Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE DIFFICULTY WE FIND IN HIS SILENCE. Had not the Sanhedrin a right to ask this of him? It was a legally constituted body, and one of its functions was to guide the people of the land by determining who was to be received as a true Teacher from God. John had recognized their right to formally interrogate him (John 1:19-27). As Jesus was claiming and exercising authority (Luke 19:45), it seems natural and right that this council of the nation should send a deputation to ask the question in the text; and, if that be so, it seems only right that our Lord should give them a formal and explicit answer. Why did he not?
II. ITS EXPLANATION. There was:
1. A formal justification. The Sanhedrin had not yet declared its mind on the great Prophet who had been before the public, and in regard to whom an official decision might well be demanded. Jesus Christ, as a Jew, had a right to ask this question concerning one whose ministry commenced before his own, and had already been concluded. If they were unwilling or unable to pronounce a judgment, they ruled themselves unfit or incompetent to do what they undertook to do. As the event proved, they declined to say, and their refusal justified Jesus in withdrawing his own case from a tribunal which confessed its own incompetence. But there was also:
2. A moral ground on which our Lord might base his action. The Sanhedrin was not solicitous to guide the people in the ways of truth and righteousness; they wanted to entrap their enemy (see Luke 19:47). Their aim was not holy, but unholy; not patriotic, but malevolent. They were not seeking the public good, but their own personal advantage; they desired to crush a rival, and so to maintain their own position of authority. Such an object as this deserved no regard; it was one not to be respected, but to be defeated; and our Lord, with Divine wisdom, adopted a course which cut the ground completely from beneath their feet.
III. ITS SIGNIFICANCE TO OURSELVES. Jesus Christ will not always answer our questions. Whether or not he will do so depends on the spirit in which he is approached by us.
2. Unmeaning and unspiritual utterance makes no way with him (see Luke 14:15). The formalities and proprieties of religious language fall on his ear, but they do not touch his heart or move his hand.
3. Malevolent activity can look for nothing but defeat from his wisdom and his power (see text and following verses of this chapter).
4. Presumption will be turned away unrewarded. To see the Father as he is in himself is an impossible and impracticable desire; our wisdom is to understand him as he is revealed in his Son (John 14:8, 9). We may not ask of Christ those things which are beyond the range of our powers.
5. Impatience must be postponed, and must wait the fitter time (John 16:12). Christ will sometimes, perhaps often, be silent when we would that he should speak to us. But there is -
IV. ONE CONDITION UNDER WHICH HE WILL SPEAK TO US. Practical, spiritual earnestness will draw down his blessing, will command his gracious and life-giving word. If we earnestly and perseveringly seek our own spiritual well-being or that of others, we shall not fail to hear him say, "According to your faith be it unto you." - C.
his authority. This so "cornered" them that they decline giving an opinion, and Jesus consequently is warranted in declining to tell them by what authority he takes the course he does. Now, here it is to be noticed -
I. THE MINISTRY OF JESUS WAS BOUND UP HISTORICALLY WITH THE CLAIMS OF JOHN. It was to the Baptist he went for baptism. It was when being baptized by John that he received the gifts of the opened heaven, descending dove, and assurance of Sonship. It was from John he received the first start in securing disciples, when the Baptist pointed to him and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" How natural, therefore, that Jesus should take the chief priests back to John! It was no able manoeuvre on the Master's part, but simple historic defense. "John recognized my authority and misssion; he set his seal upon them. Should this not satisfy you? And surely this course taken by our Lord has deep significance. If ever one in this world might have stoood in his own individual right an said "My work and teaching are surely self-evidently Divine," he was the Man; but no, he takes his questions along the historic line, and shows how he stands on prophetic ground, as successor of the last of the prophets. It was the recognition of the prophetical succession rather than any independent assumption.
II. FEAR OF MAN WILL INCAPACITATE MEN FOR THE SIMPLEST ACT OF JUDGMENT. What Jesus asks these rulers to decide is whether John the Baptist, in introducing baptism, was taking a Heaven-inspired course or not. "The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?" Instead of facing the question like men, they fenced with it. They saw clearly that in either case their answer would put them in a difficulty. If they said that John's baptism was from heaven, Jesus would immediately say, "Why then believed ye him not?" but if they declared it was a mere human innovation, they would come into such collision with the people as to run the risk of being stoned. In fear of man they decline judgment. Now it is instructive here to notice that such temporizers never can be martyrs. They have no notion of dying for their conviction about John. Why should they be stoned? They prefer being silent on the whole subject. As long as we fear man more than God, as long as we value man's esteem more than truth, we are unfit for judgment. We only become impartial when we are ready to take truth with all its consequences upon us.
III. THE INCOMPETENT DO NOT DESERVE TO BE TREATED AS JUDGES. These rulers have demonstrated their utter incompetency to undertake any decision upon a prophet's claims. They are consequently treated by Jesus as undeserving of the position of judges. It were well if this rule were faithfully observed. Men are treated often as if they had the judicial spirit, capacity, and temper, when they are simply man-fearing partisans. It is lost time putting such people in the judgment-seat. Better far to spend the time in teaching the common people, as the Master did, than in trying to convince the partisans who interrupt good work and do none themselves.
IV. BY A PARABLE OF JUDGMENT HE REVEALS TO THESE PARTISANS THEIR DANGER. The vineyard indicates the theocratic people, the husbandmen the men who exercised government among them, and the naturally expected fruit was the loyalty and spiritual service which prophets called for but seldom secured for their Master in heaven. Instead of rendering the fruits, the rulers of the Jewish people subjected the line of prophets to increasing indignities. Last of all, the only Son is sent; but, instead of reverencing him and yielding to Divine demands, they cast him out of the Jewish Church and kill him. How clearly does Jesus thus claim Sonship to God, and indicate his approaching and dreadful doom! The result of this murder of God's Son is to be the transference of the theocracy from the Jews to other husbandmen. The chief priests and scribes are to be supplanted by apostles; and Judaism to give place to Christianity. Seeing that the parable was spoken against them, they cry, "God forbid!" but Jesus clinches his argument by apt quotation from their own Scriptures. He asks, "Is not the stone rejected of the builders to become the head of the corner? And will not all who collide with it be either broken or ground to powder?" In this way he claims to be the test of men, and his rejection to be fatal and final. - R.M.E.
I. THE FORCE OF THESE WORDS AS ORIGINALLY APPLIED. The people who listened to this parable:
1. Deprecated a guilt in which they were to be partakers. "God forbid," said they, "that we should do such shameful things as these, that we should be in any way involved in such crimes as these! Whosesoever hands may be dyed with the blood of the Husbandman's Son, ours shall be stainless." Yet were they moving on to the last and worst enormity, and already were they doing their best to bring about the guilty consummation.
2. Deprecated a doom to which they were descending. "God forbid," said they," that we should be subjected to the Divine wrath, and that we should lose that place of privilege we have so long enjoyed! May Heaven avert from us the calamity of having to yield to another nation or kingdom the post of honor, the place of privilege, which our fathers handed down to us!" But they were then pursuing the course which led inevitably to this very doom. If they only walked on in the path along which they were then hurrying, they were bound to reach that "miserable" end.
II. ITS APPLICATION TO OUR OWN HEARTS AND LIVES.
1. We may be supposing ourselves incapable of wrong-doing the seeds of which are already sown in our heart. Hazael proved to have "dog" enough in him to do the worst things he shuddered at when he spoke (2 Kings 8:13). David discovered that he was capable of a selfishness which he was condemning to death in another (2 Samuel 12:5-7). These Jews shrank from an action which was described to them, as a thing too base for them to commit; and yet they were in the very act of committing it. We little know what possibilities of evil are within us; we cannot estimate aright our own capacity for wrong-doing. Probably every man has in his heart something of which sin may lay hold in some dark hour, and by which he may conceivably be led down to guilt and shame. The declension and fall of those who once stood among the worthiest and the most honored speaks to us in earnest tones of the possible wandering of our own souls from God and goodness. Even Paul realized this stern possibility, and acted upon it (1 Corinthians 9:27). The histories of the erring and ruined souls of men who once seemed beyond the reach of wrong and crime, but who became entangled in their meshes and were slain by them, call upon us to be
(1) watchful with a constant vigilance, and
(2) prayerful with an unflagging earnestness, lest we too fall under the power of temptation (Matthew 26:41).
2. We may be supposing ourselves safe from a doom which lies straight in front of us. How many a youth imagines himself secure from a degradation and a darkness toward which he has, in the sight of God, already set his foot! How many a man considers himself safe from a low and dishonorable level, when he is already on the slope that leads down to it I What if we could see the goal to which the path we tread is tending! "God forbid," we say, "that this should be our destiny!" and all the while our face is turned in that direction. There is "an earnest need for prayer" that God would show us what is the way in which we are walking; that, if we are in the wrong road, he would "apprehend" us even as he apprehended his chosen messenger (Philippians 3:12), and turn our feet into the way of his testimonies (Psalm 139:23, 24). - C.
I. THE REJECTION OF JESUS CHRIST. Its strangeness.
1. From an evidential point of view. How came the builders to reject that valuable Stone? How was it that all the miracles of Jesus, so wonderful, so beneficent, so simple, and so credible as they were; that the life of Jesus, so holy and so beautiful, so gracious and so winning as it was; that the truth spoken by Jesus, so profound, so original, so lofty, so satisfying to the deepest wants of man as it was; - how came it to pass that all this left him the "despised and rejected of men"?
2. From a providential point of view. How do we account for it that there should have been such a long and complicated preparation for the coming of the Messiah of the Jews, and of the Redeemer of mankind, and that he should fail to be recognized when he came? Does not all that Divine arrangement of Law and ritual and prophecy, of privilege and discipline, seem to have been attended with failure? Of what use was all that elaborate preparation, when the people of God rejected the Son of God? when he to whom everything pointed, and of whom everything foretold, was not welcomed and honored, but denounced as a deceiver and slain as a criminal?
II. CONSIDERATIONS WHICH ACCOUNT FOR IT; or which, if they do not account for it, lessen our surprise concerning it.
1. As to the evidential difficulty. We need not wonder that the very strongest evidence failed to convince those who were unconvinced. What evidence can prevail against bigotry (or prejudice) and selfishness combined? Our knowledge and experience of mankind must have abundantly proved that either of these can repel the clearest and weightiest proofs; much more can both of them. And surely prejudice and self-interest never found a firmer seat than they found in the minds of the "chief priests and the scribes" who led the opposition to our Lord.
2. As to the providential difficulty. We must take into our consideration
(1) the fact that God's dealings with our race include such apparent failures as this, and oblige us to wait the issue before we judge;
(2) the fact that the long preparation of Israel was by no means wholly an apparent failure. There is evidence of much fulfillment of prophecy; there is the valuable contribution of all that is contained in Old Testament Scripture, which is a rich and precious heritage to the human race; and there is, above all, the formation of a pure and reverent people, distinguished from and raised above all surrounding nations in the supreme element of moral character, which supplied the human material for the first great missionary epoch. Moreover, the very rejection of Jesus Christ has played to be the beginning and foundation of ultimate success, and of a success far deeper and larger than any contemporary and national triumph would have been. It has led up to -
III. HIS EXALTATION.
1. Notwithstanding his humiliation. That Stone was rejected indeed; that Teacher was silenced, that Prophet slain, that cause covered with infamy; those hopes, cherished by a few disciples, were laid in the tomb and covered from sight; yet, notwithstanding all that apparent defeat and discomfiture, that "Stone has become the Head of the corner," that Teacher the great Teacher of Divine wisdom, that Prophet the acknowledged Savior of mankind, that cause the kingdom of God upon earth.
3. As the result of his humiliation. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." The cross has been the great loadstone which has been attracting the world. It is to a crucified Savior, once slain for our sins, dying in mercy toward our race, that we are drawn in faith and love. It is he "who loved us, and gave himself for us" unto such shame and sorrow and death - it is he whom we rejoice to make the Friend of our heart and the Sovereign of our life.
1. Learn the place of privilege. It is well for us that we stand where we do stand - at a point in time where we can recognize the Corner-stone. The mountain is best seen afar off, the city or the sea is best seen from above, the character of the generation is best understood after some interval of time. We know Jesus Christ better than we should have done had we lived when he was the Stone rejected of the builders. We could not be better placed than we are by the providence of God for understanding him and rejoicing in his worth.
2. Know the day of opportunity. Recognizing the true character of that once-slighted "Stone," knowing Jesus Christ as we know him now, it is for us to accept him without delay as our personal Redeemer, and to commend him, with all devotedness, to the estimation and trust of all beholders. - C.
I. THE ROCK ON WHICH WE MAY BUILD.
1. Christ desires to be as the Corner-stone or Foundation-stone on which the whole structure of our character and of our destiny is resting.
2. If we exercise a living faith in him, we shall find him to be all this to us.
(1) Building on him, our confidence in the forgiving love of God will be well grounded and our peace of mind will be secure;
(2) building on him, our character will be strong and saintly, our life will be useful and noble;
(3) resting on him, our souls will be sustained in hours of trial;
(4) abiding in him, we shall have peace at the last.
II. THE ROCK AGAINST WHICH WE ARE BRUISED OR EVEN BROKEN, We cannot come, in any sense or degree, into conflict with Christ without being injured by the act.
1. To turn from him is to deprive ourselves of the best; it is to rob ourselves of the highest motives to rectitude and spiritual worth, of the deepest springs of goodness and of beauty, of the heavenliest influences that can breathe upon the soul, of the purest and most elevating joys that can fill the heart, of the noblest activities that can occupy and crown our life.
2. To reject him, whether by deliberate and determined refusal or by a foolish and guilty procrastination, is to do conscious wrong to ourselves; it is to injure our conscience, to weaken our will, to suffer constant spiritual deterioration, to be moving along that downward slope which ends in darkness of mind and in self-despair,
3. To disobey the commandments of Christ is to come into collision with those laws of God which are also laws of our spiritual nature, any and every infraction of which is attended with inward and serious injury; e.g. to hate our brother without a cause, to look with lustful eye, to love our own life rather than the cause of God and righteousness, - this is to suffer harm and damage to the spirit.
4. To work against Christ and his gospel is to be constructing that which will be destroyed, is to be delving and building on the sand with the tide coming in which will wash everything away. In no way can we take up an attitude of resistance to Jesus Christ without "wronging our own soul;" it may be by a cruel renunciation of all that is best, or it may be by incurring the judgment which must fall and does tan upon folly and sin.
III. THE ROCK WHICH MAY CRUSH US IN ITS FALL. "On whomsoever it shall fall," etc. The snow-drift and the glacier are magnificent objects on which to gaze; but how terrible is the descending, destructive avalanche! It is simply inevitable that the brightest light should cast the deepest shade; that fullest privilege and most abounding opportunity should, in the case of the guilty, end in deepest condemnation and severest penalty (John 3:19; Hebrews 6:4-8; Philippians 3:18, 19). "When God arises to judgment," when the rock of Divine dissatisfaction falls, when the "wrath of the Lamb" is revealed, then must there be made known what God intends by "everlasting destruction from his presence." All that is meant by that we do not know: we may well resolve that, by timely penitence and loving faith, we will never learn by the teaching of our own experience. - C.
1. The worthlessness of heartless praise. What value do we suppose Jesus Christ attached to the eulogium here pronounced (ver. 2)? How worthless to him now are the epithets which are uttered or the praises which are sung by lips that are not sincere?
2. The evil end of a false attitude toward Christ. The attitude of hostility which his enemies had definitely taken up led them to resort
(1) to shameful deceit (ver. 20), and
(2) to a malign conspiracy against the one Teacher who could and would have led them into the kingdom of God.
3. The final discomfiture of guilt. (Ver. 26.) It is silenced and ashamed. Respecting the principal subject before us, we should consider -
I. TWO NOTIONS THAT FIND NO COUNTENANCE IN OUR LORD'S REPLY,
1. When Jesus answered, "Render unto Caesar," etc., he did not mean to say that the spheres of the secular and the sacred lie so apart that we cannot serve God while we are serving the state. Let none say, "Politics are politics, and religion is religion." That is a thoroughly unchristian sentiment. If we ought to "eat and drink," if we ought to do everything to the glory of God, it is certain that we ought to vote at elections, to speak at meetings, to exercise our political privileges, and to discharge our civil duties, be they humble or high, to the glory of God, it is certain that we ought to vote at elections, to speak Christ as truly and as acceptably in the magistrates' court, or in the lobby of the House of Commons, as he can be in the school or the sanctuary.
2. Nor did Christ mean to say that these spheres are so apart that a man cannot be serving the state while he is engaged in the direct service of God; for, indeed, there is no way by which we render so true and great a service to the whole body politic as when we are engaged in planting Divine truth in the minds and hearts of men; then are we sowing the seeds of peace, of industry, of sobriety, of every national virtue, of a real and lasting prosperity.
3. Nor yet that there are no occasions whatever when we may act in opposition to the state. Our Lord encouraged his apostles in their refusal to obey an unrighteous mandate (Acts 5:28, 29).
II. THE LEADING TRUTH WHICH CHRIST'S WORDS CONTAIN, Viz. that our obligation to God does not conflict with our ordinary allegiance to the civil power. If the latter should enjoin apostasy, or blasphemy, or positive immorality, then disobedience would become a duty, and might rise into heroism, as it has often done. But ordinarily, we can serve God and be loyal citizens at the same time, and this none the less that the rulers whom we serve are Mohammedans or pagans. To be orderly and law-abiding under the rule of an infidel is as far as possible from being unchristian. On the contrary, it is decidedly Christian (see 1 Timothy 2:2; Romans 3:1-7). Indeed, service rendered to "the froward" has a virtue not possessed by service to "the good and gentle." and faithful citizenship "in a strange land" may be a more valuable and acceptable service than in a Christian country. Our duty, in the light of Christ's teaching, is not that of discovering conscientious objections to the support of the civil government; it is rather that of rendering a hearty obedience to the Divine will, and also of conforming in all loyalty to the requirements of human law. - C.
I. HIS VICTORY OVER THE REVOLUTIONARY PARTY. (Vers. 21-26.) This party was composed mainly of Pharisees. They corresponded to the modern revolutionary party in settled or conquered states. They were constantly fomenting sedition, plotting against the Roman power, the sworn enemies of Caesar. They come, then, with their difficulty about tribute. But notice:
1. Their real tribute to Christ's character in their pretended flattery. (Ver. 21.) They own to his face that he was too brave to make distinctions among men or to accept their persons. In other words, their testimony clearly is that, like God his Father, Jesus was "no respecter of persons." No one is fit to be a teacher of truth who panders to men's tastes or respects their persons. Only the impartial mood and mind can deal with truth truthfully. In the hollow flattery of the Pharisees we find rich testimony to the excellency of Jesus.
2. Notice their scruple about paying tribute. (Ver. 22.) The law of the nation might possibly be made to teach the duty of being tributary to none. It was this they wished to elicit from him, and so hand him over to the governor as seditious. They wished a pretext for revolution, and if he furnished them with one and perished for it, so much the better, they imagined. The baseness of the plot is evident. Their hearts are hostile to Caesar, but they are ready to become "informers" against him for the sake of getting rid of him.
3. Notice how simply he secured a victory. Showing them at once that he knew their designs, he asks them to show him a penny. In his poverty he hardly possessed at this time a spare penny to point his teaching. Having got the penny, he asks about the image on the currency, and receiving for answer that it was Caesar's, he simply instructs them to give both Caesar and God their due. Caesar has his domain, as the currency shows. He regulates the outward relations of men, their barter and their citizenship, and by his laws he makes them keep the peace. But beyond this civil sphere, there is the moral and the religious, where God alone is King. Let God get his rights as well as Caesar, and all shall be well. These words of Christ sounded the death-knell of the Jewish theocracy. They point out two mutually independent spheres. They call upon men to be at once loyal citizens and real saints. We may do our duty by the state, while at the same time we are conscious citizens of heaven, and serve our unseen Master in all things.
II. HIS VICTORY OVER THE SADDUCEES. (Vers. 27-38.) The Pharisees having been confounded by his subtle power, he is next beset by the rival party, the party of sceptical and worldly tendencies. They have given over another world as a no-man's land, the region of undoubted difficulty and puzzle. Especially do they think it impossible to settle the complicated relations into which men and women enter here in any hereafter. Accordingly they state a case where, by direction of the Mosaic Law, a poor woman became successively the wife of seven brothers. In the other life, ask they, whose wife shall she be? Christ's answer is again triumphant through its simplicity. In the immortal life to which resurrection leads there shall be no marrying or giving in marriage. All shall be like. the angels. No distinction in sex shall continue. All are to be "sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Revised Version). The complicated earthly relations shall give place to the simplicity of sonship. God's family shall embrace all others. His Fatherhood shall absorb all the descending affections which on earth illustrate feebly his surpassing love, and our sonship to him will embrace all the ascending affection which his descending love demands. The Simplicity of a holy family, in which God is Father and all are brethren, and the angels are our highborn elder brethren, will take the place of those complex relationships which sometimes sweeten and sometimes sadden human love. But, in addition, our Lord renders Sadducceism ridiculous by showing from the Scriptures these sceptics revered that the patriarchs had not ceased to be, but were still living in the bosom of God. For God, in claiming from the burning bush to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, revealed the reality of life beyond death. It was a demonstration of the resurrection. The patriarchs must have been living worshippers when God was still their God, and this life unto him demands for its perfection the resurrection. The plenitude of life is guaranteed in the continued and worshipful life beyond the grave. In this simple and perfect fashion Jesus silences the Sadducees.
III. HE REMAINS COMPLETE MASTER OF THE FIELD. (Vers. 39, 40.) They are beaten in the field of debate. Jesus is Victor. There is no question now which they can ask him. All is over on the plane of intellectual and moral argument. Not even a Parthian arrow can be shot against him. But treachery and brute force remain, and they can have him betrayed and crucified whom they cannot refute. Resort to weapons like these is always proof of weakness. Victory has always been really with the persecuted party. Persecution on the part of any cause or organization demonstrates its inherent weakness. Hence we hail the Christ in the temple as the supreme Master and Conqueror of men. The very men who put unholy hands upon him must have felt that they were doing the coward's part after ignominious defeat. The weapons of our warfare should always be spiritual; with carnal weapons we only confess defeat and court everlasting shame. - R.M.E.
I. THE FIRM GROUND OF CHRISTIAN PROMISE. Our Lord tells us, from his own knowledge, that there is a future for the sons of men. And he indicates some features of this future.
1. Our life will be one of perfect purity. There is to be nothing of the grosser element that enters into our social relations here (ver. 35). Great founders of great faiths have promised to their disciples a paradise of enjoyment of a lower kind. Christ leads us to hope for a life from which everything that is sensual will be removed. Love will remain, but it will be spiritual, angelic, absolutely pure.
2. It will be a life without end, and therefore without decay. "Neither can they die any more" (ver. 36). How blessed the life that knows no fear of interruption, of dissolution, of sudden cessation, and, more particularly, that is free from the haunting consciousness of passing on to a time when faculty must fade, or the sadder sense of decline already commenced or even hastening to its end! What will it be to live a life that becomes ever brighter and fuller as the periods of celestial service pass away!
3. It will be a life of highest honor and elevation. "They are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection" (ver. 36). "Now are we the sons of God," and when the future life is disclosed our sonship will mean yet more to us - it will be life on a loftier plane, in a deeper and fuller sense; we shall be nearer to God, and more like him in our faculty and in our spirit and our character.
II. THE ADDITIONAL SUPPORT OF CHRIST'S INFERENCE. To be "the God of Abraham," he argued, meant to be the God of a living soul; he whose God was the living God was a living man in the fullest sense. For God to be our God includes everything we need. The living God is the God of living men; the loving God of loving men; the blessed God of happy men; the holy God of holy men. All the highest good for which we long in our noblest hours is guaranteed to us in that "the everlasting God, the righteous and the faithful and the loving, One, is our God.
1. The heritage of the future is not promised unconditionally; there are "those accounted worthy to obtain" it; therefore there are those who are not worthy, and who will miss it.
2. The condition that is implied is that of a living personal connection with God himself. Those who can truly claim him as "their God" may confidently look forward to an eternal home in his presence and in his service. To us, to whom he has revealed himself in his Son, this means a living union with Jesus Christ our Savior. To know him, to live unto him, to abide in him, - this is life eternal. - C.
I. A PROOF OF UTTER FALSITY. (Ver. 40.) How came these men to be afraid to ask questions of Christ? Others did not shrink from him, or fear to ask things of him. The children were not afraid of him; nor were "the strangers" - those not of Israel: nor were the women who waited on him and learned of him; nor the simple-hearted and genuine inquirers. It was only the men who sought his overthrow, because they dreaded his exposure; it was only those who shrank from his heart-searching gaze and his truth-telling words, that dared not approach him and ask questions of him. No man however ignorant, no child however young, need shrink from the Lord of love, from asking of him what he needs; it is only the false who are afraid.
II. THE TIME FOR AGGRESSIVE ACTION. The successful general may act long on the defensive, but he waits and looks for the moment of attack. Jesus bore long with the questionings of his enemies, but the time had come for him to ask something of them. We may well bear long with the enemies of Christ, but the hour comes when we must bear down upon them with convincing and humbling power.
III. THE OCCASIONAL DUTY OF PUTTING MEN INTO A DIFFICULTY. On this occasion our Lord placed his hearers in a difficulty from which he did not offer to extricate them. His prophetic function was to enlighten, to liberate, to relieve. But here was an occasion when he best served men by placing them in a difficulty from which they found no escape. Such service may be rare for a Christian teacher, but it does occur. There are times when we cannot render a man a better service than that of humbling him, of showing him that there are mysteries in presence of which he is a little child.
IV. THE WISDOM OF FURTHER INQUIRY. These Pharisees imagined that they knew everything about the Scriptures that could be known. They were learned, but they were unwise; they had a large verbal and literal acquaintance with their sacred books, but they had missed their deepest meaning. They had not inquired humbly, intelligently, reverently enough. How much more is there in our New Testament than we have yet found! What depth of wisdom in the words of Christi What enlightenment in the letters of his apostles! Though we may not have missed our Way so grievously as the scribes had done, yet may there be very much of Divine truth we have not yet discovered, which patient and devout inquiry will disclose.
V. THE LOWLINESS AND THE GREATNESS OF JESUS CHRIST. He is the Son of David, and he is also his Lord. We understand that better than the most advanced and enlightened of his disciples could at that point. "As concerning the flesh" he was "born of a woman, made under Law;" yet is he "exalted to be a Prince and a Savior;" Son of man and Son of God. Only thus could he be what he came to be:
1. Our Mediator between God and man.
2. Our Divine Savior, in whom we put our trust and find mercy unto eternal life; our Divine Friend, of whose perfect sympathy we can be assured; our rightful Lord, to whom we can bring the offering of our hearts and lives. - C.
I. CONSIDER CHRIST AS DAVID'S SON AND LORD (Vers. 41-45.) It is clear from the Gospels and from the Targums that the Messiah wanted by the Jews was not necessarily to be Divine. It was a temporal prince, a military Messiah, they longed for; and no Divinity was needful to play the role of "conquering hero" which they desired. A merely human Messiah would have suited them admirably. When they got one, therefore, who claimed to be Divine, they condemned him for blasphemy, and never stopped until they had made away with him by crucifixion. Our Lord's question in the temple was to arouse them to a sense of Messiah's proper claims. This suggests:
1. How prone we are to be satisfied with mere human saviours. The Jews wanted a Messiah to collect armies, to deliver them from Roman bondage, and to give them all good situations in the new kingdom. They wanted nothing that a clever leader could not do for them. And there are plenty of people whose only desired salvation is from hunger and thirst and discomfort of a physical kind. They have no real longing after deliverance from sin and covetousness and discontent. Their one thought is to find somebody who can help them on a bit.
2. David's royal line produced a Prince who was also David's Lord. Now, it is plain from the psalm (110.) which Jesus quotes that David realized in the Messiah his present Lord. He ruled over David, and was recognized by David as his Lord. When we add to this the fact that David was the greatest monarch of his time, we see that the only interpretation of this Lordship is the Divinity of Messiah. This Messiah is made by the Most High to sit at his right hand until his enemies are made his footstool. The whole picture involves and implies Christ's Divinity. Now, if these scribes and Pharisees had acted honestly, they would have said, "Here is a point which escaped us; this Lordship over David is a claim which the sonship does not cover; there must be more in the Messiahship than we suspect; we must reconsider our attitude towards Jesus, and do him justice." But instead of this, they deliberately ignored the difficulty, and went on with their persecution of the Divine Messiah. Now, this is surely to show us that we need a Divine Savior, for the salvation must be from the power and guilt of sin. We need a Savior who will be our Lord; to whom we not only owe allegiance, but give it cheerfully. It is a Divine Lord of the ages, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the infinite Majesty, whom we need to give us the emancipation which can alone profit our souls.
II. CONSIDER CHRIST'S CONDEMNATION OF THE SCRIBES. (Vers. 45-47.) Seeing how they reject the scriptural evidence of his claims, Jesus proceeds to warn his disciples against them. He knows them thoroughly. And:
1. He charges them with skilfully manufacturing a religious reputation. They wore peculiar garments; the man-milliners of the day had been brought into requisition. They welcomed recognition from the people in the markets; they took, as their right, the highest seats in the synagogue and the chief rooms at social feasts. They manufactured such a reputation as secured them abundant honor.
2. They traded upon their reputation. Widows got their advice and intercession, and paid them well for giving it. In fact, our Lord charges them with devouring widows' houses in their greed. Instead of the widows inspiring pity, they seemed eligible because defenceless victims.
3. Their condemnation shall be proportionally great. Professions which are traded upon will ultimately procure a deeper condemnation. How needful that the genuineness of our profession should be tested! If it is for God's dear sake, and not for the sake of worldly advantage, it will stand the test at last.
III. CONSIDER CHRIST'S ECOMNIUM, UPON THE POOR WIDOW. (Ch. 21:1-4) Sitting over against the treasury our Lord saw both rich and poor depositing their gifts. Some of the rich gave largely out of their abundance, and Jesus noted doubtless the proportion. But one poor widow came along, and she deposited in the temple-chest a single farthing. It was little, but it was her all. Behind her sackcloth Jesus discerned the biggest heart in all the company. Now, we are taught by this circumstance:
1. That all our gifts are deposited in sight of Christ. As Divine Savior he sits, so to speak, over against every treasury, and notes what the people deposit there. There is no such thing as secret giving so far as Jesus is concerned. We may give so that the right hand knows not what the left is giving, but Jesus knows all the same.
2. It is the heart which determines the character of our liberality. It is not the quantity of money, but the quality of the act, which is important. A farthing from a widow is more in the sight of God than thousands from a millionaire. Hence we ought to examine ourselves, and see clearly what our motives may be.
3. Hence it is possible even for the poorest to be liberal. It is this which we require to have driven home. When poor as well as rich give with large-heartedness, the Church's "golden age" shall come, It is to this that our Lord would lead us. - R.M.E.
I. THAT CHARACTER IS OF MORE CONSEQUENCE THAN PRECEPT. "Beware of the scribes;" they "sit in Moses' seat, and teach things that you should do" (Matthew 23:2); but their conduct is such that they are to be avoided rather than sought after. Beware of the bad man, though he be a good teacher; the influence of his life will be stronger than the effect of his doctrine; the one will do more harm than the other will do good. In a religious teacher, character is the principal thing; if that be unsound, proceed no further; seek some one else, one that you can respect, one that will raise you by the purity of his heart and the beauty of his behavior.
II. THAT UNGODLY MEN FALL INTO A FOOLISHNESS THE DEPTH OF WHICH THEY DO NOT SUSPECT. How childish and even contemptible it is for men to find gratification in such display on their own part and in such obsequiousness on the part of others as is here described (ver. 46)! To sink to such vanity is wholly unworthy of a man who fears God, and who professes to find his hope and his heritage in him and in his service. They who thus let themselves down do not know how poor and small is the spirit they cherish and the behavior in which they indulge; they do not suspect that, in the estimate of wisdom, it is at the very bottom of the scale of manliness.
III. THAT FAMILIARITY WITH DIVINE TRUTH IS CONSISTENT WITH THE COMMISSION OF THE WORST OFFENCES. The scribes themselves, familiar with every letter of the Law, could descend to heartless misappropriation in conjunction with a despicable hypocrisy (ver. 47). Guilt and condemnation could go no further than this. It is solemnizing thought that we may have the clearest view of the goodness and the righteousness of God, and yet may be very far on the road to perdition. Paul felt the solemnity of this thought (1 Corinthians 9:27). It is well that the children of privilege and the preachers of righteousness should take this truth to heart and test their own integrity.
IV. THAT THE AFFECTATION OF PIETY IS A SERIOUS AGGRAVATION OF GUILT. The "making long prayers" entailed a "greater condemnation." Infinitely offensive to the Pure and Holy One must be the use of his Name and the affectation of devotedness to his service as a mere means of selfish acquisition. The fraud which wears the garb of piety is the ugliest guilt that shows its face to heaven. If men will be transgressors, let them, for their own sake, forbear to weight their wrong-doing with a simulated piety. The converse of this thought may well be added; for it is truth on the positive side, viz. -
V. THAT DEVOUT BENEVOLENCE IS GOODNESS AT ITS BEST. TO serve our fellow-men because we love Christ, their Lord and ours, and because we believe that he would have us succor them in their need, is to do the right thing under the purest and worthiest prompting; it is goodness at its best. - C.