Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.The Sacrifice of God
In this brief and simple verse I find two great things, the things that constitute the very core and heart of the Gospel. I find in it the glory of Christ and the infinite love of the Father.
I. The Glory of Christ.—You remember the comment John makes, in the very opening verses of his Gospel, upon the earthly life of our Lord. John and the other disciples had lived for two or three years in closest intimacy with the Word made flesh. And looking back upon that marvellous life, John says that the dominant impression created by it was that of glory, and the glory was that of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Now that is the glory that Jesus in this parable claims for Himself. He declares Himself to be 'the only begotten of the Father'. Look at the words, 'He had yet one, a beloved Son,' or as the old version puts it, 'He had yet one Son, His well-beloved'. This sentence, as Dr. A. B. Bruce says, has a most important and vital bearing on the self-consciousness of Jesus. It shows us that Jesus thought of Himself as holding an absolutely unique relationship to God.
II. The Love of the Father.—God is the real subject of this verse. 'He had yet one, a beloved son: He sent Him last unto them, saying, "They will reverence my Son".' And the 'He' who did all this is God. The subject of it all, you may say, is God's care and love for Israel. Israel is the vineyard around which He has set a hedge, in which He has digged a pit, and to defend which He has built a tower; and the Israelites are the people to whom He sends servant after servant, and as a last device His Son. And He sent servant after servant and at last His Son because 'of His great and unspeakable love for them. But though primarily it sets forth the love of God for Israel, it is a picture, too, of God's love for all men. With the great love of which this parable speaks He besets us and pursues us and seeks to save us. And there are two characteristics of this love which my text emphasizes.
1. This is the first—its persistency. Of all the dimensions of the Divine love I marvel most at its length, at its persistency, at its endurance. I know of human loves that have reached down deep and have stretched out wide, and have lifted up their objects high. But I know no human love that can last, and persist, and endure, like the love of God. It is the length of it that fills me with wonder and amazement. It is the length of it that passes knowledge. It outlasts, and out-persists, and out-endures every human love. 'When father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.' That is a true word that Pete says, that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation. The long-suffering of the Lord, the patience and persistence of the love of God, the length of it, that is our salvation.
2. And the second characteristic of the love of God I find in the text is the self-sacrifice of it. 'He had yet one,' the text says, 'a beloved Son; He sent Him'. What a world of almost heart-breaking pathos there is in that little sentence! 'He had yet One, a beloved Son; He sent Him.' How eager and anxious that master of the vineyard must have been for those husbandmen when, to restore right relations between himself and them, He sent His only Son, His well-beloved Son, knowing to what He was sending Him And this is just a symbol and suggestion of the love of God. How God must have loved us men, who had so grievously sinned against Him, when, to save us. He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. I have no plummet to fathom a love like that. You ask me how great is God's love. I can only answer, it is as great as the Cross of His only Son.
—J. D. Jones, The Gospel of Grace, p. 102.
References.—XII. 6.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 144. XII. 6-9.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1951. XII. 12-44.—Ibid. vol. lii. No. 2989.
Pharisaism Still Alive
Towards the very end of our great Master's ministry, He seems, almost of set purpose, to come to quite close quarters with the various recognized authorities of His own Jewish Church, as well as with the self-constituted authority of its various parties.
His object, I take it, was twofold. First, He must assert the supremacy of Divine principle over human rule, and secondly, He must be the Divine Champion on behalf of humanity of its own responsible mental and moral freedom.
I. He is not afraid of human nature, though He is 'grieved at the hardness of their hearts'. He challenges it to come out into the open away from all mere temporary expedients and mechanical rules. He even challenges by His actions conventional authority, conventional opinions, views, and prejudices. There is a suspicion of a mighty claim as He faces Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, and their current, highly reputable, yet self-centred rules of life and ways of thought and action.
II. And in the rule of life and service to Himself, and, on His behalf, to humanity, there is the same avoidance of all party formulas and party definitions. He strikes home to the very heart of humanity from the Heart of Divinity. 'Preach the Gospel' to every creature—we might almost say to 'all creation'.
In each parable we hear a voice behind the voice, a mystic note within the music, that attracts without violence and subdues without force, until we find our own souls answering. We, too, perceive, like the Pharisees, that 'He has spoken this parable against ourselves'.
III. And each time the voice comes home to conscience as a final issue, as an eternal principle. The Divine Master, the consummate Teacher, the Good Physician, the Eternal Wisdom of God has cut clean through our sophistries, swept aside our partialities, torn off the soothing poultice of self-flattery and opened the wound itself, the wound of pride, and let out the deadly matter, and pours in the wine of penitential grace and the healing unction of His forgiveness; and brings us by His own transporting grace to the House of Rest, where He leaves us His own Incarnate life and the virtue of that life, in sacramental, healing, strengthening, perfecting power; and yet so greatly does He respect our moral freedom that this glory of a perfect life only results—so far as we co-operate in faith and effort. The Pharisees, mask-wearers—as all are tempted to be—recognizing the Voice of Eternal Truth, avoided it; perceiving the final issue laid at their feet, yet spurned it, and 'left Him and went their way' into the outer darkness.
—Bishop Gaul, The Church Family Newspaper, 18 September, 1908, p. 795.
Christ answered the Herodians according to their condition. 'Show me the tribute-money,' said He—and one took a penny out of his pocket—if you use money which has the image of Cæsar upon it, and which he has made current and valuable—that is, if you are men of the state, and gladly enjoy the advantages of Cæsar's government, then pay him back some of his own when he demands it. 'Render therefore to Cæsar that which is Cæsar's, and to God those things which are God's'—leaving them no wiser than before as to which was which, for they did not wish to know.
—Thoreau on Civil Disobedience.
References.—XII. 17.—S. King, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiii. 1903, p. 359. G. D. Hooper, ibid. vol. xl. 1891, p. 358. XII. 18-27.—J. Denney, ibid. vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 365. XII. 21-31. (R.V.).—J. Martin, ibid. vol. lii. 1897, p. 36.
See Mrs. Berry's remarks in the forty-fourth chapter of The Ordeal of Richard Feverel.
References.—XII. 26, 27.—C. Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 251. XII. 28.—J. A. Bain, Questions Answered by Christ, p. 88. XII. 28-31.—T. F. Lockyer, Inspirations of the Christian Life, p. 35.
Chaucer's remarkably trustful and affectionate character appears in his familiar, yet innocent and reverent manner of speaking of his God. He comes into his thought without any false reverence, and with no more parade than the zephyr to his ear. If Nature is our mother, then God is our father. There is less love and simple practical trust in Shakespeare and Milton. How rarely in our English tongue do we find expressed any affection for God! Certainly, there is no sentiment so rare as the love of God. Herbert almost alone expresses it, 'Ah, my dear God'.
—Thoreau, A Week on the Concord, (Friday).
The queen (Caroline) had some higher intellectual interests, which to Walpole probably seemed as pure nonsense as they seemed to King George. She often tried to make him read Butler's Analogy, but he told her that his religion was fixed, and that he had no desire either to change or to improve it.
—Morley's Walpole, p. 97.
While I was in that country, viz. of the Penpont district, I had advantage of converse with Mr. Murray, a learned and holy man; the meeting of which two in a character was not very frequent there.
References.—XII. 30.—L. R. Rawnsley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 38. E. W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 223. J. H. Thom, A Spiritual Faith, p. 99. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 162. XII. 30, 31.—W. H. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, pp. 246, 257.
Not Far From the Kingdom
What became of this hopeful young lawyer I cannot tell. Whether he actually reached and entered the kingdom he was so near to, we are not informed.
I. He was 'not far from the kingdom,' because he had begun to think seriously on religion.
II. Because he had already begun to attach greater importance to the spirit than to the letter.
III. Because he was sincerely desirous of acting up to the measure of light which he possessed.
IV. Because he was amiable and virtuous. He was strictly moral, circumspect, and pure.
—J. Thain Davidson, The City Youth, p. 267.
Not Far Off
The man to whom these words were addressed was a candid inquirer.
I. The Characteristics of those who are not far from the Kingdom.
1. They may possess considerable knowledge of Scripture.
2. They may make a candid confession of their belief.
3. They may have strong convictions of sin.
4. They may have a desire to amend their lives.
5. They may have partially reformed. They only need Repentance and Faith.
II. The Reasons why they do not Enter the Kingdom.
6. Difficulties in the way.
7. Advantages in a middle course.
8. Belief that they are Christians already.
9. Reluctance to observe the needful conditions.
III. The Inducements to Enter.
10. The blessedness of those who do.
11. The misery of those who do not.
—F. J. Austin, Seeds and Saplings, p. 38.
References.—XII. 34.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Mark IX.-XVI. p. 148. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 258. R. L. Drummond, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxi. 1902, p. 85. W. L. Watkinson, ibid. vol. lxi. 1902, p. 259. H. Hensley Henson, ibid. vol. lxiii. 1903, p. 180. H. Montagu Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 63. J. S. Swan, Short Sermons, p. 213. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. v. p. 297. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1517; vol. lii. No. 2989. XII. 37.—A. B. Bruce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. p. 42. P. M. Muir, ibid. vol. xliv. 1893, p. 107. J. H. Jellett, The Elder Son, p. 141. Mark Guy Pearse, Jesus Christ and the People, p. 57.
Casting Into the Treasury
Take the incident of this Gospel story. May it not suggest to us a special fact of immense significance not apparent on the surface of things? That Temple court, those thirteen brazen chests, that procession of contributors, each with his special offering—may they not represent to us, in idea at least, a picture or parable of what is going on perpetually in the drama of human life, and at the same time bring before us a vision of the unseen, unheard judgment of Christ upon the works and ways of men?
I. Every single life is in itself an offertory, a contribution, made to the great sum of human influences and examples. Some faint resemblance to this idea of a common treasury to which all in their several ways contribute may be seen in the demands and expectations of men and women when united in social groups. The rich and powerful are welcome as the 'benefactors' of society, and society rewards them with its smiles. Modest and humble goodness may pass by with its slender offering, rich only in the coin of love and self-sacrifice, but such coinage has no appreciable value in the eyes of the 'children of this world'.
II. As a contrast, let us look at the spirit in which our Lord appraised the two types of character that passed before Him in the Temple court, and notice which of the two appeared to Him to be the pure gold and which the showy tinsel.
1. First, we cannot fail to see that the test applied by Christ to human conduct, here as always, was a spiritual test. In the matter of giving He pronounced that the vital question is not how much you give, but what element of sacrifice enters into your gift. Love and self-surrender are the core of practical Christianity. 'My son, give Me thy heart,' is the sum and substance of all the commandments. In God's sight he who does not give himself as the best part of his offering, with no eye to any future recompense, gives what has no spiritual value.
2. Another point is that there may be more spiritual nobleness, more of the morally sublime, in some obscure, hidden life that hardly anyone notices than in many of the conspicuous acts of distinguished persons which are recorded in the pages of history. We are reminded by our Lord's praise of the poor widow that obscurity is a condition, sometimes the necessary condition, of much of the most self-denying work that is done in the world.
III. Our own experience may teach the lesson that it is not often to the wealthy, the powerful, or the brilliant that we owe the deepest gratitude for timely aid, generous sympathy, or ennobling influence.
It should never be forgotten that the true givers, the true helpers of mankind, are those whose efforts cost them much labour and suffering, and who, in seeking the good of others, purchase it with their own heart's blood. Only in those who cast into life's treasury their love and sympathy, the most precious of offerings, charged with sore travail of soul and much inward pain, does Christ recognize the image and likeness of His own perfect sacrifice of Himself.
—J. W. Shepard, Light and Life, p. 192.
References.—XII. 41-44.—C. H. Parkhurst, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 179. T. Martin, ibid. vol. box. 1906, p. 397. John McNeill, Regent Square Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 65. S. Martin, Rain Upon the Mown Grass, p. 380. Lynch, Three Months' Ministry, p. 118.
In 'the book of the Three Maiden Sisters' (Professor at the Breakfast Table, x.), Oliver Wendell Holmes tells of a poor widow who, 'fighting hard to feed and clothe and educate her children, had not forgotten the poorer ancient maidens,' sending the three spinsters 'a fractional pudding from her own table. I remembered it the other day as I stood by the place of rest, and I felt sure that it was remembered elsewhere. I know there are prettier words than pudding, but I can't help it—the pudding went upon the record, I feel sure, with the mite which was cast into the treasury by that other poor widow whose deed the world shall remember for ever.'
References.—XII. 43.—M. Guy Pearse, Jesus Christ and the People, p. 238. XII. 43, 44.—R. Collyer, Where the Light Dwelleth, p. 122. E. L. Hull, Sermons Preached at King's Lynn (3rd Series), p. 213. XIII.—W. H. Bennett, The Life of Christ According to St. Mark, p. 208.
And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard.
And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.
And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled.
And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.
Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.
But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.
And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.
What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.
And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:
This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.
And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.
And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?
Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.
And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar's.
And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.
Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying,
Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man's brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed.
And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise.
And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also.
In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.
And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?
For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.
And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.
And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David?
For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.
David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.
And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,
And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:
Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.
And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.