Jesus now set his face for the last time towards Jerusalem. He had made several visits to it during his "ministry." He had journeyed up and down among the people for 3 1/2 years, teaching the words and doing the works of God with all kindness and patience and independence; but now he would do so no more. The end was in sight.
It was with a certain relief that he went forward to what awaited him. He had said on a previous occasion, "I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened till it be acoomplished?" The prospect was now before him of its "accomplishment." He unbosomed himself on the subject to his disciples, but found a poor response. "Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked and spitefully entreated and spitted on, and they shall scourge him and put him to death, and the third day he shall rise again." It might have been some comfort to Jesus had the disciples quite entered into his meaning, and manifested intelligent sympathy. Instead of that, "They understood none of these things, and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things that were spoken" (Luke xviii. 34). What a sense this circumstance conveys of the loneliness of the Son of Man in the day of his suffering.
Jesus approaches Jericho, on the Roman road that connects that place with the north, accompanied by a crowd of people who increase in number as he nears the town. Two blind men sitting by the wayside, hear the hum of the crowd and the sound of their feet on the road, and ask what is the meaning of it. Being told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing, one of them shouts at the top of his voice to arrest Christ's attention. He had doubtless heard of Jesus opening the eyes of the blind. "Jesus! thou Son of David! Have mercy on me!" The blind man had begun to shout thus as soon as the head of the procession began to pass, and a good while before Jesus came up. The people told him he must not make such a noise -- that it was rude to interrupt a great man passing, &c., that he must in fact hold his tongue. But the man was not to be silenced. An opportunity had come to him that might never come again. So he shouted "so much the more." He got his reward.
There is something in the maxim: "He that seeketh findeth;" but much depends on the quarter to which the seeking is directed. An ordinary traveller of eminence would have given no heed to the cry of a pauper: but this was no ordinary traveller. He came to show compassion and to teach it. When he came opposite where the blind men were sitting, he stopped on the road, and gave orders for them to be brought to him. The crowd, who had been ordering the shouter to "hold his peace," now changed their tone. They said: "Be of good cheer. Rise: he calleth you." And the men rose and were guided to the presence of Jesus. Jesus asked the simple but welcome question: "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?" Promptly came the natural answer: "Lord, that we may receive our sight." Swift and effectual the response: "Receive thy sight." Gracious and instructive the explanation: "Thy faith hath saved thee." Jesus actually gives the man part of the credit of the cure. We have before considered the scriptural connection between faith and healing. Faith will do nothing if the healing power is not present, but the action of the healing power is helped by the exercise of faith. The defect of modern so-called "faith-healing" lies in the absence of the divine power to heal, consequently the healing can go no higher than the recuperative resources of nature. The glory of the works done by Christ and his apostles in the first century, lay in the fact that God worked by them, and that therefore to faith, "all things were possible." -- The men, in full and instant possession of restored sight, gave loud glory to God, and fell into the ranks and followed the crowd which now resumed its course into Jericho.
Jesus passed through the place. A leading man there, wealthy but of poor repute, seeing the crowd, and hearing, like the blind man, that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, made a special effort to get a look at Jesus. He was small of stature, and could not easily do so for the crowd. Observing the direction of the procession, and being nimble though diminutive, he ran ahead of the crowd, clambering up a tree that stood on the road side, and there waited the interesting moment when he should be able from his elevated position to get a deliberate and uninterrupted view of the most interesting human form ever seen upon the earth. He had not long to wait, and when the moment came, he got more than he expected. When Jesus reached the tree, he stopped, bringing the crowd to a stand with him. The little rich man with honest eyes (for he was an honest man) was intently peering at Christ, when Christ, looking up, fixed his eyes on the little rich man and said "Zaccheus, make haste and come down, for to-day I must abide at thy house." Zaccheus, thus unexpectedly summoned, after a moment's surprise, came down with alacrity, and standing deferentially before Christ expressed the gladness it would afford him to entertain him. He then led the way towards his house, and Christ followed, leaving the bulk of the crowd hanging on the road. The crowd did not relish the incident at all. The crowd are almost always murmurers. "They all murmured, saying, that he has gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner." The remark was perfectly unreasonable. All murmuring is unreasonable at the bottom. When you have reasoned with it and answered it, it remains. But it always takes the semblance of reason. In its vilest forms, it affects virtuous indignation.
There was an appearance of reason in this case. "Gone to be a guest with a man that is a sinner." What then? Would you have liked him to remain with you, O, murmurers? Doubtless. And are not you sinners? But the fact is they were mistaken. Zaccheus was not the sinner they took him to be. All men are sinners, but there are sinners and sinners. When Christ arrived at the house of Zaccheus, Zaccheus gave an account of himself which Jesus endorsed, and which shows that he was the right man for Jesus to honour by "abiding at his house." The account was this: "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor: and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." Christ confirmed the account thus: "This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." A sinner who was in the habit of devoting half his income to the relief of the necessitous and in the habit of returning four times the value of inadvertent exactions in business (for this man was a tax assessor and collector) was clearly a son of Abraham in the sense defined by Christ in his conversation with the Jews: "If ye were Abraham's children ye would do the works of Abraham" (Jno. viii. 39). This was the class whom Jesus had come to "seek and save:" "men of an honest and good heart" who were wandering in the way of death (Luke viii. 15); as Paul expressed it, "whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent" (Acts xiii. 26). It is true that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. In this sense, Christ came not to call the (self) righteous but sinners to repentance. But it is also true that the sinners called to repentance are "those who have ears to hear" the called are not those who have "consciences seared as with a hot iron" and who, being past feeling, work all uncleanness with greediness, like natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed (Eph. iv. 19; 1 Tim. iv. 2; Rom. i. 28-32; 2 Pet. ii. 12-22). It is clear that Zaccheus was of the former and not of the latter class, and that the bad odour in which he was held by the Jews was not justified by his character, but was probably attributable solely to the fact of his holding office as a taxgatherer under the Romans. All Jew publicans were odious to the Jews on this ground; and no doubt most of the publicans were extortioners and unjust as well; but there were just men among them, and on Christ's authority, Zaccheus was one of them, which was one reason why he honoured him by staying under his roof.
The pleasant declaration made by Jesus, "This day is salvation come to this house," excited the liveliest feelings in the listening disciples, who "thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear." We are informed that for this reason, and "because they were nigh to Jerusalem," he spake the parable of a nobleman departing to a far country and returning before he could settle the affairs of his kingdom. This parable is considered in chapter xxxii. Why his being near to Jerusalem should be a reason for speaking the parable, a knowledge of the gospel of the kingdom as distinguished from the gospel of popular preaching will enable us to understand. The kingdom they were looking for pertains to Jerusalem (Micah iv 8; Jer. iii. 17; Luke ii. 38), and will be established there (Isaiah xxiv. 23; ii. 1-4; Zeph. iii. 14-17; Jer. xxxiii. 6-17). Its establishment there is necessitated by Christ's heirship to the throne of David (Luke i. 32; Acts ii. 29; Jer. xxiii. 5), for David, as all are aware, reigned for God there (2 Sam. v. 5; 1 Chron. xxix. 11, 23, 26, 27). Nearness to Jerusalem, after a three and a half years' proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom (Luke iv. 43), was therefore highly calculated to strengthen the expectation that he was then about to establish the kingdom. It is, therefore, no chance expression that informs us that one reason of his speaking this parable to the nobleman was "because he was nigh to Jerusalem." He probably felt there was a necessity for checking ardour in this direction on account of the fact that he was actually about to accept a popular ovation in fulfilment of the beautiful prophecy of Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold thy King cometh unto thee; he is just and having salvation; lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass."
That ovation was a beautiful and cheering incident -- like a gleam of sunshine in the midst of a cloudy day. Its occurrence at this time was an arrangement of divine wisdom. We are not told what its object was as regards Christ himself. It was probably of the same character as that of the angel's visit in the garden of Gethsemane. He was on the eve of a terrible ordeal of suffering. He knew it was coming, and was exercised by the prospect. Did he not need "strengthening?" In the garden of Gethsemane, the angel "strengthened" him. It is probable that the triumphal entry into Jerusalem at this time would have a similar effect. We must not forget the testimony that he was "touched with the feeling of our infirmity." It would tone him up for the last bitter cup to have a foretaste of the glorious future, when the whole nation would receive him with blessing, and when the whole earth would bow suppliant and adoring at his feet.
Its occurrence was perfectly natural when Jesus provided the opportunity. For over three years, the work of Christ, though it excited the jealousy and hatred of the priestly classes, had filled the popular mind with increasing admiration. The crowd accompanying him on this occasion, shared the feeling to the fullest extent. They had just seen the miracle of the curing of the blind, coming after a long series of wonderful deeds. They had been witnesses of, and gloried in, his righteous oppositions to the leaders. Their ranks were swelled by the arrival of many from Jerusalem, who had come to the feast, and who, hearing of the resurrection of Lazarus, were anxious to see Lazarus as well as Jesus. It was whispered by many, "Is not this the Messiah?" When, therefore, Jesus mounted an animal to make the foretold entry into Jerusalem, the associations of such an event almost provoked demonstration on his behalf. It had several times happened in Israel's history that a new reign had been inaugurated by a royal progress in this particular form -- mounted on an ass. The ass is a different animal in the East from what it is in the West, and holds a different position in popular regard from what it does in England. The spectacle, therefore, of Jesus so mounted and riding towards Jerusalem, was suggestive of ideas in harmony with the popular impression that the kingdom of God was immediately to appear.
The people caught up the idea and threw themselves into it. They cast off their clothes and spread them in the way for Christ to pass over, in a transport of loyal affection. They also broke off branches from the trees, which were then numerous in the neighbourhood, and strewed them on the road. By-and-bye, they broke into song, in which the people who went before and the people who followed after, joined. The air to which they sang would probably be one well-known, and borrowed from the temple service with which they were all made familiar by their regular visits at the feasts. The words also were closely allied to words found in Psalm cxviii., and may have been the very paraphrase of these words then used in the synagogues throughout the country: "Hosanna to the Son of David! 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!"
In the jubilant multitude who thus "rejoiced and praised God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen," were some of the Pharisees, but they took no part in the demonstration. On the contrary, getting close to Christ, they advised him to restrain it. "Master, rebuke thy disciples!" They would, doubtless, profess to be shocked at the profanity of the performance. "Thou blind Pharisee!" There is nothing more odious in the whole range of abortive mental phenomena incidental to the present deranged and cursed state of human life upon the earth, than the conceited and insincere mediocrity that sets itself against the true greatnesses of wisdom. It professes to be moved by high considerations of principle, whereas it is moved by the vexation of disappointed egotism when conscious, as the Pharisees were, of eclipse in the presence of a greater than themselves. What could Jesus say but the words of sad emphasis in which he rejoined: "I tell you if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out."
The first part of the journey, in the wild ascent from Jericho, in the Jordan valley, to the crest of Olivet, overlooking Jerusalem, was on foot. The crowd with their backs towards the east, and leaving the valley and advancing westwards up the hill, would have their view in front cut off by the top of the hill range. Jerusalem lay at the other side, and therefore, would be out of view till the summit was gained. When the company reached this position, Jerusalem would burst upon their view suddenly, lying in the valley at their feet.
Apparently at this point, Jesus halted and "beheld the city." The crowd would halt with him and gather round. As he viewed the city, he was seen to weep. His own sufferings were near, but it was not these that drew tears to his eyes. He saw a suffering beyond, more terrible, more unavailing. The beautiful city before him, more honoured than any upon earth, was about to bring on itself a retribution more terrible than history knew, through its failure to recognise Emmanuel in their midst -- yea, worse, the enormity of its treatment of him, "Killing the Prince of life and desiring a murderer to be granted to them" After a contemplative pause, he apostrophised the city. "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee that thine enemies shall east a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground and thy children within thee. And they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another, because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation."
Tears leave their mark. They may be dried away and leave no visible discolouration on the cheek: but the countenance looks like the countenance of a man who has wept. We may safely imagine, therefore, that as the cavalcade moved on towards the city at the base of the hill, the mounted central figure, in the midst of all the joyful demonstrations in which the crowd indulged, looked like "the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief."
They passed into the city by one of the gates leading to the temple. The arrival of such a large crowd in such an excited state naturally caused a commotion. "The whole city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus of Nazareth of Galilee." The authorities were powerless in the presence of popular enthusiasm. Jesus entered the temple itself. The very children took up the refrain: "Hosanna to the Son of David." No wonder: "the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them." This was no ordinary leader, glamouring the people with empty high-sounding words. He conferred real benefit and showed real power. The people discerned the case, so far as the populace could discern so great a matter, and they gave utterance to their feelings.
The Scribes and Pharisees were ill at ease. They could not deny the works, but they could not join in their praise. Their mood was expressed in the words they addressed to the cured blind man on a previous occasion: "Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner." They could not conceal their displeasure at the deference shewn to Jesus. The participation of the children especially excited their disgust: "Hearest thou what these say!" said they to Jesus. Jesus quickly answered "Yes: have you never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?"
At this time, Christ still more offended the Scribes and Pharisees by repeating the operation he had performed over three years previously. The temple was profaned, as then, by a crowd of mere traffickers in temporalities who had no sympathy for the objects for which the temple had been erected: he did now, as he shocked them by doing then: "He cast out them that bought and sold in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers and the seats of them that sold doves, and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple." The principles involved in this proceeding were considered on its first occurrence (chapter xiii.). It is not necessary to repeat. The whole incident was a fore-shadowing of the greater purification he will effect when he returns to the scene of his sufferings in power and great glory.
The Scribes and Pharisees were paralysed by his boldness. They were chagrined to the last degree, but they could do nothing. The people were on his side: and of himself they were afraid. They conferred together and "sought how they might destroy him." They accomplished their object in a few days, but the ripe moment had not just yet arrived.
The public stir having subsided, and evening drawing on, he retired from the city with the twelve, retracing his steps up the face of the Mount of Olives to Bethany, where he lodged under the genial roof of Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. Here they "made him a supper." This was evidently a ceremonial and semi-public repast; for we read that "Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table." During its course, an incident occurred similar to that which happened at the Pharisee's house earlier in his ministry.
A Mary(there were several Marys -- probably this was the sister of Martha) "took a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and poured it on the head of Jesus. She also anointed his feet and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment." This was the act of affection, affection based upon enlightenment, but still affection; and as such, it was offensive to those who felt none of it. In the former case, it was the Pharisee: in this case, it was Judas. He had no sympathy with the fine feeling that prompted "such extravagance." His sordid soul looked at the value of the stuff. "Why was not this ointment sold for 300 pence?" But, of course, he must put a superior complexion on his objection. Murmurers never own to the real nature of their feelings; probably they have not sufficient power of self-analysis to discern it. At all events, they always manage to claim a virtuous character for their growls; and so he blurted out "and given to the poor." "Given to the poor!" This is always a handy plea, but look at its injustice -- Judas on the side of the poor and Christ not! This was the insinuation.
If Christ was the subject of such a reflection, why need his brethren be over-grieved if it be turned on them -- and by the very same class? Men of God sympathise with the poor and help them as they can. But there come times when something else has a call for attention. And then the Judases, who never at other times concern themselves about the poor, except at other people's expense, are liable to step forward and grumble about "the poor" being neglected.
Judas had no care for the poor; but he had objects of his own. Even some of the other disciples sympathised with his objection to the "waste." Their attitude forced Jesus into an appearance of indifference to the poor. "The poor ye have with you always: and whensoever ye will ye may do them good. But me ye have not always." "Let her alone; why trouble ye her; she hath wrought a good work on me.... She is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying." And then he conferred the singular distinction upon her which she will awake at the resurrection to find she has ever since enjoyed: "Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, there also shall this that this woman hath done be spoken of for a memorial of her."
Early next morning, Jesus emerged from the house, breakfastless, to go to Jerusalem, accompanied by his disciples. On the way, feeling the motions of hunger, he turned aside to a fig tree, in the hope of finding some figs on it. There were none, "for the time of figs was not yet," upon which Jesus said, "No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever." The disciples noted the saying; and next morning, passing by the same spot, they observed that the fig-tree was completely withered.
There has been some very childish writing on the subject of this incident. It has either been dismissed as inexplicable, with much superior lifting of the eyebrows, or it has been set down as a proof of the latent irascibility of Christ's temper -- that he should blight an innocent fig-tree for not bearing fruit out of season. It does not appear as if there ought to be the least difficulty in understanding it. Even if there were not the guidance contained in the practical application that Christ made of the incident, it does not seem an unreasonable thing that Jesus should embrace a good opportunity of pressing home upon his disciples the fact that he affirmed on another occasion, that "a greater than Solomon is here." Facts are louder than words. He whose mere word could blast a tree like the lightning, must be great.
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.
Passing the fig tree next day, the disciples noticed its withered state. We cannot doubt that Jesus intended this. Peter said, "Master, behold the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away." This was the opportunity to apply the matter. Jesus answering Peter, said to all the disciples, "Have faith in God; for verily I say unto you that whosoever shall say to 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 whatsover 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." It is evident that Jesus intended to inculcate and force powerfully home upon the disciples the necessity for faith in the performance of the wonderful works which they were to do in his name when he should leave 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."