AS WE CLOSED Mark 11 we heard the leaders of the Jews plead ignorance. Whether John's baptism was from heaven or of men they could not tell, and much less could they understand the work and service of the Lord. We open this chapter to see it plainly demonstrated that He perfectly knew and understood them. He knew their motives, their thoughts and the end to which they were heading. He revealed His knowledge of them in a striking parable.
The first verse speaks of "parables," and Matthew's Gospel shows us that at this point He uttered three. Mark only records the middle one of the three-the one that foretold what these Jewish leaders were going to do, and what the results would be for them. In this parable the "husbandmen" represented the responsible leaders of Israel, and a summary is furnished of the way in which through the centuries they had refused all God's demands.
In speaking of a vineyard the Lord Jesus was continuing a figure which had been used in the Old Testament-Psalm 80; Isaiah 5; and elsewhere. In the Psalm the vine is clearly identified with Israel, and out of it is to come a "Branch" who is, "the Son of Man whom Thou madest strong for Thyself." In Isaiah it is very manifest that God was not getting out of His vineyard what He was entitled to expect. Now we find the story carried a good deal forward. The owner of the vineyard had done his part in providing all that was needful and the responsibility as to the fruit lay with the husbandmen to whom the vineyard was entrusted. They failed in their responsibility, and then proceeded to deny the rights of the owner and maltreat his representatives. Last of all they were tested by the advent of the owner's son. So the leaders of Israel had maltreated the prophets, and slain some of them. And now the Son had appeared, who is the Branch of whom the Psalm speaks. This was the supreme test.
The position of the Jew as under the law is portrayed in this parable. Consequently the question was whether they could produce that which God demanded. They had not done so. Not only was there an absence of fruit, but there was the presence of positive hatred for God and those who represented Him; and this hatred reached its climax when the Son appeared. The responsible leaders were moved by envy, and they wished to monopolize the inheritance for themselves, and so they were prepared to slay Him. A day or two before they had determined upon His death, as verse 18 of the last chapter told us. Now the Lord discovers to them that He knew their evil thoughts.
And He showed them also what would be the terrible consequences for themselves. They would be dispossessed and destroyed. This was historically fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem, and will doubtless have a further and final fulfilment in the last days. The One whom they rejected will become the dominant Head of all that God is building for eternity. When that prediction is fulfilled it will indeed be a wonder in the eyes of Israel.
The statement that the lord of the vineyard "will give the vineyard unto others," is an intimation of what comes more fully to light in John 15. Others will become branches in the true Vine, and will bring forth fruit: only they will no longer be under the law in doing so, nor will they be selected from amongst the Jews only. The Lord's words were a warning that their rejection of Him would mean their setting aside by God, and the gathering in of others, till ultimately the One they rejected would dominate everything. They saw that the parable pronounced judgment against them.
Not daring for the moment to lay hands on Him, they commenced a verbal offensive against Him, endeavouring to catch Him in His words. First came the Pharisees jointly with the Herodians. Their question as to the tribute money was skilfully designed to make Him an offender one way or the other-either against the national feelings of the Jew or the Roman. His answer however reduced them to impotence. He made them admit their servitude to Caesar by an appeal to their coinage. Their lips, not His, pronounced it to be Caesar's image. Then He not only gave the answer to their question which was perfectly obvious in the light of their own admission, but also used it as an introduction to the far more weighty matter of God's claims upon them. No wonder they marvelled at Him.
We may notice how, in verse 14, these opponents paid tribute to His perfect truth. In a way far beyond anything they realized-in the most absolute sense-He was the truth and taught the truth, wholly undeflected by man and his little world. Of no other servant of God could this be said. Even Paul was influenced by human considerations, as Acts 21: 20-26 shows. Jesus alone is the perfect Servant of God, and He was so poor that He had to ask for a "penny" to be brought to Him.
Next came the Sadducees, asking Him to unravel the matrimonial tangle which they propounded. He did this and convicted them of their folly; but before doing so He revealed its underlying causes. They did not know the Scriptures-that was ignorance. They did not know the power of God -that was unbelief. Their unbelieving error was upheld on these twin pillars. Modern unbelief of the Sadduceean type is supported by just the same two pillars. They continually misquote, misinterpret, or otherwise mangle Scripture, and they conceive of God as though He were anything but Almighty-as just a man, though of larger powers than ourselves.
The Lord proved the resurrection of the dead by quoting the Old Testament. The fact of it lies implicit in Exodus 3: 6. God was still the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob hundreds of years after their death. Though dead to men, they lived to Him, and that meant they must rise again. There the fact lay in the Scripture, and in denying it the Sadducee only convicted himself of ignorance.
Since the fact was there in Scripture the Lord, true to His Servant character, appealed to the Scripture and did not assert the fact dogmatically on His own authority. What He did state dogmatically is in verse 25, where he makes dear the state or condition into which resurrection will introduce us, thus going beyond what the Old Testament taught. The resurrection world differs from this world. Earthly relationships cease in those heavenly conditions. We are not to be angels, but we are to be "as the angels which are in heaven." Immortality and incorruptibility will be ours.
The plain fact was therefore that the Sadducees had conjured up a difficulty in their ignorance which had no existence in fact. Their discomfiture was complete.
One of the scribes who was listening perceived this, and he ventured to propound a question that they often debated amongst themselves, concerning the relative importance of the various commandments. The Lord's answer brushed aside all their elaborate arguments and quibbles as to one or other of the ten commandments by going straight to the word contained in Deuteronomy 6: 4, 5. Here was a commandment which brought within its scope all the other commandments. God demanded that He should be absolutely supreme in the affections of His creatures; if only He were so, all other things would fall into their right place. Here is the great master-commandment which governs everything.
In this commandment there lay an element of great encouragement. Why should God care about possessing the undivided love of His creature? Faith would answer this question by saying-Because He Himself is love. Being love, and loving His creature, even though lost in his sins, He cannot be satisfied without the love of His creature. Israel could not "steadfastly look to the end" of the law. Had they been able to do so, that is what they would have seen.
For the second commandment the Lord referred the man to Leviticus 19: 18, another unexpected passage. But this commandment evidently springs out of the first. No one can have ability and inclination to treat his neighbour rightly except he first is right in his relations with his God. But love is the essence of this second commandment no less than of the first. To love one's neighbour as oneself is the limit under the law. Only under grace is it possible to go a step beyond this, as for instance Aquila and Priscilla did, as recorded in Romans 16: 4. However, "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13: 10), and this is said in connection with this second commandment.
The scribe felt the force of this answer, as verses 32 and 33 show. The series of questions began with the confession, "Master, we know that Thou . . . teaches" the way of God in truth." This was said by the Pharisees and Herodians in the spirit of hypocrisy. It ended with the scribe saying in all sincerity, "Well, Master, Thou hast said the truth." The man saw that the love which would lead to the fulfilling of these two great commandments is of far more importance than offering all the sacrifices which the law enjoined. The sacrifices had their place but they were only a means to an end. Love is "the end of the commandment," as 1 Timothy 1: 5 tells us. The end is greater than the means. Thus the scribe approved of the answer that had been given to him.
The Lord's rejoinder in verse 34 is very striking. He pronounced the man as "not far from the kingdom of God," and this showed two things. First, that anyone who gets away from what is outward and ceremonial, to realize the importance of what is inward and vital before God, is not far from blessing. Second, that important as such a realization is, it does not of itself suffice for entrance into the kingdom. Something further is needed, even the spirit of a little child, as we saw when considering Mark 10. The scribe was near the kingdom but not yet in it. This reply, we judge, staggered the man, as well as the other listeners, and because of this no one cared to ask further questions. Such a man as this, well versed in the law of God, they took to be in the kingdom as a matter of course. The Lord's words challenged their thoughts. Yet, in seeing that God aims at, and values, that which is moral and spiritual beyond what is ceremonial and fleshly he had travelled a long way towards the kingdom. Romans 14: 17 enforces the same thing as regards ourselves, at least in principle. Have we fully recognized it?
His opponents having finished with their questions the Lord propounds to them His great question, arising out of Psalm 110. The scribes were quite clear that the Messiah was to be the Son of David; yet here is David speaking of Him as his Lord. Amongst men, and in those days, a father never addressed his son in such terms, but the reverse: the son called his father, lord. How could the Christ then be Son of David? Were the scribes wrong in what they asserted? Or could they explain it?
They could not explain it. They were silent. The explanation was exceedingly simple, but face to face with the Christ, and unwilling to admit His claims, they wilfully shut their eyes to it. He was the Son of David, and David called Him Lord by the Holy Ghost, so there was no mistake. The explanation is that it was the Son of God who became the Son of David according to the flesh, as is so plainly stated in Romans 1: 3. When once the Deity of the Christ is fully acknowledged all is plain. These verses throw a good deal of light upon the statement in 1 Corinthians 12: 3, that, "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost."
The Lord had now answered all the questions of His adversaries, and asked them a question which they could not answer. Had they been able to answer it, they would have been put into possession of the key to the whole situation. The mass of the people were still glad to listen to Him but the scribes were blind, and in verses 38-40 the Lord warns the people against them. Those who were being blindly led are warned against their blind leaders. The real motives and objects of the scribes are unmasked. The Word of God from His lips pierces between soul and spirit in an unerring way.
Their characteristic sin was self-seeking in the things of God. Whether in the market-place-the business centre, the synagogue-the religious centre, or in feasts-the social circle, they must have the commanding place, and to this end they wore their distinctive dress. Having gained the leading position they used it to feather their own nests financially at the expense of widows, the most defenceless class in the community. The acquisition of power and money was the end and object of their religion. They followed "the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness" (2 Peter 2: 15); and there are all too many in our day who still tread that evil way, the end of which is "greater damnation," or "severer judgment." The adjective, you notice, is not "longer" as though differences might exist in the duration of punishment; though there will be differences as regards its severity.
The adversaries had provoked this discussion with their questions, but the last word was with the Lord. The closing words must have fallen from His lips with the force of a sledge-hammer. He calmly took to Himself the office of Judge of all the earth and pronounced their doom. Had He not been the Son of God this had been folly and worse.
But the same Son of God sat over against the treasury and beheld the gifts of the crowd, and lo! He can with equal certainty appraise the value of their gifts. A poor widow approaches-possibly one who had suffered from the swindling of rapacious scribes-and casts in her little all. Two of the smallest coins were left to her, and she threw them both in. According to human thoughts her gift was absurd and contemptible in its smallness, its presence would not be noticed, and its absence would not be felt. In the Divine estimation it was more valuable than all the other gifts put together. God s arithmetic in this matter is not ours.
With God the motive is everything. Here was a woman who instead of blaming God because of the misdemeanours of the scribes, who claimed to represent Him, devoted her all to the service of God. This delighted the heart of our Lord.
He called His disciples to Him, as verse 43 tells us, and pointed the woman out, proclaiming the virtue of her act. This is particularly striking if we notice how Mark 13 opens, for His disciples were anxious to point out to Him the greatness and beauty of the Temple buildings. They pointed to costly stones wrought by men's busy hands. He pointed to the moral beauty of a poor widow's act. He told them that their great buildings would all crash into ruin. It is the widow's act that will be remembered in eternity.
And yet the widow gave her two mites to the temple chest that received contributions for the upkeep of the temple fabric! The Lord had already turned His back on the temple and now was pronouncing its doom. She did not know this; but in spite of being a little behind the times in her intelligence, her gift was accepted and valued according to the devoted heart that prompted it. What a comfort this fact is!
God was before her in her gift, and God abides even when temples are destroyed. Things material-upon which we may set our hearts-disappear, but God remains.
|« Previous chapter||Next chapter »|