JESUS NOW DREW near to Jerusalem. His disciples were in His train, not only those who had spent three years in His company but Bartimaeus also, who had spent perhaps three hours. Bethany was the home of some who loved Him, and there He found the colt of an ass, so that He might enter the city as Zechariah had predicted. The Lord had need of that colt, and He knew who the owner was and that His need would meet with a ready response. He was the Servant of the will of God, and He knew where to lay His hand upon all that was necessary to fulfil His service, whether the ass in the chapter, or the guest-chamber in Mark 14, or as on other occasions.
He entered as the prophet said He would, "just," "lowly," and "having salvation." There was a burst of temporary enthusiasm, but men had no lasting desire for what was just, and holiness made no appeal to them. Moreover the salvation they desired was one of a merely outward sort: they would be glad to be free from the tyranny of Rome, but had no desire to be released from the bondage of sin. Their Hosannas had in view the kingdom of David which they hoped was coming, and hence their cries soon died away. The Lord made straight for the heart of things by entering the temple. As regards Israel's dealings with their God, this was the centre of all; and here their state religiously was most manifest. Everything came under His survey, for He "looked round about upon all things."
The incident as to the fig tree transpired the following morning. The fig tree is symbolic of Israel, and more particularly of the remnant of the nation which had been restored to the land of their fathers, and amongst who Christ had come. Luke 13: 6-9 shows this. The whole nation had been the Lord's vineyard, and the restored remnant were like a fig tree planted in that vineyard. The King having entered, according to the prophetic word, the supreme moment of testing had come. There was nothing but leaves. Even though it was not the time of figs, there should have been plenty of immature figs, the promise of future fruitfulness. The fig tree was worthless, and should bring forth no fruit for ever.
Following this, verses 15-19, we have the Lord's action in cleansing the temple. God's thought in establishing His house at Jerusalem was that it might be a place of prayer for all nations. If any man, no matter what race he belonged to, was feeling after God, he might come to that house and get into touch with Him. The Jews had turned it into a den of thieves. This was the appalling spectacle that met His holy eye when He inspected the house the evening before.
The Jews would doubtless have furnished good reasons for permitting these abominations. Did not the strangers need to change their varied monies? Were not the doves a necessity for the very poorest who could afford no larger sacrifice? But the whole thing had been debased into a money-making concern. The man who came from afar seeking God might easily be repelled when he got to the house by the rascality of those who were connected with it. A terrible state of affairs! The custodians of the house were a pack of thieves, and the Lord told them so. This roused the scribes and priests to fury, and they determined upon His death.
Exactly similar evils have long ago been manifested in Christendom. This is a terrible thing to say, but truth demands that it should be said. Again religion has been turned into a money-making concern, so much so that the would-be seeker after God has often been utterly repelled. This thing may be seen in its most extravagant forms in the great Romish system, but it may be seen elsewhere in a modified way. It is the error of Balaam, and many run after it "greedily," as Jude 11 tells us. Let us see that we carefully avoid it. The house of God on earth today is formed of saints-not dead stones but "living" ones-but we have to learn how we are to behave ourselves in it, and Paul's first letter to Timothy give us the needed instructions. In that letter such words as these are prominent: "Not covetous," "Not greedy of filthy lucre," "Destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness . . . But godliness with contentment is great gain." If such words as these govern us, we shall be preserved from this snare.
Coming into the city the following morning the fig tree, to which the Lord had spoken, was seen to be dried up from the roots. The blight that had fallen upon it worked in a way that was contrary to nature, which would have been from the top downwards. This fact proclaimed it to be an act of God, and Peter was struck by it, and called attention to it, thus inviting the Lord to remark upon the occurrence. His comment appears to be twofold, since the word, "For," which begins verse 23 seems to be of doubtful authority.
The first thing is, "Have faith in God." Their tendency was to have faith in things visible, in the Mosaic system, in the temple, in themselves as a people, or in their priests and leaders. We have exactly the same tendency, and may easily pin our faith to systems, or to movements, or to gifted leaders. So we need to learn just the same lesson, which is that all such things fail, but that God remains. He is faithful, and He remains as the Object of faith when a curse falls upon our cherished little fig tree. Literally the word is, "Have the faith of God," it is as though the Lord says to us, "Hold on to the faithfulness of God no matter what may wither up and disappear.
But this led to the further word as to prayer, in which emphasis is again laid upon faith. "Whosoever shall say . . . and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe . . . he shall have whatsoever he saith." The whosoever and the whatsoever make this a very sweeping statement; so sweeping as almost to take our breath away. But this is connected with the prayer contemplated in the next verse, where we have, " What things soever ye desire . . . believe . . . and ye shall have them." In both these verses everything evidently hinges on the believing.
Now belief is faith, and faith is not just a human product, a kind of make-believe or imagination. Verse 24. for instance is not that if only I can work myself up to imagine I receive my request, I do receive it. My prayers according to verse 24, and my words, according to verse 23, must be the product of genuine faith; and faith is the spiritual faculty in me which receives the divine Word. Faith is the eye of the soul, which receives and appreciates Divine light. If my prayer is based on intelligent faith, I shall believe that I receive, and I shall actually receive the desired thing. And so also with what I may say, as in verse 23.
Cases which illustrate the 23rd verse might be cited from present-day missionary service. Not a few times in heathen lands have the servants of the Lord been confronted with sad cases of demon possession challenging the power of the Gospel. With full faith in the Gospel's power they have both prayed and spoken. What they said came to pass, and the demon had to depart.
Verses 25 and 26 introduce a further qualifying factor. Faith puts us into right relations with God, but our relations with our fellows must also be right, if we are to pray and speak effectually. As those who are the subjects of mercy, who have been so greatly forgiven, we must be filled with the spirit of mercy and forgiveness ourselves. If not, we shall come under the government of God.
Being again in Jerusalem and walking in the temple, the chief priests and other temple authorities came up challenging the authority by which He had acted in cleansing the building the day before. The Lord answered them by asking them to pronounce upon a preliminary question as to the validity or otherwise of John's baptism and ministry. They demanded the credentials of the great Master, but what about the credentials of the humble forerunner? It would be time enough to undertake the consideration of the greater problem when they had settled the lesser problem. Let them decide as to John.
They were betrayed by the way they handled this matter. They had no thought of deciding it on its merits; the only thing that weighed with them was expediency, and as to that they were impaled upon the horns of a dilemma. A decision either way would land them in a difficulty. They were sharp enough to see this, and hence they decided to plead ignorance. But this plea was fatal to their demand that the Lord should submit His credentials to their scrutiny. They proclaimed their incompetence in the easier matter, and so could not press their demand in the more difficult.
"From heaven or of men?" this was the question as to John. It is also the question as to the Lord Himself. In our day we may go further and say it is the question as to the Bible. John was but a man, yet his ministry was from heaven. The Lord Jesus was truly here by means of the Virgin, yet He was from heaven, and so also His matchless ministry. The Bible is a Book given us by men, yet it is not of men, for those who wrote were "moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1: 21).
Once we have in our souls a divinely given conviction that both the Living Word and the written Word are from heaven, their authority is well established in our hearts.
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