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Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. (Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19.)
We have come to the last week of our Lord's earthly life, when he made his appearance in Jerusalem as Messiah, and suffered the penalty of death. If, as is believed, his crucifixion took place on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan, the triumphal entry must be assigned to the ninth, which day was reckoned to commence at one sunset and to continue till the follow-lug evening. This is regarded as the first day of the Holy Week, and is called by Christians from very early times Palm Sunday (see on Matthew 21:10). He had probably gone straight from Jericho to Bethany. and spent the sabbath there with his friends (Matthew 26:6; John 12:1). Bethphage. The name means House of figs, and was appropriate to a locality where such trees grew luxuriantly. The village has not been identified with certainty, though it is considered with great probability to be represented by Kefr-et-Tur, on a summit of Olivet, within the bounds of Jerusalem, i.e. two thousand cubits' distance from the city walls. Bethany is below the summit, in a nook on the western slope and somewhat further from the city. The Mount of Olives is separated from Jerusalem by the valley of the Kedron, and has three summits, the centre one being the highest; but though it is of no great elevation in itself, it stands nearly four thousand feet above the Dead Sea, from which it is distant some thirteen miles. Then sent Jesus two disciples. Their names are not given, and it is useless to conjecture who they were, though probably Peter was one of them. Alford suggests that the triumphal entry in Mark 11:1-33. is related a day too soon, and that our Lord made two entries into Jerusalem—the first a private one (Mark 11:11), and the second, public, on the morrow But there is no sufficient reason to discredit the common tradition, and St. Mark's language can be otherwise explained. The deliberate preparation for t. he procession, and the intentional publicity, so contrary to Christ's usual habits, are very remarkable, and can be explained only by the fact that he was now assuming the character and claims of Messiah, and putting himself forward in his true dignity and office as "King of the Jews." By this display he made manifest that in him prophecy was fulfilled, and that the seeing eye and the believing heart might now find all that righteous men had long and wearily desired. This was the great opportunity which his mercy offered to Jerusalem, if only she would accept it and turn it to account. In fact, she acknowledged him as King one day, and then rejected and crucified him.
The village over against you. Bethphage, to which he points as he speaks. He gives their commission to the two disciples, mentioning even some minute details. Straightway. "As soon as ye be entered into it" (Mark). Ye shall find an ass (a she ass) tied, and a colt with her. St. Matthew alone mentions the ass, the mother of the foal. This doubtless he does with exact reference to the prophecy, which, writing for Jews, he afterwards cites (verse 4). St. Jerome gives a mystical reason: the ass represents the Jewish people, which had long borne the yoke of the Law; the colt adumbrates the Gentiles, as yet unbroken," whereon never man sat." Christ called them both, Jew and Gentile, by his apostles. Loose them, and bring them unto me. He speaks with authority, as One able to make a requisition and command obedience.
Say aught unto you. This might naturally be expected. Christ foresaw the opposition, and instructed the disciples how to overcome it with a word. The Lord; Κυìριος, equivalent to "Jehovah," or the King Messiah. Doubtless the owner of the animals was a disciple, and acknowledged the claims of Jesus. His presence here was a providentially guided coincidence. If he was a stranger; as others suppose, be must have been divinely prompted to acquiesce in the appropriation of his beasts. He will send them. Some manuscripts read, "he sends them," here, as in St. Mark. The present is more forcible, but the future is well attested. The simple announcement that the asses were needed for God's service would silence all refusal. The disciples, indeed, were to act at once, as executing the orders of the supreme Lord, and were to use the given answer only in case of any objection. Throughout the transaction Christ assumes the character of the Divine Messiah, King of his people, the real Owner of all that they possess.
All this was done; now (δεÌ) all this hath come to pass. Many manuscripts omit "all," but it is probably genuine, as in other similar passages; e.g. Matthew 1:22; Matthew 26:56. This observation of the evangelist is intended to convey the truth that Christ was acting consciously on the lines of old prophecy, working out the will of God declared beforehand by divinely inspired seers. The disciples acted in blind obedience to Christ's command, not knowing that they were thus fulfilling prophecy, or having any such purpose in mind. The knowledge came afterwards (see John 12:16). That it might be fulfilled (ἱìνα πληρωθῇ). The conjuction in this phrase is certainly used in its final, not in a consecutive or ecbatie sense; it denotes the purpose or design of the action of Christ, not the result. Not only the will of the Father, but the words of Scripture, had delineated the life of Christ, and in obeying that will he purposed to show that he fulfilled the prophecies which spake of him. Thus any who knew the Scriptures, and were open to conviction, might see that it was he alone to whom these ancient oracles pointed, and in him alone were their words accomplished. By (through, διαì) the prophet. Zechariah 9:9, with a hint of Isaiah 62:11, a quotation being often woven from two or more passages (see on Matthew 27:9).
Tell ye the daughter of Zion. This is from Isaiah (comp. Zephaniah 3:14). The passage in Zechariah begins, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem." The "daughter of Zion" is Jerusalem herself, named from the chief of the hills on which the city was built. Of course, the term includes all the inhabitants. Behold; marking the suddenness and unexpected nature of the event. Thy King. A King of thine own race, no stranger, one predestined for thee, foretold by all the prophets, who was to occupy the throne of David and to reign forever. Unto thee. For thy special good, to make his abode with thee (comp. Isaiah 9:6). Meek. As Christ himself says, "I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29), far removed from pomp and warlike greatness; and yet, according to his own Beatitude, the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), win victories which material forces can never obtain, triumph through humiliation. The original in Zechariah gives other characteristics of Messiah: "He is just, and having salvation;" i.e. endowed with salvation, either as being protected by God, or victorious and so able to save his people. Sitting upon an ass. Coming as King, he could not walk undistinguished among the crowd; he must ride. But to mount a war horse would denote that he was leader of an army or a worldly potentate; so he rides upon an ass, an animal used by the judges of Israel, and chieftains on peaceful errands (Judges 5:10; Judges 10:4); one, too, greatly valued, and often of stately appearance in Palestine. And (καιÌ) a colt the foal of an ass; such as she asses bear, and one not trained. It is questioned whether the conjunction here expresses addition, implying that Christ mounted both animals in succession, or is merely explanatory, equivalent to videlicet, an ass, yea, even the foal of an ass. It seems unlikely that, in accomplishing the short distance between Bethphage and Jerusalem (only a mile or two), our Lord should have changed from one beast to the other; and the other three evangelists say expressly that Christ rode the colt, omitting all mention of the mother. The she ass doubtless kept close to its foal, so the prophecy was exactly fulfilled, but the animal that bore the Saviour was the colt. If the two animals represent respectively the Jews and Gentiles (see on verse 2), it seems hardly necessary for typical reasons that Jesus should thus symbolize his triumph over the disciplined Jews, while it is obvious that the lesson of his supremacy over the untaught Gentiles needed exemplification. The prophet certainly contemplates the two animals in the procession. "The old theocracy runs idly and instinctively by the side of the young Church, which has become the true bearer of the Divinity of Christ" (Lange). No king had ever thus come to Jerusalem; such a circumstance was predicted of Messiah alone, and Christ alone fulfilled it to the letter, showing of what nature his kingdom was.
As Jesus commanded them. They simply obeyed the order, not yet knowing what it portended, or how it carried out the will of God declared by his prophets.
Brought the ass. The unbroken foal would be more easily subdued and guided when its mother was with it; such an addition to the ridden animal would usually be employed to carry the rider's luggage. They put on them (ἐπαìνω αὐτῶν) their clothes (ἱμαìτια). The two disciples, stripping off their heavy outer garments, abbas, or burnouses, put them as trappings on the two beasts, not knowing on which their Master meant to ride. They set him thereon (ἐπαìνω αὐτῶν). Thus the received text, and the Vulgate, Et eum desuper sedere fecerunt. But most modern editors, with great manuscriptural authority, read, "he sat thereon." Some have taken the pronoun αὐτῶν to refer to the beasts, and Alford supports the opinion by the common saying, "The postilion rode on the horses," when, in fact, he rode only one of the pair. But the analogy is erroneous. The postilion really guides and controls both; but no one contends that Christ kept the mother ass in hand while mounted on the colt. The pronoun is more suitably referred to the garments, which formed a saddle for the Saviour, or housings and ornamental appendages. He came invested with a certain dignity and pomp, yet in such humble guise as to discountenance all idea of temporal sovereignty.
A very great multitude; ὁδεÌ πλεῖστος ὀìχλος: Revised Version, the most part of the multitude. This interpretation has classical authority (see Alford), but the words may well mean," the very great multitude;" Vulgate, plurima autem turba. This crowd was composed of pilgrims who were coming to the festival at Jerusalem, and "the whole multitude of the disciples" (Luke 19:37). Spread their garments (ἱμαìτια) in the way. Fired with enthusiasm, they stripped off their abbas, as the two disciples had done, and with them made a carpet over which the Saviour should ride. Such honours were often paid to great men, and indeed, as we well know, are offered now on state occasions. Branches from the trees. St. John (John 12:13) particularizes palm trees as having been used on this occasion; but there was abundance of olive and other trees, from which branches and leaves could be cut or plucked to adorn the Saviour's road. The people appear to have behaved on this occasion as if at the Feast of Tabernacles, roused by enthusiasm to unpremeditated action. Of the three routes which lay before him, Jesus is supposed to have taken the southern and most frequented, between the Mount of Olives and the Hill of Offence.
The multitudes that went before, and that followed. These expressions point to two separate bodies, which combined in escorting Jesus at a certain portion of the route. We learn from St. John (John 12:18) that much people, greatly excited by the news of the raising of Lazarus, when they heard that he was in the neighbourhood, hurried forth from Jerusalem to meet and do him honour. These, when they met the other procession with Jesus riding in the midst, turned back again and preceded him into the city. St. Luke identifies the spot as "at the descent of the Mount of Olives." "As they approached the shoulder of the hill," says Dr. Geikie ('The Life of Christ,' 2.397), "where the road bends downwards to the north, the sparse vegetation of the eastern slope changed, as in a moment, to the rich green of garden and trees, and Jerusalem in its glory rose before them. It is hard for us to imagine now the splendour of the view. The city of God, seated on her hills, shone at the moment in the morning sun. Straight before stretched the vast white walls and buildings of the temple, its courts glittering with gold, rising one above the other; the steep sides of the hill of David crowned with lofty walls; the mighty castles towering above them; the sumptuous palace of Herod in its green parks; and the picturesque outlines of the streets." Hosanna to the Son of David! "Hosanna!" is compounded of two words meaning "save" and "now," or, "I pray," and is written in full Hoshia-na, translated by the Septuagint, Σῶσον δηì. The expressions uttered by the people are mostly derived from Psalms 118:1-29., which formed part of the great Hallel sung at the Feast of Tabernacles. "Hosanna!" was originally a formula of prayer and supplication, but later became a term of joy and congratulation. So here the cry signifies "Blessings on [or, 'Jehovah bless'] the Son of David!" i.e. the Messiah, acknowledging Jesus to be he, the promised Prince of David's line. Thus we say, "God save the king!" This, which Ewald calls the first Christian hymn, gave to Palm Sunday, in some parts of the Church, the name of the "day of Hosannas," and was incorporated into the liturgical service both in East and West. Blessed … of the Lord: (Psalms 118:26). The formula is taken in two ways, the words, "ill the Name of the Lord," being connected either with "blessed" or with "cometh." In the former case the cry signifies, "The blessing of Jehovah rest on him who cometh!" i.e., Messiah (Matthew 11:3; Revelation 1:8); in the latter, the meaning is, "Blessing on him who cometh with Divine mission, sent with the authority of Jehovah!" The second interpretation seems to be correct. In the highest (comp. Luke 2:14). The people cry to God to ratify in heaven the blessing which they invoke on earth. This homage and the title of Messiah Jesus now accepts as his due, openly asserting his claims, and by his acquiescence encouraging the excitement. St. Matthew omits the touching scene of Christ's lamentations over Jerusalem, as he passed the spot where Roman legions would, a generation hence, encamp against the doomed city.
Was come into Jerusalem. Those who consider that the day of this event was the tenth of Nisan see a peculiar fitness in the entry occurring on this day. On the tenth of this month the Paschal lamb was selected and taken up preparatory to its sacrifice four days after (Exodus 12:3, Exodus 12:6). So the true Paschal Lamb now is escorted to the place where alone the Passover could be sacrificed. Taking A.D. 30 to be the date of the Crucifixion, astronomers inform us that in that year the first day of Nisan fell on March 24. Consequently, the tenth would be on Sunday, April 2, and the fourteenth was reckoned item sunset of Thursday, April 6, to the sunset of Friday, April 7 (see on Matthew 21:1, and preliminary note Matthew 26:1-75.). Was moved (ἐσειìσθη); was shaken, as by an earthquake. St. Matthew alone mentions this commotion, though St. John (John 12:19) makes allusion to it, when he reports the vindictive exclamation of the Pharisees, "Behold, the world is gone after him!" Jerusalem had been stirred and troubled once before, when the Wise Men walked through the streets, inquiring, "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:2, Matthew 2:3). But the excitement was far greater now, more general, composed of many different elements. The Romans expected some public rising; the Pharisaical party was aroused to new envy and malice; the Herodians dreaded a possible usurper; but the populace entertained for the moment the idea that their hopes were now fulfilled, that the long desired Messiah had at last appeared, and would lead them to victory. Who is this? The question may have been put by the strangers who came from all parts of the world to celebrate the Passover at Jerusalem, or by the crowds in the streets, when they beheld the unusual procession that was advancing.
The multitude; οἱὀìχλοι: the multitudes. These were the people who took part in the procession; they kept repeating (ἐìλεγον, imperfect) to all inquiries, This is Jesus the Prophet of Nazareth. They give his name, title, and dwelling place. They call him "the Prophet," either as being the One that was foretold (John 1:21; John 6:14), or as being inspired and commissioned by God (John 9:1-41.John 9:17). The appellation, "of Nazareth," clung to our Lord through all his earthly life. St. Matthew (Matthew 2:23) notes that the prophets had foretold that he was to be called a Nazarene, and that this prediction was in some sort fulfilled by his dwelling at Nazareth. We know not who were the prophets to whom the evangelist refers, and in this obscurity the attempted explanations of exegetes are far from satisfactory; so it is safer to fall back upon the inspired historian's verdict, and to mark the providential accomplishment of the prediction in the title by which Jesus was generally known. Says Isaac Williams, "Friends and foes, chief priests in hate, Pilate in mockery, angels in adoration, disciples in love, Christ himself in lowliness (Acts 22:8), and now the multitudes in simplicity, all proclaim him 'of Nazareth.'"
The second cleansing of the temple. (Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48.)
Went into the temple. The event here narrated seems to have taken place on the day following the triumphal entry; i.e. on the Monday of the Holy Week. This can be gathered from St. Mark's narrative, where it is stated that, on the day of triumph, Jesus was escorted to the temple, but merely "looked round about on all things," and then returned for the night to Bethany, visiting the temple again on the following morning, and driving out those who profaned it. St. Matthew often groups events, not in their proper chronological order, but in a certain logical sequence which corresponded with his design. Thus he connects the cleansing with the triumphal entry, in order to display another example of Christ's self-manifestation at this time, and his purpose to show who he was and to put forth his claims publicly. In this visit of Christ we see the King coming to his palace, the place where his honour dwelleth, the fitting termination of his glorious march. This cleansing of the temple must not be confounded with the earlier incident narrated by St. John (John 2:13, etc.). The two acts marked respectively the beginning and close of Christ's earthly ministry, and denote the reverence which he taught for the house and the worshiper God. The part of the temple which he now visited, and which was profaned to secular use, was the court of the Gentiles, separated from the sanctuary by a stone partition, and considered of lesser sanctity, though really an integral part of the temple. Cast out all them that sold and bought. In this large open space a market had been established, with the connivance, and much to the pecuniary emolument, of the priests. These let out the sacred area, of which they were the appointed guardians, to greedy and irreligious traders, who made a gain of others' piety. We find no trace of this market in the Old Testament; it probably was established after the Captivity, whence the Jews brought back that taste for commercial business and skill in financial matters for which they have ever since been celebrated. In the eyes of worldly-minded men the sanctity of a building and its appendages was no impediment to traffic and trade, hence they were glad to utilize the temple court, under the sanction of the priests, for the convenience of those who came from all regions to celebrate the great festivals. Here was sold all that was required for the sacrifices which worshippers were minded to offer—animals for victims, meal, incense, salt, etc. The scandalous abuse of the holy precincts, or the plain traces of it (if, as it was late in the day, the traffickers themselves had departed for a time), Christ had observed at his previous visit, when he "looked round about upon all things" (Mark 11:11), and now he proceeded to remedy the crying evil The details of the expulsion are not given. On the first occasion, we are told, he used "a scourge of small cords;" as far as we know, at this time he effected the purification unarmed and alone. It was a marvellous impulse that forced the greedy crew to obey the order of this unknown Man; their own consciences made them timid; they fled in dismay before the stern indignation of his eye, deserted their gainful trade to escape the reproach of that invincible zeal. Money changers. These persons exchanged (for a certain percentage) foreign money or other coins for the half shekel demanded from all adults for the service of the temple (see on Matthew 17:24). They may have lent money to the needy. The sellers also probably played into their bands by refusing to receive any but current Jewish money in exchange for their wares. It is also certain that no coins stamped with a heathen symbol, or bearing a heathen monarch's image, could be paid into the temple treasury. The seats of them that sold (the) doves. These birds were used by the poor in the place of costlier victims (see Le John 12:6; John 14:22; Luke 2:24). The sellers were often women, who sat with tables before them on which were set cages containing the doves.
It is written. Jesus confirms his action by the word of Scripture. He combines in one severe sentence a passage from Isaiah 56:7 ("Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all peoples"), and one from Jeremiah 7:11 ("Is this house, which is called by my Name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?"). He brings out in strong contrast the high design and use of the house of God (an allusion specially appropriate at the coming festival), and the vile and profane purposes to which the greed and impiety of men had subjected it. Ye have made it; Revised Version, ye make it; and so many modern editors on good manuscript authority. These base traffickers had turned the hallowed courts into a cavern where robbers stored their ill-gotten plunder. It may also be said that to make the place of prayer for all the nations a market for boasts was a robbery of the rights of the Gentiles (Lange). And Christ here vindicated the sanctity of the house of God: the Lord, according to the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 3:1-3), had suddenly come to his temple to refine and purify, to show that none can profane what is dedicated to the service of God without most certain loss and punishment.
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple. This notice is peculiar to St. Matthew, though St. Luke (Luke 19:47) mentions that "he taught daily in the temple." An old expositor has remarked that Christ first as King purified his palace, and then took his seat therein, and of his royal bounty distributed gilts to his people. It was a new fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 35:4-6), which spake of Messiah coming to open the eyes of the blind, to unstop the ears of the deaf, to make the lame man leap as an hart. For acts of sacrilege which profaned the temple precincts, he substituted acts of mercy which hallowed them; the good Physician takes the place of the greedy trafficker; the den of thieves becomes a beneficent hospital. How many were the acts of healing, we are not told; but the words point to the relief of numberless sufferers, none of whom were sent empty away.
The chief priests. This term is generally applied to the high priest's deputies and the heads of the twenty-four courses, but it seems here to mean certain sacerdotal members of the Sanhedrin, to whom supreme authority was delegated by the Romans or Herodians (see Josephus, 'Ant.,' 20.10, 5). They formed a wealthy, aristocratical body, and were many of them Sadducees. They joined with the scribes in expressing their outraged feeling, whether simulated or real. The wonderful things (τασια); an expression found nowhere else in the New Testament. It refers to the cleansing of the temple and the cures lately performed there. Children crying in the temple. This fact is mentioned only by St. Matthew. Jesus loved children, and they loved and followed him, taking up the cry which they had heard the day before from the multitude, and in simple faith applying it again to Christ. While grown men are silent or blaspheming, little children boldly sing his praises. Were sore displeased. Their envious hearts could not bear to see Jesus honoured, elevated in men's eyes by his own beneficent actions, and now glorified by the spontaneous acclamations of these little ones.
Hearest thou what these say? They profess a great zeal for God's honour. They recognize that these cries implied high homage, if not actual worship, and appeal to Jesus to put a stop to such unseemly behaviour, approaching, as they would pretend, to formal blasphemy. Yea. Jesus replies that he hears what the children say, but sees no reason for silencing them; rather he proves that they were only fulfilling an old prophecy, originally, indeed, applied to Jehovah, but one which he claims as addressed to himself. Have ye never read? (Matthew 12:5). The quotation is from the confessedly Messianic psalm (Psalms 8:1-9.), a psalm very often quoted in the New Testament, and as speaking of Christ (see 1Co 1:27; 1 Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 2:6, etc.). Sucklings. This term was applied to children up to the age of three years (see 2 Macc. 7:27), but might be used metaphorically of those of tender age, though long weaned. Thou hast perfected praise. The words are from the Septuagint, which seems to have preserved the original reading. The present Hebrew text gives, "Thou hast ordained strength," or "established a power." In the Lord's mouth the citation signifies that God is praised acceptably by the weak and ignorant when, following the impulse of their simple nature, they do him homage. Some expositors combine the force of the Hebrew and Greek by explaining that "the strength of the weak is praise, and that worship of Christ is strength" (Wordsworth). It is more simple to say, with Nosgen, that for the Hebrew "strength," "praise" is substituted, in order to give the idea that the children's acclamation was that which would still the enemy, as it certainly put to shame the captious objections of the Pharisees.
He left them. The chief priests had nothing to say in reply to this testimony of Scripture. They feared to arrest him in the face of the enthusiastic multitude; they bided their time, for the present apparently silenced. Jesus, wasting no further argument on these wilfully unbelieving people, turned and left them. The King had no home in his royal city; he sought one in lowly Bethany, where he was always sure of a welcome in the house of Martha and Mary. It is somewhat doubtful whether he availed himself of his friends' hospitality at this time. The term "Bethany" would include the district so called in the vicinity of the town, as in the description of the scene of the Ascension (Luke 24:50). Lodged (ηὐλιìσθη). This word, if its strict classical use is pressed, would imply that Jesus passed the night in the open air; but it may mean merely "lodge," or "pass the night," without any further connotation; so no certain inference can be drawn from its employment in this passage. This withdrawal of Jesus obviated all danger of a rising in his favour, which, supported by the vast resources of the temple, might have had momentous consequences at this time of popular concourse and excitement.
The cursing of the barren fig tree. (Mark 11:12-14 :, Mark 11:20-26.)
In the morning. St. Matthew has combined in one view a transaction which had two separate stages, as we gather from the narrative of St. Mark. The curse was uttered on the Monday morning, before the cleansing of the temple; the effect was beheld and the lesson given on the Tuesday, when Jesus was visiting Jerusalem for the third time (verses 20-22). Strauss and his followers, resenting the miraculous in the incident, have imagined that the whole story is merely an embodiment and development of the parable of the fruitless fig tree recorded by St. Luke (Luke 13:6, etc.), which in course of time assumed this historical form. There is no ground whatever for this idea. It claims to be, and doubtless is, the account of a real fact, naturally connected with the circumstances of the time, and of great practical importance. He hungered. True Man, he showed the weakness of his human nature, even when about to exert his power in the Divine. There is no need, rather it is unseemly to suppose (as many old commentators have done), that this hunger was miraculous or assumed, in order to give occasion for the coming miracle. Christ had either passed the night on the mountain-side in prayer and fasting, or had started from his lodging without breaking his fast. His followers do not seem to have suffered in the same way; and it was doubtless owing to his mental preoccupation and self-forgetfulness that the Lord had not attended to bodily wants.
When he saw a (μιìαν, a single) fig tree in the way. The tree stood all alone in a conspicuous situation by the roadside, as if courting observation. It was allowable to pluck and eat fruit in an orchard (Deuteronomy 23:24, Deuteronomy 23:25); but this tree, placed where it was, seemed to be common property, belonging to no private owner. The sight of the leaves thereon, as St. Mark tells us, attracted the notice of Christ, who beheld with pleasure the prospect of relieving his long abstinence with the refreshment of cool and juicy fruit. He came to it. Knowing the nature of the tree, and that under some circumstances the fruit ripens before the leaves are fully out, Jesus naturally expected to find on it some figs fit to eat. Further, besides the fruit which comes to maturity in the usual way during the summer, there are often late figs produced in autumn which hang on the tree during winter, and ripen at the reawakening of vegetation in the spring. The vigour of this particular tree was apparently proved by the luxuriance of its foliage, and it might reasonably be expected to retain some of its winter produce. Found nothing thereon, but leaves only. It was all outward show, promise without performance, seeming precocity with no adequate results. There is no question here of Christ's omniscience being at fault. He acted as a man would act; he was not deceived himself nor did he deceive the apostles, though they at first misapprehended his purpose. The whole action was symbolical, and was meant so to appear. In strict propriety of conduct, as a man led by the appearance of the tree might act, he carried out the figure, at the same time showing, by his treatment of this inanimate object, that he had something higher in view, and that he does not mean that which his outward conduct seemed to imply. He is enacting a parable where all the parts are in due keeping, and all have their twofold signification in the world of nature and the world of grace. The hunger is real, the tree is real, the expectation of fruit legitimate, the barrenness disappointing and criminal; the spiritual side, however, is left to be inferred, and, as we shall see, only one of many possible lessons is drawn from the result of the incident. Let no fruit grow on thee (let there be no fruit from thee) henceforward forever. Such is the sentence passed on this ostentations tree. Christ addresses it as if replying to the profession made by its show of leaves. It had the sap of life, it had power to produce luxuriant leaves; therefore it might and ought to have borne fruit. It vaunted itself as being superior to its neighbours, and the boast was utterly empty. Presently (παραχρῆμα) the fig tree withered away. The process was doubtless gradual, commencing at Christ's word, and continuing till the tree died; but St. Matthew completes the account at once, giving in one picture the event, with its surroundings and results. It was a moral necessity that what had incurred Christ's censure should perish; the spiritual controlled the material; the higher overbore the lower. Thus the designed teaching was placed in visible shape before the eyes, and silently uttered its important lesson. It has been remarked (by Neander) that we are not to suppose that the tree thus handled was previously altogether sound and healthy. Its show of leaves at an unusual period without fruit may point to some abnormal development of activity which was consequent upon some radical defect. Had it been in vigorous health, it would not have been a fitting symbol of the Jewish Church; nor would it have corresponded with the idea which Christ designed to bring to the notice of his apostles. There was already some process at work which would have issued in decay, and Christ's curse merely accelerated this natural result. This is considered to be the only instance in which our Lord exerted his miraculous power in destruction; all his other actions were beneficent, saving, gracious. The drowning of the swine at Gadara was only permitted for a wise purpose; it was not commanded or inflicted by him. The whole transaction in our text is mysterious. That the Son of man should show wrath against a senseless tree, as tree, is, of course, not conceivable. Them was an apparent unfitness, if not injustice, in the proceeding, which at once demonstrated that the tree was not the real object of the action—that something more important was in view. Christ does not treat trees as moral agents, responsible for life and action. He uses inanimate objects to convey lessons to men, dealing with them according to his good pleasure, even his supreme will, which is the law by which they are controlled. In themselves they have no fault and incur no punishment, but they are treated in such a way as to profit the nobler creatures of God's hand. There may have been two reasons for Christ's conduct which were not set prominently forward at the time. First, he desired to show his power, his absolute control, over material forces, so that, in what was about to happen to him, his apostles might be sure that he suffered not through weakness or compulsion, but because he willed to have it so. This would prepare his followers for his own and their coming trials. Then there was another great lesson taught by the sign. The fig tree is a symbol of the Jewish Church. The prophets had used both it. and the vine in this connection (comp. Hosea 9:10), and our Lord himself makes an unmistakable allusion in his parable of the fig tree planted in the vineyard, from which the owner for three years sought fruit in vain (Luke 13:6, etc.). Many of his subsequent discourses are, as it were, commentaries upon this incident (see verses 28-44; Matthew 22:1-14; 23-25.). Here was a parable enacted. The Saviour had seen this tree, the Jewish Church, afar off, looking down upon it from heaven; it was one, single, standing conspicuous among all nations as that whereon the Lord had lavished most care, that which ought to have shown the effect of this culture in abundant produce of holiness and righteousness. But what was the result? Boasting to be children of Abraham, the special heritage of Jehovah, gifted with highest privileges, the sole possessors of the knowledge of God, the Israelites professed to have what no other people had, and were in reality empty and bare. There was plenty of outward show—rites, ceremonies, scrupulous observances, much speaking—but no real devotion, no righteousness, no heart worship, no good works. Other nations, indeed, were equally fruitless, but they did not profess to be holy; they were sinners, and offered no cloak for their sinfulness. The Jews were no less unrighteous; but they were hypocrites, and boasted of the good which they had not. Other nations were unproductive, for their time had not come; but for Israel the season had arrived; she ought to have been the first to accept the Messiah, to unite the new with the old fruit, to pass from the Law to the gospel, and to learn and practise the lesson of faith. Perfect fruit was not yet to be expected; but Israel's sin was that she vaunted her perfection, counted herself sound and whole, while rotten at the very core, and barren of all good results. Her falsehood, hypocrisy, and arrogant complacency were fearfully punished. The terms of the curse pronounced by the Judge are very emphatic. It denounces perpetual barrenness on the Jewish Church and people. From Judaea was to have gone forth the healing of the nations; from it all peoples of the earth were to be blessed. The complete fulfilment of this promise is no longer in the literal Israel; she is nothing in the world; no one resorts to her for food and refreshment; she has none to offer the wayfarer. For eighteen centuries has that fruitlessness continued; the withered tree still stands, a monument of unbelief and its punishment. The Lord's sentence, "forever," must be understood with some limitation. In his parable of the fig tree, which adumbrates the last days, he intimates that it shall some day bud and blossom, and be clothed once more with leaf and fruit; and St. Paul looks forward to the conversion of Israel, when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Romans 11:23-26).
They marvelled, saying. The apostles' remark on the incident was made on the Tuesday, as we learn from St. Mark's more accurate account. After Christ had spoken his malediction, the little band went on their way to Jerusalem, where was performed the cleansing of the temple. On their return to Bethany, if they passed the tree, it was doubtless too dark to observe its present condition, and it was not till the next morning that they noticed what had happened. St. Matthew does not name the apostle who was the mouthpiece of the others in expressing astonishment at the miracle; he is satisfied with speaking generally of "the disciples" (comp. Matthew 26:8 with John 12:4). We learn from St. Mark that it was Peter who made the observation recorded, deeply affected by the sight of this instance of Christ's power, and awestruck by the speedy and complete accomplishment of the curse. How soon is the fig tree withered away! better, How did the fig tree immediately wither away? Vulgate, Quomodo continue aruit? They saw, but could not comprehend, the effect of Christ's word, and wonderingly inquired how it came to pass. They did not at present realize the teaching of this parabolic act—how it gave solemn warning of the certainty of judgment on the unfruitful Jewish Church, which, hopelessly barren, must no longer cumber the earth. Christ did not help them to understand the typical nature of the transaction. He is not wont to explain in words the spiritual significance of his miracles; the connection between miracle and teaching is left to be inferred, to be brought out by meditation, prayer, faith, and subsequent circumstances. The total rejection of the Jews was a doctrine for which the apostles were not yet prepared; so the Lord, in wisdom and mercy, withheld its express enunciation at this moment. In mercy too he exemplified the sternness and severity of God's judgment by inflicting punishment on an inanimate object, and not on a sentient being; he withered a tree, not a sinful man, by the breath of his mouth.
Jesus answered. To the apostles' question the Lord makes reply, drawing a lesson, not such as we should have expected, but one of quite a different nature, yet one which was naturally deduced from the transaction which had excited such astonishment. They marvelled at this incident; let them have and exercise faith. and they should do greater things than this. Christ had already made a similar answer after the cure of the demoniac boy (Matthew 17:20, where see note). If ye have faith, and doubt not (μηÌ διακριθῆτε). The whole phrase expresses the perfection of the grace. The latter verb means "to discriminate," to see a difference in things, hence to debate in one's mind. The Vulgate gives, Si habueritis fidem, et non haesitaveritis. What is here enjoined is that temper of mind which does not stop hesitatingly to consider whether a thing can be done or not, but believes that all is possible—that one can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. So the apostles are assured by Christ that they should not only be able to wither a tree with a word, but should accomplish far more difficult undertakings. This which is done to the fig tree (τοÌ τῆς συκῆς); as, "what was befallen to them that were possessed with devils (ταÌτῶν δαιμονιζομεìνων)" (Matthew 8:33). The promise may intimate that it was to be through the preaching of the apostles, and the Jews' rejection of the salvation offered by them, that the judgment should fall on the chosen people. Thus they would do what was done to the fig tree. And in the following words we may see a prophecy of the destruction of the mountain of paganism. Or it may mean that theocratic Judaism must be cast into the sea of nations before the Church of Christ should reach its full development (Lange). This mountain. As he speaks, he points to the Mount of Olivet, on which they were standing, or to Moriah crowned by the glorious temple. Be thou removed; be thou taken up; ἀìρθητι, not the same word as in Matthew 17:20. The sea. The Mediterranean (see a similar promise, Luke 17:6). It shall be done. It was not likely that any such material miracle would literally be needed, and no one would ever pray for such a sign; but the expression is hyperbolically used to denote the performance of things most difficult and apparently impossible (see Zechariah 4:7; 1 Corinthians 13:2).
All things. The promise is extended beyond the sphere of extraordinary miracles. In prayer; ἐν τῇ προσευχῇ: in the prayer; or, in your prayer. The use of the article may point to the prayer given by our Lord to his disciples, or to some definite form used from the earliest times in public worship (comp. Acts 1:14; Romans 12:12; 1 Corinthians 7:5; Colossians 4:2). Believing, ye shall receive. The condition for the success of prayer is stringent. A man must have no latent doubt in his heart; he must not debate whether the thing desired can be done or not; he must have absolute trust in the power and good will of God; and he must believe that "what he saith cometh to pass" (Mark 11:23). The faith required is the assurance of things hoped for, such as gives substance and being to them while yet out of sight. The words had their special application to the apostles, instructing them that they were not to expect to be able, like their Master, to work the wonders needed for the confirmation of the gospel by their own power. Such effects could be achieved only by prayer and faith. (On the general promise to faithful prayer, see Matthew 7:7-11.)
Our Lord's authority questioned: he replies by uttering three parables. (Mark 11:27-12; Luke 20:1-18.)
First attack, referring to his late actions: and Christ's answer.
When he was come into the temple. The conversation recorded here belongs to the Tuesday of the Holy Week, and took place in the courts of the temple, at this time filled with pilgrims from all parts of the world, who hung upon Christ's words, and beheld his doings with wonder and awe. This sight roused to fury the envy and anger of the authorities, and they sent forth sections of their cleverest men to undermine his authority in the eyes of the people, or to force from him statements on which they might found criminal accusation against him. The chief priests and the elders of the people. According to the other evangelists, there were also scribes, teachers of the Law, united with them in this deputation, which thus comprised all the elements of the Sanhedrin. This seems to have been the first time that the council took formal notice of Jesus' claims and actions, and demanded from him personally an account of himself. They had been quick enough in inquiring into the Baptist's credentials, when he suddenly appeared on the banks of Jordan (see John 1:19, etc.); but they had studiously, till quite lately, avoided any regular investigation of the pretensions of Jesus. In the thee of late proceedings, this could no longer be delayed. A crisis had arrived; their own peculiar province was publicly invaded, and their authority attacked; the opponent must be withstood by the action of the constituted court. As he was teaching. Jesus did not confine himself to beneficent acts; he used the opportunity of the gathering of crowds around him to preach unto them the gospel (Luke 20:1), to teach truths which came with double force from One who bad done such marvellous things. By what authority doest thou these things? They refer to the triumphal entry, the reception of the homage offered, the healing of the blind and lame, the teaching as with the authority of a rabbi, and especially to the cleansing of the temple. No one could presume to teach without a proper commission: where was his authorization? They were the guardians and rulers of the temple: what right had he to interfere with their management, and to use the sacred precincts for his own purposes? These and such like questions were in their mind when they addressed him thus. Wilfully ignoring the many proofs they had of Christ's Divine mission (which one of them, Nicodemus, had long before been constrained to own, John 3:2), they raised the question now as a novel and unanswered one. Who gave thee this authority? They resolve the general inquiry into the personal one—Who was it that conferred upon you this authority which you presume to exercise? Was it some earthly ruler, or was it God himself? Perhaps they mean to insinuate that Satan was the master whose power he wielded—an accusation already often made. They thought thus to place Christ in an embarrassing position, from which he could not emerge without affording the opportunity which they desired. The trap was cleverly set, and, as they deemed, unavoidable. If he was forced to confess that he spoke and acted without any proper authorization, he would be humiliated in the eyes of the people, and might be officially silenced by the strong hand. If he asserted himself to be the Messiah and the bearer of a Divine commission, they would at once bring against him a charge of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65).
I also will ask you one thing; λοìγον ἑìνα: one word, question. Jesus does not reply directly to their insidious demand. He might have asserted his Divine mission, and appealed to his miracles in confirmation of such claim, which would have been in strict conformity with the old, established rule for discriminating false and true prophets (see Deuteronomy 18:22; Jeremiah 28:9); but he knew too well their scepticism and malice and inveterate prejudice to lay stress on this allegation at the present moment. Before he satisfied their inquiry, he must have their opinion concerning one whom they had received as a prophet a few years ago, and whose memory was still held in the highest respect, John the Baptist. The manner in which they regarded him and his testimony would enable them to answer their own interrogation.
The baptism of John (τοÌ βαìπτισμα τοÌ Ἰωαìννου). By "the baptism which was of John" Christ means his whole ministry, doctrine, preaching, etc.; as by circumcision is implied the whole Mosaic Law, and the doctrine of the cross comprises all the teaching of the gospel, the chief characteristic connoting all particulars. From heaven, or of men? Did they regard John as one inspired and commissioned by God, or as a fanatic and impostor, who was self-sent and had received no external authorization? Now, two facts were plain and could not be denied. The rulers and the people with them had allowed John to be a prophet, and had never questioned his claims hitherto. This was one fact; the other was that John had borne unmistakable evidence to Christ. "Behold the Lamb of God!" etc. (John 1:32-36), he had said. He came and asserted that he came as Christ's forerunner; his mission was to prepare Christ's way, and had no meaning or intention but this. Here was a dilemma. They had asked for Jesus' credentials; the prophet, whose mission they had virtually endorsed testified that Jesus was the Messiah; if they believed that John spoke by inspiration, they must accept Christ; if now they discredited John, they would stultify themselves and endanger their influence with the people. They reasoned with themselves (παρ ἑαυτοῖς). The somewhat unusual introduction of this preposition instead of the more common ἐν implies that the reflection was not confined to their own breast, but passed in consultation from one to another. They saw the difficulty, and deliberated how they could meet it without compromising themselves, seeking, not truth, but evasion. Why did ye not then (διατιì οὖν: why then did ye not) believe him? i.e. when he bore such plain testimony to me. This appeal could be silenced only by denying John's mission, or asserting that he was mistaken in what he said,
We fear the people. They dared not, as they would gladly have done, affirm that John was a false prophet and impostor; for then, as according to St. Luke they said, "All the people will stone us." Public opinion was too strong for them. Whatever view they really took of John's position, they were forced, for the sake of retaining popularity, to uphold its Divine character. All hold John as a prophet. Even Herod, for the same reason, long hesitated to put the Baptist to death (Matthew 14:5); and many of the Jews believed that Herod's defeat by Aretas was a judgment upon him for this murder (Josephus,' Ant.,' 18.5. 2); comp. Luke 7:29, which shows how extensive was the influence of this holy teacher, who indeed did no miracle, but persuaded men by pure doctrine, holy life, genuine love of souls, courageous reproof of sin wherever found. Others had drawn the very inference which Christ now demanded (see John 10:41, John 10:42).
We cannot tell; οὐκ οἰìδαμεν: we know not; Vulgate, nescimus. The Authorized Version seems, at first sight, to be intended to give a false emphasis to "tell" in Christ's answer; but our translators often render the verb οἰìδα in this way (see John 3:8; John 8:14; John 16:18; 2 Corinthians 12:2). The questioners could find no way out of the dilemma in which Christ's unerring wisdom had placed them. Their evasive answer was a confession of defeat, and that in the presence of the gaping crowd who stood around listening to the conversation. They had every opportunity of judging the character of John's mission and that of Christ; it was their duty to form an opinion and to pronounce a verdict on such claims; and yet they, the leaders and teachers of Israel, for fear of compromising themselves, evade the obligation, refuse to solve or even to entertain the question, and, like a modern agnostic, content themselves with a profession of ignorance. Many people, to avoid looking a disagreeable truth in the face, respond to all appeals with the stereotyped phrase, "We cannot tell." F.M. appositely quotes the comment of Donatus on Terent., 'Eunuch.,' 5.4, 31, "Perturbatur Parmeno; nec negare potuit, nec consentire volebat; sed quasi defensionis loco dixit, Nescio." And he said unto them; ἐìφη αὐτοῖς καις: he also said unto them. The Lord answers the thought which had dictated their words to him. Neither tell I you, etc. With such double-minded men, who could give no clear decision concerning the mission of such a one as John the Baptist, it would be mere waste of words to argue further. They would not accept his testimony, and recognizing their malice and perversity, he declined to instruct them further. "Christ shows," says Jerome, "that they knew and were unwilling to answer; and that he knew, but held his peace, because they refused to utter what they well knew."
The parable of the two sons. (Peculiar to St. Matthew.)
But what think ye? A formula connecting what follows with what has preceded, and making the hearers themselves the judges. By this and the succeeding parables, Jesus shows his interlocutors their true guilty position and the punishment that awaited them. He himself explains the present parable in reference to his hearers, though, of course, it has, and is meant to have, a much wider application. A certain man (ἀìνθρωπος, a man) had two sons. The man represents God; the two sons symbolize two classes of Jews—the Pharisees, with their followers and imitators; and the lawless and sinful, who made no pretence of religion. The former are those who profess to keep the Law strictly, to the very letter, though they care nothing for its spirit, and virtually divorce religion from morality The latter are careless and profane persons, whom the Lord calls "publicans and harlots" (Matthew 21:31). The first. Westcott and Hort, relying on no very weighty authority, reverse the order of the sons' answers, altering Matthew 21:31 in agreement with this arrangement. Christ's reply countenances the received text, setting the repentant before the professing son. It is a matter of small importance (see Tischendorf, in loc.). "The first son "here typifies the evil and immoral among the Jewish people. Go, work today. Two emphatic imperatives. Immediate obedience is required. "Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Psalms 95:7, Psalms 95:8). God called his sons to serve in his vineyard—the Church. He called them by the prophets, and more especially by John the Baptist, to turn from evil ways, and to do works meet for repentance (Matthew 3:8). Christ gives two examples, showing how this call was received.
I will not. The answer is rude, curt, and disrespectful, such a one as would naturally issue from the lips of a person who was selfishly wrapped in his own pleasures, and cared nothing for the Law of God, the claims of relationship, the decencies of society. Repented, and went; i.e. into the vineyard to work. The worst sinners, when converted, often make great saints. There is more hope of their repentance than of the self-righteous or hypocrites, who profess the form of religion without the reality, and in their own view need no repentance.
The second. He typifies the Pharisees, the scrupulous observers of outward form, while neglectful of the weightier matters—judgment, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). I go, sir, ἘγωÌ κυìριε: Eo, domine. This son is outwardly respectful and dutiful; his answer is in marked contrast to the rough "I will not" of his brother. He professes zeal for the Law, and ready obedience. And went not. Such men did no real work for God, honouring him with their lips and outward observances, while their heart was far from him, and their morality was unprincipled and impure.
Whether of them (the) twain! Christ forces from the unwilling hearers an answer which, at the moment, they do not see will condemn themselves. Unaccustomed to be criticized and put to the question, wrapped in a self-complacent righteousness, which was generally undisturbed, they missed the bearing of the parable on their own case, and answered without hesitation, as any unprejudiced person would have decided. The first; i.e. the son who first refused, but afterwards repented and went. Verily I say unto you. Jesus drives the moral home to the hearts of these hypocrites. The publicans and the harlots. He specifies these excommunicated sinners as examples of those represented by the first son. Go into the kingdom of God before you; προαìγουσιν ὑμας: are preceding you. This was the fact which Jesus saw and declared, he does not cut off all hope that the Pharisees might follow, if they willed to do so; he only shows that they have lost the position which they ought to have occupied, and that those whom they despised and spurned have accepted the offered salvation, and shall have their reward. We must remark that the Lord has no censure for those who sometime were disobedient, but afterwards repented; his rebuke falls on the professors and self-righteous, who ought to have been leaders and guides, and were in truth impious and irreligious.
For John came unto you. This gives the reason for Christ's assertion at the end of the last verse. John came with a special call to the rulers of the people, and they made some show of interest, by sending a deputation to demand his credentials, and by coming to his baptism; but that was all. They did not alter their lives or change their faulty opinions at his preaching, though they "were willing for a season to rejoice in his light" (John 5:35). In the way of righteousness. In that path of strict obedience to law, and of ascetic holiness, which you profess to regard so highly. If they had followed the path which John indicated, they would have attained to righteousness and salvation. John preached Christ who is "the Way" (John 14:6). (For "way," meaning doctrine, religious tenet and practice, see Matthew 22:16; Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9, Acts 19:23; 2 Peter 2:21.) Ye believed him not, to any practical purpose, even as it is said elsewhere (Luke 7:30), "The Pharisees and the lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God, not having been baptized of him." Those who did receive his baptism were the exception; the great majority stood aloof. Believed him. Though these sinners may have first rejected him, yet his preaching softened their hearts; they repented, confessed their sins, and were baptized (see for examples, Luke 3:10, etc.; Luke 7:29). This was another call to the Pharisees to go and do likewise. When ye had seen it; i.e. the fruits of true repentance in these sinners, which conversion was indeed a loud appeal to the rulers to consider their own ways, and to bow to God's hand. Repented not (see verse 29). They profited not by this miracle of grace. That ye might believe him. The end and result of repentance would be to believe in John's mission, and to attend to his teaching. Christ offers the above explanation of the parable (verses 31, 32) in view of the purpose for which he uttered it. It has been, and may be, taken in different senses, and in wider application. "What is set forth in individual cases is but a sample of what takes place in whole classes of persons, and even nations" (I. Williams). Many expositors consider the two sons to represent Gentiles and Jews; the former making no profession of serving God, and yet in time being converted and turning to him; the latter making much outward show of obedience, yet in reality denying him and rejecting salvation. It is obvious that such explanation is allowable, and coincides with the letter of the parable; but it does not satisfy the context, and fails in not answering to Christ's intention in uttering this similitude. Others see herein a picture of what happens in Christian lands, and is the experience of every Christian minister—how the irreligious and apparently irreclaimable are by God's grace brought, to repentance unto life; how the seemingly pious often make much show, but fall away, or bring no fruit unto perfection. And as the parable involves a general principle, so it may be applied universally to those who make great professions of religion, and are for a time full of good resolutions, but in practice fall very short; and to those who have been the slaves of lust, covetousness, or some other wickedness, but have been recovered from the snares of the devil, and have learned to lead a godly, righteous, and sober life.
Parable of the vineyard let out to husbandmen. (Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19.)
Hear another parable. The domineering and lately imperious party are reduced to the position of pupils; they have to listen to teaching, not to give it; to answer, not to put questions. This parable sets forth, under the guise of history, the Pharisaical party in its official character, and as the representative of the nation. It also denounces the punishment that surely awaited these rejecters of the offered salvation; thus exemplifying the teaching of the withered fig tree (Matthew 21:17-20). As applicable to the Jewish nation generally, it represents the long suffering of God and the various means which, in the course of their history, he had used to urge them to do their duty as his servants; and it ends with a prophecy of the coming events, and the terrible issue of impenitence. We must take the parable as partly retrospective, and partly predictive. There was a certain householder; a man (ἀìνθρωπος) that was an householder. Christ in his parables often, as here, introduces God in his dealings with mankind as a man. His house is the house of Israel in particular, and in general the whole human family. A vineyard. God's kingdom upon earth, and particularly the Jewish Church. The figure is common throughout Scripture (see on Matthew 20:1). It was planted when God gave Israel a law, and put them in possession of the promised land. The parable itself is founded on Isaiah 5:1-7, where, however, the vineyard is tended by the Lord himself, not by husbandmen, and it bears wild grapes, not good grapes. By these differences different developments of declension are indicated. In the earlier times it was the nation that apostatized, fell into idolatry and rebellion against God, the theocratical Head of their race and polity. In later days it is the teachers, rabbis, priests, false prophets, who neglect the paths of righteousness, and lead people astray. In the parable these last come into painful prominence as criminally guilty of opposing God's messengers. Hedged it round; put a hedge around it. The fence would be a stone wall—a necessary defence against the incursions of wild animals. This fence has been regarded in two senses—first, as referring to the physical peculiarities of the position of the Holy Land, separated from alien nations by deserts, seas, rivers, and so isolated from evil contagion; second, as intimating the peculiar laws and minute restrictions of the Jewish polity, which differentiated Judaism from all other systems of religion, and tended to preserve purity and incorruption. Probably the "hedge" is meant to adumbrate both senses. Many, however, see in it the protection of angels, or the righteousness of saints, which seem hardly to be sufficiently precise for the context. Digged a winepress. The phrase refers, not to the ordinary wooden troughs or vats which were used for the purpose of expressing and receiving the juice of the grapes, but to such as were cut in the rock, and were common in all parts of the country. Remains of these receptacles meet the traveller everywhere on the hill slopes of Judaea, and notably in the valleys of Carmel. The winepress is taken to signify the prophetic spirit, the temple services, or all things that typified the sacrifice and death of Christ. A tower; for the purpose of watching and guarding the vineyard. This may represent the temple itself, or the civil power. Whatever interpretation may be put upon the various details, which, indeed, should not be unduly pressed, the general notion is that every care was taken of the Lord's inheritance, nothing was wanting for its convenience and security. Let it out to husbandmen. This is a new feature introduced into Isaiah's parable. Instead of paying an annual sum of money to the proprietor, these vine dressers payed in kind, furnishing a stipulated amount of fruit or wine as the hire of the vineyard. We have a lease on the former terms in So Isaiah 8:11, where the keepers have "to bring a thousand pieces of silver for the fruit." The husbandmen are the children of Israel, who had to do their part in the Church, and show fruits of piety and devotion. Went into a far country; ἀπεδηìμησεν: went abroad. In the parabolic sense, God withdrew for a time the sensible tokens of his presence, no longer manifested himself as at Sinai, and in the cloud and pillar of fire. "Innuitur tempus divinae taciturnitatis, ubi homines agunt pro arbitrio" (Bengel). God's long suffering gives time of probation.
When the time of the fruit drew near. The vintage season, when the rent, whether in money or kind, became due. In the Jewish history no particular time seems to be signified, but rather such periods or crises which forced God's claims upon men's notice, and made them consider what fruits they had to show for all the Lord's care, how they had lived after receiving the Law. Such times were the ages of Samuel, Elijah, the great prophets, the Maccabees, and John the Baptist. His servants. The prophets, good kings, priests, and governors. "I have sent unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings" (Jeremiah 35:15). To receive the fruits of it (τουÌς καρπουÌς αὐτοῦ); or, his fruits, as rent.
Took his servants. The exaction of rent in kind has always been a fruitful source of dispute, fraud, and discontent. In the Jewish Church God's messengers had been ill treated and put to death (see Matthew 23:34-37). "Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?" cried St. Stephen; "and they have slain them which showed before the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been the betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:52). Beat … killed … stoned. A climax of iniquity and guilt. The statement is probably meant to be general; some, however, endeavour to individualize it, referring the "beating" to the treatment of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:1, Jeremiah 20:2), "killing" to Isaiah (Hebrews 11:37, "sawn asunder"), "stoning" to Zechariah son of Jehoiada (2 Chronicles 24:20, 2 Chronicles 24:21). Doubtless, the incidents in such persecutions were often repeated.
Other servants. God's loving kindness was not wearied out with the husbandmen's cruelty and violence. Each step of their wickedness and obstinacy was met with renewed mercy, with fresh calls to repentance. More (πλειìονας). More in number. In the latter days the number of God's messengers was much greater than in earlier times; so it is unnecessary to take πλειìονας in the sense of "more honourable," "of higher dignity," though such interpretation is supported by its use in Matthew 6:25; Mark 12:33; Hebrews 11:4. Likewise. They resisted these new envoys as they had resisted these first sent, treating them with equal cruelty and violence.
Last of all; ὑìστερον: afterwards, later on. The parable now allegorizes the near present, and future, in such a way as for the moment to conceal its bearing, and to lead the hearers to pronounce their own condemnation: His son. Even Jesus Christ, who was now among them, incarnate, teaching, and demanding of them fruits of righteousness. Here was the authorization which they had required (Matthew 21:23). God sent his Son. They will reverence my Son. God condescends to speak in human language, as hoping for a good result from this last effort for man's salvation. He, as it were, puts aside his foreknowledge, and gives scope to man's free will. Though the sad issue is known to him, he often acts towards men as if he had hope that they would still use the occasion profitably. In the present case, whereas the immediate result of the last measure was disastrous, the expectation was ultimately realized in the conversion of many Jews to Christianity, which led to the bringing of all nations to the obedience of the faith.
When the husbandmen saw the Son. As soon as they recognized this new and important messenger. This is the great element in the guilt of his rejection. They might have had the same consciousness of Christ's Divine mission as Nicodemus (John 3:2), having possessed the same opportunities of judging. Ancient prophecy, the signs of the times, the miracles and teaching of Christ, the testimony of the Baptist, pointed to one evident conclusion; evidence had been accumulating on all sides. A latent feeling had grown up that he was the Messiah (see John 11:49-52), and it was obstinate prejudice and perversity alone that prevented his open acknowledgment. "If I had not come and spoken unto them," said Christ, "they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin" (John 15:22; comp. John 9:41). They said among themselves. They plotted his destruction (see John 11:53). We are reminded of the conspiracy against Joseph, his father's well belowed son (Genesis 37:20). Let us seize on (καταìσχωμεν, take possession of, keep as our own) his inheritance. It would have been a wild and ignorant scheme of the husbandmen to consider that by murdering the heir they could obtain and hold possession of the vineyard. Here the parable bursts from the allegorical form, and becomes history and prophecy. In fact, the possession which the rulers coveted was supremacy over the minds and consciences of men; they wished to lord it over God's heritage; to retain their rights and prerogatives in the present system. This ambition Christ's teaching and action entirely overthrew. They felt no security in their possession of authority while he was present and working in their midst. Were he removed, their position would be safe, their claims undisputed. Hence their conspiracy and its result—a result very far from what they expected. They had their own way, but their gain was ruin. Says St. Augustine, "Ut possiderent, occiderunt; et quia occiderunt, perdiderunt."
Cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. This is prophecy, and alludes to a particular circumstance attending the death of Christ, viz. that he suffered without the city Jerusalem, Calvary being outside the walls (see John 19:17, and the parallel passages in the other evangelists, and especially Hebrews 13:11, Hebrews 13:12, where it is significantly noted that Jesus "suffered without the gate"). The words may also contain a reference to the fact that he was excommunicated and given over to the heathen to be judged and condemned, thus suffering not actually at the hands of "the husbandmen" (comp. Acts 2:23; Acts 4:27). Christ, in his Divine prescience, speaks of his Passion and death as already accomplished.
When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh; when therefore the lord, etc. Christ asks his hearers, who are both rulers and people, what in their opinion will be the course taken by the lord when he visits his vineyard, knowing all that has transpired. So Isaiah (Isaiah 5:3) makes the people give the verdict: "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard."
They say unto him. The Pharisees probably made the reply, not at the moment apprehending the sense of the parable. Or the words were spoken by some of the bystanders, and taken up and emphatically repeated by our Lord with an unmistakable application (Matthew 21:43). The conclusion was a necessary consequence, and this will account for Mark and Luke apparently making them a part of Christ's speech. By their answer they blindly condemn themselves, as David did at hearing Nathan's parable (2 Samuel 12:5). He will miserably (κακῶς) destroy those wicked men (κακουÌς, miserable men); or, he will evilly destroy those evil men; Vulgate, Malos male perdet. He will make their punishment equal their crime. The slaughter and mortality at the siege of Jerusalem accomplished this prediction to the letter. Unto other husbandmen; i.e. the Christian ministry, which took the place of the Jewish priests and teachers. As the husbandmen in the parable were rather the rulers and rabbis than the whole nation (which, indeed, only followed their guides), so these others are not the whole Gentile world, but those who sustained the ministerial offices in the Christian Church. Which (οἱìτινες); of such kind as, denoting a class of servants. The clause is peculiar to Matthew. The speakers did not clearly apprehend the bearing of this detail of the parable. In their seasons. The times when the various fruits are ripe and ready for harvesting. These would vary in different climates and under differing circumstances; but the good husbandmen would be always ready to render to their Lord the fruits of faith and obedience, at every holy season and in due proportion. This parable, spoken originally of Israel, applies, like all such similitudes, to the Christian Church and to the human soul. How God dealt with individual Churches we see in his words to the seven Churches of Asia (Revelation 1-3.). Ecclesiastical history furnishes similar examples throughout all ages. God gives privileges, and looks for results worthy of these graces. He sends warnings; he raises up apostles, preachers, evangelists; and if a Church is still unfaithful, he takes away his Spirit, and lets it lapse, and gives its inheritance to others, In the other case, the vineyard is the soul of man, which he has to cultivate for his Master's use. God has hedged it round with the law, external and internal, given it the ministry and sacraments and the Scripture, and looks to it to bring forth the fruits of obedience, service, worship. He sends times of visitation, teaching, warning; he speaks to it by secret inspiration; he calls it in loving tones to closer union. If it hearkens to the call, it walks in the way of salvation; if it refuses to hear, it casts away the hope of its calling, and must share the lot of Christ's enemies.
Did ye never read? It is as though Christ said, "Ye have answered rightly. You profess to know the Scriptures well; do you not, then, apprehend that Holy Writ foretells that concerning Messiah and his enemies which you have just announced?" The imagery is changed, but the subject is the same as in the preceding parable. The vineyard is now a building; the husbandmen are the builders; the Son is the stone. In the Scriptures. The quotation is from Psalms 118:22, Psalms 118:23—the same psalm which was used on the day of triumph when Christ was saluted with cries of "Hosanna!" and which, as some say, was first sung by Israel at the Feast of Tabernacles on the return from Captivity. The stone. This figure was generally understood to represent Messiah, on whom depended the existence and support of the kingdom of God. Many prophecies containing this metaphor were applied to him; e.g. Isaiah 28:16; Daniel 2:34; Zechariah 3:9; so that the Pharisees could be at no loss to understand the allusion, seeing that Jesus claimed to be that Stone. Rejected; as being not suitable to the building, or useless in its construction. So the husbandmen rejected the Son. The ignorance and contempt of men are overruled by the great Architect. The head of the corner. The cornerstone, which stands at the base and binds together two principal walls (see St. Paul's grand words, Ephesians 2:19-22). We learn that Christ unites Jew and Gentile in one holy house. This (αὑìτη), being feminine, is thought by some to refer to "head of the corner" (κεφαληÌν, γωνιìας); but it is better to take it as used by a Hebrew idiom for the neuter, and to refer generally to what has preceded, viz. the settlement of the cornerstone in its destined position, which is effected by the Lord himself. The ultimate victory of the rejected Son is thus distinctly predicted (comp. Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33).
Therefore I say unto you. Having denounced the sin, Christ now enunciates the punishment thereof, in continuation of his parable. Because ye slay the Son, reject the Cornerstone, the vineyard, i.e. the kingdom of God, shall be taken from you. Ye shall no longer be God's peculiar people; your special privileges shall be taken away. A nation. The Christian Church, the spiritual Israel, formed chiefly from the Gentile peoples (Acts 15:14; 1 Peter 2:9). The fruits thereof (αὐτῆς); i.e. of the kingdom of God, such faith, life, good works, as become those thus favoured by Divine grace.
Christ proceeds to show the positive and terrible results of such unbelief. Whosoever shall fall (πεσωÌν, hath fallen) on this stone shall be broken (συνθλασθηìσεται, shall be shattered to pieces). This may refer to the practice of executing the punishment of stoning by first hurling the culprit from a raised platform on to a rock or stone, and then stoning him to death. The falling on the stone has been explained in more ways than one. Some think that it implies coming to Christ in repentance and humility, with a contrite heart, which he will not despise. But the subject here is the punishment of the obdurate. Others take it to represent an attack made by the enemies of Christ, who shall demolish themselves by such onslaught. The original will hardly allow this interpretation. Doubtless the allusion is to those who found in Christ's low estate a stone of stumbling and rock of offence. These suffered grievous loss and danger even in this present time. The rejection of the doctrine of Christ crucified involves the loss of spiritual privileges, moral debility, and what is elsewhere called "the scattering abroad" (Matthew 12:30; comp. Isaiah 8:14, Isaiah 8:15). On whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder (λικμηìσει αὐτοÌν, it will scatter him as chaff). The persons hero spoken of are not those who are offended at Christ's low estate; they are such as put themselves in active opposition to him and his kingdom; on them he will fall in terrible vengeance, and will utterly destroy them without hope of recovery. The idea is rerepeated from Daniel 2:34, Daniel 2:35, and Daniel 2:44, Daniel 2:45. Christ in his humiliation is the Stone against which men fall; Christ in his glory and exaltation is the Stone which falls on them.
Pharisees. They have not been specially mentioned hitherto, but they formed the majority in the Sanhedrin, and are properly here named by the evangelist. He spake of them. They could not fail, especially after Matthew 21:43, to see the drift of the parables; their own consciences must have made them feel that they themselves were herein signified, their motives and conduct fully discovered. But, as bad men always act, instead of repenting of the evil, they are only exasperated against him who detected them, and only desire the more to wreak their vengeance upon him.
They feared the multitude. They did not dare to lay violent hands on Jesus in the presence of the excited crowd, which would have withstood any such attack at this moment. A Prophet (see Matthew 21:11). If they did not recognize him as Messiah, they regarded him as one inspired by God, and having a Divine mission. This accounts for the joyful acquiescence of the Pharisaical party in the offer of Judas, when he proposed to betray his Master in the absence of the multitude
The entry into Jerusalem.
I. THE FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY.
1. Bethphage. The Lord had spent the sabbath in that holy home at Bethany, where he was always a welcome Guest, with that family which was now more than ever devoted to his service, and bound to him by the ties of the very deepest gratitude. On the Sunday morning (Palm Sunday) he made his solemn entry into the holy city. He set out from Bethany on foot; but he intended to enter Jerusalem as the King Messiah. He had hitherto avoided anything like a public announcement of his office and his claims. When the multitude wished to "take him by force to make him a King, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." Not long ago he had forbidden his disciples to tell any man that he was the Christ. He had charged them to tell no man of the heavenly glory of the Transfiguration. The earthly view of the Messiah's kingdom was universal. The apostles themselves, warned as they had been again and again of its untruth, again and again reverted to it. So strong was the hold which it had upon their minds, that even after the awful scenes of the Passion, "they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" The Lord would do nothing to sanction this vain expectation. His kingdom was not of this world. But now his hour was come—the hour that he should depart out of this world. It was time for him now to make a public assertion of his claims. That assertion, he knew, would lead to his death, and, through his death, resurrection, and ascension, to the establishment of his spiritual kingdom over the hearts of men. He was drawing near to Jerusalem. He was come to Bethphage, on the Mount of Olives. He sent two disciples, bidding them fetch an ass and a colt whereon yet never man sat. He described the place minutely. If any man interfered, they were to say, "The Lord hath need of them." The Lord, the Lord of all; all things are his; he claims them when they are needed for his service. The words were simple, but they seem to convey a great meaning, to imply far-reaching claims. "The Lord hath need of them." The Saviour describes himself simply as the Lord, just as the Septuagint writers express the covenant name of God. The words would be understood as meaning that the ass was wanted in some way for God's service. The owners knew not how; but they saw the solemn procession passing by; they saw the lowly majesty of Christ. They must have known him. He had been a frequent visitor at Bethany. But a short time ago he had raised Lazarus from the dead. Possibly they may have been among the number of his disciples. Even if not so, they must have felt something of the enthusiasm and excited expectation which were so widely diffused. They sent the ass. We must give readily and cheerfully when the Lord calls upon us; we must keep nothing back which he requires. "All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee."
2. The prophecy.
(1) It must be fulfilled. "All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet." The apostles were not consciously fulfilling the prophecy. They understood not these things at the first; they did not consider that they were doing the things that had been written of the Christ (John 12:16). They knew it afterwards; the Lord knew it now. The prophecy came through the prophet, but it came from God; and now God, the Author of the prophecy, brought about its fulfilment. The prophecy announced the coming of the Christ as King. God brought it to pass, for that coming to Jerusalem as Messiah the King was the beginning of the great series of events by which the redemption of the world was wrought.
(2) Its substance. It is taken from the Prophet Zechariah, but prefaced by a few words from a similar prophecy in Isaiah (Isaiah 62:11), "Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh." Prophets, apostles, evangelists, all proclaim the advent of the King. All his people must swell that proclamation, telling of his presence, sometimes with their lips, always in their lives. "Rejoice greatly," the prophet said (Zechariah 9:9). The coming of Christ brings exceeding great joy to the Christian heart. Those who know that joy must declare its sweetness to others, that their joy, too, may be full. "Behold, thy King cometh unto thee." The earthly Zion had not been the usual dwelling place of the incarnate Lord. Yet he cometh now to Zion; he is the King of Zion, her King from the times of old. He is our King now—King of the Israel of God. He cometh to us—to each individual soul, as on that first Palm Sunday he came to the earthly Zion. Let us receive him with joy; and oh! let us take heed lest we fall away like so many of those who then shouted, "Hosanna to the King!" He is meek; not, like earthly kings, proud and haughty. He is lowly, bowed down by much affliction, a Man of sorrows. The Hebrew word means "afflicted," "poor;" the Greek word expresses that meekness which is the blessed fruit of affliction borne in faith and patience. The King is meek; his followers must learn of him. Pride and violence are hateful in his sight. Blessed are the meek; for they are like the Lord. He sat upon an ass. He approached Jerusalem as a King, but not as one of the kings of the earth; in festal procession, but not with pomp and magnificence; riding, but not as earthly kings would ride—riding meekly on an ass. He was a King, indeed, surrounded with a halo of sweet dignity, and something of unearthly majesty that enforced reverence and repelled presumptuous liberties. But his kingdom was not of this world. The procession of Palm Sunday set forth both sides of the truth. He was a King; he claimed no earthly crown.
(3) Its fulfilment. The two disciples obeyed at once. The owners of the asses recognized the mandate of the Lord. The disciples put their clothes upon the colt whereon never man sat, and they set the Lord thereon.
II. THE PROCESSION.
1. The approach to Jerusalem. The modest procession climbed the road that slopes up the Mount of Olives till, as they passed the shoulder of the hill, Jerusalem lay clear before them, the temple glittering in all its glory of gold and marble. The Lord wept as he gazed upon it. He, the Prince of Peace, was coming to the holy city; but that city, Jerusalem, the inheritance of peace, had not known the things that belonged to her peace; now they were hid from her eyes. There were outward demonstrations of joy; in some that joy was deep and true; in others it was. though not insincere, founded on mistaken hopes which would soon be dissipated; in very many it was mere excitement, worthless and unreal,—one of those transitory bursts of apparent enthusiasm which are so contagious for a time, which run through unthinking crowds. The Lord was not dazzled by the popular applause; he estimated it at its true value. He wept as he looked upon Jerusalem; his eye gazed through the future, resting, not on his own approaching sufferings, but on the fearful doom which awaited the impenitent city.
2. The multitudes. The tidings of the Lord's approach reached Jerusalem; crowds of pilgrims, who had come thither for the Passover, went out to meet him. There were pilgrims from Galilee, who could tell of many mighty deeds; there were others who were present when he called Lazarus out of his grave (John 12:17). That last wondrous miracle had for a time rekindled the old enthusiasm. The crowd issuing from Jerusalem joined the procession which came from Bethany; they swelled its numbers and increased the excitement. They hailed the Lord as King, spreading their garments in the way, as men had done to welcome kings (2 Kings 9:13); they strewed his path with branches from the trees; they cried, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they hailed the Lord as the Messiah. The Pharisees had agreed that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue (John 9:22). But they were powerless that day; they felt that they could prevail nothing; the world, they said, had gone after him. The multitude owned him to be the Messiah, the Son of David, the King of Israel. They raised the shout of "Hosanna!"—originally a prayer, "Save us now!" (comp. Psalms 118:25); but now, it seems, a cry of triumphant welcome; a cry, however, which recognized him as the Saviour, and ascribed salvation to him. That prayer, they hoped, would reach the heavens; that cry would be heard there; they prayed for blessings upon him, using again the words of Psalms 118:1-29.; they prayed that God's blessing might rest upon him, and bring to pass that salvation which was the real meaning of the hosanna cry. "Hosanna in the highest!" In the highest the hosts of angels need not lift the prayer, "Save us now!" for themselves; but they rejoice, we know, over each repentant sinner, over each lost sheep brought home to the fold on the shoulders of the good Shepherd; they may well re-echo the suppliant hosannas as they add the heavenly incense to the prayers of the saints which go up before God (Revelation 8:3, Revelation 8:4). We may well believe that, on that great Palm Sunday, the heavenly host bent in reverent adoration from their thrones of light, watched that lowly procession as it escorted the King of heaven into the holy city, listened to the earthly hosannas that welcomed his approach, and repeated with more solemn tones, more awful expectations, the high chant of praise which celebrated the Nativity, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Let us make that welcome our own. He who then came to Jerusalem comes now to us. Each day he cometh to expectant hearts, to souls craving peace and mercy. He cometh in the name of the Lord; himself the Lord, he cometh from the Lord, to do his Father's will, "to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant." "Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord!" Let us welcome him into our hearts with the hosanna cry of adoration and earnest supplication, "Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity!"
3. The inhabitants. "All the city was moved"—stirred, shaken (so the Greek word means), at the approach of the jubilant procession. It was filled with crowds waiting for the celebration of the Passover—eager, excited crowds, ready to be stirred into commotion by any sudden impulse. "Who is this?" they said. The form of the Lord must have been well known to most of the dwellers in Jerusalem. Perhaps the question was asked by strangers (see Acts 2:5, Acts 2:9-11); perhaps it was asked with something of scorn, "Who is this who comes with such a retinue, with all this festal applause?" The multitude, mostly perhaps Galilaeans, understood the suppressed contempt of the proud Pharisees, and answered with something of provincial pride, "This is Jesus the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee." He belonged to them in a sense; the Pharisees had maintained, with ignorant scornfulness, that "out of Galilee ariseth no prophet." Even Nathanael, the Israelite in whom there was no guile, had asked, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" The Galilaeans had a Prophet now, a Prophet mighty in word and deed; nay, more than a Prophet, the Messiah that was to come. They were proud of his eminence, they shouted their hosannas. Before the week was ended, some of them, it may be, would change that cry to "Crucify him! crucify him!" All would forsake him and leave him to his death. Popular excitement is a poor thing; the Christian must trust neither in crowds nor in princes, but only in God. "Who is this?" the world still asks, some in the spirit of anxious inquiry, some in scorn and unbelief; and still the Christian answers in faith and adoring love, "This is Jesus, the Prophet, the great High Priest, the King of kings and Lord of lords." He cometh to claim his kingdom in each human heart. Receive him; he bringeth peace.
1. The King cometh; he is lowly. Only the lowly heart can receive the lowly King.
2. Greet him with holy joy; pray that that joy may be deep and true, founded on a living faith.
3. Seek to know him, to say, "This is Jesus," out of a true personal knowledge.
I. THE LORD'S ACTIONS THERE.
1. His entrance. Jesus went into the temple of God. It was a fulfilment of the great prophecy of Malachi, "The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple." He came, but, alas! they delighted not in him. He came to "purify the sons of Levi, that they might offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." But, alas! they would not be purified. The Lord might cleanse the temple; the priests who ministered there would not yield up their hearts to him, that he might cleanse them. He looked round about upon all things. So the Lord comes to his temple now, so he looks round about upon all things; he notes the formal services, he notes the careless hearts. It is right that the house of God be kept in decent order and beauty, but far more deeply necessary that all who minister and all who worship there should offer up their hearts to him cleansed, purified through faith in him; a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice.
2. His ejection of the buyers and sellers. He had cleansed the temple once before, at the beginning of his ministry (John 2:13-17). The irreverent practices which he then checked had been resumed. The court of the Gentiles had again become a market for the oxen, sheep, and doves, which the worshippers needed for the various sacrifices. Again the money changers had established themselves there to exchange the foreign money brought by the worshippers from many lands for the sacred shekel of the sanctuary, which alone could be accepted in the temple. Probably now, in the Passover week, the traffic was busier than ever, the noise more unseemly, the bargaining more eager than at other times. It was a sad scene, an unholy intrusion of earth and earthly doings into the house of God. The Saviour's holy soul was moved within him. Filled with that zeal for the house of God which had so much struck the apostles on the former occasion, he cast out all that sold and bought in the temple. There was a majesty in his look and bearing which could not be resisted; they fled before him, conscience stricken. They felt that he was right; he was vindicating a great truth; God's house must be held in honour; they who reverence God must reverence his temple. "Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thy honour dwelleth."
3. His rebuke. He told them what the temple should be—a house of prayer; it should be pervaded with an atmosphere of prayer; those who came there should come in the spirit of prayer; they should go up into the temple to pray. But how was prayer possible amid this noise and hubbub? This unseemly trafficking unsettled the minds of the worshippers as they passed into the inner courts. The court of the Gentiles was like a den of robbers now; they were robbing God of the honour due to him; they were driving this unholy traffic in his courts, their thoughts bent on dishonest gains. It must not be so, he said; God's house is a sacred place. We dishonour God's house if we allow worldly, covetous thoughts to occupy our minds when our bodies are present there. When the heart is like a den of robbers, the prayer of the lips will not reach the mercy seat. We must do each of us our part to make God's house indeed the house of prayer by praying ourselves, and that in spirit and in truth.
4. His miracles. The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. He would do works of mercy in the temple courts, as he would do them on the sabbath; for, indeed, such deeds done in faith and love are acts of worship, pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father (James 1:27). It does our churches no dishonour to use them, as sometimes they have been used in times of special need, for the service of the sick and suffering. Still in the temple the Lord performs his miracles of grace; there he opens the eyes of those who came praying, '"Lord, increase our faith;" there he gives strength and energy to the hands that hang down and the feeble knees.
II. THE DISPLEASURE OF THE CHIEF PRIESTS.
1. Their remonstrance. They saw the wonderful things that he did. The miracles were wonderful; wonderful, too, was that strange majesty which so impressed the crowd of dealers and money changers that they obeyed him, as it seems, without a word. It was a wonderful thing indeed that one Man, and one without any recognized position in the temple, without any official character, could overawe that concourse of traders. They heard the children crying in the temple, repeating the hosannas of the festal procession. They were sore displeased. They called the Lord's attention. They did not regard him as the Messiah. He ought not, they thought, to allow those untaught children to hail him with such a title.
2. The Lord's reply. He would not check the little ones. He ever loved children, and children ever loved to flock around him and to listen to his voice. Besides, the children were right; their childlike hearts recognized the dignity of Christ. Their hearts taught them, with an intuitive knowledge, lessons which the learned rabbis, the dignitaries of the temple, could not reach. So now holy children often utter profound truths in their simple, innocent talk. Still God perfecteth praise out the mouths of babes and sucklings. He accepts the children's prayer; he listens to the children's hymn. Nay, the prayers and praises of children are our example; for they are offered up in simplicity and truth.
1. "The Lord is in his holy temple:" enter it with reverence.
2. His house is a house of prayer; drive out worldly thoughts; hush your hearts into solemn attention.
3. Bring the little ones early to church; teach them the words of prayer and praise; their praises are acceptable unto God.
The return to the temple.
I. THE WALK TO AND FROM BETHANY.
1. The Sunday evening. The Lord left the temple "when he had looked round upon all things." He had no home in the royal city. He went out unto Bethany, and there he lodged, perhaps in the house of Lazarus, perhaps, as many pilgrims did, in a booth on the hillside, or under the shelter of the trees. "The Son of man hath not where to lay his head."
2. Monday. Very early the Lord returned to the city. It seems he had eaten nothing; he hungered on the way. He was poor in this world. Let us learn of him to be content in poverty and hardships.
II. THE BARREN FIG TREE.
1. The curse. It stood alone, a conspicuous object. It was full of leaves. The time for figs was not yet, but this tree was singularly forward, precocious; the leaves promised early fruit, "hasty fruit before the summer" (Isaiah 28:4). It had none; it was barren. The Lord said, "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever;" "and presently the fig tree withered away." The miracle was symbolical, an acted parable. The priests and scribes whom the Lord was about to confront were like that fig tree—fair to look upon. They were held in honour, some for their official rank, some for their supposed righteousness, but they brought not forth the fruits of holiness. Such must wither when the Lord's searching eye is fixed upon them, when he comes seeking fruit. Leaves will not take the place of fruit, outward profession will not atone for the absence of holiness of heart and life. That fig tree was a meet emblem of the hypocrite. There were other trees without fruit; but they made no show of special forwardness—they were leafless still. This one tree was conspicuous for its foliage, but it had no fruit hidden beneath its leaves. The other trees might yet bring forth fruit in due time; this one had exhausted itself in leaves. Such a show of life is worthless in the sight of God; it is not life, it is only a false appearance; it may deceive men, it cannot deceive God. "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." Many professing Christians seem to us like that fig tree. Take we heed to ourselves. The Lord passed on, his hunger unappeased. The whole world was his, the cattle on a thousand hills; yet he hungered, for he had taken our flesh. He suffered as we suffer; he is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He went on to Jerusalem, to the temple. Now apparently took place that expulsion of unhallowed traffic, the miracles, the hosannas of the children, and the interference of the priests, which have been already related by anticipation in St. Matthew's Gospel. "When even was come, he went out of the city."
2. The astonishment of the disciples. The words of the Lord produced an immediate effect. The life of the tree, such as it was, was at once arrested; the sap ceased to circulate, the leaves began to wither. But it seems from the more minute account in St. Mark, that the disciples did not observe the result till they passed the tree again in going to Jerusalem on the Tuesday morning. Then they marvelled, saying, "How soon is the fig tree withered away!" We wonder at their wonder. They had seen many wondrous manifestations of the Lord's mighty power: why should they wonder now? They were still weak in faith—as the nine had been when they sought in vain to cast out the evil spirit beneath the Mount of the Transfiguration. The Lord repeats the lesson which he gave them then, "Have faith in God;" doubt not. Doubt destroys the strength of prayer. He that doubteth will not receive anything of the Lord; but if we ask in steadfast, undoubting faith, then there is the blessed promise, "All things are possible to him that believeth," for the prayer of undoubting faith availeth much with God. What was done to the fig tree, the Lord said, was a small thing for faith to do; faith could do things greater far. The psalmist had sung of the Mount Zion, "It cannot be removed: it abideth forever." But the Lord said, pointing, it may be, to the mountains round Jerusalem, "If ye shall say to this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done." Faith can remove mountains; difficulties vanish before the prayer of faith. Set the Lord's promises before you when you pray; claim them as your own; realize them, trust in them; pray with persevering importunity, and, doubt not, you shall receive what you ask in faithful prayer. This or that sin may seem like a mountain, rooted deep in the heart, immovable; but pray against it, pray that it may be cast out; pray in faith, believing in God's power, believing in his love, and it shall be done. It is our want of faith which makes our prayers so weak. If we fully believed that God is able and willing to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, to make us whiter than snow, we should, in our own actual lives, overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, and be more than conquerors through him who loved us.
1. Let it be our most earnest effort to be true and faithful, not to seem to be so. Hypocrisy is hateful in the sight of God.
2. Pray for a strong, undoubting faith; it is God's most precious gift.
3. Pray always; believe in the power of prayer.
The controversy in the temple.
I. THE LORD'S AUTHORITY CALLED IN QUESTION.
1. The intervention of the chief priests. St. Luke tells us that they had resolved to destroy our Lord. He had now allowed himself to be saluted openly as the Christ, the Son of David. He had accepted the hosannas of the multitude in the city, in the temple itself. He had assumed a paramount authority in the temple. The chief priests regarded themselves as rulers there; the market in the court of the Gentiles was held by their licence; it was a source of profit to them. They now determined to interpose publicly. They sent an official deputation, composed of members of the three classes of the Sanhedrin—chief priests, scribes, and elders—to demand the Lord's authority for his conduct. What right had he thus to intrude, as they deemed, into their province, to interfere with the administration of the temple? What right had he to teach publicly in the temple courts without licence from the rabbis? What right had he to the titles of "King of Israel," "Son of David," which he had accepted from the people as his due?
2. The Lord's reply. His enemies had hoped to ensnare him. They expected, doubtless, that he would openly assert his Divine mission, and they might then make his claims the basis of a formal accusation. But in that wonderful calmness and self-possession which we note so often in the history of our Lord, he answered at once with another question, "The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?" They could not deny his right to ask this; it was closely connected with their question. John had repeatedly asserted in the strongest terms the authority, the Divine mission of him whose way he had come to prepare. They dared not deny openly the prophetic character of the Baptist; they feared the people, for the belief in John's sanctity was universal and enthusiastic. "All the people will stone us," they said. They were completely foiled. They could only say, in confusion and disappointed malice, "We cannot tell." It was a bitter humiliation. They were masters of Israel, and yet could not guide the people in a matter which had so profoundly stirred the religious thought of the time. They could only answer, "We cannot tell" to a question of such great spiritual importance. They were as ignorant as "the people of the earth," whom they so much despised. Alas for a country whose spiritual rulers are like those priests and scribes! Let us pray that our teachers may be taught of God.
II. THE PARABLE OF THE TWO SONS.
1. The story. It is very simple. One of the sons, when bidden to work in the vineyard, rudely refused to obey his father; the other respectfully promised obedience. The first afterwards repented and went. The second broke his promise and went not to the vineyard.
2. The spiritual meaning. There are open and notorious evil livers, who make no profession of religion, and exhibit in their lives an open and wilful disobedience. Some of these are brought to repentance by the grace of God. They learn to see the guilt, the awful danger, of disobedience; a great change is wrought in their souls; they do their best to redeem the time; they go at last and work for God; and God, in his sovereign grace and generous bounty, accepts their service, though, it may be, they have wrought but one hour in their Father's vineyard. There are others, brought up, perhaps, in Christian families, among good examples and surroundings, who maintain a respectful attitude towards religion, and regularly observe all the outward ordinances of the Church. But, alas! there are many such who have not given their hearts to God; they say from time to time (at Confirmation, for instance), "I go, sir," and perhaps at the moment they really have a sort of intention to keep God's holy will and commandments, and to walk in the same all the days of their life. But they have no strength of purpose, they have not attained to the spirit of self-sacrifice; and when they are called to do work for God (whether inward or outward) which requires effort and self-denial, they shrink back from the Master's service. The yoke which the Lord calls "easy" seems to them hard and rough; the burden which the Lord calls "light" seems to them heavy and crushing; the cross terrifies them. They go not into the vineyard; they do not keep their promises; they do not work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, and so they do no real work for God.
3. The application. The Lord gives his testimony to John the Baptist, as he had done before; John came from God, a preacher of righteousness. He came "in the way of righteousness;" he had the righteousness of strict Levitical purity and the loftiest asceticism; he told men their duty plainly and sternly. Many notorious sinners, publicans and harlots, who had lived in open disobedience to God, heard him and repented. These priests and scribes and elders saw and heard him; they felt the holiness of his life, the power of his preaching; they had asked him if he was the Christ, or Elijah, or the prophet that was to come. But they repented not; they believed not. The publicans and harlots went into the kingdom of God before the priests and scribes. They ought to have led the way; they ministered in the temple of God; they were the recognized teachers of the people. Yet the Lord does not shut out all hope. "The publicans go before you;" they might follow, if they would humble their proud hearts into self-abasement and lowly obedience. Pride hardens the heart in disobedience and wilfulness; humility opens it to repentance, to the gracious voice of the Saviour. Oh that we may listen, and repent, and work for God before it be too late!
III. THE PARABLE OF THE WICKED HUSBANDMEN.
1. The story. It was the well known parable of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7), related again with more authority and in greater detail. The lord of the vineyard asks again, "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?" Hedge, winepress, tower,—everything needful had been carefully provided. But the husbandmen were rebellious; they beat and murdered the servants who were sent to receive the fruits of the vineyard, and at last they cast out and slew their lord's only son. The end of those men must be utter destruction. Judaea was a land of vineyards. The Lord often drew his parables from surrounding circumstances; in Galilee, from the corn land or the lake; in Judaea, from the vine or the fig tree. So Christian teachers should try to give life and interest to their teaching by connecting it with matters of daily life.
2. The meaning. Isaiah tells us, "The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant." The hedge must be the Law, with its ordinances, circumcision, and other rites which served to separate Israel, as God's peculiar people, from other nations. The tower and winepress have been interpreted of the temple and the altar. But it is enough, without pressing these details, to understand the parable as meaning that God had given his people all things necessary for their spiritual welfare. The latter part of the parable differs from that in Isaiah. There the men of Israel are reproved: they brought forth wild grapes, not the fruits of righteousness. Here the Lord rebukes the husbandmen, the spiritual rulers of his people. The Lord of the vineyard went into a far country. God did not always manifest himself as he had done on Mount Sinai. He sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of the vineyard. Those servants were the prophets, sent again and again, to supply the deficiencies of the ordinary ministry, to warn both priests and people of their sins, to call both priests and people to repentance. "I sent unto you," God said, by the mouth of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 44:4), "all my servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate!" Some of these were persecuted, some were slain. "They cast thy Law behind their backs" (we read, in the confession of the Levites in Nehemiah 9:26), "and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them unto thee." But now the Lord's eye, which had ranged over the past history of the nation, turns towards the future. The lord of the vineyard had yet one son, his well beloved; he sent him last, saying, "They will reverence my son." The parable veils the awful mysteries which hang around the relations between the infinite foreknowledge of God and the free will of man. Human thought cannot grapple with these mysteries; human words cannot express them. God gave his only begotten Son; the Son of God came to give his life a ransom for many. The purpose, the fore knowledge of God, did not destroy the free agency or remove the guilt of those who crucified the Lord of glory. These priests had already taken counsel to put the Lord to death. Caiaphas had already "prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation" (John 11:47-53). They had already said, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance." They wished to keep possession of their old authority, their old exclusive privileges. Those privileges had been given them for a time; their priesthood was transitory. Christ was the Heir of all things; he was the Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The Lord knew what was coming; they would cast him out (Hebrews 13:12), they would kill him. How calmly he prophesies his own death! how simply he asserts his own Divine character! yet in words which his enemies could not take hold of. He was the Son, the one only Son, the well beloved, of the Lord of the vineyard. They felt his meaning, but the parable afforded no ground for accusation.
3. The warning. "When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?" Christ puts the question to the guilty men themselves, and forces them to pronounce their own condemnation. Perhaps they pretended not to see the drift of the parable, and to regard it as a story, and nothing more. Perhaps (and this surely is more probable) they were overawed by the Lord's dignity, by the solemn power of his words, and so, like Caiaphas, became prophets against their will. "He will miserably destroy those miserable men." They prophesied their own doom. Alas, that the approaching danger did not lead them to repentance! They prophesied also the loss of those exclusive privileges which they guarded so jealously. "He will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen." The Gentiles were to succeed to the privileges which the Jews possessed; they had been strangers and foreigners, but soon they would become fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God. "I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord" (Isaiah 66:21). They would tend the Church of God; they would render the fruit in due season to the Lord of the vineyard.
IV. THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE.
1. Its exaltation. The parable, like every other parable, was inadequate to express the whole spiritual truth. The heir was slain; he could not appear again in the story as the judge. The Lord adds another illustration, quoting the psalm (the hundred and eighteenth) from which the "Hosanna!" of Palm Sunday had been derived: "The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner." The priests and scribes were the builders; it was their duty to rear up the spiritual temple. One stone they had rejected; it was mean and poor in their eyes. God himself would raise that stone to the highest place of honour. It should become the head stone, with shoutings, "Grace, grace unto it!" (Zechariah 4:7). This is the Lord's doing. God highly exalted him whom the Jews rejected.
2. The application. The Lord now applies both parables directly and distinctly to the priests and scribes. They were the husbandmen, he told them—the rebellious husbandmen. The vineyard was the kingdom of God; it should be taken from them; they should no longer possess its privileges. The spiritual Israel, the Israel of God, is the nation to whom the kingdom should be given; not one earthly nation, but the nations of the saved; of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues. And that nation, the great Catholic Church of Christ, would bring forth the fruits which the vineyard ought to yield, not wild grapes, but good grapes, the precious fruit of the Spirit. The priests and scribes were also the foolish builders. They had rejected the chief Cornerstone, elect, precious, which the Lord would lay in Zion; it was becoming to them a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence. The low estate of Christ was a stumbling block now; the cross of Christ would be a stumbling block afterwards. "Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken," the Lord said, referring again to Isaiah (Isaiah 8:15), where we observe that the stone of stumbling (verses 13, 14) is the Lord of hosts himself. The Jews were now incurring this guilt and this danger. But a greater danger remained; when the stone is become the head of the corner, when it is raised to its place of honour, it shall grind to powder those on whom it will fall. When the ascended Lord is exalted to the judgment throne, utter destruction will overtake those hardened, impenitent sinners who reject his offers of mercy unto the end, and will not know him as a Saviour, but must at last see him, when every eye shall see him, upon the great white throne.
3. The anger of the priests. They perceived that he spake of them; they felt the stern rebuke of his words; they felt, too, their truth. Their own consciences smote them. They blazed into fierce anger; they sought to seize him; but for the moment they were powerless; they could do nothing while the multitude regarded him as a prophet. May God give us grace to take reproof in a becoming spirit! It should produce, not anger, but repentance.
1. Profession without obedience is worthless. God bids us work in his vineyard; let us obey him.
2. God has a right to the fruits of vineyard. His ministers must tend the vineyard. They must see, as far as lieth in them, that the fruit is rendered to the Lord.
3. Christ is the chief Cornerstone; the living stones of the spiritual temple must be built upon that one Cornerstone, elect, precious.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
The ass of Bethphage.
We cannot tell whether our Lord's exact description of the locality where the ass and colt were to be found was derived from his superhuman knowledge, or whether, as seems more likely in so simple a case, he had agreed with one of his Judaean disciples to have the animals in readiness at an appointed time. However this may be, we can see from the whole incident that Jesus paid especial attention to the arrangements for his entry into Jerusalem. This was very unlike his usual habit. Let us consider its significance from two points of view.
I. THE LORD'S NEED.
1. Jesus needed one of God's humblest creatures.
(1) This throws light on the lowliness of Jesus. In his Divine glory all the wealth of the universe was at his disposal. But in his earthly humiliation he had very simple wants. He required bread, water, rest. It is a mark of a genuinely low estate to have need of what the great despise.
(2) This shows how what is most humble may yet serve the highest. The ass is needed by the Christ. If a very lowly animal can be thus honoured, much more may the most obscure of men and women, Christ's own brothers and sisters, render him valuable service.
2. Disciples obtained what their Master needed. He told his need; at once the two chosen messengers set off to have it supplied. It is not enough that we serve Christ in our own way. We have to discover what he really wants. Sometimes it may not be at all what we have chosen. But if it is serviceable to our Lord, that should be enough to determine our course of action.
3. The unknown owner of the animals was obedient to the message of Christ's need. "The Lord hath need of them" was the talisman to silence all remonstrances. Jesus may claim what is far more precious to us than any dumb animal. Yet if he calls, he needs; and if he needs, his claim is paramount. He may want a child in the other world; or he may require the child in the mission field. Then it is not for us to withhold our dearest from him.
"Why should I keep one precious thing from thee,
When thou hast given thine own dear self for me?"
II. THE USE OF THE ASS. Why did the Lord need the ass and its colt?
1. To fulfil prophecy. We do not often come across the conscious and intentioned fulfilment of prophecy. Usually the prediction comes true in spite of the ignorance of the actors in the fulfilment, or while they are aiming at something else than simply carrying out what a seer of old foretold. But now Christ sets himself deliberately to put into practice an idea of Zechariah (see again John 19:28). What is best in the Old Testament is followed by Christ in the New.
2. To aid in a solemn triumph. Jesus had long forbidden a public confession of his Messiahship. But now he will make it for himself; for now it can do no harm. He is to ride in triumph, but in triumph to the cross. That glad entry to Jerusalem was to be just marching into the jaws of death.
3. To express the peaceful and gentle character of Christ's Kingship. Jesus did not choose the spirited war horse. Following the idea of the prophet, he selected the lowly ass, an animal which, although it was very superior in the East to the ill-treated ass of the West, was still associated with quietness and simplicity. It was to be a rustic triumph, an old world triumph, quaint and antique, and therefore a protest against the vulgar fashion of earthly glory.—W.F.A.
The triumphant ride.
This was arranged by Christ, and enthusiastically promoted by his disciples. Here was a last glint of sunshine before the storm. The gladness of the scene is in strange contrast with the awful sequel. Palm Sunday ushers in Passion Week. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." While the evil day has not yet come, gladness and the assurance of victory may be the best preparation for it.
I. THE KING'S TRIUMPH. Few spectators would see anything kingly in this rustic fete. To the ruling classes of Jerusalem it would seem hut child's play. But to the childlike followers of Jesus it had a deep meaning. These Galilaean pilgrims recognized in it the acceptance by Jesus of his royal rights. The question arises—Were they mistaken? He was riding in triumph to Jerusalem. But it was a simple, homely, unconventional triumph. Moreover, it did not lead to the throne, but its promise ended at Calvary, or seemed to end there. We know that the issue was disappointing to the early disciples (Luke 24:21). Nevertheless, we also know that, with Jesus, the way to death was the way to victory. He was most kingly when he suffered most. His Passion was his coronation. He reigns now in the hearts of his people, just because he died for them.
II. THE PEOPLE'S ENTHUSIASM. Long suppressed emotions now break forth into unrestrained utterance. It seems to be impossible to do too much, in the hastily improvised procession, to show devotion to the Christ. This is expressed in two ways.
1. By actions. Garments laid on the animal he rides, garments flung on the road for the honour of being trampled on, sprigs from the wayside trees scattered on the ground, palm branches waved overhead,—these things show the utmost enthusiasm. Strong feeling must manifest itself in action.
2. By words. The people quoted a well known Messianic psalm, praying for a blessing on the Christ. Their words had nearly the same meaning as our "God save the king!" and they were prompted by an overmastering passion of enthusiasm. This is not at all wonderful. The only wonder is that there was but one Palm Sunday, and that our Lord's last Sunday on earth before his death. To know him is to see grounds for unbounded devotion, for love beyond measure, for glad praises which no words can contain. This is the great distinction of our Christian faith, its keynote is enthusiasm for Christ.
III. THE CITY'S WONDER. The happy, noisy procession was heard in Jerusalem, and the citizens looked up from their trades and forgot their bargaining for a moment, in surprise at the unexpected commotion. We may preach the gospel by singing the praises of Christ. One reason why the world is apathetic about Christianity is that the Church is apathetic about Christ. A fearless enthusiasm for Christ will arouse the slumbering world. But we want to go further. In Jerusalem the effect was but slight and transitory. A deeper and more permanent impression was made at Pentecost; for it is the coming of the Holy Spirit, and no merely external excitement, that really touches and changes the hearts of people. Yet even this did not move the greater part of Jerusalem. Rejecting the peaceful coming of Christ, hardened sinners await his next coming, which is in wrath and judgment.—W.F.A.
Matthew 21:12, Matthew 21:13
Christ cleansing the temple.
According to St. Mark's more detailed account, Jesus "looked round" on the day of his triumphant entrance to Jerusalem, and effected his drastic reformation of temple abuses on the following morning. Thus we see that his action did not spring from a hasty outburst of passion. It was the result of deliberation. He had had a night in which to brood over the shameful desecration of his Father's house.
I. THE DESECRATION.
1. The nature of it. It would be a mistake to suppose that the temple was being used as a common market. The animals sold were not to be treated as meat at the shambles. They were for sacrifices. The money changing was not for the convenience of foreigners wanting to be able to do business in the city with the current coin. This was carried on in order to provide for visitors the Hebrew shekel with which to pay the temple dues. Therefore, it was thought, the business was of a religious character, and could be carried on in the temple as part of the sacred work. Animals were sacrificed there: why should they not be sold there? Money was collected there: why should it not be exchanged there?
2. The evil of it.
(1) It interfered with worship. The outer courts of the temple were used for private prayer. But the confusion of a market was most distracting to the spirit of devotion.
(2) It was unjust to the Gentiles. This traffic seems to have been carried on in the court of the Gentiles. The Jews still reserved their own court in decorum. The prophecy from which our Lord quoted says that God's house "shall be called a house of prayer for all people" (Isaiah 56:7). Thus the rights of the Gentiles were scornfully outraged.
(3) It imported dishonest dealing. The keen eye of Christ detected wrong dealing. It was not only trade, it was cheating that dishonoured the temple.
II. THE CLEANSING.
1. An act of holy indignation. Jesus was angry; he could be angry; sometimes he was "moved with indignation. It is no sign of sanctity to be unmoved at the sight of what dishonours God and wrongs our fellow men. There is a guilty complacency, a culpable silence, a sinful calm.
2. An act of Divine authority. It was his Father's house that Christ was cleansing. He spoke and acted as the messenger of God even to those who did not know that he was the Son of God. Christ has power and authority.
3. An act of righteousness. He used force, but of course, if he had met with resistance, the merely physical power he put forth would soon have been overborne. Why, then, did he succeed? Because he had an ally in the breast of every man whom he opposed; the consciences of the traders fought with Jesus against their guilty traffic. He who fights for the right has mighty unseen allies.
Do not we need a temple cleansing? The trade spirit desecrates religious work. Finance takes too prominent a place in the Church. It is possible to crush the spirit of private worship in low, unworthy ways of providing the means of public worship. We want the scourge of small cords to drive out the worldly methods of Christian work.—W.F.A.
The fruitless fig tree.
We may wonder how Jesus could have hungered during the short walk over the Mount of Olives from Bethany, if he had just left the hospitable roof of Martha. Had she taken his mild rebuke too literally when she was busying herself in providing a bountiful table on a former occasion? Or may we not think with more probability that Jesus, who was an early riser, had left the house before breakfast? If so, this would have been a trial to Martha; but it would have shown her and all the disciples how eager he was to be about his Father's business. Yet he is a man, and the fresh morning air on the hills awakens the natural appetite of hunger. A few verses back it is said that Jesus had need of an ass and its colt (Matthew 21:3). Here we see that he had need of a few wild figs—commonest of wayside fruit, so real was his human nature, so perfect the lowliness of his earthly state.
I. THE CONDITION OF THE TREE.
1. It had promise. This was a forward tree as far as leaves were concerned. Earlier than others of the same species in putting forth its foliage, it gave promise of an early supply of fruit, because the figs appear before the leaves. It is dangerous to make great pretensions. To stand out from our brother men with some claim to exceptional honour is to raise expectations of exceptional worth. We should do well to avoid taking such a position unless we are sure we can sustain it without disappointing the hopes we raise.
2. It was not true to its promise. This was the unhappy thing about the tree. If it had been like the backward trees, nothing would have been expected of it. But by giving a sign which in the course of nature should follow the putting forth of fruit, it made a false pretension. Possibly the vigour of the foliage absorbed the sap which should have helped the fruit buds. Great attention to display directly injures the cultivation of really worthy qualities. Religious ostentation is generally barren.
II. THE DOOM OF THE TREE. It is to wither. The fig tree is only valued for the sake of its figs. If these are wanting, the tree is worthless. Its luxuriance of leaves is worse than useless, because it prevents other plants from growing where the fruitless branches overshadow the ground.
1. What is fruitless is worthless.
(1) The nation. Here was typified the miserable state of Israel. The splendid temple, with its gold so dazzling that no one could look steadily at it when the sun shone on it, was in full view of Jesus as he passed the fruitless fig tree. There on the opposite hill were the signs of the unbounded claims and pride of Israel. Yet what had come out of them all?
(2) The Church. A Church exists for the glory of God and the good of men. If it bears no such fruit, though it may flourish numerically and financially, it is quite worthless.
(3) The individual man or woman. God cares absolutely nothing for our professions of piety; the showy religion that imposes on men is an abomination in the sight of God. He looks for fruit in deeds of useful service. All else is but a mass of worthless leaves.
2. What is worthless must be destroyed. The fruitless Jerusalem was destroyed. Barren Churches have been swept away from Asia Minor and North Africa; barren Churches will be swept kern other parts of Christendom in the future. Fruitless souls will be cast out of the garden of the Lord.—W.F.A.
The boundless possibilities of prayer.
Read literally, this is a very difficult verse. We cannot see how it is verified in experience. We should be horrified at its exact and verbal fulfilment, because this would be handing over the control of the universe to the praying mortal. The coachman would not put the reins in the hands of his infant son, however much the child begged for them; yet the disaster which would follow such an action would be nothing in comparison with the unspeakable calamities which would visit the universe if we, in our blindness, our ignorance, our folly, could have done for us whatever we chose to wish for, and that merely for the asking. We may indeed be thankful that no such fearful power has been entrusted to us. But then how are we to interpret the very clear and emphatic words of our Lord?
I. IT IS FAITH THAT GIVES EFFICIENCY TO PRAYER. Many prayers are absolutely void and useless because they are not borne upon the wings of faith. They grovel in the earth-mists of unbelief, and never see the light of God's presence. The connection of the verses seems to imply that it was his faith that gave Christ power to bring its doom to the barren fig tree (Matthew 21:21). It is reasonable to suppose that God will give many things to those who trust him, which he will deny to people who will not rely upon him. At all events, the setting forth of faith as a condition of the prayer that is to be answered shows that it is absolutely useless to practise an experiment with prayer by testing its efficacy in order to dispel doubt. The purpose of the experiment, and the grounds on which it is made, presuppose the absence of an essential condition of successful prayer. Therefore, if prayer is heard, as Christ tells us it is, such an experiment is foredoomed to failure. We want grounds for faith, but we cannot find them here; or rather we cannot have our first grounds here. The response to prayer will doubtless confirm and strengthen the faith which prompted the prayer. But there must be this prior faith.
II. THE PRAYER OF FAITH HAS BOUNDLESS EFFICACY. We get slight answers to prayer because we have little faith. Yet we cannot expect to have just what we choose to ask for, even though we ask in faith. No; but observe:
1. Faith is not confidence in our own prayer, but trust in Christ. Now, when we trust him we are led near to him, we begin to understand him, we learn to think as he thinks and to desire what he desires. Thus faith brings us into sympathy with Christ. But our foolish desires are quite un-Christlike. We shall no longer cherish them when he is by our side. Thus faith chastens prayer, purges it, elevates it, and brings it into harmony with the will of God. The prayer of faith will be such a prayer that God can hear, just in proportion as the faith is a spiritual power that unites us with God.
2. The prayer of faith will certainly be answered, though not necessarily in the way in which we expect. Jesus promised to those who lost lands and friends for the gospel's sake, more lands and friends (Matthew 19:29), and his disciples did not receive a literal fulfilment of this promise. But they had a good equivalent. The prayer of faith is answered in God's large, wise way—answered to the full, but by the gift of what he sees best, and not always of what we happen to name.—W.F.A.
Question met by question.
Perhaps we shall best gather up the lessons of this incident if we look first at the form it assumed, then at the underlying substance.
I. THE FORM.
1. The question of the rulers.
(1) An insulting question. What right had they thus to challenge One before whom they should have bowed in humble adoration? Technically, they were in the right in so far as they acted as guardians of the Law and religion of Israel. Yet they had proved themselves false to their trust by their permission of the desecration of the temple, and by the too common hypocrisy of their religion. Some people put the same question today without a shadow of the claim of the Jewish leaders. The human intellect has a right to search for truth; we all ought to look for good grounds of faith. But the attitude of humility will be that of an inquirer, not that of a judge.
(2) An irrelevant question. The charges Christ made were true; the things he denounced were wrong. Why, then, care so much about the question of his authority? People raise technical questions and abstract difficulties, but often these only obscure the plain moral truths which cannot be denied.
(3) An insincere question. Did these rulers thirst for knowledge concerning the mission of Christ? Were they troubled with grave doubts? We know that they were only anxious to entrap our Lord. Flippant doubt is culpable, but the most deadly doubt is that which hates the light.
2. The counter question of Christ. He postpones his reply to a question he desires to have answered by the rulers.
(1) Showing his skill and wisdom. Christian apologists have acted too much on the defensive. It would be wiser to follow the example of Christ, and carry the war into the enemy's territory.
(2) Proving the weakness of the rulers' position. They challenged Christ's status. What was theirs? People who reject Divine revelation, and the larger number who simply ignore it, will have to account for their conduct. At least they should be prepared to justify themselves.
(3) Turning from a formal to a. moral inquiry, John the Baptist was an embodiment of the national conscience. How was such a man to be treated? We make too much of questions of rank and office, and too little of those that touch right and wrong conduct.
II. THE SUBSTANCE. That was indeed an important question which the rulers put to Christ. If it were asked humbly and sincerely, it might be regarded as most just and reasonable. When it is so asked, Christ does answer it. Indeed, if the rulers had not been blind, they would have found a twofold reply close at hand. Christ justifies and confirms his claims:
1. By the authority of conscience. When he startled the people in the temple by an unwonted exercise of authority, they submitted without an attempt at resistance, because their consciences confirmed his action. Christ speaks to the conscience, and the conscience echoes what he says.
2. By the authority of knowledge. Who are the authoritative teachers? Surely the only teachers who can speak to us with authority are those who know the subjects they undertake to teach. Jesus "spoke with authority" (Matthew 7:29), because he spoke out of knowledge. There was a self-evidencing truthfulness and clearness of vision in him.
3. By the authority of God. The rulers could not see this. If their blindness had not been morally culpable, they would have been excused for rejecting the claims of Christ, because those claims were so great that no mere man could have a right to put them forth. When we perceive the Divine nature of Christ, all his words and deeds are justified, and his authority comes upon us with more than kingly power.—W.F.A.
The two sons.
In this parable our Lord illustrates the great principle which he more than once enunciated—that "many shall be last that are first; and first that are last." It has a special reference to the Pharisees and publicans of Christ's time. But there are publicans and Pharisees in our own day. Let us consider the parable in its bearing on ourselves and the present conduct of people.
I. THE SON WHO REFUSED AND REPENTED.
1. His hasty refusal. Doubtless he spoke in impatience. His temper was hot, and the call to work amazed him. Thus he began the day badly, as many people begin life badly. This is altogether deplorable, because no subsequent amendment can obliterate the fact that the beginning was spoilt.
2. His later repentance. We need not be the slaves of our own past. If we started wrong, we are not forced to continue in the path of evil. "It is never too late to mend." There is a pride of consistency which only comes of folly; and there is a noble inconsistency, a sublime inconsequence. The change in the son showed
(3) a willingness to own himself wrong;
(4) a desire to do better in future. These are all hopeful qualities.
3. His obedient action. He "went." That was everything. He may not have said another word; but he obeyed his father, though in silence. The one thing God looks for is obedience. The way to make amends for past negligence is not to promise better things for the future, but just to do them.
4. His improving conduct. We see this son in two stages, and the second is better than the first. He was evidently moving in the right direction. The most important question is not—To what have we attained hitherto? but—Which way are we moving? towards the light or from it?
5. His accepted obedience. This was the obedient son. His insolent words were forgiven when his subsequent conduct was penitent and obedient. God forgives the bad past in his penitent children. If they are now in the right path, he accepts them, although they were once far from it.
II. THE SON WHO CONSENTED AND DISOBEYED.
1. His ready assent. This was good in its way. But, being only verbal, or at best an intention not yet executed, it was of slight worth. God does not value religious professions as men prize them.
2. His courtesy. The second son was courteous to his father, addressing him as "sir," while his brother was rude and insolent. Now, it is our duty to be courteous to all men, and to be especially respectful to parents. Yet there is an hypocritical tone about good manners when they are not accompanied by good actions. God prefers rude obedience to polite disobedience.
3. His subsequent disobedience. We need not suppose that this second son had lied to his father, promising in smooth words what he never intended to perform. It is more probable that our Lord would have us think of him as honest in his profession. He really intended to obey. But he did not count the cost, or the good mood of acquiescence passed away, or some other more fascinating attraction led him to forget, or at least to neglect, his promise. There is an enormous step to be taken from good resolutions to good actions. Many a hindrance, many a temptation, comes between.
4. His just condemnation. Jesus appealed to the bystanders for their verdict. He wished to convince their conscience; he desires now to make us see and feel the truth of what he says. Could there be a question as to the verdict? Good promises count for nothing, or rather they count against the man who disobeys in conduct. God judges by conduct alone.—W.F.A.
The parable of the vineyard.
The vineyard is a favourite image in the Bible, and the mention of it by Christ would call to mind in his hearers the Old Testament illustrations of Israel. But more than Israel the nation must be intended by our Lord, because the vineyard is to go on after the destruction of the Jewish state. Our thoughts are therefore directed to the kingdom of heaven, partially realized in Israel, more fully realized in the Christian Church, but always a spiritual vineyard.
I. GOD HIMSELF FOUNDS KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. The owner of the vineyard has it properly planted and all its arrangements completed before he sends husbandmen into it. They have not to begin in the wilderness. God does not behave like the Pharaoh who ordered the Israelites to make bricks without straw. He plants. Therefore he has a right to look for fruit.
II. GOD ENTRUSTS THE WORK OF HIS VINEYARD TO MEN. There is work for God to be done in his kingdom. This is a high privilege, and it carries with it a grave responsibility. God will not have the just return for all his gifts if his husbandmen are not faithful in his service. The Jewish leaders were God's husbandmen. So are Christian workers today.
III. GOD EXPECTS FRUITS FROM HIS VINEYARD. God gives freely; but he looks for a return. It is not that he needs anything. But he does not desire his work to be wasted. He asks for grapes where he has planted a vine. This, then, is the one question for the Church,—Is it bearing fruit? By so doing it can glorify God (John 15:8).
IV. THE MESSENGERS OF GOD HAVE BEEN SHAMEFULLY TREATED. Evidently the servants represent the prophets of ancient Israel, ending with John the Baptist, who was beheaded, though not by the Jews. The reason for this ill treatment is here explained. It is selfishness. The leaders of Israel governed for their own advantage, and not for the glory of God. The leaders of the Church have too often shown a self-seeking spirit, and therefore they have rejected God's true servants, such as Savonarola, Huss, Latimer, Wesley.
V. THE ADVENT OF CHRIST IS A MARK OF GOD'S LONG SUFFERING PATIENCE. The owner of the vineyard would try a last means. He would see if the husbandmen would reject his son. It was a great risk to run; but the fruit was precious, and the vineyard was worth rescuing from those who usurped the rights of ownership. God would not east out Israel till Christ had come. But now Christ has come to us as God's last Messenger.
VI. THE REJECTION OF CHRIST IS A FATAL SIN. After the husbandmen had killed the heir to the estate, no more patience could be shown to them. They had filled up their cup of guilt to the brim. They had rejected the last and greatest message from their Master. To be cast forth and destroyed is their rightful doom. This doom came upon the leaders of Israel in the overthrow of Jerusalem by Titus. It awaits those false and traitorous leaders of the Church who repeat the sin of the Hebrew hierarchy. It awaits all who work in the midst of the privileges of Christendom without rendering any fruit to the glory of God.
VII. THE DOOM OF THE FAITHLESS IS FOLLOWED BY THE APPOINTMENT OF NEW WORKERS. Gentiles took the place of Jews. God's work cannot stand still. He will have fruit—if not through our agency, then by other means. When the official leaders of the Church are unfaithful, God sets them aside, so that, though their doom is postponed, they are really no longer entrusted with any powers by God. Then he raises up men from outside the ranks of office—a John Bunyan or a George Fox. Thus the vineyard is saved, and God has the fruit of true service.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY MARCUS DODS
Entry into Jerusalem.
Our Lord had now entered on the last week of his life upon earth, but, save in his own heart, there is no premonition of his death. Having spent the sabbath in Bethany, he proceeds on Sunday morning to the city. That was the day, four days before the Passover, on which the Jews were commanded to choose the Paschal lamb. Our Lord, conscious of his calling to die for his people, puts himself into their hands. He now feels that his hour has come, and proclaims himself as the promised Messiah, the King of Peace, by entering into Jerusalem, the metropolis of peace, in a manner which no one could fail to interpret, as One who would certainly furnish men with that which would not give one strong race power over others, but which would weld all men together and give them common feelings and interests, and restore in truth the unity of men. The points in the entry which Matthew considered significant are—
I. OUR LORD'S PROCLAMATION OF HIMSELF AS KING OF PEACE BY RIDING INTO JERUSALEM ON AN ASS. He did not choose a horse, because that animal would have suggested royalty of quite another kind from his—royalty which was maintained by war and outward force.
1. What is it, then, that Christ claims? No one could have the slightest doubt that he claimed to fulfil Old Testament prophecy, and to be that very Person who was to come and bring with him to earth everything which the love of God could bestow. He professes his willingness to take command of earth, not in the easier sense of being able to lay down a political constitution for all races, but in the sense of being able to satisfy every individual, to give peace to every soul, however distracted by trouble and overwhelmed by sin. And some have through him actually entered into such peace that they are impregnable to this world's assaults, and have gained the mastery over its temptations. They have found him to be all he claims to be.
2. They proclaimed him as the Saviour and King of men, and he accepted these offices in a very different spirit from that in which they were ascribed to him. He knew that to be the King of a people so down trodden with sin, so entangled in ancient evils, was full of danger and suffering; that in order to deliver such a people he must die for them. And it is his expectation that we on our side should open our eyes to what he has done, and acknowledge him as our King. We must not grudge if it comes in the way of our duty to him to make real sacrifices.
3. It must, indeed, have been a humbling experience for our Lord to have himself ushered into Jerusalem by a crowd through whose hosannas he already heard the mutter of their curses. Such is the homage a perfect life has won.
II. ALTHOUGH OUR LORD MAKES NO MOAN OVER HIS OWN FATE AS THE REJECTED MESSIAH, HE QUITE BREAKS DOWN AT THE THOUGHT OF THE DOOM OF HIS REJECTERS. Terrible, indeed, must the responsibility often have seemed to him of being set as the test of men, of being the occasion of so many being found wanting. Are we in a condition so full of hazard and foreboding that it might justly bring tears to the eyes of Christ?
III. THE WITHERING OF THE FRUITLESS FIG TREE WAS A SYMBOLIC ACT. Our Lord saw in it the very image of Jerusalem. There was there an exuberant display of all kinds of religious activity, with absolutely nothing that could feed the soul or satisfy God. And the withering of the fig tree reveals the other side of our Lord's character in connection with this rejection by the Jews. He wept, but he also pronounced doom. To calculate our own future we must keep in view not only the tears of Christ, but also his judgment. Throughout his life the one is as prominent as the other. Words which were rarely or never heard from the sternest Old Testament prophet are common on his lips. There is a day of visitation for each man—a day in which to us in our turn there appears a possibility and an invitation to enter into the presence of God, and be forever satisfied in him and with his likeness. Picture to yourself the shame of being a failure, such a failure that the truest love and most inventive wisdom must give yon up and pronounce you useless.—D.
Parable of the wicked husbandmen.
The priests and elders already stood convicted of having incapacitated themselves for recognizing the Divine in Jesus. But theirs was not the guilt of common unbelievers. It was not merely their personal, hut their official duty to keep themselves awake to the Divine, by righteousness of life. It was the duty for which their office existed. They are as agents whom a man has appointed to manage his business, and who use their position only to enrich themselves. The parable under which this judgment is carried home to them is one they could not fail to understand. The vineyard was Israel—the small section of humanity railed off from the degrading barbarism around, as if to try what could be done by bestowing every advantage that could help men to produce the proper fruit of men. Nothing was wanting which could win them to holiness, nothing which could enlarge, purify, fertilize human nature. The result was that they were content, as many professing religion are content now, with receiving and doing nothing. They measured themselves by the care God spent on them, not by the fruit they yielded; by the amount of instruction, the grace they received, not by the use that they made of it. Again and again God sent to remind them he was expecting fruit of his care, but his messengers speedily found that they were willing enough to live upon God, but not to live to him. But it is the keepers of the vineyard who are here censured for unfaithfulness, and that on two grounds.
1. They used their position solely for their own advantage. They had failed to remember they were servants. The religious leader is as liable as the political or military leader to be led by a desire for distinction, applause, power. Success may be the idol of the one as truly as of the other. It is not the sphere in which one's work is done that proves its spirituality or worthiness, nor even the nature of it, but the motive.
2. They are censured for their zeal in proselytizing—a more insidious form of the temptation to use their position for their own ends. The indignation of our Lord was roused by the same element in their zeal, which so often still taints zeal for the propagation of religious truth. It was the desire rather to bring men to their way of thinking than to bring them to the truth. How widespreading and deep reaching this evil is those well know who have observed how dangerously near propagandism is to persecution. The zeal that proceeds from loving consideration of others does not, when opposed, darken into violence and ferocity. If we become bitter and fierce when contradicted, we may recognize our zeal as springing from desire to have our own influence acknowledged, rather than from deep love of others, or regard for the truth as truth. The condemnation of the parable our Lord enforces by reference to the Scriptures of which they professed to be guardians. Rejection by the builders was one of the marks of the Foundationstone chosen by God. They cavilled at his allowing the hosanna psalm to be applied to himself, but this was itself proof that he was what the crowd affirmed him to be. Note:
(1) That Jesus claims to be the Heir of God. In acting for God he acted for himself.
(2) He implies that this was known to the Jewish leaders. It was because they knew he was the Heir they were so eager to remove him. Their state of mind is intelligible and very common. There are thousands who have a haunting suspicion that Jesus deserves very different kind of recognition from what they give him, but who will not let their minds dwell on the conviction, lest it should urge them to unwelcome action.
(3) The very fact that Christ is rejected by so many is proof that he is Divine. The higher the blessing the fewer there are who acknowledge and accept it.
Our Lord completes the warning, abandoning the figure of the parable, and making use of the figure of the stone.
(1) Christ is a Stone of stumbling to those to whom he is presented. The gospel once heard must henceforward be an element in the condition of the hearer. No man who has heard can be as if he had not heard. Men are often conscious that he is the one Foundation on whom life can be safely built, and yet they try to pass on in life as if he were not there. While they do so they are held back, distracted; their life is a mere make-believe. Or habitual falseness of spirit is produced, it may be unconsciously to themselves. But the frost that has only lasted a few minutes is as surely frost as when it has formed a strength of surface the hammer cannot break. Each refusal to determine regarding Christ leaves the conscience a little blunter. It is thus men are bruised on this Stone of stumbling.
(2) The second action of the Stone is final. Those who determinedly oppose Christ lie at once slain and buried by what should have been their joy. Their dwelling and refuge become their tomb. Things are to move on eternally in fulfilment of the will of Christ. To oppose his course, to attempt to work cut an eternal success apart from him, is as idle as to stand on the path of an avalanche of stone in order to stem it. Acceptance or rejection of Christ is the determining element in human destiny. Without him we can make nothing or worse than nothing of life. "Better," will a man say—"better that a millstone had been hanged about nay neck, and that I had been cast into the sea, than that I should have lived to reject him." Think of it more, go closer to him, keep yourself in the light of his words and life, and you will see that it is so, and must be so, that he is the Hand of God stretched out to us, the Word of God spoken to us out of the silence.—D.
Verse 45-ch. 22:14
The marriage of the King's Son.
This parable, taken along with the parable of the two sons and the parable of the wicked husbandmen, forms a climax to them. In the first, God is represented as a Father issuing a command; in the second, as a Householder who expects the performance of a contract; in the third parable, God appears as a King, not commanding, but looking for acceptance of an enviable invitation. Already the kingdom of God had been likened to a feast, but here prominence is given to the circumstance of the host being a King, and the occasion the marriage of his son, and it is impossible to avoid the impression that our Lord meant to indicate that he was the King's Son. He and John had both familiarized the people with the title Bridegroom as applied to the Messiah. But it is rather from God's side than from man's the Bridegroom is here viewed. In Christ God and man are made one. No union can be so close. And in this, the greatest event in God's reign, and the indestructible glory of humanity, God might well expect that men should rejoice with him. Proclamation had been made, invitation given, and people remained wholly indifferent. The earnest sincerity of God in seeking our good in this matter is marked by one or two unmistakable traits.
1. By the King's willing observance of every form of courtesy. One of these is the sending of a second messenger to announce the actual readiness of the feast. And so God had not only sent the prophets, bidding the Jews expect this festival, but sent John to remind and bring them. And so he still offers his blessings in ways which leave the reluctant without apology, he considers your needs and your feelings, and what he offers is that in which he has his own chief joy—fellowship with his Son.
2. By his wrath against the murderers. You may be so little in earnest about God's invitation that you scarcely seriously consider whether it is to be accepted or not, but nothing can so occupy him as to turn his observation from you. To save sinners from destruction is his grand purpose, and no success in other parts of his government can repay him for failure here. The last scene in the parable forms an appendix directed to a special section in the audience. Seeing the gates of the kingdom thrown open, and absolute, unconditioned freedom of entrance given, the ill living and godless might be led to overlook the great moral change requisite in all who enter God's presence and propose to hold intercourse with him. The refusal of the wedding dress provided was not only studied contempt and insult, but showed alienation of spirit, disaffection, want of sympathy with the feelings of the king. The guest must have lacked the festive spirit, and was therefore "a spot in the feast." He sits there out of harmony with the spirit of the occasion, and disloyal to his king. Therefore is his punishment swift and sudden. The eye of the king marks the intruder, and neither the outer darkness of an Eastern street, nor the pitchy blackness in which he lies unseen and helpless, can hide him from that gaze of his Lord which he feels to be imprinted on his conscience forever. In applying this parable, we may mark:
(1) That there is no way of accepting God's invitation without accepting his spirit, character, and ways. There is no real acceptance, no abiding in God's favour, where there is no growing likeness to him. Conformity to God, ability to rejoice with God and in God, humble and devoted reverence,—these are great attainments; but these constitute our wedding garment, without which we cannot remain in his presence or abide his searching eye. No associating of yourself with those that love him, no outward entrance into his presence, will avail; it is the heart you bear towards him that wilt determine your destiny.
(2) There is abundant encouragement to all who are willing and desirous to put on the Lord Jesus. It is the first duty of every host to make his guest feel at home, and therefore does God provide us not only with great outward blessings, but with all that can make us feel easy and glad in his presence. He offers not only enjoyment, but power to enjoy. If you are conscious that you could not be easy in God's presence without great alterations in your character, your invitation is guarantee that these will be made. If you could not be easy in his presence without knowing that he was aware of all you had thought and done against him, and forgave you; if you could not eat at the table of one against whom you harboured ill will, nor enjoy any entertainment without genuine love of your host;—then this will be communicated to you on your acceptance of God's invitation. Does your unfitness, even more than your unworthiness, deter you? Here you see that God invites you as you are.—D.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The triumph of Christ.
In his journey to Jerusalem Jesus rested at Bethany, where, stopping at the house of Simon the leper, Mary anointed his feet (cf. Matthew 26:6; John 12:2). His progress on the day following is here recorded. Observe—
I. THAT JESUS ENTERED THE CAPITAL IN THE ROYALTY OF MEEKNESS.
1. He came in sacred character.
(1) Animals which had never borne the yoke were employed for sacred purposes (see Deuteronomy 21:3). The colt upon which Jesus rode was such. Specially acceptable to Christ is the consecration of virgin youth.
(2) His sacred character was recognized in the acclamations of the multitude. "Hosanna!" was a form of acclamation used at the Feast of Tabernacles, when the people carried boughs (see Nehemiah 8:15). "Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord?" equivalent to "Hosanna, O Lord!" (see Psalms 20:9). "Hosanna in the highest!" i.e. in the heavens, which is an invitation to holy angels to join with the sons of men in praising the Messianic King (cf. Psalms 148:1, Psalms 148:2; Luke 2:14; Luke 19:38).
(3) That a colt never before ridden should have borne Jesus amidst the shoutings of the multitude was a miracle (cf. 1 Samuel 6:7). That miracle set forth the power by which Christ can subject to his will the unruly heart of man (see Job 11:12).
(4) While Jesus entered Jerusalem as a King, he showed that his kingdom was not of the world. So Pilate acquitted him of treason against Caesar.
2. He came as the "Prince of Peace."
(1) He rode not upon the warlike horse. To have done so would have been unbecoming him as King of Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 17:16; Psalms 20:7). Has his royalty peacefully entered in triumph into your soul? Has he received a welcome—a hosanna, in your heart?
(2) As "the Judge of Israel" he rode upon the colt of an ass (cf. Judges 5:10; Judges 10:4; Judges 12:13, Judges 12:14). The kingdom of heaven is not force, but righteousness.
(3) His coming was therefore the triumph of pure joy. This the multitude expressed by acclamation and by spreading their garments and palm branches (cf. 2 Kings 9:13; Psalms 118:25; John 13:13; Revelation 7:9).
(4) The hosannas of earth are the prelude to the hallelujahs of heaven.
3. He came in humble state.
(1) He condescended to have "need" of the ass's colt. If he is pleased to have need of our poor services, this is reason sufficient for any sacrifice. To render service needed by the Lord is at once the highest honour and the greatest blessing.
(2) He condescended to accept his praises from the lips of "babes." Not from the heads and rulers of the nation, but from his poor disciples. Their greatness is childlikeness (cf. Matthew 18:1-4).
(3) He condescended to come in meekness to those who plotted his destruction. Lo! the King comes to be murdered by his creatures, and in his death to redeem them from wrath!
(4) What triumphs are here! He triumphs over pride in his humility, over affluence in his poverty, over rage and malice in his meekness. "Was it a mean attitude wherein our Lord appeared? Mean to contempt? I grant it. I glory in it. It is for the comfort of my soul, for the honour of his humility, and for the utter confusion of all worldly pomp and grandeur" (Wesley).
II. THAT JESUS ENTERED THE CAPITAL FOR THE TRIUMPH OF DESTINY.
1. He came for the fulfilment of prophecy.
(1) This last journey of our Lord from Jericho to Jerusalem was in the same line as the triumphant march of the children of Israel from the time of their first entry into the holy land to the taking of Jerusalem. The spiritual progress is from the lowest to the highest, from the place accursed to the place of the Name of our Lord.
(2) He came as the very Paschal Lamb. It was now the tenth day of the month, when the Law appointed that the Paschal lamb should be taken up (see Exodus 12:2; 1 Corinthians 5:7).
(3) He rode in triumph to his death. The priest according to the order of Melchizedek suffers as a Priest and triumphs as a King. His victory is moral, viz. over sin, death, and hell. He is the King in his death, according to the inscription on his cross (see Matthew 27:37). How appropriate upon this occasion, then, was the "Hosanna"—"Save now"!
(4) The history of this remarkable progress was pre-written (see Isaiah 62:11; Zechariah 9:9). Known unto God are all his ways from the beginning.
2. His coming was itself a prophecy.
(1) It suggested, by what Elliot calls "allusive contrast," the ascension of Jesus into the heavenly Jerusalem. Some of the multitude "went before him," viz. those who met him from the city, as the angels met Jesus in his ascension. Some "followed after," viz. those who came with him from Bethany, as the risen saints ascended with their risen Lord (cf. Psalms 24:1-10.; Matthew 27:52, Matthew 27:53). Those who would follow Christ in his ascension must follow him now in his lowly state.
(2) It suggested also the second, glorious, advent of Messiah to this earth. Then coming forth to vengeance, he is described as riding upon a horse (see Revelation 19:11). Coming forth in glory, without a sin sacrifice, he will descend upon a throne of white light. He will come with the sound of the great trumpet, which shall wake the very dead. Instead of the retinue of poor Galilaeans, he will come with a myriad retinue of mighty angels. Then will be understood the "Hosanna in the highest!"
(3) The Lord's day is the Christian type of the everlasting sabbath. As the day of the triumphal entry of Christ into the earthly Jerusalem was the tenth of the month, so was it also the first day of the week. It was the first of that series of events which took place on the first day of the week, entitling that day to be called "the day of the Lord." Is there no prophetic reference to this in the words of the psalm which was evidently in the minds of the disciples: "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I beseech thee [אן חעישוה, hoshiahnna, from which the disciples had their hosanna]," etc. (see Psalms 118:24-26)?—J.A.M.
The Lord of the temple.
"The temple of God" (Matthew 21:12) Jesus calls "my house" (Matthew 21:13), asserting himself to be the Divine Lord of the temple. And quoting as he does from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, he identifies himself as "Jehovah." Acting in this quality, he surveyed the characters he found in the temple and dealt with them accordingly. But the temple stands forth as a type of Christ's Church (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21, Ephesians 2:22; Hebrews 3:6), so the subject has its lessons for us. We may ask, then—
I. WHAT SORT OF PERSONS DOES JESUS FIND IN HIS CHURCH?
1. He finds the secularist there.
(1) The secularist is in his place in the world. The calling of the money changer is lawful when honestly fulfilled. So is that of the vendor of doves (see Deuteronomy 14:24).
(2) The calling of the secularist is a desecration in the "house of prayer." Lawful things become sinful when ill-timed and ill-placed. The temple of God is defiled by merchandise.
(a) By that scandalous traffic in holy things, which is so largely carried on within the borders of the professing Church, in simoniacal presentation, fraudulent exchanges, preferment obtained through flattery.
(b) By that worldly, covetous, money getting spirit which dwells in so many of its members. This spirit is demoralizing. It is also distracting to worship.
(3) Worldly gain must not be made the end of godliness (see 1 Timothy 6:5). Men should not enter the membership or seek office in Churches with a view to increasing their business.
2. He finds the afflicted there.
(1) "The blind and the lame" are in the world. Sin begets suffering. The prevalence of suffering evinces the prevalence of sin. But there must be qualification here (see John 9:3).
(2) "The blind and the lame" are in the temple. The Church on earth is not so perfect as to be free from afflictions.
(3) The afflicted are where they should be in the Church. Christ the Healer is still in his temple. Religion has its remedies. Religion has its reliefs.
3. He finds the true disciple there.
(1) The Christian in the world is not of it.
(2) In the Church he is at home.
(3) He meets Jesus there.
(4) He see his "wonders" there—miracles of moral healing, miracles of wholesome discipline.
(5) He raises the "Hosanna!" there. The "babes and sucklings," who perfected praise, were not infants literally, but childlike disciples (cf. Matthew 18:1-6; Matthew 11:25; 1 Peter 2:2).
4. He finds the ritualist and the traditionalist there.
(1) "The chief priests and the scribes" (Jeremiah 7:15). Ritualist and traditionalist are frequently met in company.
(2) They saw, but could not interpret, the wonders wrought by Christ. They could not see his Godhead in the wonderful submission of the traffickers. Neither could they see this in his miracles of healing.
(3) They were angry with those who could interpret the wonders. They were scandalized that the disciples should shout "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Proud men cannot bear that honour should be given to any but themselves. To hypocrites everything that is not commonplace and traditional is extravagant.
(4) Prejudice could censure "the blind and the lame" for coming into the temple to be healed, but could see no evil in the traffickers stalling their oxen there. Superstition is often the companion of irreverence. The priests probably had a pecuniary interest in the traffic, particularly in those animals sold for sacrifice which they had to examine and approve. Interest blinds.
II. WHAT SORT OF TREATMENT HAVE THEY TO EXPECT FROM HIM?
1. What has the secularist to expect?
(1) To be violently ejected from the Church. See the tables and seats overthrown and the money scattered. What a different estimate of its value has Jesus to that cherished by men of the world!
(2) To have their characters exposed. "Robbers!" Extortioners and cheats, viz. in their business, are robbers. The slyness of the fraud does not diminish its villainy. How monstrous the sin when the very Church of God is made a "den of thieves"!
(3) Those who are not admonished by the searchings of truth must suffer the retributions of power. On the first day when Jesus entered the temple he "looked round about upon all things." It was not until the second day that he gave the sterner rebuke.
(4) This was the second time that Jesus purged the temple. The first was about three years earlier (see John 2:14). Note: Secularists ejected from the Church will return. They must be expelled again.
(5) As our Lord purged the temple first at the commencement of his ministry and now again at the close of it, so at the beginning of the Christian dispensation the Jewish anti-Messiah was driven out by the Romans, and at the end of it the Gentile antichrist will be cast out.
(6) Never, until the anti-christian secularism is purged out of the temple of the Lord, will the glory of the Lord come into it as in ancient times. The millennial reign will set in with the return of the Shechinah.
2. What have the afflicted to expect?
(1) Miracles of healing. The physical miracles have their moral counterparts. The "blind" come to spiritual conception. The "lame" come to render moral obedience in. a steady, even walk.
(2) Christ alone wrought miracles in the temple of the Lord. He only can work out spiritual marvels.
(3) Note: Christ brought in the afflicted as he turned out the secularists. Concession to the spirit of the world is not the way to win men to Jesus. We have too many sensuous "entertainments."
(4) Spiritual glory is grander than material splendour. By his healing mercy Jesus made the glory of the latter house to surpass that of the former.
3. What have the true disciples to expect?
(1) Mutual encouragement. The hosannas were in chorus. If "children," literally taken, raised their voices, it was in imitation of the childlike disciples.
(2) The defence of Christ. The expulsion of the traffickers was for the defence of pious Gentiles; for it was in the court of the Gentiles the traffic was carried on. The privileges of the Gentile believer must not be diverted from him. Jesus also defended his disciples against their enemies, the ritualists and traditionalists.
(3) His commendation. God makes the wrath of men to praise him. But his praise is "perfected" by his disciples. With them his praise is intelligent, generous, and free.
4. What have the haughty to expect?
(1) Rebuke from Christ. There is a keen sarcasm in the question, "Did ye never read?" when addressed to the "chief priests and scribes."
(2) Abandonment by Christ. "And he left them." He had no sympathy with their spirit. He found a more congenial lodging in the olive-shade of Bethany.
(3) The great Redeemer is a great Reformer.—J.A.M.
The omnipotence of faith.
The miracles of Jesus were generally miracles of mercy. There are a few exceptions. Conspicuous amongst these is the withering of the fig tree with a word. When the disciples marvelled Jesus expounded to them his astonishing doctrine of the power of faith. We learn—
I. THAT BELIEVING IS ESSENTIAL TO PREVAILING PRAYER.
1. There can be no prayer without faith in a personal God.
(1) The atheist cannot pray. The reason is obvious. He has no God to pray to. His is a melancholy orphanage.
(2) The pantheist cannot pray. His god is an infinite It, unsusceptible to prayer. "He that cometh to God must believe that he is" (Hebrews 11:6).
(3) The Christian can pray. He believes in a personal God, who created us after his image. As a man can intelligently speak to his friend, so, etc. (see Exodus 33:11).
2. There can be no prayer without faith in a Person susceptible to human appeals.
(1) The deist cannot pray. His god is too far removed from his works to notice the specks upon a tiny planet.
(2) The Christian can pray. For he has loftier views of God. He is so great that nothing can escape him. While he rules firmaments of suns and systems of worlds, he feeds the animalculae.
(3) The Christian, moreover, is encouraged to pray by his faith in the mediation of Christ. Without such mediation the sinner might shrink from approaching the infinitely Holy. In it mercy in harmony with justice is assured.
3. Faith is active in successful prayer.
(1) The power of faith is like that of water, impotent in quiescence, but efficient when in motion. It is like heat, impotent when latent, but whose energy when molecules are in motion is tremendous.
(2) It is the active faith of saints that alarms Satan. It stirs three worlds, viz. heaven, earth, and hell.
II. THAT BELIEVING PRAYER IS INFALLIBLY EFFECTIVE.
1. Because God has pledged himself to it.
(1) He is able to do whatever he will. The power of the Promiser was exemplified in the withering of the fig tree. The moral is drawn from this example: "If ye have faith, and doubt not," etc. (Matthew 21:21, Matthew 21:22).
(2) He is willing to do whatever he promises. He cannot deny himself. "Heaven and earth may pass away." The Creator may reverse his act of creation. But the Uncreate cannot annihilate himself. But to falsify would be to annihilate Infinite Truth.
2. But how is the infallible effectiveness of believing prayer reconciled with the wisdom of God?
(1) If omnipotence is pledged to faith, may not omnipotence be put into commission to folly; for man is confessedly fallible?
(2) Faith, in the nature of the case, presupposes a promise. Where has the God of wisdom promised a foolish thing?
(3) But is there not here an open cheque: "All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive"? The particular promise is still implied in the term "believing;" for faith itself is the gift of God. The God of wisdom cannot inspire faith in the interests of folly.
3. But how can efficacy in prayer comport with the uniformity of nature's processes?
(1) So undeviating is the order in the revolutions of the spheres that eclipses, occultations, conjunctions, epacts, and other matters may be calculated with certainty. In like manner, chemical changes never vary when the conditions are the same. Can prayer disturb these things?
(2) Who wants it to do so? There is no need to disturb matter when prayer is made for spiritual blessings. What relation is there to eclipses and epacts in answering the cry for mercy? A whole millennium of spiritual glory may flood this earth in answer to prayer, without touching the properties of a molecule of matter.
(3) But how does the argument stand in relation to providence? There is a sphere in nature for human providence. The farmer does not violate the order of nature when he grows corn in response to the cry of a nation for food. By draining and tillage he can alter the climate of his country and alter its flora and fauna, and all this without altering the properties of a single molecule of matter. In like manner, on a far grander scale, God also has reserved to himself a sphere for his providence in nature, within which he can answer every prayer he pleases to inspire.
III. THAT PRAYER FAILS THROUGH THE INFLUENCE OF CONDITIONS INIMICAL TO ACTIVE FAITH.
1. As when the matter of the suit is unwise.
(1) "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss" (James 4:3). In such a case God will in mercy withhold his gift of faith.
(2) Or he may honour the sincerity of the prayer by conferring an equivalent to that which his grace withholds. So he dealt with Paul when he sought the removal of his "thorn in the flesh."
(3) Honest prayer is never vain. Its very exercise ennobles. As the domestic animal is ennobled by his conversation with man, infinitely more is man ennobled by conversing with his Maker.
2. As when the motive is unworthy of the suit.
(1) Is our prayer for business prosperity? But is the motive good? Else the answer may come in anger. To how many is the accession of material wealth the wasting of the infinitely more precious moral properties!
(2) Is our prayer for the spiritual conversion of a child? The end here is undoubtedly good. But what is the motive? Is it that his consequent dutifulness may increase the comfort of the home, rather than bring glory to God and save a soul from death? Feather the arrows of prayer with the very best motives.
3. As when the disposition of the suppliant is inconsistent with sincerity.
(1) Such is the case when the lazy pray for a revival. Work for it while you pray.
(2) When the impenitent seek salvation. This is like a rebel suing to his sovereign for pardon with a leaded revolver in his hand. The salvation of the gospel is a salvation from sin. Repentance is therefore indispensible (see Psalms 66:18; Isaiah 1:15-20; Matthew 5:23-26). There is no mercy for the implacable (see Matthew 6:12-15).—J.A.M.
The authority of Jesus.
The "things" in reference to the doing of which this question of the authority of Jesus was raised by the chief priests and elders, were his purging the temple from the traffickers, his publicly teaching and working miracles of healing there. Mark, by more clearly placing the miracle of the withering of the fig tree in order before these things, brings them into closer connection with the passage before us. We may profitably consider the authority of Jesus—
I. AS IT IS EVIDENT IN HIS CONDUCT.
1. His questioners were not ignorant of his claims.
(1) He had long before plainly told them who he was (see John 5:36, John 5:43).
(2) He had but the day before claimed to be the Lord of the temple. He called it the "temple of God," and spoke of it as his own house (see verses 12, 13). And the passages he quoted in connection with this claim spake of the temple as the house of Jehovah (see Isaiah 56:7; Jeremiah 7:11).
(3) Their object was now to get him to assert this again, that they might make it a pretext to fix upon him the charge of blasphemy; for they had plotted to destroy him.
2. His conduct vindicated his claims.
(1) His expulsion of the traffickers was a miracle. It was a work which an army might hesitate to undertake. Yet single-handed he did it effectually.
(2) He wrought miracles of healing which, the rulers and Pharisees themselves being witnesses, no man could do unless God were with him (see John 3:1, John 3:2).
(3) Moral miracles also attended his ministry. Publicans and harlots—unjust and immodest persons—notorious sinners, were converted into reputable citizens and exemplary saints. These were the people represented by the son in the parable who "said, I will not; but afterwards repented, and went" (verse 29). The life of the sinner is an actual clamour of "I will not." But as there are those who promise better than they prove, so are there those who prove better than they promise.
"Seest thou yon harlot, wooing all she meets;
The worn out nuisance of the public streets;
Herself from morn to night, from night to morn,
Her own abhorrence, and as much your scorn?
The gracious shower, unlimited and free,
Shall fall on her when Heaven denies it thee."
3. Note here the gospel call.
(1) It is a call to work for Christ. "Go, work in my vineyard." It is charged upon the Pharisees that they say, and do not (Matthew 23:3); upon the chief priests and rulers here that they said, "I go, sir, and went not." Buds and blossoms are not fruit.
(2) It is a call to work for Christ now. "Go, work today in my vineyard."
(3) It is a call from the common Father. It comes to the "two sons," and these represent the two great classes of sinners, viz. the openly irreligious and the hypocritical professors.
(4) But though coming equally to all, it differs in its effects. There is more hope of the openly irreligious than of the hypocritical professor.
(5) True repentance is practical. When he repented "he went."
II. AS IT IS EVIDENT IN THE TESTIMONY OF JOHN.
1. John's baptism was proved to be "from heaven."
(1) By the scope of his ministry. He "came in the way of righteousness." He came walking in it as well as preaching it. He did not affect the "soft clothing" of the courtier, as he might have done, being the son of a notable priest, had he been moved by a vulgar ambition. Neither did he flatter princes, but lost his head for his fidelity.
(2) By the success of his ministry.
(a) "The baptism of John" is here put for his doctrine.
(b) Jesus, by submitting to John's baptism, accepted and sanctioned his doctrine.
The vast multitudes who came to his baptism thereby professed faith in his teaching.
Hence the general expression, "All hold John as a prophet." The defeat of Herod's army in the war with Aretas, King of Arabia, was esteemed by the Jews a judgment for the death of John (Josephus, 'Ant.,' John 18:7).
2. John's testimony therefore should be conclusive.
(1) Prophecy indicated him to be the harbinger of Messiah. Thus Isaiah spoke of him (cf. Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3; John 1:23). So Malachi (cf. Malachi 4:5; Matthew 11:14). So Zecharias (see Luke 1:17).
(2) He indicated Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God that beareth away the sin of the world.
(3) The questioners had no reply to this argument. "They reasoned with themselves," not what was true to be believed, but what it was safe to acknowledge. Note: Truths appear in the clearest light when taken in order. The resolving of the previous question will be the key to the main question. If the questioners answered Christ's question, they would answer their own.
III. AS IT IS EVIDENT IN THE DISCOMFITURE OF HIS ENEMIES.
1. They set up their authority against his.
(1) They claimed the right to rule in the temple. They were "chief priests"—judges in the ecclesiastical courts, "and elders"—judges in the civil (see 2 Chronicles 19:5-11). They should therefore have been the promoters of the kingdom of Messiah which they opposed.
(2) They questioned the right of Jesus to teach in the temple, he being neither priest nor Levite. They were more concerned about the right of our Lord to preach than about the character of his preaching.
(3) Their question, "Who gave thee this authority?" suggests that they were offended because he not only taught without their permission, but contravened their concession to the traffickers when he drove them out.
(4) Here, then, is human authority disputing with the Divine—office in conflict with wisdom. Those who take upon themselves to act with authority should ask themselves the question, "Who gave thee this authority?" Those who run before their warrant run without their blessing (see Jeremiah 23:21, Jeremiah 23:22).
2. He treated their presumption with contempt.
(1) He convicted them as hypocrites. They had wit enough to see that reason was against them; for the Divinity of Christ was evident from the testimony of John. They knew that their "We cannot tell" was a lie for "We will not tell." The son who said, "I go, sir," and went not, dissembled and lied. What sort of truth seekers are those who refuse the evidence whose cogency they see? They were typical infidels, whose heart is at fault rather than the head. Those who are engaged against the truth are abandoned to the spirit of falsehood.
(2) He exposed them as incompetents. They affected to be judges as to the authority of Jesus. Jesus forced from them the confession, "We cannot tell," in relation to the previous question of the authority of John. The "Neither do I tell you" was a merited repulse in which Jesus in his authority triumphs.
(3) He humbled their pride by proving them to be slaves to the fear of the people. But for the fear of the multitude, they would have questioned the authority of John. Many who are not influenced by the fear of sin are influenced by the fear of shame.
(4) He shamed them by the example of the publicans and harlots, who believed John, but the lesson of whose reformation was lost upon them. Examples of the power of truth are of little avail to the perverse.—J.A.M.
Goodness and severity.
In this parable Jesus sets forth the privileges, the sins, and the impending ruin of the Jewish people. It brings before us for our admonition—
I. WHAT THE LORD DID FOR HIS PEOPLE.
1. He became a Father to them.
(1) By virtue of creation he is the Father of the whole family of man.
(2) By the Sinai covenant he became especially the Head of the house of Israel.
(3) By the everlasting covenant of his gospel he is now the Father of all believers everywhere.
2. He gave them a rich inheritance.
(1) The land of promise was as "a vineyard" in distinction from the surrounding countries (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7). They were morally as well as physically distinguished.
(2) God himself "planted" them as "a vine from Egypt" (cf. Psalms 80:8-15; Isaiah 61:3; Jeremiah 2:21).
3. He made every provision for their benefit.
(1) "He set a hedge about it."
(a) By the "law of commandments contained in ordinances" he separated his people from the idolatrous nations surrounding.
(b) His providence was as a wall of fire for their defence (see Zechariah 2:5).
(2) "He digged a winepress," or vat for the reception of the wine. To conserve the purposes of their planting he gave them the services of the sanctuary—daily offerings, sabbaths, new moons, annual festivals.
(3) "He built a tower" whence to watch the approach of robbers. Jerusalem with its temple was the watch tower of the vineyard.
II. THE RETURN HE RECEIVED FOR HIS GOODNESS.
1. The husbandmen kept from him the fruits.
(1) The rent is paid in produce. The fruits are those of righteousness and love. When the people entered upon the inheritance they gave verbal and intellectual acknowledgment of their obligations. The practical acknowledgment is the test of principle.
(2) God does not require rent paid in advance. He is not unreasonable. There is a time in which he looks on in silence. In this interval he looks for preparatory labour.
(3) He does expect the fruit in its season, in "the time for gathering the fruit." God claims the firstfruits of all our increase.
(4) The husbandmen were here radically at fault. The righteousness of the priests and elders was selfishness and pride. Their goodness was hypocrisy.
2. They maltreated his messengers.
(1) After they demanded a king, and the Lord their God withdrew his Shechinah, he sent them his earlier prophets, down to the time of the Assyrian captivity which ended the kingdom of Israel.
(2) To the remaining two tribes "he sent other servants, more than the first." The later prophets were more in number and greater in the clearness of their predictions. These ended with John the Baptist.
(3) But these they beat, as Jeremiah, and killed, as Isaiah and John, and stoned, as Zechariah the son of Jehoiada (see 2 Chronicles 36:16; Nehemiah 9:26; Jeremiah 25:3-7; Hebrews 11:36, Hebrews 11:37).
(4) The priests and rulers were the descendants of the race that had killed the prophets (see Matthew 5:12; Matthew 23:34-37; Acts 7:52; 1 Thessalonians 2:15).
3. They murdered the heir.
(1) "They will reverence my Son," armed with Divine credentials, and fully representing the Householder. The Son of David, and Heir to the kingdom. The Son of God, and "Heir of all things" (see Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5; John 3:35; Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 1:2).
(2) "They cast him forth out of the vineyard." Christ was cast out of the synagogue as a profane person, and delivered to the Romans to be executed, and relegated to Calvary for that purpose, "outside the gate" of the city.
(3) There they "killed him." So they filled up the measure of their iniquity.
III. THE SEVERITY OF HIS RETRIBUTION.
1. God dooms the sinner to the judgment of his sin.
(1) The priests little suspected whither Jesus was leading them when he led them to say, "He will bring these wretches to a wretched death." The truth, unpractised, which we carry with us into the other world, will judge us to perdition. Jesus expressed this in those words, "I judge no man: the word that I have spoken unto you, the same shall judge you in the last day." So the clearer our light the darker our condemnation.
(2) The priests first pronounced their condemnation in the words cited; Jesus seems to have afterwards pronounced it in the same terms (see Luke 20:16). "Out of thine own mouth will I condemn thee."
2. He brings confusion upon his schemes.
(1) He excludes him from the inheritance. The inheritance was the very thing the priests sought to retain (verse 38). Sin is the direct way to frustrate the sinner's designs.
(2) He puts another in his place. Nothing so angered the inveterate Jew as the proposal to carry the gospel to the Gentile. Little did the priests estimate the significance of their sentence, "And he will let out the vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons." Persecution may destroy the ministers, but cannot destroy the Church.
(3) They will exalt the stone which the builders rejected. The disciples fetched their hosannas from the context of the passage quoted from Psalms 118:22, Psalms 118:23, which carries conviction and terror to the enemies of Christ.
(4) The words of the psalm were first spoken of David, who, after suffering persecution from Saul and rejection from the chiefs of Israel, at length triumphed over his enemies, and rose to unexampled prosperity. David, that rejected stone which became the head of the corner (cf. 1 Samuel 14:38), was therein a type of Christ. In his resurrection, ascension, and exaltation as the Head of his Church, the temple of the living stones, the copestone was brought up with the shoutings of angels. What a confusion to the murderers of the Heir was his triumphant resurrection!
3. He brings judgment upon them to destruction.
(1) Falling upon the stumbling stone (Jesus in his humiliation), the offender is "broken" (see Isaiah 8:14, Isaiah 8:15; 1 Peter 2:8). Jerusalem became a desolation. The nation was broken. The spiritual judgment of blindness and obduracy is more terrible than the temporal suffering (see Romans 11:8-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:15). Instead of being humbled, the sinner is exasperated when his sin is pointed out.
(2) The stone becoming active and falling upon the sinner, he is crushed into dust (see Isaiah 60:12; Daniel 2:44). The same stone, Christ, now however coming, not in humiliation, but in the glory of his majesty and power. "How shall we escape, if we neglect his great salvation?"—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Ready response to Divine claims.
"Straightway he will send them." It does not at once appear whether our Lord made a claim on this animal, in a general way, for the service of God, or in a particular way, as a personal favour to himself. He must have been well known in the neighbourhood of Bethany, and it is quite conceivable that the man distinctly lent the animal to Jesus. It was not a working animal, and there was no loss of its labour, or its mother's, in this use of it by Jesus. What stands out to view, as suggestive of helpful thoughts and useful lessons, is the ready response of this good man. Think of it as a Divine claim, and he presents an example of prompt, trustful, unquestioning obedience. Think of it as a request from the great Teacher, and then you have revealed a secret disciple, or at least one who felt the fascination of our Lord's presence.
I. READY RESPONSE TO DIVINE CLAIMS AS AN EXAMPLE. There was no questioning or dispute; no hesitation or doubt; no anxiety, even, as to how the animals would be brought back again. There was no anxiety as to what was to be done with them; no fear as to any injury coming to them; the man did not even suggest that the colt would be of no use, for he had not been "broken in." It is beautiful and suggestive that the simple sentence, "The Lord hath need of them," sufficed to quiet and satisfy him. He could shift all the responsibility on the Lord. "He knows everything; he controls everything. What I have to do is to obey. Depend upon it, the rest will all come right." So away at once, and away cheerfully, went the animals. That is a noble example indeed. We spoil so much of our obedience by criticizing the things we are called to do, or give, or bear. Then we hesitate, question, doubt, and do languidly at last what we do. If we know what God's will is, that should always be enough. We have nothing to do with the how or the why. Send the animals at once if you know that "the Lord hath need of them."
II. READY RESPONSE TO DIVINE CLAIMS AS A REVELATION OF CHARACTER. I like this man. I seem to know this man. His act reveals him. A simple-hearted sort of man, whose natural trustfulness has not been spoilt. An open-hearted, generous sort of man, with very little "calculation" in him. He reminds one of Nathanael, "in whom was no guile." And simple souls somehow get the best of life.—R.T.
Matthew 21:5, Matthew 21:8
Signs of meekness and sifters of joy.
"Thy King cometh unto thee, meek;" "And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way." The word "meek" is used in Scripture for "not self-assertive," "not seeking one's own." It is not to be confounded with "humility." The apostle puts "humbleness of mind" and "meekness" alongside each other in such a way that we cannot fail to observe the distinction between them. Moses was the "meekest of men," but certainly not the most humble. It is usual to associate our Lord's "meekness" with his riding on so lowly an animal; but this is to transfer our Western ideas of asses to Eastern lands; and it also fails to observe that in Matthew 21:5 there are two assertions, each distinct from the other. Our Lord was "meek;" and our Lord was "sitting upon an ass." If we take the word "meek" here in its usual meaning, "not self-assertive," we may find fresh suggestion in the passage. The signs of joy given in Matthew 21:8, Matthew 21:9 are characteristically Eastern. Bishop Heber thus describes his march to Colombo: "The road was decorated the whole way as for a festival, with long strips of palm branches hung upon strings on either side; and whenever we stopped we found the ground spread with white cloth, and awnings erected, beautifully decorated with flowers and fruit, and festooned with palm branches. These remnants of the ancient custom mentioned in the Bible, of strewing the road with palm branches and garments, are curious and interesting."
I. THE MEEKNESS OF JESUS. This is not the thing which first arrests attention. Indeed, on this one occasion Jesus seems to be asserting himself. Look deeper, and it will be found that he is not. He is not in any of the senses men put into that term. There, riding into Jerusalem as a King, he has no intention of setting up any such kingdom as men expect; he does not mean to use any force; you could never mistake him for a conqueror. There is submission, there is no self-assertion.
II. THE JOY OF THE PEOPLE. In calling Jesus the "Son of David," the people recognized him as the long promised Messiah; and, without clear apprehensions of what his work was to be, they could rejoice in the realization of the national hope. Their joy made it clear to the Jerusalem officials that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. There could be no mistake. They must accept or reject the claim.—R.T.
Matthew 21:12, Matthew 21:13
The fitting and the unfitting in God's house.
"My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves." Selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and changing foreign money into temple shekels, was right enough in its place; but the point is, that all this was being done in the wrong place. The sense of the appropriate, of the becoming, was lost; it was covered over and bidden by the greed of the trader, and the avarice of the money changer. Trade is not wrong, if it be honest trade, and buyer and seller pass fair equivalents. Banking is not wrong in itself, though it gives great opportunities to the covetous. Our Lord never interfered with tradesfolk or with money changers; he only taught principles that would ensure their bargaining fairly. His righteous anger was roused by the offence these traffickers gave to his sense of the fitting, of the becoming. The true consecration of a building is no mere ceremony, it is the feeling of consecration that is in all reverent souls in relation to it. The consecration should have been in these traders, it was fitting to the place where they were; if it had been in them, they would never have thought of bringing the beasts, the cages, and the tables inside the gates of the temple of Jehovah.
I. THE SENSE OF THE FITTING AN IMPULSE TO JESUS. We might properly expect that this "sense" would be at its keenest in the case of Jesus. The honour of the Father-God was the one all-mastering purpose of his life. He could not bear any slight to be put on God, on anything belonging to God, on anything associated with his Name. He was specially jealous, with a sanctified Jewish jealousy, of the temple where God was worshipped. He felt what was fitting to it—stillness, quiet, prayer, reverent attitudes. He felt what was unfitting—noise, dirt, quarrellings over bargains, shouts of drovers, and the greed and over-reaching of covetous men. So the consecration of our worship places is really the response to our quickened, spiritual, Christly, sense of what is fitting. The one thing we ask for is the sustained sense of harmony
II. LACK OF THE SENSE OF THE FITTING GAVE LICENCE TO THE TRADERS. In them the spiritual was hidden. Custom had covered it. Greed had covered it. They were thinking about themselves and their gettings, and so lost all sense of the becoming. They must learn, by a hard, humbling, and awakening lesson, that God's temple is for God.—R.T.
The ministry of the children.
Children are always delighted with a little public excitement, and readily catch up the common enthusiasm; but we do not look to children for calm and intelligent judgments on great issues. To our Lord children always represented simple, guileless, unprejudiced souls, who put up no barriers against his teachings, or against the gracious influences which he strove to exert. These children would be lads from twelve years old upward. They caught up the words of the excited disciples, and kept up the excitement by shouting, even in the temple courts, "Hosanna to the Son of David!"
I. THE CHILDREN COMFORTED JESUS BY WHAT THEY DID. It was a bit of simple, honest, unrestrained enthusiasm. The young souls were carried away by the joyous excitement of the day. It comforted Jesus to hear some people speaking of him who were unquestionably sincere; who just uttered their hearts; who were glad, and said so. For it must have been a heavy burden to our Lord that, even to the last, his disciples were so guileful; they seemed as if they could never rise above the idea that they were about to "get something good" by clinging to the Lord Jesus. "Hosanna!" from the lads who wanted nothing from him must have been very comforting to our Lord, That is always one of the chief elements of pleasure in children's worship; it is guileless, genuine, the free unrestrained utterance of the passing mood. It is not the highest thing. That is the worship of the finally redeemed, who have won innocence through experience of sin; but it is the earth-suggestion of it. Children's praise is still the joy of Christian hearts.
II. THE CHILDREN COMFORTED JESUS BY WHAT THEY REPRESENTED. For to him the children were types. "Babes and sucklings" are types of simple, loving, trustful souls, and to such God's revelations come. Now, there are two kinds of trustful, humble, gentle souls.
1. Those who are trustful without ever having struggled. Some are naturally trustful, believing, receptive, and in all spheres of life they are loved and loving souls.
2. Those who are trustful as the victory out of struggle. These are the noblest ones, the true child souls, the true virgin souls; these walk the earth in white, and it is white that will never take a soil. In their praise Christ finds his supreme joy.—R.T.
The tree type of the hypocrite.
"Found nothing thereon, but leaves only." The attempted explanations of the condition of this fig tree bewilder us. Some say our Lord expected to find some stray figs on the tree left from the last harvest. Others say that, as he saw leaves, he naturally expected fruit, because the figs appear on the trees before the fruit. We must suppose that it was the custom to eat green figs, for it is certain that at this season of the year the fresh figs could not be ripened. What is clear is—
I. OUR LORD TAUGHT BY SYMBOLIC ACTIONS. There are spoken parables and acted parables; both were used in all teachings, especially in Eastern teachings; both were used by our Lord. All suggestion that our Lord was personally vexed at the failure of the tree must be carefully eliminated. With the genius of the teacher, our Lord at once saw, and seized, the opportunity for giving an impressive object lesson, which he completed by consummating at once the destruction of the tree. Explain that the tree must have been diseased, or it would have borne fruit. Its destruction was certain. The tree did not sin in being diseased or having no fruit; but the teacher may take it to represent one who sins in making outward show that has no answering goodness within it. Our Lord only took beasts or trees to illustrate Divine judgments.
II. WHAT OUR LORD TAUGHT HERR WAS THE CERTAIN DOOM OF THE HYPOCRITE. Christ never spoke so severely of any one as of the hypocrites. Insincerity was the fault most personally offensive to him. The tree seemed to represent a hypocrite. It had leaves. There was fair outward show. It seemed to say, "Come to me if you are hungry; I can refresh you." And when Christ came he found the leaves were all it had to give. His thoughts were much occupied at this time with the Pharisees, who were making outside show of superior piety, but had no soul piety opening their hearts to give him welcome. Perhaps our Lord meant to picture Judas Iscariot. Fair showing as any disciple, but rotten hearted. Let Pharisees learn, let Judas learn, let disciples learn, from that fig tree. It is dying; Christ hastens the corrupting process, and it dies in a day. The hypocrite is corrupting. He is under the curse of God. There is no hope in this life or the next for the man who is consciously insincere.—R.T.
Believing, the condition of acceptable prayer.
The immediate lesson which Christ drew from the incident was not taken from the tree—that lesson he left the disciples to think out for themselves—but from their surprise at the result which followed his words. Our Lord seems always to have spoken of prayer in a large, general, and comprehensive way; and yet we may always discern some intimation of the qualifications and limitations which must always condition answer to human prayer. It is true that "whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer ye shall receive;" but it is also true that we must meet the appointed condition, and be "believers"—those who cherish the spirit of openness and trust. "It was rather the power and wonder of their Lord's act, than the deeper significance of it, that moved the disciples. Yet Jesus follows the turn their thoughts take, and teaches that prayer and faith will remove mountains of difficulty."
I. BELIEVING AS GOD'S CONDITION. God's conditions are never to be thought of as arbitrary; they are always necessities, always sweetly reasonable. The term "believing" represents that state of mind and feeling in a man which alone fits him to receive, and make the best of, God's answer to his prayer. God might give, but his gift could be no real moral blessing if there was no fitness to receive. It is the "right state of mind for receiving" that is expressed in "believing." This includes humility, dependence, reliance, and hopefulness. It is opposed to the critical spirit that questions, and the doubting spirit that fears. Even we in common life make believing a condition. We gladly do things for others when they trust us fully.
II. BELIEVING AS MAN'S DIFFICULTY. Self-reliance is the essence of man's sin, seeing that he really is a dependent creature. Man does not care to trust anybody; he trusts himself. Other people may lean on him; he leans on nobody. And so long as a man has this spirit, all prayer must, for him, be a formality and a sham; because prayer is the expression of dependence which he does not feel. Keeping the spirit of full trust is the supreme difficulty of the Christian man all through his Christian course. He has to be always on the watch lest he should lose the right to answer because he is failing to believe, to trust.
III. BELIEVING AS THE CHRISTLY TRIUMPH. The man who has altogether abandoned self-trust, and given himself wholly into the hands of Christ for salvation, has won the power of trusting, and has only to keep it up.—R.T.
Christ become a Questioner.
Those who came to Christ on this occasion were distinctly officials, representatives of the Sanhedrin, the council which claimed and exercised authority in all matters related to religion. "Before its tribunal false prophets were arraigned. It dealt with questions of doctrine, and, when occasion arose, could exercise the functions of a council." "In the New Testament we see Christ before the Sanhedrin as a blasphemer (Matthew 26:65); the Apostles Peter and John, as false prophets and seducers of the people; the Deacon Stephen, as having blasphemed against God; and the Apostle Paul, as subverting the Law." This was, no doubt, a very imposing deputation. Schemes to entangle Christ in his talk had miserably failed; now the officials resolved to act straightforwardly and imposingly. They would demand to know the authority on which Jesus acted. The three elements of the Sanhedrin—chief priests, elders, and scribes—were all represented, and we seem to see the confident haughtiness of their approach.
I. CHRIST ASSERTING A SUPERIOR AUTHORITY. "He knew what was in man." He was not in the least alarmed. He know their guilefulness so well that he was not in the least deferential. The prophet was never submissive to the temple officials. His authority was his commission direct from God. They had been pleased to decide that no one could be permitted to teach who had not passed through a rabbinical school. Jesus knew that every man has a right to teach who is himself taught of God. He, moreover, was more than a prophet; he was, in the highest and holiest sense, the Son and Sent of God. They had no right to question him. He would recognize no such right, and give to their questionings no answer, he would exert his authority and question them; and never was official deputation more humiliated than when these men found themselves questioned, and hopelessly entangled by the question put to them. All putting Christ to the test implies a wrong state of mind. He speaks in the name of God, and as God, and our duty is unquestioning obedience.
II. CHRIST DISCOMFITING HIS FOES BY HIS SUPERIOR AUTHORITY. They felt his authority, and did not for a moment attempt to dispute it. They did not think of saying, "We came to question you, and cannot allow you to question us." They were mastered by his calmness, by his manifest superiority, by the skill of his question, which put them into the most awkward and humiliating position. They retired defeated and angry.—R.T.
Speech tested by deed.
To see the point of this parable, it is necessary to observe the connection in which it stands. Our Lord was dealing with men who proposed to entangle him in his talk, and, out of what he said, find accusation against him. He had turned the tables on them, by putting to them a question which they dared not answer; and now, in this parable of the two sons, he presents to them a picture of themselves, which they could not fail to recognize. They were like the son who made great professions of obedience, but did not obey. "The parable is too plain spoken to be evaded. They cannot deny that the satisfactory son is not the one who professes great respect for his father's authority, while he does only what pleases himself, but the one who does his father's bidding, even though he has at first disowned his authority. These men were so unceremoniously dealt with by our Lord because they were false. They may not have clearly seen that they were false, but they were so" (Dods).
I. SPEECH SHOWN TO BE WORTHLESS BY DEEDS. Professions are good and right; they ought to be made. But professions must not stand alone. They ought to express purpose. They ought to be followed by appropriate action. The peril of religion in every age lies in the fact that credit is to be gained and confidence won by making profession; and so the insincere man, and the man who can deceive himself, are tempted to make religious profession hide their self-seeking. And it must also be said that religious profession, and observance of mere religious rites, becomes a prevailing custom, by which men are carried away, and relieved of anxiety about making deeds match words. The Pharisee class are evidently pictured in this son. They were extremely anxious about speaking right and showing right, but they were sadly indifferent about doing right. What needs to be continually re-impressed is, that supreme importance attaches to being right and doing right; these will find natural and proper expression. If we are right, our profession will match ourselves.
II. SPEECH PUT TO SHAME BY DEEDS. The son is in no way to be commended who refused obedience. It was a bad profession, and found expression for a bad mind. But when he came to a good mind, and went and obeyed, the obedience put to shame the hasty and unworthy words. No doubt our Lord referred to the publican class, who had taken their own wilful and self-pleasing way, but now they had come to a better mind, and were even pressing into the kingdom.—R.T.
The wicked husbandmen.
This parable belongs to the series in which our Lord shows up his enemies, and reveals to them at once their own shameless schemings, and his complete knowledge of their devices. But while the relation of the parable to those Pharisees should be recognized, it is necessary also to see that the man of God can never let the evils of his age alone. Those Pharisees were holding men in creed and ceremonial bondage; Christ did not attack them because of their personal enmity to him. It was this—a liberator of human thought can never let the thought enslavers alone. Illustration: Luther, or C. Kingsley. In this parable we have the dealings of God with men illustrated in the dealings of God with the Jews, and pictured in the parable of the vineyard renters. Explain the first references of the parable. Vineyard, God's chosen people. Husbandmen, the ordinary leaders and teachers of the nation. Servants, the prophets or special messengers. Destruction, the final siege of Jerusalem. Others, the transfer of gospel privileges to the Gentiles.
I. THE REASONABLENESS OF GOD'S DEALINGS WITH MEN. Illustrate this:
1. From the vineyard figures. (Compare the more elaborate description in Isaiah 5:1-30.) Chosen ground. Planted. Nourished. Guarded. Pruned. And a wine-vat prepared in expectation of fruit. What could have been done more?
2. From the historical facts of God's dealings with Israel. God's call, redemption, provision, guidance, and prosperity. The final seeking fruit was Christ's coming.
3. From our own personal experience, as members of the spiritual Israel of God. Recall the graciousness of the Divine dealings with us.
II. THE UNREASONABLENESS OF MEN'S DEALINGS WITH GOD. Illustrate this:
1. From the vineyard figures. The shame, dishonesty, ingratitude, and rebellion of these husbandmen. See to what length it goes.
2. From the historical facts. The resistance, again and again, of Jewish prophets, as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos. The wilful casting out of the Son.
3. From our own personal experience. Take the case of one unsaved. Up to this resisted motherhood, friendship, Bible, inward call of Christ, etc. How must man's unreasonableness be divinely met?
(1) The sinfulness by Divine chastisement.
(2) The unworthy response to privilege by the loss of privilege.
(3) The persistent wrong by judgment. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men."—R.T.
The history of the Cornerstone.
Foundations are not now laid as in olden times. Foundation stones are now mere ornaments. There is no sense in which buildings now rest on them. Memorial stones are taking the place of foundation stones. Probably the figure of the "cornerstone" is taken from the corner of Mount Moriah, which had to be built up from the valley, in order to make a square area for the temple courts. Dean Plumptre says, "In the primary meaning of the psalm, the illustration seems to have been drawn from one of the stones, quarried, hewn, and marked, away from the site of the temple, which the builders, ignorant of the head architect's plans, had put on one side, as having no place in the building, but which was found afterwards to be that on which the completeness of the structure depended, that on which, as the chief cornerstone, the two walls met, and were bonded together." Take this suggestion, and consider—
I. CHRIST AS THE PREPARED CORNERSTONE. Describe the work done on the limestone block in order to fit it for its place as a foundationstone. The apostle permits us to think of the experiences of our Lord's human life as fitting him to be the Saviour he became. The Captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering, for his work as the "bringer on of souls." "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered." The Cornerstone was being chiselled and, bevelled for its place. Work out this figure.
II. CHRIST AS THE REJECTED CORNERSTONE. When our Lord spoke, the Cornerstone was almost ready; and there were the men who prided themselves on being the builders of God's temple of religion. And they were, then and there, rejecting that "tried Stone, that precious Cornerstone." They would put nothing on it. It was not to their mind. It may lie forever in the quarry for all they care. But happily they were only like overseers, or clerks of works. The Architect himself may order this Stone to be brought, and made the "Head of the corner."
III. CHRIST AS THE HONOURED CORNERSTONE. The Architect himself did interfere, brushed those petty officials aside, had the tried Stone brought out, and on it he has had built the new temple of the ages. That temple is rising into ever richer and nobler proportions, and it was never more manifest than it is today, that the "Cornerstone is Christ."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 21". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany