1 And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,
It is SATURDAY 10th Abib, and the crowds are gathering in Jerusalem for the time of Passover. There is a triumphant entry into Jerusalem, as the Lord Yahshua approached for the last time. For a moment the people responded, realising to some extent the significance of this prophet of Nazareth, until the leaders of the ecclesia turned them against him. **
2 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.
The ass was a very common animal, a beast of burden and humility and peaceful activity, in sharp contrast to the horse, a symbol of pride, rulership and war.
Israel were forbidden to multiply horses, and in harmony with this we find in their early history their judges riding upon asses. Later their kings, in earthly splendour, turned to horses.
The ass was one "on which never man had sat." Two points are emphasized in this, uniqueness and separation. Jesus, we remember, was laid in a tomb "where never man had laid." In his life and death, he broke new ground - opening a "new and living way" which never man before had trod.
But there is another aspect. In the Law, the red heifer which was sacrificed and burnt to provide the ashes of separation that were used to cleanse anyone unclean, must be one which had never borne a yoke - never been used for any other purpose. Its whole life and existence must be entirely devoted to the one cause.
No man can satisfactorily serve two masters. If he tries, he will fail in both. "No man that is called to be a soldier entangleth himself in the affairs of this life." (What an unsuspected depth of meaning there is in that word "entangleth!") *
The colt had never been sat upon previously, and might have been expected, therefore, to be rough-coated, even unkempt. But the action of the Lord was significant in accordance with the typical presentation of the Law, for Exo. 34:20 declares: "the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb." **
4 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.
What is the reason for putting that in? Perhaps it is to give us a sense of sign and symbolism in these events. We remember that the events of this day were the climax and turning-point of Christ's mission to Israel. All that went before was building up to this.
This day he was to be presented to them as the divinely-sent King and Saviour, and they were to joyfully accept him as such. But, within a week, what a change was to occur, and with what long and bitter consequences for Israel!
Surely Israel stood, this day, "by a door - ('I am the Door') - in a place where two ways met." One way was "Hosanna to the Son of David" - the other was: "Crucify him!" *
7 And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him.
In this coronal procession, as the King came to his royal city, the furnishings of his mount were not the usual jewelled and gorgeous equipage of royalty, but the common clothes of his humble followers.
The natural mind will say: "What a haphazard makeshift for such an important occasion! How much better it would have been to have planned it properly and have gotten suitable equipment! How much more orderly and impressive it would have been!"
We need only think back to the splendours of Solomon's court - the wonder of his age - to see the contrast with this one who came claiming to be his greater and more majestic son.
But there is far more depth and significance and beauty in this scene, and in the use of the common work-clothes of his followers, than in all the empty trappings of Solomon's external splendour. *
8 And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.
Branches were 'strawed in the way', an episode also recorded in Mat. 21:8 and John 12:13, and in each case the word for 'branches' is different. Matthew uses the Gk. 'klados' = a young tender shoot, broken off for grafting; Mark has the Gk. 'stibas' (stee-bas') or 'stoibas' (stoy-bas'); from a primary word 'steibo' (to "step" or "stamp") = a spread (as if tramped flat) of loose materials for a couch; i.e., (by implication) a bough of a tree so employed. John uses the Gk. 'baion' = a palm branch. This is significant, and for vv. 9-10 see Psa. 118:24-26, one of the Passover Songs. **
9 And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
10 Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.
Here we see enacted a symbol of Christ's later approach from the east to the Holy City with the 144,000, bearing the palms of victory in their hands and singing the Song of Moses and the Lamb.
And so this ever-increasing procession advanced toward the Holy City, just as eventide was approaching. The road led over the southern slope of the Mount of Olives, which up to this point in the journey obscured the view of the city. But Luke says that as they came to the descent of the Mount of Olives - that is, as they reached the crest of the road and the city came into view - there was a spontaneous burst of song-
"The whole multitude began to rejoice and to praise God with a loud voice" (19:37). *
12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:
Bethphage and Bethany (v1)
Bethphage (meaning 'House of Unripe Figs,' and representing Israel and Bethany (meaning 'House of Dates,' representing the Gentiles). **
13 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.
Here was his final survey - his final evaluation. And how sadly short it fell of what might, and should, have been! - -nothing but outward pretence and show.
Fig leaves. Ever since the Garden of Eden they have been a symbol of a vain attempt to conceal barrenness and nakedness. The fig was a slowly-maturing tree, requiring several years of patient, hopeful labour. When matured, it was very prolific, bearing two crops a year. Hence it became a symbol of well-established plenty and prosperity, long waited for.
In the Kingdom age, every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree. So Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, saw Nathanael - the "Israelite indeed in whom there was no guile"- sitting under his fig tree.
In connection with a former destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah in vision saw Israel as figs-good and evil.
The fig tree was remarkable in that the fruit began at the same time as the leaves, unless the tree were barren. The statement "For the time of figs was not yet" seems a little out of harmony with the picture, but the simplest meaning seems to be that the ripe-fruit time, the picking time, was not yet, so there should be fruit. A comparison of the wording of similar passages supports this.
We note, "He was hungry." He needed the fruit, just as we have seen in the case of the ass - "The Lord hath need of him"-The fig tree had the honored opportunity of ministering to his needs, and it failed. He was hungry, and it gave him no meat.
In the parable of the fig tree, in Luke 13, the householder says: "These three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none." We wonder whether God has come to inspect our accounts, and has said: "No fruit yet - just leaves." And how much longer before the edict is pronounced: "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?"
It is notable that this was Christ's only miracle of cursing, and it was upon a tree. The only other miracle in any way comparable is the destruction of the swine in connection with the healing of the demoniac. There it was animals. To round out the picture, it was fitting and necessary that his judicial, as well as healing power be manifested, but only in a symbolic way, on animals and trees, for his mission at that time was to save men's lives, not to destroy them. *
17 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.
The Temple was both the proudest and the most sacred spot in the nation - the center of the glory, dignity and responsibility of the ruling priesthood.
"Make not my Father's house a house of merchandise" (Jn. 2:16). What was wrong with selling sacrificial animals and providing the necessary money-changing facilities? These were not only not wrong - they were essential. But the trouble was that these necessary things kept growing and closing in until they obscured, and then overshadowed, and finally smothered the spiritual.
"It is written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer" (Matt. 21:13).
That was the great and central divine purpose in the Temple and in the Jewish nation - a nation of priests to manifest His Holy Name to the Gentiles - but it had become hopelessly bogged down in merely natural, fleshly things.
This is one of the biggest things we have to fight today - to keep the perfectly legitimate natural from swamping the spiritual. The Gospel of God is the most wonderful and most holy thing among men - it is the power of eternal perfection and redemption - but the great problem is to keep it held up high and clean and separate from natural things.
We have no illusion about this hall being the House of God, but inasmuch as it is devoted to the service of God and proclamation of His eternal, saving Truth, we are under responsibility to keep it clear from all that is merely natural or social.
Paul emphasized the same lesson and the same ever present danger when he wrote to the Corinthians: "What, have ye not houses to eat and to drink in?" The spiritual - never too strong in this dispensation of weakness - was, as ever, being crowded and suffocated by the robust companionship and pleasure of the flesh. *
21 And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.
A human majesty would not be considered too strongly asserted which ordered the filling up of a well that failed to supply water at a moment of need. Why, then, should there be any difficulty about the Prince of the Kings of the earth?
His life was a teaching life, in word and deed, toward his disciples and toward the populace according to occasion, and the great object of all his teaching was to convince the hearers that God was working and speaking by him. No fairly disposed mind realising this, could make any difficulty with the fig tree. But in addition to these obvious reflections, there is the use that Jesus made of the incident, which of itself is all-sufficient to explain it.
Nazareth Revisited Ch 48
22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.
23 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.
No obstacle can stand before the power of Faith. Now abideth these three - Faith, Hope and Love. Faith is the first, the foundation, the root, blossoming into Hope, and bringing forth the fruit of Love.
What is Faith? Both Paul and James made it clear that Faith is the power and driving force that makes men act contrary to nature and in defiance of human wisdom.
Faith does not consist of a passive acceptance of certain doctrines - it is an active, living way of life. Faith, says Paul, is the power that made Noah give his life to building the ark; that made Abraham leave everything behind and wander as an alien for one hundred years; that made Moses turn his back on the luxuries of Egypt and throw in his lot with a rabble in a wilderness because they were - in their destiny and their potentialities - the people of God.
"Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17).
Faith is not ignorant superstition, or surface emotion. Faith is deep rooted in knowledge, though there are many shallow imitations that only time and testing can reveal.
Jesus here tells his disciples that prayer without Faith is useless. There is no use praying unless our way of life gives evidence that we believe God not only can, but WILL, take full care of those who seek Him.
"He that cometh to God must believe that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Heb.11:6).
There is no use professing faith while at the same time giving evidence in our lives that we have more confidence in the protective power of worldly goods, or worldly organizations, or worldly companies whose guarantees of protection we buy. *
24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
We have before had occasion to remark on the connection of faith with the performance of miracle. Faith is powerless in the absence of the power to do the works; and the power to do the works is not sufficient in the absence of the faith. Here is doubtless the key to a difficulty which has shaken some -- the difficulty, namely, caused by the total absence in our day of any such experience as Jesus describes in his words on this occasion.
Neither mountains nor pins move at the intercession of prayer, nor does faith do anything beyond the power of nature. People are apt to inquire -- Why is this? and in the absence of reasonable answer, they sink into a feeling, perhaps unconfessed, that there is something radically wrong in the representations of the original matter. The glory of Christ and the hope of salvation become dimmed in their minds through the absence of a right interpretation.
Prayer and faith have no reference to miracle in an age when miracle is by plan suspended. But prayer and faith are not therefore unavailing. They operate in another line of things; that is all. They have power to affect that form of divine operation which we understand by the ways of Providence. God will choose our steps for us if we commit our way to Him, though He will not show His hand in the way peculiar to the apostolic "ministration of the Spirit." The lesson of the fig tree remains good in all circumstances: "Have faith in God."
Nazareth Revisited Ch 48
25 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.
There is a form of forgiveness - cold, patronising and self-righteous - that is worse than no forgiveness at all. True forgiveness, as Jesus makes clear, is that kind we ourselves hope to get from God. It is not a matter of writing off the offence, and letting the barrier remain-unless we are quite content to be so treated by God.
There is a proud and evil human saying, "I forgive, but I do not forget" - a selfish attitude that seeks the personal gratification of granting forgiveness without assuming any of its humility or burden. Here again - would that type of forgiveness from God satisfy us, when we ask Him to blot out our failures from His memory?
Jesus is always slipping a few words that upset our carefully - framed picture, and make it so hard for the flesh. Speaking of the fate of the unmerciful debtor, he says -
"So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother" (Matt. 18:35).
"From your hearts" - there is the key. We must get resentment and irritation clean out of our hearts, or they will poison us and bring us down to death. *
27 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,
28 And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?
It was the question of the temptation in the wilderness, the constant accusation of the elders, and the question by which the Master would later be condemned. In his answer, the Master points to his own baptism by John as the reason: a baptism that represented his crucifixion, and by which the diabolos (sin in the flesh) might be destroyed. No wonder they would not respond to the question, although shortly after, they were the means by which the "sign of the prophet Jonah" was fulfilled in the sacrifice which took away sin. - GEM, Logos. **
33 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.
The point and relevantly of his answer lay in the fact that John proclaimed himself as being sent for the very purpose of testifying to, and preparing the way for, Christ. John publicly and dramatically, as the climax of his mission, identified Christ as the Messiah.
Jesus simply reminded his questioners that he and John stood or fell together, and that they could answer their own question by telling where John got his authority.
Here the divine wisdom and mercy is shown in sending John to lay the foundation for the work of Christ. John was in line with what the people would naturally expect of a prophet. He was wholly and harmoniously within the established framework of the Mosiac system. But his work was to teach them to expect and be prepared for a change.
So it is with the unfolding of the divine purpose. It is precept upon precept, line upon line, each built upon that which preceded. The rulers rejected Christ because they rejected John. But the people accepted John and still rejected Christ. How could that be? In the same way they accepted Moses and rejected Christ. Jesus told them, "He (John) was a burning and a shining light, and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light" (Jn. 5:35).
"For a season." But there was no permanent effect - no depth of earth - no true comprehension of the purpose - above all, no fundamental change of life, for John's basic mission was to bring about a national purification and renewal of heart. His warning was:
"The axe is laid to the root of the tree" (Lk. 3:9) - the barren Israel fig tree. Therefore he exhorts with imperative urgency - "Bring forth fruits-fruits meet for repentance" (3:8).
But no fruit came - only more leaves - a prolific and showy display of the fig leaves of piety and religious pretence. But no fruit - none of the essential inward fruits of the Spirit-love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness - so the Roman axe descended, and the Israel fig tree fell, and lay downtrodden and prostrate for eighteen long and terrible centuries.
But now, in the great cycles of God's purpose, the fig tree is again putting forth leaves, and soon the King will come again from the east to seek the fruit, and to present himself to the royal city. ** Bro Growcott - He Found Nothing But Leaves