because they were shaped like trumpets, swelling out beneath, and tapering upward into a narrow mouth, or opening, into which the alms were dropped. Some of these "trumpets" were marked with special inscriptions, denoting the destination of the offerings.
And he looked up, and saw the rich men outing their gifts into the treasury. It is not improbable that a special stream of almsgivers were just then passing through the temple court, many being specially impressed by the solemn words they had just been listening to.
And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. The mite ( λεπτόν) was the smallest current coin. Two of these little pieces were the smallest legal offering which could be dropped into the "trumpet." But this sum, as the Heart-reader, who knew all things, tells us (Luke 21:4), was every particle of money she had in the world; and it was this splendid generosity on the part of the poor solitary widow which won the Lord's praise, which has touched the hearts of so many generations since, which has stirred up in so many hearts an admiration of an act so strangely beautiful, but well-nigh inimitable.
The temple—its impending ruin. The disciples' questions.
And as some spake of the temple. After the Lord's remark upon the alms-giving of the rich men and the poor widow to the treasury of the temple, the Master left the sacred building for his lodging outside the city walls. As far as we know, his comment upon the widow's alms was his last word of public teaching. On their way home, while crossing the Mount of Olives, they apparently halted for a brief rest. It was then that some of his friends called attention to the glorious prospect of the temple, then lit up by the setting sun. It was, no doubt, then in all its perfect beauty, a vast glittering mass of white marble, touched here and there with gold and color. Whosoever had not gazed on it, said the old rabbis, had not seen the perfection of beauty. It is possible that the bystander's remark was suggested by the memory of the last bit of Divine teaching they had listened to. "Lord, is not the house on Zion lovely? But if only such gifts as those you have just praised with such unstinting praise had been made, never had that glorious pile been raised in honor of the Eternal King." More probable, however, the sight of the great temple, then bathed in the golden glory of the fast-setting sun, recalled some of the Master's sayings of that eventful day, notably such as, "Your house is left unto you desolate," which occurred in the famous twice-spoken apostrophe, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets!" (Matthew 23:38; Luke 13:35). "What, Lord I will that house, so great, so perfect in its beauty, so loved, the joy of the whole earth,—will that house be left desolate and in shapeless ruins?" With goodly stones. The enormous size of the stones and blocks of marble with which the temple of Jerusalem was built excited the surprise of Titus when the city fell. Josephus mentions ('Bell. Jud.,' v. 5) that some of the levelled blocks of marble or stone were forty cubits long and ten high. And gifts; better rendered, sacred offerings, such as the "golden vine," with its vast clusters, the gift of Herod—which probably suggested the discourse, "I am the true Vine" (reported in John 15:1-27.)—such as crowns, shields, vessels of gold and silver, presented by princes and others who visited the holy house on Zion. The temple was rich in these votive offerings. The historian Tacitus, for instance, calls it "a temple of vast wealth" ('Hist.,' 5. 8).
There shall not be left one stone upon another. There is a remarkable passage in 2 Esdr. 10:54, "In the place wherein the Highest beginneth to show his city, there can no man's building be able to stand." The Lord's words were fulfilled, in spite of the strong wish of Titus to spare the temple. Josephus, writing upon the utter demolition of the city and temple, says that, with the exception of Herod's three great towers and part of the western wall, the whole circuit of the city was so thoroughly levelled and dug up that no one visiting it would believe that it had ever been inhabited ('Bell. Jud. 7.1. 1).
And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass? St. Mark (Mark 13:3) tells us that these questioners were Peter and James, John and Andrew. They said to their Master, "When shall these things be, and what sign shall precede them?" They asked their question with mingled feelings of awe and gladness: of awe, for the ruin of their loved temple, and all that would probably accompany the catastrophe, was a dread thought; of gladness, for they associated the fall of city and temple with the manifestation of their Lord in glory. In this glory they would assuredly share. But they wished to know more respecting the times and seasons of the dread event. Of late the disciples had begun dimly to see that no Messianic restoration such as they had been taught to expect was contemplated by their Master. They were recasting their hopes, and this solemn prediction they read in the light of the late sad and gloomy words which he had spoken of himself and his fortunes. Perhaps he would leave them for a season and then return, and, amid the crash of the ruined city and temple, set up his glorious kingdom. But they longed to know when this would be; hence the question of the four.
The Lord's answer treated, in its first and longer portion, exclusively of the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple—the fair city and the glorious house on which they were then gazing, glorified in the light of the sunset splendor; then, as he spoke, gradually the horizon widened, and the Master touched upon the fortunes of the great world lying beyond the narrow pale of the doomed, chosen people. He closes his grand summary of the world's fortunes By a sketch of his own return in glory. The disciples' hearts must have sunk as they listened; for how many ages lay Between now and then! Yet was the great prophecy full of comfort, and in later days was of inestimable practical value to the Jerusalem Christians. The discourse, which extends from verse 8 to verse 36, has been well divided by Godet into four divisions.
(1) The apparent signs of the great catastrophe, which must not Be mistaken for true signs (verses 8b-19).
The apparent signs which (could show themselves, but which must not be mistaken for the true signs immediately preceding the catastrophe.
Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ. Many of these pretenders appeared in the lifetime of the apostles. Josephus mentions several of these impostors ('Ant.,' 20.8 §§ 6-10; 'Bell. Jud.,' 2.13. § 5). Theudas, one of these pretenders, is referred to in Acts 21:38 (see, too, Josephus, 'Ant.,' 20.5. § 1). Simon Magus announced that he was Messiah. His riyal Dositheus, his disciple Menander, advanced similar pretences. Mr. Greswell (quoted by Dean Manse], 'Speaker's Commentary,' on Matthew 24:5) has called attention to the remarkable fact that, while many of these false Messiahs appeared in the interval between the Lord's ascension and the Jewish war, there is no evidence that any one arose claiming this title before the beginning of his ministry. It was necessary, he infers, that the true Christ should first appear and be rejected by the great body of the nation, before they were judicially given over to the delusions of the false Christs.
Luke 21:9, Luke 21:10
Wars and commotions … nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. Josephus the Jewish, and Tacitus the Roman, historian—the former in his 'Jewish Wars,' and the latter in his 'Annals'—describe the period which immediately followed the Crucifixion as full of wars, crimes, violences, earthquakes. "It was a time," says Tacitus, "rich in disasters, horrible with battles, torn with seditions, savage even in peace itself."
Great earthquakes. These seem to have been very frequent during the period; we hear of them in Palestine, Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, Crete, Syria. Famines and pestilences. The Jewish and pagan historians of this time—Josephus, Suetonius, Taecitus, and others—enumerate several memorable instances of these scourges in this eventful time. Fearful sights and great signs. Among the former may be especially enumerated the foul and terrible scenes connected with the proceedings of the Zealots (see Josephus,, Bell. Jud.,' 4.3. § 7; v. 6. § 1, etc.). Among the great signs "would be the rumor of monstrous births; the cry, 'Woe! woe!' for seven and a half years of the peasant Jesus, son of Hanan; the voice and sound of departing guardian-angels; and the sudden opening of the vast brazen temple gate which required twenty men to move it" (Farrar).
But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you. The Master continues his prophetic picture. From speaking generally of wars, and disasters, and tumults, and awful natural phenomena, which would mark the sad age in which his hearers were living, he proceeded to tell them of things which would surely befall them. But even then, though terrible trials would be their lot, they were not to be dismayed, nor to dream that the great catastrophe he had been predicting was yet at hand. Some doubt exists as to the meaning of "before" ( πρό) in this twelfth verse usually has been understood in a temporal sense, i.e. "Before all the wars, etc., I have been telling you of, you will be persecuted." A more definite sense is, however, produced by giving the word πρό (before) the signification of "before," equivalent to "more important"—"more important for you as signs will be the grave trials you will have to endure: even these signs must not dismay you, or cause you to give up your posts as teachers, for the end will not be heralded even by these personal signs." Delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my Name's sake. What may be termed instances of many of these special persecutions are detailed in the Acts (see, for instance, Acts 5:40; and portions of Acts 6:1-15; Acts 7:1-60; Acts 8:1-40; Acts 12:1-25; Acts 14:1-28; Acts 16:1-40; Acts 21:1-40, and following).
For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. Instances of the splendid fulfillment of this promise are supplied in the "Acts" report of St. Stephen's speech (Acts 7:1-60.), and St. Paul's defense spoken before the Roman governor Felix (Acts 25:1-27.) and before King Agrippa (Acts 26:1-32.).
And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolk, and friends. His disciples must be prepared to pay, as the price of their friendship with him, the sacrifice of all home and domestic life and peace. How often in the records of the early Christians are these terrible sufferings added to public persecution! Literally, his own would have very often to give up mother, father, friends, for his sake. And some of you shall they cause to be put to death. This was literally true in the case of several of those then listening to him.
And ye shall be hated of all men for my Name's sake. All the records of early Christianity unite in bearing witness to the universal hatred with which the new sect were regarded by pagans as well as Jews. The words of the Roman Jews reported in Acts 28:22 well sum this up, "As concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against" (see, too, Acts 24:5 and 1 Peter 2:12). The Roman writers Tacitus, Pliny, and Suctonius, bear the same testimony.
But there shall not an hair of your head perish. Not, of course, to be understood literally; for comp. Luke 21:16. Bengel's comment accurately paraphrases it: "Not a hair of your head shall perish without the special providence of God, nor without reward, nor before the due time." The words, too, had a general fulfillment; for the Christian community of Palestine, warned by this very discourse of the Lord's, fled in time from the doomed city, and so escaped the extermination which overtook the Jewish people in the great war which ended in the fall of Jerusalem (a.d. 70).
In your patience possess ye your souls. Quiet, brave patience in all difficulty, perplexity, and danger, was the attitude pressed upon the believers of the first days by the inspired teachers. St. Paul constantly strikes this note.
The true signs which his people are to be on the watch for.
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. This is to be the sign that the end has come for temple, city, and people. Wars and rumors of wars, physical portents, famine and pestilence succeeding each other with a terrible persistence, all these will, in the forthcoming years, terrify and perplex men's minds, presages of something which seems impending. But his people are to bear in mind that these were not the immediate signs of the awful ruin he was foretelling. But when the holy city was invested, when hostile armies were encamped about her—then this would surely come to pass, and some of these very bystanders would behold it—then, and not till then, let his people take alarm. Let them at once and at all cost flee from temple and city, for there would be no deliverance, God had left his house, given up the chosen people. "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24). It is probable that these solemn words of the Master, becoming, as they did, at a comparatively early date, the property of the Church, saved the Christian congregations in Palestine from the fate which overtook the Jewish nation in the last great war. Clearly warned by Jesus that the gathering of the Roman armies in the neighborhood of Jerusalem was the unmistakable sign of the end of the Jewish polity, the Christian congregations fled to Pella beyond Jordan. The Jews never ceased to the last trusting that deliverance from on high would be vouchsafed to the holy city and temple. The Christians were warned by the words of the Founder of their faith—words spoken nigh forty years before the siege—that the time of mercy was hopelessly past.
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations. It is computed that 1,100,000 Jews perished in the terrible war when Jerusalem fell (a.d. 70). Renan writes of this awful slaughter, "that it would seem as though the whole (Jewish) race had determined upon a rendezvous for extermination.'' Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles. After incredible slaughter and woes, Titus, the Emperor Vespasian's son, who commanded the Roman armies, ordered the city (of Jerusalem) to be razed so completely as to look like a spot which had never been inhabited (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' v. 10. § 5). The storied city has been rebuilt on the old site—but without the temple—and since that fatal day, more than eighteen centuries ago, no Jew save on bare sufferance has dwelt in the old loved and sacred spot. In turn, Roman and Saracen, Norseman and Turk, have trodden Jerusalem down. Literally, indeed, have the sad words of Jesus been fulfilled. Until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. These few words carry on the prophecy past our own time (how far past?)—carry it on close to the days of the end. "The times of the Gentiles" signify the whole period or epoch which must elapse between the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the beginning of the times of the end when the Lord will return. In other words, these "times of the Gentiles" denote the period during which they—the Gentiles—hold the Church of God in place of the Jews, deposal from that position of favor and honor. These words separate the prophecy of Jesus which belongs solely to the ruin of the cry and temple from the eschatological portion of the same prophecy. Hitherto the Lord's words referred solely to the fall of Jerusalem and the ruin of the Jewish race. Now begins a short prophetic description of the end and of the coming of the Son of man in glory.
The prophecy of the coming of the Son of man in glory. The signs which shall precede this advent. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. The Lord continues his solemn prophecy respecting things to come. Now, the question of the four disciples—to Which this great discourse was the answer—was, When were they to look for that awful ruin of city and temple of which their loved Master spoke? But they, it must be remembered, in their own minds closely connected the temple's fall with some glorious epiphany of their Master, in which they should share. He answers generally their formal question as to the temple, describing to them the very signs they are to look for as heralding the temple's fall. He now proceeds to reply to their real query respecting the glorious epiphany. The temple's ruin, that belonged to the period in which they were living; but the glorious epiphany, that lay in a far distance. "See," he said, "city and temple will be destroyed; this catastrophe some of you will live to see. The ruin will be irreparable; a new epoch will set in, an epoch I call 'the times of the Gentiles.' These once despised peoples will have their turn, for I shall be their Light. Ages will pass before these 'times of the Gentiles' shall be fulfilled, but the end will come, and then, and not till then, will the Son of man come in glory. Listen; these shall be the signs which shall herald this glorious advent: Signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars." St. Matthew (Matthew 24:29) supplies more details concerning these "signs." The sun would be darkened, and the moon would not give her light; the stars would fall from heaven. These words are evidently a memory of language used by the Hebrew prophets to express figuratively the downfall of kingdoms. So Isaiah (Isaiah 13:10)speaks thus of the destruction of Babylon, and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 32:7) of the fall of Egypt (see too Isaiah 34:4). It is, however, probable that our Lord, while using language and figures familiar to Hebrew thought, foreshadowed a literal fulfillment of his words. So Godet, who picturesquely likens our globe just before the second advent to "a ship creaking in every timber at the moment of its going to pieces." He suggests that "our whole solar system shall then undergo unusual commotions. The moving forces ( δυνάμεις), regular in their action tilt then, shall be, as it were, set free from their laws by an unknown power, and, at the end of this violent but short distress, the world shall see him appear" (see 2 Peter 3:10-12, where it is plainly foretold that tremendous physical disturbances shall precede the second coming of the Lord). The Son of man coming in a cloud. The same luminous cloud we read of so often in the Pentateuch: the flames of the desert-wanderings; the pillar of cloud and fire; the same bright cloud enveloped the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration; it received him as he was taken up (Acts 1:9). Nothing is said in this place as to any millennial reign of Christ on earth. The description is that of a transitory appearance destined to effect the work upon quick and dead—an appear-ante defined more particularly by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:23 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
Practical teaching arising the foregoing prophecy respecting the Jerusalem and the "last things."
And when these things begin to come to pan, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. There is no doubt that the first reference in this verse is to the earlier part of the prophecy—the fate of the city and the ruin of the Jewish power. "Your redemption'' would then signify "your deliverance from the constant and bitter hostility of the Jewish authority." After a.d. 70 and the fall of Jerusalem, the growth of Christianity was far more rapid than it had been the first thirty or forty years of its It had no longer to cope with the skilfully ordered, relentless opposition of its deadly Jewish foe. Yet between the lines a yet deeper meaning is discernible. In all times the earnest Christian is on the watch for the signs of the advent of his Lord, and the restless watch serves to keep hope alive, for the watcher knows that that advent will be the sure herald of his redemption from all the weariness and painfulness of this life.
And he spake to them a parable. "It is certain," went on the Lord to say, "that summer follows the season when the fig tree and other trees put forth their green shoots. It is no less certain that these things—the fall of Jerusalem, and later the end of the world—will follow closely on the signs I have just told you about."
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pan away, till all be fulfilled. In the interpretation of this verse, a verse which has occasioned much perplexity to students, any non-natural sense for "generation" ( γεμεά), such as being an equivalent for the Christian Church (Origen and Chrysostom) or the human race (Jerome) must be at once set aside. γενέα (generation) denotes roughly a period of thirty to forty years. Thus the words of the Lord here simply asserted that within thirty or forty years all he had been particularly detailing would be fulfilled. Now, the burden of his prophecy had been the destruction of the city and temple, and the signs they were to look for as immediately preceding this great catastrophe. This was the plain and simple answer to their question of Luke 21:7, which asked "when these things should come to pass." The words he had added relative to the coming of the Son of man did not belong to the formal answer, but were spoken in passing. This mighty advent the Lord alluded to as probably a very remote event—an event certainly to be postponed, to use his own words, "until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." Not so the great catastrophe involving the ruin of Jerusalem and the temple, the prophecy concerning which occupied so much of the Lord's reply. That lay in the immediate future; that would happen in the lifetime of some of those standing by. Before forty years had elapsed the city and temple, now lying before them in all its strength and beauty, would have disappeared.
Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. A general conclusion to the whole prophecy. "No word of mine," said the Master, "will ever pass away unfulfilled. Some of you will even live to see the terrible fulfillment of the first part of these utterances. All that mighty pile of buildings called Jerusalem will pass away, but my words which told of their coming ruin will remain. All this vast creation, earth, and stars will disappear in their turn, but these sayings of mine, which predict their future passing away into nothingness, will outlive both earth and heaven."
And take heed to yourselves. The Master ended his discourse with an earnest practical reminder to his disciples to live ever with the sure expectation of his return to judgment. As for those who heard him then, conscious of the oncoming doom of the city, temple, and people, with the solemn procession of signs heralding the impending ruin ever before their eyes, no passions or cares of earth surely would hinder them from living the brave, pure life worthy of his servants. As for coming generations—for the warning voice of Jesus here is equally addressed to them—they too must watch for another and far more tremendous ruin falling upon their homes than ever fell upon Jerusalem. The attitude of his people in every age must be that of the "watcher" till he come.
And in the daytime he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the Mount of Olives. This brief picture of the last days of public work is retrospective. This was how our Lord spent "Palm Sunday" and the Monday and Tuesday of the last week. The prophetic discourse reported in this twenty-first chapter was, most probably, spoken on the afternoon of Tuesday. After Tuesday evening he never entered the temple as a public Teacher again. Wednesday and Thursday were spent in retirement. Thursday evening he returned to the city to eat the last Passover with his own.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Worth in the estimate of wisdom.
What is the real worth of a human action? Surely, to us who are acting every wakeful hour of life, a very serious question. How shall we decide that an action of ours is worthy or unworthy, and what is the standard by which we shall estimate the comparative excellence of worthy deeds? Our text gives us one principle by which to judge. There are, however, two others which are essentially Christian, that should be placed in the foreground. Acts are worthy—
I. As THEY ARE USEFUL; as they tend to promote well-being. And here we should note that their usefulness is greater:
1. As they affect character rather than circumstance.
2. As they are free from drawback; for the usefulness of many a course of action is the difference between the intentional good and the incidental evil that is wrought.
3. As they are permanently influential and therefore reproductive. Many a deed, being done, is done with; it has no appreciable results; but many another is as seed in the soil—there is a fruitful harvest to be reaped from it in the after-time.
II. ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THEY ARE DONE. If useful things are done in the spirit of rivalry, or for the purpose of display, or in the hope of social or material remuneration, their worth in God's sight is nothing or next to nothing. If they are done to honor and to please Jesus Christ, or prompted by pure benevolence, or in the spirit of filial obedience, they have a real worth and are the objects of Divine approval. But the teaching of our text is that actions are worthy—
III. MEASURED BY THEIR UNSELFISHNESS. If at heart they are selfish, then in the judgment of God they are without virtue; in proportion to their generosity, and that is to say, to their costliness, they are beautiful, and even noble.
1. The gift of money. The widow's mite was more in the sight of God than the rich men's gold; and it was so because they gave of their abundance a sum the loss of which they would not feel—a sum that entailed no reduction of their comfort and constituted no sacrifice at all; but she gave all that she had—a sum she would miss much, a truly generous sacrifice. How often we applaud the donation of some hundreds of pounds, when the ten shillings contributed by some struggling worker has a higher place in the heavenly ledger!
2. The gift of time. The man whose easy circumstances allow him to give much time to religion or philanthropy may be less worthy and may be making a really smaller contribution than he who, pressed hard by pecuniary obligations and having a heavy burden of family responsibility to carry, yet squeezes a few hours from toilful days to ]end a helping hand to the cause of Christ and of man. The horae subscecivae are of more account than many leisure days.
3. Active service in the field of Christian labor. Some men are so constituted that they can render service in the pulpit, on the platform, in the class-room, almost without cost; they can speak without previous preparation and without subsequent exhaustion. But others can only serve at much cost to themselves; their strength is taxed to be ready for the hour of opportunity, they expend themselves freely in the act of utterance or in the outpouring of sympathy and they know what the miseries of prostration mean. A slight service, as reckoned by the time-table or the census, on the part of these latter may be more than equal to very prominent and much-appreciated work rendered by the former.
4. The sacrifice of life. It might seem that those who gave their life for their Lord or for their kind were all offering a gift of the same value. But not so. Life has very different values at different stages. It is comparatively little for the man who has spent his days and his powers to surrender the short and uninteresting remainder; it is much for the young man who has all the pleasures and prizes of life within his reach to part with the bright, inviting future in order to serve his fellows; the deed is nobler, for the sacrifice is greater.
Luke 21:5, Luke 21:6
The destructible and the indestructible.
We have our Lord's own authority for comparing the temple with a human being (John 2:19). He, however, compared it with his body; we may without any impropriety make the comparison with a human spirit—with the man himself. We look at it in regard to its destructibleness.
I. THE BUILDING ITSELF, AND OUR BEING ITSELF. The temple was the pride and the delight of every Jew. Among other things that gratified him, he rejoiced in its strength; he felt that it was secure. Generations of men would come and go, but that building would remain. Built of the most durable materials, it would defy the action of the elements; placed in the strong city and guarded with such ramparts, the enemy would assail it in vain. Where it then stood, there after many centuries it would be found. But the Jew was wrong; already those elements were at work which would bring on the fatal conflict, and that generation was not to pass (Luke 21:33) until that glorious fabric should be cast down and "not one stone left upon another." A very slight thing in comparison with such a great and imposing structure seems a human being How easily destroyed I "crushed before the moth;" "destroyed between the morning and the evening." Yet is there within the compass of the smallest and feeblest man that which is more lasting than the temple, that which will survive the strongest structure that art or nature ever reared. Not that the human soul is absolutely indestructible: "He can create and he [can] destroy it." But it is created and intended for immortality. And if only it be on the side of truth and in the service of God—in Christ Jesus, it is destined for immortality; it will survive the strongest temples and the most impregnable castles; no wrath of man, no lapse and wear of time, no shock of material forces, can destroy it; it is indestructible.
II. ITS STRENGTH AND BEAUTY, AND OUR OWN. The temple was "adorned with goodly stones and gifts." But strong as these massive stones were, and carefully as those gifts were guarded, the day came, and came in the experience of that very generation, when not one stone was left upon another, and nothing of the exquisite offerings was preserved; everything perished in the fire or was ploughed up by the ruthless share. Now, there is one thing which no fire can consume and no violence shatter—a spiritually strong and spiritually beautiful character; a holy and lovely character rooted in Christ and sustained by his indwelling Spirit. Buildings massive and solid, fortunes large and brilliant, kingdoms fortified by great armies and costly navies,—these may be broken to pieces and perish. But the character of a Christian man, who is simply loyal to his Master, cannot be broken. Character that is not rooted in faith and that is not sustained by devotion may fall and be broken, and great and sad is the fall of it. But
"No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness." Concerning any course we take the question how it affects us now is not so important as is the question to what it leads, or, in the words of the text, "to what it turns." And while that which is very pleasant often "turns to" much that is painful and bitter, or even shameful (see Revelation 10:10), on the other hand, that which is very trying and even saddening at the time often "turns to" an issue that is full of honor and of joy. The context suggests that—
I. PERSECUTION TURNS TO TESTIMONY—to a most valuable proof of sincerity and faithfulness. When a man endures the blows and buffetings of the cruel hand of the persecutor, "we know the proof of him;" we write him down a true, loyal, noble servant of Christ. To how many men, not of the earliest age only but of all ages, has this steadfastness in the hour of trial been accepted by us as a "testimony" of the very greatest worth, so that their names are treasured by us as those of men that have done highest honor to their race! And their martyr-sufferings have turned to a testimony in the heavenly country; they have gained for them there the commendation of their Lord and the greeting of their glorified brethren. When, from "wandering in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth," the persecuted Christians of Madagascar came forth to be welcomed by those who were then living under a kindly rule, they were greeted as such faithful and heroic men deserved to be; their persecution had turned into a testimony. In a similar way we may say that—
II. TOIL TURNS INTO ACHIEVEMENT. The toil of the desk, of the field, of the shop, of the factory, may be hard and wearisome; our back may bend beneath our burden; our mind may be strained to its utmost capacity of continuance; but let us take courage and work on at our task; further on is the precious goal of achievement; after a while we shall look with unspeakable satisfaction on the work that has been done, the result that has been reached.
III. PRIVATION TURNS INTO ENRICHMENT. Sad and serious indeed are the privations, the losses, which are suffered when men are suddenly reduced in their temporal possessions, or when they are bereaved of near relatives or most intimate friends. Yet is there something more than compensation when the loss of the one leads, as it has often led, to the enrichment of the soul, by its finding refuge in God and in his service; or when the loss of the other has brought to the soul the fullness of the sympathy and friendship of Jesus Christ; privation has turned to enrichment.
IV. SERVICE TURNS INTO RULE. The soldier in the ranks becomes an officer of the army; the apprentice becomes the master; by long and faithful service in any one of the fields of human activity we prepare to rule. Thus is it in the spiritual realm. Obedience to Divine law turns into a perfect self-command, which is another name for liberty. And a lifelong service of Jesus Christ will turn to an occupancy of that heavenly sphere for which our fidelity shall have fitted us; the "faithful and wise servant" his Lord will "make ruler over all his goods" (Matthew 24:45-47). Faithful service here "turns to" happy and helpful rule hereafter.
V. PATIENT WAITING TURNS TO BLISSFUL PARTICIPATION. Some souls have much waiting for the hour of deliverance, for the redemption of our body; it is a weary and a trying time. To "learn to wait" is the hardest of all lessons. But though the night seem very long, the morning will come in time; and if the steadfast soul wait patiently the holy will of God, the long endurance shall turn to a full and joyous participation in the glory that is to be revealed—the "glorious liberty of the children of God."—C.
Inevitable trial and unfailing resources.
Here we have one more illustration of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ toward his apostles. So far was he from encouraging in them the thought that their path would be one of easy conquest and delightful possession, that he was frequently warning them of a contrary experience. It was not his fault if they failed to anticipate hardship and suffering in the neat' future; he told them plainly that his service meant the cross, with all its pain and shame. In reference to the apostles of our Lord, we have here—
I. THE SEVERITY OF THE TRIALS THAT WERE BEFORE THEM. Jesus Christ had already indicated the fact that fidelity to his cause would entail severe loss and trial; here he goes into detail. He says that it will include:
1. General execration. They would be "hated of all men." This is a trial of no small severity; to move among men as if we were unworthy of their fellowship; to be condemned, to be despised, to be shunned by all men; to be the object of universal reprobation;—this is a blow which, if it "breaks no bones," cuts into the spirit and wounds the heart with a deep injury. Fidelity to their Master and to their mission would entail this.
2. Desertion and treachery on the part of their own friends and kindred. (Luke 21:16.) Very few sorrows can be more piercing, more intolerable, than desertion by our own family, than betrayal by our dearest friends; it is the last and worst calamity when "our own familiar friend lifts up his heel against us." Those who abandoned the old faith, or rather the Pharisaic version of it, and who followed Christ had to be prepared for this domestic and social sorrow.
3. Death. (Luke 21:16.)
II. THE UNFAILING RESOURCES ON WHICH THEY COULD DEPEND.
1. Everything they suffered would be endured for the sake of Jesus Christ; all would be "for my Name's sake" (Luke 21:17). We know how the thought that they were experiencing wrong and undergoing shame for Christ's sake could not only alleviate, not only dissipate sorrow, but even turn it into joy (see Acts 5:41; Philippians 1:29). To suffer for Christ's sake could give a thrill of sacred joy such as no pleasures could possibly afford.
2. They would have the shield of the Master's power (Luke 21:18). Not a hair of their head should perish until he allowed it. That mighty Friend who had kept them in perfect safety, though enemies were many and fierce, would be as near to them as everse His presence would attend them, and no shaft should touch them which he did not wish to hurt them.
3. They should have the advantage of his animating Spirit (Luke 21:14, Luke 21:15). Whenever wisdom or utterance should he needed, the Spirit of Christ would put thoughts into their mind and words into their lips. His animating power should be upon them, should dwell within them.
4. They should triumph in the end; not, indeed, by martial victories, but by unyielding loyalty. "In patience" (in persistency in the right course) "they would possess their souls." Losing their life in noble martyrdom, they would save it (Luke 9:24); loving their life, they would lose it; but "hating their life in this world, they would keep it unto. life eternal" (John 12:25). The bright promise of an unfading crown might cheer them on their way, and help them to pursue without flagging the path of devoted loyalty.
1. Similar trials await the faithful now. The dislike, the aversion, the opposition, of some, if not the active and strong hatred of all; the opposition, perhaps quiet enough, and yet keen and injurious enough, of our own friends or relatives; loss, struggle, suffering, if not fatal consequences of enmity. Downright loyalty to Jesus Christ, tenacity and intensity of conviction, usually carry persecution and trial with them.
2. We have the same resources the apostles had.
The second redemption.
"Lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." Jesus Christ led his disciples to think that beyond the redemption which he was working out for them, and subsequent to it in time, was another great deliverance which should prove of unspeakable value to them. This is true now of our discipleship; we look for and we sorely need a second redemption.
I. ITS CHARACTER. It is not, like the first, distinctively and purely spiritual. That was; men were yearning for a political revolution and redemption. But the kingdom of heaven was not to be "of this world;" it was to be wholly inward and spiritual; it was to be our redemption from sin and restoration to the favor and the likeness of our Divine Father. But the second redemption is not distinctively and primarily that of the soul; it is to be "the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23). It will have a gracious and beneficent effect, a redeeming and elevating influence, upon the soul; but in the first instance it is a redemption from a troublous and trying condition; it is being taken away, by the appearance of Christ, in the providence of God, from a state in which happy service is almost impossible; it is a removal from storm to calm, from hostile to friendly forces, from turbulence to serenity; from hard conflict, or tense anxiety, or painful suffering, to "the rest which remaineth for the people of God." It is a blessed and merciful change from unfavourable to favorable conditions.
II. OUR HUMAN NEED OF IT. We are not of this world, we who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ and renewed by the Spirit of God. And we may be nobly, even grandly, victorious over it, being "always caused to triumph" by that Divine Spirit that dwells within us, and "strengthens us with all might." Yet are we actually, and by universal experience, seriously affected by it, and we suffer many things as we pass through it. We may suffer, as the early Christians did (to whom these words were addressed), from persecution, and thereby be made "most miserable" (1 Corinthians 15:19). Our life may be made worthless, or worse than worthless, to us by the cruelties of our fellow-men. Or we may suffer so much from privation of privilege, or from the struggles of daily life, or from grief and disappointment, or from a steadily advancing decrepitude, that we may earnestly long for this second redemption, the redemption of our body. We may be in sore need of its approach, of its presence.
III. ITS KINDLY SHADOW. It will then be much to us, perhaps everything; that our redemption draweth nigh.
1. It is something that at any moment we may be within a step of the heavenly sphere; for anything we know, Christ may be about to say concerning us, "This day ye shall be with me in Paradise."
2. It is more that we may be confident that a life of holy activity will rapidly pass away and bring us to the day of rest and of reward.
3. It is very much indeed that the duration of the blessed future will prove to be such that any number of years of earthly trouble will be nothing in comparison.
4. It is also a truth full of hope and healing that every day spent in faithful service or patient waiting brings us that distance nearer to the blessedness that lies beyond.
"We nightly pitch our moving tent
A day's march nearer home."
Beneath the varied and heavy burdens of time we are fain to bow our heads; but we shall lift them up with strength and eager-hearted expectation as we realize that every step forward is a step onward to the heavenly horizon.—C.
The immortality of Christian truth.
These striking words suggest to us—
I. CHRIST'S CONSCIOUS CONNECTION WITH THE ETERNAL FATHER. Had there not been in him a profound and abiding consciousness that, in a sense far transcending our own experience, God dwelt in him and he in God, these words would have been wholly indefensible; they would have been in the last degree immodest. Proceeding from any other than the Son of God himself, they would have simply repelled us, and would have cast grave discredit on every other utterance from the same lips. It was because he was Divine, and felt the authority which his Divinity conveyed, that he could and did use such words as these without any trace of assumption; without violating that "meekness and lowliness of heart" which he claimed to possess—the possession of which neither friend nor enemy has attempted to dispute.
II. THE PERMANENCE OF TRUTH COMPARED WITH THE TRANSITORINESS OF MATTER. It is only in a limited and figurative sense that we can speak of material things as eternal. The hour will come when they will perish; indeed, they are perishing as we speak. The immovable rocks, the everlasting hills, are being disintegrated by sun and rain; the fixed earth rises and falls; the "changeless rivers" are cutting new courses for their waters. Only truth abides; it is only the words in which the thought of the Eternal is expressed that do not pass away. Fashions do not touch it with their finger; revolutions do not overthrow it; dispensations leave it in its integrity. We look particularly at—
III. THE IMMORTALITY OR THE THOUGHTS OF CHRIST.
1. We have found him a true Prophet. Events have happened according to his word.
2. We are finding hint to be the Divine Teacher of truth to-day. He has that to say to us which, in our better moods and worthier moments, we hunger and thirst to hear. In his deathless words there are still treasured for us salvation from our sin, comfort in our sorrow, sanctity in our joy, strength in our struggle, companionship in our loneliness, and peace and hope in our decline and death. Unto whom shall we go if we sit at his feet no longer?
3. We shall find him the Source of truth in the after-life. Death will not make his words less true, even of it makes some of them less applicable than they are here and now. His thoughts will never lose their hold upon our heart, never cease to affect and shape our course. The truths which Jesus spake eighteen centuries ago will beautify our life and bless our spirit in the furthest epochs and the highest spheres of the heavenly world.
(a) The testimony of a Christian life.
(b) The utterance, in public or in private, of Christian doctrine.
(c) The support of Christian institutions.—C.
Christian and unchristian carefulness.
Take care not to be overtaken and overweighted by care is the simple and intelligible paradox of the text; in other words, have a wise care lest you have much care that is unwise. There is a carefulness that is eminently godly and worthy, the absence of which is not only faulty and dangerous, but even guilty and fatal; but there is another carefulness which is an excess, a wrong, an injury in the last degree.
I. A WISE ORDINATION OF GOD. Surely it is in pure kindness to us that God has ordained that if we will not work neither shell we eat; that possession and enjoyment involve thoughtfulness and activity on our part. To be provided with everything we could wish for without the necessity for habitual consideration as well as regular exertion is found to be hurtful, if not positively disastrous to the spirit. The necessity for care, in the sense of a thoughtful provision for this life, involves two great blessings.
1. The formation of many homely but valuable virtues—the cultivation of the intellect, forethought, diligence, sobriety of thought and conduct, regularity of daily habits, the practice of courtesy, and the avoidance of offense, etc.
2. The practice of piety; there is perhaps no better field in which we can be serving God than in that of our daily duties as citizens of this world. Whether it be the counting-house, the desk, the factory, the shop, the home, the school,—in each and in all of these there is a constant opportunity for remembering and doing the will of God; there will true and genuine godliness find a field for its exercise and its growth.
II.. OCCASION FOR FILIAL TRUST. Care, in the sense of anxiety, about our temporal affairs is an evil to be met and mastered by Christian thought. Christ has said to us, "Take no thought [be not anxious] for your life" (Matthew 6:25); Paul writes, "Be careful [anxious] for nothing," etc. (Philippians 4:6); Peter says, "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Clearly our Christian duty is to do our best with head and hand, by thoughtfulness and diligence, to ask for God's direction and blessing, and then to put our trust in him, resting humbly but confidently on his Word of promise. This is a promise where there is much occasion for filial trustfulness. When the way is dark we must not yield to an unspiritual anxiety, hut rise to a holy, childlike faith in our heavenly Father.
III. A SPHERE FOR DETERMINED LIMITATION. The great and the growing temptation is to fill our lives and hearts with the affairs of time. No more needful or seasonable counsel could be given us than this of our Lord, "Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be overcharged with.., the cares of this life." Undue and unwise carefulness about these mundane interests does two evil things: it wears out that which is good—good health, good spirits, good temper; and it shuts out that which is best—for it excludes the worship and the direct service of God; it leaves no time for devout meditation, for profitable and instructive reading, for religious exercises, for Christian work. It shuts men up to the lesser and lower activities; it dwarfs their life, it starves their soul; they "lose their life itself for the sake of the means of living." Two things are requisite, requiring a very firm and vigorous hand.
1. To resist the temptation to enlarge our worldly activities when such enlargement means spiritual shrinkage, as it very often does.
2. To insist upon it that the cares of life shall not exclude daily communion with God and the culture of the soul. If we do not exhibit this wise care against the unwise carefulness, we shall
"that day will come upon us unawares," and we shall not be "worthy to stand before the Son of man" (see next homily).—C.
Standing before Christ.
"Watch … and pray that ye may be accounted worthy … to stand before the Son of man." What is involved in this worthiness? It must include our being—
I. PREPARED TO GIVE ACCOUNT TO HIM. We know that we shall have to do that (Romans 10:1-21; 2 Corinthians 5:10); and we must expect, when we do stand before the Judge, to account to Jesus Christ for
II. CONFORMED TO HIS LIKENESS, Will not our Lord expect to find those who professed to be his disciples, who had access to so many and such great privileges, stand before him such as he lived and died to make them.t We know what that is. "He gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity;" he has "called us to holiness;" he came and wrought his work in order that he might make us to be in our spirit and character the children of God, bearing our heavenly Father's image. He will therefore look to those who stand before him as his redeemed ones for:
1. Purity of heart; the abhorrence of all that is evil, and love for that which is good and true and pure.
2. A loving spirit; a spirit of unselfishness, of devotedness, of generosity, of tender solicitude for the well-being of others.
3. Reverence and consecration of heart to God.
III. READY FOR THE HEAVENLY SPHERE, To "stand before" the king meant to be ready to fulfill his royal behest, prepared to do at once and to do effectively whatever he might require. To stand before our Divine Sovereign means to be ready to do his bidding, to execute his commandments as he shall employ us in his heavenly service. We naturally and rightly hope that he will entrust us with the most honorable errands, will appoint us to elevated posts, will charge us with noble occupations that will demand enlarged ability and that will contribute great things to his cause and kingdom. We may be sure that the devoted and faithful discharge of our duties here will prove the best preparation for celestial activity and usefulness, lie that is faithful in a few things now will be made ruler over many things hereafter. He who puts out his talents here will be found worthy to stand before the King, and to be employed by him in broad and blessed spheres of service there. If we would be "accounted worthy" to do this, we must "watch and pray."
1. We must spend much time with God—in the study of his will and in supplication for the quickening influences of his Spirit.
2. We must often examine our own hearts, observing our progress or retrogression, ready for the act of penitence, or of praise, or of reconsecration as we find ourselves declining. We must also observe the forces that are around us, and distinguish carefully between the hostile and the friendly, between those which make for folly and for sin and those which lead up to wisdom and to righteousness.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Preliminaries of the second advent.
It would seem that, as an interlude amid his diligent teaching in Jerusalem, Jesus and the disciples, on their way back to Bethany, had paused on the Mount of Olives and contemplated the temple. The building was a superb one, and so well put together that the disciples and people generally believed it would last till doomsday. Hence, amid their admiration for the gorgeous pile, came their question about the end of the world, which would, they believed, synchronize with that of the temple. Now, our Lord, while prophesying its destruction, warns them not to be mistaken about times and signs.
I. OUR LORD WARNS THE DISCIPLES AGAINST FALSE ALARMS. (Luke 21:7-9.) He indicates that many false Messiahs will arise, declaring their Messiahship and the speedy approach of the end. They are to be for the most part of the military type, for this was the kind of Messiah Israel wanted. The result will of necessity be "wars and tumults." But the disciples ought not to be alarmed at these mere preliminaries. The end would not be "immediately" (Revised Version). It is well known that between our Lord's time and the destruction of Jerusalem quite a number of military and mushroom Messiahs arose, "making confusion worse confounded." They were only the outcome of the people's false hopes, and of no prophetic import.
II. THE DISCIPLES, AS THEIR LORD'S WITNESSES, WOULD EXPERIENCE BOTH PERSECUTIONS AND INSPIRATIONS. (Luke 21:10-19.) And here the Lord states that persecution of his people would precede national and natural troubles. War, earthquake, and pestilence would be the providential judgment upon unrighteous persecution. But the persecuted witnesses should receive the inspiration needful to speak resistlessly. They might be betrayed and martyred, but no real injury would overtake them. "There shall not an hair of your head perish." In this remarkable deliverance of our Lord about persecution he implies that his people are really imperishable. The world might do its best to annihilate them by fire and sword; their bones might be scattered, no marble tells whither; but the Lord who loves and prizes his people's dust will reorganize the scattered remains, and demonstrate how absolutely imperishable his people are. Hence he urges patience. "In your patience," he declares, "ye shall win your souls." So that it was a most wonderful preparation of these marked men for martyrdom and all preceding tribulation. Were we more dependent on Divine inspirations, we should be There calm and influential before a hostile world.
III. THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM. IS DISTINCTLY FORETOLD AS AN INSTANCE OF DESERVED VENGEANCE. (Luke 21:20-24.) And here the Lord gives his people directions to escape from the doomed city as soon as they should see the armies gathering round it. The siege was drawn upon it by no misconduct of theirs, but by the misconduct of their enemies: why, therefore, should the Christians lay down their lives for a false policy and cause? Their duty was, if possible, to escape. He also hires at the horrors of the siege, and how mothers with their infant children would suffer terribly. The issue of the investment would be the slaughter of multitudes and the exile of the rest, The Jews became wanderers and exiles from that moment.
"Tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast,
How shall ye flee away and be at rest!
The wild dove hath her nest, the fox his cave,
Mankind their country—Israel but the grave!"
IV. REDEMPTION MAY BE DISCERNED AS DRAWING NIGH. (Luke 21:25-33.) Our Lord. indicates that distress of nations, perplexity, and faint-heartedness through fear will precede his second coming. But his people need be no sharers in this fear. So far from this, as soon as the judgment-signs begin they are to lift up their heads, assured that redemption is drawing nigh. The outlook may be wintry for the world, but it is summer for the saints of God. And here we may notice:
1. The parable of the spring trees. (Luke 21:29, Luke 21:30.) Our Lord reminds the disciples that every spring, in the buds and shoots of the various trees there is the promise of the summer. The progress is gradual, yet noticeable. In the same way his people are to look for the signs of coming summer, and to manifest a hopeful spirit in beautiful contrast to the despairing spirit of the world.
2. The imperishable character of the Christian stock. (Luke 21:31-33.) All the world's opposition and persecution will not annihilate the Christian stock. As the martyrs fall before their persecutors, it is only to summon fresh witnesses for the Master from the ranks of their enemies. The Christian stock abides. There need be no fear. Let this be left to the unbelieving world.
V. THE LORD'S PEOPLE OUGHT CONSEQUENTLY TO BE WATCHING AND PRAYING FOR THE ADVENT. (Luke 21:34-38.) And in the conclusion of this discourse our Lord clearly indicates:
1. That it is possible to escape the judgments which are coming on the earth before the advent. For there is no merit in allowing one's self to be involved in judgments which others by their unbelief have invited. It is our duty to escape, if possible, the catastrophe.
2. It can only be by a watchful and prayerful spirit. Self indulgence, everything that would dull our sense of the impending advent, must be avoided. It is to come as a thief and a snare upon those that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Hence the imperative necessity of watching. And it is prayer which will help us in our watching. We must wrestle with the coming King, that he may count us worthy to escape the world's judgments and to stand before him.
3. How great a privilege it will be to be permitted to stand in the presence of the Son of man! No such privilege is afforded even by the greatest of earthly kings. It becomes us, therefore, to be in downright earnest about this privilege, and by persevering prayer to secure it.
VI. OUR LORD GAVE THE DISCIPLES THE EXAMPLE OF THE WATCHFUL PRAYER REQUIRED. (Luke 21:37, Luke 21:38.) For it would seem that, in the closing days, the people came so early to the temple to be taught, that he could not go as far as Bethany to spend the night. He went out, therefore, at nightfall to the Mount of Olives, and spent the night-watches more in prayer than in sleep. He was showing what persevering prayer in the crises of history must be. Let our Lord's Gethsemane habits call each of us to privacy and patient prayer such as will alone secure the proper public spirit.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 21". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany