Luke Chapter 20
Section 115. The Authority of Jesus Questioned, Luke 20:1-8
And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders, And spoke unto him, saying, Tell us, by what authority do you these things? or who is he who gave you this authority? And he answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer me: The baptism of John, was it from Heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From Heaven; he will say, Why then believed you him not? But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.
Let us notice, firstly, in this passage — the demand which the chief priests and scribes made upon our Lord. "Tell us," they said, "by what authority you do these things? And who gave you this authority?"
The spirit which prompted this demand is too evident to be mistaken. These men hated and envied Christ. They saw His influence increasing. They saw their own power waning. They resolved, if possible, to stop the progress of this new teacher; and the point on which they made their assault was His authority. They ought to have examined His mighty works. His teaching they ought, in all fairness, to have compared with their own Scriptures. But they refused to take either one course or the other. They preferred to call His authority into question.
Every true-hearted Christian who tries to do good in the world, must make up his mind to be treated like his Master. He must never be surprised to find that the self-righteous and the worldly-minded dislike His ways. The lawfulness of his proceedings will be constantly called in question. He will be regarded as meddlesome, disorderly, self-conceited, a pestilent fellow, and a troubler of Israel. (Acts 24:5; 1 Kings 18:17.)
Scripture-readers, district-visitors, lay-agents, and unordained missionaries — are specially liable to meet with such treatment. And worst of all, they will often meet with enemies, where they ought to find friends.
Let all who are attacked by the world for trying to do good, take comfort in the thought that they are only drinking of the bitter cup which Christ drank. Their Master in Heaven sympathizes with them. Let them work on patiently, and believe that, if they are faithful, their work will speak for itself.
The world's opposition is sure to attend every really good work. If the servants of Christ are to cease from every movement which the world calls in question — they will soon come to an entire stand-still. If we are to wait until the world approves our plans, and is satisfied with the propriety of our efforts — we shall never do anything on earth.
Let us notice, secondly, in this passage — the manner in which our Lord speaks of John the Baptist's ministry. He refers those who questioned His authority — to John's constant and unvarying testimony to Himself. "Ought they not to remember how John had spoken of Him as the Lamb of God — as One whose shoe-latchets he was not worthy to untie — as One who had the winnowing fan in His hand, and had the Spirit without measure? Ought they not to recollect that they and all Jerusalem had gone out to John's baptism, and confessed that John was a prophet? Yet John had always told them plainly that Christ was the Messiah! Surely, if they were honest — then they would not come now to question His authority. If they really believed John to be a prophet sent from God — then they were bound to believe that Jesus was the Christ."
It may reasonably be doubted whether the importance of John the Baptist's ministry is generally understood by Christians. The brightness of our Lord's history overshadows the history of His forerunner, and the result is that John's baptism and preaching do not receive the attention which they deserve. Yet it should never be forgotten, that the ministry of the Baptist was the only New Testament ministry foretold in the Old Testament, excepting that of Christ. It was a ministry which produced an immense effect on the Jewish mind, and aroused the expectation of Israel from one end of Palestine to the other.
Above all, John's was a ministry which made the Jews without excuse in their rejection of Christ, when Christ appeared. They could not say that they were taken by surprise when our Lord began to preach. Their minds had been thoroughly prepared for His appearing. To see the full sinfulness of the Jews, and the entire justice of the judgments which came on them after crucifying our Lord — we must remember the ministry of John the Baptist.
However little man may esteem the work of faithful ministers — there is One in Heaven who sees it, and keeps account of all their labor. However little their proceedings may be understood, and however much they may be slandered and misrepresented — the Lord Jesus Christ writes all their doings in His book. He lives, who testified to the importance of John the Baptist's ministry when John was dead and buried. He will yet testify to the toil of every one of His faithful servants at the last day. In the world, they may have tribulation and disappointment. But they are not forgotten by Christ.
Let us notice, lastly, in this passage — the falsehood of which our Lord's enemies were guilty. In reply to our Lord's question whether John's baptism was from Heaven or from men — they answered that "they did not know where it was from." This was a downright lie! They did know, but they would not admit it. They knew that if they said what they really believed — then they would condemn themselves. If they confessed that John was a prophet sent from God — then they would be guilty of a gross inconsistency in not believing his testimony about Christ.
Falsehoods like this, it may be feared, are only too common among unconverted men. Thousands will lie, rather than acknowledge themselves to be in the wrong. Lying is just one of the sins to which the human heart is most naturally inclined, and one of the commonest sins in the world. Gehazi, Ananias, and Sapphira — have more followers and imitators than Peter and Paul. The number of lies which are constantly told by men, to save their own credit, and to cover over their own wickedness — is probably far greater than we are aware.
The true servant of Christ will do well to remember these things as he travels through this world. He must not believe all that he hears, and especially in the matter of religion. He must not suppose that unconverted men really believe all that they say — in their own hearts. They often feel more than they appear to feel. They often say things against religion and religious people — which they secretly know to be untrue. They often know the Gospel is true — but have not the courage to confess it. They often know the Christians life is right — but are too proud to say so. The chief priests and scribes are not the only people who deal dishonestly in religion, and say what they know to be false.
Then let the servant of Christ go patiently on his way. Those who are now his enemies, will one day confess that he was right — though they used to cry loudly that he was wrong.
Section 116. The Parable of the Tenants, Luke 20:9-19
Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to gardeners, and went into a far country for a long time. And at the season he sent a servant to the gardeners, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the gardeners beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out. Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him. But when the gardeners saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these gardeners, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid. And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them.
The parable we have now read, is one of the very few which are recorded more than once by the Gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, and Luke — all give it at full length. This three-fold repetition is alone sufficient to point out the importance of its contents.
The parable, no doubt, was specially intended for the Jews to whom it was addressed. But we must not confine its application to them. It contains lessons which should be remembered in all churches of Christ, as long as the world stands.
In the first place — the parable shows us the deep corruption of human nature. The conduct of the wicked "farmers" is a vivid representation of man's dealings with God. It is a faithful picture of the history of the Jewish church. In spite of privileges, such as no nation ever had; in the face of warnings such as no people ever received — the Jews rebelled against God's lawful authority, refused to give Him His rightful due, rejected the counsel of His prophets, and at length crucified His only-begotten Son.
It is a no less faithful picture of the history of all the Gentile churches. Called as they were out of heathen darkness by infinite mercy — they have done nothing worthy of the vocation with which they were called. On the contrary, they have allowed false doctrines and wicked practices to spring up rankly among them, and have crucified Christ afresh.
It is a mournful fact that in hardness, unbelief, superstition, and self-righteousness — the Christian churches, as a whole, are little better than the Jewish church of our Lord's time. Both are described with painful correctness in the story of the wicked farmers. In both, we may point to countless privileges misused, and countless warnings despised.
Let us often pray that we may thoroughly understand the sinfulness of man's heart. Few of us, it may be feared, have the least conception of the strength and virulence of the spiritual disease with which we are born! Few entirely realize that "the carnal mind is enmity against God," and that unconverted human nature, if it had the power — would cast its Maker down from His throne! The behavior of the farmers before us — is only a picture of what every natural man would do to God, if he only could! To see these things is of great importance. Christ is never fully valued — until sin is clearly seen. We must know the depth and malignity of our disease — in order to appreciate the great Physician.
In the second place — this parable shows us the amazing patience and long-suffering of God. The conduct of the "owner of the vineyard" is a vivid representation of God's dealings with man. It is a faithful picture of His merciful dealings with the Jewish church. Prophet after prophet was sent to warn Israel of his danger. Message after message was repeatedly sent — notwithstanding insults and injuries heaped on the messengers.
It is a no less faithful picture of His gracious treatment of the Gentile churches. For eighteen hundred years He has born with their sinful behaviors. They have repeatedly tried Him by false doctrines, superstitions, and contempt of His word. Yet He has repeatedly granted them seasons of refreshing, raised up holy ministers and mighty reformers for them — and not cut them off, notwithstanding all their persecutions. The churches of Christ have no right to boast. They are debtors to God for innumerable mercies, no less than the Jews were in our Lord's time. They have not been dealt with according to their sins, nor rewarded according to their iniquities.
We should learn to be more thankful for God's mercy. We have probably little idea of the extent of our obligations to it, and of the number of gracious messages which the Lord of the vineyard is constantly sending to our souls. The last day will unfold to our wondering eyes — a long list of unacknowledged kindnesses, of which while we lived, we took no notice.
Mercy we shall find was indeed God's darling attribute. "He delights in mercy." (Micah 7:18.) Mercies before conversion, mercies after conversion, mercies at every step of their journey on earth — will be revealed to the minds of saved saints, and make them ashamed of their own thanklessness. Sparing mercies, providential mercies, mercies in the way of warnings, mercies in the way of sudden visitations — will all be set forth in order before the minds of lost sinners, and confound them by the exhibition of their own hardness and unbelief. We shall all find that God was often speaking to us, when we did not hear — and sending us messages, which we did not regard. Few texts will be brought out so prominently at the last day as that of Peter, "The Lord is patient toward us, not willing that any should perish." (2 Peter 3:9.)
In the last place, this parable shows us the severity of God's judgments when they fall on obstinate sinners. The punishment of the wicked farmers is a vivid representation of God's final dealings with those who continue living in wickedness. At the time when our Lord spoke this parable, it was a prophetic picture of the approaching ruin of the Jewish church and nation. The vineyard of the Lord in the land of Israel, was about to be taken from its unfaithful tenants. Jerusalem was to be destroyed. The temple was to be burned. The Jews were to be scattered over the earth.
At the present time, it may be feared — it is a mournful picture of things yet to come on the Gentile churches in the latter days. The judgments of God will yet fall on unbelieving professors, as they fell on unbelieving Jews. The solemn warning of Paul to the Romans will yet receive an accomplishment, "Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell — but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off." (Romans 11:22.)
We must never flatter ourselves, that God cannot be angry. He is indeed a God of infinite grace and compassion. But it is also written, that He is "a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29.) His Spirit will not always strive with men. (Genesis 6:3.) There will be a day when His patience will come to an end, and when He will arise to dreadfully judge the earth. Happy will they be who are found hidden in the ark, in the day of the Lord's anger! Of all wrath, none can be conceived so dreadful as "the wrath of the Lamb!" The man on whom the "stone cut out without hands" falls at His second coming, will indeed be crushed to powder! (Daniel 2:34, 35.)
Do we know these things, and do we live up to our knowledge? The chief priests and elders, we are told, "perceived that this parable was spoken against them." But they were too proud to repent, and too hardened to turn from their sins. Let us beware of doing likewise.
Section 117. Paying Taxes to Caesar, Luke 20:20-26
And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor. And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that you say and teach rightly, neither accept you the person of any, but teach the way of God truly: Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no? But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt you me? Show me a penny. Whose image and superscription has it? They answered and said, Caesar's. And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's. And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marveled at his answer, and held their peace.
Let us mark, for one thing, in this passage — the cloak of goodness under which some of our Lord's enemies approached Him. We read that "they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Him in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor." We read further that they attempted to trick Him by flattering words, "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality — but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth." These words sounded well. An ignorant bystander would have said, "These are sincere inquirers after truth!" But all was hollow and unreal. It was the wolf putting on the sheep's clothing, under the vain idea of deceiving the shepherd. "Their words were smoother than butter," yet there was "war in their hearts!" (Psalm 55:21.)
The true servant of Christ must expect to meet people of this description, as long as the world stands. There never will be lacking those, who from selfish or sinister motives — will profess with their lips to love Christ, while in heart they deny Him. There will always be some, who "by good words and fair speeches," will attempt to deceive the heart of the simple.
The union of burning lips and a wicked heart — is far from uncommon. There are probably few congregations which do not contain some of those whom Solomon likens to "potsherds, covered with silver dross." (Romans 16:18. Proverbs 26:23.)
He who would not be often deceived in this wicked world, must carefully remember these things. We must exercise a wise caution as we travel through life, and not play the part of the "simple man, who believes anything." (Proverbs 14:15.) We must not lightly put confidence in every new religious volunteer, nor hastily take it for granted that all people are good, who talk like good men.
Such caution at first sight may appear narrow-minded and uncharitable. But the longer we live — the more shall we find that it is needful. We shall discover by experience that all is not gold — that glitters; and all are not true Christians — who make a loud profession of Christianity. The language of Christianity is precisely that part of religion which a false Christian finds it most easy to attain. The walk of a man's daily life, and not the talk of his lips — is the only safe test of his character.
Let us mark, for another thing, in these verses — the consummate wisdom of our Lord's answer to His enemies. We read that a most difficult and subtle question was proposed to Him for solution. "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" It was a question eminently calculated to entangle anyone who attempted to answer it. If our Lord had replied that it was not lawful to pay tribute to Caesar — then He would have been accused to Pilate as a rebel against the Roman power. If our Lord had replied that it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar — then He would have been denounced to the people as disregarding the rights and privileges of the Jewish nation. An answer which would not involve our Lord in difficulties, seemed at first sight impossible to be found.
But He who is truly called "the wisdom of God," found an answer which silenced His adversaries. He told them to show Him a Roman coin. He asked them whose image and superscription was on that Roman coin? "They answered: Caesar's." At once our Lord made that Roman coin the groundwork of a reply, at which even His enemies were obliged to marvel. "Render," He said, "unto Caesar, the things which are Caesar's; and render unto God, the things which are God's."
They were to "render to CAESAR — the things which were Caesar's." Their own lips had just confessed that Caesar had a certain temporal authority over them. They used the money which Caesar had coined. It was lawful money between man and man. They probably had no objection to receive gifts and payments in Roman coin. They must not therefore pretend to say that all payments to Caesar were unlawful. By their own admission, he exercised some authority over them. Let them obey that authority in all temporal things. If they did not refuse to use Caesar's coin — then let them not refuse to pay Caesar his dues.
They were to "render to GOD — the things which were God's." There were many dues which God required at their hands which they might easily pay, if they were only inclined. Honor, love, obedience, faith, fear, prayer, spiritual worship — were payments to God which they might daily make, and payments with which the Roman government did not interfere. They could not say that Caesar made such payments impossible. Let them see to it, that they gave to God His dues in spiritual things, as well as to Caesar his dues in temporal things.
There was no necessity for collision between the demands of their temporal and their heavenly sovereign. In temporal things, let them obey the powers, under whose authority they allowed themselves to be. In spiritual things, let them do as their forefathers had done, and obey God.
The principles laid down by our Lord in this well-known sentence are deeply instructive. Well would it have been for the peace of the world, if they had been more carefully weighed and more wisely applied!
The attempts of the civil power in some countries to control men's consciences, by intolerant interference — and the attempts of the church in other countries, to interfere with the action of the civil power — have repeatedly led to strifes, wars, rebellions, and social disorder.
The injuries which the cause of true religion has received from morbid scrupulosity on one side; and servile compliance to state demands on the other side — have been neither few nor small. Happy is he who has attained to a sound mind on the whole subject! To distinguish rightly between the things of Caesar, and the things of God — and to pay to each their real dues regularly, habitually, and cheerfully — is a great help towards a quiet and peaceable life.
Let us often pray that we may have wisdom from above, in order to answer rightly, when perplexing questions are put to us. The servant of Christ must expect a portion like his Master. He must count it no strange thing, if the wicked and worldly-minded endeavor to entangle him in his talk — and to provoke him to speak unadvisedly with his lips. In order to be prepared for such occasions, let him often ask the Lord Jesus for the gift of sound wisdom and a discreet tongue.
In the presence of those who watch for our halting, it is a great thing to know what to say — and how to say it; when to be silent — and when to speak. Blessed be God, He who silenced the chief priests and scribes by His wise answers — still lives to help His people, and has all power to help them. But He loves to be entreated.
Section 118. Resurrection and Marriage, Luke 20:27-40
Then came to him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked him, Saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man's brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children. And the second took her to wife, and he died childless. And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also: and they left no children, and died. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife. And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him. Then certain of the scribes answering said, Master, you have well said. And after that they dared not ask him any question at all.
We see in these verses — what an old thing unbelief is. We are told that "Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question." Even in the Jewish Church, the Church of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, the Church of Moses, and Samuel, and David, and the prophets — we find that there were bold, avowed, unblushing skeptics. If infidelity like this existed among God's people, the Jews — then what must have been the state of heathenism? If these things existed in a green tree — what must have been the condition of the dry?
We must never be surprised when we hear of infidels, deists, heretics and free-thinkers rising up in the Church, and drawing away disciples after them. We must not count it a rare and a strange thing. It is only one among many proofs, that man is a fallen and corrupt being. Since the day when the devil said to Eve "You shall not surely die" — and Eve believed him, there never has been lacking a constant succession of forms of unbelief.
There is nothing new about any of the modern theories of infidelity. There is not one of them, which is not an old disease under a new name. They are all mushrooms which spring up spontaneously in the hot-bed of human nature. It is not in reality an astonishing thing that there should rise up so many who call in question the truth of the Bible. The marvel is rather, that in a fallen world — the sect of the Sadducees should be so small.
Let us take comfort in the thought that in the long run of years, the truth will always prevail. Its advocates may often be feeble, and their arguments may appear to be very weak. But there is an inherent strength in the cause itself, which keeps it alive. Bold infidels like Julian, and Hobbes, and Hume, and Voltaire, and Paine — arise from time to time, and make a stir in the world. But they produce no lasting impression. They pass away like the Sadducees — and go to Hell, their own place. The great evidences of Christianity remain like the Pyramids — unshaken and unmoved. The "gates of Hell" shall never prevail against Christ's truth!
We see, secondly, in these verses — what a favorite weapon of skeptics is a 'supposed case'. We are told that the Sadducees brought to our Lord a difficulty arising out of the case of a woman who had married seven brothers in succession. They professed a desire to know "whose wife of the seven" the woman would be in the resurrection. The intention of the inquiry is clear and plain. They wished to pour contempt on the whole doctrine of a life to come.
The case itself is one which we cannot suppose had really arisen. It seems the highest probability, that it was a story invented for the occasion, in order to raise a difficulty and found an argument.
Reasoning of this kind will often meet us, if we are thrown into company with people of a skeptical turn of mind. Some imaginary difficulty or complication, and that connected probably with some imagined state of things in the world to come — will often prove the stronghold of an unbeliever. "He cannot understand it! He cannot reconcile it! It seems to him revolting and absurd! It offends his common sense!" Such is the language which is often used.
Reasoning of this kind, should never shake us for a moment. For one thing, we have nothing to do with 'supposed and imaginary cases'. It will be time enough to discuss them, when they really arise. Enough for us to talk and argue about facts as they are.
For another thing, it is mere waste of time to speculate about difficulties connected with a state of existence in the world to come. We know so little of anything beyond the visible world around us — that we are very poor judges of what is possible or not possible in the unseen world. A thousand things beyond the grave, must necessarily be unintelligible to us at present. In the meantime, it is our wisdom to wait patiently. What we do not know now — we shall know hereafter.
We see, thirdly, in these verses — something of the true character of the believers' existence in the world to come. We read that our Lord said to the Sadducees, "But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead, will neither marry nor be given in marriage. And they can die no more. In these respects they are like angels."
Two things are abundantly clear from this description, respecting the saints in glory. For one thing, their happiness is not a physical happiness, but a spiritual one. "They neither marry nor are given in marriage." The glorified body shall be very unlike what it is now. It shall no longer be a clog and a hindrance to the believer's better nature. It shall be a fit habitation for a glorified soul.
For another thing, their happiness shall he eternal. "They can die no more." No births shall be needed, to supply the constant waste caused by death. Weakness, and sickness, and disease, and infirmity — shall be no more at all. The curse shall be fully removed. Death himself shall die.
The nature of what we call "Heaven" is a subject which should often engage our thoughts. Few subjects in religion are so calculated to show the utter folly of unconverted men, and the dreadful danger in which they stand. A Heaven where all the joy is spiritual, would surely be no Heaven to an unconverted soul!
Few subjects are so likely to cheer and animate the mind of a true Christian. The holiness and spiritual-mindedness which he follows after in this life — will be the very atmosphere of his eternal abode. The cares of family relationships shall no longer distract his mind. The fear of death shall no longer bring him into bondage. Then let him press on and bear his cross patiently. Heaven will make amends for all!
We see, lastly, in these verses — the antiquity of belief in a resurrection. Our Lord shows that it was the belief of Moses: "That the dead are raised — even Moses showed at the burning bush."
Faith in a resurrection and a life to come — has been the universal belief of all God's people from the beginning of the world. Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham and all the Patriarchs — were men who looked forward to a better inheritance than they had here below. "They looked for a city which had foundations." "They desired a better country — that is, a heavenly one." (Hebrews 11:10-16.)
Let us anchor our own souls firmly on this great foundation truth, "that we shall all rise again." Whatever ancient or modern Sadducees may say — let us believe firmly that we are not made like the beasts which perish, and that there shall be "a resurrection of the dead — both of the just and unjust." (Acts 24:15.)
The recollection of this truth will cheer us in the day of trial — and comfort us in the hour of death. We shall feel that though earthly prosperity fails us — there is a glorious life to come where there is no change. We shall feel that though worms destroy our body — yet in the flesh we shall see God. (Job 19:26.) We shall not lie always in the grave. Our God is "not a God of the dead — but of the living!"
Section 119. Whose Son Is Christ, Luke 20:41-47
And he said unto them, How say they that Christ is David's son? And David himself says in the book of Psalms, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit you on my right hand, Until I make your enemies your footstool. David therefore calls him Lord, how is he then his son? Then in the audience of all the people he said unto his disciples, Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts; Which devour widows' houses, and for a show make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation.
Let us observe in this passage — what striking testimony to Christ's divinity, the book of Psalms contains. We read that after patiently replying to the attacks of His enemies, our Lord in turn propounds a question to them. He asks them to explain an expression in the hundred and tenth Psalm, where David speaks of the Messiah as his Lord. To this question the Scribes could find no answer. They did not see the mighty truth — that Messiah was to be God as well as man; and that while as man, He was to be David's son — as God, He was to be David's Lord.
Their ignorance of Scripture was thus exposed before all the people. Professing themselves to be instructors of others and possessors of the key of knowledge — they were proved unable to explain what their own Scriptures contained. We may well believe that of all the defeats which our Lord's malicious enemies met with — none galled them more than this. Nothing so abashes the pride of man — as to be publicly proved ignorant of that which he imagines is his own particular department of knowledge.
We have probably little idea how much deep truth is contained in the book of Psalms. No part of the Bible perhaps is better known in the letter — and none so little understood in the spirit. We err greatly, if we suppose that it is nothing but a record of David's feelings, of David's experience, David's praises, and David's prayers. The hand that held the pen was generally David's — but the subject matter was often something far deeper and higher than the history of the son of Jesse.
The book of Psalms, in a word, is a book full of Christ — Christ suffering — Christ in humiliation — Christ dying — Christ rising again — Christ coming the second time — Christ reigning over all. Both of Christ's advents are here: the advent in suffering to bear the cross — and the advent in power to wear the crown. Both of Christ's kingdoms are here: the kingdom of grace, during which the elect are gathered — and the kingdom of glory, when every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord. Let us always read the Psalms with a particular reverence. Let us say to ourselves as we read, "A greater than David is here!"
The remark now made, applies more or less to all the Bible. There is a fullness about the whole Book, which is a strong proof of its inspiration. The more we read it — the more it will seem to contain. All other books become threadbare, if they are constantly read. Their weak points, and their shallowness become more apparent every year. The Bible alone seems broader, and deeper, and fuller — the oftener it is studied. We have no need to look for allegorical and mystical meanings. The fresh truths that will constantly spring up before our eyes, are simple, plain, and clear. Of such truths, the Bible is an inexhaustible mine. Nothing can account for this, but the great fact, that the Bible is the word — not of man, but of God!
Let us observe, secondly, in this passage — how abominable is hypocrisy in the eyes of Christ. We are told that in the presence of all the people, Jesus said unto His disciples, "Beware of the teachers of the law! They like to walk around in flowing robes — and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses — and for a show make lengthy prayers."
This was a bold and remarkable warning. It was a public denunciation, we must remember, of men who "sat in Moses' seat," and were the recognized teachers of the Jewish people. It teaches us clearly, that there may be times when the sins of people in high religious places, make it a positive duty to protest publicly against them. It shows us that it is possible to speak out, and yet not to despise authority.
No sin seems to be regarded by Christ as more sinful than hypocrisy. None certainly drew forth from His lips such frequent, strong, and withering condemnation, during the whole course of His ministry. He was ever full of mercy and compassion for the chief of sinners. "Fury was not in Him" when He saw Zacchaeus, the penitent thief, Matthew the tax-collector, Saul the persecutor, and the sinful woman in Simon's house. But when He saw Scribes and Pharisees wearing a mere cloak of religion, and pretending to great outward sanctity, while their hearts were full of wickedness — His righteous soul seems to have been full of indignation. Eight times in one chapter (Matthew 23.) we find Him saying, "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees! You hypocrites!"
Let us not forget that the Lord Jesus never changes. He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Whatever else we are in religion--let us be true. However feeble our faith, and hope, and love, and obedience may be---let us see to it that they are real, genuine, and sincere. Let us abhor the very idea of play-acting and mask-wearing in our Christianity. At any rate, let us be genuine.
Let us observe, lastly, in this passage — that there will be degrees of condemnation and misery in Hell. The words of our Lord are distinct and express. He says of those who live and die hypocrites, "Such men shall receive greater damnation!"
The subject opened up in these words, is a deeply painful one. The reality and eternity of future punishment, are among the great foundation truths of Scriptural religion, which it is hard to think upon without a shudder. But it is well to have all that the Bible teaches about Heaven and Hell firmly fixed on our minds. The Bible teaches distinctly, that there will be degrees of glory in Heaven. It teaches with no less distinctness, both here and elsewhere — that there will be degrees of misery in Hell.
Who, after all, are those who will finally receive condemnation? This is the practical point which most concerns us. All who will not come to Christ — all who do not know God — all who do not obey the Gospel — all who refuse to repent — all who continue in wickedness — all such will be finally condemned. They will reap according as they have sown. God does not will their eternal ruin. But if they will not listen to His voice — they must die in their sins.
But among those who are condemned — who will receive the heaviest condemnation? It will not fall on heathen who never heard the truth. It will not fall on ignorant and neglected Englishmen, for whose souls, however sunk in profligacy, no man cared. It will fall on those who had great light and knowledge — but made no proper use of it. It will fall on those who professed great sanctity and religiousness — but in reality clung to their sins. In one word, the hypocrite will have the lowest place in Hell! These are dreadful things — but they are true!