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XVII.
CONFLICT IN THE TEMPLE.
Matt xxi. 18-xxiii.

IT had been written that the Lord should suddenly come to His Temple (Mal. iii. 1); but He would not too hastily assert His rights. The first day He simply "looked round about upon all things" (Mark xi. 11), and then withdrew to Bethany. The second day—without, however, even yet assailing the authority of those in power—He assumed His prerogative as Lord of the Temple by casting out the traffickers, healing the blind and the lame, and accepting the hosannas of the children. The scribes and Pharisees showed some displeasure at all this, and raised objections; but the answer they received silenced, if it did not satisfy them. Thus two days passed without any serious attempt to dispute His authority; but on the third day the conflict began. It was a dark and terrible day, and of its fateful history we have a full account in this Gospel.

The day opens with the sight on the way to the city of the withered fig tree, a sad symbol of the impending fate of Israel, to be decided ere the day closed by their final rejection of their Saviour-King. This was our Lord's single miracle of judgment; many a stern word of warning did He speak, but there is no severity in His deeds: they are all mercy and love. The single 306 exception, if exception it may be called, makes this great fact stand out only the more impressively. It was necessary for love's sake to show that in that arm, which was always strong to save, there was also strength to smite if the sad necessity should come; but so tender-hearted is He that He cannot bear to strike where the stroke can be felt, so He lets it fall on an unconscious tree. Thus to the end He justifies His name of Jesus, Saviour, and illustrates the blessed truth of which His whole life is the expression, that "God is love." "The Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." Judgment is His strange work; from the very thought of it He shrinks, as seems suggested to us here by the fact that, in the use He makes of the circumstance in His conversation with the disciples, He refrains from speaking of its dark significance, but rather takes the opportunity of teaching from it an incidental lesson full of hope and comfort regarding the power of faith and the value of prayer (vv. 21, 22).

As soon as on the third day He enters the Temple the conflict begins. It would seem that the interval our Lord had in mercy allowed for calm reflection had been used for no other purpose than to organise a conspiracy for the purpose of entangling Him in His words and so discrediting His authority. We gather this from the carefully framed questions with which He is plied by one party after another. Four successive attacks are recorded in the passage before us: the first by the chief priests and elders of the people demanding His authority; the next by the Pharisees, assisted by the Herodians, who endeavoured by means of the difficulty of the tribute money to embroil Him with the Roman power; this was again immediately followed by a 307 third, in which the prime movers were the Sadducees, armed with what they considered an unanswerable question regarding the life to come; and when that also broke down there was a renewed attack of the Pharisees who thought to disconcert Him by a perplexing question about the law.

We may not discuss the long sad history of these successive attacks with any fulness, but only glance first at the challenge of our Lord's authority and how He meets it, and next at the ordeal of questions with which it was followed.

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