Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders,By What Authority?
I. The Principle of Reservation.—God reserves to Himself the right to restrain when He sees fit that full manifestation of Himself which some men nevertheless demand of Him. There are some men, some women, in whose heart there has frequently risen up something of this resentment: 'Why must I live in a state of imperfect knowledge, which is the result of a limited revelation?' And this incomplete manifestation of Himself by God—for so I may call it—has been felt, even where there was far too much reverence and fear, too much humility to resent the limitation of the revelation given. It is well that we should look this fact plainly in the face. It was not only unto the Scribes and the Pharisees, and the idle gaping crowd that our Lord acted upon this principle of reservation when He was here on earth, it was so with His own disciples. How plainly do their words and actions convey to us the idea of men who knew that they lay under a sense of mystery that they could not fathom! How is the great central mystery of the Incarnation, for example, ever present in His teaching, and yet who shall deny that it is ever shrouded? How guardedly He speaks of the new birth by water and the Word; how mysteriously in the Blessed Sacrament of His own Blood and Body! It is enough for them to be told that, 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God'. It was enough for them to be taught that they must do this, and 'except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you'.
II. The Revelation Sufficient—And yet shall we dare to say that the teaching which God in His mercy has vouchsafed to us, and the revelation that He has given to us, is insufficient? How much evidence of authority had He already given to those very Scribes and Pharisees! Sick persons had been wonderfully cured, the poor shrinking lepers had been made clean, sweet light had streamed into sightless eyeballs. Only a few days before, a crowd of those Jews had seen Lazarus come forth from his tomb. Those who asked Him this very question as to His authority had never denied these facts—they had never dared to deny them. Yet you know what they had done—they had hardened their hearts and shut their eyes against them. It was possible for them to know long ere this by Whose authority He did these things. So for us it is possible to know, and to know with great certainty too, of Christ and His authority, to know Him on His cross dying for our sins, and to know Him awakening within our own individual hearts a sense of guilt, to know Him sending us individually the blessed message of forgiveness, to know Him as He deigns to hold communion with our reconciled spirits. The struggle may be hard, but the victory is sure.
III. Conditions on which Knowledge Is Attainable.—There are conditions on which this knowledge is attainable.
(a) Purity of heart.—If you would believe in God, said even such a one as Rousseau—if you would believe in God, live in such a manner that it is necessary for you that He exist.
(b) Obedience.—There are men who question authority because they mean to obey no will but their own. There are times when a spirit of independence seems to rise in a nation or in a community, as there are times when in an individual the imagination dreams of a mistaken freedom and questions authority, when men demand to know the authority which bids them to be self-restrained, but nevertheless mean to yield obedience to none. Or, short of this, there are others whose demand for authority is simply a demand of idle curiosity. It has been well said that there is boundless danger in all inquiry which is merely curious! It is to such our Lord answers, and will ever answer, 'Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things'. When men ask questions of Almighty God by the answer to which they never mean to rule their lives, let them not think that to them any sign will be given. The will must be set to do the will of God before the intellect can act with discernment on spiritual truth.
(c) Earnestness.—A life of trifling here is not the life of those who are enlightened by their God. God must be really sought if God is to be truly found. It may be difficult to say why the eyes of some are so strangely holden that they cannot find Him. I know nothing more perplexing than to watch and see, and sometimes be made participator in, the doubts and difficulties of unbelief. It is not difficult to see why they are not permitted to pierce within the veil or to find the hidden presence of their God. For 'the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, the violent take it by force'.
A life of earnest seeking is a life of finding, but God's truth is too sacred a thing to be expounded to superficial worldliness. Let me add this one word more. There are others tried by intellectual difficulties, yet athirst for the living God and for a fuller revelation to their souls. The time of granting this revelation rests with Him, and to them that revelation will be given. The answer to their cry will come; they shall know the doctrine whether it be of God; He will tell them by what authority He does these things.
References.—XX. 9-16.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 20. XX. 9-19.—Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 284. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 190. XX. 13.—F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 15. XX. 16.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 214.
The Stone That Grinds to Powder
I. As far as regards things and laws which are on the same plane as those referred to in this parable, most people know that we cannot do as we like; that if we act in harmony with rational convictions it will go well with us; that if we pay no heed to them we shall suffer. In thousands of cases, too, men spontaneously, unhesitatingly conform to nature and its laws.
II. When it is a question of men's own bodies the principle I am referring to has, however, far less influence and control than when it is a question of our relations to the external world; though even there a great improvement has taken place.
III. As we approach the sphere of mind, of spirit, we discover that this idea of reality and law has less and less control over men's thoughts and conduct.
IV. But let us now deal more directly with the words of Christ Himself in the light of these general truths. 'Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.' (1) The first point we need to press upon ourselves is the reality of Jesus Christ: I mean, of course, His present reality: His present reality for us. (2) The next point that arises out of the text is that Christ is a reality with which every man has to reckon. (3) A third point is, that if you stumble at Christ, if you neglect His claims, if you treat Him as if He did not exist, you inflict serious injury on yourselves. (4) Still further, to enter into positive conflict with Christ is to ensure our own utter ruin. 'On whom that stone shall fall, it shall grind him to powder'—stronger language could scarcely be used to describe the effect of a deadly encounter with Jesus Christ
—D. W. Simon, Twice Born and other Sermons, p. 166.
References.—XX. 20.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 267. XX. 22.—J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 392.
It appears to us a ridiculous prudery to say that a moral teacher is bound to discuss casuistry with a set of political spies; and that, if the question be only well-chosen and real, he is to be unaffected by the malicious purpose of the questioners.... When people ask what they do not want to know, it is not merely a silly softness, but an irreverence to truth itself, to produce it to be spit upon or abused to crime. As to the particular mode in which Jesus parried the question of his enemies, nothing, we think, could be more admirable.... The retreat of Jesus from the casuistry of faction to the permanent relations of the soul, his hint that, amid the changing pressures and coercions of the world, an imperishable realm remains open for human fidelity and Divine communion, we cannot but regard as not only an acute escape from artifice, and a wise check to zealotry, but in the highest degree dignified, beautiful, and profound.
References.—XX. 23.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 362. XX. 24.—A Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 59. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 195. XX. 34, 35.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 31. XX. 35.—J. M. Whiton, Beyond the Shadow, p. 81. J. B. Brown, Aide to the Development of the Divine Life, No. 10. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 108. XX. 36.—H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Reading, p. 416. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 113.
The Resurrection of the Body
J. H. Newman writes in his sermon entitled 'The Resurrection of the Body':—Our Blessed Lord seems to tell us that in some sense or other Abraham's body might be considered still alive as a pledge of his resurrection, though it was dead in the common sense in which we apply the word. His announcement is, Abraham shall rise from the dead, because in truth he is still alive. He cannot in the end be held under the power of the grave, more than a sleeping man can be kept from waking. Abraham is still alive in the dust, though not risen thence. He is alive because all God's saints live to Him, though they seem to perish.... His angels, surely, guard the bodies of His servants; Michael, the Archangel, thinking it no unworthy task to preserve them from the powers of evil.
References.—XX. 37, 38.—J. N. Bennie, The Eternal Life, p. 209. Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1863. XX. 38.—Basil Wilberforce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 328. Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, ibid. vol. lxx. p. 232. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 302. XX. 45-47.—Ibid. vol. iv. p. 263. XXI.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 71. XXI. 1-3.—T. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 55. XXI. 1-4.—J. M. Bennie, The Eternal Life, p. 118. XXI. 1-6.—R. Allen, The Words of Christ, p. 299.
And spake unto him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority?
And he answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer me:
The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?
And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then believed ye him not?
But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet.
And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was.
And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.
Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.
And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty.
And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty.
And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out.
Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him.
But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.
So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?
He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.
And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?
Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them.
And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor.
And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly:
Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?
But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye me?
Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar's.
And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's.
And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.
Then came to him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked him,
Saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man's brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children.
And the second took her to wife, and he died childless.
And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also: and they left no children, and died.
Last of all the woman died also.
Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife.
And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage:
But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage:
Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.
Now that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.
Then certain of the scribes answering said, Master, thou hast well said.
And after that they durst not ask him any question at all.
And he said unto them, How say they that Christ is David's son?
And David himself saith in the book of Psalms, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
Till I make thine enemies thy footstool.
David therefore calleth him Lord, how is he then his son?
Then in the audience of all the people he said unto his disciples,
Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts;
Which devour widows' houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation.