Matthew 20
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
This parable is closely connected with our Lord's remarks in describing the rewards of the kingdom, and it may have been intended to convey a mild rebuke, or at least a gentle warning, to St. Peter, who had asked," What then shall we have?" The apostles are to receive great rewards. But those who, like St. Peter, were called first, are not to assume that they will have any more than those who came in later.

I. CHRIST SEEKS LABOURERS FOR HIS VINEYARD. There is work to be done in winning the world for Christ, and in training the Church that its fruit may be brought forth in abundance. For this work our Lord requires labourers. His servants are not to be satisfied with receiving his grace. That grace is given for the express purpose of its being used in his service. Christ calls us that we may serve him.

II. CHRIST OFFERS A FAIR REWARD FOR LABOUR. The so called "penny" was evidently the regular wages of the ordinary day labourer. Although Christ might exact service on royal authority, he does not put forth this authority. He accepts each laborer on the man's free consent, and he offers him all that he could ask for. We talk of the sacrifice and toils of a Christian life. We should be honest to reckon up its gains on the other side.

III. CHRIST HIRES LABORERS AT THE VARIOUS HOURS. The Church did not start fully equipped. By degrees the requisite forces have been drawn into the service of the kingdom. Those late hired may represent various classes.

1. The later called apostles. St. Peter will not have pre-eminence because he was called earlier than St. Jude. When St. Paul came his case would be obviously met here. And yet the parallel is not exact, because the later apostles did not have a shorter season of work.

2. The Gentiles. These were called later than the Jews; but they were not assigned an inferior place in the kingdom.

3. The heathen. Even today; at the eleventh hour, some nations are being called in.

4. The aged. One who did not receive the gospel in youth will not necessarily be lower than one who had the privilege of knowing it in his early days.

IV. CHRIST REWARDS IN AN UNEXPECTED MANNER. Here we have a description of an equality of payment. Elsewhere there is an idea of diversity, e.g. Luke 19:24-26. Each representation has its own lesson. In the case before us we learn that the final division may not be at all according to our expectation. The obscure may be on a level with the eminent - the Gentiles with the Jews, the new mission Churches of India and China with the old Christian Churches of Europe.

V. CHRIST HAS A RIGHT TO DEAL GENEROUSLY AFTER HE HAS ACTED JUSTLY. The payment looked unfair. But no one could complain, because every one had what he had agreed to take, and because no one had less than fair wages. Beyond this the householder was free to be as generous as he pleased in the disposal of his own property. Still, one can quite understand the dissatistaction. People are hurt when generosity does not seem to be equal and fair. It should be noted, however, that the later comers had excused themselves on the plea that no man had hired them. Possibly they were as willing to work all day as those who had done so. Now, Christ judges by the heart and the intentions. - W.F.A.

This parable is one from which we are liable to draw some erroneous inferences unless we mentally hold it in strict connection with the circumstances in which it was originally spoken. When the rich young man turned away sorrowful, our Lord, sympathizing with the severity of his temptation, said, "Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." Peter, seeing that he thus appreciated the difficulty of giving up property and detaching one's self from the world, suggests that those who overcome that difficulty are peculiarly meritorious. "Behold," he says, "we have left all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" But in so speaking, Peter revealed precisely that disposition which most thoroughly vitiates all service for Christ - the disposition to bargain, to work for a clearly defined reward, and not for the sake of the work itself, and in generous faith in the justice and liberality of the Master. Read in this light, it is obvious that the parable directs attention to the fact that, in estimating the value of work, we must take into consideration, not only the time we have spent upon it or the amount we have got through, but the motive that has entered into it. An hour of trustful, loving service is of greater value to God than a lifetime of calculating industry and sell-deceiving zeal. While men are applauding the great workers who ostentatiously wipe the sweat from their brows and pant so that you can hear them across the whole field, God is regarding an unnoticed worker, who feels he is doing little, who is ashamed that any one should see his work, who regrets he can do no more, who could not name a coin small enough to reward him, but who is perfectly well assured that the Master he serves is well worth serving. It is thus that the last becomes first, and the first last. That we are meant to see this difference of spirit in the workers is obvious from the terms of their engagement. Those hired early in the day agree to work for the penny. At four or five in the morning no man in the market engages without making his own terms, and striking hands with his hirer as his equal. If he thinks one master's pay too little, he waits for a better offer; he is not going to work all day to oblige a neighbouring proprietor, but to make a good wage for himself. But in the evening the tables are turned - the masters have it all their own way. Possibly these men were the proudest in the morning, and missed their chance; but now pride gives place to hunger and anxious thoughts of the coming night. In no condition to bargain, they go, glad to get work on any terms, not knowing what they are to get, but trusting and grateful; the others went proud, self-confident, mercenary. This prepares us for the striking scene which ensued at the close of the day. Those who had barely got their work begun were first paid, and were paid a full day's wage. There must, of course, have been a reason for this; it was not mere caprice, but was the result and expression of some just law. It could not be that these late-hired labourers had done as much in their one hour as the others in twelve; for the others are conscious of having done their work well. We are thrown back, therefore, for the explanation on the hint given in the hiring, namely, that the men who bargained are paid according to their bargain; while the men who trusted got far more than they could have dared to bargain for. The principle is more easily understood, because we ourselves so commonly act upon it. It is work done with some human feeling in it that you delight in; that of the man who works not for you, but for his wage, is the work of a hireling, with whom you are quits when you pay him what he contracted to receive. Our Lord does not affirm, however, that all the last shall be first, and the first last, but only that many shall exemplify this reversal. "Many are called, but few chosen."

I. IT IS THE FACT THAT MANY WHO ARK FIRST IN MAN'S ESTEEM ARE LAST IN GOD'S RECKONING. We see plainly enough that many who are most diligent in the Lord's vineyard have a complacency, a consciousness that they are the good workers, which does not at all resemble the humble, trustful, self-ignoring spirit of these late-hired labourers. Perhaps they have once in their life made a great sacrifice as Peter had done, or perhaps they have quickly apprehended the duty peculiar to their own generation, whether it be caring for the sick, aiding the poor, or carrying the gospel to the masses, or subscribing liberally to Church objects. Or perhaps they do the work, not for the sake of the vineyard, but for their own sake - either that they may advance their own spiritual state, or win a good reputation, or maintain in their own minds the impression that they are indubitably good labourers. Now, if you deduct all who are working in one or other of these ways, you will come to the conclusion that "many are called, but few chosen;" many working hard, spending and being spent, and yet withal few choice workers, few who appeal to the Lord's heart and draw out his affectionate response by their lowly, unexpectant service.

II. MANY FIRST, BUT NOT ALL THE FIRST, SHALL BE LAST. Some at least of the best-known workers in the vineyard, some who entered it early, and never left it, for an hour, some who scarcely once straightened their hacks from toil and dropped asleep as they came to the end of their task, knowing nothing but God's work their whole life through, have also wrought in no bargaining spirit, but passed as humble a judgment on their work as the least of their fellow labourers on theirs.

III. AND THERE ARE SOME LAST WHO REMAIN LAST. Not all who do little do it well; not all who enter the vineyard late enter it humbled. Mercenariness is not confined to those who have some small excuse for it. Late entrance into the vineyard is to be on every account deprecated, and receives no encouragement from this parable rightly read. Do not think of the work of Christ as a mere extra, which can at any convenient time be added to your other work. It covers the whole of our life. All outside his vineyard is idleness. This parable may be viewed as the great Physician's prescription for envy in whatever sphere it is manifested, and may be applied in two ways.

1. Every man of us has as much at least as he deserves. Were God to say, "Take that thine is," in the strictness of just and exact retribution, which of us would willingly stand upon our right?

2. The second is found in these words, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?" You are none the less because another is greater. You are what God sees best to make you, and what the other is he is of God's goodness. It is at God's expense, not at yours, that any man is blessed. But the teaching special to this parable is that our Lord measures our work, not solely by the amount done, nor by the skill we show in doing it, but by the spirit we are of in the doing of it. Many of us are called. Many of us are in the vineyard, and have long been so. In what spirit have we laboured? - D.

The text of this parable is found in the last verse of the preceding chapter. The words are repeated as the conclusion of its argument (ver. 16). Hence the critics say the last verse of ch. 19 ought to have been the first of ch. 20. Yet the last verse of ch. 19 is evidently connected with Christ's discourse upon the case of the ruler (cf. Mark 10:31). Note -


1. The Jews were the people of ancient privilege.

(1) Theirs was the "adoption." Nationally they were separated from all the peoples of the earth, and adopted by God as his peculiar treasure.

(2) Theirs was the "glory." In the pillar of cloud. In the cherubim.

(3) Theirs were the "covenants." The first from Sinai - the Law. The second from Zion - the gospel (cf. Isaiah 2:3; Luke 24:47).

(4) Theirs was the "service of God." For ages "Jerusalem was the place where men ought to worship." Levitical rites were instituted and sanctioned against all Gentile abominations.

(5) Theirs were the "promises," viz. on which the covenants were established. They were given to the fathers, and renewed and amplified by the ministry of the prophets. By these God, "rising up early," went into the marketplace to hire labourers for his vineyard (cf. Jeremiah 7:25). As the day of their visitation wore on, the prophets invited the people at the third, sixth, and ninth hours.

(6) Theirs were the "fathers." They were sprung from Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. They were "beloved for the fathers' sakes."

(7) Theirs was "Christ, as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever" (Romans 9:4, 5).

2. Their presumption upon their precedence was rebuked

(1) They believed themselves by it secured against rejection. They overlooked the conditions of their promises. They missed the lessons of their history. They filled up the measure of their iniquity in rejecting Christ.

(a) In his Person.

(b) In his gospel offer of salvation.

Then Christ rejected them. Their place and nation were taken away by the Romans; and they have ever since suffered in captivity.

(2) That the Gentiles should become "fellow heirs" with them so as to leave no difference (cf. Acts 15:1, 9; Ephesians 3:3-6), was a mystery they would not comprehend. Their anger at the mercy of God to the Gentiles is expressed in the murmuring and evil eye (see Deuteronomy 15:9; Proverbs 23:6; Mark 7:22) of the labourers first called, against the lord of the vineyard, for his goodness to those called at the eleventh hour. Note: The labourers first called bargained (ver. 13) for hire in the spirit of the Law; and the murmur was in keeping with the spirit of the bargain. Those afterwards called worked in faith and love, viz. in the spirit of the gospel (cf. Romans 4:4, 5). God is now taking out of all nations "a people for his Name."

(3) The Christian Churches were first formed among the believing Jews, but since the destruction of Jerusalem, these have become absorbed in the Gentile Churches afterwards founded.

(4) Amongst the Gentile nations there is one destined in the order of providence to stand out in contrast to the rejected Jewish nation (see ch. 21:43). Can Britain be that distinguished nation?


1. Consider the lessons of the marketplace.

(1) All sinners are "idle," or do nothing to purpose, before God calls them to work in his vineyard. Those who desire to labour in his cause should be found in the marketplace where the Master seeks his labourers - in the appointed means of grace. God does not commonly find his labourers in the slums of the city. Another master finds his willing slaves in the walks of wickedness (see Joshua 24:15).

(3) Some are called in the morning of their days, as the Baptist and Timothy (see Luke 1:15; 2 Timothy 3:15). Some in the meridian of life. Nicodemus may be born again when he is old.

(4) Let not the sinner plead to his destraction the mercy of the "eleventh hour." Can the pleader say, with the men in the parable, "No man hath hired us"? The thief on the cross was a singular and extraordinary example, and may be in his conversion accounted with the miracle of the rending rocks and opening graves.

2. Consider the lessons of the vineyard.

(1) There is work in the Church forevery qualified labourer. All are qualified by accepting the Householder's conditions.

(2) The work is pleasant. We are called into the vineyard of the Church to weed and dress, to plant and water, to fence and train. The training of living growths is not dull work. The production and maturing of immortal fruits for the service and glory of a gracious Master is inspiring service.

(3) The time for vineyard work is short. One day, at most, to be followed by the "night in which no man can work." The eleventh hour of life may be earlier or later. It was early to Thomas Spencer, Henry Martyn, Kirk White, Robert McCheyne.

(4) Every labourer has his hire.

3. Consider the lessons of the reckoning.

(1) God gives to every one his right under the agreement he has made with him (see Romans 3:5, 6). The heavenly reward will be given to all who seek it in God's way, without reference to time or accidents. Further than this we must not insist upon the equality of wages (see Luke 19:12; 1 Corinthians 3:8).

(2) God exercises a free and sovereign grace beyond his engagements of promise. It would be sad for the best of us were he to limit us to our merits. Then the highest creature must go away into nothing; the wicked into misery.

(3) The goodness of God will astonish some who have come in late to find themselves preferred before others who have laboured long. Some who followed Christ when first he preached afterwards became offended and walked no more with him. Paul was as one chosen out of due time, yet he came not behind the chiefest of the apostles, and took the throne forfeited by Iscariot.

(4) Many who occupy the first rank here for culture, standing, and influence, will there be last. Galilaeans, in these respects inferior to the scribes and priests, were chosen to be the inspired teachers of the gospel. The lowest will in many cases be preferred to the self-righteous Pharisee (see Matthew 8:11, 12; Matthew 21:31, 32; Luke 7:29, 30; Luke 13:28-30). The disciples evidently thought the advantages of the rich in favour of salvation were such that if they should fail, there could be little hope for the poor; but were "astonished exceedingly" to hear the teaching of Christ (see Matthew 19:23-26). John Newton said, "When I get to heaven I shall see three wonders. The first will be to see many persons there whom I did not expect to see; the second will be to miss many whom I did expect to see; the greatest wonder of all will be to find myself there." - J.A.M.

Van Lennep describes the Eastern customs to which our Lord alludes in this parable. "During the whole season when vineyards may be dug, the common workmen go very early in the morning to the sook, or marketplace of the village or city, where comestibles are sold. While 'waiting to be hired,' they take their morning cup of coffee, and eat a morsel of bread. The owners of vineyards come to the place and engage the number of labourers they need. These immediately go to the vineyard, and work there until a little while before the sun sets, which, according to Oriental time, is twelve o'clock, so that the 'eleventh hour' means one hour before sunset. We have often seen men standing in the marketplace through the entire day without finding employment, and have repeatedly engaged them ourselves at noon for half a day's job, and later for one or two hours' work in our garden. In such a case the price has to be particularly bargained for, but it is more often left to the generosity of the employer to give what bakshish he feels disposed." There is now a very grave danger, of which we need to be on our guard. Men are talking as if our Lord made himself an authority on social questions. The truth is, that he distinctly refused to bear any relation to social, political, and legal disputes. He revealed unknown or hidden truths to men; he resettled the great principles of morals; he quickened men with a new and Divine life; but he refused to guide in detail the applications of the principles he taught. In this parable, which seems to deal with the questions of capital and labour, the thing our Lord teaches is that every man is a free man, but if, voluntarily, he enters into engagements, he must loyally keep his engagements.

I. THE MAN WHO HAS WORK TO OFFER MUST KEEP HIS ENGAGEMENTS. Religion does not need to come in and say that he who wants work done must offer fair terms for the doing of it. Common humanity and honesty demand that. No man has any right to "go beyond," "take advantage of," or "defraud" his neighbour in anything.

II. THE MAN WHO HAS SKILL TO DO THE WORK MUST KEEP HIS ENGAGEMENTS. If he agrees for a penny a day, nothing can happen to make that unfair. He may make a new bargain tomorrow, but he must carry through his bargain today. Strikes are very often sinful repudiations of agreements. - R.T.

This treatment illustrates the suggestiveness of Scripture figures. They start thought on lines that lead away from their immediate connections.

I. AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR THERE IS STILL WORK TO BE DONE. Froude says, "Beautiful is old age - beautiful as the slow dropping mellow autumn of a rich and glorious summer. In the old man Nature has fulfilled her work; she loads him with her blessings; she fills him with the fruits of a well spent life; and, surrounded by his children and his children's children, she rocks him away to a grave, to which he is followed with blessings. God forbid we should not call it beautiful! If old age were only beautiful, it would be a power we could ill afford to lose. For all beauty is akin to truth, and all truth is akin to God; and so all beauty is a shadow of him, a message from him, a help towards him. This sin-filled world wants all the truth, all the love, all the beauty it can get, in order to dispel the darkness, the hate, and the ugliness of its evil. We become as the things on which we look, and God keeps old men and women among us in order that we may see, and feel, and be lifted higher by their grace. The aged are kept among us because of the work they can do. One thing - they can check our hurry. Young folk want everything at once. The aged seem to say, "Quietly. One thing at a time. Good things are worth waiting for." And they are kept in order to link together the generations. What a world it would be if the people came and went in complete generations, and there was no blending of one with the other, so that experience might tone ardour! And the aged among us witness for God. They tell us of the God who "fed them all their life long; the God who redeemed them from evil."

II. AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR GOD DOES CALL MEN TO HIS SERVICE. He proves the riches of his grace in the conversion of old men and old women. A marvel of grace, indeed, when all the long ten hours of the day of life have been spent in the service of self, A saved old man is the witness that God can "save unto the uttermost."

III. AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR IS AN ALMOST HOPELESS TIME FOR BEGINNING A LIFE WORK. It is unsuitable for any beginnings. The sun is in the wrong quarter of the heavens. "The night cometh when no man can work." And the ability is low. The "eleventh hour" is time to be weary, and go to the long rest. - R.T.

Civilization works cruelly for some classes of society. It improves the condition of the few; it multiplies the miseries of the many. One thing it does - gathers great masses of people into the cities, where the demand for workers must be limited, and the thousands must be "workless." Scatter the people over the land, and every man can find work which will provide him with a simple living. Mass the people in a few centres, and, as they cannot earn by work, all they can do is prey on one another, either in the bad sense of criminality, or in the very doubtful sense of scheming to take all advantage of philanthropy and charity.


1. These include persons born into disability - blind, deaf and dumb, lame, weak in intellect, etc. Of such it is only necessary to say that they are society's charge; and society is hound to provide for all who are physically incapable of work. This is simple citizen duty, society duty; it is the claim of the human brotherhood.

2. These include persons who are able to work, but cannot find work to do. They divide into:

(1) Skilled workmen, whose trade has gone out of fashion or has left the country.

(2) Unskilled workmen, labourers, only a limited number of whom can ever be required in one district.

(3) Workmen whose trade is hopelessly overstocked, such as clerks, who can do nothing but write and sum. These workless classes make the great social problem of the day. Some would say that the Church of Christ must solve the problem. But it is not her mission; nor has she, in any sense, capacity for so doing. It belongs to national government. It is a society evil, with which society must deal. And in some way the nation must find out how to turn the stream of population that has long set strongly toward the great cities, and make it flow back upon the land. Village industrial centres provide the only hope for the million workless ones among us.

II. THE WORKLESS WHO WILL NOT WORK. "If a man will not work, neither shall he eat." We might reasonably desire that legislation should deal rigorously with all such. Every man who can work and will not should lose his right of personal liberty, should be treated as a lunatic, cared for by the state, and kept from all chance of propagating his miserable species. - R.T.

Business men are often misunderstood, because, while they are sometimes nobly generous, they are also strict and precise in carrying out, and in requiring to be carried out, all business engagements. A man does no wrong to his fellow man who has made precise terms with him, if he deals fairly with the man who has made no terms with him. In this case the sum agreed was one penny for a day's labour, and because the half-day man received a penny, the whole-day man set up a claim to more than a penny.

I. EVERY MAN HAS A RIGHT TO MAKE TERMS. Society is based on the principle that every man is absolutely free to buy or to sell. There is the open market for goods, and there is the open market for physical power, and the open market for cultured skill. There should be no sort of restrictions on free purchase and sale. Combinations to raise prices are perilous, whether they belong to capitalist or workman, to buyer or seller. They are, at the best, necessities of over civilization, which has disturbed all natural relations. The man who has money to put to use has precisely as great a right to make the best terms he can as the workman who has a cunning right hand to sell. If social relations were more simple and natural, it would be possible for the man with money, the man with brains, and the man with hands, to meet and negotiate their conditions of mutual service, making fair and honourable terms for each. All combinations are unhealthy interferences with the markets that should be absolutely open and free to everybody.

II. EVERY MAN HIS A RIGHT TO BE GENEROUS. If a man pleases, he may accept less work for his money from some. If a man pleases, he may pay for his work more than he agreed. If a man pleases, he may pay for doing nothing. But no man has any claim upon his brother's generosity. It ceases to be generosity if he has claim upon it. This needs to be vigorously asserted in our day, because a confused notion is growing up that the poor have claims on a distribution of the money of the rich. A man has a right to be generous, and an equal right to be ungenerous. He is only noble and Christly as he uses well his right to be generous. - R.T.

This is an often-repeated saying of our Lord's; perhaps he uttered it more often than anything else - a fact which shows its importance and also the difficulty people have in believing it and acting on it. We are not to suppose that there is a Nemesis that mocks at good fortune and delights in reversing it. Prosperity is not punished as such, for it is not in itself an evil thing. God is gracious and generous. He would not torment his children with needless disappointments. Let us, then, look for the causes of the great reversal.

I. GOD DOES NOT JUDGE MEN BY THEIR WORLDLY POSITION. He does not punish rank. He takes no account of it, except in so far as it brings with it obligations, etc. We see men in honour because of their riches or their success. Such things mean nothing to God. He only looks at the naked characters of the men themselves. These are all that he puts in his scales. If these are found wanting, they are condemned, and no riches or honours can be thrown in as "make weights." On the other hand, poor, obscure, oppressed, misunderstood, or persecuted people suffer nothing whatever in God's judgment on account of those circumstances which bring on them the contempt of the world. If they have real worth they are understood and appreciated in heaven.

II. WORLDLY PRE-EMINENCE DOES NOT USUALLY SPRING FROM THOSE GRACES OF CHARACTER WHICH GOD VALUES. Sometimes, indeed, it is the reward of real merit. But too often it comes from most inferior qualities. The accident of birth confers the highest honours and the greatest wealth by the artificial law of primogeniture. Successful scheming and good fortune bring a man money and influence. A Napoleon forces his way to the head of Europe by the exercise of enormous mind and will powers at the expense of every moral consideration.

III. THERE IS A TENDENCY IN WORLDLY PRE-EMINENCE TO INJURE THE BETTER QUALITIES OF THE SOUL. Christ spoke of the difficulty of rich men in entering the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23). Other forms of pre-eminence besides that of wealth also have their difficulties. One great hindrance to spiritual progress is pride, and high rank fosters pride. Self-will is incompatible with spiritual excellence, and the great and exalted are tempted to indulge self-will. Lowliness and obedience, unselfishness and a spirit of serving, are the qualities which Christ honours. It is very difficult to cultivate these graces in high places - difficult, but possible to those who seek the help of God - as we see in a Margaret of Navarre and a Cardinal Contarini.

IV. ULTIMATELY GOD WILL TREAT ALL ACCORDING TO THEIR TRUE CHARACTERS. The irony of judgment will be terrible, just because it will be just. At the great revelation the fictitious glory of worldly pre-eminence will fade and all its tawdry tinsel will be shown in hideous distinctness. Then true worth will shine as the sun bursting forth from the clouds. That day is coming. Therefore let not the favoured boast of their temporary exaltation; and let not the lowly and oppressed despair. There will be a great reversal. - W.F.A.

The roads are now crowded with people journeying to Jerusalem to celebrate there the great annual Feast of the Passover (see Deuteronomy 16:1-7). Jesus separated his disciples from the crowd, probably by retiring into some sylvan shade to rest, that he might discourse to them privately of his approaching Passion. His discourse evinces -


1. It anticipated his betrayal.

(1) He was able to read its history in that of Ahithophel (cf. 2 Samuel 15:12; Psalm 41:9; Psalm 55:12, 14, 20; John 13:18).

(2) As yet he had not named Judas; but, had Judas already meditated his infamous act, what must have been his feelings when Jesus now said in his hearing, "And the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests and scribes"? No disciple of Christ can apostatize from him unwarned.

2. It anticipated the malignity of the rulers.

(1) Delivery "unto the chief priests and scribes" is a periphrasis for the Sanhedrin, which sat at "Jerusalem" (see Luke 13:33).

(2) The corporate conscience is proverbially elastic; yet who but God could have foreseen that the Sanhedrin would agree to condemn Jesus to death?

(3) The Sanhedrin might "condemn" to death under the Mosaic Law, but the Romans had deprived it of the power to carry out the sentence (see John 17:31). In this note a symptom of the departure of the sceptre or magistracy from Judah, which was to be preceded by the coming of Shiloh (see Genesis 49:10).

3. It anticipated the violence of the Romans.

(1) This is now the third time that Jesus clearly predicted his sufferings (cf. Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22, 23). But here, for the first time, the part the Gentiles were to take in that tragedy is indicated. It was meet that the Saviour of a sinful world should suffer from the combined malice of Jew and Gentile (see Ephesians 2:16).

(2) "And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock." This was done by Herod and his Roman soldiers (see Luke 23:11).

(3) "And to scourge." This was done by Pilate (see John 19:1). And his soldiers followed up the scourging with many dreadful insults.

(4) "And to crucify." The punishment of the cross was Roman, not Jewish. It was, originally considered, more probable that Jesus should be privately slain or stoned to death in a tumult, as was Stephen. And when he was delivered back to the Jews by Pilate, with permission to judge him according to their Law, it is wonderful that he was not stoned. The foreknowledge that saw it otherwise was manifestly Divine. How little did those cruel actors know that they were offering up the great Sacrifice for the world's salvation! How does God make the wrath of man to praise him!

4. It anticipated his resurrection from the dead.

(1) No fact, originally considered, could be more unlikely than this; yet it is circumstantially predicted, and fulfilled to the letter.

(2) This element in the prediction was assuring to himself. The joy of its anticipation sustained him in his preparatory sufferings. In it he was "straightway glorified" (cf. John 13:31, 32; Hebrews 12:2).

(3) It was also assuring to the disciples. When they heard of his approaching sufferings they were "amazed" and "afraid" (Mark 10:32), and the more so as they "understood none of these things" (Luke 18:34). Yet afterwards they remembered them as most memorable things.


1. Jesus could have avoided his sufferings.

(1) He was not surprised into them. He foresaw them all. Every thorn of his crown was fully in his vision.

(2) He could have avoided Jerusalem. His boldness in going up there amazed his affrighted disciples (Mark 10:32).

(3) At Jerusalem, were he so minded, he might have had "twelve legions of angels," any of which could have frustrated the purposes of the Jews and the resources of the Romans.

2. But he resolutely faced them.

(1) Because he would fulfil all righteousness. He must therefore keep the Passover; and he must go to Jerusalem to keep it (see Deuteronomy 12:5). The moral here is that consequences must never be considered in competition with the will of God,

(2) Because he would fulfil all benevolence. He went up to that Passover that he might himself become the world's salvation.

(3) This the multitude could not see. Note: The action of Jesus was allegorical, when he separated his disciples from the crowd on their way to the legal Passover, that he might unfold to them the mysteries of his Passion. The spirit of the Law is a special revelation.

(4) What the disciples had heard they were in due time to testify. Not yet; events were not ripe. Hence also their separation from the crowd on the road (cf. Matthew 10:27; Matthew 17:9).

(5) The Scriptures must be fulfilled (cf. Luke 18:31). The Divine power of Jesus in fulfilling the predictions uttered by him is as conspicuous and real as the Divine prescience which prompted their utterance.


1. It is good to converse with Jesus in the way.

2. It is good to anticipate so as to become familiar with our dying.

3. It is good to connect with our meditation upon death the matter of our resurrection. - J.A.M.

It is not often set out prominently that the chief ingredient in our Lord's sorrowful anticipations was his betrayal by one of his disciples. There is no greater distress comes to us in life than the unfaithfulness of trusted friends. The psalmist wails in this way (Psalm 4:12-14): "For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it... but it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance." The dealings of our Lord with Judas need careful study. Our Lord had to act so as not to interfere with Providence. The fact that he knew what would happen must not be used to prevent it from happening; and yet that knowledge filled him with anxiety concerning Judas, and constrained him to make attempts to influence the man who, on the road of his covetousness, was fast hastening to his crime.

I. ANTICIPATIONS OF BETRAYAL TESTED THE LORD JESUS. Even that was in the Father's will for him. There could hardly he anything in his cup of woe more bitter. Probably Judas had been chosen an apostle because of his business capacity. Our Lord had trusted him. His face was familiar to him. He had grown interested in Judas, and it was hard indeed to think he would, one day soon, turn traitor. Our Lord would not have been fairly tested by all forms of human anxiety if he had not known failing, forsaking friends. Could he take up, and bear, this yoke of the Father? Knowing it was coming, could he go on, quietly, steadily, in the path of duty? Could he bear to have Judas close beside him day by day? This gives us a deep sense of the reality and severity of our Lord's struggle to preserve a perfect, Son-like obedience and submission. Even here he won and held his triumph.

II. ANTICIPATIONS OF BETRAYAL TESTED THE DISCIPLES. It must have led to heart-searching inquiries. Some, no doubt, felt our Lord's words more than the others. Some would think it only a melancholy mood that the Master was in. Some would feel quite certain that the words would never apply to them. What did Judas think about the possible betrayal? We know well. The man who is deteriorating, as Judas was, becomes insensible to such suggestions. None could have been more positive than Judas in denying that the term "traitor" could ever apply to him. But Judas was the betrayer. - R.T.

In St. Mark we are only told that the two sons of Zebedee came, asking for the first places in the kingdom. St. Matthew's account shows that the request originated with their mother. It is natural that a mother should dream of a great future for her children. The mother's ambition is an inspiration for her training of them. In the present instance it seemed to overstep the bounds of modesty. Yet when we consider all the circumstances, we shall see that there was something really grand about it.


1. Its selfishness. This is the first thing that strikes any reader of the narrative. On a mother's part it is not so selfish, however, as if the two brothers had come alone. Yet there is a family selfishness. Moreover, the brothers shared in their mother's request.

2. Its naturalness. These two disciples belonged to the most intimate group of the friends of Jesus. Possibly the request was only that there might be a continuance in heaven of the privilege already accorded on earth. We know that one of the brothers, St. John, sat on the right hand of Jesus on earth (John 13:25); it is not at all unlikely that St. James sat on the other side of the Master. If so, the request is for the continuance of a present privilege. Will Jesus, when in glory, abandon his old friends? or will he own the fishermen and honour them in proportion to their present privileges?

3. Its faith. This daring request was made just after Christ had spoken of his approaching death. The gloomy prospect might have checked the hopes of the most ardent. Nevertheless, Zebedee's wife is sure that Christ will triumph and reign in his glorious kingdom. In full view of the greatest approaching disaster, she speaks of the division of the spoil after the ultimate victory. Here is a marvel of faith!

II. THE SEARCHING QUESTION. Jesus answers the request with a question. Only they can receive the heavenly privileges who attain to them in the right way. Are the two brothers prepared for this?

1. Prayer is often offered in ignorance of what it involves. These simple people had little conception of the road to greatness in the kingdom of heaven. We may seem to be uttering most harmless requests, yet we know not what we ask. Therefore prayer should be submissive. It is well to leave our prayers to God's discriminating judgment.

2. They who would reign with Christ must suffer with him. It is vain to think of sharing the final victory if we will not share the previous conflict. The two brothers assent to the condition. In doing so they atone for much of the selfishness of their request. They had their grand destiny of suffering. St. James drank of Christ's cup in being the first martyr apostle; St. John in enduring longest, and in suffering exile and other hardships for his Lord's sake. There is no escaping this condition, although it may assume various forms.

3. The ultimate destiny of souls is with God alone. It is not for Christ to settle on grounds of friendship or favour. It belongs to the awful and mysterious counsels of God. Here we see the secondary rank of the Son compared with his Father. Yet the main lesson is not one concerning the nature of the Trinity. It is to teach us to renounce even the highest selfish ambition. That cannot help us. The future is with God. - W.F.A.

This strange petition must have operated in a twofold way upon our Lord. On the one hand, it must have made it more clear than ever to his mind that nothing but his death and departure from this earth could dissipate the hopes of an earthly kingdom cherished by even the best of his followers. On the other hand, it gave him a most melancholy exhibition of the kind of men whom he must leave behind him to found his Church. Yet in our Lord's reply there is no trace of anger, of contempt, or even of disappointment, but only of tenderness. It is the language of a father to his child, who begs to be allowed to go with him on a perilous expedition. No man can by any possibility make this life easy to himself and yet find himself next to Christ in all that constitutes the glory of his character and work. Nothing daunted, the two brothers promptly declare that what Jesus can endure they also can endure. They were prepared for any risks such as they considered were inevitable in a popular rising; they had made up their minds to follow their Master to the end. Our Lord's answer might seem to imply that; it is possible for men to share his experience here, and yet not be with him eternally. Manifestly this is an impossible meaning. What our Lord meant was merely to direct the thoughts of his disciples to the fact that he was not an arbitrary Prince who might rule as he pleased, advancing his own favourites to high posts, and bestowing large rewards on those he loved, but was rather the Administrator of an inflexibly righteous and impartial government, in which all things were regulated according to fixed law. He has in his gift all that is worth working for; but all he has he must give to those who in the judgment of the Supreme (that is really) are worthy of them. No doubt he was exceptionally attached to James and John; all that friend can ask of friend he was delighted to give; but he could not reverse moral law and upset moral order in their favour. We argue as these men did: "Christ loves us; all will be well. He wishes to honour us; we shall be honoured." We refuse to consider that in God's government high position simply means high character, and nearness to Christ is but another name for likeness to Christ. A father may desire nothing more earnestly than that his two sons take their places in life at his right hand and at his left; but he knows perfectly well that this can only be if his sons fall in with certain conditions. So Christ cannot promote you irrespective of what you are. Our neglect of this law appears in our prayers. Character has an organic integrity and a consecutive growth as a tree has. But we ask God to give us fruit without either branch, blossom, or time. We wish ability to accomplish certain objects before we have the fundamental graces out of which that ability can alone spring. When we are suddenly put to shame through our lack of Christian temper, courage, or charity, we as suddenly ask Christ for the grace we need, apparently supposing that we have just to give the order and put on the ready made habit. In such a case we might hear our Lord's voice saying to us, "Ye know not what ye ask. These things I can give only to those who are prepared for them, and for whom they are prepared." Can you endure all that is required for the formation of these habits? You ask for humility: do you consider that in doing so you pray for humiliation, for failure, mortified vanity, disappointed hopes, the reproach of men, and the feeling that you are worthy of darker accusations than any that men can bring against you? You ask to be useful in the world: but can you drink of Christ's cup? can you take your stand by his side, abandoning your own pleasure and profit for the sake of the ungrateful? And yet he does not daunt you with impracticable requirements, he would not discourage you from high aims, but would have you count the cost, so that, understanding something of the difficulties before you, your resolve to succeed may become more determined and eager, your prayer more real and urgent. In our prayers we are sometimes too general. Through indifference or want of thought, we pray in general terms for blessings which are recognized by all as the proper subjects of prayer. The fault of the sons of Zebedee lay in an opposite direction; and yet with all this definiteness of naming the precise posts they aspired to in the new kingdom, they had not been at pains to fathom the real purport of their request. We also have sometimes the appearance of definite knowledge without the reality. But our Lord takes occasion further to tell his disciples (vers. 25-28) that greatness in his kingdom consists not in getting service, but in doing service; not in having servants, but in being servants. In the kingdom of Christ the throne was really the cross; it was that deepest humiliation and most devoted service of men which gave Christ his tree power over us all. The greatness he won for himself, and to which he invites us, is power to do without the things we naturally crave; to forego worldly honour and the applause of men, to hold comfort and ease very cheap, and to make nothing of money and possessions; it is power to put ourselves at the disposal of a good cause, and to be of service to those who need our service. - D.

In the company of Jesus and his twelve apostles, as they went up to Jerusalem to the Passover, were probably other disciples, their relatives and friends. For here is "the mother of the sons of Zebedee," who came "worshipping, and asking a certain thing" of Jesus. The reply and discourse following show -


1. This is the distinction of earthly kingdoms.

(1) "The princes of the Gentiles lord it over them." They have titles, insignia, robes, retinues, and ceremonies, to invest them with an air of superiority. The spirit of the world is ostentation, vanity and pride.

(2) "Their great ones exercise authority over them." Their distinction is more than pageantry. They wield power civil and military. This they often use tyrannically.

(3) "They are called benefactors" (see Luke 22:25). Their patronage is courted. Their favours are applauded. They are worshipped and imitated by courtiers, sycophants, and slaves.

2. Christians sometimes mistake it for the distinction of Christ's kingdom.

(1) These, however, are imperfect Christians, as the apostles were before the Day of Pentecost. The sons of Zebedee were evidently of this way of thinking when they sought places of distinction. For degrees of dignity in Eastern customs were denoted by proximity to the throne (see 1 Kings 2:19; Psalm 44:9). They still cling to the notion of an earthly monarchy. Note: To desire to be preferred before a brother is to reflect upon him. Their fellow disciples were no less vulgarly ambitious. Ambition was the source of their indignation against the sons of Salome.

(2) Christ discerns the subtle pride that eludes the vision of its subject. On an earlier occasion Jesus rebuked James and John, and said, "Ye know not what, manner of spirit ye are of" (see Luke 9:55). Here again, "Ye know not what ye ask." Ye know not the true quality of my kingdom (see 1 Peter 5:8). Neither know ye what is pre-required. "Are ye able," etc.? (ver. 22). We know not what we ask when we desire the glory of the crown without the grace to bear the cross.

(3) Ambition may too much presume upon influence. The mother of the sons of Zebedee was probably a near relative of our Lord; some think she was the daughter of Cleophas or Alphaeus, and sister or cousin-german to Mary (cf. Mark 5:40; Mark 16:1; John 19:25). They availed themselves, therefore, of their mother's influence. They may have encouraged their ambition also by the favours they had already enjoyed. Jesus had called them "sons of thunder" (see Mark 3:17); and with Peter they were on three occasions specially favoured (see Mark 5:37; Matthew 17:1; Matthew 26:37). Yet were none so reproved as these. Whom Christ best loves he most reproves (see Revelation 3:19).

(4) In the reproof there is still recognition of distinction proper to the kingdom of Christ. He refers to his kingdom of glory what they understood of a kingdom of the earth. He had already promised to his apostles the distinction of the twelve thrones. There is a "measure of stature" both of grace and glory (Ephesians 4:13).

(5) The whole passage may be taken as a prophetic allusion to and condemnation of that spirit of domination which so early manifested itself in the Apostasy (see 2 Thessalonians 2:4).


1. The service of suffering.

(1) This is implied in the question, "Are ye able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" Christ obtained not his crown by wars and. victories, but by shame and death. Very different from the sons of Zebedee were those whom our Lord was first to have on his right hand and on his left (see Matthew 27:38).

(2) "We are able." This was the language of self-confidence; its vanity was soon made manifest (see Matthew 26:31, 56). Christ did not rebuke that self-confidence then; he left the rebuking to events. History has its admonitions as well as its revenges.

(3) "My cup indeed ye shall drink." Here note the spirit of prophecy. James suffered martyrdom from Herod (see Acts 12:2). John was banished to Patmos (see Revelation 1:9). Both sympathized with Jesus in his suffering. Religion, if worth anything, is worth everything; and if worth everything, then it is worth suffering for. "Christ will have us know the worst, that we may make the best of our way to heaven" (Henry).

(4) Yet did not this drinking of the Redeemer's cup of necessity entitle the sons of Salerno to the distinction corresponding to that which they had sought. The other apostles shared with them in the suffering. So did the noble army of the martyrs. The lowest place in heaven is a full recompense for the greatest sufferings on earth.

(5) For the more worthy the higher distinctions are reserved. And who but God can distinguish the most worthy? Obedience is perfected in suffering. So was the obedience of Christ perfected (see Hebrews 2:10). So is that of his followers (see James 1:4). Who but God can distinguish among the perfected? But Christ is God (cf. John 17:2).

2. The service of ministry.

(1) The theory of this service is here propounded (ver. 27). The minister of Christ must not lord it over God's heritage (1 Peter 5:3). Even Paul the apostle disclaims dominion over the private Christian's faith (2 Corinthians 1:24). Christians should serve one another for mutual edification (see Romans 14:19; Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 9:19; 1 Peter 5:5). In such loving service lies the truest dignity.

(2) The practice of this service is encouraged by the most illustrious example (ver. 28). Jesus in his youth and early manhood appears to have been familiar with labour (see Mark 6:3). The years of his public ministry were years of self-sacrificing toil for the good. of others. This also was the end for which he died.

(3) Note here especially that Jesus speaks of himself as a piacular Victim. This is the first instance in which he is reported by this evangelist to have done so; though John shows that he had done so earlier both publicly and privately (see John 3:14, 15; John 6:51). The sacrificial nature of the death of Christ was shadowed forth in sacrifices from the beginning (see Genesis 4:4; Genesis 8:20; Genesis 22:7, 8). In after times it was yet more largely and significantly prefigured in the Mosaic ritual (see Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9.). Still later it was foretold by the prophets (see Isaiah 53; Daniel 9:26). Then by the Baptist (see John 1:29). By Jesus himself. Ever since it is the fundamental truth of the gospel preached.

(4) Wakefield's translation, viz. "a ransom instead of many," teaches that Christ's one sacrifice once offered was to supersede the many sacrifices of typical anticipation.

(5) By his dying "for many" we must not infer that he did not die for all, for that would be to contradict other Scriptures (see Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:4-6). The One for "many" sets forth the infinite nobility of the One. - J.A.M.

It is certainly surprising to find James and John presenting such a request as this. We cannot but think that they ought to have known their Lord better. If any of the apostolic company had insight of their Master's spiritual mission, it surely was the first group, which included James and John. Perhaps Matthew lets the light in when he explains that they were prompted by their mother. "Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him." If it was her idea, we can understand it. Woman-like, she was practical; she understood only the material aspect of Messiah's mission; and she had not come into such association with Christ as served to correct and spiritualize her ideas; and she knew the value of forethought, of "taking time by the forelock," and so she schemed to secure an early promise of the best places in the new kingdom for her sons. A motherly mother indeed!

I. WORTHY MOTHERLY AMBITIONS. Illustrate how directly the great men, in all the various spheres of life, have been dependent on their mothers. Explain the ambition in the heart of every Jewish mother to become the mother of Messiah. A possible poet, artist, thought leader, statesman, age reformer, hero, is in every child that lies on woman's bosom; and she is a poor mother who does not look into her child's face, and dream for him high position and ennobling influence in the days of unfolded manhood. But ambitions are not worthy that rest with worldly success. True motherhood is more anxious that the child shall be worthy of success, than that he should win success. Character alone is the worthy ambition. Mothers aim at nobility and piety.

II. MISTAKES MOTHERLY AMBITIONS. These are illustrated in the passage before us. This mother wanted office, rank, and wealth. In these days motherhood often aims at imperfect and unworthy things. Illustrate by the modern despising of trade, and pressing of the sons into overstocked professions; despising of retail trade, and pressing into overstocked wholesale commerce; or by anxiety to secure advantageous marriage settlements. A child's material well being is a proper subject of motherly concern; but moral and spiritual character and health ought always to be held as the supreme things. - R.T.

Ye know not what ye ask. If some one were to say to us, as we rose from our knees or after public worship, "What is it that you now expect to receive? Of all the blessings men have been known to receive at the hand of God, which have you been asking for?" should we not frequently be forced to own, "I know not what I asked"? We seem to expect little more than that somehow our tone may be elevated and the temper of our spirits improved by our worship. But communion with God can never supersede simple prayer; so long as we are encompassed with infirmities we must ask God's help, and when we do so we should know what it is we ask. There are four ways in which the text pointedly rebukes us.

I. WHEN WE UTTER THE LANGUAGE OF PRAYER WITHOUT ATTACHING. ANY MEANING TO IT. We do not dream of waiting for an answer, because we have no desire to receive one. Aim at such definiteness that if, when you say, "Forgive me my sins," God were to say," What sin?" you would be able without hesitation to name those transgressions that are written on your conscience. Be as sure what you have to complain of as when you go to consult your physician.

II. WHEN WE PRAY FOR SOME DEFINITE BLESSING WHICH WE DESIRE, NOT SO MUCH FROM A PERSONAL APPRECIATION OF ITS WORTH, AS FROM THE KNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS ONE OF THE THINGS GOD IS MOST READY TO GIVE. These sons of Zebedee named the precise boon on which their hearts were set, and yet what could they have told you of the real purport of their request - of the requirements of the position they aspired to? No one who prays can acquit himself of this very charge. Take so common a request as that for the Holy Spirit: have you thought that you were inviting a Person, and that Person absolutely holy and almighty, to dwell within you? We are to covet earnestly God's best gifts, but we are to limit ourselves by his promises, and to learn the meaning of these promises as far as we can. By asking such things as we know our need of, even though they be less valuable than some other gifts, we may be led on to richer blessings than we looked for.

III. WHEN WE PRAY FOR WHAT IS IN ITSELF GOOD, BUT TO US WOULD BE EVIL. If God, who sees the effect these things would have upon you, were to translate your prayer, it might be, "I beseech thee grant me complete delight in this world, and forgetfulness of thee; I pray thee humble me no more, but grant me of thy mercy vanity and pride of life; I pray thee increase to me the cares of this life, so that I may not be disposed to worship thee nor to remember my own need of thee. Send me no more chastening and discipline, remove from me all restraints and crosses, and graciously suffer me so to fall away from thee, that I may be in danger of everlasting woe." Yet this is not a reason for restraining prayer, but for laying each of our petitions before God with an accompanying resignation of our will to his.

IV. WHEN WE PRAY FOR SOME GOOD THING WITHOUT TAKING ACCOUNT OF WHAT WE MUST DO AND SUFFER IN ORDER TO OBTAIN IT. Many of the gifts we ask at God's hand are such qualities of soul as can only be produced by long and painful processes. You ask for humility: do you know that herein you ask for failure, disappointed hopes, mortified vanity, the reproach of men, and the feeling that you are worthy of deeper accusations than any they can bring against you? You ask to be like Christ: but can you drink of his cup, and be baptized with his baptism? These words of your Lord are not spoken to dishearten you, to discourage you from high aims; but he would have you pray with deliberation, with a mind made up, with a devoted and solemn apprehension of the difficulties before you. Two remedies may be suggested for this evil of vagueness and ignorance in prayer, the first connected with the form, the second with the matter, of prayer.

1. It seems to have been the practice of the devout in all ages to use the voice in their private devotions. Where it is possible, speech is a great help to an orderly method of thinking. Besides, so long as we merely think, we fall into the idea that it is only a frame of our own spirits we have to do with; and speech, the ordinary mode of realizing another's presence, enables us at once to realize the presence of God.

2. The great remedy against ignorance in prayer is to be found in meditation. And no man will ever make much of meditation who does not make much of the Word of God. Realize that this is not just a book to read, but a voice speaking to you, that it has a Person behind it addressing you. This, without any mystic influence, but on the most natural principles, works a change in our devotions. This gives us a real communion with God. - D.

Ye know not what ye ask. That is, you have not thought seriously about it; have not looked it welt round, so as to be quite sure what your petition means and involves. One is a little surprised to find James and John acting so impulsively. It is the sort of thing that better suits Peter. "Boanerges" is a strange name for John; perhaps it was specially adapted to James, the elder brother. This James seems to have been somewhat of a zealot, and he paid the penalty by becoming the first apostolic martyr.

I. AN INCONSIDERATE PRAYER. Evidently these men had no higher idea of Christ's mission than that he had come to found a temporal kingdom. They asked an impossible thing, simply because they did not know how impossible it was. If they had spiritually entered into the teachings of Jesus, they never could have asked it. Their prayer lacked "humility" because it lacked "thought." Prayer is a serious thing. It is the approach of the erring creature to the All-holy, if All-merciful, One; it can never be undertaken lightly. "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet; the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." We should "take with us words," carefully chosen, when we "turn unto the Lord." Prayer may lose tone by its frequency, and become unduly familiar. So often we go to God with nothing special to say. We go because it is time to go; the hour of prayer has struck. Distinguish between

(1) acts of adoration;

(2) acts of communion;

(3) acts of petition;

(4) acts of intercession.

Our daily spiritual converse with God is only in a conventional sense called "prayer;" for there need not be any element of petition in it. How many of our prayers would have been offered, if we had seriously thought about them beforehand? Thought takes in what may be right for us to ask, and what we may suppose God can give.

II. DIVINE TREATMENT OF INCONSIDERATE PRAYER. Jesus answered kindly, but firmly. James and John were wrong, and must be shown that they were wrong. Our Lord endeavoured to quicken thought, and so help James and John to correct their own mistake. And their great mistake was that they had misapprehended his royalty. He was to be King of the obedient, who would be willing to suffer for their obedience. If they had known what they asked, they, would have seen that they asked a special share with Christ in his sufferings. - R.T.

They say unto him, We are able. The words of our Lord "come to us as spoken in a tone of infinite tenderness and sadness. That nearness to him in his glory could be obtained only by an equal nearness in suffering. Had they counted the cost of that nearness? There was enough to lead them to see in their Master's words an intimation of some great suffering about to fall on him, and this is, indeed, implied in the very form of their answer. 'We are able,' say they, in the tone of those who have been challenged and accept the challenge. That their insight into the great mystery of the Passion went but a little way as compared with their Master's, lies, of course, in the very nature of the case" (Dean Plumptre). Over a Greek temple was placed the inscription, "Know thyself;" but every man finds that to be the very hardest work ever given him to do.

I. A MAN IS EVER INCLINED TO EXAGGERATE HIS OWN EXCELLENCES. Vigorous as he may be in criticizing the virtues of others, a man is weak at self-criticism. There is a fondness for his own things which prevents his appraising them aright. He judges others by a standard, but, unfortunately, the standard is his own attainment. It is only when he is willing to take Christ as the standard of moral excellence that he discovers the imperfection of his self-estimates. "Let another praise thee, and not thine own self."

II. A MAN IS EVER INCLINED TO EXAGGERATE HIS OWN DEFICIENCIES. They loom large to the sincere man, because they are his; he knows them so well, and he feels so keenly the difficulties and troubles into which they bring him. "Who can understand his errors?" There are some types of religious thought which exaggerate the sense of deficiency, frailty, and sin; and make forced and manufactured confession a sign of piety. There is as much real pride in exaggerating deficiencies as in exaggerating excellences. He must be taught of God who would know his own sinfulness aright.

III. A MAN IS EVER INCLINED TO EXAGGERATE HIS OWN ABILITIES. Because, while he can form a good idea of the ability, he cannot estimate the demand that is made on the ability. It may seem a big ability, but it may be very small as seen in its relation to the claims coming on it; as in this case of James and John. - R.T.

The daring request of the mother of Zebedee's children roused the jealousy of the other disciples. This was natural, and quite in accordance with the customs of the world. Nevertheless, Christ disapproved of the feeling. It showed something of the same selfish ambition that the two brothers had displayed.


1. The necessity of this rule. It springs from the essential characteristics of Christianity.

(1) Brotherhood. In Christ rich and poor, high and low, are brothers, members of one family. We are to call no man master in the Church, because we are all brethren. No institution of man is more democratic than the Church of Christ - when it realizes his idea.

(2) The supremacy of Christ. One is our Master, even Christ (Matthew 23:8). For a man to exercise lordship is to usurp the kingly office of Christ. Not only is he supreme; he deals directly with every soul in his kingdom.

(3) The worthlessness of external pre-eminence. Christ cares for nothing of this sort. Of titles and offices he takes no account. Character and conduct are the only things that he observes and judges us by and character and conduct are quite independent of official position and nominal rank.

2. The application of this rule. It has been and it is now so grievously neglected and outraged that we ought to expose the wrong with a reformer's courage.

(1) In hierarchical pretensions. The papal claims are here out of court. Therefore the friends of the papacy do not favour the reading of the New Testament by the people. But all domineering priestliness is equally excluded.

(2) In worldly position. Differences of rank that have nothing to do with ecclesiastical order are also quite out of place in the Church. They may have their use in the world. But they cannot confer any privileges in spiritual and religious matters.

II. CHRISTIAN GREATNESS IS GREATNESS OF SERVICE. It is not hierarchical power and dignity. It is not secular wealth and titles. It is a purely moral greatness - the result of conduct. They stand highest in the kingdom of heaven who best serve their brethren.

1. The grounds of this greatness.

(1) It is Christ-like. They will be most honoured by Christ who best resemble him; they will come nearest to him in rank who follow him most closely in conduct. Christ was the servant of all.

(2) It is inherently excellent. God honours Christ himself for this very reason. He humbled himself and took on him the form of a servant - "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him" (Philippians 2:9). To serve is to manifest energy in unselfishness and kindness - the best of all things witnessed on earth.

2. The pursuit of this greatness. The words, "and whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant," are not the threat of a punishment for ambition. They are an indication of the way to true greatness. This is not, like worldly greatness, reserved for the privileged. It is within the reach of all. If any wish to approach the honours coveted for the brothers James and John, the way is open. It is to be first in service, to excel in self-sacrificing toil for the good of others. - W.F.A.

There was nothing more characteristic of the teaching of Jesus, perhaps we may even say, nothing more novel in his teaching, than his reversion of the common notions of service. All the world over, and all the ages through, the ordinary man has seen dignity in "being served," and has seen a kind of indignity in "serving." This has come about in two ways.

1. Through the exaggerated importance given to self. A man has come to be of more interest to himself than his brother can ever be to him. Yet God made man male and female in order to prevent this egoism, and start man upon working the altruistic principle, each finding his or her own best blessing in caring for the other. Christianity is the recovery of the primary altruistic principle, and the mastery of that egoism which has proved the prolific parent of all the vices.

2. Through the absorbing interest of appearances; of material things - state, wealth, luxury, show of greatness. True greatness lies in character; let us once see this clearly and receive it fully, and then the kindliness and thoughtfulness which sweetly blend with humility, and ever make us ready to serve, will seem to be surpassingly valuable. The moral greatness of service may he seen if we consider -

I. IT IS THE HIGHEST AND NOBLEST VIEW WE CAN GET OF GOD. Thoughts of majesty, dignity, authority, are properly encouraged; but we must have felt, as the psalm writers felt, that only when we conceive of God as the all-ministering One do we bow in fullest reverence of love before him. "The eyes of all wait on thee. Thou givest them their meat in due season."

II. IT IS THE INFINITE ATTRACTION OF THE LORD JESUS. The charm of Christ would be gone forever if any one could show us that he ever got anything for himself. "He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." He was among us as "One that serveth." His character is the ideal character; his life was the ideal life; but its glory lies in its self-denying service - its all-ruling "altruism."

III. IT IS THE UNIVERSALLY ADMIRABLE THING IN GOOD MEN. The man who lives to get is despised. The man who lives to give and serve is commended. Christ has affected the standard of moral greatness. We are no longer dazzled by appearances. Service to our human brother is now the only true nobility. - R.T.

The immediate application of these words is to confirm the previous assertion of the nature of true greatness in the kingdom of heaven. But they are so intensely significant that they claim our attention on their own account.

I. CHRIST THE SERVANT. This startling conjunction of titles is suggested even in the Old Testament, in the latter part of Isaiah. Jesus realizes the singular prophecy in deeper humility and self-denial. In the prophet the Messiah is the "Servant of the Lord." In the life of Jesus we see him as this, but also as the Servant of man. Consider the negative and Positive aspects of this wonderful fact.

1. Its negative aspect. Christ did not come to be ministered unto. He did not ask for a prince's courtly rights; he did not expect them. He came in lowly guise. Although a few obscure friends delighted to give him the means of support in their gratitude, the great world's ministry of honour was never his.

2. Its positive aspect. Jesus came to minister. Service was an object of his life, not an accident that came upon him with surprise. He speaks of his coming into the world as though this had been deliberately fixed and the service of man part of its great purpose. Here we see the humility, the unselfishness, the love, and the practical spirit of our Lord. In this ministry

(1) he deserves our adoring gratitude;

(2) he invites our trustful confidence, - for it is on our behalf; and

(3) he is the example for our diligent imitation.

II. CHRIST THE RANSOM. Here is a great thought flashing out of the darkness that broods over the cross. Previously, Jesus had spoken of his approaching death; now he suddenly reveals the purpose of it. It was more than a necessity resulting from faithful living, more than a martyrdom. It was the paying of a ransom.

1. The price paid. Jesus gave his life. He came for the express purpose of doing so. One object of his birth was that he might be able to die. It is to be observed that our attention is always directed more to the fact of Christ's death than to the pain he suffered - to his cross rather than to his Passion, though doubtless both were of value in the great redeeming work. "The wages of sin is death." Jesus tasted death forevery man. He gave all he could give - his very life blood.

2. The liberty effected. Men ransom from captivity. What was the captivity from which Christ brought liberty? Origen and other Fathers regarded it as bondage to Satan, and they thought the ransom was actually paid to the devil. This is a coarse way of regarding a great truth. The ransom could not have been paid to the devil, because Christ fought the prince of evil as a deadly foe; he did not bargain with the fiend.]But he came to deliver from the power of Satan, i.e. from sin, and that object involved his death. He died to save us from sin. We must not press the analogy of the ransom further.

3. The people freed. The ransom is for "many." It is a harsh, ungenerous criticism that would fix on the apparent limitation of the word "many" - many rather than all. There is no such antithesis here. The many saved are contrasted with the one Saviour. His life blood is so valuable a ransom that it purchases, not the liberation of one or two captives of sin only, but a large multitude - the host of the redeemed. - W.F.A.

Jesus is now at Jericho on his last journey to Jerusalem. When he visited the sacred city a few months before, he cured a blind man, and the miracle led to an important investigation and vindication of the powers of Christ (John 9.). It is likely that the fame of it reached to Jericho, and that this inspired the faith and hope of the blind beggars. Let us follow them through the course of the incident.


1. These afflicted men were "sitting." They could but grope about when they attempted to walk. The glad activities of life were not for them. They sat apart in their misery.

2. They were "by the wayside." St. Mark tells us that one of them, at least, was begging (Mark 10:46). While the throng of country pilgrims passed by on their way to the Passover, a harvest of charity might be reaped. Yet at best this was a wretched way of gaining a livelihood.

3. They were together. St. Mark only tells us of one man - Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46). Probably he was the more energetic and the better known of the two. Yet his obscure friend is with him. Sufferers can sympathize with their brothers in suffering. The more active and confident should bring their diffident friends to Christ.


1. They acknowledged Christ. They named him "Son of David." Thus they anticipated the hosannas of Palm Sunday. Perhaps they helped to inspire those hosannas.

2. They cried for mercy. Mercy was all they could seek, for they could not afford to pay an oculist's fees. When we come to Christ the richest among us must approach him as beggars. The only plea of the sinner is in the mercy of his Saviour.


1. The multitude rebuked them - as the disciples rebuked the Persian mothers (Matthew 19:13). Their eager cries were irritating. They were but beggars; any one could take it upon him to reprimand such humble creatures. They who would come to Christ are sometimes discouraged by the servants of Christ.

2. Jesus did not respond immediately.

(1) Perhaps he did not hear.

(2) Perhaps he was occupied with some important teaching.

(3) Perhaps he would try the faith of the poor men. The answer to prayer is sometimes delayed.

IV. THEIR UNDAUNTED PERSEVERANCE. Now is their opportunity. Soon Jesus will have passed, and it will be too late for them to seek his aid. Yet great is their need. So eagerly do they long for sight, that no discouragement of impertinent strangers shall hinder them. It is the persevering faith of such men as these that conquers in the end - like the perseverance of the Syro-Phoenician woman.


1. Jesus asked what he should do for them. This shows willingness to help. But he must have a clear statement of need. Perhaps he spoke with a smile of amusement at the intensity of their eager cry. As though there were any doubt as to what they needed! His question will calm them.

2. They answered promptly and without hesitations. They know what they want. We should know what we want from Christ.


1. It sprang from the compassion of Christ. The blind men asked for mercy. They got more - deep sympathy. This is the root and source of Christ's saving grace.

2. It was immediate. There was delay in finding Christ; there was no delay when he was found.

3. It was just the thing required. They asked for sight, and they received it. We do not always get exactly what we seek for, but if we seek aright we get its better equivalent. - W.F.A.

Journeying to Jerusalem to the Passover, Jesus, with his apostles and other disciples following, was also followed by a crowd. This grew into "a great multitude" as he moved out from the populous town of Jericho. In the scene here described we may study -


1. We see it here in excitement.

(1) "A great multitude." In numbers there is a strange sympathy. This occasions the panics which frequently occur in crowds. They are also subject to fits of passion - sometimes generous, sometimes violent, often insane. We should beware of the spirit of the crowd.

(2) The presence of Jesus was the occasion of this excitement. The multitude "followed him." Christ is followed from various motives. Some follow him from love: his apostles and disciples were moved by this holy inspiration. Some follow him from curiosity: the mixed multitude had heard of his character, claims, teaching, and miracles. Many still follow him for the loaves and fishes.

2. We see it here also in suffering.

(1) "Two blind men" - Bartimaeus and a companion in affliction. Friendships spring of community in suffering. The multitude who enjoyed their vision had little sympathy with those who were deprived of it.

(2) They are sitting by the wayside, viz. in company, and for the same purpose, viz. to beg (see Mark 10:46). The privation of sight reduced them to this dependence. Sufferings bring with them entailments of suffering. Partnerships come with the entailments.

(3) But privations have their compensations. These blind companions had the use of their ears. Blind persons generally enjoy acute hearing and sensitive touch. We do well, when we meditate upon our afflictions, to meditate also upon our mercies.

3. And we see it in contention.

(1) The blind men cried to Jesus for mercy. Affliction has a voice to Christ.

(2) But "the multitude rebuked them, that they should hold their peace." Probably they thought the cry for mercy was an appeal for alms, and that the blind men might be troublesome to Jesus. Men too readily judge of Christ by themselves. The multitude will ever rebuke those who cry after the Son of David.

(3) But the blind men "cried out the more." So must all who would not come short of a moral cure. We must never heed the counsel that would keep us from Christ. When a true sense of misery urges, neither men nor devils can stop the cry for mercy.

(4) In the prayer of these men we note:

(a) Importunity. The stream of fervency, if stopped, will rise and swell the higher.

(b) Humility. They sought not gold, but "mercy." The cry for mercy disclaims all merit (see Psalm 130:7; Hebrews 4:16).

(c) Faith. They called Jesus "Lord" (see 1 Corinthians 12:3). They identified the Messiah (cf. Matthew 12:23; Matthew 21:9; Matthew 22:44).

(d) Persistency (see Luke 18:1). Now or never: Jesus is passing; will soon have passed. Christ did not return to Jericho. "Now is the accepted time."

(e) Here was that concurrence in prayer which is especially pleasing to Christ (see Matthew 18:19).


1. One leading many.

(1) "A great multitude followed him." Note here the ascendency of a great character.

(2) Note here also the subordination of the physical to the spiritual. The multitude, as compared with Christ, were as an aggregation of physical units.

2. One compassionating suffering.

(1) "Jesus stood still." His standing rebuked and silenced the thoughtless clatter of the unsympathizing throng. Wherever there is suffering there the Blessed One stands.

(2) He "called" to the blind. What a contrast to the multitude who would have silenced their cry to him for mercy! Jesus invites those whom the world repulses.

(3) The one condition of mercy, viz. to those who are prepared for it, is - Ask. "What will ye that I should do for you?" Like as the waterman in a boat who hooks the shore does not so much draw the shore to him as himself to the shore, so do we in prayer draw ourselves to the mercy of the Lord.

3. One wonder-worker.

(1) The blind men raised their voices, not to inquire who was with Jesus, but to cry to him for mercy.

(2) What a sequel (see vers. 33, 34)!

(3) Spiritual blindness is ignorance of the truth. Many who say, "We see" are spiritually blind (see John 9:41). Blindness of heart is a disease of which the patient too seldom complains. This too can be cured only by the one great Light of the world.

(4) Christ is the one Illuminator of eternity. "Earthly blindness may be berne; it is but for a day; but who could bear to be blind through eternity?" (Beecher).

(5) Attendance upon Christ evinces the condition of spiritual illumination. Bartimaeus and his companion now "followed," now only requiring the one great spiritual Guide. No longer are they dependent upon alms. Religion has the premise of the life that now is, as well as that which is to come. It fulfils that promise by opening the eyes of its subjects. - J.A.M.

Eastern beggars are very clamorous and persistent. But there seems to have been something unusual in the energy and determination of these blind men. They had their opportunity, and they made the best possible use of it. There are many cases which indicate that our Lord was a keen and skilful observer of character. The actions, movements, expressions, and words of men and women revealed to him the measure of their receptivity for that double blessing - temporal and spiritual - which he was prepared to bestow. One of the most striking instances is the response he made to those four friends who carried the paralyzed man, and broke up the house roof in order to get him into the presence of Jesus. Reading character in their act, "seeing their faith," Jesus gave the sufferer a higher blessing than they sought, but included with it what they asked.

I. IMPORTUNITY REVEALS WILL. Many of the gravest troubles of life have their real cause in "weakness of will." Men cannot decide. If they decide, they cannot do anything with their decisions. No doubt many sufferers lost Christ's healing because they were too weak of will to seek him or cry to him. The man who can keep on is the man who has made a firm resolve; who means something; who has an end before him. This "weakness of will power" may be a natural infirmity; but it is largely remediable by skilful educational influences; and yet to this precise work, "strengthening the will power," how few parents, and how few teachers, bend careful attention! The world yields its treasures to those who show they have wills, by keeping on, fixing firm hold; and refusing to let go. Illustrate Jacob, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me."

II. IMPORTUNITY REVEALS FAITH. This leads in the more familiar way of treating such incidents as this of the text. What Jesus noticed in such cases was "faith." If these men had not believed that he could heal them, and if their faith had not blended with hope that he would heal them, they would have been repressed by the rebukers, and would have ceased to cry. The man in earnest is the man of faith, who is open to receive. - R.T.

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