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I.—The Challenge (xxi. 23-xxii. 14).

"By what authority doest Thou these things? And who gave Thee this authority?" The question was fair enough; and if it had been asked in an earnest spirit, Jesus would have given then, as always to the honest inquirer, a kind and satisfying answer. It is not, however, as inquirers, but as cavillers, they approach Him. Again and again, at times and in ways innumerable, by fulfilment of prophecy, by His mighty deeds and by His wondrous words, He had given proof of His Divine authority and established His claim to be the true Messiah. It was not therefore because they lacked evidence of His authority, but because they hated it, because they would not have this man to reign over them, that now they question Him. It was obvious that their only object was to entangle Him; accordingly our Lord showed how in the net they were spreading for Him their own feet were caught.

He meets their question with a counter question, "The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?" The more we examine this question, 308 the more must we admire the consummate wisdom it displays. We see at once how it turns the tables on His critics; but it is far more important to notice how admirably adapted it was to lead them to the answer of their own question, if only they would follow it out. They dared not repudiate the baptism of John; and had not John baptised Jesus, and solemnly borne repeated testimony to His Messiahship? Had he not most emphatically borne that very testimony to a formal deputation sent by themselves? (John i. 19-27). Finally, were not the ministry and testimony of John closely associated in prophecy with that very coming of the Lord to His Temple which gave them so deep offence: "Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple: ... behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts." Our Lord's counter question, then, was framed with such exquisite skill as to disappoint their malice, while at the same time it was suited to guide the earnest inquirer to the truth.

The propounders of the question were not true men, but hypocrites. A negative answer they could not give. An affirmative they would not give. So when they refused to answer, our Lord replied, "Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things."

The Lord of the Temple now assumes the offensive, and directs against His opponents a series of parables which He holds up to them as a triple mirror in which from different points of view they may see themselves in their true character, and as a set of danger signals to warn them of their impending doom. He presents them with such marvellous skill that He makes the Pharisees their own judges, and constrains them to 309 pass sentence on themselves. In the first parable He constrains them to declare their own guilt; in the second, He makes them decree their own punishment; in the third, He warns them of the impending fate of the people they were leading to destruction.

We have said that in these parables Christ assumes the offensive; but this is true only in a very superficial sense. In the deepest sense He spoke them not against the Pharisees, but for them. His object was to carry home to their hearts the conviction of sin, and to impress them with a sense of their danger before it was too late. This was what above all they needed. It was their only hope of salvation. And how admirably suited for His purpose were these three parables! Their application to themselves was plain enough after it was stated, but not beforehand; the effect of which was that they were put in a position to give an impartial verdict on their own conduct. It was the same method so effectively employed by Nathan in bringing conviction to the conscience of David. Had Christ charged the sin of the Pharisees directly home upon them, they would have been at once thrown on the defensive, and it would have been impossible to reach their conscience through the entanglements of prejudice and personal interest. Christ wishes to disentangle them from all that was darkening their moral vision; and He uses the parable as the most effective means. It is a great mistake, then, to suppose that Jesus contented Himself with turning the tables on them, and carrying the war, so to speak, into the enemy's country. It was with them a war of words, but not with Him. He was seeking to save these poor lost ones. He wished to give them His best for their worst. They had come to entangle Him in His talk. He does His 310 best to disentangle them from the meshes of self-deception. The tone of all three parables is exceptionally severe; but the spirit of them is love.

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