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The former part of this chapter gives us an account of our Saviour's solemn and triumphant riding into the city of Jerusalem.
Where observe, That in all our Saviour's journies and travels from place to place, he constantly went like a poor man, on foot, without noise, and without train; now he goes up to Jerusalem to die for sinners, he rides, to show his great cheerfulness in that service, and his forwardness to lay down his life for us. But what doth he ride upon?
An ass, according to the manner of great persons amongst the Jews; but especially to fufil the prophecy, Zephaniah 3:20, that the Messiah, a King of the Jews, should come riding upon an ass. But this ass was a colt, the foal of an ass, on which never man had rode before, Mark 11:2; signifying thereby, that the most unruly and untamed creatures become obedient and obsequious to him: and upon a borrowed ass, the use of which he demands, thereby manifesting his sovereign right to all the creatures; and accordingly, he bids his disciples tell the owner of the ass, That the Lord had need of him: not our Lord, but the Lord; that is, he that is the Lord of all, whose are the cattle upon a thousand hills; he that is Lord of all beasts and the owners too.
Observe farther, That notwithstanding Christ's supreme right to the ass and the colt, he will have neither of them taken without the owner's knowledge, or against his will; but the disciples must acquaint him with it, and by a double argument move him to it.
1. Christ's right of dominion and sovereignty over them; he is the Lord that sends for them.
2. His present occasion for them; the Lord has need of them.
Note also here, A wonderful instance of Christ's prescience or foreknowledge, even in the most minute and smallest matters.
1. You shall find a colt.
2. On which no man ever sat.
3. A colt tied and bound with its dam.
4. In the place where two wars met.
5. As they entered the village.
6. That the owners should be willing to let him go.
Such an exact knowledge had Christ of person and actions, even of the circumstances of actions.
Here the reason is assigned why Christ rode upon the ass into Jerusalem; it was to fulfil an ancient prophecy, that the Messiah, or King of the Jews, should come riding upon that beast into Jerusalem. There was not any prophecy of Christ more plainly fulfilled than this. The prophecy alluded to, is Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass; and upon a colt the foal of an ass. Zephaniah 3:20
Where note, The character given of the Messiah; he is the Supreme King and Governor of his church, thy King cometh. The errand that he comes upon, bringing salvation; and the entertainment which his church was to give him; namely, to receive him with triumphs of joy, and universal acclamations. Rejoice, O daughter of Zion; and shout, O Jerusalem, for joy.
Observe here, 1. The obedience of his disciples, and the motions of the multitude; the disciples never dispute their Lord's commands, nor raise objections, nor are afraid of dangers, but speedily execute their Lord's pleasure, and find every thing according to their Lord's predictions. When our call is clear, our obedience must be speedy. What God commands we are not to dispute, but to obey. The disciples did as Jesus commanded them.
Observe, 2. The actions of the multitude in acknowledging Christ to be their king' They cast their garments on the ground for him to ride upon, according to the custom of princes when they rid in state; and they do not only disrobe their backs, but expend their breath in joyful acclamations and loud hosannas, wishing all manner of prosperity to this meek but mighty king.
In this princely yet poor and despicable pomp, doth our Saviour enter into that famous city of Jerusalem. O how far was our holy Lord from affecting worldly greatness and grandeur! He despised that glory which worldly hearts fondly admire; yet because he was a king, he would be proclaimed such, and have his kingdom confessed, applauded and blest; but that it might appear, that his kingdom was not of this world, he abandons all worldly magnificence. O glorious yet homely pomp! O meek, but mighty prince.
This is not the first or only time that Jerusalem was moved and troubled at the appearance of Christ; at his birth, Matthew 2:3 we read all Jerusalem was troubled, together with Herod; and now that he rides into Jerusalem, though in so mean a port, yet there is a new commotion. Jerusalem, instead of being thankful for his company, is troubled at his presence.
Thence learn, That such persons and places as have the greatest helps and privileges afforded to them, are not always the most answerable in their returns of thankfulness. It is not Christ's presence with us, but his welcome to us, that makes us happy. Christ is daily taught in our synagogues, and preached in our streets; yet alas! multitudes are ignorant of him, and say, with the men of Jerusalem, when Christ was before their eyes, Who is this?
Our blessed Saviour having entered Jerusalem, Observe, his first walk was not to the palace, but to the temple, and his work there was to purge and reform: all reformation of manners must begin first at the house of God. Our Lord's business was to reform the temple, not to ruin it. Places dedicated to the service of God, if profaned and polluted, ought to be purged from their abuses, not pulled down and destroyed, because they have been abused.
But what was the profanation of the temple, which so offended our Saviour?
Answer, Within the third or outward court of the temple, there was a public mart or market held, where were sold oxen, sheep, and doves, and such things as were needful for sacrifice: many of the Jews coming an hundred miles to the temple, it was burdensome to bring their sacrifices so far with them; wherefore order was taken by the priests, that sheep and oxen, meal and oil, and all other requisites for sacrifice should be had for money close by the altar, to the great ease of the offerer. Nothing could be more plausible than this plea. But the fairest pretences cannot bear out a sin with God; therefore our blessed Saviour, in indignation at so foul an abuse, whips out these chapmen, casts down their tables, and vindicates the honour and reputation of his Father's house.
Learn thence, That there is a reverence due to God's house, for the owner's sake, and for the service sake. Nothing but holiness can become that place, where God is worshipped in the beauty of holiness.
Observe lastly, The reason which our Saviour gives for this act of his; for, says he, It is written, My house shall be called an house of prayer. Where by prayer is to be understood, the whole worship and sevice of Almighty God, of which prayer is an eminent and principal part. That which gives denomination to an house, is certainly the chief work to be done in that house.
Now God's house being called an house of prayer, certainly implies, that prayer is the chief and principal work to be performed in his house; yet must we take heed that we set not the ordinances of God at variance one with another; we must not idolize one ordinance, and villify another; but pay an awful respect and regard to all the institutions of our Maker.
Observe here, 1. That our blessed Saviour works his miracles not secretly in a corner, but openly in the temple, and submits them to the examination of all persons senses. A miracle is a supernatural action, which is obvious to sense. Popish miracles are talked of by many, but seen by none.
Observe, 2. That Christ's enemies are never more incensed, than when his divine power is most exerted, and his divine nature owned and acknowledged. When the chief priests saw the miracles which Jesus did, and heard the children crying Hosanna to the Son of David, they, were sore displeased.
Observe, 3. That Christ can glorify himself by the mouth of babes and sucklings; he can form and fit up what instruments he pleases, to show forth his excellencies, and celebrate his praises. Out of the mouths of babes and suckling thou hast perfected praise.
Our blessed Saviour having driven the buyers and sellers out of the temple, lodges not that night in Jerusalem, but withdraws to Bethany, a place of retirement from the noise and tumult of the city.
Where, note, Our Lord's love of solitude and retiredness. How delightful it is to a good man, to dwell sometimes within himself, to take the wings of a dove, and fly away, and be at rest. Yet the next morning our Lord returns to the city: he knew when to be solitary and when to be sociable; when to be alone, and when to converse in company.
In his passage to the city, he espied a fig-tree; and being an hungry (to show the truth of his humanity) he goes to the fig-tree, and finds it full of leaves, but without any fruit. Displeased with this disappointment, he curses the tree which had deceived his expectations. This action of our Saviour, in cursing the barren fig-tree was typical; an emblem of the destruction of Jerusalem in general, and of every person in particular, that satisfies himself with a withered profession, bearing leaves only, but no fruit. As this fig-tree was, so are they, nigh unto cursing.
Learn thence, That such as content themselves with a fruitless profession of religion, are in great danger of having God's blasting added to their barrenness.
The disciples being filled with admiration at the sudden withering of the fig-tree, thereupon our Saviour exhorts them to have faith in God; that is, firmly to rely upon the power of God whereby he is able, upon the goodness of God whereby he is willing, to perform his promises to us.
Learn, 1. That faith is a necessary ingredient in prayer. Praying without faith, is like shooting without a bullet; it makes a noise, but doth no execution.
2. That whatsoever good thing God has made the matter of a promise, shall be given to good men, praying in faith. Whatsoever ye ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
Yet, Note, That the faith here promised to root up mountains, must be restrained to that age of miracles, and to the persons to whom this was spoken, namely, the apostles and first propagators of the gospel; it being certain from experience, this is no ordinary and perpetual gift of Christians.
The Pharisees having often questioned our Saviour's doctrine before, they call in question his mission and authority now: although they might easily have understood his divine mission by his divine miracles. Almighty God never empowered any to work miracles that were not sent by him. When the adversaries of Christ can object nothing against his doctrine, they then quarrel with him about his commission and calling, and demand by what authority he doth teach and work miracles. Our blessed Saviour well understanding their drift and design, answers them one question by asking them another.
The baptism of John, was it from heaven or of men? Was it of divine institution or of human invention? Implying, that the calling of such as call themselves the ministers of God, ought to be from God. No man ought to take this honour upon himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. Hebrews 5:4.
The Pharisees reply, they could not tell whence John had his mission and authority. This was a manifest untruth; by refusing to tell the truth, they fall into a lie.
One sin ensnares, and draws men into the commission of more. Such as will not speak exact truth, according to their knowledge, they fall into the sin of lying against their consciences. Our Saviour answers them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. He doth not say, I cannot, or I will not tell you; but I do not, I need not tell you; because the miracles which I work before you, are a sufficient demonstration of my divine commission, that I am sent of God amongst you; for God never set the seal of his omnipotence to a lie, or impowered an impostor to work real miracles.
The design and scope of this parable is to show, That publicans and harlots, that is, the vilest, the profanes, and worst of sinners, who, upon the hearing of Christ's doctrine and miracles, did repent and believe, were in a much better condition than the proud Pharisees, who, though they pretended to great measures of knowledge, and high degrees of holiness, yet did obstinately oppose Christ, disobey his doctrine, deny his miracles, and set at nought his person.
Learn hence, That the greatest, the vilest, and the worst of sinners, upon their repentance and faith in Christ, shall much sooner find acceptance with God, than proud pharisaical justiciaries, who confidently rely upon their own righteousness: Publicans and harlots, says Christ here to the Pharisees, shall go into the kingdom of God before you. Publicans were the worst sort of men and harlots the worst kind of women; yet did these repent sooner, and believed in Christ before the proud Phariesees. The reason was, because their hearts lay more open to the strokes of conviction, than those that were blinded by vain hopes and presumptuous confidence. Security frustrates all means of recovery.
In this parable, God compares the Jewish church to a vineyard; himself to an house holder: his planting, pruning and fencing his vineyard, denotes his care to furnish his church with all needful helps and means to make it spiritually fruitful. His letting it out to husbandmen, signifies his commitiing the care of his church to the priests and levites, the public pastors and governors of the church.
His servants are the prophets and apostles, whom he sent from time to time to admonish them to bring forth fruit answerable to the cost which God had expended on them. His son is Jesus Christ, whom the rulers of the Jewish chuch slew and murdered. The scope of the parable is to discover to the Jews, particularly to the Pharisees, their obstinate impenitency under all means, their bloody cruelty to the prophets of God, their tremendous guilt in crucifying the Son of God; for all which, God would unchurch them finally, and ruin their nation, and set up a church among the Gentiles, that should bring forth better fruit than the Jewish church ever did.
From the whole, Note, 1. That the church is God's vineyard, exceeding dear and precious to the planter and the owner of it.
2. As dear as God's vineyard is unto him, in case of barrenness and unfruitfulness, it is in great danger of being destroyed and laid waste by him.
3. That the only way and course to engage God's care over his vineyard, and to prevent his giving it to other husbandmen, is to give him the fruits of it. It is but a vineyard that God lets out, it is no ingeritance; no people ever had so many promises of God's favour as the Jews had, nor ever enjoyed so many privileges, whilst they stood in his favour, as they did; yet though they were the first, and the natural branches they are broken off, and we Gentiles stand by faith; let us not be highminded but fear, Romans 11:20 .
Observe here, At the first mentioning of the parable, the Pharisees express a bitter indignation against such wicked servants, not considering what a dreadful sentence they passed upon themselves and their own nation. Little did they think, that thereby they condemned their temple to be burnt, their city to be destroyed, their country to be ruined; but in these words they vindicate God, they condemn themselves, and own the justice of God, in inflicting the severest punishments on them.
Which words are the application that our Saviour makes of the foregoing parable concerning the vineyard; which the chief priests and Pharisees did not apprehend themselves to be concerned in, till he brought the application of it home unto them. Therfore, say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, &c.
Note, 1. The greatest mercy that God can bestow upon any people, is his giving his kingdom to them; that is, all gospel ordinances, and church privileges leading to the kingdom of heaven.
2. Observe the terms upon which God either gives or continues his kingdom to a church and nation. And that is, upon bringing forth the fruits thereof.
Learn, 3. That the greatest judgement which can befall a people, is the taking away the kingdom of God from them. The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given, &c.
These words are taken out of Psalms 118:22, which the Jews understood to be a prophecy of the Messiah, and accordingly Christ appliest them to himself. The church is the building intended, Christ himself the stone rejected; the rejecters, or the builders rejecting, were the heads of the Jewish church; that is, the chief priests and Pharisees.
God, the great master-builder of his church, takes this precious foundation-stone out of the rubbish, and sets it in the head of the corner. Nevertheless there are those who stumble at this stone. Some through ignorance, others through malice, stumble at his person, at his doctrine, at his institutions: these shall be broken in pieces: but on whomsoever this stone shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
That is, Christ himself will fall as a burdensome stone upon all those that knowingly and maliciously oppose him; and particularly upon the Jews, who not only rejected him, but persecuted and destroyed him. Thus Christ tells the chief priests and Pharisees their own particular doom, and also declares what will be the fatal issue of all that opposition which is made against himself and his church. It will terminate in their inevitable and irreparable destruction.
Whosever shall fall on this stone, shall be broken; and on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
That is, "He that stumbles on this stone, while Christ is here on earth, being offended at his doctrine, life, and miracles, shall be broken by his fall upon it; as the person stoned is by the sharp stone which he falls upon. But he on whom this stone shall fall, when Christ is elevated to his throne of glory, shall be more violently shattered by it, as is the person stoned, by the great stone as big as two men can lift, thrown down violently upon his breast."
When the chief priests came to understand that these parable were all applied to them, that they were the murderers of the king's son, that they were the builders that rejected the chief corner-stone, they are enraged at the close application made to themselves; and had not fear restrained them, they would have laid violent hands upon him.
Learn thence, That nothing doth more provoke and exasperate unsound hypocrites, than the particular application, and close coming home of the word of God unto their hearts and consciences. So long as the truths of God are generally delivered, sinners are easy looking upon themselves as unconcerned: but when the word of God comes close to them, and says, Thou art the man, this is thy wickedness; they are angry at the message, and rage at the messenger.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 21". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17