Remember Jesus Christ

By Charles R Erdman

Chapter 5 - Defeating His Foes


The memories which are related to the third day of Holy Week concern, in large measure, the bitter controversy between Christ and His enemies. Let us keep the exact situation in mind. The chief priests and the rulers had determined to take the life of our Lord. There were two obstacles which they must overcome: first, they must change the attitude of the people; secondly, they must secure some semblance of fault before they could deliver Him over to the Roman authorities to be put to death.

The city was crowded with pilgrims, and all the throngs regarded Jesus as their great Prophet. They had even hailed Him as their King. Any act of hostility toward Him might result in a dangerous outbreak; this popular idol must first be discredited.

They find Jesus in the Temple surrounded by a crowd of eager listeners, and they open the attack with this crafty question: “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” That was to say: “What right have you to be hailed as the Messiah, or to take control of the Temple or to be here as a public teacher?” The rulers feel they have put Christ into a dilemma. If He claimed to speak by divine authority, as sustaining a peculiar relation to God, He might be accused of blasphemy. If He claimed some delegated human authority He would appear to be renouncing and repudiating the very rulers who were supposed to have the right of appointing public teachers.

His reply was immediate, and so shrewd as to put His enemies into a counter-dilemma: “I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” And they argued with one another, “If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We cannot tell,” and He said to them, “Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.”

He thus silenced the enemy; He had defeated them with their own weapon. Yet more, He had discredited them as teachers, and this in the presence of the very crowds they were seeking to turn away from Christ. They, the boasted religious authorities, were compelled to admit in public that they were not qualified to pass judgment upon a famous leader whom they had refused to accept as a prophet. They were thus abdicating their place of authority. Yet, they were not only defeated, and discredited, they were disgraced. They were compelled to say what they knew, and the crowd knew, and they knew the crowd knew, was untrue. They said, “We do not know”; they claimed to have no opinion. The fact was that they were afraid to confess what they really believed. They attempted to escape from their dilemma by a lie; but there was no escape. They stood before the crowd of listeners self-convicted of malice, of cowardice, and deceit.

Yet Christ had answered them. He had not simply silenced them by a puzzling question, but by comparing Himself with John He was really claiming the same divine authority as that which had commissioned the prophet. John had been His forerunner. Those who had refused the call of John were now refusing the claims of the King. What they needed was not more proof of authority but more submission to the will of God. Those who had heeded the call of John to repent would be ready to accept the offer of Christ to save.

As His enemies were about to turn away in silence and in shame, our Lord pronounced upon them a series of devastating parables. These were short stories which told of judgment upon these rulers and their guilty nation. No names were mentioned. The hearers were allowed to make their own applications. And Christ gave them no excuse for seizing Him or for forbidding Him to teach.

According to the first parable, “A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?”

How clearly such a story illustrated the reception given to the message of John and to that of Jesus! Notorious sinners who had long refused to do the will of God repented and began to serve Him, while self-righteous teachers of the law refused the call and did not repent and believe.

The second parable was the longer Parable of the Vineyard. A householder planted and nurtured a choice vineyard and “let it out to husbandmen” “When the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it,” but the servants were abused and killed. The same treatment was afforded to others. Then the householder sent his own son, “and they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.” “When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say to him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.”

How obvious was the teaching of such a short story! The vineyard was Israel; the tenants, the Jewish rulers; the servants, who were abused and killed, were the prophets of God; the son was our Savior. He was to be killed; but the day would come when Jerusalem would be destroyed, and when “the kingdom of God” would be taken away from Israel “and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”

There was a third parable, quite as serious in its implications. This was the story of the marriage feast. It pictured the joy and gladness offered to those who would accept Christ and the misery of those who would reject Him. In the parable those invited to the feast refused to come; others who were bidden made light of the invitation, and even abused and killed the servants of the king.

So the king “sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.” Then the king's servants “went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.”

Thus when Israel refuses to accept the invitation of the great King, the despised Gentiles will be called and the wedding hall will be supplied with guests.

A serious and important paragraph is added. Those first invited showed their unworthiness by their refusal to accept. Yet those who were less worthy, when brought in, all needed to wear wedding garments. All who would enjoy fellowship with Christ, and the joys of His kingdom, need to be clothed in righteousness and to exhibit lives and characters in keeping with their high and holy calling.

The enemies of Christ have been defeated and disgraced, but as they retire in chagrin they conspire to make another desperate assault and to ensnare our Lord in His teaching. They prepare three crafty questions in answer to which He will be sure to be discredited by the people or to appear disloyal to Rome.

First was the question regarding tribute: “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” Again Christ is in a dilemma. If He says “yes,” He will offend the common people who loathe paying taxes to a foreign tyrant. If He says “no,” then He is a rebel and a traitor: “hurry Him away to Pilate and the cross.” He requests them to bring Him a coin. He then asks what image and inscription it bears. They reply, “Caesar's.” His answer extricates Him from the dilemma and enunciates a law for all people and all time: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.” If one accepts the coinage of the government, and all other benefits the government confers, one surely is obligated to support the government and to pay such tribute as may be required.

To render unto Caesar the things of Caesar's, however, is not the whole of life nor the sum of all duties. One must “render unto God the things of God.” This should involve no contradiction; but loyalty to no party or state can be taken as a substitute for devotion to God or obedience to His laws. Usually loyalty to God inclines one to be faithful to his duties to the state. Godliness is a firm basis for true citizenship, and no state should compel disloyalty to God, nor enact laws contrary to the laws of God.

A second question related to the resurrection. This was proposed by the Sadducees who did not believe in resurrection or immortality or angels or spirits. As Christ had previously answered the Pharisees and the Herodians, so He now defeats those who correspond to modem materialists. The endeavor again was to propose a dilemma. According to the Mosaic Law, a widow should marry the brother of her deceased husband, but then, if there is to be a resurrection, she would have more than one husband, which would be contrary to the Law. To emphasize the difficulty, the case is supposed of a woman who had married successively seven brothers. “In the resurrection whose wife shall she be?”

Christ escapes from the difficulty by a memorable rebuke: “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” As to “the power of God ” He can provide an existence in which there is no death, nor birth, nor marriage, but in which the relationships are even more blessed than the highest relationship of earth. Such an existence with its higher laws is consistent with the facts and laws of our present life. As to “the Scriptures” what do they teach regarding resurrection? Christ quotes from the very Mosaic books to which the Sadducees have referred: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then He adds: “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” He means to prove not only the continued existence of the dead, but also the resurrection of the dead. This is the point at issue. “Life,” in the mind of our Lord, means normal life, not that of a disembodied spirit, but that of an immortal soul clothed with a deathless body. “The living” of whom Christ speaks are therefore the “risen.”

Our confident expectation of such a future state is based on our relation to God. If He truly is “our God” and we are His people, the triumph of death is not real and permanent, but temporary and it will be terminated by the glory of a resurrection from the dead. Many beliefs which men ridicule, because they seem to contradict the laws of nature, will be vindicated, some day, by the discovery of higher laws. It is for us to ask what has been “written,” and then to believe in the “power of God” to perform that which has been promised.

The answer given by our Lord to a third question is so familiar and so perfect that one may ask why it seemed so difficult: “Which is the great commandment in the law?”

It should be remembered that in His day the question was bitterly debated by the wisest of the religious teachers. Whatever answer Christ might give would divide His hearers and discredit Him as a divinely appointed teacher. His reply was surprising. He simply quoted two passages from the Law: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Deuteronomy 6:4,5): “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). So Christ declares that love is the sum of moral obligation and the essence of divine law.

It is significant that Mark adds the statement, “No man after that durst ask him any question.”

Christ, however, had a question which completely silenced His enemies. It is the supreme question in philosophy and religion. Where is Christ to be placed in relation to God and man? Is He to be regarded as man or God, or at once God and man; or as Jesus voiced the question: How could the coming Messiah be spoken of as the Son of David, and also as David's Lord? (Psalm 110:1). There can be but one answer: Christ is both human and divine. He is the Son of David and also the Son of God. His incarnation is the only solution of our most serious difficulties in the sphere of religious belief.

Christ has defeated and silenced His foes. Now, before leaving the Temple, He warns the people against these “scribes and Pharisees”  and pronounces upon them a series of solemn “woes.” It may be noticed that the most severe denunciations of our Lord are directed not against notorious sinners, but against men of respectable standing who were loud in their profession of religion. This does not mean that open vice and flagrant sin are better than proud and selfish morality; but it does mean that wicked and evil conduct is particularly repulsive when practiced under the mask of ostentatious religious rites and ceremonies.

Christ does not repudiate these teachers whom He denounces. He distinguishes between the men and their office. In so far as they expounded the Law of Moses, their instructions were to be received, but the example of their lives was not to be followed. These were men, He declared, who found it easier to preach than to practice.

Our Lord also denounces the pride and vanity of the Pharisees. They sought for public recognition and praise. His followers, however, should be humble and willing to accept the part of servants. Lowliness would be the path to exaltation.

In pronouncing seven “woes” upon the Pharisees Christ's words are the most severe of all His recorded utterances. There is no loss of self-control, no expression of malice, only burning indignation against hypocrisy and deep sorrow for sin. These words embody an abiding warning against all unreality in religion, against all bigotry and insincerity and pretense.

(1) The first woe rebuked the leaders who claimed to be religious and yet made other people irreligious. The Pharisees, by rejecting John and refusing to accept Jesus, actually kept men from repentance and from entering the kingdom of heaven. There are those today whose “religion” is so cold and cruel and formal, or so obviously a cloak for evil, that they keep others from Christ and His Church.

(2) The second woe rebukes the fanatical spirit which masquerades as religious zeal. One may seek for proselytes, only to strengthen his own party, while he infects converts with his own spirit of bigotry and pride.

(3) There are those who believe that an oath is binding only when it is phrased in some particular words, and that the laws of God may be broken with impunity under certain mere accidents of time and place.

(4) There are those who are to be condemned for the loss of spiritual perspective. They are most scrupulous in obeying minute and insignificant rules of formal religion, while at the same time they defy the most obvious laws of morality.

(5) There is the hypocrisy which is content with cleaning the “outside of the cup and of the platter,” which is satisfied with ceremonial forms and repetition, while the heart is full of impurity and sin.

(6) There are those whose influence is made more dangerous by the fact that they conceal their real impurity with a show of holiness and the forms of religion.

(7) Those rulers whom Christ was rebuking prided themselves upon being better than their fathers who had killed the prophets of old, whereas they were themselves planning to put to death the Greatest of all prophets. It is easy for one to regard himself superior to others merely because his faults are committed under different circumstances and at other times. The enmity of these rulers to Christ showed that they were of the same moral character as those ancient murderers whose crimes they pretended to lament.

Christ concludes these woes by a solemn prediction of judgment upon those rulers who were about to show by their heartless treatment of Christ's followers that they were the true sons of those who had killed the prophets of God.

Then follows the famous lament of Christ over the city He loved, the destruction of which He so clearly foresaw: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together . . . and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” Yet He adds a last note of hope: “Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." The time of repentance would come. A restored and renewed people would welcome their returning Lord. The hope of Israel and of the world centers in the coming of the King.