Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE LORD'S NEED.
1. Jesus needed one of God's humblest creatures.
(1) This throws light on the lowliness of Jesus. In his Divine glory all the wealth of the universe was at his disposal. But in his earthly humiliation he had very simple wants. He required bread, water, rest. It is a mark of a genuinely low estate to have need of what the great despise.
(2) This shows how what is most humble may yet serve the highest. The ass is needed by the Christ. If a very lowly animal can be thus honoured, much more may the most obscure of men and women, Christ's own brothers and sisters, render him valuable service.
2. Disciples obtained what their Master needed. He told his need; at once the two chosen messengers set off to have it supplied. It is not enough that we serve Christ in our own way. We have to discover what he really wants. Sometimes it may not be at all what we have chosen. But if it is serviceable to our Lord, that should be enough to determine our course of action.
3. The unknown owner of the animals was obedient to the message of Christ's need. "The Lord hath need of them" was the talisman to silence all remonstrances. Jesus may claim what is far more precious to us than any dumb animal. Yet if he calls, he needs; and if he needs, his claim is paramount. He may want a child in the other world; or he may require the child in the mission field. Then it is not for us to withhold our dearest from him.
"Why should I keep one precious thing from thee, II. THE USE OF THE ASS. Why did the Lord need the ass and its colt? 1. To fulfil prophecy. We do not often come across the conscious and intentioned fulfilment of prophecy. Usually the prediction comes true in spite of the ignorance of the actors in the fulfilment, or while they are aiming at something else than simply carrying out what a seer of old foretold. But now Christ sets himself deliberately to put into practice an idea of Zechariah (see again John 19:28). What is best in the Old Testament is followed by Christ in the New. 2. To aid in a solemn triumph. Jesus had long forbidden a public confession of his Messiahship. But now he will make it for himself; for now it can do no harm. He is to ride in triumph, but in triumph to the cross. That glad entry to Jerusalem was to be just marching into the jaws of death. 3. To express the peaceful and gentle character of Christ's Kingship. Jesus did not choose the spirited war horse. Following the idea of the prophet, he selected the lowly ass, an animal which, although it was very superior in the East to the ill-treated ass of the West, was still associated with quietness and simplicity. It was to be a rustic triumph, an old world triumph, quaint and antique, and therefore a protest against the vulgar fashion of earthly glory. - W.F.A.
II. THE USE OF THE ASS. Why did the Lord need the ass and its colt?
1. To fulfil prophecy. We do not often come across the conscious and intentioned fulfilment of prophecy. Usually the prediction comes true in spite of the ignorance of the actors in the fulfilment, or while they are aiming at something else than simply carrying out what a seer of old foretold. But now Christ sets himself deliberately to put into practice an idea of Zechariah (see again John 19:28). What is best in the Old Testament is followed by Christ in the New.
2. To aid in a solemn triumph. Jesus had long forbidden a public confession of his Messiahship. But now he will make it for himself; for now it can do no harm. He is to ride in triumph, but in triumph to the cross. That glad entry to Jerusalem was to be just marching into the jaws of death.
3. To express the peaceful and gentle character of Christ's Kingship. Jesus did not choose the spirited war horse. Following the idea of the prophet, he selected the lowly ass, an animal which, although it was very superior in the East to the ill-treated ass of the West, was still associated with quietness and simplicity. It was to be a rustic triumph, an old world triumph, quaint and antique, and therefore a protest against the vulgar fashion of earthly glory. - W.F.A.
I. OUR LORD'S PROCLAMATION OF HIMSELF AS KING OF PEACE BY RIDING INTO JERUSALEM ON AN ASS. He did not choose a horse, because that animal would have suggested royalty of quite another kind from his - royalty which was maintained by war and outward force.
1. What is it, then, that Christ claims? No one could have the slightest doubt that he claimed to fulfil Old Testament prophecy, and to be that very Person who was to come and bring with him to earth everything which the love of God could bestow. He professes his willingness to take command of earth, not in the easier sense of being able to lay down a political constitution for all races, but in the sense of being able to satisfy every individual, to give peace to every soul, however distracted by trouble and overwhelmed by sin. And some have through him actually entered into such peace that they are impregnable to this world's assaults, and have gained the mastery over its temptations. They have found him to be all he claims to be.
2. They proclaimed him as the Saviour and King of men, and he accepted these offices in a very different spirit from that in which they were ascribed to him. He knew that to be the King of a people so down trodden with sin, so entangled in ancient evils, was full of danger and suffering; that in order to deliver such a people he must die for them. And it is his expectation that we on our side should open our eyes to what he has done, and acknowledge him as our King. We must not grudge if it comes in the way of our duty to him to make real sacrifices.
3. It must, indeed, have been a humbling experience for our Lord to have himself ushered into Jerusalem by a crowd through whose hosannas he already heard the mutter of their curses. Such is the homage a perfect life has won.
II. ALTHOUGH OUR LORD MAKES NO MOAN OVER HIS OWN FATE AS THE REJECTED MESSIAH, HE QUITE BREAKS DOWN AT THE THOUGHT OF THE DOOM OF HIS REJECTERS. Terrible, indeed, must the responsibility often have seemed to him of being set as the test of men, of being the occasion of so many being found wanting. Are we in a condition so full of hazard and foreboding that it might justly bring tears to the eyes of Christ?
III. THE WITHERING OF THE FRUITLESS FIG TREE WAS A SYMBOLIC ACT. Our Lord saw in it the very image of Jerusalem. There was there an exuberant display of all kinds of religious activity, with absolutely nothing that could feed the soul or satisfy God. And the withering of the fig tree reveals the other side of our Lord's character in connection with this rejection by the Jews. He wept, but he also pronounced doom. To calculate our own future we must keep in view not only the tears of Christ, but also his judgment. Throughout his life the one is as prominent as the other. Words which were rarely or never heard from the sternest Old Testament prophet are common on his lips. There is a day of visitation for each man - a day in which to us in our turn there appears a possibility and an invitation to enter into the presence of God, and be forever satisfied in him and with his likeness. Picture to yourself the shame of being a failure, such a failure that the truest love and most inventive wisdom must give yon up and pronounce you useless. - D.
Matthew 26:6; John 12:2). His progress on the day following is here recorded. Observe -
I. THAT JESUS ENTERED THE CAPITAL IN THE ROYALTY OF MEEKNESS.
1. He came in sacred character.
(1) Animals which had never borne the yoke were employed for sacred purposes (see Deuteronomy 21:3). The colt upon which Jesus rode was such (see Mark 11:2). Specially acceptable to Christ is the consecration of virgin youth.
(2) His sacred character was recognized in the acclamations of the multitude. "Hosanna!" was a form of acclamation used at the Feast of Tabernacles, when the people carried boughs (see Nehemiah 8:15). "Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord?" equivalent to "Hosanna, O Lord!" (see Psalm 20:9). "Hosanna in the highest! i.e. in the heavens, which is an invitation to holy angels to join with the sons of men in praising the Messianic King (cf. Psalm 148:1, 2; Luke 2:14; Luke 19:38).
(3) That a colt never before ridden should have borne Jesus amidst the shoutings of the multitude was a miracle (cf. 1 Samuel 6:7). That miracle set forth the power by which Christ can subject to his will the unruly heart of man (see Job 11:12).
(4) While Jesus entered Jerusalem as a King, he showed that his kingdom was not of the world. So Pilate acquitted him of treason against Caesar.
2. He came as the Prince of Peace.
(1) He rode not upon the warlike horse. To have done so would have been unbecoming him as King of Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 17:16; Psalm 20:7). Has his royalty peacefully entered in triumph into your soul? Has he received a welcome - a hosanna, in your heart?
(3) His coming was therefore the triumph of pure joy. This the multitude expressed by acclamation and by spreading their garments and palm branches (cf. 2 Kings 9:13; Psalm 118:25; John 13:13; Revelation 7:9).
(4) The hosannas of earth are the prelude to the hallelujahs of heaven.
3. He came in humble state.
(1) He condescended to have "need" of the ass's colt. If he is pleased to have need of our poor services, this is reason sufficient for any sacrifice. To render service needed by the Lord is at once the highest honour and the greatest blessing.
(2) He condescended to accept his praises from the lips of "babes." Not from the heads and rulers of the nation, but from his poor disciples. Their greatness is childlikeness (cf. Matthew 18:1-4).
(3) He condescended to come in meekness to those who plotted his destruction. Lo! the King comes to be murdered by his creatures, and in his death to redeem them from wrath!
(4) What triumphs are here! He triumphs over pride in his humility, over affluence in his poverty, over rage and malice in his meekness. "Was it a mean attitude wherein our Lord appeared? Mean to contempt? I grant it. I glory in it. It is for the comfort of my soul, for the honour of his humility, and for the utter confusion of all worldly pomp and grandeur" (Wesley).
II. THAT JESUS ENTERED THE CAPITAL FOR THE TRIUMPH OF DESTINY.
1. He came for the fulfilment of prophecy.
(1) This last journey of our Lord from Jericho to Jerusalem was in the same line as the triumphant march of the children of Israel from the time of their first entry into the holy land to the taking of Jerusalem. The spiritual progress is from the lowest to the highest, from the place accursed to the place of the Name of our Lord.
(3) He rode in triumph to his death. The priest according to the order of Melchizedek suffers as a Priest and triumphs as a King. His victory is moral, viz. over sin, death, and hell. He is the King in his death, according to the inscription on his cross (see Matthew 27:37). How appropriate upon this occasion, then, was the "Hosanna" - "Save now"!
2. His coming was itself a prophecy.
(1) It suggested, by what Elliot calls "allusive contrast," the ascension of Jesus into the heavenly Jerusalem. Some of the multitude "went before him," viz. those who met him from the city, as the angels met Jesus in his ascension. Some "followed after," viz. those who came with him from Bethany, as the risen saints ascended with their risen Lord (cf. Psalm 24.; Matthew 27:52, 53). Those who would follow Christ in his ascension must follow him now in his lowly state.
(2) It suggested also the second, glorious, advent of Messiah to this earth. Then coming forth to vengeance, he is described as riding upon a horse (see Revelation 19:11). Coming forth in glory, without a sin sacrifice, he will descend upon a throne of white light. He will come with the sound of the great trumpet, which shall wake the very dead. Instead of the retinue of poor Galilaeans, he will come with a myriad retinue of mighty angels. Then will be understood the "Hosanna in the highest!
(3) The Lord's day is the Christian type of the everlasting sabbath. As the day of the triumphal entry of Christ into the earthly Jerusalem was the tenth of the month, so was it also the first day of the week. It was the first of that series of events which took place on the first day of the week, entitling that day to be called the day of the Lord." Is there no prophetic reference to this in the words of the psalm which was evidently in the minds of the disciples: "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I beseech thee [הושיעח נא, hoshiahnna, from which the disciples had their hosanna]," etc. (see Psalm 118:24-26)? - J.A.M.
I. READY RESPONSE TO DIVINE CLAIMS AS AN EXAMPLE. There was no questioning or dispute; no hesitation or doubt; no anxiety, even, as to how the animals would be brought back again. There was no anxiety as to what was to be done with them; no fear as to any injury coming to them; the man did not even suggest that the colt would be of no use, for he had not been "broken in." It is beautiful and suggestive that the simple sentence, "The Lord hath need of them," sufficed to quiet and satisfy him. He could shift all the responsibility on the Lord. "He knows everything; he controls everything. What I have to do is to obey. Depend upon it, the rest will all come right." So away at once, and away cheerfully, went the animals. That is a noble example indeed. We spoil so much of our obedience by criticizing the things we are called to do, or give, or bear. Then we hesitate, question, doubt, and do languidly at last what we do. If we know what God's will is, that should always be enough. We have nothing to do with the how or the why. Send the animals at once if you know that "the Lord hath need of them."
II. READY RESPONSE TO DIVINE CLAIMS AS A REVELATION OF CHARACTER. I like this man. I seem to know this man. His act reveals him. A simple-hearted sort of man, whose natural trustfulness has not been spoilt. An open-hearted, generous sort of man, with very little "calculation" in him. He reminds one of Nathanael, "in whom was no guile." And simple souls somehow get the best of life. - R.T.
I. THE MEEKNESS OF JESUS. This is not the thing which first arrests attention. Indeed, on this one occasion Jesus seems to be asserting himself. Look deeper, and it will be found that he is not. He is not in any of the senses men put into that term. There, riding into Jerusalem as a King, he has no intention of setting up any such kingdom as men expect; he does not mean to use any force; you could never mistake him for a conqueror. There is submission, there is no self-assertion.
II. THE JOY OF THE PEOPLE. In calling Jesus the "Son of David," the people recognized him as the long promised Messiah; and, without clear apprehensions of what his work was to be, they could rejoice in the realization of the national hope. Their joy made it clear to the Jerusalem officials that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. There could be no mistake. They must accept or reject the claim. - R.T.
I. THE KING'S TRIUMPH. Few spectators would see anything kingly in this rustic fete. To the ruling classes of Jerusalem it would seem but child's play. But to the childlike followers of Jesus it had a deep meaning. These Galilaean pilgrims recognized in it the acceptance by Jesus of his royal rights. The question arises - Were they mistaken? He was riding in triumph to Jerusalem. But it was a simple, homely, unconventional triumph. Moreover, it did not lead to the throne, but its promise ended at Calvary, or seemed to end there. We know that the issue was disappointing to the early disciples (Luke 24:21). Nevertheless, we also know that, with Jesus, the way to death was the way to victory. He was most kingly when he suffered most. His Passion was his coronation. He reigns now in the hearts of his people, just because he died for them.
II. THE PEOPLE'S ENTHUSIASM. Long suppressed emotions now break forth into unrestrained utterance. It seems to be impossible to do too much, in the hastily improvised procession, to show devotion to the Christ. This is expressed in two ways.
1. By actions. Garments laid on the animal he rides, garments flung on the road for the honour of being trampled on, sprigs from the wayside trees scattered on the ground, palm branches waved overhead, - these things show the utmost enthusiasm. Strong feeling must manifest itself in action.
2. By words. The people quoted a well known Messianic psalm, praying for a blessing on the Christ. Their words had nearly the same meaning as our "God save the king!" and they were prompted by an overmastering passion of enthusiasm. This is not at all wonderful. The only wonder is that there was but one Palm Sunday, and that our Lord's last Sunday on earth before his death. To know him is to see grounds for unbounded devotion, for love beyond measure, for glad praises which no words can contain. This is the great distinction of our Christian faith, its keynote is enthusiasm for Christ.
III. THE CITY'S WONDER. The happy, noisy procession was heard in Jerusalem, and the citizens looked up from their trades and forgot their bargaining for a moment, in surprise at the unexpected commotion. We may preach the gospel by singing the praises of Christ. One reason why the world is apathetic about Christianity is that the Church is apathetic about Christ. A fearless enthusiasm for Christ will arouse the slumbering world. But we want to go further. In Jerusalem the effect was but slight and transitory. A deeper and more permanent impression was made at Pentecost; for it is the coming of the Holy Spirit, and no merely external excitement, that really touches and changes the hearts of people. Yet even this did not move the greater part of Jerusalem. Rejecting the peaceful coming of Christ, hardened sinners await his next coming, which is in wrath and judgment. - W.F.A.
I. THE DESECRATION.
1. The nature of it. It would be a mistake to suppose that the temple was being used as a common market. The animals sold were not to be treated as meat at the shambles. They were for sacrifices. The money changing was not for the convenience of foreigners wanting to be able to do business in the city with the current coin. This was carried on in order to provide for visitors the Hebrew shekel with which to pay the temple dues. Therefore, it was thought, the business was of a religious character, and could be carried on in the temple as part of the sacred work. Animals were sacrificed there: why should they not be sold there? Money was collected there: why should it not be exchanged there?
2. The evil of it.
(1) It interfered with worship. The outer courts of the temple were used for private prayer. But the confusion of a market was most distracting to the spirit of devotion.
(2) It was unjust to the Gentiles. This traffic seems to have been carried on in the court of the Gentiles. The Jews still reserved their own court in decorum. The prophecy from which our Lord quoted says that God's house "shall be called a house of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7). Thus the rights of the Gentiles were scornfully outraged.
(3) It imported dishonest dealing. The keen eye of Christ detected wrong dealing. It was not only trade, it was cheating that dishonoured the temple.
II. THE CLEANSING.
1. An act of holy indignation. Jesus was angry; he could be angry; sometimes he was moved with indignation. It is no sign of sanctity to be unmoved at the sight of what dishonours God and wrongs our fellow men. There is a guilty complacency, a culpable silence, a sinful calm.
2. An act of Divine authority. It was his Father's house that Christ was cleansing. He spoke and acted as the messenger of God even to those who did not know that he was the Son of God. Christ has power and authority.
3. An act of righteousness. He used force, but of course, if he had met with resistance, the merely physical power he put forth would soon have been overborne. Why, then, did he succeed? Because he had an ally in the breast of every man whom he opposed; the consciences of the traders fought with Jesus against their guilty traffic. He who fights for the right has mighty unseen allies. Do not we need a temple cleansing? The trade spirit desecrates religious work. Finance takes too prominent a place in the Church. It is possible to crush the spirit of private worship in low, unworthy ways of providing the means of public worship. We want the scourge of small cords to drive out the worldly methods of Christian work. - W.F.A.
Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, he identifies himself as "Jehovah." Acting in this quality, he surveyed the characters he found in the temple and dealt with them accordingly. But the temple stands forth as a type of Christ's Church (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21, 22; Hebrews 3:6), so the subject has its lessons for us. We may ask, then -
I. WHAT SORT OF PERSONS DOES JESUS FIND IN HIS CHURCH?
1. He finds the secularist there.
(1) The secularist is in his place in the world. The calling of the money changer is lawful when honestly fulfilled. So is that of the vendor of doves (see Deuteronomy 14:24).
(2) The calling of the secularist is a desecration in the "house of prayer." Lawful things become sinful when ill-timed and ill-placed. The temple of God is defiled by merchandise.
(a) By that scandalous traffic in holy things, which is so largely carried on within the borders of the professing Church, in simoniacal presentation, fraudulent exchanges, preferment obtained through flattery.
(b) By that worldly, covetous, money getting spirit which dwells in so many of its members. This spirit is demoralizing. It is also distracting to worship.
(3) Worldly gain must not be made the end of godliness (see 1 Timothy 6:5). Men should not enter the membership or seek office in Churches with a view to increasing their business.
2. He finds the afflicted there.
(1) "The blind and the lame" are in the world. Sin begets suffering. The prevalence of suffering evinces the prevalence of sin. But there must be qualification here (see John 9:3).
(2) "The blind and the lame" are in the temple. The Church on earth is not so perfect as to be free from afflictions.
(3) The afflicted are where they should be in the Church. Christ the Healer is still in his temple. Religion has its remedies. Religion has its reliefs.
3. He finds the true disciple there.
(1) The Christian in the world is not of it.
(2) In the Church he is at home.
(3) He meets Jesus there.
(4) He see his "wonders" there - miracles of moral healing, miracles of wholesome discipline.
4. He finds the ritualist and the traditionalist there.
(1) "The chief priests and the scribes" (ver. 15). Ritualist and traditionalist are frequently met in company.
(2) They saw, but could not interpret, the wonders wrought by Christ. They could not see his Godhead in the wonderful submission of the traffickers. Neither could they see this in his miracles of healing.
(3) They were angry with those who could interpret the wonders. They were scandalized that the disciples should shout "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Proud men cannot bear that honour should be given to any but themselves. To hypocrites everything that is not commonplace and traditional is extravagant.
(4) Prejudice could censure "the blind and the lame" for coming into the temple to be healed, but could see no evil in the traffickers stalling their oxen there. Superstition is often the companion of irreverence. The priests probably had a pecuniary interest in the traffic, particularly in those animals sold for sacrifice which they had to examine and approve. Interest blinds.
II. WHAT SORT OF TREATMENT HAVE THEY TO EXPECT FROM HIM?
1. What has the secularist to expect?
(1) To be violently ejected from the Church. See the tables and seats overthrown and the money scattered. What a different estimate of its value has Jesus to that cherished by men of the world!
(2) To have their characters exposed. "Robbers!" Extortioners and cheats, viz. in their business, are robbers. The slyness of the fraud does not diminish its villainy. How monstrous the sin when the very Church of God is made a "den of thieves"!
(3) Those who are not admonished by the searchings of truth must suffer the retributions of power. On the first day when Jesus entered the temple he "looked round about upon all things." It was not until the second day that he gave the sterner rebuke (cf. Mark 11:11, 15).
(4) This was the second time that Jesus purged the temple. The first was about three years earlier (see John 2:14). Note: Secularists ejected from the Church will return. They must be expelled again.
(5) As our Lord purged the temple first at the commencement of his ministry and now again at the close of it, so at the beginning of the Christian dispensation the Jewish anti-Messiah was driven out by the Romans, and at the end of it the Gentile antichrist will be cast out.
(6) Never, until the anti-christian secularism is purged out of the temple of the Lord, will the glory of the Lord come into it as in ancient times. The millennial reign will set in with the return of the Shechinah.
2. What have the afflicted to expect?
(1) Miracles of healing. The physical miracles have their moral counterparts. The "blind" come to spiritual conception. The "lame" come to render moral obedience in. a steady, even walk.
(2) Christ alone wrought miracles in the temple of the Lord. He only can work out spiritual marvels.
(3) Note: Christ brought in the afflicted as he turned out the secularists. Concession to the spirit of the world is not the way to win men to Jesus. We have too many sensuous "entertainments."
(4) Spiritual glory is grander than material splendour. By his healing mercy Jesus made the glory of the latter house to surpass that of the former.
3. What have the true disciples to expect?
(1) Mutual encouragement. The hosannas were in chorus. If "children," literally taken, raised their voices, it was in imitation of the childlike disciples.
(2) The defence of Christ. The expulsion of the traffickers was for the defence of pious Gentiles; for it was in the court of the Gentiles the traffic was carried on. The privileges of the Gentile believer must not be diverted from him. Jesus also defended his disciples against their enemies, the ritualists and traditionalists.
(3) His commendation. God makes the wrath of men to praise him. But his praise is "perfected" by his disciples. With them his praise is intelligent, generous, and free.
4. What have the haughty to expect?
(1) Rebuke from Christ. There is a keen sarcasm in the question, "Did ye never read?" when addressed to the "chief priests and scribes."
(2) Abandonment by Christ. "And he left them." He had no sympathy with their spirit. He found a more congenial lodging in the olive-shade of Bethany.
(3) The great Redeemer is a great Reformer. - J.A.M.
in its place; but the point is, that all this was being done in the wrong place. The sense of the appropriate, of the becoming, was lost; it was covered over and bidden by the greed of the trader, and the avarice of the money changer. Trade is not wrong, if it be honest trade, and buyer and seller pass fair equivalents. Banking is not wrong in itself, though it gives great opportunities to the covetous. Our Lord never interfered with tradesfolk or with money changers; he only taught principles that would ensure their bargaining fairly. His righteous anger was roused by the offence these traffickers gave to his sense of the fitting, of the becoming. The true consecration of a building is no mere ceremony, it is the feeling of consecration that is in all reverent souls in relation to it. The consecration should have been in these traders, it was fitting to the place where they were; if it had been in them, they would never have thought of bringing the beasts, the cages, and the tables inside the gates of the temple of Jehovah.
I. THE SENSE OF THE FITTING AN IMPULSE TO JESUS. We might properly expect that this "sense" would be at its keenest in the case of Jesus. The honour of the Father-God was the one all-mastering purpose of his life. He could not bear any slight to be put on God, on anything belonging to God, on anything associated with his Name. He was specially jealous, with a sanctified Jewish jealousy, of the temple where God was worshipped. He felt what was fitting to it - stillness, quiet, prayer, reverent attitudes. He felt what was unfitting - noise, dirt, quarrellings over bargains, shouts of drovers, and the greed and over-reaching of covetous men. So the consecration of our worship places is really the response to our quickened, spiritual, Christly, sense of what is fitting. The one thing we ask for is the sustained sense of harmony
II. LACK OF THE SENSE OF THE FITTING GAVE LICENCE TO THE TRADERS. In them the spiritual was hidden. Custom had covered it. Greed had covered it. They were thinking about themselves and their gettings, and so lost all sense of the becoming. They must learn, by a hard, humbling, and awakening lesson, that God's temple is for God. - R.T.
I. THE CHILDREN COMFORTED JESUS BY WHAT THEY DID. It was a bit of simple, honest, unrestrained enthusiasm. The young souls were carried away by the joyous excitement of the day. It comforted Jesus to hear some people speaking of him who were unquestionably sincere; who just uttered their hearts; who were glad, and said so. For it must have been a heavy burden to our Lord that, even to the last, his disciples were so guileful; they seemed as if they could never rise above the idea that they were about to "get something good" by clinging to the Lord Jesus. "Hosanna!" from the lads who wanted nothing from him must have been very comforting to our Lord, That is always one of the chief elements of pleasure in children's worship; it is guileless, genuine, the free unrestrained utterance of the passing mood. It is not the highest thing. That is the worship of the finally redeemed, who have won innocence through experience of sin; but it is the earth-suggestion of it. Children's praise is still the joy of Christian hearts.
II. THE CHILDREN COMFORTED JESUS BY WHAT THEY REPRESENTED. For to him the children were types. "Babes and sucklings" are types of simple, loving, trustful souls, and to such God's revelations come. Now, there are two kinds of trustful, humble, gentle souls.
1. Those who are trustful without ever having struggled. Some are naturally trustful, believing, receptive, and in all spheres of life they are loved and loving souls.
2. Those who are trustful as the victory out of struggle. These are the noblest ones, the true child souls, the true virgin souls; these walk the earth in white, and it is white that will never take a soil. In their praise Christ finds his supreme joy. - R.T.
I. THAT BELIEVING IS ESSENTIAL TO PREVAILING PRAYER.
1. There can be no prayer without faith in a personal God.
(1) The atheist cannot pray. The reason is obvious. He has no God to pray to. His is a melancholy orphanage.
(2) The pantheist cannot pray. His god is an infinite It, unsusceptible to prayer. "He that cometh to God must believe that he is" (Hebrews 11:6).
(3) The Christian can pray. He believes in a personal God, who created us after his image. As a man can intelligently speak to his friend, so, etc. (see Exodus 33:11).
2. There can be no prayer without faith in a Person susceptible to human appeals.
(1) The deist cannot pray. His god is too far removed from his works to notice the specks upon a tiny planet.
(2) The Christian can pray. For he has loftier views of God. He is so great that nothing can escape him. While he rules firmaments of suns and systems of worlds, he feeds the animalculae.
(3) The Christian, moreover, is encouraged to pray by his faith in the mediation of Christ. Without such mediation the sinner might shrink from approaching the infinitely Holy. In it mercy in harmony with justice is assured.
3. Faith is active in successful prayer.
(1) The power of faith is like that of water, impotent in quiescence, but efficient when in motion. It is like heat, impotent when latent, but whose energy when molecules are in motion is tremendous.
(2) It is the active faith of saints that alarms Satan. It stirs three worlds, viz. heaven, earth, and hell.
II. THAT BELIEVING PRAYER IS INFALLIBLY EFFECTIVE.
1. Because God has pledged himself to it.
(1) He is able to do whatever he will. The power of the Promiser was exemplified in the withering of the fig tree. The moral is drawn from this example: "If ye have faith, and doubt not," etc. (vers. 21, 22).
(2) He is willing to do whatever he promises. He cannot deny himself. "Heaven and earth may pass away." The Creator may reverse his act of creation. But the Uncreate cannot annihilate himself. But to falsify would be to annihilate Infinite Truth.
2. But how is the infallible effectiveness of believing prayer reconciled with the wisdom of God?
(1) If omnipotence is pledged to faith, may not omnipotence be put into commission to folly; for man is confessedly fallible?
(2) Faith, in the nature of the case, presupposes a promise. Where has the God of wisdom promised a foolish thing?
(3) But is there not here an open cheque: "All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive"? The particular promise is still implied in the term "believing;" for faith itself is the gift of God. The God of wisdom cannot inspire faith in the interests of folly.
3. But how can efficacy in prayer comport with the uniformity of nature's processes?
(1) So undeviating is the order in the revolutions of the spheres that eclipses, occultations, conjunctions, epacts, and other matters may be calculated with certainty. In like manner, chemical changes never vary when the conditions are the same. Can prayer disturb these things?
(2) Who wants it to do so? There is no need to disturb matter when prayer is made for spiritual blessings. What relation is there to eclipses and epacts in answering the cry for mercy? A whole millennium of spiritual glory may flood this earth in answer to prayer, without touching the properties of a molecule of matter.
(3) But how does the argument stand in relation to providence? There is a sphere in nature for human providence. The farmer does not violate the order of nature when he grows corn in response to the cry of a nation for food. By draining and tillage he can alter the climate of his country and alter its flora and fauna, and all this without altering the properties of a single molecule of matter. In like manner, on a far grander scale, God also has reserved to himself a sphere for his providence in nature, within which he can answer every prayer he pleases to inspire.
III. THAT PRAYER FAILS THROUGH THE INFLUENCE OF CONDITIONS INIMICAL TO ACTIVE FAITH.
1. As when the matter of the suit is unwise.
(1) "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss" (James 4:3). In such a case God will in mercy withhold his gift of faith.
(2) Or he may honour the sincerity of the prayer by conferring an equivalent to that which his grace withholds. So he dealt with Paul when he sought the removal of his "thorn in the flesh."
(3) Honest prayer is never vain. Its very exercise ennobles. As the domestic animal is ennobled by his conversation with man, infinitely more is man ennobled by conversing with his Maker.
2. As when the motive is unworthy of the suit.
(1) Is our prayer for business prosperity? But is the motive good? Else the answer may come in anger. To how many is the accession of material wealth the wasting of the infinitely more precious moral properties!
(2) Is our prayer for the spiritual conversion of a child? The end here is undoubtedly good. But what is the motive? Is it that his consequent dutifulness may increase the comfort of the home, rather than bring glory to God and save a soul from death? Feather the arrows of prayer with the very best motives.
3. As when the disposition of the suppliant is inconsistent with sincerity.
(1) Such is the case when the lazy pray for a revival. Work for it while you pray.
(2) When the impenitent seek salvation. This is like a rebel suing to his sovereign for pardon with a leaded revolver in his hand. The salvation of the gospel is a salvation from sin. Repentance is therefore indispensible (see Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 1:15-20; Matthew 5:23-26). There is no mercy for the implacable (see Matthew 6:12-15). - J.A.M.
I. THE CONDITION OF THE TREE.
1. It had promise. This was a forward tree as far as leaves were concerned. Earlier than others of the same species in putting forth its foliage, it gave promise of an early supply of fruit, because the figs appear before the leaves. It is dangerous to make great pretensions. To stand out from our brother men with some claim to exceptional honour is to raise expectations of exceptional worth. We should do well to avoid taking such a position unless we are sure we can sustain it without disappointing the hopes we raise.
2. It was not true to its promise. This was the unhappy thing about the tree. If it had been like the backward trees, nothing would have been expected of it. But by giving a sign which in the course of nature should follow the putting forth of fruit, it made a false pretension. Possibly the vigour of the foliage absorbed the sap which should have helped the fruit buds. Great attention to display directly injures the cultivation of really worthy qualities. Religious ostentation is generally barren.
II. THE DOOM OF THE TREE. It is to wither. The fig tree is only valued for the sake of its figs. If these are wanting, the tree is worthless. Its luxuriance of leaves is worse than useless, because it prevents other plants from growing where the fruitless branches overshadow the ground.
1. What is fruitless is worthless.
(1) The nation. Here was typified the miserable state of Israel. The splendid temple, with its gold so dazzling that no one could look steadily at it when the sun shone on it, was in full view of Jesus as he passed the fruitless fig tree. There on the opposite hill were the signs of the unbounded claims and pride of Israel. Yet what had come out of them all?
(2) The Church. A Church exists for the glory of God and the good of men. If it bears no such fruit, though it may flourish numerically and financially, it is quite worthless.
(3) The individual man or woman. God cares absolutely nothing for our professions of piety; the showy religion that imposes on men is an abomination in the sight of God. He looks for fruit in deeds of useful service. All else is but a mass of worthless leaves.
2. What is worthless must be destroyed. The fruitless Jerusalem was destroyed. Barren Churches have been swept away from Asia Minor and North Africa; barren Churches will be swept kern other parts of Christendom in the future. Fruitless souls will be cast out of the garden of the Lord. - W.F.A.
I. OUR LORD TAUGHT BY SYMBOLIC ACTIONS. There are spoken parables and acted parables; both were used in all teachings, especially in Eastern teachings; both were used by our Lord. All suggestion that our Lord was personally vexed at the failure of the tree must be carefully eliminated. With the genius of the teacher, our Lord at once saw, and seized, the opportunity for giving an impressive object lesson, which he completed by consummating at once the destruction of the tree. Explain that the tree must have been diseased, or it would have borne fruit. Its destruction was certain. The tree did not sin in being diseased or having no fruit; but the teacher may take it to represent one who sins in making outward show that has no answering goodness within it. Our Lord only took beasts or trees to illustrate Divine judgments.
II. WHAT OUR LORD TAUGHT HERR WAS THE CERTAIN DOOM OF THE HYPOCRITE. Christ never spoke so severely of any one as of the hypocrites. Insincerity was the fault most personally offensive to him. The tree seemed to represent a hypocrite. It had leaves. There was fair outward show. It seemed to say, "Come to me if you are hungry; I can refresh you." And when Christ came he found the leaves were all it had to give. His thoughts were much occupied at this time with the Pharisees, who were making outside show of superior piety, but had no soul piety opening their hearts to give him welcome. Perhaps our Lord meant to picture Judas Iscariot. Fair showing as any disciple, but rotten hearted. Let Pharisees learn, let Judas learn, let disciples learn, from that fig tree. It is dying; Christ hastens the corrupting process, and it dies in a day. The hypocrite is corrupting. He is under the curse of God. There is no hope in this life or the next for the man who is consciously insincere. - R.T.
I. IT IS FAITH THAT GIVES EFFICIENCY TO PRAYER. Many prayers are absolutely void and useless because they are not borne upon the wings of faith. They grovel in the earth-mists of unbelief, and never see the light of God's presence. The connection of the verses seems to imply that it was his faith that gave Christ power to bring its doom to the barren fig tree (ver. 21). It is reasonable to suppose that God will give many things to those who trust him, which he will deny to people who will not rely upon him. At all events, the setting forth of faith as a condition of the prayer that is to be answered shows that it is absolutely useless to practise an experiment with prayer by testing its efficacy in order to dispel doubt. The purpose of the experiment, and the grounds on which it is made, presuppose the absence of an essential condition of successful prayer. Therefore, if prayer is heard, as Christ tells us it is, such an experiment is foredoomed to failure. We want grounds for faith, but we cannot find them here; or rather we cannot have our first grounds here. The response to prayer will doubtless confirm and strengthen the faith which prompted the prayer. But there must be this prior faith.
II. THE PRAYER OF FAITH HAS BOUNDLESS EFFICACY. We get slight answers to prayer because we have little faith. Yet we cannot expect to have just what we choose to ask for, even though we ask in faith. No; but observe:
1. Faith is not confidence in our own prayer, but trust in Christ. Now, when we trust him we are led near to him, we begin to understand him, we learn to think as he thinks and to desire what he desires. Thus faith brings us into sympathy with Christ. But our foolish desires are quite un-Christlike. We shall no longer cherish them when he is by our side. Thus faith chastens prayer, purges it, elevates it, and brings it into harmony with the will of God. The prayer of faith will be such a prayer that God can hear, just in proportion as the faith is a spiritual power that unites us with God.
2. The prayer of faith will certainly be answered, though not necessarily in the way in which we expect. Jesus promised to those who lost lands and friends for the gospel's sake, more lands and friends (Matthew 19:29), and his disciples did not receive a literal fulfilment of this promise. But they had a good equivalent. The prayer of faith is answered in God's large, wise way - answered to the full, but by the gift of what he sees best, and not always of what we happen to name. - W.F.A.
I. BELIEVING AS GOD'S CONDITION. God's conditions are never to be thought of as arbitrary; they are always necessities, always sweetly reasonable. The term "believing" represents that state of mind and feeling in a man which alone fits him to receive, and make the best of, God's answer to his prayer. God might give, but his gift could be no real moral blessing if there was no fitness to receive. It is the "right state of mind for receiving" that is expressed in "believing." This includes humility, dependence, reliance, and hopefulness. It is opposed to the critical spirit that questions, and the doubting spirit that fears. Even we in common life make believing a condition. We gladly do things for others when they trust us fully.
II. BELIEVING AS MAN'S DIFFICULTY. Self-reliance is the essence of man's sin, seeing that he really is a dependent creature. Man does not care to trust anybody; he trusts himself. Other people may lean on him; he leans on nobody. And so long as a man has this spirit, all prayer must, for him, be a formality and a sham; because prayer is the expression of dependence which he does not feel. Keeping the spirit of full trust is the supreme difficulty of the Christian man all through his Christian course. He has to be always on the watch lest he should lose the right to answer because he is failing to believe, to trust.
III. BELIEVING AS THE CHRISTLY TRIUMPH. The man who has altogether abandoned self-trust, and given himself wholly into the hands of Christ for salvation, has won the power of trusting, and has only to keep it up. - R.T.
I. THE FORM.
1. The question of the rulers.
(1) An insulting question. What right had they thus to challenge One before whom they should have bowed in humble adoration? Technically, they were in the right in so far as they acted as guardians of the Law and religion of Israel. Yet they had proved themselves false to their trust by their permission of the desecration of the temple, and by the too common hypocrisy of their religion. Some people put the same question today without a shadow of the claim of the Jewish leaders. The human intellect has a right to search for truth; we all ought to look for good grounds of faith. But the attitude of humility will be that of an inquirer, not that of a judge.
(2) An irrelevant question. The charges Christ made were true; the things he denounced were wrong. Why, then, care so much about the question of his authority? People raise technical questions and abstract difficulties, but often these only obscure the plain moral truths which cannot be denied.
(3) An insincere question. Did these rulers thirst for knowledge concerning the mission of Christ? Were they troubled with grave doubts? We know that they were only anxious to entrap our Lord. Flippant doubt is culpable, but the most deadly doubt is that which hates the light.
2. The counter question of Christ. He postpones his reply to a question he desires to have answered by the rulers.
(1) Showing his skill and wisdom. Christian apologists have acted too much on the defensive. It would be wiser to follow the example of Christ, and carry the war into the enemy's territory.
(2) Proving the weakness of the rulers' position. They challenged Christ's status. What was theirs? People who reject Divine revelation, and the larger number who simply ignore it, will have to account for their conduct. At least they should be prepared to justify themselves.
(3) Turning from a formal to a. moral inquiry, John the Baptist was an embodiment of the national conscience. How was such a man to be treated? We make too much of questions of rank and office, and too little of those that touch right and wrong conduct.
II. THE SUBSTANCE. That was indeed an important question which the rulers put to Christ. If it were asked humbly and sincerely, it might be regarded as most just and reasonable. When it is so asked, Christ does answer it. Indeed, if the rulers had not been blind, they would have found a twofold reply close at hand. Christ justifies and confirms his claims:
1. By the authority of conscience. When he startled the people in the temple by an unwonted exercise of authority, they submitted without an attempt at resistance, because their consciences confirmed his action. Christ speaks to the conscience, and the conscience echoes what he says.
2. By the authority of knowledge. Who are the authoritative teachers? Surely the only teachers who can speak to us with authority are those who know the subjects they undertake to teach. Jesus "spoke with authority" (Matthew 7:29), because he spoke out of knowledge. There was a self-evidencing truthfulness and clearness of vision in him.
3. By the authority of God. The rulers could not see this. If their blindness had not been morally culpable, they would have been excused for rejecting the claims of Christ, because those claims were so great that no mere man could have a right to put them forth. When we perceive the Divine nature of Christ, all his words and deeds are justified, and his authority comes upon us with more than kingly power. - W.F.A.
I. AS IT IS EVIDENT IN HIS CONDUCT.
1. His questioners were not ignorant of his claims.
(1) He had long before plainly told them who he was (see John 5:36, 43).
(2) He had but the day before claimed to be the Lord of the temple. He called it the "temple of God," and spoke of it as his own house (see vers. 12, 13). And the passages he quoted in connection with this claim spake of the temple as the house of Jehovah (see Isaiah 56:7; Jeremiah 7:11).
(3) Their object was now to get him to assert this again, that they might make it a pretext to fix upon him the charge of blasphemy; for they had plotted to destroy him (see Mark 11:18).
2. His conduct vindicated his claims.
(1) His expulsion of the traffickers was a miracle. It was a work which an army might hesitate to undertake. Yet single-handed he did it effectually.
(2) He wrought miracles of healing which, the rulers and Pharisees themselves being witnesses, no man could do unless God were with him (see John 3:1, 2).
(3) Moral miracles also attended his ministry. Publicans and harlots - unjust and immodest persons - notorious sinners, were converted into reputable citizens and exemplary saints. These were the people represented by the son in the parable who "said, I will not; but afterwards repented, and went" (ver. 29). The life of the sinner is an actual clamour of "I will not." But as there are those who promise better than they prove, so are there those who prove better than they promise.
"Seest thou yon harlot, wooing all she meets;
3. Note here the gospel call.
(1) It is a call to work for Christ. "Go, work in my vineyard." It is charged upon the Pharisees that they say, and do not (Matthew 23:3); upon the chief priests and rulers here that they said, "I go, sir, and went not." Buds and blossoms are not fruit.
(2) It is a call to work for Christ now. "Go, work today in my vineyard."
(3) It is a call from the common Father. It comes to the "two sons," and these represent the two great classes of sinners, viz. the openly irreligious and the hypocritical professors.
(4) But though coming equally to all, it differs in its effects. There is more hope of the openly irreligious than of the hypocritical professor.
(5) True repentance is practical. When he repented "he went."
II. AS IT IS EVIDENT IN THE TESTIMONY OF JOHN.
1. John's baptism was proved to be "from heaven.
(1) By the scope of his ministry. He came in the way of righteousness." He came walking in it as well as preaching it. He did not affect the "soft clothing" of the courtier, as he might have done, being the son of a notable priest, had he been moved by a vulgar ambition. Neither did he flatter princes, but lost his head for his fidelity.
(2) By the success of his ministry.
(a) "The baptism of John" is here put for his doctrine.
(b) Jesus, by submitting to John's baptism, accepted and sanctioned his doctrine.
(c) The vast multitudes who came to his baptism thereby professed faith in his teaching.
Hence the general expression, "All hold John as a prophet." The defeat of Herod's army in the war with Aretas, King of Arabia, was esteemed by the Jews a judgment for the death of John (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 18:7).
2. John's testimony therefore should be conclusive.
(1) Prophecy indicated him to be the harbinger of Messiah. Thus Isaiah spoke of him (cf. Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3; John 1:23). So Malachi (cf. Malachi 4:5; Matthew 11:14). So Zecharias (see Luke 1:17).
(2) He indicated Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God that beareth away the sin of the world.
(3) The questioners had no reply to this argument. "They reasoned with themselves," not what was true to be believed, but what it was safe to acknowledge. Note: Truths appear in the clearest light when taken in order. The resolving of the previous question will be the key to the main question. If the questioners answered Christ's question, they would answer their own.
III. AS IT IS EVIDENT IN THE DISCOMFITURE OF HIS ENEMIES.
1. They set up their authority against his.
(1) They claimed the right to rule in the temple. They were "chief priests" - judges in the ecclesiastical courts, "and elders" - judges in the civil (see 2 Chronicles 19:5-11). They should therefore have been the promoters of the kingdom of Messiah which they opposed.
(2) They questioned the right of Jesus to teach in the temple, he being neither priest nor Levite. They were more concerned about the right of our Lord to preach than about the character of his preaching.
(3) Their question, "Who gave thee this authority?" suggests that they were offended because he not only taught without their permission, but contravened their concession to the traffickers when he drove them out.
(4) Here, then, is human authority disputing with the Divine - office in conflict with wisdom. Those who take upon themselves to act with authority should ask themselves the question, "Who gave thee this authority?" Those who run before their warrant run without their blessing (see Jeremiah 23:21, 22).
2. He treated their presumption with contempt.
(1) He convicted them as hypocrites. They had wit enough to see that reason was against them; for the Divinity of Christ was evident from the testimony of John. They knew that their "We cannot tell" was a lie for "We will not tell." The son who said, "I go, sir," and went not, dissembled and lied. What sort of truth seekers are those who refuse the evidence whose cogency they see? They were typical infidels, whose heart is at fault rather than the head. Those who are engaged against the truth are abandoned to the spirit of falsehood.
(2) He exposed them as incompetents. They affected to be judges as to the authority of Jesus. Jesus forced from them the confession, "We cannot tell," in relation to the previous question of the authority of John. The "Neither do I tell you" was a merited repulse in which Jesus in his authority triumphs.
(3) He humbled their pride by proving them to be slaves to the fear of the people. But for the fear of the multitude, they would have questioned the authority of John. Many who are not influenced by the fear of sin are influenced by the fear of shame.
(4) He shamed them by the example of the publicans and harlots, who believed John, but the lesson of whose reformation was lost upon them. Examples of the power of truth are of little avail to the perverse. - J.A.M.
officials, representatives of the Sanhedrin, the council which claimed and exercised authority in all matters related to religion. "Before its tribunal false prophets were arraigned. It dealt with questions of doctrine, and, when occasion arose, could exercise the functions of a council." "In the New Testament we see Christ before the Sanhedrin as a blasphemer (Matthew 26:65); the Apostles Peter and John, as false prophets and seducers of the people; the Deacon Stephen, as having blasphemed against God; and the Apostle Paul, as subverting the Law." This was, no doubt, a very imposing deputation. Schemes to entangle Christ in his talk had miserably failed; now the officials resolved to act straightforwardly and imposingly. They would demand to know the authority on which Jesus acted. The three elements of the Sanhedrin - chief priests, elders, and scribes - were all represented, and we seem to see the confident haughtiness of their approach.
I. CHRIST ASSERTING A SUPERIOR AUTHORITY. "He knew what was in man." He was not in the least alarmed. He know their guilefulness so well that he was not in the least deferential. The prophet was never submissive to the temple officials. His authority was his commission direct from God. They had been pleased to decide that no one could be permitted to teach who had not passed through a rabbinical school. Jesus knew that every man has a right to teach who is himself taught of God. He, moreover, was more than a prophet; he was, in the highest and holiest sense, the Son and Sent of God. They had no right to question him. He would recognize no such right, and give to their questionings no answer, he would exert his authority and question them; and never was official deputation more humiliated than when these men found themselves questioned, and hopelessly entangled by the question put to them. All putting Christ to the test implies a wrong state of mind. He speaks in the name of God, and as God, and our duty is unquestioning obedience.
II. CHRIST DISCOMFITING HIS FOES BY HIS SUPERIOR AUTHORITY. They felt his authority, and did not for a moment attempt to dispute it. They did not think of saying, "We came to question you, and cannot allow you to question us." They were mastered by his calmness, by his manifest superiority, by the skill of his question, which put them into the most awkward and humiliating position. They retired defeated and angry. - R.T.
I. THE SON WHO REFUSED AND REPENTED.
1. His hasty refusal. Doubtless he spoke in impatience. His temper was hot, and the call to work amazed him. Thus he began the day badly, as many people begin life badly. This is altogether deplorable, because no subsequent amendment can obliterate the fact that the beginning was spoilt.
2. His later repentance. We need not be the slaves of our own past. If we started wrong, we are not forced to continue in the path of evil. "It is never too late to mend." There is a pride of consistency which only comes of folly; and there is a noble inconsistency, a sublime inconsequence. The change in the son showed
(3) a willingness to own himself wrong;
(4) a desire to do better in future. These are all hopeful qualities.
3. His obedient action. He "went." That was everything. He may not have said another word; but he obeyed his father, though in silence. The one thing God looks for is obedience. The way to make amends for past negligence is not to promise better things for the future, but just to do them.
4. His improving conduct. We see this son in two stages, and the second is better than the first. He was evidently moving in the right direction. The most important question is not - To what have we attained hitherto? but - Which way are we moving? towards the light or from it?
5. His accepted obedience. This was the obedient son. His insolent words were forgiven when his subsequent conduct was penitent and obedient. God forgives the bad past in his penitent children. If they are now in the right path, he accepts them, although they were once far from it.
II. THE SON WHO CONSENTED AND DISOBEYED.
1. His ready assent. This was good in its way. But, being only verbal, or at best an intention not yet executed, it was of slight worth. God does not value religious professions as men prize them.
2. His courtesy. The second son was courteous to his father, addressing him as "sir," while his brother was rude and insolent. Now, it is our duty to be courteous to all men, and to be especially respectful to parents. Yet there is an hypocritical tone about good manners when they are not accompanied by good actions. God prefers rude obedience to polite disobedience.
3. His subsequent disobedience. We need not suppose that this second son had lied to his father, promising in smooth words what he never intended to perform. It is more probable that our Lord would have us think of him as honest in his profession. He really intended to obey. But he did not count the cost, or the good mood of acquiescence passed away, or some other more fascinating attraction led him to forget, or at least to neglect, his promise. There is an enormous step to be taken from good resolutions to good actions. Many a hindrance, many a temptation, comes between.
4. His just condemnation. Jesus appealed to the bystanders for their verdict. He wished to convince their conscience; he desires now to make us see and feel the truth of what he says. Could there be a question as to the verdict? Good promises count for nothing, or rather they count against the man who disobeys in conduct. God judges by conduct alone. - W.F.A.
did not obey. "The parable is too plain spoken to be evaded. They cannot deny that the satisfactory son is not the one who professes great respect for his father's authority, while he does only what pleases himself, but the one who does his father's bidding, even though he has at first disowned his authority. These men were so unceremoniously dealt with by our Lord because they were false. They may not have clearly seen that they were false, but they were so" (Dods).
I. SPEECH SHOWN TO BE WORTHLESS BY DEEDS. Professions are good and right; they ought to be made. But professions must not stand alone. They ought to express purpose. They ought to be followed by appropriate action. The peril of religion in every age lies in the fact that credit is to be gained and confidence won by making profession; and so the insincere man, and the man who can deceive himself, are tempted to make religious profession hide their self-seeking. And it must also be said that religious profession, and observance of mere religious rites, becomes a prevailing custom, by which men are carried away, and relieved of anxiety about making deeds match words. The Pharisee class are evidently pictured in this son. They were extremely anxious about speaking right and showing right, but they were sadly indifferent about doing right. What needs to be continually re-impressed is, that supreme importance attaches to being right and doing right; these will find natural and proper expression. If we are right, our profession will match ourselves.
II. SPEECH PUT TO SHAME BY DEEDS. The son is in no way to be commended who refused obedience. It was a bad profession, and found expression for a bad mind. But when he came to a good mind, and went and obeyed, the obedience put to shame the hasty and unworthy words. No doubt our Lord referred to the publican class, who had taken their own wilful and self-pleasing way, but now they had come to a better mind, and were even pressing into the kingdom. - R.T.
I. GOD HIMSELF FOUNDS KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. The owner of the vineyard has it properly planted and all its arrangements completed before he sends husbandmen into it. They have not to begin in the wilderness. God does not behave like the Pharaoh who ordered the Israelites to make bricks without straw. He plants. Therefore he has a right to look for fruit.
II. GOD ENTRUSTS THE WORK OF HIS VINEYARD TO MEN. There is work for God to be done in his kingdom. This is a high privilege, and it carries with it a grave responsibility. God will not have the just return for all his gifts if his husbandmen are not faithful in his service. The Jewish leaders were God's husbandmen. So are Christian workers today.
III. GOD EXPECTS FRUITS FROM HIS VINEYARD. God gives freely; but he looks for a return. It is not that he needs anything. But he does not desire his work to be wasted. He asks for grapes where he has planted a vine. This, then, is the one question for the Church, - Is it bearing fruit? By so doing it can glorify God (John 15:8).
IV. THE MESSENGERS OF GOD HAVE BEEN SHAMEFULLY TREATED. Evidently the servants represent the prophets of ancient Israel, ending with John the Baptist, who was beheaded, though not by the Jews. The reason for this ill treatment is here explained. It is selfishness. The leaders of Israel governed for their own advantage, and not for the glory of God. The leaders of the Church have too often shown a self-seeking spirit, and therefore they have rejected God's true servants, such as Savonarola, Huss, Latimer, Wesley.
V. THE ADVENT OF CHRIST IS A MARK OF GOD'S LONG SUFFERING PATIENCE. The owner of the vineyard would try a last means. He would see if the husbandmen would reject his son. It was a great risk to run; but the fruit was precious, and the vineyard was worth rescuing from those who usurped the rights of ownership. God would not east out Israel till Christ had come. But now Christ has come to us as God's last Messenger.
VI. THE REJECTION OF CHRIST IS A FATAL SIN. After the husbandmen had killed the heir to the estate, no more patience could be shown to them. They had filled up their cup of guilt to the brim. They had rejected the last and greatest message from their Master. To be cast forth and destroyed is their rightful doom. This doom came upon the leaders of Israel in the overthrow of Jerusalem by Titus. It awaits those false and traitorous leaders of the Church who repeat the sin of the Hebrew hierarchy. It awaits all who work in the midst of the privileges of Christendom without rendering any fruit to the glory of God.
VII. THE DOOM OF THE FAITHLESS IS FOLLOWED BY THE APPOINTMENT OF NEW WORKERS. Gentiles took the place of Jews. God's work cannot stand still. He will have fruit - if not through our agency, then by other means. When the official leaders of the Church are unfaithful, God sets them aside, so that, though their doom is postponed, they are really no longer entrusted with any powers by God. Then he raises up men from outside the ranks of office - a John Bunyan or a George Fox. Thus the vineyard is saved, and God has the fruit of true service. - W.F.A.
receiving and doing nothing. They measured themselves by the care God spent on them, not by the fruit they yielded; by the amount of instruction, the grace they received, not by the use that they made of it. Again and again God sent to remind them he was expecting fruit of his care, but his messengers speedily found that they were willing enough to live upon God, but not to live to him. But it is the keepers of the vineyard who are here censured for unfaithfulness, and that on two grounds.
1. They used their position solely for their own advantage. They had failed to remember they were servants. The religious leader is as liable as the political or military leader to be led by a desire for distinction, applause, power. Success may be the idol of the one as truly as of the other. It is not the sphere in which one's work is done that proves its spirituality or worthiness, nor even the nature of it, but the motive.
2. They are censured for their zeal in proselytizing - a more insidious form of the temptation to use their position for their own ends. The indignation of our Lord was roused by the same element in their zeal, which so often still taints zeal for the propagation of religious truth. It was the desire rather to bring men to their way of thinking than to bring them to the truth. How widespreading and deep reaching this evil is those well know who have observed how dangerously near propagandism is to persecution. The zeal that proceeds from loving consideration of others does not, when opposed, darken into violence and ferocity. If we become bitter and fierce when contradicted, we may recognize our zeal as springing from desire to have our own influence acknowledged, rather than from deep love of others, or regard for the truth as truth. The condemnation of the parable our Lord enforces by reference to the Scriptures of which they professed to be guardians. Rejection by the builders was one of the marks of the Foundationstone chosen by God. They cavilled at his allowing the hosanna psalm to be applied to himself, but this was itself proof that he was what the crowd affirmed him to be. Note:
(1) That Jesus claims to be the Heir of God. In acting for God he acted for himself.
(2) He implies that this was known to the Jewish leaders. It was because they knew he was the Heir they were so eager to remove him. Their state of mind is intelligible and very common. There are thousands who have a haunting suspicion that Jesus deserves very different kind of recognition from what they give him, but who will not let their minds dwell on the conviction, lest it should urge them to unwelcome action.
(3) The very fact that Christ is rejected by so many is proof that he is Divine. The higher the blessing the fewer there are who acknowledge and accept it. Our Lord completes the warning, abandoning the figure of the parable, and making use of the figure of the stone.
(1) Christ is a Stone of stumbling to those to whom he is presented. The gospel once heard must henceforward be an element in the condition of the hearer. No man who has heard can be as if he had not heard. Men are often conscious that he is the one Foundation on whom life can be safely built, and yet they try to pass on in life as if he were not there. While they do so they are held back, distracted; their life is a mere make-believe. Or habitual falseness of spirit is produced, it may be unconsciously to themselves. But the frost that has only lasted a few minutes is as surely frost as when it has formed a strength of surface the hammer cannot break. Each refusal to determine regarding Christ leaves the conscience a little blunter. It is thus men are bruised on this Stone of stumbling.
(2) The second action of the Stone is final. Those who determinedly oppose Christ lie at once slain and buried by what should have been their joy. Their dwelling and refuge become their tomb. Things are to move on eternally in fulfilment of the will of Christ. To oppose his course, to attempt to work cut an eternal success apart from him, is as idle as to stand on the path of an avalanche of stone in order to stem it. Acceptance or rejection of Christ is the determining element in human destiny. Without him we can make nothing or worse than nothing of life. "Better," will a man say - "better that a millstone had been hanged about nay neck, and that I had been cast into the sea, than that I should have lived to reject him." Think of it more, go closer to him, keep yourself in the light of his words and life, and you will see that it is so, and must be so, that he is the Hand of God stretched out to us, the Word of God spoken to us out of the silence. - D.
I. WHAT THE LORD DID FOR HIS PEOPLE.
1. He became a Father to them.
(1) By virtue of creation he is the Father of the whole family of man.
(2) By the Sinai covenant he became especially the Head of the house of Israel.
(3) By the everlasting covenant of his gospel he is now the Father of all believers everywhere.
2. He gave them a rich inheritance.
(1) The land of promise was as "a vineyard" in distinction from the surrounding countries (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7). They were morally as well as physically distinguished.
3. He made every provision for their benefit.
(1) "He set a hedge about it."
(a) By the "law of commandments contained in ordinances" he separated his people from the idolatrous nations surrounding.
(b) His providence was as a wall of fire for their defence (see Zechariah 2:5).
(2) "He digged a winepress," or vat for the reception of the wine. To conserve the purposes of their planting he gave them the services of the sanctuary - daily offerings, sabbaths, new moons, annual festivals.
(3) "He built a tower" whence to watch the approach of robbers. Jerusalem with its temple was the watch tower of the vineyard.
II. THE RETURN HE RECEIVED FOR HIS GOODNESS.
1. The husbandmen kept from him the fruits.
(1) The rent is paid in produce. The fruits are those of righteousness and love. When the people entered upon the inheritance they gave verbal and intellectual acknowledgment of their obligations. The practical acknowledgment is the test of principle.
(2) God does not require rent paid in advance. He is not unreasonable. There is a time in which he looks on in silence. In this interval he looks for preparatory labour.
(3) He does expect the fruit in its season, in "the time for gathering the fruit." God claims the firstfruits of all our increase.
(4) The husbandmen were here radically at fault. The righteousness of the priests and elders was selfishness and pride. Their goodness was hypocrisy.
2. They maltreated his messengers.
(1) After they demanded a king, and the Lord their God withdrew his Shechinah, he sent them his earlier prophets, down to the time of the Assyrian captivity which ended the kingdom of Israel.
(2) To the remaining two tribes "he sent other servants, more than the first." The later prophets were more in number and greater in the clearness of their predictions. These ended with John the Baptist.
3. They murdered the heir.
(1) "They will reverence my Son," armed with Divine credentials, and fully representing the Householder. The Son of David, and Heir to the kingdom. The Son of God, and "Heir of all things" (see Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5; John 3:35; Hebrews 1:1, 2).
(2) "They cast him forth out of the vineyard." Christ was cast out of the synagogue as a profane person, and delivered to the Romans to be executed, and relegated to Calvary for that purpose, "outside the gate" of the city.
(3) There they "killed him." So they filled up the measure of their iniquity.
III. THE SEVERITY OF HIS RETRIBUTION.
1. God dooms the sinner to the judgment of his sin.
(1) The priests little suspected whither Jesus was leading them when he led them to say, "He will bring these wretches to a wretched death." The truth, unpractised, which we carry with us into the other world, will judge us to perdition. Jesus expressed this in those words, "I judge no man: the word that I have spoken unto you, the same shall judge you in the last day." So the clearer our light the darker our condemnation.
(2) The priests first pronounced their condemnation in the words cited; Jesus seems to have afterwards pronounced it in the same terms (see Luke 20:16). "Out of thine own mouth will I condemn thee."
2. He brings confusion upon his schemes.
(1) He excludes him from the inheritance. The inheritance was the very thing the priests sought to retain (ver. 38). Sin is the direct way to frustrate the sinner's designs.
(2) He puts another in his place. Nothing so angered the inveterate Jew as the proposal to carry the gospel to the Gentile. Little did the priests estimate the significance of their sentence, "And he will let out the vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons." Persecution may destroy the ministers, but cannot destroy the Church.
(3) They will exalt the stone which the builders rejected. The disciples fetched their hosannas from the context of the passage quoted from Psalm 118:22, 23, which carries conviction and terror to the enemies of Christ.
(4) The words of the psalm were first spoken of David, who, after suffering persecution from Saul and rejection from the chiefs of Israel, at length triumphed over his enemies, and rose to unexampled prosperity. David, that rejected stone which became the head of the corner (cf. 1 Samuel 14:38), was therein a type of Christ. In his resurrection, ascension, and exaltation as the Head of his Church, the temple of the living stones, the copestone was brought up with the shoutings of angels. What a confusion to the murderers of the Heir was his triumphant resurrection!
3. He brings judgment upon them to destruction.
(1) Falling upon the stumbling stone (Jesus in his humiliation), the offender is "broken" (see Isaiah 8:14, 15; 1 Peter 2:8). Jerusalem became a desolation. The nation was broken. The spiritual judgment of blindness and obduracy is more terrible than the temporal suffering (see Romans 11:8-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:15). Instead of being humbled, the sinner is exasperated when his sin is pointed out.
(2) The stone becoming active and falling upon the sinner, he is crushed into dust (see Isaiah 60:12; Daniel 2:44). The same stone, Christ, now however coming, not in humiliation, but in the glory of his majesty and power. "How shall we escape, if we neglect his great salvation?" - J.A.M.
Vineyard, God's chosen people. Husbandmen, the ordinary leaders and teachers of the nation. Servants, the prophets or special messengers. Destruction, the final siege of Jerusalem. Others, the transfer of gospel privileges to the Gentiles.
I. THE REASONABLENESS OF GOD'S DEALINGS WITH MEN. Illustrate this:
1. From the vineyard figures. (Compare the more elaborate description in Isaiah 5.) Chosen ground. Planted. Nourished. Guarded. Pruned. And a wine-vat prepared in expectation of fruit. What could have been done more?
2. From the historical facts of God's dealings with Israel. God's call, redemption, provision, guidance, and prosperity. The final seeking fruit was Christ's coming.
3. From our own personal experience, as members of the spiritual Israel of God. Recall the graciousness of the Divine dealings with us.
II. THE UNREASONABLENESS OF MEN'S DEALINGS WITH GOD. Illustrate this:
1. From the vineyard figures. The shame, dishonesty, ingratitude, and rebellion of these husbandmen. See to what length it goes.
2. From the historical facts. The resistance, again and again, of Jewish prophets, as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos. The wilful casting out of the Son.
3. From our own personal experience. Take the case of one unsaved. Up to this resisted motherhood, friendship, Bible, inward call of Christ, etc. How must man's unreasonableness be divinely met?
(1) The sinfulness by Divine chastisement.
(2) The unworthy response to privilege by the loss of privilege.
(3) The persistent wrong by judgment. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." - R.T.
rest on them. Memorial stones are taking the place of foundation stones. Probably the figure of the "cornerstone" is taken from the corner of Mount Moriah, which had to be built up from the valley, in order to make a square area for the temple courts. Dean Plumptre says, "In the primary meaning of the psalm, the illustration seems to have been drawn from one of the stones, quarried, hewn, and marked, away from the site of the temple, which the builders, ignorant of the head architect's plans, had put on one side, as having no place in the building, but which was found afterwards to be that on which the completeness of the structure depended, that on which, as the chief cornerstone, the two walls met, and were bonded together." Take this suggestion, and consider -
I. CHRIST AS THE PREPARED CORNERSTONE. Describe the work done on the limestone block in order to fit it for its place as a foundationstone. The apostle permits us to think of the experiences of our Lord's human life as fitting him to be the Saviour he became. The Captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering, for his work as the "bringer on of souls." "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered." The Cornerstone was being chiselled and, bevelled for its place. Work out this figure.
II. CHRIST AS THE REJECTED CORNERSTONE. When our Lord spoke, the Cornerstone was almost ready; and there were the men who prided themselves on being the builders of God's temple of religion. And they were, then and there, rejecting that "tried Stone, that precious Cornerstone." They would put nothing on it. It was not to their mind. It may lie forever in the quarry for all they care. But happily they were only like overseers, or clerks of works. The Architect himself may order this Stone to be brought, and made the "Head of the corner."
III. CHRIST AS THE HONOURED CORNERSTONE. The Architect himself did interfere, brushed those petty officials aside, had the tried Stone brought out, and on it he has had built the new temple of the ages. That temple is rising into ever richer and nobler proportions, and it was never more manifest than it is today, that the "Cornerstone is Christ." - R.T.
are made one. No union can be so close. And in this, the greatest event in God's reign, and the indestructible glory of humanity, God might well expect that men should rejoice with him. Proclamation had been made, invitation given, and people remained wholly indifferent. The earnest sincerity of God in seeking our good in this matter is marked by one or two unmistakable traits.
1. By the King's willing observance of every form of courtesy. One of these is the sending of a second messenger to announce the actual readiness of the feast. And so God had not only sent the prophets, bidding the Jews expect this festival, but sent John to remind and bring them. And so he still offers his blessings in ways which leave the reluctant without apology, he considers your needs and your feelings, and what he offers is that in which he has his own chief joy - fellowship with his Son.
2. By his wrath against the murderers. You may be so little in earnest about God's invitation that you scarcely seriously consider whether it is to be accepted or not, but nothing can so occupy him as to turn his observation from you. To save sinners from destruction is his grand purpose, and no success in other parts of his government can repay him for failure here. The last scene in the parable forms an appendix directed to a special section in the audience. Seeing the gates of the kingdom thrown open, and absolute, unconditioned freedom of entrance given, the ill living and godless might be led to overlook the great moral change requisite in all who enter God's presence and propose to hold intercourse with him. The refusal of the wedding dress provided was not only studied contempt and insult, but showed alienation of spirit, disaffection, want of sympathy with the feelings of the king. The guest must have lacked the festive spirit, and was therefore "a spot in the feast." He sits there out of harmony with the spirit of the occasion, and disloyal to his king. Therefore is his punishment swift and sudden. The eye of the king marks the intruder, and neither the outer darkness of an Eastern street, nor the pitchy blackness in which he lies unseen and helpless, can hide him from that gaze of his Lord which he feels to be imprinted on his conscience forever. In applying this parable, we may mark:
(1) That there is no way of accepting God's invitation without accepting his spirit, character, and ways. There is no real acceptance, no abiding in God's favour, where there is no growing likeness to him. Conformity to God, ability to rejoice with God and in God, humble and devoted reverence, - these are great attainments; but these constitute our wedding garment, without which we cannot remain in his presence or abide his searching eye. No associating of yourself with those that love him, no outward entrance into his presence, will avail; it is the heart you bear towards him that wilt determine your destiny.
(2) There is abundant encouragement to all who are willing and desirous to put on the Lord Jesus. It is the first duty of every host to make his guest feel at home, and therefore does God provide us not only with great outward blessings, but with all that can make us feel easy and glad in his presence. He offers not only enjoyment, but power to enjoy. If you are conscious that you could not be easy in God's presence without great alterations in your character, your invitation is guarantee that these will be made. If you could not be easy in his presence without knowing that he was aware of all you had thought and done against him, and forgave you; if you could not eat at the table of one against whom you harboured ill will, nor enjoy any entertainment without genuine love of your host; - then this will be communicated to you on your acceptance of God's invitation. Does your unfitness, even more than your unworthiness, deter you? Here you see that God invites you as you are. - D.