One Sabbath morning, I preached from the text, `My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ and though I did not say so, yet I preached my own experience. I heard my own chains clank while I tried to preach to my fellow-prisoners in the dark; but I could not tell why I was brought into such an awful horror of darkness, for which I condemned myself. On the following Monday evening, a man came to see me who bore all the marks of despair upon his countenance. His hair seemed to stand up right, and his eyes were ready to start from their sockets. He said to me, after a little parleying, “I never before, in my life, heard any man speak who seemed to know my heart. Mine is a terrible case; but on Sunday morning you painted me to the life, and preached as if you had been inside my soul.” By God’s grace I saved that man from suicide, and led him into gospel light and liberty; but I know I could not have done it if I had not myself been confined in the dungeon in which he lay. I tell you the story, brethren, because you sometimes may not understand your own experience, and the perfect people may condemn you for having it; but what know they of God’s servants? You and I have to suffer much for the sake of the people of our charge….You may be in Egyptian darkness, and you may wonder why such a horror chills your marrow; but you may be altogether in the pursuit of your calling, and be led of the Spirit to a position of sympathy with desponding minds.
In my studies of Scripture and theology, I occasionally run across someone who sees me reading a systematic theology or commentary, who says to me, “I don’t need all those other books, I only need the Bible.” This statement is troublesome because, in one sense, it is arrogant. Does this person really think they have enough brain power and spiritual fortitude to gain as much understanding and wisdom as the whole community of faith combined, without their assistance. I realize they do not mean it this way because they have not thought through the logical implications of their statement so grace needs to be extended, but the statement is dangerous.
There is one sense, however, that the statement is true, and it is this sense that causes them to make the statement in the first place. If we did not have access to any other books and only had the Bible, it would be enough. We could still be saved and experience growth in the Lord, but the Lord never intended us to live our lives shunning the wisdom of other believers. Building each other up is one of the reasons He calls us to be part of a local church.
The Lord has given us many books, which are simply the written thoughts of the community of faith, to help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of His word. Wayne Grudem, in his systematic theology says, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers (1Cor. 12:28). We should allow those gifts of teaching to help us understand Scripture.” To think that we, somehow, do not need these God ordained teachers, or that none of the books they have written could be any help to us, rejects God’s word which tells us he has given us these teachers.
They also seem to be using a double standard when it come to books. I was once told I should not read commentaries because they were all fallible, and I should only read the Bible. When I asked the if he went to church to listen to sermons, he said, “of course I do.” He began to stumble when I asked him if his pastor was fallible. A good commentary and good pastor often do similar things, they explain and proclaim the meaning of the text. If you are going to reject one, you will have to reject the other. I suggest embracing both as gifts from God.
I do realize that some neglect the scriptures in order to read all these other books and that is equally dangerous, but we should utilize what the Lord has given us through men and women who have been given the gift of teaching. Though, unlike the Bible, they are fallible, just like the the teaching of the man who says we do not need other books, there is truth in there from which we should benefit.
And let us not forget Spurgeon who said: “The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.”
Post Script: I realize that someone who refuses to read Christian writings other than the Bible will not be reading this blog, which means I am preaching to the choir. However, if you run into one of them, maybe you can pass the message along.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. – Micah 7:18-19
Even as Christians, the greatest storm we face is the sin that rages in us. It crouches at our door, its desire is for us, and its only fruit is destruction. It threatens to sear our consciences, hinder our prayers, and even cause our love for Christ to grow cold. But even when we fail, and some of these things begin to be seen in our lives, let us never forget that our God will have compassion on His children. He delights in mercy, He will turn again to us to subdue our iniquities, and cast’s our sins to the depths of the sea.
Do you see dear believer what hope is found in this Scripture? God is not looking to help you because you have been perfect and you deserve to be helped. He desires to pardon your iniquity. He knows you have sinned and need to be delivered. He has placed the wrath that your sins deserve on Christ your substitution. And though your sinful heart still threatens to toss you where it will, like a lost vessel on an angry sea, our God anchors you with a strong and secure hope.
Grab hold of Christ who is that hope. Like an anchor securing a ship on a stormy sea has plunged beneath the veil of the water and cannot be seen, so Christ has entered within the veil; where he has gone as a forerunner on your behalf (Heb. 6:17). And though we cannot see Him at this moment, the hope he has given us is like a secure chain anchored to the throne of God, which is pulling us home through the tumultuous sea.
As the storms grow stronger, by His grace He strengthens our hold upon this hope, as we learn that nothing else can save us. The tighter we hold to our hope, the more tight the line between us and our true home becomes, until we can feel it pulling us homeward.
Though the storms of sin surround, take heart that your sins have been removed, and you are anchored to the distant shore through Christ. Fear not, for no surer hope has ever been tested, and as your love for this world slowly weakens, you will notice the chain between you and your true home has become that much shorter. When you see this, you will know He has turned to you, and is having compassion upon you, because this is work that only He can do.
Let us end with a short verse by Charles Spurgeon, who inspired most of the content of this devotion.
Let the winds blow, and billows roll, Hope is the anchor of my soul. But can I by so slight a tie, And unseen hope, on God rely? Steadfast and sure, it cannot fail, It enters deep within the veil, It fastens on a land unknown, And moors me to my Father’s throne.
His eyes looked at me with such compassion I was sure I had found someone who understood, but that was not entirely the case. As I mentioned before, the skies have turned dark, and that darkness has begun to stir something deep within me
When I first saw him coming, I knew he cared and was going out of his way to minister to me. At first, he just sat with me, not saying anything, and that spoke such profound peace and compassion because it made me feel like I was not the only one feeling the weight of the storm. Then he began to speak, and my heart welled up with anticipation because if he was such a comfort when he was silent, how much more would he be a blessing when he started to talk.
At first, he reminded me that suffering exists in this life because of sin. Adam’s transgression opened up the world to all kinds of sickness, hardship, and even death. If it were not for sin in this world, there would be no suffering, but we have a Savior who has dealt with sin on the cross. In rising again, he defeated death and showed that all of our transgressions for which he had to pay, were atoned. He then proceeded to say that Christ would set all things right. My mind began to settle in on this truth. It reminded me that any of the sufferings I was facing, had nothing to do with God’s wrath because that had been satisfied in Christ on the cross. Then he began to tell me that we are saved by faith, and with this, I certainly agreed. In fact, I have said that this fight I am in is a fight of faith.
He then continued to instruct me by quoting our Savior saying that if our faith is strong enough, we can begin to move mountains. “We must trust that God has the power to clear these dark skies, and if we would claim that truth, then God would do it.” In essence, God would see our faith and move on our behalf. He explained that we have the Spirit of God living in us, and since he could speak things into existence, so could we.
He advised me always to speak positive words and think positive thoughts. I should not even acknowledge the dark skies existed. I should call things as I want them to be instead of as they are. This new thought would show God my faith, and he would perform the miracle I needed.
My heart wanted this to be true. As I’ve mentioned before I have a natural desire to be in control, and if there’s something I can do, then I feel it is something I can control. His discourse hit me in many ways that both stirred me to action and emptied me of my resolve. I could not figure out why his words troubled me so much.
Then it hit me. His statements came with a corollary thought that he was not saying out loud. If mustering up enough mental determination, which he called faith, could deliver me from this darkness and give me all I desired, then the very reason I am facing this now was my fault. If I control the Sovereign One through my faith, then any darkness in my life was a result of my lack of faith.
My mind immediately went to all the great saints in scripture: Moses, Abraham, David, Matthew, Joseph, John, and Paul. These were men of great faith who faced darker skies than I can even imagine, and scripture nowhere paints a picture that it was because of a lack of faith on their part. It was often just the opposite. God allowed the dark skies to reveal his glory and strength in their lives. God often paints bright hope across a dark and ominous canvas.
I realized at that point that my friend was Job’s friend. For the first time, his real name was revealed to me. Some have called him Half-truth. I remember reading through Job with the understanding that nowhere in the book was God sovereignty over Job suffering ever questioned, and it was not due to a lack of faith on Job’s part.
When I would read through Job, I would see the God-ordained trials he faced, and then, on top of it all, I would see Job’s friends piling on. Then something clicked, Job’s poor comforters were not some add-on that only happened by chance. They were part of God’s sovereign plan as well.
In the end, it was the suffering inflicted by his friends that God used as the dark canvas to paint hope for the rest of us to see. Just think, how many of us has God helped by Job’s response to his friends? Those speakers of half-truths that condemned Job for his situation are still around today. If you don’t find them surrounding you, you will often find them living within you.
You may be facing accusing voices in your life as well, and we must correct their errors with the Word of God. Never forget that these speakers of half-truth are also part of Gods’ plan for you. Often what God is showing us when they arrive and begin to tell us that God would fix everything in this life if we truly trusted him, is that we are not supposed to place our ultimate hope in our friends or ourselves. We must fully trust in him and his plan. The other thing that begins to be corrected is our false expectations. It is not as if God has failed to do what he was supposed to do; we were simply expecting things from him that he never promised. It is much like when some of Jesus’ followers stopped following him because he was crucified. They expected Christ to reign without a cross. Instead, Jesus reigns through his suffering, and that plan is still in effect today.
God is still using unresolved difficulty in our lives to show his glory, and part of the dark canvas he is using as the backdrop to bring hope to a fallen world may include accusing voices. All things are under his sovereign plan.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:6-7
Which one of you having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me until I have eaten and drunk; and afterward you will eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done. –Luke 17:7-10 -New American Standard Version-
This parable at first glance can seem a bit perplexing as we try to understand what it is that Jesus is telling His disciples. But as we dig deeper it is quite an amazing teaching because in one short story Jesus shows that works are completely useless for earning salvation and completely necessary in another sense.
As you exegete scripture, you must always start with the context in which you find the passage. This parable is the response Jesus gives his disciples because they had requested more faith. Before Jesus begins to tell this parable, He lays two difficult commands on the disciples; first, he tells them not to cause anyone to stumble for it would be better to have a millstone tied around their necks and be thrown into the water; second, He tells them that they are to forgive anyone who wrongs them and asks for forgiveness, even if they do it seven times a day. In this context, seven represents the perfect number, which means there is no limit to how many times you are to forgive someone. It is these seemingly impossible commands that caused the disciples to ask Jesus for more faith, because they see the difficulty of the commands and understand their own weakness. As David Brown says, in the Critical and Experimental Commentary,
“What prompted so peculiar a petition? No doubt the felt difficulty of carrying into effect such holy directions—the difficulty first of avoiding offences and next of forgiving them so divinely.” (Brown, 298)
Jesus goes on to confirm their lack of faith by telling them that if they only had the faith of a mustard seed they would be able to do many wonders. This is used not only to humble them, but also to encourage them by showing the power of faith in Him. What they could never do themselves, would in fact be accomplished through faith. It is in this context that we find this parable, which cues us into the fact that faith has something to do with what Jesus wants to teach them.
We find in this parable two main characters; the master and the servant. In his book, Interpreting the Parables, Craig Blomberg lays out the idea that there will be a truth, or point, that can be derived from each character in the parable.
The first character we will consider in this parable is the master. It is clear that the master is the figure of authority, which immediately causes us to see him as a representation for God. The master places demands on the servant, with which, the servant is required to comply. We can see that the master is not an equal with the servant. He is clearly above him in authority, and the servant has no authority to question his commands.
The authority of the master is made explicitly clear in the fact that no “thanks” is required in the servant’s compliance with the master’s demands. When one of two people who are equals asks the other to do something for them and it is done, a thanks is usually required because the person who was asked had no real obligation to do it. This is not the case here. The master has the right to command the servant as he pleases and no thanks is required, even if the commands are difficult.
The servants are the subordinates. If the master is a representation for God, then clearly the subordinates are his disciples. As we consider the demands, we observe that they may be difficult, but they are nevertheless just. There is nothing in the demands that is too harsh. In light of the context we understand that the commands are representations of; not causing someone to stumble and to forgive others when wronged.
Before we consider Jesus’ final statement to the disciples concerning this parable, it is important to point out that He begins this Parable with the phrase “Which of you.” Jesus starts many parables with this type of question. When He does this, he is usually expecting a unanimous and obvious answer. As the disciples would have heard this, they would have recognized the master’s authority over the servant, and the servant’s duties to feed the master and gird himself. So when they heard the question that was being posed, –Would you let your servant sit down and eat first before he fed you?–they would have of course answered, “No.” Jesus used what is called an “a fortiori”, or “lesser to the greater” argument. This means that He is saying if a human master has the right to command his servant this way, how much more does God have the right to command his disciples? In other words, if we think a human master has the right to require this of the servant and offer no thanks, then how much more does God have the right to do the same?
Understanding this, we are able to move to Jesus’ closing statement that says, “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’.” It is in this statement that Jesus makes his reasons clear for telling this parable. Nothing we can do causes God to be indebted to us. Matthew Henry puts it this way,
“God cannot be a gainer by our services, and therefore cannot be made a debtor by them. He has no need of us, nor can our services make any addition to his perfections. It becomes us therefore to call ourselves unprofitable servants.” (Henry, 618)
This same truth is found in Job 22:2-3, which says, “Can a vigorous man be of use to God, or a wise man be useful to himself? “Is there any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous, or profit if you make your ways perfect?” We have nothing that can make God indebted to us. We are truly “unprofitable servants.” If we do anything right, we have only done what is required. Even if we go beyond the call of duty, we have been required to go the “extra mile.”
As stated before, this is in a teaching about faith. How does this parable give us instruction about faith? David Brown explains…
“The connection of this with the subject discoursed of (faith), may be thus expressed—‘but when your faith has been so increased as both to avoid and forgive offences, and do things impossible to all but faith—even then, be not puffed up as though you had laid the Lord under any obligation.” (Brown, 298)
Without faith we can do nothing that is pleasing to God, but with faith as small as a mustard seed we can move mountains. Even when we are doing things only possible by faith, we have no reason to boast of our benefit to God, because we are not profitable to Him. Jesus seems to be answering their inquiry about faith by saying, do not worry, you do not have it now but you will, and when you do, do not become proud thinking you have earned anything.
In one short parable Jesus has shown that works are useless in meriting our salvation, but for those who have faith they are absolutely required, because faith produces works. Even the disciples understood this truth. This is why when they are commanded to do great works they respond in asking for more faith. They also understood that faith comes from God, and not something they muster up themselves.
Using Blomberg’s system, we learn something from both characters in the parable. He finds that the two main points of this parable are as follows: First; “God retains the right to command his followers to live however he chooses.” Second, “God’s people should never presume that their obedience has earned them his favor.” (Blomberg, 263). Although both of Blomberg’s points are true it seems to leave out the emphasis on the faith that is required to do such works.
This parable should cause us to be humble as we do great things for God. Anyone who thinks that they have earned some special favor with the Lord because of their good works or service is severely mistaken, because this is what we are supposed to do. Even some of the greatest men who have ever lived such as the Apostle Paul, St. Augustine, John Calvin, Charles Wesley, or Charles Spurgeon, have not caused God to look with favor upon them. It is only by God’s grace that He looks with favor upon such people and upon us. There is nothing in ourselves that makes us worthy of being called children of God. That is why some translations of Scripture call the “unprofitable servants” the “unworthy servants.” In ourselves we have nothing of worth before God, but it is God’s love for us that gives us worth. As James Sire states in the Universe Next Door, “God does not love us because we are valuable, we are valuable because God loves us” (Sire, 29). Therefore, as we move forward doing the work God has commanded us to do, we can only do it by faith, and we must never begin to think that we are of such value that God owes us anything. For it is by grace through faith that we are saved, and anything we do for Him is the result of our salvation and not the cause of it. The favor God gives us is completely unmerited.
“God disciplines us for our profit.” -Hebrews 12:10
What profit is in affliction? Afflictions are disciplinary. Afflictions teach us—they are the school of the cross.
Affliction shows us more of our own hearts.
Water in a glass looks clear—but set it on the fire, and the scum boils up. Just so, when God sets us upon the fire—corruption boils up which we did not discern before. Sharp afflictions are to the soul, as a soaking rain to the house; we do not know that there are holes in the roof until the shower comes—but then we see it drop down here and there. Just so, we do not know what unmortified lusts are in the soul, until the storm of affliction comes—then the hidden evils of the heart come dropping down in many places. Affliction is a sacred eye-salve, it clears our eyesight. Thus the rod gives wisdom.
Affliction quickens the spirit of prayer.
Jonah was asleep in the ship—but at prayer in the whale’s belly. Perhaps in a time of health and prosperity we prayed in a cold and formal manner, we put no coals to the incense. Then God sends some affliction or other—to stir us up to take hold of Him. “They poured out a prayer—when Your chastening was upon them.” Isaiah 26:16. In times of trouble we pray feelingly and fervently.
Affliction is a means to purge out our sins.
Affliction cures the pestilence of pride—and the fever of lust. Affliction is God’s file—to scrub off our rust. Affliction is God’s flail—to thresh off our husks. The water of affliction is not to drown us—but to wash off our spots.
Affliction is a means to wean us from the world.
The world often proves, not only a spider’s web—but a cockatrice egg. Corrupting worldly things, are great enchantments. They hinder us in our passage to heaven. Affliction sounds a retreat, to call us off the immoderate pursuit of earthly things. When two things are frozen together—the best way to separate them is by fire; so, when the heart and the world are together—God has no better way to separate them than by the fire of affliction.
Affliction is a means to purify us.
It works us up to further degrees of sanctity. “God disciplines us for our profit—that we may share in His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10. The vessels of mercy are the brighter for scouring. As you pour water on your linen when you would whiten it—so God pours the waters of affliction upon us to whiten our souls. Afflictions are in themselves bitter—but they bring forth the sweet fruits of righteousness. Hebrews 12:11.
Then he returned to Bethany, where he stayed overnight. In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs on it, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up. – Matthew 21:17-19
Following the chronological sequence of the Evangelical narrative, an Olivet ‘memory’ of a different kind, now claims our attention. The incident has the one remarkable peculiarity, that it stands alone in the ministry of Christ as a miracle of punishment. At other times, as we follow the footsteps of our blessed Lord, and are the spectators of His mighty works, He scatters mercy on His path. By miracle and parable, by word and deed, He countersigns and endorses His own declaration, “The Son of man came not to destroy, but to save.” Here, however, though it be but on an inanimate object in outer nature, we are arrested with a strange, solitary exception.
As He is crossing from Bethany on the Monday of the Passion-week, early in the morning, before the great influx of worshipers at this festive season would throng the Temple, a fig plantation, near to the beaten pathway, attracted His eye. “The time of figs was not yet.” As a general rule, it was not yet the fig-season, except perhaps in the earlier and more favoring climate of Jericho and Gennesaret. It was therefore altogether premature and precocious at this period of the year (the end of March) for a fig-tree to be in full foliage, and especially on the comparatively elevated region of the Mount of Olives. While, however, the fig-orchard, now visible, was still destitute of leaves–or, at all events, these were only in embryo–one abnormal and exceptional member of the group is covered with foliage, giving reason to infer that the figs also were ripe and ready for gathering.
You may be aware of the peculiarity in the fig-tree, that the fruit, contrary to the ordinary order of development in the vegetable kingdom, appears before the leaves; so that the spectacle of a tree in full leaf, afforded ground to believe that fruit would be found thereon. Our blessed Lord approaches it, as if He had a right thus to expect, from its leafy appearance, that it should be covered with figs. He finds it to be a mass of pretentious foliage–nothing else; and He utters against it a withering curse. On returning by the same road, that afternoon, to His mountain home, the shades of eventide prevented the disciples noting how literally the blighting word had taken effect. But the next morning, as they are again wending their way to the city, the withered, blasted stem and drooping leaves arrest their attention–“Master,” said Peter, “behold, the fig-tree which you cursed has withered away,” (Mark 11:21.)
Undoubtedly for this strange exception to the customary tenderness of Christ’s miracles, there must be some special reason–a loving Redeemer punishing, and that, also, not a moral, responsible agent, but a dumb unconscious tree. Some peculiar reason indeed there must have been for the miracle at all. Jesus, we may be well assured, did not work it merely to give farther proof and exhibition of His omnipotence. The withering of a tree would, in itself, be comparatively a small attestation to His power, after the grandeur of Lazarus’s resurrection. What, then, meant He? We must go to Himself in the lowly spirit of the disciples, saying, ‘Declare unto us the parable and miracle of the fig-tree.’
The preceding day had been an illustrious one. In the week, it corresponded with our Sabbath, and, as we have found, was signalized by what was outwardly the most brilliant Olivet memory, the Triumphal entrance of the Redeemer into Jerusalem. It closed with an act of sovereign power–the cleansing of the Temple, and the dispersion of the traders, who, with their usurious traffic, were desecrating its sacred precincts. The blighting of the fig-tree forms the completion and complement of this series of expressive symbolic actions, relative to the doom of Jerusalem. And mark the order–the gradation rising to a terrible climax. First, The tender tears–the last pleadings of rejected love. Second, The righteous anger at the desecrated Temple courts, and the figurative dispersion of the Jewish people. Finally, and last of all, the impenitent nation, under the type and symbol of a blighted fig-tree, pining and withering away. These together, formed three acted parables–three illustrations in deed, of the dirge He had spoken in words–“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent unto you; how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen does gather her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate,” (Luke 13:34, 35.)
Here, then, is the key to this (in some respects, perplexing and enigmatical) incident, in the closing scenes of the Savior’s ministry. That fig-tree is the kingdom of Israel. One thought, next to the great redemption of His Church, seemed, at that time, to occupy the mind of Jesus–it was the nation’s downfall and ruin. It drew tears from His eyes. He who wept not for Himself, wept for the despisers of His mercy and patience forbearance. The tears on the brow of Olivet passed into holy indignation and anger at the sight of the Temple sacrilege; and this again, led these lips, which loved to utter nothing but tenderness, to frame a final, irrevocable, sentence of doom. In order to teach and impress the great lesson, He invests, for the time, that dumb fig-tree with moral qualities–He makes it the expositor of a moral truth.
And observe how specially and singularly applicable the mute symbol was. The Jewish nation stood forth amid its compeers–the empires of the earth–a proud claimant to goodness and righteousness. The other Gentile kingdoms were in darkness and error. These latter had no fruit on their branches; but then, there was this distinction–they made no boastful pretension of having any. They were empty, poverty-stricken, as the Jew himself; no, a deeper blindness sealed their eyes. But, unlike the Jew, they made no vaunting boast of spiritual superiority. They felt that, in moral development, it might figuratively be said of them, “The time of figs was not yet,” they were waiting with longing earnestness for the dawning of some better day, which would give life and light to the world. The nation of Israel, on the other hand, sought to stand out in proud, self-confident pre-eminence. It was a fig-tree clothed with leaves. It had its imposing outward religion–its hallowed traditions–its boasted Temple–its mitred priests–its phylacteried Pharisees–its morning and evening sacrifices–its aromas of incense–its prophets’ sepulchers–its synagogues, and oratories, and mountain-altars–the land was studded with these outward signs and symbols of religious life.
Yes, when we think of all these, there were “leaves” enough. But beneath this ostentatious foliage, what was there? Pride–formalism–vain glory–selfishness–oppression. “How striking the image of that theocracy of solemn form, proudly displaying its ceremonials of worship, while the very heart of the nation was become dry and dead as sapless wood.” (Pressense’s Life of Christ.) This ought to have been the confession of that privileged people in the day of their merciful visitation–‘We, like that fig-tree on our sacred mountain, have had every fostering natural advantage. In a spiritual sense, ours has been the favoring climate, the congenial sunshine, the rains and dews of heaven. But we feel and acknowledge that we have perverted and abused these sacred influences. We are naked, leafless, fruitless, unproductive cumberers. All true and acceptable righteousness in us is lacking. Our ancestral law, which should have produced holiness, proclaims our deficiency–utters our condemnation. We participate in the longings of humanity, and of the holiest and best of our nation, for a better righteousness than our own. We feel our need of such a Savior as that of whom our prophets have thus spoken, This is the name whereby He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness.’
And was not that Savior in their midst? Had not all the ardent aspirations of the sainted fathers and worthies of Israel met and been fulfilled in the person of “God manifest in the flesh?” Yet, in blinded unbelief, they closed their eyes to irresistible attestations of His divine majesty and power. Though disease fled at His touch, and winds and waves were lulled at His bidding, and devils crouched at His word, and death, at His summons, gave up its reluctant prey, yet ‘He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.’ In defiant pride, the fruitless fig-tree shook its vaunting branches and foliage before the eye of the heart-searching God, and urged its boastful claim to that of which it was utterly devoid. The Incarnate Redeemer approached in divine-human majesty. He unmasked the pretentious hypocrite, and left it with a blighting doom. Like the earth, which, despite of all genial influences, brought forth only briars and thorns, it was ‘rejected–near unto cursing, whose end was to be burned.’ And as we come at this day, like the disciples of old on Mount Olivet, to gaze on this tree once planted by God’s right hand, what do we see? It is a nation scattered and stripped. The Jewish race, for eighteen hundred years, like withered leaves–carrying the tidings of their curse to the kingdoms of their dispersion.
We can understand, then, the primary meaning and intention of the Savior in this strange exceptional act among His miracles of mercy–mutilating and destroying a work of His own hands–it was, that that blighted tree of the fig-forest might take up a parable to the house of Israel. Nothing could be more impressive. There, on one of the heights or undulations of that holy Mount, like the solitary calcined pillar which once overlooked the Valley of Siddim–stood a withered thing, all the more conspicuous by contrast with the rich carpet of spring-flowers and verdure which doubtless then, as now, spread around; on its scarred stem the doom written, “O Israel, you have destroyed yourself.”
But we have not exhausted the divine purpose and meaning in this symbolic action. That stern deed was a prophecy and sermon to EVERY AGE–a solemn sermon preached for all time, alike for the Church collectively and for believers individually. The Savior’s dooming sentence on the fig-tree, is a searching word to all formalists–boasting hypocrites–who stand forth before the world in pretentious leaves, but who are utterly devoid of that which the great Seeker alone values–fruit to His glory.
Churches are involved in that doom. Since the introduction of Christianity, down to our own days, have there not been too many examples of leaf-covered, but fruitless fig-trees–churches with imposing worldly splendor; decorated aisles–splendid liturgies–venerable relics–dim religious light–gorgeous festivals–priestly and hierarchal orders boasting apostolic succession and sacramental efficacy–and yet, within all this pomp of show, this imposing ecclesiastical organization–an utter dearth and destitution of spiritual energy and life? What have all such been, and proved? deceptive leaves–outer foliage, screening and masking utter barrenness, the outward work of man attempted to be put in the place of the inner work of God–the pomp of ritual and sensuousness of ritual, having the precedence over repentance and faith–the external of the casket looked to, more than the enclosed jewel of holiness.
Is it not this ostentatious outward profession (clustering foliage without corresponding fruit) which is delineated by an inspired pen, as the attribute of the Church in its latter day of lukewarmness and apostasy? Hear the words of the apostle, “But mark this–there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,” and then, mark how the mournful catalogue is summed up–it is by telling us, that this accursed, cumbering tree–not one branch of which has a redeeming cluster of fruit–is nevertheless clothed with pretentious leaves; for it is added, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”
Nor does the searching lesson terminate here. The doom of the withered fig-tree has a personal application to individual professors. Who has not seen the living counterpart in the ostentatious Christian, the flaming orthodoxy of whose creed is sadly belied by the daily life–by the manifestation of selfishness, peevishness, fretfulness, pride, frivolity, discontent, uncharitableness, censoriousness–no inward crucifixion of sin, no molding of the heart in conformity with the will of God? These are the poor, withered, scarred stems, which the leaves of profession overlap and conceal.
How Christ again and again, by word and deed, shows how He hates all facade, pretense, display, unreality. He ever dealt with tenderness to the very chief of sinners. He never spurned true penitence, however great the guilt, from His feet. But with what burning invective does He hurl His denunciations against Pharisees, “HYPOCRITES!” Fruitless professor, sad and mournful indeed is your state. There is more hope for the open sinner than for you. Yours is the mimic life of the dumb insensate mummy in the Egyptian sarcophagus. It is the hectic flush in the maiden’s cheek–the appearance of loveliness, the deceitful sign of beauty–but, in reality, the ominous symbol of inner waste and decay and death. The blight of God’s curse is upon you. “How soon is the fig-tree withered away!”
The great practical deduction from this solemn passage, may be expressed in the words which the old Preacher of the desert addressed to the thronging crowds around him–“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees–therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.” This whole passage, indeed, seems to bring out “the goodness and severity” of Jesus. His goodness and tenderness towards all–but that goodness when insulted, injured, despised–passing into needful severity and doom!
We may mark, also, in these chapters, the same gradation in the case of individuals, we have already noted with reference to the Jewish nation collectively. First, There are the tears of divine human emotion; the unutterable sorrow over His rejected overtures of love, as the Redeemer still strives and pleads with the impenitent, saying, “How shall I give you up?” The next step, is when He enters the soul-temple, and sees it degraded and desecrated with works of darkness and sin–that soul, with its Godlike chambers converted into a robber-haunt of Satan, a den of thieves. Then comes the sad climax of all. The soul He has loved, wept over, borne with, entreated, becomes a doomed, blighted, withered thing, a dreadful monument of His righteous judgment and avenging wrath!
In these different ways He may be dealing with those whose eyes trace these pages. With some, it may be, in the way of tears and tenderness. Seated on the brow of the Heavenly mount, He may be bending over you in pitying love, and addressing you in words of affectionate admonition. In the case of others, He may be using sterner means, He may be entering the Temple with the whip of small cords, “driving,” with affliction’s scourge, these robber spoilers from what He would still reclaim and purify for Himself, saying, “Except you repent you shall all likewise perish.” In the case of others (may there be none such) it is the last, sad, utterance of all. Warning, and admonition, and forbearance, and patience, are terminated. The tears have wept themselves away; compassion has exhausted its treasures; and the thunder-cloud rises in its stead. He must (dreadful alternative!) curse those who will not receive His blessing–“Henceforth let no fruit grow upon you forever.” Oh what a terrible state is this, into which the doomed soul then passes! The tree–the moral, thinking, living agent, is dead. Yes, living on, a conscious existence, and yet dead while he lives!
There are two ways by which God deals with incorrigible sinners, corresponding to the two ways He dealt with the two fig-trees of the Gospels. Both were cumberers. Both were doomed. But by different methods was their doom consummated. The one was ‘cut down.’ After a three years’ patient bearing with it, (continuing to resist all efforts to make it fruitful,) the insulted Husbandman clears the grass around the stem; the axe descends; it lies prone on the ground, stripped, bared, plucked up by the roots; the place which once knew it knows it no more!
The dealing with the other is different. It still keeps its place in the plantation. But it is a naked, lonely, blighted stem, bearing upon it the curse of permanent unfruitfulness. It needs not a judgment to come. It is judged, ‘condemned already’–“I the Lord have dried up the green tree,” (Ezek. 17:24.) The dreadful doom is consummated in silence. There is no audible voice to record its fulfillment; no avenging angel descends to pour his vial on the stem of the fig-tree; no horde of devouring locusts to strip its leaves; no tempest to wrestle with its branches. Unlike the symbolical vine of Egypt, no boar out of the wood desolates it, no wild beast of the field devours it. God simply withdraws the agencies which have been so long repelled and resisted–the moistening rains and the reviving sunshine, which, in the case of others, have quickened life and fruitfulness.
Like Gilboa, on whose arid top, amid its sisterhood of mountains, the refreshing dew seems, to this day, to fall in vain–the barren tree stands in its life of death, given up by God–“Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone”–“Let no fruit henceforth grow upon you forever!” Yes! I repeat, dreadful indeed such a case as this. Abandoned! Like that picture of the abandoned vessel, so truthfully delineated by the pencil of a great modern painter, a hulk on the wide sea, abandoned to its fate, the sport of winds and waves and ruffian elements, an unwieldy log on the great waters, without mast, or sail, or helm, or crew–drifting, drifting onwards along the ocean, amid the bleak howling winds and wastes of a dark and cheerless eternity!
‘Forever,’ ‘irreversible,’ did I say? No, not so! God speaks of those who are ‘near unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.’ “But the end is not yet”–while there is life there is hope. In the middle acted parable to which we have adverted, (the driving from the Temple,) there is an incident of blessed significance introduced. Jesus healed the diseased ones–“And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them,” (Matt. 21:14.) It was an evidence interjected in the midst of righteous retribution, that ‘in wrath He remembers mercy;’ that even now, that heart of Divine power and human love is a hoarded garner of pity and compassion, open to all who will avail themselves of its treasures.
We dare never, to one lost soul on this side the grave, shut the door of pardon. “Forever” is the fearful word for the dungeons of despair. Mercy, pardon, forgiveness, are still words for the living. There is a summer-time of grace ever near, even in the dreariest winter of spiritual desolation. God is giving us a reprieve. Every new day is such–another chance of salvation, another offer of mercy, before the knell of the soul be rung forever! Prisoners–but “Prisoners of hope.”
Yes, go stand by that stripped, speechless, silent fig-tree, on the crest of Olivet, and while you behold there a dreadful witness to the Redeemer’s wrath, look at the same time at that sister fig-tree to which He pointed, at an earlier date of His ministry, in the regions of Galilee. He came to it, as He comes to each one of us, expecting “fruit;” “I looked that it should bring forth fruit.” There was none. Is it doomed at once?–No; an all-prevailing Intercessor pleads for one other year of respite and mercy–one other year to fertilize and dig about its roots, one other blessed chance of hope and forgiveness; and then, if there be no fruit, “after that,” to cut it down.
‘After that’–who can tell how brief the duration? ‘After that’–it may be a measured, meted out, perhaps nearly-exhausted season, for some one of us! Reader, self-convicted and self-condemned, are you led in prayerful penitence to exclaim–‘Lord, I am that fig-tree; the message of this ‘memory’ is for me. That one year of gracious respite and reprieve, oh let me improve it! There may be but some weeks of it, some days of it, yet to run. A few more swings of the pendulum, and the time so graciously included in “after that,” will have fled forever, beyond the possibility of recall. Oh spare me that I may recover strength before I go hence and be no more!’
And if we would add one word more, it is a closing gospel thought, suggested by the fig foliage of this parable-miracle. It was with the pretentious leaves of this same tree, that Adam and Eve, in Paradise, sought to cover their nakedness. God stripped away the leafy garments, and provided them instead, with the hides–the skins of the animals slain on the sacrificial altar. That was the earliest of the Bible’s acted parables. It was a Gospel Parable uttered in Eden, but one full of gracious comfort to the Church in every age. The fig-tree clothing of self-righteousness is utterly unavailing; the Lord who walks amid the trees of the garden strips it away–it cannot abide His righteous glance, His avenging scrutiny. But He has a blessed substitute at hand. He has woven, into a divine texture, the leaves of the Tree of life for the healing of the nations. “I will bring near,” says He, “my righteousness”–the covering, the glorious vesture provided by the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world. He reveals “the righteousness of Christ, which is unto all and upon all those who believe.” Oh! dead, barren fig-tree, lift up your drooping withered leaves and live. “For whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life!”
Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—even on a donkey’s colt. -Zech. 9:9
It is the loveliest season in the Palestine year, when, the rain “over and gone;” the Mount of Olives is carpeted with green, and fresh foliage is clothing its varied groves. Multitudes, as we found in the preceding chapter, were congregated within Jerusalem and its suburbs, from every corner of the Hebrew territory, to keep the great national feast. Many of these, we further noted, attracted by the fame of the Prophet of Galilee, and more especially by His crowning miracle in the resurrection of Lazarus, poured in an enthusiastic stream to Bethany; some, after sunset, on the Jewish Sabbath–others early on the following morning.
Then, as now, two main roads conducted from the city to this sequestered mountain-hamlet. The one, the shorter of the two, leads straight up the hill, crossing the hollow between its two principal summits. This is the way which we have already found, in a former ‘Memory of Olivet,’ was selected by David in his flight; the one which, naturally, all foot-travelers would follow. The other, longer and more winding, but adapting itself to a similar depression on the southern slope of the Mount, was (and still is, in a more limited sense) the great public way, traversed by horsemen and caravans from Jericho and the Jordan. It continues a wild mountain track at this day. But though it must have been always steep, it has traces here and there, by the cuttings in the limestone rock, of a road formerly more befitting the great eastern approach (and the only truly grand and impressive approach) to “the city of the great King.” The Evangelical narratives leave us little room to doubt, that it was along this magnificent highway the Redeemer was to make His public and triumphal entry.
The disciples have returned from their errand to the villager of Bethphage, to the spot where the procession had paused–the crowd increasing every moment by fresh additions from Jerusalem on the one side, and from Perea and Galilee on the other. The commingled streams have met, and loud “as the noise of many waters” the air is vocal with festive song. The central object of attraction and homage in this enthusiastic crowd, is a lowly Pilgrim of Galilee; undistinguished by any outward badge of dignity. The mighty Victor over Hades, who had encountered and vanquished Death on his pale horse, was outwardly, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, an uncrowned hero–no purple dress–no warrior’s sword–no conquering chariot, as we then remarked, had He.
And, so far as He Himself was concerned, He sought none. Easily might He have converted that hour of popular acclamation into an hour of triumph–easily could He have worked on the passions of those thousands now around Him. “Master, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” was the muffled thought of many an impatient heart–a spark was all that was needed to kindle the conflagration, and the appropriate moment might seem to have arrived. Not a few in that crowd, as they stood, at the outset of the march, on the ridge overlooking the scene of wild desolation stretching down to the Jordan valley, must have remembered the trumpet-tones of one, who, by the severe sanctity of his life, had won their deepest reverence. Had not the Baptist said of this very Prophet of Nazareth, “He must increase, but I must decrease”? Might not the hour now be come for the prophetic fulfillment of “the voice crying in the wilderness”?–might not the kingdom spoken of by the faithful Herald be indeed at hand? What a favoring juncture, at least, to strike the blow! By the concurrent voices of that vast concourse–on the breath of their hosannas–how easily might the acknowledged Messiah-King have marched directly to the Palace, wrested the Roman standards from the walls of Antonia, and ascending as the Shiloh the throne of his father David, have restored to the people their lost prerogatives as a nation! He was, however, no political aspirant–no ambitious adventurer. Had He willed it, they would, before this, have “taken Him by force to make Him a king.” But He declines the offered crown–He will “save others”–not glorify or “save Himself.”
It was needful, nevertheless, at this solemn crisis, for reasons to which we shall immediately advert, to enter the metropolis, accompanied with some unmistakable badges of royalty. Though oftener He had not where to lay His head–though in a few days, stripped of robe and mantle, He was to hang naked on the cross, it behooved Him now to make a public proclamation and manifesto of His theocratic rights. The homage therefore which would, in other circumstances and on other occasions, have, been rejected, is now accepted. Suddenly, and without premeditation, Olivet is converted into a highway for a conqueror’s triumph. An ovation is improvised befitting the occasion, and the “children of Zion are joyful in their KING.”
The procession moves on. The donkey’s colt, on which He rode, was, in one sense, as we have seen, a symbol of His lowliness–meekness–humiliation–and yet, in another, it gave a traditional significance to the doings of the hour. For it was the animal that had been rode, on more than one occasion of historic interest, by kings and judges, lawgivers and prophets. In present circumstances, its employment was still further suggestive. The words of one of their old seers could scarcely fail to seize the popular mind, and stimulate the ardor of the moment–“Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—even on a donkey’s colt.” (Zech. 9:9.)
All strove to respond to this call from a prophetic past. Some of the more devoted threw their garmentsas saddle-cloths on the back of the colt; others spread them, as a tribute of loyalty and homage, along the rough road; others, from the groves and gardens of palm which have since perished, cut down branches of these, along with other green boughs, similar to what we found, in a previous chapter, was the used at the Feast of Tabernacles. Along this leafy carpet, composed of these symbols of rejoicing, rides Zion’s King–for once, at least, not “despised nor rejected.” Shouts of victory and welcome wake every echo of the Mount, which is so soon, alas! to listen to other and sadder exclamations from the lips of that fickle populace, before the palm branches have yet withered which they had just strewn on His path.
No traveler who has visited the actual scene, can fail to be struck with the remarkable accordance of the locality and its outer framework, with the description in the Evangelical narratives. Shortly after leaving the town of Mary and Martha, a turn in the road would bring the procession to the Valley of Bethany–at present, as has been previously noted, a wild, picturesque, and (notwithstanding its proximity to the city) a sequestered ravine; to avoid the deep depression of which, the path turns abruptly now, as it must have done then, to the right, skirting the southern slope of Olivet. At this point, before descending to the sharp and steep angle, the crowd would suddenly catch the first glimpse of Jerusalem. It would, however, be but a glimpse, as Zion alone is here visible. The intervening flank of Olivet would screen the Temple, with all the northern portions of the city, from view, and reveal no more than “the citadel” and what was once the Palace of David. But that glimpse is suggestive.
“Zion!” “Zion’s King!” “David’s Son!” It is the “Daughter of Zion” (the city of David) that is first to “rejoice,” and she therefore must intone the first strophe of the song. The very song, also, is selected from David’s minstrelsy–“for,” we read, (mark the allusions,) “when Jesus was come near even now at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice, and to praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, Blessed be the kingdom of our father David,” (Mark 11:10.) “Blessed be the King that comes in the name of the Lord–peace in heaven, and glory in the highest–Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna in the highest.” Nor was it merely as a Prophet–a worthy successor of the now martyred Baptist–that He is hailed with these loud acclaims. For it is deserving of note, that this was the scripture which every Jew had been taught specially to connect with the advent of Messiah. It was the verse–the note–dearest to them in the great Hallel sung at their Paschal feasts. It was the nation’s prayer for its coming King!
Full, doubtless, many a bosom is, with high-wrought expectation. As the crowd swells and the fervor every moment increases, may not the sanguine hope to which we have alluded, grow in intensity also, that the hour of emancipation has come? May they not hear in these thunder-shouts the doom of the Roman? Already may they not see in imagination the hated eagles driven from their perch in the most Holy Place–the invader and his armies dispersed and broken–“the Lord” whom they had long “sought” and longed for, suddenly “coming to His Temple,” as the avenger and emancipator of the nation, the avenger of her cruel wrongs? (Mal. 3:1.)
But let us follow still onward the jubilant multitude. Owing to the rapid descent in the road just referred to, the view of the city is, for the time, lost. The aspect would be limited by the Valley of Bethany on the one hand, and by the top of the mount, crowned by David’s old altar, on the other–which possibly also may have lent its silent voice in intensifying the ascription of the hour. Many lips, in these moments of transient enthusiasm, may have caught up, in spirit at least, the song of a more faithful worshiper. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,” (Luke 1:68, 69.)
And now, we may imagine, they have begun the ascent of the opposite side of the valley. New palm branches are cut from the groves abounding in this most sheltered hollow on the Mount, and increasing shouts are ascending–hymns from David’s Psalter, mingling with more recent angelic strains, (Luke 19:38.) The jealous Pharisees, the alone exceptions to the universal joy, ask of Christ to rebuke these mistaken acclamations. His reply is, that no voice dare be silenced; that the very stones of Olivet would resent the attempted suppression–“I tell you, that if these should hold their peace, the very stones would cry out!”
At last they have reached the height–the height which, at a future Paschal feast, was sprinkled with the tents of the Roman army. Even now, there is no such vision of any earthly city, if we may except perhaps the one famous view of Damascus from ‘The Dome of Victory.’If so impressive to travelers at this day, when they can only look across to the widowed Queen as she sits in the ashes of her desolation, what must it have been in the day of her regal splendor, enthroned on her four hills, of Acra, Moriah, Bezetha, and Zion, “a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of her God”! (Isa. 62:3.)
Not now, as in the earlier part of the procession, (the fragmental glimpse of Zion and the city of David,) but the whole metropolis–fortresses, walls, Temple, towers–rose in transcendent and surpassing loveliness, set in the blue azure Heaven–so “near” in that clear atmosphere, that, to the unpracticed eye, the existence of the intervening Kedron gorge can scarce be credited. That “Mountain of holiness” seems, from this height, like its sterner elder sister, “a mount that might be touched”–who that has ever seen the spot, can fail, in a moment, to recognize it; and identify it with the words, “And when He was come near, He beheld the city.”
Touching and impressive procession! How different from the triumph of earthly conquerors! How different from those proud ovations up the steeps of the Roman capitol, or to the Temple of Victory on the Athenian Acropolis, when the wail of the captive and the bereaved, blended with the notes of Fame’s bronze trumpets, and the wheels of the war-chariots were soiled with the blood and dust of battle! Every tongue here, has to tell only of mercy, compassion, and tenderest sympathy. The restored blind, with eyes unsealed, are there to lead the way. The restored dumb, with tongues unloosed, are there, to shout the cry of welcome. The restored cripple is there, to strip the palm-tree for his mute tribute of gratitude. The healed leper is there, to spread his now untainted garment on the road. The ‘clothed’ demoniac is there, to proclaim, “The Lord has done great things for me, whereof I am glad.” The widow and the orphan are there to tell, “He has taken off our sackcloth, and girded us with gladness.” The very children are there, with their little palm-branches, to take up the refrain, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” (Matt. 21:15) Yes, the restored dead are there–their once silenced tongues now set in glad music to the glory of their great Restorer–“The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence–but we will bless the Lord from this time forth and for evermore,” (Ps. 115:17, 18.)
Let us now proceed, in a few, sentences, to state the main object of this remarkable incident in the closing chapters of our Lord’s earthly history, and, in its outer accompaniments, the most imposing and impressive of all the “Memories” of the Mount.
We must recur for a moment to the point on which we have already incidentally touched, that is, its PUBLICITY–and this too a purposed publicity. It was a thing of Christ’s own deliberate choosing and arrangement. In this respect, we noted in the former chapter, how unlike all the other deeds of our Lord. It was prophesied regarding Him, “He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall he lift up his voice in the streets;” and all the previous incidents of His life serve only to illustrate and confirm this prophetical description. At other times, He seems to desire and to court, no, He enjoins, the utmost privacy. He goes forth all alone to the Temptation in the wilderness–no human eye witnesses that stupendous struggle. On another occasion, He charges “to tell no man.”
He retires to the northern shore of Gennesaret, when the proposal, we have already referred to, is whispered, to make Him a King. He meets again and again His disciples alone. The glories of Tabor were witnessed by no multitude. The treading of the sea was at midnight, and when His apostles were by themselves. It was after He had “put all out of the house,” and amid the hush of impressive silence, He raised the daughter of Jairus. The last rite of His dying love was instituted in the strict privacy of the “upper chamber.” He meets the disciples at early morn by the shores of Tiberias!
Why, then, this startling exception? Why on the present occasion “cry and lift up His voice”? Why, for once, contradict His own assertion, “The kingdom of God comes not with observation”?
It does not seem enough to say, that this entrance into Jerusalem was intended, as we have just been regarding it, as a manifestation of His Kingly glory–a foreshadowing of the future, when He would be hailed as King of Zion and Prince of peace, (though this doubtless was one end contemplated.) Nor, as others have held, that it was specially designed to brace and nerve His disciples for the scenes of humiliation and suffering which were at hand. Had this been all, He might, in conformity with previous instances, have given them in private and separate from the world, some such equivalent regal manifestation. A little while before, He had been in the region of Caesarea-Philippi, where first He began to discourse of His death and passion. He might there, among the sublime solitudes of Hermon, have summoned legions of angels to do Him homage; and instead of sending to borrow, from a Judean villager, two lowly animals, every lordly tenant that roamed these northern forests, “from Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens and the mountains of the leopards,” might have graced His triumph, and ten thousands of rivers of oil, as consecrated ointment, flowed at His feet. There, He might have appeared, as He did at a future time to John, with “His eyes as a flame of fire; His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters.”
What then, we again ask, seems to have been the chief reason, on the present occasion, of this unprecedented publicity? We answer, It was in order to draw public attention to the great crowning act of His Incarnation–(and which in two days was to be consummated)–His death for the life of the world. It was of the greatest importance, that the eyes of the whole Jewish nation (the representative of the world’s nations) should be directed towards a crucified Savior. While, as we have seen, in other incidents of His earthly existence, He courted retirement–it was necessary to surround His death with every possible notoriety. Hence Augustine truly says, in his comment on this episode in a life of unobtrusive humility and self-abnegation, “It is not so much the triumph of a king, as the procession of a victim to the sacrifice.”
It was remarkable, (the coincidence could not be by Him undesigned,) that this jubilant day was the 10th of Nisan–a day pre-eminently sacred to the whole Jewish people, and specially to the congregated worshipers–as that upon which the Paschal Lamb was set apart. Jesus, the great Antitype, in presence of the assembled nation, and by a voluntary act, sets Himself apart, on this same day, for His own sacrifice. As a KING, claiming solitary spiritual sovereignty–He enters the Temple as His royal Palace. But He enters it, too–PRIEST and VICTIM combined–as the place of sacrifice; “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”–“Christ our Passover sacrificed for us.”
It would have been indeed sufficient, (so far as the virtue and efficaciousness of His atonement was concerned, as the surety-Savior,) had He died in solitude. There would have been even something perhaps grand and impressive, and also more in keeping with His antecedents, if, instead of the crude shouts of Calvary, and the ignominy of open crucifixion, He had closed His eyes in their death-sleep, like Moses, all alone, on the heights of another Pisgah–or, as with a still earlier type, been offered up, like Isaac, on the summit of some kindred lonely mount.
But it was needful for the Church, in all future ages, that His death be attested, without a shadow of doubt. And never could season be better selected, to attract universal attention, than when Jews and proselytes were assembled from all the neighboring countries in the Hebrew capital. This very mountain, which witnessed the procession, was itself studded over, in its green hollows, with the black and white tents of the assembled pilgrims, who, owing to the scanty room in the city, were driven to erect their temporary booths in the public Park. Doubtless, on that day, this Triumphal entrance formed the talk of Jerusalem. It would be the topic on every tongue; and, weeks after these startling events, when the Jews now assembled at the Paschal feast returned to their several distant homes, they would, more strikingly still, connect the two prophecies of Zechariah–“Behold your King comes;” and the “sword awaking” from its scabbard–the “wounds in the hands”–“wounded in the house of his friends,” (Zech. 13:6-7.)
Behold, then, in the Triumphal entry, the public presentation of the priceless Sacrifice. It was, if we might be allowed the expression, the bleating of the true Paschal Lamb; as He was led to the slaughter. It was the sounding of silver trumpets summoning to the great festival–the Sabbath-bell of the world’s long week of expectation, tolling on the heights of Olivet, to gather the multitudes around the Altar of offering. That bell rang the chimes of another Evangelical Prophet, “O Zion, that bring good tidings, get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bring good tidings, lift up your voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah–Behold your God!” (Isa. 40:9.)
Although, however, we have now indicated what formed the principal object of Messiah’s public entrance, there was doubtless what was prophetic in it also. It was a foreshadowing of future glory–that Christ (soon to suffer) would one day come to reign; having His dominion, according to the words embraced in Zechariah’s prediction, “from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth”–when the Alleluia of the children of Abraham would mingle with the Hosanna of the Gentile, “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.”
That day, at Jerusalem, was doubtless a joyful one to the disciples, when they saw their beloved Lord and Master so worthily honored. But if they had been able, in any measure, to understand the mysterious intimations which had recently fallen from His lips, there must have been also sadder thoughts intermingled with the glad acclaims. These shouts of triumph must have been marred with dark forebodings, which were only too truthfully realized! Not so, is it, regarding His second coming. No shadow of death darkens “that blessed hope”–no traitor will lurk in that triumphal path–no sorrow cloud that hour of joy.
Reader, are you ready to glorify Christ? Are you ready to strew the palm-branch on His path, and to greet Him with the Hosanna? Remember if you will not glorify Him, He will get others to do so. “If these hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” ‘Attempt not,’ He says still, as He said of old, ‘to rob me of my Hosannas. The rocks around–dumb nature–would enter her protest–the stones would become vocal, and shout my praise.’ I repeat, if we refuse to honor Christ, and to join the willing multitude who do Him homage, He will get others more loyal to take our place. His glory will not suffer–out of the mouth of babes and sucklings He will perfect praise–yes, from the mute creation, He will raise up a special seed–He will put a tongue and a song into the insensate stone.
“Tell the daughter of Zion,” so ran the prophecy, “Behold, your King comes.” This is a concluding but most solemn view of the Triumphal entrance. It was a last–a closing offer of the Redeemer to the “daughter of Zion.” This slow procession wending across Olivet, was a final, long-rejected overture of kindness–one other opportunity to hear His voice and turn at His reproof.
Christ makes His entrance, Sabbath after Sabbath, to the courts of the earthly Zion, and in the case of some, as with Jerusalem of old, with the last message of His mercy–a closing appeal–a final remonstrance–a farewell knock at the door of the heart, before His offers of love pass forever away. Let us meet Him now–meet Him joyfully as Christ the Savior; that when the advent cry shall be heard–when the world shall be startled by the summons, “Behold, your King comes!” we may be able–each with the prepared palm-branch of victory, to line the royal path–and to say, “Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.”
“For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” – Hebrews 10:26-27 (KJV).
This verse has caused many people undue anxiety. J. Vernon McGee says, that this verse should cause the hair on the back of our necks to stand up, but not in the way it does for many who read it out of context. If we were to look at this verse by itself we might assume that if we deliberately sin after we are saved, we are without hope and should simply await judgment, but does the author of Hebrews mean any sin, or does he have a specific sin in mind?
The first thing we need to do with this scripture is to check the context in which we find it. First, according to Henry Virkler in his book on hermeneutics, we need to find out some basic information about the book in which we find the statement. We should start by asking, “to whom is this book written?” When studying scripture, the best place to start looking for answers to questions like these is scripture itself because it is infallible unlike external sources. Without much effort we will find that it is written to people familiar with the Jewish sacrificial system, and who have converted to Christianity or at least have made some commitment to it. This is quickly apparent because according to Albert Barnes, in his Notes on the Bible, the author of Hebrews speaks about Jewish customs without any explanation. It is apparent that the audience was Jewish or at least had practiced the customs and knew what they were and what they represented.
Another question we should ask is, “why is this book being written?” As we study the book we find that it has a general purpose, first, the author describes what Christ has done for them as the only true sacrifice for sin and then warns them against falling away. The concern about falling away was not due to persecution but due to the many who were tempted to go back to the old sacrifices which were only symbols of the true sacrifice which is Christ (Heb. 10:14).
After we have the overall argument of the book, the next question we should ask is, “how do these verses of scripture fit into the overall argument of the book?” As we read the book we see that chapter 10 seems to bring the first and major section of the book to a close. Chapter 10 starts by showing that Christ is and was the only sacrifice by which any person will ever be saved. The author in verses 19-25 lays out the “new and living way”, which indicates that the old method of sacrifices are no longer of any value and to continue in them is sin.
It is in this context that we find our text. When the author says, “if we willingly sin” he is clearly speaking of willfully rejecting the sacrifice of Christ and going back to the old symbols which never actually cleansed anyone from sin. If a believer does this, then there is no sacrifice for their sins and they can only await judgment. In a broader sense, the sin that the author is speaking of is apostasy, which is when a member of the visible church walks away from Christ, and as John indicates “were never really of us.” Therefore as J. Vernon McGee said, it should cause the hair on our neck to stand up, because this is a strong warning to keep us from ever letting anyone lead us away from trusting in the only true sacrifice that can cleanse us from our sins; Jesus Christ.
If the book of Hebrews’ internal evidence is not enough to comfort a trembling soul who thinks they are forever lost because they have willfully sinned, then we must always remember that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” In them we will find no contradictions. If we ever have trouble with a difficult verse that is not immediately clear to us, then we need to go check the scriptures that are clear, for Scripture is it best interpreter. In doing this we will find a verse like 1 John 2:1, which is crystal clear and says, “and if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” In a quick study of the context we see that John is speaking to believers. We also have the story of David being a man after God’s own heart even after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having Uriah killed. There is also the encouragement found in the account of Peter’s three denials and the forgiveness he receives from Christ, or of Paul in Romans 7 struggling with the flesh and committing sins that he hates. All of these are ample evidence that the two verses in Hebrews 10 are not saying that if you willfully commit a sin, you are lost and no longer have hope. It is saying that if you reject the sacrifice of Christ you have no hope.J
Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed behind cried out, saying; Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!Matt. 21:9
Why is Palm Sunday important? When we celebrate the Triumphal Entry, we are celebrating a monumental occasion. As we see Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and allow the people to praise Him as king, there are many things that stand out. Here are three of the most significant things we should keep in mind.
1. Jesus was setting his crucifixion in motion
It is important to realize that the Triumphal Entry is the first time Jesus allowed the people to praise him as King. Every time before this he had forbidden them to do so because his time had not yet come. In allowing the people to praise him, he was bringing the wrath of both the Jewish and Roman leaders upon himself. He was not being pushed around by the principalities and powers; he was orchestrating them and setting things in motion for the passion week. He was coming to save us as prophesied by Zechariah.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. – Zechariah 9:9
2. Jesus was being selected as the Passover lamb according to Old Testament law
Jesus said he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and he does this in many ways. One fascinating detail he fulfilled has to do with Passover. Matthew Henry points out, “The Passover was on the fourteenth day of the month, and this [the triumphal entry] was the tenth.” The tenth day of the month was significant concerning Passover. We read this in Exodus 12:3,5-6
“Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house….Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.”
As Jesus was riding in and the people were crying “Hosanna in the highest,” unbeknownst to them they were selecting the paschal lamb for sacrifice; the one and only sacrifice that can take away sin and cause death to pass over us.
3. Jesus was marching to his death, and he knew it
Jesus was not merely riding into the city, but riding towards his death on the cross. He knew by the end of the week he would be spit upon, beaten, and crucified, but the thought of this torturous death was not the most grueling image he would have foreseen. It would have been thoughts of that final moment when he was to take on the sins of us who call him Lord, and his Father, whom he had obeyed perfectly, would turn his face away from his Son and pour out the justice and wrath for our sins upon him. In anguish, Jesus knew, he would cry out “Father why have you forsaken me.”
On the way to the cross, the entry must have been bittersweet. As we consider this moment, we know that nothing could have hindered him from reaching his goal because he had set his face like flint toward Jerusalem. As he rode, his mind would have first and foremost been focused on glorifying his Father. Secondarily his thoughts would have been directed to those he came to save. Maybe he saw our faces, knowing that without his death, he would have to watch us die. For we were born sinners, hopeless, and condemned already. Maybe he looked at us as a man who would look into the eyes of a child as disease steals her away. Whatever he was thinking, he was not going to let anything stand between him and his children
His desire to see his Father glorified and his love for us drove him forward, and when the time of the crucifixion arrived, he had reached his destination. Upright, between two thieves, nailed to the cross, and having a spear thrust into his side, the cleansing blood and water flowed. His final cry was “It is finished.” The purchase had been made, and the powers of hell had been broken. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “No sin of the believer can now be an arrow to mortally wound him.” All of us who have faith in Jesus and have been cleansed by his precious blood have every reason to sing,
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed Be the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!