Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,Mark 11:7
Nature is thoroughly mediate. It is made to serve. It receives the dominion of man as meekly as the ass on which the Saviour rode. It offers all its kingdoms to man as the raw material which he may mould into what is useful.
Reference.—XI. 9, 10.—W. J. Butler, Sermons for Working Men, The Oxford Sermon Library, vol. ii. p. 200.
The Profanation of the Temple
What was it that Jesus Christ saw in the Temple? What was it that He determined to cleanse on that day of His wrath which was coming, that day which began with the withered fig-tree and ended with flying barterers, overturned counters, scattered sheep and oxen?
I. He saw meaningless formalism. The sheep and oxen were in the Temple courts for a religious purpose, and the changers are there that nothing but the Temple shekel might intrude upon the reverence due to holy things, and yet Jesus Christ turns out both one and the other. Why is it? There is nothing to compare with the irreverence of habit when we let religion get into a mechanical groove to such an extent that we lose all sense of the object of our religious worship. Surely it has reached the height of irony when He to Whom all worship pointed, He Who was the true Lamb of God, He Who initiated and appointed the service of the Temple for Himself, must stand there alone and unknown in His Temple, and He to Whom Israel looked as their peace, should be constrained to visit Israel only in wrath.
II. His eye lightens on a more positive insult still to His Father's house. The sheep and the oxen, as they herded together in the Temple courts, were a living proof that the Jew had forgotten the great reverence due to holy places and holy things.
We feel we must ask ourselves with some earnestness, Does He trace in my worship itself that reverence which He ought to find for the presence of God and the honour of His holy house? We do not drive out the sheep and oxen of unworthy, wandering, irreverent thoughts which prevent our worship because we do not really feel the presence of God.
III. But besides the irreverence which profanes the sanctuary, our Blessed Lord, as He gazes round the magnificent Temple, cannot but have seen the sight, painful to His holy eyes, of men who had grown away from religion, men in whom religion contributed nothing to the solid welfare of their life, but rather stood outside it: railed off, shut in, like some church in a busy city rarely used, and thinly attended, by worshippers. It must have stood out with a sharp and ghastly contrast before the eyes of Christ on this Palm Sunday evening—the sacrifice of the whole burnt-offering, symbolizing the exhaustion of God's wrath on sin; the trespass-offering as if to do away with the recurrent burden of sin; the peace-offering of a soul at peace with God, this was the meaning of the oxen, and the sheep, and of the doves for purification—this on the one hand; and on the other, there were the loose lives, the broken morality, the cruelty, the deceit, the injustice, the inability to recognize the higher life. Everything to symbolize, and to effect the complete extirpation of sin, with sin scientifically encamped in high places before the very forces which were meant to overthrow it.
Is our religion touching our life? This is the vital question for us all. Or is it merely a crowd of sheep and oxen, a multiplicity of sacrifices outside us, which leave us uninfluenced and untouched? Christ surely looks from the Temple to the life, from the life to the Temple, to see in life sin pursued with an exhaustion of hatred until it is consumed, to see the soul gradually gaining peace with God through Jesus Christ.
—W. C. E. Newbolt, Words of Exhortation, p. 131.
References.—XI. 11.—J. S. Maver, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 247. J. Bannerman, Sermons, p. 153. Mandell Creighton, University and other Sermons, p. 48. XI. 12-14.—Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 357. XI. 12-14, 20-24.—John Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 125. XI. 12-14, 20-26.—W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 413. XI. 13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 555. XI. 13, 14.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 127. XI. 14.—J. S. Swan, Short Sermons, p. 202.
'One is struck,' says Dr. John Ker (Thoughts, pp. 102, 103), 'in reading the account of the purifying of the Temple by Christ that He should have bestowed so much thought on what was so sure to become obsolete by His own word, It is finished. We do not read elsewhere of the indignation of our Lord rising to such a height, and taking the form of actual compulsion. It is the seal of Christ set on the sacrecness of the old Temple worship, all the more needed that He was about to remove it; but still more is it a vivid warning against the union between covetousness and religion or rather the form of religion. That evil reached a visible height when the sale of indulgences and the building of St. Peter's went hand in hand. But it has appeared so often, and in all sections of the Church, that the entrance of the money-changers into the Temple may be called the normal danger of Christianity. Drunkenness and sensuality, which had their shrines in the old pagan pantheon, have still a place in the hearts of many professed worshippers in the house of God, but it is Mammon who still sets up his tables in the open court'
Working Towards Ideals
'All nations,' 'of all nations'. It was a great reading of the Scriptures; this was a thunder sermon. Jesus Christ was no patriot, Jesus Christ was a philanthropist; the Son of God was no politician, He was a statesman, He grasped the whole situation, and allotted to everyone, east or west, north or south, what was proper to the occasion and the environment.
I. Jesus Christ looked over all the walls of the Temple and the outside parts of the Temple, the low walls that marked definitions of space and in a certain sense of consecration and proprietorship. He recognized the Temple in its unity, the Temple in its ideality, in its high poetic spiritual meaning, and, making a lash, He scourged these fellows from the purlieus of the holy place; for, said He, My Father's house is for all nations; every bit of it is sanctified, every stone has been purified in the fire of the Divine acceptance; be off! go! and the thong made itself heard in the air. What a blessed and comforting thought that Jesus Christ saw the whole house, the whole idea, and that He foresaw a day when that idea would spread amongst all nations, and king and peasant of this land and of that shall be equally welcome and equally recognized as members of the Father's household.
Now in this instance Jesus Christ accuses the intruders, and those who permitted the intrusion, of narrow-minded ideas, and He accuses them of being imperfect and misleading interpreters of the Divine revelation and purpose. To have Jesus Christ read the Bible with us, that would be educational, spiritual instruction, Divine inspiration. He would take us into the roots of things, He would get behind the north wind of words and fill us with the spirit of wisdom and of grace.
II. Jesus Christ included the whole human race in the Temple idea. God never commanded any temples to be built for twos and threes, and to end their purpose in these trivial numbers. When He saved the twos and threes it was that He might save the world through them. Sometimes the number was very small, but it was a vital number; there was enough saved, sometimes called the remnant, out of which to get the biggest forests that ever waved on the hill-sides of the world. He said He would save a city, He would save a remnant, He would save one little child, He would save eight persons, He would save an Isaac; He would do a wonder of this kind, but always having before His eyes the world, the whole world, all nations, every creature. That is the Divine love, and it is useless our endeavouring to whittle it away by verbal criticism and by some monstrous display of our ignorance or our selfishness.
III. If we take this principle and carry it round the whole area of human life, it will be a light to lighten the narrowest mind. We are to regard the child in the light of his manhood. See the man in the child; see all the rights of property in any little bit of string which the child calls his own; see the citizenship of heaven in the child nestling trustfully in your breast and heart. Thus take the larger view; thus interpret all things ideally and transcendentally.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 78.
References.—XI. 17.—G. C. Lorimer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. 1898, p. 259. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 78. XI. 19.—W. L. Watkinson, Noon-Day Addresses, p. 85. C. F. Aked, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 408. XI. 20-23.—H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. 1901, p. 153; see also Church Times, vol. xlvi. 1901, p. 260.
If man has in all ages had enough to encounter, there has, in most civilized ages, been an inward force vouchsafed him, whereby the pressure of things outward might be withstood. Obstruction abounded; but faith also was not wanting. It is by faith that man removes mountains; while he had faith his limbs might be wearied with toiling, his back galled with bearing; but the heart within him was peaceable and resolved.... Faith gave him an inward willingness; a world of strength wherewith to confront a world of difficulty. The true wretchedness is here: that the difficulty remain and the strength be lost; that we have the labour and want the willingness.
—Carlyle on Characteristics.
References.—XI. 22.—J. Marshall Lang, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. 1896, p. 390. Ambrose Shepherd, ibid. vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 267. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1444. XI. 22, 23.—J. Hamilton, Faith in God, p. 43. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. i. p. 187. XI. 23, 24.—J. G. James, Problems of Prayer, p. 91.
What an awful weapon prayer is! Mark 11:24 saved me from madness in my twelve months' sorrows; and it is so simple and so wide—wide as eternity, simple as light, true as God Himself; and yet it is just the last text of Scripture which is talked of, or preached on, or used.
I. It is not quite easy to see what our Lord meant. It is quite easy, however, to see one thing that He did not mean. His disciples certainly did not understand their Teacher to offer them the wishing-cap of a children's tale; they did not understand Him to say that all who pray can get what they want For they must constantly have prayed as they felt to no purpose; yet they prayed and believed in prayer; they could not have disbelieved in it without throwing over their faith altogether.
May not the explanation be something of this kind? Our instinct bears witness to the fact and the belief that prayer is a beneficent force. We realize this dimly, but our Lord with His infinitely greater spiritual sensitiveness and His infinitely clearer spiritual insight saw this as we do not see it—saw it so clearly and so certainly that He can hardly find words strong enough to express His meaning or to impress it on the minds of His followers.
II. Prayer is an instinct; that which we desire deeply enough we pray for.
We may by wilful neglect, by careless indifference, have fallen from the habit; we may have almost persuaded ourselves that it is, from the theistic point of view, illogical or irreverent, when suddenly we are caught, as it were unawares; some great crisis has arisen, some great desire has seized us, and before we have time to think, we are praying—a poor kind of praying this, but yet praying.
Why is not the momentary mood of a crisis the constant habit of a lifetime? Is it because desire is absent? It certainly is so in many cases. We do not pray, not because we doubt, but because we do not desire, or because we do not desire persistently. While desire compels us to pray, prayer also limits and directs, stimulates and strengthens desire.
So our Lord teaches that prayer is not only a privilege, but a duty; not only that we may pray, but that we must pray; not only occasional prayer as the outcome of a great and special need, but habitual prayer as the consequence of our continued necessities.
If the first is a spiritual instinct which our Lord recognizes and encourages, the second is a spiritual effort which He urges and assists.
III. Christ laid down no value as to the times and seasons of prayer—these He leaves to the individual conscience—but He offers us a pattern, very short, but very comprehensive, of what our habitual prayer should be.
The beginning and the end of it is God. We may tell God of our bodily wants, plead for the forgiveness our souls need. But it is upon God's will, not ours, that the emphasis is laid; His will is our sanctification.
—F. Ealand, The Spirit of Life, p. 38.
References.—XI. 24.—R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 248. J. G. James, Problems of Prayer, p. 67. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 328.
'Forgive us,' say we, 'our offences, as we forgive them that trespasse against us.' What else inferre we by that petition, but that we offer Him our soule voide of all revenge and free from all rancour? We nevertheless invoke God and call on His aid, even in the complot of our grievousest faults, and desire His assistance in all manner of injustice and iniquitie.
—Montaigne (Florio's version).
Can you conceive Jesus Christ—nay, any wise man you have happened to meet—amid the unnatural gloom of Elsinore? Is not every action of Hamlet prompted by a fanatical impulse, which tells him that duty consists in revenge alone? And does it require a superhuman effort to recognize that revenge never can be a duty?
Prayer is the peace of our spirit, the stillness of our thoughts, the evenness of recollection, the seat of meditation, the rest of our cares, and the calm of our tempest; prayer is the issue of a quiet mind, of untroubled thoughts, it is the daughter of charity, and the sister of meekness; and he that prays to God with an angry, that is, with a troubled and discomposed spirit, is like him that retires into a battle to meditate, and sets up his closet in the outquarters of an army.
References.—XI. 32.—C. Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 161. XI. 33.—E. B. Speirs, A Present Advent, p. 307. XII. 1-9.—W. Gray Elmslie, Expository Lectures and Sermons, p. 230. XII. 1-12.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 137.
And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him.
And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.
And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him.
And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt?
And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.
And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him.
And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.
And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.
And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.
And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:
And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;
And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.
And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.
And when even was come, he went out of the city.
And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.
And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.
And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.
For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders,
And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?
And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.
The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.
And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him?
But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed.
And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.