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