At that very hour, some Pharisees came to Jesus and told Him, "Leave this place and get away, because Herod wants to kill You."
There are many beside those to whom these words were first applied by Jesus Christ to whom they are applicable enough. They were originally intended to denote the positions of -
I. THE JEW AND THE GENTILE. The Jew, who prided himself on being the first favourite of Heaven, was to become the very last in God's esteem; he was to bear the penalty due to the guilty race that "knew not the day of its visitation," but imbrued its hands in the blood of its own Messiah. The scenes witnessed in the destruction of Jerusalem are commentary enough on these words of Christ. But this truth has a far wider meaning; it is continually receiving illumination and illustration. It applies to -
II. THE OUTWARDLY CORRECT AND THE ILL-BEHAVED. The Pharisee of every age and land is first in his own esteem, but he stands, in sullen refusal, far off the kingdom, while "the publican and the sinner" are found at the feet of Christ, asking for the way of life, for the waters of cleansing, for the mercy of God,
III. THE LEARNED AND THE IGNORANT; the astute and the simple-minded. Still we ask, "Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?" Still may we, after the Master himself, give God thanks that he has "hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes." Human learning, in its unholy and foolish pride, still closes its ear to the voice that speaks from heaven. Lowly minded simplicity still listens to the truth and enters the open gate of the kingdom of God.
IV. THE PRIVILEGED AND THE UNPRIVILEGED. The children of privilege may be said to be among "the first." We congratulate them sincerely and rightly enough; yet are they too often found among the last to serve and to shine. For they build upon their privileges, or they reckon confidently on turning them some day to account, and they fail to use them as they should; and the end of their presumption is indifference, hardness of heart, insensibility, death. The first has become the last, On the other hand, the ear that never before heard "the music of the gospel" is ravished by the sound of it; the heart that never knew of the grace of God in Jesus Christ is touched by the sweet story of a Saviour's dying love, and is won to penitence and faith and purity; the last is first. Let presumption everywhere tremble; it stands on perilous ground. Again and again is it made to humble itself in the dust, while simplicity of spirit is lifted up by the hand of God. - C.
Go ye and tell that fox.
The attempt of the Pharisees to frighten Jesus Christ out of Perea drew from Him a prompt and sharp rejoinder. The answer was to the effect that no such threats could influence the purpose or in the least degree accelerate the movements of the Nazarene. His work was near an end, but He would have no hurry or panic. He would cast out demons and perform cures to the last day that His predestined stay in Perea would permit. If Herod wished to put a hasty stop to such works, so much to the discredit of Herod. As for the menace to His life, Jesus despised it. He was going up to Jerusalem, knowing that He would be killed. But Herod could not kill Him. At the outset of His ministry an angry crowd in Galilee had tried to make an end of Him, but they could not. The Prophet could not die but at Jerusalem. The metaphor here was in the opprobrious epithet applied to Herod Antipas — "that fox." Evidently it expressed, and was meant to express, that the Lord Jesus saw through and despised the cunning wiles of the Tetrarch. Many writers on the Gospels, both in Germany and among ourselves, have been anxious to protect our Saviour from the charge of speaking disrespectfully of a ruler, and have therefore tried to show that this epithet was in reality hurled against the Pharisees, who had affected so much Solicitude for His life. In the present case, it is as plain as words can make it that Jesus stigmatized Herod as "that fox." The man was a selfish intriguer, neither good nor strong, but cunning, subservient to those above him, a sort of jackal to the imperial lion at Rome, but ruthless to any who were beneath him and within his grasp. Probably it was this metaphor that suggested to Jesus that of the hen protecting her brood, which immediately follows. He looked on Herod and men of his stamp as devourers of the people. As for Himself, He might seem to be weak and unable to save Himself, but He was the best friend of the people; and if they would only gather to Him, He would cover them with the wings of His protection, so that no fox could do them hurt. But the Pharisees, and ultimately the misguided people too, took part with the fox against Him. And why should it be thought strange that Jesus could entertain and express a feeling of scorn for what is mean and wicked? Some of our moralists assert too roundly that mortal man has no right to feel contempt. There is a contempt that is ignoble, and there is a contempt that is noble. The ignoble is that which rests on mere conventionalism and prejudice, as when one despises another for being less highly born or less richly provided than himself. It flourishes among conventional professors of religion who yet sing the praises of humility. Such hauteur could not find place in the breast of our Saviour, and ought not to be harboured by any Christian. Wherever it enters it hardens the heart, dries up the sympathies, inflates the sense of self-importance, and induces a cold indifference to the wants and woes of others. But there is a noble scorn that may dwell in the heart along with tender compassion and fervent love. If there be a genuine appreciation of what is good and true, the obverse side of it must be a healthy contempt for what is wicked and false.
He does not hesitate to call Herod a fox — a mere cunning, designing man, only courageous when there is no danger at hand; scheming and plotting in his den, but having no true bravery of heart; an evil-minded person, whose whole character is summed up in the word "fox." What I did Jesus Christ, then, call men names? Not in the usual sense of that expression. Did He call Herod a fox out of mere defiance or spite? He was incapable of doing anything of the kind. When Jesus Christ spoke a severe word, the severity came out of the truth of its application. Is it not a harsh thing to call a man a liar? Not if he be false. Is it not very unsocial to describe any man as a hypocrite? Not if he be untrue. Wherein, then, is this wickedness of calling men names? In the misapplication of the epithets. It is wicked to call a man true, if we know him to be untrue. There is an immoral courtesy; there is a righteous reproach. We do not use harsh words when we tell men what they really are. On the other hand, it is a matter of infinite delicacy to tell a man what he really is, because, at best, we seldom see more than one aspect of a man's character. If we could see more of the man, probably we should change our opinion of his spirit. In the case of Jesus Christ, however, He saw the inner heart, the real and true quality of the Tetrarch; and, therefore, when He described Herod as a fox, He spoke the word of righteousness and of truth. It was not an epithet; it was a character in a word; it was a man summed up in a syllable. Let us, therefore, be very careful how we follow this example, because we ought to have equal knowledge before we take an equal position in this respect. On the other hand, let us beware of that simulation of courtesy, which is profoundly untrue, which is despicably immoral — the kind of thing which sets itself to catch the favour and the flattery of the passing moment.
We thought that Jesus Christ's labour would be cut short by this message from Herod. Jesus Christ must finish what He has begun. But is it not in the power of the great and the mighty to say to Christ, "You must stop at this point"? It is in their power, truly, to say it, and when they have said it they may have relieved their own feelings: but the great, the beneficent, the redeeming work of the Son of God proceeds as if not a word to the contrary had been said. The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers took counsel together against the Lord, and against His anointed; and behold their rage came to nothing, and their fury recoiled upon themselves! "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Holy one shall have them in derision." Are we opposing Jesus Christ? Are we in any way setting ourselves against the advancement of His kingdom? It will be an impotent rage. Go and strike the rocks with your fist- perhaps you may batter down the granite with your poor bones. Try! Go and tell the sea that it shall not come beyond a certain line, and perhaps the hoary billows will hear you, and run away and say they be afraid of such mighty men. Try! You have nothing else to do, you may as well try. But as for keeping back this kingdom of God, this holy and beneficent kingdom of truth — no man can keep it back, and even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Men may rage; men do rage. Other men adopt another policy; instead of rage and fury and great excitement, they set themselves against the kingdom of God in an indirect and remote way. But both policies come to the same thing. The raging man who pulls down the wooden cross and tramples it underfoot, and the man who offers a passive resistance to the progress of the kingdom of heaven, come to the same fate. The light shines on, noontide comes, and God gets His own way in His own universe.
An example of the marvellous power to be found in the motive of duty is afforded in the seven years' march of David Livingstone from the coast of Zanzibar toward the courses of the Nile. What else, indeed, could have so well sustained him in his trials with savages, and noxious insects, and nearly impassable jungles, and starvation, and prostrating disease, and prospective death? "In this journey," he writes, in the calmest style of self-examination, "I have endeavoured to follow with unswerving fidelity the path of duty The prospect of death in pursuing what I knew to be right did not make me veer to one side or the other." And so this sublime hero struggled on until, while apparently engaged in the act of prayer, he passed from a kneeling posture on earth to an enthroned position in heaven.
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