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Bible Commentaries

J.D. Jones's Commentary on the Book of Mark
Mark 11

 

 

Verses 1-10

Chapter5.
The Triumphal Entry

"And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, He sendeth forth two of His disciples, and saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither. And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him. And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and He sat upon him. And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way. And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest."Mark 11:1-10.

Our Lord in Galilee.

In his account of the life of our Lord Dr David Smith calls attention to one significant and striking difference between Christ"s methods in Galilee and His methods whenever He visited Jerusalem. In Galilee He kept His Messiahship veiled. He forbade the noising abroad of His wonderful works. He commanded His disciples to keep silent about the glory of the holy mount. Again and again, when excitement and enthusiasm were growing high, He would escape from the crowds, and hide Himself in some solitude beyond their reach.

The reason for this reserve on the part of Jesus in Galilee is not hard to discover. Galilee was in an inflammable condition. The people were on the tip-toe of expectancy. Every Messianic pretender was sure of finding a following in Galilee. If Jesus had plainly announced Himself as Messiah, the smouldering excitement would have blazed up into a flame of open revolt. Swords would have leaped out of their scabbards, and insurrection would have been the order of the day. As it was, they tried on more than one occasion to take Jesus Christ by force and make Him King.

—And in Jerusalem.

But He followed a policy the precise opposite of this whenever He visited Jerusalem. He paid only a few brief visits to the capital in the course of His ministry, but the significant thing is this—He never visited Jerusalem without in one way or another asserting His Messiahship. He did so the first time, by sweeping out of the sacred precincts those who bought and sold, and by speaking of the Temple as His Father"s house. He did so the second time by healing the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath day, and by claiming, in response to the challenge of the Jews, that He shared in the privileges and prerogatives of God. He did so the third time by proclaiming Himself the "Light of the World," by healing the man who had been born blind, and by declaring plainly, in response to the blind man"s query, that He Himself was the long-promised Messiah of God.

A Last Appeal and a Final Warning.

Again, the reason for this change of policy is not far to seek. Jerusalem was the capital. In Jerusalem lived the priests and rulers of the nation. Upon Jerusalem"s attitude Christ"s fate, humanly speaking, hung. And so He took every opportunity of presenting His claims to the rulers and citizens of Jerusalem with all possible emphasis and clearness. If, after all, they rejected Him, they should not be able to plead ignorance. They should do so in face of the plainest and most unequivocal declaration on His own part. They should be without excuse. And so in Jerusalem our Lord made no secret of His claims. Without reserve He announced Himself as the Messiah of God. But no declaration of His Messiahship was so unmistakable, so impressive, so deliberate, as that which He made on the first day of the week of His Passion, when He rode in lowly state into Jerusalem sitting on an ass"s colt. Everybody knew what it meant. The pilgrims knew what it meant, and they rent the air with the cry, "Hosanna to the Son of David." And the rulers and Pharisees knew what it meant, for they were indignant that the people should apply the Messianic name to Jesus, and when He refused to rebuke them, they went away, and took counsel how they might kill Him. This triumphal entry put an end to all reserves and concealments. By riding like a king to His capital, Jesus declared to every one plainly who He was. You may say, it was at one and the same time a last appeal and final warning. It was a last appeal. An appeal to Jerusalem to repent and believe while its opportunity lasted. And a warning that their hate and rage were directed against One Who was none other than God"s Anointed. There is nothing to be said in excuse for the crime of the Friday after the triumphal entry of the Monday. Priests and elders sinned with their eyes wide open.

The Order of Events.

To get the true chronology of this incident we must compare Gospel with Gospel. From a comparison with St John"s Gospel, it would appear that Mark has got his account of the Bethany feast slightly out of the true order. Mark postpones his account of that feast and Mary"s unforgettable deed, the implication being that it happened after the triumphal entry. But the probability is that John"s order is the true one, and that it was after Martha"s feast that the entry took place. We must assume then that on the Sabbath Jesus and His disciples rested at Bethany, that He spent His last Sabbath on earth in the home that was dearest to Him, and amongst the friends He loved the best. And on the first day of the week—that Isaiah , on our Palm Sunday—He made this triumphal march into the capital.

A Settled Plan.

We know how on previous occasions the crowd was eager to force royal honours upon Jesus; in this case He arrogates them to Himself. The whole is of our Lord"s initiation and devising. In the morning of the day He sends off two of His disciples to an unknown friend who had an ass"s colt whereon no man ever yet sat. The procedure, no doubt, had been arranged between this man and our Lord. For Jesus had more disciples in the world than others thought. Not one of the twelve, it would seem, knew this Prayer of Manasseh , but Jesus knew him. In one way or another Jesus had come into contact with him, just as He had with the good man of the house about whom we shall read later on. He had arranged with the owner that some day He would requisition this young colt. They had settled a sort of pass-word, "The Lord hath need of him." And when the two disciples appeared, and in answer to the questions put to them gave the pass-word, "The Lord hath need of him," the owner made no further demur. And when they had brought the colt to Jesus, they cast on it their garments, and so improvised a saddle, and set Jesus thereon. Seated on that ass"s colt Jesus set out on His "state-entry" into Jerusalem.

A Fulfilled Prediction.

Now when our Lord chose to enter Jerusalem in that fashion, He deliberately proclaimed Himself the fulfilment of ancient prophecy. There was a prophecy which, Dr David Smith says, was much discussed by the Rabbis, and which at the sight of Jesus making a public entry into Jerusalem in such guise, was bound to leap into men"s minds. It was a prophecy of Zechariah about the advent of the Messiah king. "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, even upon a colt the foal of an ass" ( Zechariah 9:9). Now Jesus meant by His action to remind the people round Him of that ancient prophecy. He meant them to find in Him its fulfilment. And the people did not fail to catch Christ"s meaning. They at once leaped to the significance of the action. There was a considerable company of people who had travelled up from Jericho with Jesus. There was a still larger contingent of pilgrims, who, stirred by the story of Lazarus" raising from the dead, and hearing that it was the intention of Christ to enter the city that morning, had come out to see this wonderful Prophet for themselves. As soon as these pilgrims saw Jesus riding down the Mount of Olives, sitting on this ass"s colt, the meaning of it all flashed upon them. Here was the long-promised and long-expected Messiah Himself. So in their enthusiasm some took their garments, and spread them in the way, and some took branches of trees, which they cut and brought from the adjacent fields, and all the way from Bethany to Jerusalem those that went before and those that followed after cried as they marched, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the kingdom that cometh; the kingdom of our father David: Hosanna in the highest" ( Mark 11:10).

The Kingship of Christ.

Such, then, is the story. Its central significance is this—that here is the proclamation of Christ"s kingship. At last, as Bishop Chadwick says, "Jesus openly and practically assumes rank as a monarch, and allows men to proclaim the advent of His Kingdom." This day of His triumphant entry was our Lord"s proclamation day; not His crowning day, for proclamation and crowning are not one and the same. I remember very well that on a certain day in January, 1901 , the Bournemouth corporation in their robes of office gathered in the square, and the Mayor for the time being read a State paper which declared Edward VII. to be King of these realms. That was proclamation day. But coronation day did not come round for eighteen months after that.

His Proclamation and His Coronation.

Now our Lord too had His proclamation day and He had also His crowning day. His crowning day came when they nailed Him between two thieves: it was then they actually placed Him upon the royal seat, and set the crown of empire upon His brow. But He was proclaimed, publicly and solemnly proclaimed as King, when He rode in triumph into Jerusalem, and the multitude sang as He moved along, "Hosanna, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of Jehovah." In the forecasts of seer and prophet the kingly aspect of Messiah"s office looms large. In the Jewish mind it almost obscured and hid every other aspect, with the result that they did not recognise "the King" in the meek and lowly Jesus. But, meek and lowly though He was, Jesus knew Himself to be a king, and by this state-entry He declared and proclaimed it. Just as a few days later, in answer to Pilate"s question, "Art thou a King then?" He answered, "Thou sayest that I am a king," so now, by riding in lowly state into Jerusalem, and accepting the plaudits of the people as His due, He announced Himself to the world as the promised King whom God would yet set upon His holy hill of Zion.

The Lord as Saviour, Friend and Brother.

Do we often think of Christ in that way? Do we think of Him as King? Do we often dwell upon His majesty and right to rule? I wonder if I am wrong in thinking that the kingship of Jesus is to a large extent a forgotten and neglected truth? We prefer to lay the emphasis upon the other aspects of Our Lord"s office and character. We like to speak of Him as the Saviour, Who in His pity and love stooped to the cross to save us from sin and death. We like to speak of Him as our Friend, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, touched with the feeling of our infirmities. We like to speak of Him as Brother, willing to enter our homes and to share with us the burdens and sorrows and trials of our mortal life. It is the gentler and more condescending aspects of our Lord"s character upon which we lay the most stress. It is part and parcel of that tendency, marked enough in the religious life of our day, to ignore every attribute of God save His love, and so to magnify His pitifulness and compassion as to obscure His holiness and majesty.

—But King also.

Now I rejoice in the fact that Christ is my Saviour, my Friend, my Brother. I rejoice that in the strength of love He stoops to take my hand, to make my heart His home, and my life His care. But I would not forget that this same Jesus, who is Saviour, Friend, and Brother, is also King; that this Jesus, Who is full of grace and truth, is also Lord of glory, before Whom cherubim and seraphim veil their faces, Whose steps legions of angels attend, Who has all authority given to Him in heaven and on earth. Perhaps, in these days, we need nothing more than the recovery of the bracing sense of the authority, majesty and kingship of Jesus. Dr Dale has left it on record how in a time of weakness and prostration it was this thought of Christ as King, that steadied him, and gave him courage and strength. History also bears witness to the fact that the strongest and most fearless Christians the world has ever known are those who realised most vividly Christ"s kingship, Whose watchword was the crown rights of the Redeemer. A realisation of the same truth will tone and brace up our religious life. It will be well, then, for us to stand again and again with these applauding crowds, and sing, "Hosanna, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of Jehovah," and to speak of Him not simply as Saviour, Brother, Friend, but to say of Him, in words familiar to us all, "Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ, Thou art the Everlasting Son of the Father."

The Nature of Christ"s Kingship.

The Kingdom of Peace.

But we may not simply learn from this story the truth that Christ is King; we may gather from it also suggestions as to the kind of kingship Christ"s is. The Jews were right in expecting Messiah to be a king. Where they went wrong was in expecting that He would be a king like Herod or like Csar. They dreamed of a material empire, and of a monarch who used carnal weapons to win it. How different is the idea of kingship we get from this story! "My Kingdom is not of this world," said Jesus to Pilate, and the story of His triumphal entry is the best commentary upon that statement. Whenever an earthly monarch makes a state entry into any place, it is marked by pageantry, and the display of military force. What a contrast is Our Lord"s triumphal procession! There is nothing of the pomp and pageantry of royalty about His appearance; He rides, not on the warlike horse, but on an ass"s colt. There is no suggestion of armed force. The Roman soldiers looked out from the fort on the throng, as the procession approached the city, and they felt no anxiety or concern; for all the escort Christ had was a crowd of singing pilgrims. Verily, the Kingdom was not of this world. It was a Kingdom of peace! Christ came not to make war upon men, but to preach peace to them that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh; to make peace between a man and his own self, between man and his neighbour, between man and God.

—How Established.

This Kingdom was not to be established by carnal weapons. "He is meek," says one of the prophets, "and having salvation." He is meek. And how this incident proclaimed it! There is here no war horse, no weapon. His attendants carry palms, not spears. Those who accompany Him, as Dr Glover says, spread their garments in the way, but don no armour. It is obvious this King does not mean to win His Kingdom by force of arms. Nor does He. "Conquering by gentleness," that is the Lord"s plan. All human government must, in the last resort, depend upon force; but not the rule and government of Christ. He trusts for His Kingdom absolutely to spiritual forces. His empire is one of moral influences: He trusts to the truth; He trusts to His love. He needs no worldly support, no patronage of states or governments to promote His empire. He will leave truth and love to do their own work upon human hearts. He is meek. But what did He Himself say about the meek? "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." And the meek Jesus, Who trusted entirely to the power of truth and the force of love, He too has inherited the earth. His Kingdom already stretches from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. He has founded an empire the like of which for endurance and extent the world has never seen. "Alexander, Csar, Charlemagne and I," the great Napoleon is reported to have said, "have founded great empires." But upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded an Empire upon love, and to this day millions would die for Him. Christ trusted to His love. He did not coerce; He appealed. He did not threaten; He wooed. And the meek has inherited the earth.

The Applauding People.

Now look away from Jesus, the central figure, to the applauding people. Nothing could exceed their enthusiasm. No royal honours were too great to be paid to Jesus that day. People spread their garments and branches of trees in the way, and as He rode on, those who went before and those who followed after cried, "Hosanna, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of Jehovah." But pass on to the Friday when Jerusalem echoed with a far different cry; when this Jesus, now saluted as King, was hounded as a criminal; when the shout of "Hosanna" gave place to the hoarse and savage cry, "Crucify Him!" Where were those applauding multitudes on the Friday? Not one of them then lifted up a voice on behalf of Christ. It may well be that these same people who sang "Hosanna" on the Sunday helped to swell the shout of "Crucify Him" on the Friday. For there are strange fluctuations of feeling, and this enthusiasm on the Sunday may have been nothing more than a brief and transient emotion. But, in any case, they must have let the plaudits of Sunday take the place of steady and daily obedience. It is easier far to applaud Christ than it is to obey Him; to cheer Him, than to do His will. But it is obedience He asks for.

Is Christ our King?

If He is King, and we acknowledge Him as such, He wants our loyal and unhesitating allegiance, our faithful service. These people did not give it Him. Are we giving it? Is Christ our King? Do we live by His laws? Are we consciously and deliberately doing Him service? These people confessed Him, and crucified Him within a week. Is it an ancient crime? Do we never act in similar fashion? Do we not pay our homage to Him on the Sunday, and then crucify Him during the week? We sing in church, "Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ"; but do we not by our actions outside often say, "We will not have this man to reign over us?" And yet it is obedience Christ wants. "Why call ye Me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me." Are we, then, loyal subjects? The Lord is before us, and I say, "Behold your King! Your King; the only Being Who has authority to rule and a right to your obedience." And I ask you, what will you do with your King? Will you say, "Away with Him!" Or will you say with me, and mean it when you say it,

"My gracious Lord, I own Thy right

To every service I can pay,

And call it my supreme delight

To hear Thy dictates, and obey."



Verses 12-14

Chapter7.
The Barren Fig-Tree: Messages

"And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, He was hungry: And seeing a fig-tree afar off having leaves, He came, if haply He might find any thing thereon: and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And His disciples heard it. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance said unto Him, Master, behold, the fig-tree which Thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses."Mark 11:12-14, Mark 11:20-25.

Christ as Judge.

So much for the difficulties associated with this story of the barren fig-tree. Now let us deal with the solemn teaching of the story itself. I have said that this incident revealed Jesus in His capacity as Judge. Judgment is Christ"s prerogative. "The Father hath given all judgment unto the Song of Solomon ," says John ( John 5:22). "We must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ," says St Paul, "that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what we hath done, whether it be good or bad" ( 2 Corinthians 5:10). While Jesus Himself asserts that before Him as Judge all the nations shall be gathered; and it is His judgment that sets the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left. Thus the uniform witness of Holy Writ is that Christ is Judge as well as Saviour. Whoever ignores this aspect of our Lord"s office shuts his eyes to whole tracts of New Testament teaching.

Principles of His Judgment.

But this incident does more than proclaim the fact that Jesus Christ is Judge. It also sets forth the principles of His judgment, showing us the things that fall under our Lord"s condemnation, and suggesting the penalties He inflicts. I have said that it was the Jewish people our Lord saw symbolised in this barren fig-tree; and it is their judgment which in parable is set forth in this incident. But our Lord"s judgments are never arbitrary or casual; they are based on great principles; they are governed by eternal law. So that from any individual case we are justified in deducting a general rule; and we may be sure that though this is primarily a judgment upon the Jews, the principles embodied in it are valid for all time.

Barrenness—a Sin.

Observe first that barrenness is a sin. That was the fault of this tree. It was not that it was spoiling the landscape by its ugly appearance, or blighting all vegetation near by its poisonous exhalations. As a matter of fact, it was doing no harm, and it was fair to look upon. It was barren; that was all. It was doing nothing. It was failing to fulfil the true end of its existence. And for that it was condemned. It seems to me we need to broaden our conceptions of what sin is. We are apt to cherish a narrow, mechanical, external idea of sin. "Sinner," as we commonly understand the word, means someone who has committed a glaring, gross, and open offence. To be a sinner in the eyes of most people, a man must have done something positively shameful and wicked. But if we turn to a story like this, its first and most obvious lesson is that barrenness is a sin. A man need not do anything openly wicked in order to come under the condemnation of Christ. He comes under that condemnation if he does nothing, if he is simply barren and useless.

The Repeated Warning.

The Penalty of Inaction.

When I read the instances of judgment given to us in the Gospels, I find that in nearly every case the men so condemned were condemned not because of any positive harm they had done, but because, like this fig-tree, they had done nothing. Take the judgment picture as given to us by our Lord in Matt. xxv. Upon some was pronounced this terrible judgment, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire." What awful wickedness had they perpetrated to merit a doom like that? Nothing. It was not what they had done; it was what they had not done. There were at their doors hungry people to be fed, naked people to be clothed, thirsty people to be refreshed, sick people to be visited and comforted—and they had done nothing. "Inasmuch as ye did it not... depart from Me, ye cursed." Take the parable of the talents. Upon one of his servants the householder pronounces this sentence, "Cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth" ( Matthew 25:30). What enormity had this servant committed? Had he defrauded his lord, and robbed him of his money? No; for when his lord came back he returned to him the talent he had originally received. Again, it was not a case of what he had done; it was a case of what he had not done. His lord had given him a talent to trade with, but instead of using it, he hid the talent in the earth and did nothing. Take the story of Dives. "In Hades he lifted up his eyes being in torments" ( Luke 17:23). What awful and monstrous sin had Dives committed, to find himself at the last in that flame? It is not charged against him that he had committed obvious sin. Possibly he had lived what would be considered an eminently respectable life. I should not be surprised if he had had a large funeral, and if the local Rabbi pronounced a eulogy over his coffin, extolling the virtues of the dead man. What, then, had he done, to be thus "in torments"? Again, it was not a case of what he had done; it was a case of what he had not done. Lazarus had lain at his gate in his poverty and sores day after day, and this rich Prayer of Manasseh , clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day, had done nothing for him.

A Warning Still Needed.

We miss, then, the entire point of our Lord"s repeated teaching, unless we see that barrenness is a damning sin. Of many we need not fear that they will ever stand convicted of open and flagrant crime. Their danger is of another kind; it is the sin of barrenness. We are sent here to this world for a purpose. The Westminster Catechism expresses it this way, "The chief end of man is to glorify God." And we glorify God as our Master did, by lives of usefulness and service. Here, then, is the matter that will decide our destiny. Are we fulfilling the purpose God had in mind? Are we going about doing good? Failure in this brings the condemnation upon us, "The God in Whose hand thy breath Isaiah , and Whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified" ( Daniel 6:23). So ran the reason given to a Babylonian king for the doom that was about to fall upon him.

Where is our Fruit?

How do we stand such a test? Do we bear the fruits of righteousness? Or are we barren trees? "The fruit of the Spirit," says the Apostle, "is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance" ( Galatians 5:22-23). Are such fruits seen in us? Are we living lives of active and positive beneficence? It is not for me or any other man to Judges , but one cannot help feeling that there are a large number of "barren trees" about. By worldly standards, these people live lives respectable enough; but they are colourless, ineffective, useless. It is not that they do much positive harm, but rather that in a world full of need and misery and sin, they do nothing. Upon all such fruitless, useless, barren lives the Divine judgment will fall.

Profession and Practice.

The next truth I find suggested in this story is this—that barrenness may exist where there is much promise of fruit. That was the characteristic of this particular fig-tree; there was much promise, but no performance. There was any amount of leafage, but not a single fig. The tree was not only barren, it was deceptive and false into the bargain. And this tree which promised so fair, but was so barren, reminded our Lord, as I have said, of the people of Israel. There was much of the show and parade of religion in Judaea. The Temple smoked with sacrifices. Priests were ever busy at the altars. The people ceaselessly trod its courts. One type of Jew, condemned by our Lord, was wont, if I may so put it, to advertise his religion. He tithed his mint and anise and cummin. He stood at the corner of the streets and made long prayers He made broad his phylacteries. By his actions and observances he called the world"s attention to himself, and said, "I am a religious man." He was like this fig-tree, there was any amount of profession and promise, but the real thing was conspicuous by its absence. Mercy and truth were sadly to seek. These very men, so scrupulous about the washing of pots and pans and brazen vessels, carried within them foul and unclean hearts. These very men who stood at the corners of the streets and made long prayers were not above devouring widows" houses. All through their lives this contradiction ran. They served God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They sacrificed, but did not obey. They were like this tree, nothing but leaves.

A Modern Evil.

And still we find this same humbling phenomenon, barrenness where there is profusion of promise. Fruitless lives are to be found even amongst those who profess to be followers of Jesus. One of the sights that Interpreter pointed out in his garden to Christiana and her children was that of a "tree whose inside was all rotten and gone, yet it grew and had leaves." Then said Mercy, "What is this?" "This Tree," said Interpreter, "whose outside is fair, and whose inside is rotten, it is to which many may be compared that are in the garden of God, who with their mouths speak high in behalf of God, but in deed will do nothing for Him; whose leaves are fair, but their hearts good for nothing, but to be tinder for the devil"s tinderbox." And that is just the old Dreamer"s way of stating the moral of this tree, that had abundance of leaves but nothing else. There are men and women, alas, many of them, who are all leaf, and no fruit. Church membership, attendance at public worship, participation in the Holy Communion, these are the leaves. But where is the fruit? There is nothing in their lives to demonstrate the reality of their faith. Their profession often leaves their life untouched. It all ends with the profession and the promise. It is a case of "nothing but leaves." Now, a life all barren is bad enough; but a life that makes promise, and yet remains barren, is worse still; for it adds the sin of falsity to the sin of barrenness. Or, to put it in a slightly different form, a fruitless life is bad enough; but a fruitless life on the part of a professing Christian is the worst of all. Better make no profession than make a profession without practice.

How is it with us?

The biggest obstacle to religion to-day is not the man who is frankly not a Christian, but the man who says he is a Christian and does not live like one. Profession without practice brings the whole of religion into contempt. It causes the name of God to be blasphemed. We do well, therefore, frankly to ask ourselves, Have we the power of godliness as well as the form? Do we love Christ as well as profess Him? Or does it all end with the profession?

"Either put on courage, or put off the name of Alexander," said that great monarch to a soldier who was showing signs of cowardice in one of his battles. So I say, "Either put on Christ, or put off the name of Christian." To profess Christ and to live for self, is not simply to be fruitless, but to be hypocrites into the bargain. Profession without practice, leaves without fruit, avail nothing with God. "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven" ( Matthew 7:21).

The Doom of Barrenness.

Now mark the doom of barrenness, as exemplified in this incident. "No man eat fruit from thee henceforward for ever" ( Mark 11:14), said our Lord. And in the morning the disciples noticed that the "fig-tree was withered away from the roots." The punishment of barrenness, as Dr Glover says, was judicial barrenness. Or, to put it in less technical language, the punishment of this fig-tree that refused to bear fruit was permanent inability to bear fruit. All this is neither arbitrary nor capricious, but in strictest accord with the principles of judgment, as we see them at work all about us.

The Law of Atrophy.

There are two laws with whose working we are quite familiar, which are illustrated in our Lord"s judgment on the fig-tree. They are closely connected with each other, indeed, may be regarded as complementary to each other. The first—shall I call it the law of atrophy?—is one of the observed laws of science, that powers and faculties unused, decay and perish. Muscles, e.g. unexercised, grow limp and flabby. The condition of retaining a faculty is its use. Now that is true in higher regions than the physical. The condition of retaining the spirit of generosity is the exercise of generosity. The condition of retaining the spirit of unselfishness is the practice of unselfishness. The man who never does a generous deed soon loses the capacity for generosity. The man who never does an unselfish deed loses the very power to be unselfish. Neglect is punished by loss. That is the principle illustrated in the doom of this tree. It refused to bear fruit; it lost the power of bearing fruit. "Henceforth no man eat fruit from thee for ever."

The Law of Permanence.

The second law I see illustrated is the law of permanence. It is the positive side of the law of atrophy. We lose what we fail to use. But what we choose and practise that we tend permanently to become. This fruitless tree, what was its punishment? Permanent fruitlessness. It is a stern and awful law. But it is one whose working we see on every hand. It is the law set forth in that sequence, which says that actions repeated become habits, habits long continued become character, and character settles destiny. The man who does mean and miserly actions tends to become permanent miserly; the man who acts selfishly becomes selfish in the very grain of his nature; the man who allows himself to brood over foul and filthy things becomes filthy in the very make. Character is always tending to permanence. I can conceive no doom more awful than that a man should be permanently what he has made himself. And that is the principle of the Divine judgment. "He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still; and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still" ( Revelation 22:11). In a sense Christ"s judgment is simply the ratification of our own choice. We become permanently what we ourselves choose to be.

The Responsibility of Hearing.

"And the disciples heard it," says St Mark , "heard," that Isaiah , the sentence pronounced upon the barren tree; taking in not merely the words, but, then or later, the solemn import of them.

Now, we ourselves have heard with our ears once again this story of the barren fig-tree. Have we heard it with the ears of the soul? Have we listened to and received its solemn warning? "If ye know these things," said our Lord, "happy are ye if ye do them." "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and so shall ye be My disciples" ( John 15:8). If we have "heard" this solemn story aright, we shall ask God for His enriching and life-giving Spirit, we shall pray that that Spirit may come upon us, and that our barrenness may rejoice to own His fertilising power. For the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace goodness, kindness, meekness, temperance; and against such there is no law, no judgment, no doom; no, but the "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

Mark 11:15-18

Chapter8.
The Cleansing of the Temple

"And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And He taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine."Mark 11:15-18.

The Scrutiny of the Temple.

On the day that our Lord made His entry in lowly state into Jerusalem, He went straight to the Temple; for it was not Csar"s or Herod"s throne that He sought. The empire He came to establish was not material, but spiritual. His mission was not political; it was religious. Our Lord, however, took no action of any sort on His visit to the Temple, on the day of His triumphal entry. He contented Himself with a sweeping and searching scrutiny of the things that were being done within its precincts. "He looked round about upon all things." The look was, no doubt, with a view to action. But it was eventide, and the action itself was postponed until the next day. "When He had looked round about upon all things, it being now eventide, He went out unto Bethany with the Twelve" ( Mark 11:11).

The Things Seen.

The Reason for the Traffic.

Now, what was it our Lord saw when He looked round about upon all things? To put it in a word, He saw the Temple desecrated. There were men chaffering and haggling, cheating and overreaching one another in the very house of God. We remember, of course, that it was not a case of general trafficking; all the buying and selling that went on was with a view to the requirements of the Temple worship. Jews came up to worship at the Temple from all parts of Palestine, from all parts of the world. You can see how inconvenient, even how impossible, it would be for them to bring their sacrifices with them. Take the Passover sacrifice. Pilgrims came flocking in their thousands and tens of thousands for that great feast. It would have been the extremity of inconvenience if they had had to bring the sacrificial lamb along with them. Song of Solomon , to meet their convenience, arrangements were made whereby the pilgrims could purchase the lambs they needed, in Jerusalem, or indeed in the Temple itself. It was the same with the money-changing. Jews coming from foreign countries would naturally be provided with the money of those countries. But the Temple tax had to be paid in Jewish coin. So again, to meet their convenience moneychangers attended in the Temple precincts, to exchange the diverse sorts of money the pilgrims brought for the Jewish half-shekel.

—Its Scene.

Further, we are not to think of this traffic as taking place in the shrine itself. Around the Temple there were a series of courts, and the largest and the outermost of these was the Court of the Gentiles. It was in this great Court of the Gentiles that the buying and selling took place. The Jew scarcely, perhaps, reckoned this court as a holy place. It was almost a profane place, for the uncircumcised Gentile could enter into it. The probability is that the Jew would have revolted in horror from the idea of permitting trafficking in the court where he himself worshipped; but he did not think that it mattered very much what happened in the Court of the Gentiles.

The Real Offence.

All this is not by way of excuse for the conduct of the Jews, but in order that we may see just wherein their offence lay. I do not think it was the mere buying and selling and money-changing that desecrated the Temple. If the motive of these actions had been a genuine desire to meet the convenience of the pilgrims, and to minister to their necessities, if kindliness and a spirit of helpfulness lay behind the buying and selling, I do not think that our Lord would have blazed up in holy anger against it, nor would He have accused those who engaged in it of turning His Father"s house into a den of robbers.

The Sacred and the Secular: How Distinguished.

In our Lord"s sight actions were sacred or profane according to the spirit that prompted them We have ourselves a rough and mechanical division of things into things secular and sacred. A hymn, for instance, is a sacred thing; a speech is a secular thing. But in Christ"s sight the hymn may be a secular thing, and the speech the sacred thing. An irreligious spirit makes the most sacred hymn a profane thing; a worshipful spirit makes a speech even on a secular theme a religious exercise. Now there is nothing more secular from our narrow point of view than buying and selling. But even buying and selling can be translated into Divine service. We all of us believe that, or else there is but a poor look out for those engaged in commerce. Supposing, then, that these people buying and selling in the Temple courts had been animated solely by the desire to help the pilgrims from all parts of the world, do you think that He Who said that God wanted mercy, and not sacrifice, Who in the very next chapter endorses the scribes" declaration that to love God and to love one"s neighbour as oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices, do you think that He would have denounced them as "robbers," and driven them in holy wrath out of the Temple precincts? I tell you nay. I do not think He would have rebuked them at all. Such buying and selling would have been converted into Divine service, and would not have been incongruous, even in a place set apart for prayer.

The Temple-Market Perverted.

It was not, then, the buying and the selling that in itself was wrong; it was the spirit in which it was carried on. Originally instituted to meet the convenience of the pilgrims, it was carried on from motives of cupidity and greed. The priests who permitted the traffic no longer thought of the pilgrims and their needs; they thought only of their own gains. The sale of animals for sacrifice became a source of profit. The exchange of money became an opportunity for extorting an oppressive discount. This market in the Temple, instead of being a help, became a burden to the worshipper. The sordid, mercenary spirit of the priests turned everything, as Dr Salmond says, to "desecration, profanity, greed and fraud." It was this ugly and greedy spirit that stirred our Lord to indignation. They turned the very service of the Lord into an oppression. They turned the worship of the Temple into a way of gain. They brought the spirit of the world in its basest and foulest form right into the Holy Place. This it was that defiled the Temple. They were guilty of cheating and defrauding and oppression in the name of religion. Literally, they turned the house of prayer into "a den of robbers."

Houses of God misused.

All this has its most solemn teaching for us to-day. We should never dream of setting up a cattle-market or even a shop within sacred precincts, though in these days men are often puzzled as to what is permissible and what is not permissible in buildings set apart for the worship of God. My own strong feeling is that it is conducive to the spirit of worship to preserve these buildings entirely for worship, though I cannot assert that those who put them to other uses are wrong. But, even if we keep them rigidly and absolutely for worship, we may yet desecrate and pollute them. For, as I have tried to point out, the real character of an action is decided by the spirit in which we do it. You may have profane hymn-singing and secular preaching. God asks to be worshipped "in spirit and in truth," but when we come together, and assume the form of worship while our hearts are all the while far away from God and holy things; when we sit in pews, and allow our minds to busy themselves with worldly affairs; when we bring pride, and jealousy, and uncharitableness with us; when we allow coarse and base and foul thoughts to go coursing through our minds, we are as really and truly polluting God"s house as were these traffickers who chaffered and haggled in the Temple precincts. In the ultimate resort it is the sinful heart that is the real cause of the pollution. And there is one prayer we may well offer whenever we come up to God"s house, and that Isaiah , "O God! make clean our hearts within us," for holiness becometh God"s house for ever.

The Jew, the Gentile—and Jesus Christ.

Our Lord"s action, then, was first of all a condemnation of the evil spirit of greed that turned religion into a source of profit. In the second place, it was a protest against the differentiation made between the sacredness of the court in which the Jews themselves worshipped, and that in which the Gentiles worshipped. By turning the Court of the Gentiles into a cattle-market they as good as labelled it as a profane place. They said, in effect, that it did not much matter what was transacted there. It was an illustration in action of the traditional Jewish contempt for the Gentile. But Jesus knew no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Each was equally dear to the heart of God. The Temple, as He said, was a "house of prayer for all the nations." In God"s great house Gentile and Jew were equally welcome, and the place where the Gentiles worshipped was every whit as sacred as the inner court where the Jews performed their devotions. And so He swept the dealers out of the Court of the Gentiles, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold the doves, and thereby declared their acceptance with God and their equal rights with the Jews. There was as little room in the house of God for the spirit of religious pride as for the spirit of avarice and greed. The presence of either was a desecration of the Holy Place. Both came under the judgment of our Lord when He swept this mob of traders out of the Court of the Gentiles, saying, "Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers" ( Mark 11:17).

Having thus pointed out the sins which came under the lash of our Lord"s condemnation, let us note some lessons which the incident as a whole is calculated to teach.

The Sovereignty of Christ.

First of all, observe the royal bearing of Jesus throughout this incident. The day previous the crowds had acclaimed Him as King, and He had gone to the Temple in triumph, as if to His royal seat. In this incident He proceeds to exercise His royal authority: He acts as King. He proclaims Himself Master and Lord in the Temple. "The Lord," it had been said by one of the prophets, "shall suddenly come to His Temple." By driving these traffickers helter-skelter out of the sacred courts Jesus proclaimed Himself the long-awaited King of Jewish expectation. All who witnessed the incident knew exactly what it meant. It was the Lord laying claim to His Messiahship. He had kept it hidden and secret in Galilee. But in Jerusalem, and especially during this last week, He publicly and repeatedly declared it. Notice, too, how He speaks of the Temple. When He purged it of its desecrations at the commencement of His career, He spoke of it as His "Father"s house." But see how He speaks of it now. "My house shall be called a house of prayer." My house! "By what authority doest Thou these things?" the chief priests asked of Him. It was a proper question to ask. For no mere man had a right to act as if he were Lord of the Temple, and no mere man had a right to speak of the Temple as "My house."

The Moral Authority of Christ.

Notice again what an illustration we have here of the moral authority of the Lord Jesus Christ! He was only one man. There were scores, possibly more, of these traffickers and moneychangers. And yet before this one man unarmed this mob of men fled in something like abject panic. Jesus was vested with no external authority. He wore no badge of office. To outward appearance He was only a Galilean peasant—that and nothing more. How came these men to flee from before Him? There was a double reason. This is the first, sin is always weakness. Men who know they are in the wrong often show themselves timid in the face of righteousness. "Conscience doth make cowards of us all." These men knew they were doing a wrong, an indefensible thing. And Song of Solomon , when Jesus challenged them, not a man dare stand his ground. But this is more than an illustration of the weakness of evil—it is also an illustration of the moral authority of Jesus. There was a purity and holiness in His very appearance before which evil could not stand. "Who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth?" ( Malachi 3:2), the prophet asks. Not these traffickers and moneychangers, caught in the very act of desecrating God"s house. They fled before Him, conscience-stricken and ashamed.

Moral Authority in Daily Life.

We know something of this moral authority in everyday life. There was a shameful scene in our House of Commons some years ago, when, in the heat of party passion, members came to blows. The Chairman of Committees was in charge of the House when the storm broke. But he was powerless to quell it. So some one sent in a hurry for Speaker Peel. When he appeared, and looked in his own grave and dignified way upon the ugly scene, the men who had forgotten themselves, subdued by not so much the official as the moral authority of the Speaker, shrank like whipped school-boys to their places. There is immense moral authority in character. Men instinctively yield to it. But no one had it in such pre-eminent degree as Jesus. The crowd who brought before Him that wretched woman whom they had discovered in sin, stole away one by one, unable to bear the scrutiny of those clear eyes. The soldiers who came to seize Him went backward, and fell to the ground. These traffickers fled pell-mell before Him. The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, "but are like chaff which the wind driveth away" ( Psalm 1:4).

The Holy Indignation of Christ.

Observe, again, the holy indignation of Jesus Christ, as illustrated in this incident. He was filled with just anger against these men who brought their avarice and greed into the Holy Place and turned God"s house into a den of robbers. In our conceptions of Jesus we must make room for indignation and anger. He was not gentle or tolerant towards persistent and continued sin; more especially towards the sin of those who inflicted wrong upon their fellows. It is towards the penitent sinner that Christ is all tenderness and pity.

Cleansing Temple and Church.

Christ, then, has just proclaimed His Kingship, and the first act of His reign, so to speak, is to cleanse the Temple. Surely the action is suggestive of the cleansing of His Church. For the Church is the instrument through which Christ will establish His Kingdom; but a corrupt and tainted Church is useless for such a work. When there is a corrupt Church and a corrupt ministry, you get a corrupt people. The wickedness of the sons of Eli made men abhor the offering of the Lord. And it is so still. Weakness, corruption, worldliness in the Church itself set religion at a discount amongst the people; and so judgment must begin at the House of God. Has not all this its meaning for our own time? Things are slack amongst us. Somehow or other religion seems to be losing its hold. The progress of the Kingdom is arrested. Can it be that the fault lies with the Church? Have things crept into the Church which have destroyed its effectiveness and weakened its power? We are constantly praying for a revival. Perhaps it is we ourselves who need to be cleansed and purified. Is it not a fact that doubts and timidities have crept into our speech? Is it not a fact that our prayers are often lifeless, and our enthusiasm cold? Is it not a fact that we have condescended to some perilously worldly methods in our efforts to win what we call success? And is it not a fact that by our mutual jealousies and strife we oftentimes make religion a laughing-stock to the world without?

Our Need To-day.

What we need to-day is that our Lord should come and cleanse His Church of these things that defile her in the eyes of men, and make vain all her efforts. A doubtful Church, a divided Church, a worldly Church is a powerless Church. A cleansing and purification of the Church is our sorest need. Let us all unite in the prayer that God will inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord; let us beg of Him that all they that do confess His holy name may agree in the truth of His Holy Word and live in unity and godly love. For a cleansed, redeemed and sanctified Church means a converted and rejuvenated world.


Verses 20-25

Chapter7.
The Barren Fig-Tree: Messages

"And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, He was hungry: And seeing a fig-tree afar off having leaves, He came, if haply He might find any thing thereon: and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And His disciples heard it. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance said unto Him, Master, behold, the fig-tree which Thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses."Mark 11:12-14, Mark 11:20-25.

Christ as Judge.

So much for the difficulties associated with this story of the barren fig-tree. Now let us deal with the solemn teaching of the story itself. I have said that this incident revealed Jesus in His capacity as Judge. Judgment is Christ"s prerogative. "The Father hath given all judgment unto the Song of Solomon ," says John ( John 5:22). "We must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ," says St Paul, "that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what we hath done, whether it be good or bad" ( 2 Corinthians 5:10). While Jesus Himself asserts that before Him as Judge all the nations shall be gathered; and it is His judgment that sets the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left. Thus the uniform witness of Holy Writ is that Christ is Judge as well as Saviour. Whoever ignores this aspect of our Lord"s office shuts his eyes to whole tracts of New Testament teaching.

Principles of His Judgment.

But this incident does more than proclaim the fact that Jesus Christ is Judge. It also sets forth the principles of His judgment, showing us the things that fall under our Lord"s condemnation, and suggesting the penalties He inflicts. I have said that it was the Jewish people our Lord saw symbolised in this barren fig-tree; and it is their judgment which in parable is set forth in this incident. But our Lord"s judgments are never arbitrary or casual; they are based on great principles; they are governed by eternal law. So that from any individual case we are justified in deducting a general rule; and we may be sure that though this is primarily a judgment upon the Jews, the principles embodied in it are valid for all time.

Barrenness—a Sin.

Observe first that barrenness is a sin. That was the fault of this tree. It was not that it was spoiling the landscape by its ugly appearance, or blighting all vegetation near by its poisonous exhalations. As a matter of fact, it was doing no harm, and it was fair to look upon. It was barren; that was all. It was doing nothing. It was failing to fulfil the true end of its existence. And for that it was condemned. It seems to me we need to broaden our conceptions of what sin is. We are apt to cherish a narrow, mechanical, external idea of sin. "Sinner," as we commonly understand the word, means someone who has committed a glaring, gross, and open offence. To be a sinner in the eyes of most people, a man must have done something positively shameful and wicked. But if we turn to a story like this, its first and most obvious lesson is that barrenness is a sin. A man need not do anything openly wicked in order to come under the condemnation of Christ. He comes under that condemnation if he does nothing, if he is simply barren and useless.

The Repeated Warning.

The Penalty of Inaction.

When I read the instances of judgment given to us in the Gospels, I find that in nearly every case the men so condemned were condemned not because of any positive harm they had done, but because, like this fig-tree, they had done nothing. Take the judgment picture as given to us by our Lord in Matt. xxv. Upon some was pronounced this terrible judgment, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire." What awful wickedness had they perpetrated to merit a doom like that? Nothing. It was not what they had done; it was what they had not done. There were at their doors hungry people to be fed, naked people to be clothed, thirsty people to be refreshed, sick people to be visited and comforted—and they had done nothing. "Inasmuch as ye did it not... depart from Me, ye cursed." Take the parable of the talents. Upon one of his servants the householder pronounces this sentence, "Cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth" ( Matthew 25:30). What enormity had this servant committed? Had he defrauded his lord, and robbed him of his money? No; for when his lord came back he returned to him the talent he had originally received. Again, it was not a case of what he had done; it was a case of what he had not done. His lord had given him a talent to trade with, but instead of using it, he hid the talent in the earth and did nothing. Take the story of Dives. "In Hades he lifted up his eyes being in torments" ( Luke 17:23). What awful and monstrous sin had Dives committed, to find himself at the last in that flame? It is not charged against him that he had committed obvious sin. Possibly he had lived what would be considered an eminently respectable life. I should not be surprised if he had had a large funeral, and if the local Rabbi pronounced a eulogy over his coffin, extolling the virtues of the dead man. What, then, had he done, to be thus "in torments"? Again, it was not a case of what he had done; it was a case of what he had not done. Lazarus had lain at his gate in his poverty and sores day after day, and this rich Prayer of Manasseh , clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day, had done nothing for him.

A Warning Still Needed.

We miss, then, the entire point of our Lord"s repeated teaching, unless we see that barrenness is a damning sin. Of many we need not fear that they will ever stand convicted of open and flagrant crime. Their danger is of another kind; it is the sin of barrenness. We are sent here to this world for a purpose. The Westminster Catechism expresses it this way, "The chief end of man is to glorify God." And we glorify God as our Master did, by lives of usefulness and service. Here, then, is the matter that will decide our destiny. Are we fulfilling the purpose God had in mind? Are we going about doing good? Failure in this brings the condemnation upon us, "The God in Whose hand thy breath Isaiah , and Whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified" ( Daniel 6:23). So ran the reason given to a Babylonian king for the doom that was about to fall upon him.

Where is our Fruit?

How do we stand such a test? Do we bear the fruits of righteousness? Or are we barren trees? "The fruit of the Spirit," says the Apostle, "is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance" ( Galatians 5:22-23). Are such fruits seen in us? Are we living lives of active and positive beneficence? It is not for me or any other man to Judges , but one cannot help feeling that there are a large number of "barren trees" about. By worldly standards, these people live lives respectable enough; but they are colourless, ineffective, useless. It is not that they do much positive harm, but rather that in a world full of need and misery and sin, they do nothing. Upon all such fruitless, useless, barren lives the Divine judgment will fall.

Profession and Practice.

The next truth I find suggested in this story is this—that barrenness may exist where there is much promise of fruit. That was the characteristic of this particular fig-tree; there was much promise, but no performance. There was any amount of leafage, but not a single fig. The tree was not only barren, it was deceptive and false into the bargain. And this tree which promised so fair, but was so barren, reminded our Lord, as I have said, of the people of Israel. There was much of the show and parade of religion in Judaea. The Temple smoked with sacrifices. Priests were ever busy at the altars. The people ceaselessly trod its courts. One type of Jew, condemned by our Lord, was wont, if I may so put it, to advertise his religion. He tithed his mint and anise and cummin. He stood at the corner of the streets and made long prayers He made broad his phylacteries. By his actions and observances he called the world"s attention to himself, and said, "I am a religious man." He was like this fig-tree, there was any amount of profession and promise, but the real thing was conspicuous by its absence. Mercy and truth were sadly to seek. These very men, so scrupulous about the washing of pots and pans and brazen vessels, carried within them foul and unclean hearts. These very men who stood at the corners of the streets and made long prayers were not above devouring widows" houses. All through their lives this contradiction ran. They served God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They sacrificed, but did not obey. They were like this tree, nothing but leaves.

A Modern Evil.

And still we find this same humbling phenomenon, barrenness where there is profusion of promise. Fruitless lives are to be found even amongst those who profess to be followers of Jesus. One of the sights that Interpreter pointed out in his garden to Christiana and her children was that of a "tree whose inside was all rotten and gone, yet it grew and had leaves." Then said Mercy, "What is this?" "This Tree," said Interpreter, "whose outside is fair, and whose inside is rotten, it is to which many may be compared that are in the garden of God, who with their mouths speak high in behalf of God, but in deed will do nothing for Him; whose leaves are fair, but their hearts good for nothing, but to be tinder for the devil"s tinderbox." And that is just the old Dreamer"s way of stating the moral of this tree, that had abundance of leaves but nothing else. There are men and women, alas, many of them, who are all leaf, and no fruit. Church membership, attendance at public worship, participation in the Holy Communion, these are the leaves. But where is the fruit? There is nothing in their lives to demonstrate the reality of their faith. Their profession often leaves their life untouched. It all ends with the profession and the promise. It is a case of "nothing but leaves." Now, a life all barren is bad enough; but a life that makes promise, and yet remains barren, is worse still; for it adds the sin of falsity to the sin of barrenness. Or, to put it in a slightly different form, a fruitless life is bad enough; but a fruitless life on the part of a professing Christian is the worst of all. Better make no profession than make a profession without practice.

How is it with us?

The biggest obstacle to religion to-day is not the man who is frankly not a Christian, but the man who says he is a Christian and does not live like one. Profession without practice brings the whole of religion into contempt. It causes the name of God to be blasphemed. We do well, therefore, frankly to ask ourselves, Have we the power of godliness as well as the form? Do we love Christ as well as profess Him? Or does it all end with the profession?

"Either put on courage, or put off the name of Alexander," said that great monarch to a soldier who was showing signs of cowardice in one of his battles. So I say, "Either put on Christ, or put off the name of Christian." To profess Christ and to live for self, is not simply to be fruitless, but to be hypocrites into the bargain. Profession without practice, leaves without fruit, avail nothing with God. "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven" ( Matthew 7:21).

The Doom of Barrenness.

Now mark the doom of barrenness, as exemplified in this incident. "No man eat fruit from thee henceforward for ever" ( Mark 11:14), said our Lord. And in the morning the disciples noticed that the "fig-tree was withered away from the roots." The punishment of barrenness, as Dr Glover says, was judicial barrenness. Or, to put it in less technical language, the punishment of this fig-tree that refused to bear fruit was permanent inability to bear fruit. All this is neither arbitrary nor capricious, but in strictest accord with the principles of judgment, as we see them at work all about us.

The Law of Atrophy.

There are two laws with whose working we are quite familiar, which are illustrated in our Lord"s judgment on the fig-tree. They are closely connected with each other, indeed, may be regarded as complementary to each other. The first—shall I call it the law of atrophy?—is one of the observed laws of science, that powers and faculties unused, decay and perish. Muscles, e.g. unexercised, grow limp and flabby. The condition of retaining a faculty is its use. Now that is true in higher regions than the physical. The condition of retaining the spirit of generosity is the exercise of generosity. The condition of retaining the spirit of unselfishness is the practice of unselfishness. The man who never does a generous deed soon loses the capacity for generosity. The man who never does an unselfish deed loses the very power to be unselfish. Neglect is punished by loss. That is the principle illustrated in the doom of this tree. It refused to bear fruit; it lost the power of bearing fruit. "Henceforth no man eat fruit from thee for ever."

The Law of Permanence.

The second law I see illustrated is the law of permanence. It is the positive side of the law of atrophy. We lose what we fail to use. But what we choose and practise that we tend permanently to become. This fruitless tree, what was its punishment? Permanent fruitlessness. It is a stern and awful law. But it is one whose working we see on every hand. It is the law set forth in that sequence, which says that actions repeated become habits, habits long continued become character, and character settles destiny. The man who does mean and miserly actions tends to become permanent miserly; the man who acts selfishly becomes selfish in the very grain of his nature; the man who allows himself to brood over foul and filthy things becomes filthy in the very make. Character is always tending to permanence. I can conceive no doom more awful than that a man should be permanently what he has made himself. And that is the principle of the Divine judgment. "He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still; and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still" ( Revelation 22:11). In a sense Christ"s judgment is simply the ratification of our own choice. We become permanently what we ourselves choose to be.

The Responsibility of Hearing.

"And the disciples heard it," says St Mark , "heard," that Isaiah , the sentence pronounced upon the barren tree; taking in not merely the words, but, then or later, the solemn import of them.

Now, we ourselves have heard with our ears once again this story of the barren fig-tree. Have we heard it with the ears of the soul? Have we listened to and received its solemn warning? "If ye know these things," said our Lord, "happy are ye if ye do them." "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and so shall ye be My disciples" ( John 15:8). If we have "heard" this solemn story aright, we shall ask God for His enriching and life-giving Spirit, we shall pray that that Spirit may come upon us, and that our barrenness may rejoice to own His fertilising power. For the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace goodness, kindness, meekness, temperance; and against such there is no law, no judgment, no doom; no, but the "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

Mark 11:15-18

Chapter8.
The Cleansing of the Temple

"And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And He taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine."Mark 11:15-18.

The Scrutiny of the Temple.

On the day that our Lord made His entry in lowly state into Jerusalem, He went straight to the Temple; for it was not Csar"s or Herod"s throne that He sought. The empire He came to establish was not material, but spiritual. His mission was not political; it was religious. Our Lord, however, took no action of any sort on His visit to the Temple, on the day of His triumphal entry. He contented Himself with a sweeping and searching scrutiny of the things that were being done within its precincts. "He looked round about upon all things." The look was, no doubt, with a view to action. But it was eventide, and the action itself was postponed until the next day. "When He had looked round about upon all things, it being now eventide, He went out unto Bethany with the Twelve" ( Mark 11:11).

The Things Seen.

The Reason for the Traffic.

Now, what was it our Lord saw when He looked round about upon all things? To put it in a word, He saw the Temple desecrated. There were men chaffering and haggling, cheating and overreaching one another in the very house of God. We remember, of course, that it was not a case of general trafficking; all the buying and selling that went on was with a view to the requirements of the Temple worship. Jews came up to worship at the Temple from all parts of Palestine, from all parts of the world. You can see how inconvenient, even how impossible, it would be for them to bring their sacrifices with them. Take the Passover sacrifice. Pilgrims came flocking in their thousands and tens of thousands for that great feast. It would have been the extremity of inconvenience if they had had to bring the sacrificial lamb along with them. Song of Solomon , to meet their convenience, arrangements were made whereby the pilgrims could purchase the lambs they needed, in Jerusalem, or indeed in the Temple itself. It was the same with the money-changing. Jews coming from foreign countries would naturally be provided with the money of those countries. But the Temple tax had to be paid in Jewish coin. So again, to meet their convenience moneychangers attended in the Temple precincts, to exchange the diverse sorts of money the pilgrims brought for the Jewish half-shekel.

—Its Scene.

Further, we are not to think of this traffic as taking place in the shrine itself. Around the Temple there were a series of courts, and the largest and the outermost of these was the Court of the Gentiles. It was in this great Court of the Gentiles that the buying and selling took place. The Jew scarcely, perhaps, reckoned this court as a holy place. It was almost a profane place, for the uncircumcised Gentile could enter into it. The probability is that the Jew would have revolted in horror from the idea of permitting trafficking in the court where he himself worshipped; but he did not think that it mattered very much what happened in the Court of the Gentiles.

The Real Offence.

All this is not by way of excuse for the conduct of the Jews, but in order that we may see just wherein their offence lay. I do not think it was the mere buying and selling and money-changing that desecrated the Temple. If the motive of these actions had been a genuine desire to meet the convenience of the pilgrims, and to minister to their necessities, if kindliness and a spirit of helpfulness lay behind the buying and selling, I do not think that our Lord would have blazed up in holy anger against it, nor would He have accused those who engaged in it of turning His Father"s house into a den of robbers.

The Sacred and the Secular: How Distinguished.

In our Lord"s sight actions were sacred or profane according to the spirit that prompted them We have ourselves a rough and mechanical division of things into things secular and sacred. A hymn, for instance, is a sacred thing; a speech is a secular thing. But in Christ"s sight the hymn may be a secular thing, and the speech the sacred thing. An irreligious spirit makes the most sacred hymn a profane thing; a worshipful spirit makes a speech even on a secular theme a religious exercise. Now there is nothing more secular from our narrow point of view than buying and selling. But even buying and selling can be translated into Divine service. We all of us believe that, or else there is but a poor look out for those engaged in commerce. Supposing, then, that these people buying and selling in the Temple courts had been animated solely by the desire to help the pilgrims from all parts of the world, do you think that He Who said that God wanted mercy, and not sacrifice, Who in the very next chapter endorses the scribes" declaration that to love God and to love one"s neighbour as oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices, do you think that He would have denounced them as "robbers," and driven them in holy wrath out of the Temple precincts? I tell you nay. I do not think He would have rebuked them at all. Such buying and selling would have been converted into Divine service, and would not have been incongruous, even in a place set apart for prayer.

The Temple-Market Perverted.

It was not, then, the buying and the selling that in itself was wrong; it was the spirit in which it was carried on. Originally instituted to meet the convenience of the pilgrims, it was carried on from motives of cupidity and greed. The priests who permitted the traffic no longer thought of the pilgrims and their needs; they thought only of their own gains. The sale of animals for sacrifice became a source of profit. The exchange of money became an opportunity for extorting an oppressive discount. This market in the Temple, instead of being a help, became a burden to the worshipper. The sordid, mercenary spirit of the priests turned everything, as Dr Salmond says, to "desecration, profanity, greed and fraud." It was this ugly and greedy spirit that stirred our Lord to indignation. They turned the very service of the Lord into an oppression. They turned the worship of the Temple into a way of gain. They brought the spirit of the world in its basest and foulest form right into the Holy Place. This it was that defiled the Temple. They were guilty of cheating and defrauding and oppression in the name of religion. Literally, they turned the house of prayer into "a den of robbers."

Houses of God misused.

All this has its most solemn teaching for us to-day. We should never dream of setting up a cattle-market or even a shop within sacred precincts, though in these days men are often puzzled as to what is permissible and what is not permissible in buildings set apart for the worship of God. My own strong feeling is that it is conducive to the spirit of worship to preserve these buildings entirely for worship, though I cannot assert that those who put them to other uses are wrong. But, even if we keep them rigidly and absolutely for worship, we may yet desecrate and pollute them. For, as I have tried to point out, the real character of an action is decided by the spirit in which we do it. You may have profane hymn-singing and secular preaching. God asks to be worshipped "in spirit and in truth," but when we come together, and assume the form of worship while our hearts are all the while far away from God and holy things; when we sit in pews, and allow our minds to busy themselves with worldly affairs; when we bring pride, and jealousy, and uncharitableness with us; when we allow coarse and base and foul thoughts to go coursing through our minds, we are as really and truly polluting God"s house as were these traffickers who chaffered and haggled in the Temple precincts. In the ultimate resort it is the sinful heart that is the real cause of the pollution. And there is one prayer we may well offer whenever we come up to God"s house, and that Isaiah , "O God! make clean our hearts within us," for holiness becometh God"s house for ever.

The Jew, the Gentile—and Jesus Christ.

Our Lord"s action, then, was first of all a condemnation of the evil spirit of greed that turned religion into a source of profit. In the second place, it was a protest against the differentiation made between the sacredness of the court in which the Jews themselves worshipped, and that in which the Gentiles worshipped. By turning the Court of the Gentiles into a cattle-market they as good as labelled it as a profane place. They said, in effect, that it did not much matter what was transacted there. It was an illustration in action of the traditional Jewish contempt for the Gentile. But Jesus knew no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Each was equally dear to the heart of God. The Temple, as He said, was a "house of prayer for all the nations." In God"s great house Gentile and Jew were equally welcome, and the place where the Gentiles worshipped was every whit as sacred as the inner court where the Jews performed their devotions. And so He swept the dealers out of the Court of the Gentiles, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold the doves, and thereby declared their acceptance with God and their equal rights with the Jews. There was as little room in the house of God for the spirit of religious pride as for the spirit of avarice and greed. The presence of either was a desecration of the Holy Place. Both came under the judgment of our Lord when He swept this mob of traders out of the Court of the Gentiles, saying, "Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers" ( Mark 11:17).

Having thus pointed out the sins which came under the lash of our Lord"s condemnation, let us note some lessons which the incident as a whole is calculated to teach.

The Sovereignty of Christ.

First of all, observe the royal bearing of Jesus throughout this incident. The day previous the crowds had acclaimed Him as King, and He had gone to the Temple in triumph, as if to His royal seat. In this incident He proceeds to exercise His royal authority: He acts as King. He proclaims Himself Master and Lord in the Temple. "The Lord," it had been said by one of the prophets, "shall suddenly come to His Temple." By driving these traffickers helter-skelter out of the sacred courts Jesus proclaimed Himself the long-awaited King of Jewish expectation. All who witnessed the incident knew exactly what it meant. It was the Lord laying claim to His Messiahship. He had kept it hidden and secret in Galilee. But in Jerusalem, and especially during this last week, He publicly and repeatedly declared it. Notice, too, how He speaks of the Temple. When He purged it of its desecrations at the commencement of His career, He spoke of it as His "Father"s house." But see how He speaks of it now. "My house shall be called a house of prayer." My house! "By what authority doest Thou these things?" the chief priests asked of Him. It was a proper question to ask. For no mere man had a right to act as if he were Lord of the Temple, and no mere man had a right to speak of the Temple as "My house."

The Moral Authority of Christ.

Notice again what an illustration we have here of the moral authority of the Lord Jesus Christ! He was only one man. There were scores, possibly more, of these traffickers and moneychangers. And yet before this one man unarmed this mob of men fled in something like abject panic. Jesus was vested with no external authority. He wore no badge of office. To outward appearance He was only a Galilean peasant—that and nothing more. How came these men to flee from before Him? There was a double reason. This is the first, sin is always weakness. Men who know they are in the wrong often show themselves timid in the face of righteousness. "Conscience doth make cowards of us all." These men knew they were doing a wrong, an indefensible thing. And Song of Solomon , when Jesus challenged them, not a man dare stand his ground. But this is more than an illustration of the weakness of evil—it is also an illustration of the moral authority of Jesus. There was a purity and holiness in His very appearance before which evil could not stand. "Who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth?" ( Malachi 3:2), the prophet asks. Not these traffickers and moneychangers, caught in the very act of desecrating God"s house. They fled before Him, conscience-stricken and ashamed.

Moral Authority in Daily Life.

We know something of this moral authority in everyday life. There was a shameful scene in our House of Commons some years ago, when, in the heat of party passion, members came to blows. The Chairman of Committees was in charge of the House when the storm broke. But he was powerless to quell it. So some one sent in a hurry for Speaker Peel. When he appeared, and looked in his own grave and dignified way upon the ugly scene, the men who had forgotten themselves, subdued by not so much the official as the moral authority of the Speaker, shrank like whipped school-boys to their places. There is immense moral authority in character. Men instinctively yield to it. But no one had it in such pre-eminent degree as Jesus. The crowd who brought before Him that wretched woman whom they had discovered in sin, stole away one by one, unable to bear the scrutiny of those clear eyes. The soldiers who came to seize Him went backward, and fell to the ground. These traffickers fled pell-mell before Him. The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, "but are like chaff which the wind driveth away" ( Psalm 1:4).

The Holy Indignation of Christ.

Observe, again, the holy indignation of Jesus Christ, as illustrated in this incident. He was filled with just anger against these men who brought their avarice and greed into the Holy Place and turned God"s house into a den of robbers. In our conceptions of Jesus we must make room for indignation and anger. He was not gentle or tolerant towards persistent and continued sin; more especially towards the sin of those who inflicted wrong upon their fellows. It is towards the penitent sinner that Christ is all tenderness and pity.

Cleansing Temple and Church.

Christ, then, has just proclaimed His Kingship, and the first act of His reign, so to speak, is to cleanse the Temple. Surely the action is suggestive of the cleansing of His Church. For the Church is the instrument through which Christ will establish His Kingdom; but a corrupt and tainted Church is useless for such a work. When there is a corrupt Church and a corrupt ministry, you get a corrupt people. The wickedness of the sons of Eli made men abhor the offering of the Lord. And it is so still. Weakness, corruption, worldliness in the Church itself set religion at a discount amongst the people; and so judgment must begin at the House of God. Has not all this its meaning for our own time? Things are slack amongst us. Somehow or other religion seems to be losing its hold. The progress of the Kingdom is arrested. Can it be that the fault lies with the Church? Have things crept into the Church which have destroyed its effectiveness and weakened its power? We are constantly praying for a revival. Perhaps it is we ourselves who need to be cleansed and purified. Is it not a fact that doubts and timidities have crept into our speech? Is it not a fact that our prayers are often lifeless, and our enthusiasm cold? Is it not a fact that we have condescended to some perilously worldly methods in our efforts to win what we call success? And is it not a fact that by our mutual jealousies and strife we oftentimes make religion a laughing-stock to the world without?

Our Need To-day.

What we need to-day is that our Lord should come and cleanse His Church of these things that defile her in the eyes of men, and make vain all her efforts. A doubtful Church, a divided Church, a worldly Church is a powerless Church. A cleansing and purification of the Church is our sorest need. Let us all unite in the prayer that God will inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord; let us beg of Him that all they that do confess His holy name may agree in the truth of His Holy Word and live in unity and godly love. For a cleansed, redeemed and sanctified Church means a converted and rejuvenated world.


Verse 22-23

Chapter9.
Prayer and Its Power

"And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith."Mark 11:22-23.

An Unexpected Reply.

On the Tuesday morning of that eventful week, when again our Lord and His followers made their way to Jerusalem, Peter noticed that the once leafy and luxuriant fig-tree was limp and wilted and dying. He remembered the episode of the previous morning, and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, behold the fig-tree which Thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God" ( Mark 11:21-22). Now, that is not at all the kind of reply we should have expected Jesus to make to Peter"s remark. At the first sight, it scarcely seems to the point. The kind of answer that would have seemed to us natural would have been some reference about the sure fulfilment of all His words. Instead of that, "Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God." That was, according to Jesus, the central and all-important truth to be learned from the withering of the fig-tree, a lesson of faith and its limitless power.

Power by Faith.

Christ accomplished His mighty works through the power of God resting upon Him, and the power was His because of His perfect and absolute union with the Father. Christ was never ineffective or impotent (like the disciples at the foot of the transfiguration hill), for the simple reason that He was never out of touch with God. He Himself worked the works of Him that sent Him ( John 9:4); and His disciples, by faith might enter into enjoyment of the same power. "He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also." Nay more—"greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto the Father" ( John 14:12). Our Lord, therefore, went on to declare, in startling terms, the power faith confers. "Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that what he saith cometh to pass; he shall have it" ( Mark 11:23). This figure about "removing mountains" was, the commentators tell us, a favourite figure of speech for things passing ordinary capacity. And a vivid and striking figure it is. For what so solid and unmovable as the mountains "fixed in their everlasting seats"? And yet "to faith," Jesus says, the task of removing mountains is no impossibility. No task, then, is too mighty for "faith" to accomplish. No difficulty is too stupendous for "faith" to overcome. For faith links a man up to God. It reinforces man with the omnipotent energies of God. "This is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith" ( 1 John 5:4).

A Task for Faith.

There are some who hold that when Jesus said, "This mountain" He pointed across the valley to the hill on which the Temple stood, all flashing and gleaming with its marble and gold; that what He meant to suggest was that these twelve disciples of His with a great faith in their hearts could remove "that mountain"; could break down and overthrow the fabric of Judaism; could cast the knowledge of God and the worship of God—supposed hitherto to be confined to that mountain—into the midst of the sea, i.e. could diffuse it amongst all nations. I am doubtful whether the saying is to be interpreted in that specialised way; and yet the diffusion of Christianity, in spite of all efforts to crush and destroy it, is a most striking illustration of its truth. It is one example of the "removing of the mountain." For if any enterprise ever seemed hopeless, it was the enterprise on which the Apostles at the bidding of Christ set out. There was Judaism, on the one hand—stable, as it seemed, as one of the eternal hills. And here were twelve illiterate and humble provincials on the other. Twelve men against a nation, a nation reinforced by adherents in every part of the world. To expect these twelve men to break up the fabric of Judaism seems as absurd as to expect twelve men with pick-axe and shovel to shift Mont Blanc. But, when the time came, they had a mighty faith in their hearts, and the seemingly impossible did not daunt them. Within fifty years there was no Temple on Mount Zion, and Judaism as a sacrificing system was no more. The mountain was cast into the midst of the sea.

Mountains Removed.

—In the Early Days of the Church.

This triumph of faith assuredly does not stand alone. After Jerusalem, the early disciples found themselves confronted by Rome, in some respects the mightiest and most colossal fabric of empire the world has ever seen. A handful of Jews on the one side, and mighty Rome on the other. But with faith in their hearts they addressed themselves to the task their Master had assigned them. "I am ready to preach the Gospel to you also that are in Rome" ( Romans 1:15), declares Paul. He was all eagerness to give himself to the task. "Remove!" he cried. And "Remove!" cried his followers and successors. And the mountain began to totter. Rome, that once persecuted and harried and slew the Christians, in time showed signs of yielding, until at last with Julian"s baffled and defeated cry, "Thou hast conquered, O Galilean!" you behold the mountain cast into the midst of the sea.

—In India.

Many another mountain has been removed since those far-off days. When William Carey went out to India to preach Christianity a great many people felt that he might as well try to shift the Himalayas as try to replace Hinduism with Christianity. Sydney Smith (himself a clergyman), in the pages of the Edinburgh Review, made fine sport of the foolish enterprise of the "consecrated cobbler," as he dubbed him. William Carey knew the difficulty. He was aware that to make an impression on India was like trying to remove mountains. But he had faith, superb and magnificent faith, and Song of Solomon , weak and lonely as he was, he went out to India, and, confronting the mountain of Hinduism, began to cry, "Be thou removed." Others followed in Carey"s wake, and took up the same cry. A little army of missionaries is to-day saying, "Be thou removed." It is true Hinduism is not yet cast into the sea. But will anyone look at India and say the mountain has not moved? All India has been shaken out of its old allegiance. Its faith in its million gods is dying. The mountain is yielding, crumbling, falling; our successors should see it cast into the midst of the sea.

—In the South Seas.

When John Williams went out to the South Seas, a lustful and cannibal paganism had those fair islands in its grip. John Williams went from island to island, and faced that paganism—solid and unshakeable as the mountains, so it seemed, because so inextricably intertwined with the entire social life of the people. He faced that paganism in island after island, crying before it, "Be thou removed! Be thou removed!" It seemed a hopeless and impossible enterprise; but look at the result. Islands have been cleansed, civilised, Christianised. The Christian Church has taken the place of the cannibal feast. The mountain has been cast into the midst of the sea.

The day of miracles is not over. "The works that I do shall ye do also," said Jesus, "and greater works than these shall ye do." The power that worked in and through Christ is willing to work in and through us. This is the one condition—have faith in God.

Faithless Prayer.

From speaking of faith our Lord proceeds to speak of prayer. The transition is quite a natural one. It is prayer that expresses faith. It is because we believe in God that we pray to Him at all. It is in prayer we open our souls to God"s indwelling. But prayer which is not the expression of faith is mere waste of breath. The only effectual prayer is believing prayer—prayer animated and informed by a living faith. "Therefore I say unto you, All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them." ( Mark 11:24). Believe that ye have received them! Why, we offer many prayers without expecting answers to them—just exactly as members of the Church at Jerusalem offered prayers for the release of Peter, and were frightened almost out of their wits when Rhoda came and told them Peter was actually knocking at the door. We pray for revivals, but we scarcely expect them. We pray for conversions, but we should be surprised if people really did cry, "Men, brethren, what must we do to be saved?" We do not believe that we have the things we ask for. Faith does not animate our prayers, and as a result they fail.

—And its Result.

I wonder whether this may in part account for the ineffectiveness of the Church. We still have a good deal of prayer (of a sort), but it is not this expectant, believing prayer. And perhaps it is our lack of faith that accounts for our weakness. Unbelief interferes with our supply of power. You perhaps remember that incident about a Colorado village which Mr Gordon narrates in his Quiet Talks on Power. The rainfall is slight out there, and so some public-spirited citizen made a reservoir away up in the hills, and by means of pipes brought an abundant supply of fresh, sweet water into every house in the town. But one morning, when the housewives turned the taps, there was only a little damp splutter; no water came. The men set out to investigate. They thought something must be the matter with the reservoir. But there was nothing amiss up there; it was full of clear, cold, sparkling water. They examined the pipes as far as they could, but they could find no break. And so it went on for a day or two, until the little village was threatened with a water famine. Then one of the officials got a note which said, "If you will first pull the plug out of the pipe about eight inches from the top you"ll get all the water you want." So up the men went again, and dug open the pipe, and found a plug which some mischief-maker had inserted. That plug was keeping the water away from the town. The full reservoir was of no use to the town because of that plug.

Pull out the Plug.

May it not be so with us and the Divine power? There is no failure in God. The reservoir of grace and power is as full as ever it was. And yet somehow or other we are short of power, we lack force, we have no strength. What is the matter? There is a plug in the pipe. There is something that stops the outflow of the Divine energy of grace. And what is that something? Unbelief. We have not a living, utter trust in God. We do not believe that we have the things for which we ask. And before the power will come we must take out the plug. We must do away with, unbelief. We are not straitened in God, we are only straitened in ourselves. It is faith, daring and triumphant faith, we want—a living and whole-hearted trust in God. According to our faith it shall be unto us. "Lord, increase our faith."


Verses 27-33

Chapter10.
The Authority of Jesus

"And they come again to Jerusalem: and as He was walking in the temple, there come to Him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and say unto Him, By what authority doest Thou these things? and who gave Thee this authority to do these things? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John , was it from heaven, or of men? answer Me. And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; He will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John , that he was a prophet indeed. And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things."Mark 11:27-33.

The Lord and the Temple.

The actions of Christ during Passion Week had greatly exercised and disturbed the religious authorities; more especially His action in sweeping out of the Temple those who bought and sold within it. They had looked on, almost speechless with anger, while Christ on the Sunday rode in lowly triumph into Jerusalem, attended by applauding crowds. The triumphal entry, howerer, did not seem to them the best occasion for attacking Jesus, for the events of that day might, with a show of reason, have been set down to the uncontrollable enthusiasm of the people. But for the cleansing of the Temple the entire responsibility lay at Christ"s door. He Himself took the initiative. From first to last, the action was His own. And no action our Lord took was more significant. He acted as if He were the Lord of the Temple; as if the Holy Place were His; and as if the right to lay down regulations for its use belonged, not to the priests, its official custodians, but to Himself. To the Jerusalem leaders this assertion of authority must have been peculiarly galling. For it involved the repudiation of their own. It was, in effect, a public declaration that what authority they possessed they had flagrantly and wickedly abused, and here was the Lord of the Temple come to take away from them an authority with which they could not be trusted. High priests and rulers seem to have been too surprised and stupefied to make any protest at the moment. The moral majesty of Christ overawed them, their own consciences made cowards of them. But our Lord"s action rankled in their minds. They smarted under a sense of exposure and condemnation. And when our Lord withdrew Himself for the night to Bethany, they met, I imagine, in secret conclave to discuss what they were to do with Him. For quite clearly to allow His action in cleansing the Temple to pass unchallenged was equivalent to abdicating their own position.

The Question of its Custodians.

Here we get the result of their deliberations. You will notice they do not challenge the Tightness of the action itself. They knew quite well that for their conduct in allowing the Temple courts to be used for purposes of greed and unholy gain they were absolutely without defence. On that point they allow judgment to go against them by default. What they challenge is not the tightness of the action, but Christ"s right to take it. So when our Lord appeared in Jerusalem on the Tuesday morning, as He was walking in the Temple, there came to Him the chief priests and the scribes and the elders; and they said unto Him. "By what authority doest Thou these things? or who gave Thee this authority to do these things?" ( Mark 11:28).

A Factious Question.

We may take it for granted that the chief priests and scribes did not ask this question because they were in difficulty, and really wanted to know. If that had been their motive, you may depend upon it Christ would have given them a plain and gracious answer. Christ was not the person to tantalise a man honestly perplexed, and to send him away mystified and confounded. The way in which Christ treated these men makes me quite sure that they asked this question out of spite, and rage, and hate, and not because they wanted to know. What they wanted was, to revenge themselves, if they could, for their humiliation of the day before. They asked the question, tempting Him. They hoped it might put Him in a difficulty. Perhaps, as Dr David Smith says, they hoped to elicit from Him, not merely an assertion of His Messiahship, but some declaration of His oneness with God, like that which on a previous occasion had made the Jews take up stones to stone Him. That was their hope—that Jesus would say something which would inflame the mob, and so enable them to wreak upon Him that vengeance which was denied them so long as the multitude was on His side.

—But a Plausible Question.

And yet while behind the question there lay a hate which was as cruel as the grave, the question itself was eminently plausible. It was the kind of question which the man in the street would feel the chief priests and elders had a perfect right to put. For these people were the religious rulers of Judaism. It would therefore appear a perfectly natural thing for them to ask Jesus what His authority was for teaching and preaching. For He held no office, and by men He had never been appointed to His work. It would therefore appear a very natural and reasonable thing for the regularly constituted and recognised authorities to come to Jesus with the question, "By what authority doest Thou these things? or who gave Thee this authority?"

Recognition of Christ"s Authority.

First of all, notice that even Christ"s bitterest foes: make confession of His authority. They could not help it. Authority was one of the most striking characteristics of our Lord"s manner. That was what struck everybody who either heard or saw Him. Turn to the Sermon on the Mount for one illustration. The dominant impression left upon the minds of the hearers was that of the authoritativeness of the Preacher. There was the note of certitude in all He said. And, more than the note of certitude, there was that regal tone which distinguishes one who knows Himself to be the final court of appeal. This comes out most noticeably in the attitude He takes up toward Moses. You remember how, in the course of that sermon, He passes in review certain precepts and counsels of the Mosaic law. These He undertakes to revise and alter and abrogate on His own ipse dixit. "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time," He begins, and then enunciates the Mosaic rule. "But I say unto you," He proceeds, and undertakes on His own authority to set up a new law and standard. He places Himself above Moses. He constitutes Himself the final court of appeal. When He has spoken, the last word has been said. It is not surprising that the people, trained up to regard every letter of the Mosaic law as sacred, were surprised. "The multitude were astonished at His teaching; for He taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes" ( Matthew 7:28-29).

Authority in Action.

The authority which was so marked in His speech was equally noticeable in His actions. He claimed, for instance, the authority to forgive sins; and if an outward miracle is any proof of an inward grace, He not only claimed it but exercised it. He claimed and exercised authority over unclean spirits, so that when He commanded them to come out, they immediately obeyed Him. He claimed and exercised authority over disease and death. And on the preceding day He had claimed and exercised authority over the Temple. The authority was not only claimed, it was exercised, it was acknowledged, it was obeyed. It was no use trying to deny the reality of that authority before which the traders had fled, panic-stricken and demoralised, the day before. These chief priests and elders do not attempt to deny it. They only profess a wish to know what kind of an authority it was, and whence Christ derived it.

Authority Recognised.

But what an amazing admission even this confession is! God is continually making the wrath of men to praise Him. From the lips of Christ"s critics and foes some of the most wonderful testimonies to His greatness have issued. The officers who were sent to seize Him had to admit that never man spake like He spake. The Herodians who came to tempt Him had to confess that He did not regard the person of men, but taught the way of God in truth. These chief priests and elders are constrained to bear unwilling witness to His unique authority. "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise" ( Matthew 21:16), said Jesus, as He listened to the shouts of the children who acclaimed Him, as He rode in triumph into Jerusalem. That praise should come out of the mouths of babes and sucklings is wonderful enough. But here is something more wonderful still. "Out of the mouths of enemies and foes hast Thou perfected praise." Enemies and foes are constrained to bear witness to Him. Chief priests and elders bear testimony to His unique and unparalleled authority. This is the kind of witness that stills the enemy and the avenger, and puts to silence the ignorance of foolish men.

The Counter-Inquiry.

—Not Irrelevant.

The suggestion that lay behind the question of the chief priests and scribes was that Christ, being neither priest nor scribe, was an unauthorised and irregular teacher, and had therefore no right to teach. Our Lord meets their question with the suggestion that lay behind it, by asking them another question. "The baptism of John , was it from heaven, or from men?" ( Mark 11:30). Now, first of all, I want to make it quite clear that this was not an attempt to snatch a dialectical victory. This was not an attempt to escape from a difficult question by posing His questioners with another. It was, no doubt, as Dr David Smith says, "a masterpiece of dialectic." But it was also, as he adds, very much more. At first you might be tempted to ask, "What has the question of the origin of John"s baptism to do with the question of Christ"s authority?" Christ"s counter-question at first sight seems to be hopelessly irrelevant. It does not appear to have the remotest bearing upon the question originally asked. As a matter of fact, however, it went down to the very roots of things. It had the most close and vital bearing upon the question of Christ"s own authority. The answer to Christ"s question about John"s baptism would supply them with the answer to their own question about Christ"s authority.

John an Unofficial Preacher.

For, to begin with, John , like Jesus, was an unauthorised preacher. That is to say, though the son of a priest, John was himself never in the priest"s office. He owed absolutely nothing to Jerusalem. Priests and elders had never authorised him to preach. He had had no sort of "orders" conferred upon him. John belonged not to the priests, but the prophets. The priest is created by human appointment; the prophet is made by the direct inspiration of God. Priesthood was a matter of family and succession and "order"; prophecy was the gift of the Spirit. John preached and taught, not because of any authority conferred upon him by Prayer of Manasseh , but because, like Amos , like Jeremiah , like Elijah, like Isaiah , the word was as a fire in his bones, and he knew himself called of God. Now all Judaea believed that John was a prophet. The people felt that through him God spoke to their souls. Even priests and scribes and elders had been moved and impressed by John. They had felt the Divine power working through him. "Ye were willing to rejoice for a season in his light" ( John 5:35), Jesus had said of them, on an earlier occasion. They knew that John was a teacher sent from God; they knew that his baptism was from heaven. But then to admit that about John , was to give away their case against Jesus; for John , like Jesus, was an unauthorised teacher; and to admit that John was sent of God, was to admit also in the case of Jesus that, though Jerusalem was ignorant of Him, and the priests acknowledged Him not, His authority too might be derived from heaven.

John"s Witness to Christ.

In the second place, John himself had witnessed to Christ"s Messiahship. He had borne repeated and emphatic witness to it. It was he who said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world!" It was he who said, "This is He of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is become before me.... And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God" ( John 1:29, John 1:34). If they admitted that John"s baptism was from heaven—as they knew it was, though through their pride and hardness of heart they had rejected John"s call, and refused to submit themselves to the baptism of repentance—then Christ would naturally retort upon them, "Why, then, did ye not believe him, and especially in regard to John"s witness to Myself?" Believing John , they ought to have passed as naturally into the ranks of Christ"s disciples, as did Andrew and John.

The Dilemma.

This, then, was the question Jesus propounded to the Song of Solomon -called leaders of religion in Palestine, "The baptism of John , was it from heaven, or from men?" It put our Lord"s questioners on the horns of a dilemma. If they should give the true answer, and say, "From heaven," it was giving their whole case against Christ away; it was more, it was laying themselves open to the charge of perverse and obstinate unbelief. On the other hand, if they took refuge in the obviously false answer, "From men," they feared the people. It was a risky thing to deny John"s divine commission, "for all verily held John to be a prophet" ( Mark 11:32). For a minute or two they hesitated, embarrassed, and not knowing what to say. "Answer Me," insisted Jesus. And then they blurted out the helpless and feeble confession, "We know not." They confessed themselves, that is to say, incapable of telling whether John was a charlatan or not; they confessed themselves incapable of distinguishing between a genuine and a sham religious movement. They confessed that in these high spiritual matters they could not judge. And by that miserable confession they put themselves clean out of court. They had come to Jesus proposing to adjudicate about His claims. But who were they, to be able to decide upon the claims of Jesus, when they confessed themselves incapable of deciding upon the work of John? These things are spiritually discerned, and they had pronounced themselves spiritual incapables, blind leaders of the blind. "Neither tell I you," was our Lord"s rejoinder, "by what authority I do these things" ( Mark 11:33).

The Nature and Source of Christ"s Authority.

Now let us turn our attention to the subject of Christ"s authority, and consider the nature and the origin of it. "By what authority doest Thou these things? Or who gave Thee this authority to do these things?" There is a twofold inquiry in this question. There is an inquiry as to the kind of the authority, and as to its source.

—It was Moral and Spiritual.

First, then—as to the kind of authority—it was moral and spiritual, not official. Christ filled no office. He was neither priest nor Levite, nor elder nor scribe. And yet He spoke with an authority they could never hope to equal. The scribes had all the advantages of official status, but they wielded no power. Jesus came, a peasant from Nazareth, without any badge of office, and He exercised resistless power. It was moral authority. It was spiritual power. It was the authority of a holy character. Christ not only preached the truth, He was it. He was incarnate holiness. And men instinctively bowed to the authority of a perfectly pure and holy life. It was the authority of knowledge. Men instinctively recognise whether a man is or is not speaking of things he knows; whether it is an authentic word or a second-hand message they are listening to. The scribes dealt in traditions. All their speech was second-hand. Jesus spoke with the sure accents of one in direct touch with eternal realities. He spoke that which He knew, and testified that which He had seen. And the result was, He was invested with an authority which all men recognised, and before which all men of honest and good heart instinctively bowed.

Its Source was the Father.

In the second place—as to the source of the authority—Jesus derived His right to speak and act as He did from God. It was His Father Who had commissioned Him. It was the Father"s works He did. It was from His Father He had received His commandments. Priests and elders thought that they were the source of preaching and teaching authority. They claimed that no one had the right to teach or speak unless he had received his "orders" from them. Jesus had asked for no authorisation from them. He had never been humanly "ordained" to this work. From the priestly point of view, He was not in "orders." He was a mere layman. But Christ had no need of commission from priests and elders. He derived His authority from a higher source. He was commissioned by the Most High. His right to preach and teach was, that the Father had sent Him.

Moral Authority dependent on Character.

Two permanent lessons this story has to teach—lessons of vital importance to us still. This is the first. There is no moral authority without character. "As the man Isaiah , so is his strength." Office in itself will never confer moral authority. The sons of Eli had office. But they had not character. What was their influence? Nothing; worse than nothing. Because of them men abhorred the offering of the Lord. If we want to wield power for God, we must first of all be ourselves men of God. To do good we must be good. Without character, though we have all official guarantees, we are no better than sounding-brass or a tinkling cymbal.

God the Authority for the Ministerial Office.

The second lesson is this—the ultimate source of authority to teach and preach is God. No man is ordained unless he is ordained of God. Nobody is really "in orders" unless he is placed in them by God. All that men can do is to ratify God"s ordaining. No Prayer of Manasseh , called of God, needs human authority to speak for Him. I have no word to say by way of disparagement of human ordination; I have been ordained myself. I have myself been set aside by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. I believe that ordination tends to orderliness in the Church. And yet I would never forget that the real authority to preach comes from a higher source—it comes from God. And He can and does give it to men on whom no human hands have ever been laid. The Spirit bloweth still where He listeth, and the man dowered with the Spirit is the man ordained of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jones, J.D. "Commentary on Mark 11:4". J.D. Jones's Commentary on the Book of Mark. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jom/mark-11.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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