Remarks on Mark 11:15-33

Mark 11:15-33
After hearing the doom of the barren fig-tree, they come to Jerusalem and enter the temple, whence the Lord began to cast out those who sold and bought therein, overthrowing the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of the dove-sellers, and suffering none to carry a vessel through the temple. This He followed up by teaching openly what is written in Isa. 56:77Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. (Isaiah 56:7), Jer. 7:1111Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 7:11)—God's purpose in the temple and meanwhile man's selfish misuse of it. “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers.” (Ver. 15-18.) The prophetic reproof was not powerless, but it fell into a soil fruitful only in thorns and briers, worthless, and nigh to that curse, if not under it, which had just lit upon the type of their estate. “And the chief priests and the scribes heard [it], and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the multitude were astonished at his doctrine.” Truly their end was to be burned: God was not in their thoughts, but man; and self, not conscience, governed them. But what a picture! The righteous, elect Servant, the Son of God, hated to death—not of the crowd who, if thoughtless and fickle, at least hung on unwonted words of holy vindication of God, of goodness toward man, of stern rebuke for the proud perverters of sacred things. Alas! it was these, the chiefs of religion, the theologians of that day, who quailed before the light of God and sought only to extinguish it, that they might still preserve their influence among the men they loved not, but despised. And is the world, or its religion, better now?
What could detain Jesus in such a scene, the more revolting because it a as in title and responsibility “the holy city?” Nothing but the errand of holy love on which He came. Hence at the approach of night, His work for that day done, He retires once more without the city. (Ver. 19.) Who but the enemy could have insinuated the blasphemous thought that it was because that city was too hallowed ground for Him to rest on as yet?
As they passed next morning, the sight of the fig tree dried up from the roots recalled the curse of yesterday to Peter. The Master's answer was, “Have faith in God” —a more pointed form of speech than that in the Gospel of Matthew, and of the gravest moment for the servants of God in presence of the guilt and ruin of that which seems fairest, or at least is most esteemed among men. As the fig-tree symbolized the people in their religious pretensions, now manifestly vain and so judged of Him whose right it was and is, “this mountain” appears to denote rather their “place and nation,” which in their unbelief they strove hard to keep under Roman patronage. (“We have no king but Caesar.”) Strong as it stood in Jewish eyes, before the faith of the disciples it was doomed and soon about to be violently rooted up and lost in the sea of Gentiles.1 Such is the declared efficacy of faith; but another requisite is (which faith indeed would effect) the spirit of gracious forgiveness toward any who might have wronged or otherwise offended us. (Ver. 25, 26.) In Matthew this has its place in the Sermon on the Mount and especially in the prayer, as the retributive converse appears in the parable of the merciless servant. In Luke the principle comes out in another shape.
The next visit to Jerusalem (ver. 27-33) confronts the Lord, as He walks about in the temple, with the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, who demand by what authority He was doing these things, and who gave it Him. Jesus pledges Himself to speak as to His authority, if they answer His question as to John's baptism—was it of heaven or men? It was an appeal to conscience; but conscience they had none, save a bad one, which at once shrank into reserve, fearful to commit itself, not afraid to trifle with God and man. For they reasoned with themselves that, allowing John's baptism to be of heaven, they must receive his testimony to Jesus; asserting it to be of men, they must forfeit the people's favor, John being universally held to be in very deed a prophet. They preferred therefore to shelter themselves under a seemingly prudent ignorance. Who were they, then, to question the authority of Jesus? If they could only say “we know not,” their incompetency was confessed. Those who could not solve the question of the servant were surely not qualified to judge of the Master. In truth, their incapacity was, if possible, less than their hypocritical wickedness: the will was at fault yet more than the understanding.
The Lord might well be excused answering such a question to such men. What a position for those who examined His authority to find themselves in! Left under the shadow and shame of their own avowed ignorance in the presence of the gravest religious problem then before them, they are obliged to bow to Him who closes the inquiry with unspeakable dignity, and with the most befitting wisdom, “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Lord, Thou knewest all things; Thou knewest that these men hated Thee!